Saturday, December 17, 2016

Three Things I Wish Authors Would Stop Doing

Oh, look at this quagmire. Stepping into this would be bad, likely irking many of my peers but definitely those that are in power--not that it matters, as power is only what they can enforce face to face or through scu--I mean lawyers. The truth is that the business of publishing breeds disillusionment, rancor, and general apathy I think too many authors indulge in when there are clear ways of looking at things differently for an constantly changing, ever-evolving business that is both beautiful and terrible as the morning dawn.

You're welcome.

Plus, I've actually clawed my way out of quicksand before. Yeah, there was rope involved, but that's because you should always have rope about you somewhere.

So without further dues and weights, here are...

Three Things I Wish Authors Would Stop Doing

(It was going to be ten, but then I realized I didn't want to make my readers slog through more than they had too by repeating myself. As in writing and in life--if you can do with less, do with less!)

1. Avoid Marketing Themselves

When John, Jaym, and myself first started Falstaff, John wanted me as a writer first before I volunteered to edit. I joined Falstaff Books because it availed me the opportunity to learn about being a success in publishing from the ground-level, something that few authors avail themselves and something many do not even consider on their journey. I knew what it was like to be published and paid--at one point I could even afford to pay a lighting bill--but I wanted to know what it took to produce a print copy of a book first hand, what kind of editorial was expected out of developmental and proofreading, how marketing was best accomplished for the desired effect, and what I discovered was that the final one is often neglected.

I cannot tell you how many authors I've met utter "I don't know what to post/market about."

Figure it out. Are you a person with interests outside of writing? Do you like baking, brewing, or anything? Post about that? Interact with others beyond just readers who you want to buy your work. Support other writers, artists, musicians. Talk about the things you like. It is as simple as you want to make it, and the more you do it the more comfortable you will be with it. And yet too many authors either lack the confidence or think themselves too high for such things--which is bullshit. For 30 minutes out of my day (and yes, sometimes I wake up early to do it), I can do a week's worth of marketing just on social media. This is part and parcel or how the business has changed to where simply being published and being distributed to bookstores is no longer enough. You have to build a platform, engage with the readership and your supporters, and build.

2. Twitter, Facebook, Blog Rants

I had to learn this one the hard way myself, especially during the 2016 election when things became so heated that civil discourse degenerated and remained so since. It wasn't until I started noticing that I had less and less interactions with the people I usually interacted with that the weight of what I was posting and writing really hit home--and this was made even more evident when it came to my griping about prospective authors submitting to the slush pile, who often fail to even read guidelines. I bitched, I moaned, I shouted, and while other editors liked and retweeted, I was losing a lot of people who would have listened to me otherwise if I had just stopped to explain my points instead of hammering home with vitriol.

So I stopped. I stopped yelling about politics, or people, or about the world in general. I still talk about the things that matter to me, but I talk about them in a way I wish others would speak to me if we were face to face. Unfortunately I know and know of authors who do not do this, and while I won't take away their right to say whatever they want on whatever channel they create for themselves, it does often lead to them excluding themselves from potential conversations, interactions, and considerations not only made by readers, but people that reside in the media in general.

Perception is everything now and we no longer have the consideration of intention, only the subjectivity of what our words convey. Therefore, in my opinion, it is better for authors to start dialogues instead of disagreements, evolve the conversation instead of enrage it.

3. Not Listening to Editors and Critiquers

To be honest, this one applies to less people than I usually run with, most of them being professional authors, publishers, editors, etc. This applies more to the people I meet at writing groups, critique circles, and at cons who express the desire to be an author, yet when they do to have their writing critiqued, edited, what have you, they get insulted when that editor or critiquer gives them constructive feedback.

To be fair to those people, I was there at one point as well. Writing is such a personal thing, and to hear that something was out of place or imperfect used to drive me up the wall with anger, disappointment, and self-loathing. What changed was my mindset--I had the experience of competing in martial arts and other contact sports growing up, and what I learned there was that there is no such thing as winning and losing, but winning and learning. Once I was able to grasp this again, I started looking at thoughtful criticism, even if it was negative, as an opportunity to become the best writer. Listening to editors and critiquers while taking what they have to say into consideration, even if you don't like it, pushes you forward.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Three Things I Wished I Had Known When I Started Writing

I started writing in 2005 during my senior year of high school, having discovered The Craft in Mr. Koechling's Creative Writing class. I was going through a lot then, some of which showed up in my recent release of War Pigs, but writing found me at a low point in life and from there picked me up, cleaned me off, and set about making me a better man. My college creative writing professor, Al Maginnes, gave me confidence and some life lessons about writing that I will share here.

