This week, I'm proud and excited to announce my very first guest blogger: fellow author Ellen Seltz! She's got a fierce love of mysteries, and does a regular series of reviews on her website. I wrote a guest post of my own for her, which went up a few weeks ago. You can read it here... but don't forget to stay a while and check out what else she has to say! Without further ado ... take it away, Ellen!
Roald Amundsen, Dr. Who and Me: Why Resilience > Consistency
At least, according to the prevailing wisdom, I am. I'm going to die alone in a frozen wasteland of blighted dreams, because in order to be a successful writer -- or a productive writer -- or even a marginally-respectable writer, the one thing I absolutely must practice is consistency. And that just ain't gonna happen.
The preponderance of writing advice out there follows right along with mainstream goal-setting advice. It's often based around the concept of the "20-Mile March." Briefly, you set a daily progress goal and finish it. Every day. No matter what. Even if a competitor seems to be pulling ahead in the short-term, your regular incremental progress will get you to your goal quicker and more reliably than making hay while the sun shines and conserving your energy when chaos hits. Jim Collins, who popularized the term, calls it "fanatic discipline."
The 20-Mile March is usually illustrated with the story of the race to the South Pole between explorers Amundsen and Scott. Have you ever read it?
Freaking terrifying, man.
Amundsen (spoiler alert: the winner!) had his men travel by one degree of latitude every day, in all conditions. Scott (in case you hadn't guessed, the frozen corpse) traveled as far as possible in good weather, and slowed down or stayed put on rough days. Amundsen planted his flag first, and returned safely with his team to international accolades and undying fame.
Scott and his last 2 teammates got dug out of a snowbank eight months later, and buried on the spot.
Oh, fantastic. Thanks so much for that great motivational snippet.
See, I don't know about you, but I have a lot of rough days. I'm a mom. I run a freelance business from home. I have an unlovely string of health issues that limit my daily spoons, and an array of elderly relatives in various states of sanity who call me up at inopportune times for help with their head-wounds, legal paperwork, and WiFi passwords. Nothing in my world is going to happen every single day without fail, and that includes food, sleep, and showers.
It's at this point I start really panicking. Because I've done fanatic discipline. I spent my 20's doing it for an acting career, and wrecked my body. As a writer, I've done "make wordcount no matter what," and wound up with the NaNoWriMo Horror Show of 2014. Fanatic discipline makes my life miserable and unsustainable, and doesn't even produce good art as an excuse.
So that's it. Mottley and Baker's complete series will never see the light of day. My chick-lit serial will shrivel up and get frostbite. I'm doomed.
Fortunately, I did what I always do in the face of panic and doom: research. (No, really. It helps. Even if you don't fix anything, it's like a brain vacay so you can chill the heck out.)
I discovered there's more to this South Pole story than first appears.
Right off the bat, Amundsen was focused on a single goal: get to the Pole and return safely. He built his team for that purpose, and kept it small: 5 guys.
Scott had an elaborate agenda of scientific observations and experiments, specimen-gathering, fundraising, and political payback. His squad? 17 guys.
For transport, Amundsen used a well-tested, low-tech, low-input, multifunctional system: sled dogs. They are bred to run on snow, dig their own shelter, and can eat nearly anything, including each other. If they don't work out for transport, they can be lunch.
Scott set up a fancy, complicated, high-maintenance system combining horses and motorized sleds. Trying to make them work consumed time and resources, and their failure left him depleted and behind schedule.
For supplies, Amundsen calculated a large margin of error, and doubled it. He brought enough food for the journey that he could have missed every waystation and continued another 100 miles before resorting to any desperate measures. Altogether, 3 tons for 5 men.
Scott brought 1 ton for 17 men. No margin of error. Things got desperate real quick.
Finally, that consistent daily distance? One degree of latitude is approximately 15 nautical miles. They could make it in 5 or 6 hours in good weather and have plenty of time to make camp and rest. If the day went badly, it was still a manageable distance.
Scott went as far as physically possible, pushing his team harder and harder, with no set rest point to look forward to. Some days they'd travel 9 or 10 hours. Remember, this is Antarctica, and they were pulling the sleds by hand. You ever walk an hour in deep snow? How about 10?
That's when I realized that consistency is the "B" storyline in the tale of Amundsen Takes the Pole. The real driving force here is resilience.
Amundsen created a process that could absorb multiple levels of failure without jeopardizing the mission. Like a Time Lord with two hearts, he had a spare for everything.
He respected the size of his goal and the extreme conditions he'd face, and left space in his schedule and resources for the unexpected.
His "fanatic discipline" was not fanatical about pushing harder. It was fanatical about when it was time to stop, even when he felt like he could do more.
So will you join me in fanatical resilience?
Let's respect the extreme conditions we face, whether that's physical, mental, financial, or time limitations. Let's respect the size of the goal we're shooting for -- making a life of our art. It's huge! Let's tell ourselves the truth about our very worst day, so we can find a target that's doable even then. Let's simplify -- simplify our process, our goals, and our materials. We make stuff up! All we really need is paper, ink and the inside of our own heads. Let's give ourselves the gift of knowing when to stop, of saying, "you've done enough today."
