Friday, January 25, 2013

I Love RA Salvatore and his writing

(As some of you may have noticed, "I Love..." is coming a week early instead of my regular author interview. There has been a lot of technical difficulties this week, but rest assured, there will be an interview next week on Sit. Write. Bleed.)

I remember where I was when I first discovered RA Salvatore:

I had been visiting my best friend, David Pepose (of the Newsarama Peposes, hoity-toit), in St. Louis, MO and it was getting near the time for me to get back on a plane and fly back to North Carolina where my family had recently moved. In the mad dash to find me a late birthday present, David's father Jay drove us to a Borders and basically told me to get in there and find something quickly. As I was a big fan of Borders, I kinda knew my way around any section of the store (yet they never hired me), and I made a beeline for fantasy. There I picked up three books of a series I had my eye on back in North Carolina.

Those books where Homeland, Exile, and Sojourn, all three parts of "The Dark Elf Trilogy":

These were the exact covers I had.
I cannot adequately describe how wonderful those books were when I first read them, and every Drizzt novel that has come out since has equally pleased me as well. They contain everything I want in a fantasy, even as a soon-to-be twenty seven year old writer trying to make his name in the world: a dark but redeeming hero, a group of distinct companions, and villains  that are larger than life. I go on a journey with Drizzt that I've rarely gone on with a few other characters, those being Conan (Robert E. Howard), Lukien the Bronze Knight (John Marco), Bilbo Baggins (you effin' know who came up with Bilbo), Sabriel (Garth Nix), and of course Croaker (Glen Cook.) But among them Drizzt ranks the highest, and out of those other heroes I listed, he is the one I put my own characters against when I write and is the measuring stick on how I judge heroes other writers come up with--and let me assure, there are some damned good heroes out there. David Gemmell and Jon Sprunk aren't anyone to sneeze at, folks. Druss and Caim are up there too.

What makes Drizzt so damned special is that he simply is. He is someone who is good simply because that is how he is. All my favorite characters are simply who they are, and I think that is what drew me to the dark elf. Growing up not feeling like you are a part of something but still trying to be a decent (or even good) person is something I struggled with, and it helped that Salvatore wrote that kind of character. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that without Drizzt, I wouldn't be as well-adjusted today as I hope I am. Not only is the dark elf brave, he is kind, he is giving, and he loves. He is a true hero in my book.

It also helps that RA Salvatore is a hell of a writer, whether he is going on an adventure with Drizzt, saving with the world with Cadderly, or taking the Highwayman out for a stroll. Salvatore has everything in his writing that I think Howard had and that Marco, Cook, and Nix have-- real human characters, great action and pacing, along with an ability to make each and every player distinct with their own voice. Salvatore's style, while verbose at times, lends itself to the best of fantasy, and if I may, I would put Drizzt with Sword and Sorcery and alongside Conan any day. There no writer who is as influential to my own work then RA Salvatore-- passion, great technical skills (especially in the area of writing combat), and the ability to grab a reader is everything I want to be able to do when I finally grow up as a writer. That and he's fun, and we can always use more fun in the genre.

But what really impresses me about Salvatore is how he treats his fans. He (and from what I hear, Brandon Sanderson) are more than awesome when it comes to the people that make the industry move. I know this personally, as I have gotten to email Salvatore a few times and ask him questions, and he has always gotten back to me. I also got to meet RA Salvatore at the recent Dragon*Con in Atlanta, and again, nothing but absolute kindness. He even signed my copy of Homeland, which was one of the key books that drove me to write.

See! See! He signed it.

You may not know this at home, but I do not have a lot of heroes in my personal life: My father is my hero, my grandfather was that as well, and my only real icons in sports and entertainment are Wanderlei Silva and Stone Cold Steve Austin. I have a TON of literary heroes, writers who have left an indelible mark upon me both as a person and as a writer. Salvatore is at the top of that heap-- and it is very cool to meet your hero and find out they are even better than you thought they were.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of "I Love..." and if you did, please click the Google+1 on the right of this page or follow me @JayRequard on Twitter. I will be back next week with a new author interview!