However, let's not confuse the issue at hand: writing, much like life, is never easy.

Unlike losing a fight, getting a rejection is often harder, and unlike working hour after hour on one low kick, sometimes I'd get so frustrated with the words being imperfect that I would scrap entire projects. In spite of that, I signed my first publishing contract for a series of Renaissance Fantasy/Vampire novels in 2009, and that fell through before we went to print for a number of reasons that were completely out of my hands. I later started selling short fiction, becoming more and more proficient at that, and then novellas, and there may be a novel or two getting picked up in the future.

This progress came from hard work, by keeping my nose to the grindstone, and my ears perked to listen and learn. That said, there were things I wish I had known when I first started, things that are not often told to new writers and, if we're all honest, things that veterans should say on panels but don't because these bits of knowledge are things that often slip through the cracks. There won't be bits like "finish your draft" or "edit with this or this in mind", but I hope the writers who are just starting out gain something from this, just as I hope that the vets who read this see my utmost respect displayed for them.

Without further adieu...

1. Mentors are important

We are often told that writing is a lonely life, filled with late nights, small sentences in the moment you can spare, and a constant grind that separates the talented from the successful--yes, you read that right, and what was said was correct as well.

Writing is about persistence, but writers don't learn this persistence overnight, nor we do learn it on our own. I had great teachers at the beginning of my journey: Kristopher Koechling taught me that I could do it, and Al Maginnes taught me that it was the persistent that become real writers. Those are two very important lessons that are hard to learn on one's own, especially the first if you were in the spot I was in where my entire identity was wrapped up in something I couldn't do anymore. But one important part of my current career is that I kept committing myself to finding a mentor.

Now, there are tons of stories of editors like Maxwell Perkins fostering writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and my personal favorite, Ernest Hemingway, but the mentor-student relationship is often these days is not confined to an editor-writer dynamic, but also relationships between writers. For myself, my mentors have been my guru John Hartness, James R. Tuck, David B. Coe, Emily Leverett, Lou Anders, and Gail Z. Martin. There are writers and editors who have I gone to, and they have taken their time to sit down provide advice on my work, the publishing industry, or support me with needed wisdom and motivation

The importance of mentors does come with a caveat: they show you the way, but you must be the one to walk it. It is important to go out and get advice, help, and direction for what you want to do with your writing, but it is also infinitely more important to listen to thoughtful criticism from them. Sometimes your mentors will tell you things you don't want to hear, but always consider the things they have to say.

2. The Moment You Stop = The Moment You're Done For

This is going to be hard to swallow, and I will not be surprised if people go "well, Jay, what's the point then?" But it needs to be said and I think it needs to be said more often for the sake of young writers getting into the business of today's publishing's business:

You are only as good as the work AND the amount of work you put out. 

There is no longer a world where a published author will be able to live off of the proceeds created by ONE successful series unless you are one of the lucky few to secure movie or television rights that actually see the light of day and the final product actually makes it to broadcast, and even then success isn't guaranteed (see: Eregon, Sword of Truth, Dresden, and on and on and on.) With royalty rates being a jungle of confusion when it applies to ebook sales and big advances dwindling across the board, the big box stores for print remain in a constant state of precariousness where they are often losing money holding as much stock as they do. Amazon has become to the go-to destination for print and ebooks outside of the cherished indie bookstores, and while those indie bookstores have seen a resurgence, the thing to remember about those indie shops is that they are not always going to carry your titles, nor can they--the margins they work on are still thin and they have to move product that moves. I saw this recently at a nationally recognized and lauded bookstore, Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville, NC, where their science fiction and fantasy section took up a small section of wall relative to the other shelves, and even then those titles were either brand new releases plugged in Locus or standard titles you'd expect to see at any bookstore like Tolkien, Heinlein, etc.

And to reaffirm, there is always going to be a challenge for any new author breaking into the business: as much as it matters that you produce quality work, you also have to produce a LOT of it in a business that is rapidly changing all the time. 