And let's make sure to build a little extra margin into our schedules, our budgets, and our hearts - not just so we can absorb our failures, but so we have something to give our people. They have needs, too. And we want to still have them with us at the finish line. Right?
I'll do it if you will. Ready?
Ellen Seltz writes good old-fashioned mysteries with a big shot of humor, described by one reviewer as "Dorothy L. Sayers having drinks with P.G. Wodehouse."
After working in the entertainment industry for twenty years as an actress, producer, comedy sketch writer, librettist, and script doctor, she turned to fiction writing in the vain hope that the performers would do as they were told.
Joke's on her.
You can find Ellen on Facebook (Ellen.Seltz.7), on Twitter @EllenSeltz, and on her blog, EllenSeltz.com.
Before I delve into this week's blog post proper, I have some amazing news: the official results of Metamorph Publishing's Summer Indie Book Awards are in! I'm proud to announce that From the Desk of Buster Heywood ultimately won 2nd place in the Thriller category! My sincere thanks to each and every one of you who voted ... I couldn't have done it without you!
Music is always an integral part of my writing ... I construct a soundtrack for each novel as I go along, with a little help from music cloud sites like Pandora and Google Play. They help me set a mood, and then as I refine the novel, I also refine the list, choosing songs to fit characters and scenes. Last year, I shared my list for From the Desk of Buster Heywood, so it seemed only fitting to celebrate In The Cards' release with its own soundtrack. If you haven't yet grabbed a copy, it's $0.99 on Kindle until September 25th! The reviews on Amazon are already phenomenal... but you're here for the music. Go ahead, punch play and follow along ...
1. Fall Out Boy - Fourth of July
This is one of my favorite songs for Ral, and his failed relationship with Natalie. He can't deny that he's still attracted to her, and there are a lot of regrets ... but there's a lot of anger surrounding how it all ended, too.
2. Nina Gordon - Horses In The City
A great, lovely, lonely song that captures Beatrice's mood on her first few weeks in Aviario perfectly.
3. The Bangles - Walk Like An Egyptian
This has been June's theme for many, many years, ever since I came up with the concept of a perky goth with a love for all things 1980s. It's what's playing in the Balefires the first time Beatrice sets foot inside.
4. John Mellencamp - Small Town
This is the Weldyns' theme, and the perfect music for writing Ral's visit to their house for dinner and conversation. I have always had this song as part of a generic Aviario playlist, and it's likely to stay there.
5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Messiah Ward
The Bad Seeds are my go-to music for writing Dr. Feistus in any stripe, but this serves his therapy sessions with Troy almost too well.
6. Oingo Boingo - No One Lives Forever (Live, Farewell Tour)
Dr. Jon Knight is filled, heart and soul, with the essence of Danny Elfman in the '80s. It's only fitting that this is what he's rocking out to when Sam comes to visit him in the morgue.
7. Peter Gabriel - Sky Blue
I had this song on loop while writing Beatrice's visit to Louise's house. For me, it has always been a song connected with magic and serenity.
8. Christophe Beck - Suite from Restless
Ral's nightmare about his initiation was inspired by this piece from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, and as such it was constantly playing as I wrote. It captures the sacred, ancient nature of the ritual along with the frenzied, wild panic which ensues as it all begins to go wrong.
9. Rasputina - The Olde Headboard
Melora Creager's violin-infused goth rock is my go-to music for writing Natalie ... her signature tune is "Things That I'm Gonna Do", but this one seemed to fit a little more with what happens to her during In The Cards. I put this one on while writing her breakfast date with Ral at Somethin' Brewin'.
10. Peter Gabriel - Cloudless
A song without words for the loss of a lovely character.
11. John Fogerty - Premonition
I was at a loss for any music for Troy until I heard this gem. It has a rustic soul like Troy's, and ties down into everything that's plaguing him by the time the plot really begins to gain ground.
12. Collective Soul - Where The River Flows
I wrote Troy's premonition at the bank of the Housatonic to Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain", but Pandora fed me this song one day while I was editing, and it seemed so much more gritty and visceral. (Besides, this was already a pretty Gabriel-heavy soundtrack.)
13. Florence & the Machine - Shake It Out
Ral lets go of his hang-ups, and it's about damn time.
14. Team Fat - Funky Tubes
What better music for the novel's final confrontation than a piece from something that inspired it all?
15. Cher - Heart of Stone
Just because Ral's decided what's best doesn't mean he's happy about it. I wrote his visit to St. Dymphna's with this playing ... in fact, it was the very first song I ever chose for him.
16. MGMT - Kids
As all-out terrifying and trippy as the video for this song may be, its bouncy, upbeat tune is a perfect match for the Fire Gang's gathering at Madie's in the final chapter.
17. The Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want
It may be a little cliche, as final songs go, but I can't think of a better fit for Troy's last few moments on the page ... and for the man who sets him on the next branch of his path.
BONUS: Linkin Park - Waiting For The End
Heart of Stone may have been Ral's first song, but this was the song that helped me really get under his skin and connect with him. It got me through a very difficult part of my life, and I tapped into that to find his feelings and his thoughts about his uncle, Duncan. I'd be doing both of us a disservice if I didn't give it some form of mention.