Stay safe!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sit Down, Shut up, and WRITE!

It seems like such a simple idea when you first think of it:

"I'm going to write a book!"

There is so much hope and energy when you pop open Word and type the first few words. Those words turn into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and before you know it you have half a page done! You click save, you exit out the file, and then you go to the bathroom, grab some tea (or in my case, a beer), thinking about how the next day it going to be even better than the first, that how on that second day "I'm going to get some real work done."

Then reality sets in.

"It sucks."
"I don't know what to write."
"Where am I going?"
"I don't know what to write."
"This really sucks!"

And you don't. You don't re-open that Word document, you never stop to really look at your monstrosity, and the days go on with you not writing.

You're not alone.

I was 19 when I decided I want to be a professional author who made his bones writing. I am 26 now and while I am not making my living at it, I am closer now then where I was when I was 19, and much of that it to do with the fact that I sit down EVERY DAY and write. And there is a story behind that.

I was attending UNC Charlotte for undergrad, and I had the great privilege of having my girlfriend, Margo, living in the same dorm I was. We were in summer school, and one night I was telling her this story idea I had come up with, and how I was going to write and how it was going to be awesome. At the time, I had the very bad habit of starting an story and never finishing it, mostly because I would use the excuse of "how bad it was so it must be a bad idea." So as we are driving back from a day in Charlotte, Margo hears my idea, my boasting, and the best thing that ever happened in my life (besides her, of course) occurred.


JAY: This idea is going to work!
MARGO: Shut up.
JAY looks over at Margo, bewildered by her perceived lack of enthusiasm: What?
MARGO: You always talk about these great ideas, but have you ever finished one?

Now, if you're an idiot, you're going to say "how dare she!" or "my girlfriend would *never* talk to me like that", probably because your girlfriend absolutely sucks!

The Rock said so.

Margo was right. She was dead right, and because of her calling me out, I forced myself to sit down and finish what would later become my first manuscript, The Night, which we may talk about at a later time.

The aim of this blog (beyond my own promotion) is to give beginning writers who are just starting out ways and means to stay in the chair and in front of their laptop. These methods worked very well for me, but please note, they may not work for you. All writers need to find their own way doing things. So here are six things that I do to really make sure I sit down and get the writing done, plus my mystical rule to truly getting your work done *ooooo, ahhhhh*:

1. Make it a daily goal, not a routine- Now, there are some authors out there that will tell you that you need to set aside a specific amount of time during the day to get your writing done and that you need to work on a schedule, but those people are professional who do their work for a living and have already made some sort of money. They don't have your job, they probably don't have your kids (call the cops if they do), and sometimes life gets in the way. However, what I try to do is not set time aside for writing, but set a goal of how many words (or pages, if you are so inclined to think of them that way) I want to put down before I go to sleep. It doesn't matter if it is 300 to 3000, I make sure that throughout the day I am chipping away at that word count. Writing has to become your daily goal, not a chore.

2. Work on more than one thing - As the new Head Organizer of Charlotte Writers and as a member for the past two years, I often see beginning writers who are so wrapped up on one idea that they spend more days not writing than they do honing their craft. Please understand, this is a hard business where perfection, while in the eye of the beholder, is often elusive because many don't want to listen to criticism and come to terms that their idea might not be the greatest in the world. One of the ways to make it great is by having the perspective of writing other things. To be in this business you always need to have more than one idea, and working on multiple stories/projects will help you develop your voice, style, and teach you think like plotting, pacing, and the technical stuff.

3. Clear out all distractions - Now this one is iffy because the definition of distraction varies from person to person. However, you do want to make sure your attention is focused on your writing, and sometimes that means setting up your writing area in such a way that you feel comfortable to write. For me, that place at my desk, sitting in my slowly-deteriorating arm chair. Yes, I have the internet, but when I am in that chair with my work-in-progress on the screen, there might be music on, but I definitely have my research tabbed and ready to go, and I am getting it done. I can also get work done when I am at a Charlotte Writers' functions specifically geared toward getting the words down. Beginning writers need a place where they can close off the world.

