Writing terrifies me, and I hope it always will

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I’m scared to begin. I think we’ve all felt that way about something, right? There’s a moment where we teeter on the edge of something, like a skydiver hanging out of the plane and all she has to do is let go. All I have to do is let go and start.

I’m talking about Episode 2 of Gone To Wonder, but I feel this way with every Big Project I start. Sure, sometimes I’ll poke at something, write a few paragraphs, sketch some things out, but that’s not a start to me. I’ve gone into novel-length projects and done significant work, even finished a few, but the whole time I knew this stuff isn’t going anywhere, you’re not going to show anyone this, so it’s okay. It belongs to me, and no one has to know whether it’s crap or not.

But when I’m starting something I really care about, and I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out, and I want so badly for it to pass my internal standards and the standards of all those that may read it someday, I’m terrified. Am I alone here, writers? Is anyone else as neurotic as I am about a silly story?

Once I’ve begun, the neurosis don’t go away, but I’ve already started, and my Cheese Monster is hungry (explanation about him in the video below). Sometimes I’ll peter out (okay, most of the time). Sometimes, the urge to find the end wins, and somehow I get there. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, it drives me insane (just ask Andrew). But before I’ve begun, before all the potential energy has been converted into kinetic, all I have are doubts and some silly ideas.

I’ve sketched out a few of these silly ideas for Episode 2, even taken a few cracks at starting, but always felt comfortable because I had my precious delete key. I love that key. I wield it like a katana in a room full of zombies. But after a while, write-delete-rewrite-delete serves its purpose. After a while, I know that I’m stalling, but I don’t want to start start.

The thing is, even though I’m anxious as hell, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want my writing to always scare me so much that I doubt everything, because that’s how I know I care and how I push myself to improve. If I’m not scared of failure, I won’t fully appreciate success.

Time is running out, though. A deadline approaches. The pencils are sharpened enough, the man says. Time to start this shit up.

If you’re like me, wanting to start something but you’re scared, or you’ve started and you have doubts, watch Ze Frank’s Invocation for Beginnings. Even if you’ve seen it before, watch it, then tell me about your beginnings. I want to know, am I the only one this nuts about a story, or anything? Are you scared to start things? And if you aren’t, what’s your secret?

EVERYTHING IS (even more) FREE!

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We are giving our books away. Yup, true story. Right now, both Zach’s book Gone To Wonder: Absent Hero, and my short Tim and the Breakup of Impending Doom are free on Amazon! Click on the links below in order to get over to Amazon and grab your copy. Trust us, you won’t regret it!

 

Oh! And in case you didn’t know, this promotion only lasts for a few days over at Amazon. But, if you ever want a copy of one of our books for free, all you have to do is send us an email at beardedbards at gmail.com.

Now read on, you crazy readers!

What Just Happened?

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“1965 Rambler Classic 660 4-d blue-white VA-t” by CZmarlin — Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1965_Rambler_Classic_660_4-d_blue-white_VA-t.jpg#mediaviewer/File:1965_Rambler_Classic_660_4-d_blue-white_VA-t.jpg

Guys! I think Zach hit me over the head and hid me in the trunk of his car! Because, I just woke up from what appears to be a week long block out to find a whole bunch of stuff going on with the site.

Let’s start at the basics. The colors on the site have changed . . . or maybe that’s just my eyes readjusting from the lack of light for the past few days. Nope. They changed. Wow, the site is looking better than ever. I mean, I would have been okay with that change. I don’t really understand why he had to hit me over the head and lock me away to do that, but okay.

Oh, and we have a charity challenge going on! We are each writing the first draft of our upcoming episodes. He’s off writing Gone to Wonder Episode Two, and I’m working on the first Episode of Insular States. Whoever finishes last gives away 25 percent of their earnings for a year to a charity of the winner’s choice. Nice! I love charity! Who doesn’t. But again, I wonder why he had to knock me out to go ahead and do that . . .

And look at that, another change for the site! We’re going to start writing some long-form articles on comparative mythology, mono myths, archetypes, and troupes. Well that should be both awesome and interesting. I love comparative mythology, in fact, I’m currently working on an article about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their relationship to serpent myths throughout history. Weird . . .