That's all for this week, folks! I hope you enjoy the soundtrack and will come back next week, when I'll have a review of indie author L.M. Bryski's spectacular debut novel, Book of Birds! Until then, I remain your hostess,
I know that with four days until the release of In The Cards, I should be looking to the future, but this week, I can't help being a little nostalgic. Here's why:
I remember my first deck of tarot cards, but more than that, or even my second, I remember my third. I hadn’t started out meaning to collect them, but an interest in gypsies grew to interest in fortune-telling, and the card deck I picked up on a school trip to France proved to be more of a game than the oracle most people think of when tarot is mentioned. My second attempt, a Renaissance tarot, was all gilded figures and images which were all too like one another to interest me. But the third: oh, I remember the third!
The Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot looks like something Tim Burton would use to scout out his inner terrain: full of strange angles, stranger proportions, bright colors, and the sweet juxtaposed with the disturbing. I loved it for that exact reason, and brought it home from the store where I worked in the summer between high school and college. I was sweet up against strangeness, myself: a young woman on the edge of the four-year journey of finding her true self. On one particular summer evening, I laid out the new chenille blanket I’d received as a graduation present, and sat in the basement den with a candle burning and the lights out. As I shuffled, thunder rolled over the horizon and into the valley, as sweetly as if I had summoned it there. I felt a shiver and knew I was about to discover something really good about my future: something very important about myself. Card by card, I laid out the spread printed to fit inside the tiny instruction booklet and deciphered its message, knowing the Secrets Of The Universe were about to Tell Me Everything.
The Universe, knowing a good joke setup when it sees one, gave me total gibberish. The Sun, Temperance, something about illusions, and all sorts of stuff that didn’t seem a thing like me. I was really, really annoyed about this, especially since there was a darn good thunderstorm rumbling overhead and I could be doing something fantastic with it instead, something like writing. And then a small, still voice said: Hey. Hey, maybe this reading isn’t for you. Maybe it’s for a character. Don’t you see a story, here?
After a second look, I sure did: the story of a newspaper reporter, investigating missing psychics even though he didn’t believe a word of it, and getting a reading from a medium who called his bluff and pushed all his buttons. I knew just who’d be responsible: characters lurking in a house with no town attached yet. So I wrote down that reading in detail, and started to build the story. I called it “Possible Outcome”, after the nickname for the last card position in the tarot spread I’d used. The town’s name and a few characters came in the wake of a very, very nasty argument which cost me a very dear friend: and what started as my “breakup song” became the way I stayed afloat. As it grew, the town of Aviario gave me direction, and helped me find new friends through my enthusiasm. It may not even be all that excessive to say that there were moments when it saved me.
Even when I’d finished my first draft, my second, my third … it had never quite felt complete. It never felt right. So I set it on the shelf, after college, and Real Life swallowed me whole. I forgot about writing, and got pulled and twisted and wrenched in a million different directions. For five long years, I thought I had what I wanted, but I only had what everyone else had told me I wanted: I was Working For A Living Trying To Make It On My Own As An Adult. … I think I speak for most “adults” when I say: Meh. Once I realized that I should have been writing all along, and Buster Heywood helped me get my feet under me again, I knew exactly where I had to go, next.
"Possible Outcome" had some serious growing pains. The newspaper reporter is gone, most of the cast has changed, the plot is richer, and it has a much, much better title. But when you crack open In The Cards this Sunday, even if you‘ve already been to Aviario, I hope you enjoy your first steps into town. May they be a little sweeter, knowing that they were mine.
Happy September, everyone! It's going to be a busy month for yours truly ... can you believe that the release of In The Cards is just 12 days away?! I got my proof copy in the mail last night... there's nothing as exciting as holding the fruit of a couple years' labor in your hands at last!
Also, in equally exciting news, I've been nominated for the Summer Indie Book Awards, hosted by Metamorph Publishing! Right now, From The Desk of Buster Heywood is in 5th place in the Thriller category ... and less than a dozen votes separate me from third place! People can cast votes daily, up until September 11th ... that's 4 votes apiece for those who feel kind enough to start voting for me, today! Please help me bridge the gap! The voting page is HERE.
There are still two giveaways underway for the book launch on the 18th: one for those who sign up for my mailing list, and another for those who Like my Facebook page! But since good things always come in threes, I'm adding one more opportunity to win something to the pile! If you follow me on Instagram between now and release day, you'll be entered into a raffle to win an original piece of art, featuring the main characters of In The Cards! (If you already follow me there, don't worry, you get an opportunity to enter, too!) Here are the rules:
The winner will be contacted via private message on Instagram, and the print will be shipped to you, mounted on mat-board for framing! The artwork is Prismacolor marker on 9x12" Bristol, and took me a good 8 hours or so from start to finish ... a lot of love and care went into it, and I hope that the winner will give it a good home.
I'll see you all back here next week, when I'll share the journey that In The Cards took from my mind to the page! I hope you all have a fantastic time until then!
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