Get used to never having breaks between projects, or working on multiple projects at a time. Get used to late nights with little sleep and early mornings with little in the way of a break before work, and get used to always having to stay in contact with your editor, and embrace The Grind. Writing is no longer the business of writing the "Great American Novel" and cashing a check--if you really want health insurance, or a house, or a family, and you want to write full time, you need to learn how to afford a comfortable on less than you expect to make, marry a person that knows this, and keep grinding.

Let me repeat: the business of writing and publishing is about grinding.

I knew that getting in. It is the reason I call Jishnu's mercenary company The Grinders--because this is no longer about just being the best, but about consistency, gumption, and ploughing onward. I know bestselling authors who were real hot for a good span of years, something happened, they disappeared, and then all of those gains they made disappeared with them. Now they have full time jobs outside of writing. That happens, but the moment they can get back to it, they get back to it, because time is ticking and they know the value of grinding.

Do the work and keep working. Don't worry about the advances, or the publicity, or what comes--the work comes first, and you need to work a lot. That is how you will move forward.

3. Life is your Art, so live Life

I've done a lot of shit.

I've fought grown men in rings and cages, lost a significant other, climbed mountains, drowned in lakes, been in car crashes, gotten into a sword fight with real swords, walked around with more money in my pocket than most do in their entire lives, loved for days, wasted nights, drank myself stupid, smoked myself smart, watch the sun come up, performed Sabbaths and Voodoo in midnight clearings, meditated with yogis, read the Bible six times cover to cover, lost my soul, found it again, sinned, saved myself, attended more funerals than I wanted to, watched people die right in front of me, seen babies born, got my Purple Belt, broke my neck, hands, feet, skull, and shins, ran down enemies and lifted up those I despise, started a podcast, become a beer and Scotch connoisseur, been rejected more times than I can count, and to quote the master Dusty Rhodes, "I've dined with kings and queens and lived off pork and beans." 

And I'm only 30.

Tolkien was at the Somme. Hemingway boxed in Cuba. Rowling struggled to live. Glen Cook worked in factories. Mary Stewart toiled in obscurity. Stephen King wrote in a trailer. Huxley took a walk around town on Mescalin. Writers live lives for their art, and their art is a reflection of their lives. I meet too many writers that think they are going to become great by simply writing what they know, forgetting the fact that the luminaries they looked up to wrote around everything else that was going on in their lives, and everything that went on left itself in their writing. It is why I despise the advice of "Write what you know". It should be "Know what you're writing."

So get out there. Go for a hike, eat some fungus, go to church, have a game night, go to the club, go lift weights, get in a fight, visit a library, paint, grow a garden, spend a night in jail, learn how to fire a gun or start a fire, talk to cops and criminals, whatever. And write when you're done doing this things, and write before you do something new.

Consider at it this way: in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, a prisoner walks outside a cave and see the world for being more than shadows on the wall that they've always known, yet when they go back inside the cave and tell others still looking at the wall about the world outside, the other prisoners fail to believe this person to the point of violence. While there is a very important narrative here about the nature of perception, cognition, and dissonance, what a writer does is paint pictures on the wall of the cave in new colors, showing new and different things, and sparks an interest to leave the cave and actually see new worlds. Our stories are transitory and they ease that transition from one consciousness to another--something newer, something different, and hopefully something more healthful.

How many people do you know want to go to London because they read Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter? How many people started reading Fantasy, or Mystery, or Romance, because they tasted ambrosia through the pages of their first genre story?

That is the power of writing, and to imbue your work with that power you have to deepen the Well of Experience. Go get those experiences and report back to those who have not yet had the chance to dig their own.

Now go on, get away from this blog.

Go find someone who can show you what to do, get to work, and live. These are the things I had to learn that I wished someone had told me when I first started on this dream. I hope they help you speed up yours.

Go forth and grind.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Marching from the Grimdark into the Cold Light : A WAR PIGS post

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.

The Broken Empire trilogy by Mark Lawrence (which you must go read NOW).

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.

A Land Fit For Heroes by Richard K. Morgan.