And we’re giving our ebooks away for free to anyone who asks? And Zach is offering Gone to Wonder for free on Amazon? Well, there you have it, Zach has gone crazy. New site design, new direction, chartist challenge, free ebooks. I guess him knocking me out makes sense now.

But, hey, I’m totally okay with all of it! I just wish I had seen it happening instead of being locked up in a dark, stuffy trunk for the past week.

Let’s be honest, guys. Zach and I both love what we are doing here with the site. And we want to offer you the best possible experience, one where we can intrigue you with our ideas and stories, and then give back with charity and free ebooks to those who ask. So, keep tuned. Things are picking up at Bearded Bards, and they don’t look to slow down anytime soon.

Oh, and if you see Zach, let me know. I think he may have my wallet.

EVERYTHING IS FREE!

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HI THERE, KA-RAZY ZACH HERE…

Ahem, excuse me, I turned into a terrible used car commercial there for a second. But there’s a deal going down right now that has me in that frame of mind. Yes, prices have been slashed to historic lows! Hundreds of hail-damaged digital books that must go now!

My book, Absent Hero, first episode of the Gone To Wonder story, is absolutely free this weekend on Amazon. It is free every weekend and weekday if you ask for it, but I thought I’d throw poor Amazon a bone. They’re hurting right now, folks, and they need all the traffic they can get.

So if you’d like to get a copy of Absent Hero for your KindlePad Phone, go on over to Amazon this weekend and download it. Remember, this is about helping them.

 


 

cover3The first episode of Gone To WonderAbsent Hero, is available now from Amazon.com. Seventeen-year-old Wendy Danek is a superfan of the revolutionary theme park Finnegan’s Wonder, a place where stories come alive around you. But her world is thrown upside down when the Wonder pulls her into a story she never imagined she could experience. Will she save the Wonder, or end it? Pick up a copy of Absent Hero and be Gone to Wonder!

The Assault of Laughter

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A true bearded bard

I’d like to write a bit about depression, laughter, Mark Twain, the dividing line between fiction and reality, and Robin Williams (it’ll come together, just bear with me).

My favorite Mark Twain work is The Mysterious Stranger. It’s an odd choice, perhaps, given it’s status as a posthumous work. It was sort of cobbled together from different drafts, and there are a couple different versions of it, and it isn’t one of his well known works, but I found it to be decades ahead of its time. It is a very existential piece, especially in the ending. Mark Twain used a unique perspective—an angel named Satan—to bring to bare his most scathing rebuke of humanity. It isn’t particularly funny, but given Twain’s body of work, and the dark mood he came under in his later years, that can be forgiven. Besides the ending, the thing I like most about it is the following quote:

For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon–laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution– these can lift at a colossal humbug–push it a little–weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.

This was brought to mind yesterday with the news of Robin Williams’ death. But I often have this passage in mind whenever the news brings an unending torrent of woe and despair. Riots in Missouri, child beheadings in Iraq, war in Gaza and Ukraine, deadly virus outbreaks. So much bad going on, it’s hard to fathom. I have to remind myself that the world we live in is actually far safer than almost any time in human history. It just doesn’t seem that way sometimes.

That can happen on the personal level, too. If you’ve ever been clinically depressed, you know that life can feel like a highlight reel of bad news. I’ve been there. It’s a place where every negative about you, and the world around you, is exploded in proportion to everything else. It gets so bad that you go numb and your emotional nerve endings become nonexistent. When I was in the deepest trough of my depression, I alternated between panic and cold calculation. I added up all the variables, crunched the numbers, and decided that the universe would be improved if I wasn’t in it. I can look back at that time and see that I missed some numbers, or miscalculated values. But the constant loop in my head of bad-worse-worst let nothing in.

Addiction and depression are diseases, with behaviors very similar to viral and bacterial infections. They infect you, one way or another, and unless treated the infection spreads and can become fatal.