4. Make sure to take short breaks - While you should be free of distraction, some writers like myself think faster than they can write, which forces a sudden overload where the words are there but they just won't come out. At those times I check my email, check this blog and try to get some business done for SWB or Charlotte Writers, or I call home to make sure my parental guardians who both birthed and raised me are still alive for the time being. This lasts anywhere from five to ten minutes, but it gives me enough time to calm down and get back to work.

5. READ OUTSIDE YOUR GENRE - I cannot tell you how many beginning writers I meet who don't do this, and sometimes I really wonder at how they honestly think they will be successful. It is even worse when I meet a writer who doesn't read at all (yes, those exist.) You have to read outside of what you write, period. I read voraciously, and I always learn something from the books I devour, be it a method to help my writing or a pattern to avoid. Even bad books can teach writers a lot about their craft. It is important to read often and read outside of what you write because of the opportunities it affords. I write epic fantasy, high fantasy, but mostly Sword and Sorcery, but beyond reading novels and short stories in the genres I love, I actually read more history, more religious texts, and more science than I do fiction. I still read a lot of fiction, but having those outside works to dive into not only keeps me from being bored with my genre, but it helps refresh me with new ideas I can bring into it. I didn't come up with Jishnu the Srijati reading fantasy novels alone-- I came up with the character reading Conan stories by Robert E. Howard, The Black Company by Glen Cook, but without the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important Hindu religious texts, I would have never formed the character or the story into something I know is new to the genre I love. Reading is what keeps writers alive. I read so often things that inspire me to sit down and write, I can say without question that it is integral to every writer's growth, no matter their skill level. Because I read outside of Sword and Sorcery, Epic, and High Fantasy, I am more passionate about them when it comes to creating those types of stories.

6. Get the first draft done, no matter how bad it is - This is actually the one problem I hear most often from beginning writers. "I'm scared it sucks, so I never finish it." Trust me, I victimized myself the same way in the beginning, and it took a long time to realize that the first draft is 99.9% of the time going to be absolute shit. And that's okay--nobody ever gets it right on the first attempt, that is why you hear stories of manuscripts going through three, five, or nine drafts before it finally catches on with an agent or an editor. Hell, I just got done working with an editor for a story called The Chase that I had accepted into an anthology, and all together I think there were SEVEN drafts created before we decided it was done. Three of them were mine which went through critiques and rewrites before I submitted it, and the remaining four I went through with the editor getting it ready to go to print. I will be open and honest in saying that the first draft sucked, but I knew at the time that I had grown to a point in my skill as a writer that I was okay with it. Any story/manuscript can be fixed if you are willing to put the work into it. This is a really hard concept for some writers to get their head around, as we do live in a society where we all expect some sort of weird perfection right from the get-go. If you can accept that you aren't going to get it right the first time, that pressure is gone, and you can just write. This is one of the few times where I will say that this method out of the five I just presented it absolute. Believe me, if you get the first draft done, you can get the second, and then the third, and then you can start a new story, and then you are off the races. This absolutely works.

Now, these methods or suggestions are all well and good, but there is one thing that makes it all work together in the end. It is something that applies to all aspects of life, whether it is writing, a relationship, a job, anything. It is plain and simple:

You either want this or you don't.

No excuses, no bullshit, it comes down to if you have the guts to sacrifice for what you want. I want to be a fantasy author. No, I want to be the best fantasy author ever! No, more than that, I want to be the greatest author of all time and of any genre! Will it happen? The words "greatest" and "successful" are all in the eyes of the beholder, but nothing is going to stop me from going after this dream of making my bones with my writing. RA Salvatore, my favorite living author, has a great quote: "If you can quit, quit-- If you can't, then you're a writer."

I can't quit this just like I can't quit breathing. If you, the reader out there, want this business and all the rewards (and hardships) it can offer, you can't quit. If you can, none of these suggestions will help you. That is just the simple truth.

I truly hoped you all gained something from this. I know how hard it is to sit down and write, but you can do it.

If you liked what you read here, please click on the "Google +1" button to the right, or follow me @JayRequard on Twitter. Stay safe, have fun, and get that writing done!

