The Imagination Muscle

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — July 8, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

imagination

From time to time, I get requests for writing advice. I’m not very big on offering writing advice because I truly believe there isn’t one way to do this business and what works for me won’t necessarily work for someone else. Instead, I’m a believer that practicing writing is the way to go (such as Stephen King’s quote about writing a million words and Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to master a skill).

Lately I have been reading James Altucher’s book Choose Yourself and he referenced something else from Stephen King’s memoir that jumped out at me as being profoundly true:

“Stephen King, in his book On Writing discusses an accident he once had that prevented him from writing for several weeks. When he started to write again he could feel the difference. He said how the words just weren’t connecting right. His writing muscle had atrophied. He needed to exercise it again in order to continue writing the nonstop, bestselling thrillers he’d been writing for thirty years.”

And…

“The idea muscle is no different than the writing muscle. It’s no different than your leg muscles, for that matter. If you don’t walk for two weeks, the muscles will atrophy.”

What great insights, which I totally believe in myself and it has to do with the habit of persistence. I’ve seen writers finish their first books. Then they go through the discouraging process of trying to find an agent or a publisher, or maybe they self-publish it and hope it sells. They wait to start writing the next book until…what? Until they have feedback from a real publisher? Until their readers have weighed in on the book? Their writing stalls because they have not achieved some goal with the first? They have stopped after writing their first.

My advice is to keep writing. Even while waiting for the rejection letters from agents or publishers. Even while waiting for the copy-edits to be done on the book you are about to publish. Keep writing. Keep exercising the imagination muscle.

As I thought about this, I realized that I have been doing it for years. When I finish writing one novel, I begin immediately to start working on the next, whether it is a sequel to the first or a brand new trilogy. After I had finished Wretched of Muirwood, I tried getting an agent. I was insecure and wanted feedback to know if it was really good enough. I also felt the atrophy kicking in and so I started on Blight after a few weeks delay because I believed an agent would be more impressed if I had an entire trilogy to sell and not just one book. After Muirwood was done, I started on the Mirrowen series. It was fortunate because when 47North called me, they were excited to learn that I was still writing one novel a year and a new series at that. They offered me a six book deal–three I had already written, and the next three I was going to write.

Now that I have finished writing the Mirrowen trilogy, I have already started on my next project–which I hope to announce very soon. I did not realize until reading Altucher’s book that the habit of flexing my imagination muscle is one of the guiding principles in my craft.

Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved.”

Poisonwell

Filed under: Jeff's Blog,Novels — May 24, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

I turned in the manuscript of Poisonwell yesterday to 47North. What comes next is rounds of editing, collaborating on cover art, formatting the final book, recording the audio version, all preceding the launch day of Feb 3, 2015. I can’t wait to share the final adventure with you. Feedback from my early readers has all been very positive. I think you’ll like how it all weaves together.

I’m very visual and keep a ton of pictures on my computer that inspire different scenes or ideas. I can’t show all of them to you, but I wanted to share a few snippets of things that helped inspire my imagination. I hope you enjoy them.

Poisonwell is an intense journey. Venture into the Scourgelands with me at your peril!

poisonwell1

poisonwell4.jpg

poisonwell3

I’ve been having discussions with my publisher regarding my next project and will have some exciting announcements to make on that front very soon. Stay tuned! Thanks for being part of this amazing journey with me.

 

 

Destruction and Creation

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — April 14, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

I read a great essay many years ago by a famous US Air Force pilot named John Boyd. He had a very interesting life and there’s a great book about him called Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. Reading that book led me to pursue some of John Boyd’s original writings, including his essay “Destruction and Creation” which was written in 1976. I’d like to credit him and his OODA Loop theory as the origins of the Uddhava in the Mirrowen Trilogy.

boyd

“Destruction and Creation” is an essay about where new ideas come from. It describes how we break apart old ideas we’re familiar with in order forge something new, and then break that apart and create something newer still. The process is dynamic and iterative and what struck me about it was that it’s the process I use to create new stories. I think most writers do this.

I read an interview with Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins where she described the origins of her famous story being a mix of the Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur that merged with another idea she had while channel surfing about reality TV shows and war footage. The ideas blended together and Katniss Everdeen and Panem were forged.

For me, sometimes an obscure passage in an obscure book becomes the fount of inspiration for a new book idea. I then strip away parts that don’t need to be there and add in other bits and pieces I’ve found, including the characters or personalities of real people that I know. These ideas tend to ferment inside my mind for many years before coming out into a story that you pick up and read.

The process of Destruction and Creation is very messy, but it’s something I love about the arts. There are an infinite supply of new ideas waiting to be found, just but mixing and stripping away things that work and don’t work from legends of the past.

As the wise writer of Ecclesiastes put it, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9)

There are always new ways to tell old stories. Discovering something old leads to the creation of something new. And for me, that process never gets old.

SunRise

The Bookstore Apocalypse

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — March 15, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

My wife loves to watch Morning Joe and told me about a recent interview that the author James Patterson gave. He’s donating $1 million dollars to help independent bookstores survive.

http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/watch/how-to-preserve-the-cherished-local-bookstore-184294467957

james-patterson

I have no problem with how he spends his own money, but there was a lot of interesting observations in the interview about how competition in the book selling industry is changing business so quickly that independent bookstore owners can’t keep up and are struggling to survive.