Robin Williams had a lot to live for. Family, friends, a world that valued him very highly. You might say what he did was selfish, in which case you might be an asshole. I can’t say it is universally true that those that commit suicide in this manner think this way, but I can say with authority what my thought patterns were when I attempted to take my own life. I was absolutely convinced that I was scum for doing it, but that was even more a reason to remove myself from my loved ones’ lives. They’d be better off without a quitter like me.

I was so wrong that it is difficult to talk about. I still feel a lot of shame, and that can tug me down sometimes. But I also know better how those feelings and actions impact the people around me. I know what a long-term deal it is, too. I saw plenty of evidence first hand at the mental health facility I was taken to. So when I find the things that pull me up, I grab hold of them hard. Writing is one of those things. Music, movies, books, theme parks—all of these are forms of stories, and I live for stories. If someone ever asks me why such things mean anything in the face of hardship around the world, the short answer is ‘because they do’ and the long answer is ‘because I don’t’.

Write what you know is a bit of a silly cliche, but in my case, I can’t help it. I write about the things that I’m most passionate about (like theme parks and monomyths), and also about themes I’m passionate about. Which means depression has cropped up a lot in my fiction, and will do so for a long time. It’s there in Gone To Wonder. It’s there in a short story I’m writing, about a kingdom trapped in an unending night. It’s there in my psyche, gnawing at the edges.

It’s important to me, then, to try to keep things in perspective. Nothing is ever truly black. Even in the darkest corner of the sky there’s light. Even in the blackest, gloomiest writing, there’s got to be humor. Because humor is the best weapon in our arsenal at holding back the demons that threaten to overwhelm us. Think about that first Saturday Night Live! episode after 9/11, or the hysterical and poignant Charlie Chaplin film, The Great Dictator, or the irreverent thumb-of-the-nose that was Dr. Strangelove. This is why the loss of a comedian like Robin Williams is being felt so much right now by so many. His arsenal was great, and will be missed.

People will always ask ‘why did he do it?’, but that’s the wrong question. The right question is ‘how did he fight so long?’ Family, friends, and laughter. In the end it wasn’t enough, but it sure makes a burden easier to bear.

On that note, I think we need to laugh. Here’s a clip of Robin Williams on Craig Ferguson’s show last fall. I could watch those two riff together for days.

No matter what happens, never lose your sense of humor.

Image via sesamestreet.tumblr.com

Finding Substance In Stories

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There is a scene in Guardians of the Galaxy, which, for me, incapsulates the essence of storytelling. An army, lead by the evil Ronan, has come down upon Peter Quill and his band of misfits. The all-powerful Infinity Stone, which they hoped to sell to a mysterious buyer, has been taken, and Quill is forced to call upon someone from his past who wishes him dead.

Our hero is at his lowest point. He has fallen so far that there is no telling how he can—or if he will—pull himself back up. Every force in the universe seems to be playing its hand against him.

There is a scene in ZT’s Gone to Wonder: The Absent Hero that reminds me of much the same. Wendy is thrown from the Wonder, and back into the real world. Her journey is cut short as she is ripped from her path. She is tossed into the cold and left to wade through snow drifts surrounding the indoor theme park. Wet, cold, and without a way back in she is forced to recognize that this could be the end of her journey.

From The Absent Hero:

She got up and pounded at the door in vain. Tears came, hot at first on her unprotected cheeks, changing quickly to needles as they froze. Soon the only thing she could feel was cold. Her phone, which had still been in her hand, had been knocked out. She was able to find it, buried in a snow bank. Wendy cried in anguish when it wouldn’t turn on.

All at once, she had been thrown back into the world, the real world, the world that confused her. It was like being ripped out of a dream, like stepping out of a door and suddenly being at the edge of a thousand foot cliff. It was like her mom had just died, all over again. And above all, it was cold.

She dragged herself away from the locked emergency exit and began to trudge through the snow. It was up to her knees almost, and her jeans were already soaked through. Wendy hugged herself tightly as gust after gust of wind cut right through to her bones. It was a long way around, on the far side of the massive building, to get back to the atrium. By the time she came around to it, the sky was almost completely dark. Her whole body was so numb, she couldn’t tell if she was crying or shivering or hungry or anything but tired.