These pivotal series and the luminaries who wrote them are those that I have deemed to myself to be The Four Fathers of Grimdark, a set of Fantasy fiction works and authors that swept the world over the last two decades with roots in Glen Cook, Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner, David Gemmell, and the dark fantasy of the 1980s and 1990s, though their ancestors can easily be traced to Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard as well. To express what Grimdark is to those who are not great readers of it can best be found in the words of Richard K. Morgan himself:
"Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an elite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a willful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the very majority whom the system oppresses." - Richard K. Morgan
With the recent ascendance to Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States of America, the vote to leave the European Union via "Brexit" in the United Kingdom (where grimdark and fantasy both find native soil), and the uprising of many nationalist/hate groups throughout the world, it is hard to disagree with Morgan's view on both the worlds he creates for his fantasy and the world readers like me now experience. We live in a time where the majority of our fellow human beings and alike are oppressed by religious, political, and financial elites, of whom staff and maintain a force of thugs, and through use of their media engender a willful cognitive dissonance that the majority themselves accept because of a fear, greed, or hatred that allows them to sustain their lifestyles, even bitterly, in a society that was made comfortable by its own lack of personal and social responsibility.

WAR PIGS is my first rebuttal to Grimdark Fantasy. A second one is coming in Hold Back The Day, but that will come when it comes. A third one comes in the collected Saga of The Panther. And then there will be more, and more, and more, until my dying day.

I worship the works of Martin and Lawrence, read deeply into Morgan, and truly appreciate Abercrombie on a basis of what they have done in terms of what was needed to be done for the health of Fantasy fiction--they infused it with things that were happening now, inhabited it with characters that could live and breath in our real world, and drove a real sense of consequence that many Fantasy and genre authors today still fail to embrace to their detriment. Personally speaking, Grimdark caused me to take on a meaningful view of world-building, a constant reminder that there had to be real risk for my characters, and in general made me realize that it is more important to write about what is going on, not about "the story only you can write", which is often horribly simplistic advice.

Fantasy, to me, is the journalism of the soul, the exploration of the what our world is like now, and a rebellion against the powers that would tell us not to imagine something otherwise.

While I'll never be done being in love with Grimdark, I've wanted to be done writing it for a long time. The successful nomination and victory of Donald Trump drove it home for me--there was once a time to examine all the dark corners of the earth, to explore characters who are analogous to the worst we allow to rule today. That time is over because now we have actually let one of them into the halls of power in all his unbridled awfulness with the expectation this awfulness will flourish.

I refuse.

I choose to write of heroes, of people that stand up against their own society and its unworthy rulers for the sake of others instead of themselves--and not in a self-serving manner like Daenerys Targaryen. I choose to write of places and times that are broken but can be healed with when humanity raises the cause of goodness as we have before.

I refuse Morgan's authorial view of the world.

And so does Lut. Lut is a Wag (see "orc") who starts evil, that kills for the powers-that-be and revels in his oppression of others. But he also changes, learns the value of his people and the others he once oppressed, the wonders of his land, and the importance of his time. He is simply not Lawful Evil and "that is that."

He chooses to walk out of the grim darkness of the soul and into the Cold Light of better days. It is bright out in this new wilderness, and the world will always be harsh, but there is a way forward for you, me, and everyone else. We must simply go and find it.

I hope you'll choose to walk out there with me.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Battle of Words: a WAR PIGS post

One of the main challenges that I put before me when I wrote WAR PIGS was the knowledge that I would have to write multiple combat scenes in little less than 120 pages while at the same time allowing for the narrative to develop, allow characterizations to be made, and keep the story moving.

This post is a short exploration of how tools I brought in to create those intense combat scenes, whether they ranged from one-on-one conflicts between Lut and his foes or sprawling battles where thousands upon thousands spilled their blood, as each variation has its own sets of difficulties and opportunities, which I will try to explore in the most digestible way possible. There will be a lot of things to cover so I'll do my best to keep it simple.

In general, there are three tried-and-true rules that I developed and follow in keeping my fight scenes exciting and manageable, two things I find many writers struggle with at varying levels of experience. I often find that these authors, whether they are new or more experienced, tend to focus themselves in doing one or the other, which results in fights that can be fun but a mess, to clear and concise yet are prosaic because while they put the scenes together well they lack the kind of pop needed to wow the reader. That said, following these rules can help land you somewhere closer to the sweet spot of being both clear and exciting.