Friday, January 11, 2013

January 2013 Newsletter

Hail and Hello! Well, the first month of Sit. Write. Bleed. has been a smashing success in my opinion, and what I have up next going into 2013 is going to be pretty exciting. This is the first newsletter for the blog, which just sums up everything that has happened in the last four postings, and I pepper in an announcement or two about where I am right now in terms of projects and any good news.

If you weren't able to read the first installment of Sit. Write. Bleed. and the introduction to the blog, go here.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with successful Romance author Becky Moore and discuss publishing, the Romance genre, and her career in a 35-minute recorded interview. It was a blast, and you haven't had the chance to check it out yet you can do so here.

Finally, I ended the month discussing a genre of fantasy that is nearest and dearest to my heart. If you want to read about my love for Sword and Sorcery, please go here.

So a little bit of news... Recently I became the Head Organizer of Charlotte Writers, the premiere writing and critique group in the Charlotte-area. It is a big responsibility, but things are going very well and the Assistant Organizers and myself are about to implement some changes which I hope will propel the group to great heights. We are primed to have a great 2013, so wish us luck!

Also, I am happy to say that the last month has been extremely productive for me as a writer. I turned in a submission to James Tuck's Sword and Sorcery-themed anthology Thunder on the Battlefield, and I am guessing I should hear something about that in February. I also finished the final proofreading for my story "The Chase", which was accepted for publication in the John Hartness' anthology The Big Bad: An Anthology of Evil, which should be out from Kerlak Publishing in mid-2013. My story was edited by Emily Leverett, who really helped shape it into a better yarn than it originally was. Working with a professional of her caliber was a really enriching experience, and when I figure out a way to run into her again I will hopefully be able to get an interview on the process of editing. I am also very happy to say that I finished the fifth draft of my novel Out of the Dark, and hopefully after a few more passes it will be ready to send out to agents.

So next week I will be posting an article on Writing and Motivation. Hopefully it will help writers out there who sometimes struggle to figure out how to sit down and just get it done. The week after I hope to be posting another interview with an author, and if it is who I think it will be, you are all in for a treat.

Stay safe!

Friday, January 4, 2013

I Love Sword and Sorcery!

Hail and Hello! Welcome to the first installment of "I Love...", a monthly article where I discuss something within fantasy fiction or general culture that I, Jay Requard, am oodles-and-noodles crazy about. As a rule, I try to make sure this page contains as little negativity as possible as there is already enough of that on the internet.

Since this is the first installment, it is only appropriate that I begin by proclaiming my love for Sword and Sorcery.

***Warning-- unlike other installments of Sit. Write. Bleed., "I Love..." is usually much longer of a read, so bear with me.***

Sword and Sorcery, for those who are uninitiated, is a genre of fantasy which is sometimes called "heroic fantasy", and the term for the genre may have been first created in 1961 in the pages of the famous fanzine Amra, where Michael Moorcock, famous for his Elric stories, requested that the genre of tales written in the vein of Robert E. Howard be pinned to a literary term--though this story, including the origin of the term "heroic fantasy", is heavily disputed by authors like Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp, who were the first to really codify and study the genre in earnest. However, if we are to follow the Michael Moorcock account, he originally thought the term "epic fantasy" fit better than "sword and sorcery", but after Fritz Leiber replied in an essay in the pages a literary journal Ancalagon, the term "Sword and Sorcery" stuck. Could you imagine what we would be calling Goodkind, Martin, and Johansen if "Epic Fantasy" had stuck to what is today called "Sword and Sorcery?"

Sword and Sorcery is best exemplified in its featuring of rugged heroes and heroines (chain mail bikinis included), the arcane and supernatural, weird and terrifying monsters, exotic settings, and a fast pace which gets the reader from the first page to the last in an enthralling ride. Instead of the plot shaping what the heroes do, the heroes usually react to the danger or situation when it presents itself. Most importantly, the world is never black and white, but shades of gray throughout. Sword and Sorcery strikes a balance between easily accessible and intellectually stimulating--at least for me as a reader.