In a basic sense it’s a frame work from the Hero’s Journey (albeit, not from the original Campbell version). It’s what is referred to as “The Ordeal”. It is the time when the hero is at their lowest point. They face death (literally and/or figuratively) and must overcome adversity in order to capture their ultimate boon and finish their journey.

The reason that these scenes in particular incapsulate story telling for me is that they hit on many of the points that I love to see in stories. Mainly, the Hero’s Journey monomyth, something that I find interesting, riveting, and comforting.

The Hero’s Journey isn’t the only way to format a story. There are other archetypes to follow, other ways to write your story. There are books like one I am currently reading—The Islanders— which is a combination of travel guide, history book, and minor character pieces. There are stories like the short story I recently put out, Tim and The Breakup of Impending Doom, which is basically a character profile. There are books like House of Leaves, and S, which are . . . something else.

What good stories have are frameworks that will capture an individual and an audience.

Guardians of the Galaxy and Gone to Wonder: The Absent Hero both follow a story arc that lends to character development and world building. Books like The Islanders and World War Z follow frameworks that lend more towards vast world building. Both of these methods, though, will draw in a reader.

The goal of a good story is simple: bring in your reader, interest them in what is happening to the people and the world that they are reading about, and finally, leave them with a feeling of completion, comfort, and longing for more.

The ways to go about creating a good story, though, are vast and numerous.

Pixar, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Art of Wow

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Have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy yet? Because I have, and I freaking loved it. It had a lot of what I call ‘wow moments’, scenes that are visually eye-popping or especially emotionally captivating. Sure, a lot of movies have big set pieces or stories that strike a chord, but sometimes there are scenes where the only reaction I have is wow. And for my money, there is no place better on earth for those moments than Pixar.

For the visual side of the wow, I find that typically the scenes that do it for me are the ones that visually have a lot going on. The earliest Pixar example I can think of is the Door Chase scene from Monsters, Inc. When Sully and Mike ride the door into that massive cavern, full of hundreds of thousands of brightly colored doors whizzing all around, it’s a dynamic moment.

There’s the scene in Ratatouille, when Remy climbs out of the sewer and first gazes on Paris. Or, when WALL-E hitches a ride to The Axiom, surrounded by the wonders of the Universe. Even the erstwhile Cars franchise that Andrew loves to hate on has one, when Lightning and Sally go for a drive. But my favorite is when Carl first sees Paradise Falls in Up, because it blends the two types of wow moment, visual and emotional.

Some examples of this second type, which Pixar does so well too, are: Anton Ego’s review of Gusteau’s, the ants standing up to Hopper together, and EVE bringing WALL-E back with a ‘kiss.’ All these have something in common: they are emotional pay-off moments. They are the type of scene that the movie had to earn.

Coming back to Guardians (spoilers ahead, btw), there’s one visual wow that stood out to me, the reveal of Knowhere, but the best wow, of course, was Peter reaching out for Gamora’s hand, and remembering his mother. It is a moment that was earned, both through the blunt friendship storyline, and through the more subtle emotional journey that Peter Quill completes. A movie doesn’t need to be Serious Drama or an Oscar contender to have validity, to be meaningful or affecting. But it does need a certain emotional honesty, and must earn the viewer’s investment. That’s what Guardians did for me, and is the reason why I’m a huge fan of that movie.

One last thought on the wow moment concept. It is a thing which I think is harder to pull off via the written word, but can be done. In fact, it is exactly the kind of moments I try to create in my own work, including the book just published, Absent Hero. It’s the emotional journey that is key in the written word, I think, as you can’t control the visual information as well. And with every big piece I write, everything starts and ends with the character’s journey. I hope, when reading of Wendy’s journey in Gone To Wonder, you can find a wow moment or two.


 

cover3The first episode of Gone To WonderAbsent Hero, is available now from Amazon.com. Seventeen-year-old Wendy Danek is a superfan of the revolutionary theme park Finnegan’s Wonder, a place where stories come alive around you. But her world is thrown upside down when the Wonder pulls her into a story she never imagined she could experience. Will she save the Wonder, or end it? Pick up a copy of Absent Hero and be Gone to Wonder!