1. Keep fights between individuals to ONE PAGE OR LESS (in Word)

Unless you have a really good reason for lengthening the pace of your fight (be it through the device of Cat-And-Mouse, Character Resets due to injury/interference, Comedy, etc.), it is often better to keep your combat scenes quick and to the point. It reduces the pressure writers often put on themselves to be too graphic in detail or too descriptive in execution. Generally speaking, a balanced approach fits better than not. Authors who are great at this (though they sometimes break the rules) are R.A. Salvatore, Brent Weeks, John Marco, and David Gemmell, they of whom are considered masters of writing action-packed combat. Ursula Le Guin knocks it out of the park in her Earthsea novels The Farthest Shore and Tehanu. And there are some great authors out there that go even shorter than that!

Also take note: when I say a "page or less", I mean the equivalent of a page in Word or whatever word processor you use to write. Word allows up to 500 words per page, single spaced, and you lose anywhere to 25% to 32% if you double-space. Keep that in mind when it comes to this rule.

2. Smaller Paragraphs = Faster (and better) Movement

To write a good fight scene you need to know something about film making AND paragraph formatting, the latter being an art that I see is getting lost the longer I edit works for others. In fact, most of what I find myself doing while editing combat scenes for others is re-working the paragraph formatting to clarify what is actually happening. To resolve this I encourage writers to take advantage of the film making technique of blocking out their action sequences into digestible sections, as this will allow focus on what we as writers want to convey in terms of the imagery we use.

Here's another idea to keep in your "toolbox" as Stephen King calls it:

One paragraph equals one sequence of action/movement in the shot.

If you have a sequence of movement in your mind that you wish readers to pay particular attention to, then giving the sequence its own paragraph allows the scene to breath, the writer to refine, and the reader to follow in a way that is more active. Speaking as a dedicated reader of Fantasy as well as a publisher author of the genre, I have seen this play out in the opposite fashion too many times--writers will write an entire fight scene contained in a one-page paragraph (just a paragraph!) and it ends up cluttering the page. Formatting large paragraphs into small ones not only allows you to focus on the action, but it quickens the pace for the reader, ultimately drawing them in to what is going on.


Now a writer is of course free to write whatever sort of combat scenes they want, whether it is dirty, realistic bloodshed that I try to incorporate into my fiction, or high-flying, magical, wuxia-like action that you might find in RA Salvatore's later work or the work of Steven Erikson. A writer can be as simple or as intricate as they want to be, but I always offer a cautious reminder to all of this--your combat scenes are not what makes the story progress. That is what characters, plot, setting, and the other literary devices are for. That said, what can make your combat scenes unique to you is the process of what you incorporate in the write writing them.

I wrote about this previously while providing an extensive reading list, but expanding your knowledge base, taking part or observing the martial arts, and asking questions on all aspects of combat will invariably enrich your combat scenes into intense, powerful movements that will add literary impact to your storytelling. I draw on a lot of my knowledge from my experiences studying Muay Thai, Judo, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kendo, Iaido, German Longsword, Medieval Ringen, Scottish Highland Broadsword, and Dirk Fighting, and I added to it further by researching Sanatan Shastar Vidiya (the war arts of the Sikhs), Pehlwani (Indian Wrestling), and English Quarterstaff. You can find a lot stuff to watch on Youtube, thousands of great books, and many wonderful martial arts schools that will be happy to let you observe and ask questions to help you better form your combat scenes.

Want to see these rules in action? I hope you'll consider picking up WAR PIGS! It is on preorder for right now at $0.99 until it's release date on 11/15/2016.

Have anymore questions about writing great combat scenes? Hit me up @JayRequard on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

When Fighting Came Easy - A WAR PIGS post

I remember the first time I got into a fight. His name was Tim Dearny, the eldest son of my parents' friends and a kind family who we grew close to when we were part of the Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.

Tim was thirteen years old. I was six.

I don't remember what exactly started it, but I do remember the moment I knew I could fight. Tim at thirteen was of course much larger than me, a kid who played on his basketball team and was a good athlete. He pummeled me from corner to corner in his basement because I refused to let him bully me, which older boys tend to do to younger boys. Looking back on it, I should have realized it was because he did actually like me but didn't know how to deal with being thirteen--hell, he took the time to play video games with me, but when you are a young man power is something very difficult to wield and often young men make mistakes.