I first came across Sword and Sorcery completely by accident when I was twelve years old. My family likes to frequent Holden's Beach in North Carolina, and at that particular piece of coast is home to a used bookstore called "The Book Worm." On one very small shelf dedicated to fantasy I found this:

I am somewhat a believer in Fate now that I am 26, but when I first saw the book it was without the dust jacket you see above, leaving it as a simple tome made of green-backed cardboard with the title on the spine that I honestly thought nothing of. I just grabbed it off the shelf along with a "Xanth" novel, the novelization of Willow (which I didn't see until years later), and something else that I left in a box somewhere at my parent's house. I read the Anthony novel and liked it, I enjoyed Willow, but it wasn't until I opened Flashing Swords that I became entranced by "The Sadness of the Executioner" by Fritz Leiber and went on an amazing journey with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Out of those four stories I loved Lin Carter's "The Higher Heresies of Oolimar" the most, not only because it was so cerebral and trippy that at twelve I didn't understand any of it, but I knew it was beyond anything I had ever read. I read Flashing Swords #1 six times before I left Holden's Beach, front to back. Yet it wasn't until junior year of high school that I fell in love with Sword and Sorcery again.

At that time I was more interested in martial arts, weight-lifting, drinking, and I basically hated absolutely everything about high school. I thought most of the people there sucked (they didn't, I just had a bad attitude), and I hated the structure of the classroom and the destruction of learning I endured most of the time, and writing was absolutely the last thing I ever thought I would be doing. I was still reading comics and fantasy novels (mostly during class because those teachers were boring the piss out of me), but I had also started reading Men's Health, and I came across a review for a collection in the magazine's small book review section. Later that week I skipped class to go to Borders and because of that review I bought this:

I was captured by Howard's prose, his grasp of characterization, and more importantly, his pacing. There was never a burdensome passage put there for the sake of his ego, there was never a misplaced line of dialogue, and Conan to this day is the most realistic hero in terms of his mentality, which was always shown even more than his unconquerable brawn. It was beauty and bloodshed mingled together in a gory pool, which Howard reported by putting the reader right there at the front of the battle or skulking in the shadows of a wizard's tower. Howard was a man who wrote what every little boy with a sword wanted to read, and while I love Salvatore, Tolkien, Le Guin, Goodkind, Anthony, and Alexander, nothing ever drew me in like what Howard, Leiber, and Cook were able to write.

Yes, I include Glen Cook in S&S... you wanna fight about it?

Howard sparked in me a need to write. It may have taken me until my senior year of high school to figure that out, but I wouldn't be doing what I am fighting to do now unless I had found Conan, and Kull, and Solomon Kane, and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and The Black Company. By Crom (get it?), without Conan the Cimmerian there would have been no Jishnu the Srijati, who is the hero of my hopes and aspirations as a writer. I will admit I still need to get around to Elric, as I hear he is a grand opposite formed by Michael Moorcock to answer Howard's barbarian.

Sword and Sorcery appeals to me unlike other genres because while those other forms of fantasy sometimes rely too heavily on a common narrative structure (which is not to say that Sword and Sorcery doesn't either), this type of storytelling has always had a bit more emotional and introspective weight behind it.

I love heroes like Kull of Valusia, who struggle with what they do even if they are the most powerful men in their glittering kingdoms, and I love magic that walks the line between systematic and supernatural than one that just sticks with one or the other. I like settings which bring in elements outside of western mythology and religion. Sword and sorcery has all of that. But what really makes this genre so important and so wonderful to me is that it is art--earnest, meaningful, but formless as to allow it to take on its own character for each person who view/reads it. Color, tone, shadowing-- what an artists in Expressionism does with paints a writer in great Sword and Sorcery does with words. To me the genre is the most magical not because there is sorcery abound in the story, but because of the sorcery woven into the very prose itself.

I hope you enjoyed my love-fest for this genre. If you did, please click on the "Google +1" to the right side of the page. Remember, you can follow the blog and myself @JayRequard on Twitter. See you next week with the newsletter, which will let you know what is coming next on Sit. Write. Bleed.

Stay safe!