Anyway,  the moment: after pushing me into walls of his basement, kicking me, and saying some nasty things in general, I belted him. A clean haymaker across the jaw that put a boy who was so much taller than my 6 year old ass on a knee. He then proceeded to beat the unholy hell out of me until our parents separated us. But from that moment when I put him to a knee the passion for pugilism, grappling, and combat was there.

I started martial arts not long afterwards. Back when my parents could not afford the judo classes they still found a way to pay for them until they could not anymore. Same with Shotokan Karate, which didn't last long when I started beating up kids on the playground during elementary school, but it was on those playground where I really learned that what I knew could hurt people--and from then on I stopped. Save for a few fights with a couple of kids in my neighborhoods in St. Louis and Apex, North Carolina, I went out of my way to intentionally not hurt anyone. I did so because I didn't like making people cry when I shouldn't have, even if they were bullying me. The result was that I was bullied a lot, even to the point where my own mother was telling me to take my pound of flesh and stand up for myself.

I didn't.

Then I walked into Apex High School.

I remember the exact moment all best were off--I had incurred the wrath of two girls because I had embarrassed them in a class debate, which drove them to start a series of rumors over the next few years that I was going to come to school and shoot everyone or harm a teacher. The police came, my family and I were threatened with my expulsion multiple times if I did not confess to something I did not ever plan to do, and even two of my favorite teachers at the time went out of their way to implicate me, which seeded my inability to trust in the place I had to go to everyday afterward. They made an attempt to apologize later on after I was able to prove multiple times that I never had such intentions (one teacher even cried her way through hers), but from then on it didn't matter as the damage was done. I was going to fight the world and everyone in it using my fists, elbows, knees, feet, and whatever else I needed. I was going to accept and benefit from my power to do harm.

And I did.

For that choice I suffered a lot, and in an attempt to tell that story and the lessons I learned I did so through the allegorical device of Fantasy which allowed me to author WAR PIGS. This is what happened after I assumed my own power to do harm and the consequences that followed.

And it is now available for preorder. WAR PIGS will be $0.99 until it is released on 11/15/2016, at which point it will be available via KDU for free or as a download for $2.99. I hope you all check it out. It is a piece of me that I hope to not only exorcise but to show others what violence creates.

Click HERE to get WAR PIGS today!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Iron and Silk: Writing Manwe and Cleon's LGBTQ relationship

Love is hard, often drawing from people the best and worst aspects of themselves, and nothing is as hard as properly reflecting love in the most human fashion within fiction. I have written previously about Romance and Agency, but with this post I wanted to look at the challenges of writing a gay relationship between two of my favorite characters, Manwe the Panther and Cleon the Yellow, the mischievous/beguiling/ephemeral sorcerer that captures his heart within the pages of Thief of Secrets, the second installment in The Saga of the Panther.

Now, let me clear: I'm not gay. I've been in a very successful heterosexual relationship with the most wonderful woman in the world for almost 10 years, so when I set out to write my first gay relationship between two main characters there were a lot of concerns I had about accurately depicting the special dynamics that take place between two men when they are in love.

And to my surprise, I discovered that it was exactly like writing a relationship between a heterosexual couple. LGTBQ relationships come in a variety of forms, but the roles, behaviors, and customs found in these relationships are as ubiquitous to anything you will find between a man and a woman.

And there is the secret I think writers and readers should take away: to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda (and obviously others), Love is Love. I think this is especially important in light of National Coming Out Day this month, where we let our friends and family in the LGBTQ community know they have allies and are safe to be who they are. These people seek support, solace, and confidence in the people they choose to spend their lives with, which Manwe is given by Cleon the Yellow in his darkest moment.

So if you ever set out to write a relationship between two people of same sex or different gender identities, please make sure to remember it doesn't matter who or what someone decides for themselves to be--they love like everyone else does. They go through times of darkness and light, and often the presence of someone that is the other half of their soul is the salve to the spiritual wound we all carry when destiny splits us from a person we're supposed to be with (or someone we're not supposed to be around.) That salve is created when they come back together.

My only hope is that I did well by the thief and his sorcerer, the sorcerer and his thief.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Life After Fighting, Fighting for Life: a #HoldOntoTheLight post

I will start with a declarative statement:

After 30 years of life on this planet I am still alive.

This statement contains a story within itself, but it is far harder for me not to remember the other stories I've grown up.

My first cousin committed suicide when I was 13. Nobody knew he was depressed, save for a recent breakup, and nobody believed he had those thoughts until it happened.

In sixth grade I was awed by the news that an older boy, an eighth grader, had gone home and hung himself during the day. Another friend's brother shot himself in the head.

Then I got into high school and things got very real. From a significant someone who tried to snort her way to destiny to a very gentle girl that carved the inside of her legs with a needle because she felt awful about herself, unspoken problems involving mental illness ran amok. Her older sister, who had been a very talented writer from what I remember, scratched the inside of her arms with needles too. People were cutting but nobody wanted to talk about it--save for the few brave parents who tackled these things head on and, surprisingly, often caught flack for having the courage to actually do something instead of sweeping it under the rug. Some of those people were and remain as close to me as family.

Mental illness is an epidemic our society refused to even acknowledge for a long time, but for many of the communities I grew up in it was lingering specter above us all, an malefic spirit that always threatened to take another without warning.

Into my junior year of high school I had a friend who was addicted to heroin. His best friend, the dude that started shoving way too many heavy metal CD's into my hands, literally watched out for my-friend-the-junkie day and night. My peer group spent weekends drinking pretty hard and living very fast. It is not out of the way to remember how many people I knew that felt left out of things, how people floated in and out of their self-destructive packs, and how many who were simply lost.

Sure, these are often the stories about growing up, but it was always startling to see how many of those stories were haunted by mental illness.

Some of us (see: Jay) had real anger issues, others tough family situations, and there were a lot of kids and adults I knew that were strung out or pilled up on something. The last of the Gen-Xers, who I looked up to, struggled with their place in the world after college and a few were left behind when it broke them. Drugs were a constant reality. I probably smoked and drank too much myself to mute out the world, but so did a lot of athletes I ran with. From those on the high school wrestling team to the guys I rolled jiu-jitsu with in the strip malls, there were always problems with depression. Start adding concussions into the mix and guys would act very strange. One of my closer friends at the time lost his brother to suicide--a brother who was one of my little sister's closest friends.

College was worse.

Many of my friends were poor and struggling with un-diagnosed bipolar disorders, self-medicating to get through working and going to school full-time--and some of them were raising kids, which while wonderful was a colossal burden within itself. I met a mom who served bar and she was the nearest thing to Wonder Woman I've ever met. And she popped a lot of pills. A lot of people who were on some form of a SSRI.

And say what you want: The Bush Years were soul crushing. A lot of people went off to war and died. A lot of families were left with loved ones too damaged to make themselves a "normal" life when they came home. I knew a few soldiers that were taken by PTSD while I was in college. They aren't here to tell their stories now.

Here is the point where I insert myself back into it and admit my own demons: Since the time I was 14 years old I had wanted something all through high school and the beginning of college--a career in mixed martial arts--and through injury and purely bad choices on my part I screwed myself out of that. It took a lot of therapy before that period of my life and lot of therapy and love after that period to come to terms with the reality that I couldn't have what I wanted anymore.

That same reality almost took me twice and, if I'm purely honest, the same depression followed me into my destined career too. I know a good many writers in my community that really struggle with depression and suicide. I was, again, one of them not too long ago.

Yet for my part in this, I still remember the stories of others:

One roommate was so terribly broken by his experiences in the Bosnian War that he refused to act outside of a self-proscribed set of behaviors that inevitably led to self-mutilation and becoming one of the first people I know to be addicted to bath salts. The uncle who lost his son to suicide when I was 13 went through rehab not too long ago. The fight to stay sober, happy, and healthy is a hard one for him that he faces every day.

And there's the point: for people that struggle with mental illness, life is a fight, no matter if you are using your fists or not.

I make the statement "I am still alive" to write stories because I know of how many stories were ended because of cruel circumstance, or addiction, or depression, or something even deeper. The only reason I'm here is because I did something we are sometimes shamed in society for doing: I went and found help. I went to therapist, tried medication, took up meditation, and still work every day to fight the specter of mental illness. My best friends do too.

The best thing we can do is talk about mental illness is to tell these stories and let others know that somehow, somewhere, someone out there cares enough to help them. The more we talk about it the more we help others win their fight to hold on, endure, and find their own victories. It is a far better option than waiting until it is too late and having another tale lost.

About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to and join us on Facebook