In addition to watching this interview, I also just finished the first season of the BBC series “The Paradise”, based on one of my favorite Virtus novels, The Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zola. This is the story of how large department stores rose and then destroyed the boutique shops that specialized in specific clothing items. I would have preferred if the BBC had made it into a miniseries based on the actual book (and set it in France instead of England!), but I digress. Watching the series led me to re-read Zola’s book which shows in quite detail how Amazon is disrupting modern business, just as the fictional Gustave Mouret’s department store did in 19th century Paris.

Let me illustrate with some quotes:

“If the old-fashioned small shops were in their death throes, it was because they could not keep up in the struggle to offer low prices, which had been set in motion by the system of marking prices on goods. Now competition was taking place before the public’s very eyes.”

And

“While pretending to joke, Denise produced sound arguments: the middlemen—factory agents, representatives, commission-agents—were disappearing, and this was an important factor in reducing prices.”

I’m not going to start a debate on how Amazon has been doing exactly these things, just as many other companies did the same thing before them (Wal-Mart, for example).

What it led me to ponder is what will the new world look like after this transformation is complete? We’ve all watched record stores vanish. We’re watching the same thing happening to bookstores because we don’t need to go to a bookstore to find a new book. I can find one in the palm of my hand, a bookstore of unlimited size in my Kindle. I’d never trust a bookstore clerk to recommend a new book to me. No way. But I have trusted the algorithms on Goodreads persuade me to try something new.

So my idea for this blog post is to ask all of you what you think is going to happen in the future when the transformation is done? What does the new world look like following the bookstore apocalypse?

Let me start this discussion with an idea of my own and then I’d love to hear yours.

Amazon provides a large variety of books at the lowest cost. But there are still some unmet needs. Amazon doesn’t provide readers the opportunity of meeting authors in person. That is a totally different experience and one I remember growing up, visiting Terry Brooks during his book tours. Publishers are finding book tours a costly way of promoting books. So let’s turn it on its head. Would you pay a modest ticket fee in order to visit with some of your favorite authors if they came to your city? Right now, it’s the publishers who are paying authors to travel around on book tours which, quite frankly, don’t really contribute all that much to total sales. I’m not suggesting bookstores foot the bill. They are already struggling to make ends meet. Same with the publishers.

So I predict that we’ll see more Kickstarter events where fans attract authors to their cities. A bookstore would be a great venue to hold such a meeting. If it’s a larger crowd, you might need to go to an auditorium or a bigger venue. Sell admission to attend, provide concessions to help pay for local staff (or staff with volunteers who get in for free), and if the author does a good job entertaining the crowd, they may be invited back again another year.

It’s just a thought and it’s already happening with some authors I know. As the new business model has changed, fans and authors have new ways to communicate (like blogs and social media sites). But that’s nothing like getting to meet someone in person and asking questions face to face. I know that’s how I felt meeting Terry Brooks.

So that’s one prediction of what might be waiting on the other side of the bookstore apocalypse. What do you think is going to happen next?

The_Paradise

 

 

A tribute to George R.R. Martin (sort of)

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — February 17, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

I think most authors have been inspired by the work of someone else. I’ve mentioned many times that Terry Brooks was the one who kickstarted my imagination and a desire to write fantasy novels. But there is someone else whose influence on my mind during those earlier years also deserves some credit, but not in the way you might think. You see, before George R.R. Martin wrote Game of Thrones and catapulted to superstardom as an author, I had become familiar with one of his earlier works.

Beauty&Beast

It wasn’t a book, but a television series from the ‘80s called Beauty & the Beast on CBS. It was on Fridays nights and I used to watch it every weekend after work. The television series had a simple (albeit fantastical) plot – that there is a civilization of outcasts living beneath the streets of Manhattan. One of these outcasts is a half-man, half-beast named Vincent who rescued an injured woman named Catherine Chandler in Central Park and took her below to save her life. Catherine ends up working in the district attorney’s office and the two share an empathetic link that allows Vincent to experience her emotions and feelings and save her from danger when she gets in over her head. She’s also quite good at taking people down herself, having studied self-defense after recovery.

It’s a syrupy, melodramatic series to say the least, but it engaged my imagination and opened up a love of the classics that I continue to enjoy and it certainly influenced me and my writing. Let me name a few ways:

  1. In the pilot episode, as Catherine is trying to recuperate in the underground from her severe injuries, Vincent reads to her the Dicken’s novel Great Expectations. It was that episode that made me check out the book from the library and read it. I’ve read it multiple times, and recently listened to it again during my commute. I still have the last paragraph memorized, as quoted by Catherine in that episode, and it’s still my favorite Dicken’s novel. I’ve always thought the blacksmith Joe was a great Virtus character. He still is.
  2. The series is also full of wonderful classical music. There was an episode about a young boy who was a piano prodigy, who could play any song he heard by ear. Although the boy lives in a world of gangs and drug lords, he has a gift which sets him apart until something tragic happens. That episode introduced me to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I taught myself how to play that song and it’s still one of my favorites to play as well as one I can play from memory today.
  3. In the underworld of Beauty & the Beast, there was a despicable villain named John Pater, a genius chemist who Vincent defeats multiple times but who continues to torment the community below as well as unleash drugs on the world above. He’s a deliciously evil man, a master of disguise and impersonation. He was known as Paracelsus, which readers of my Mirrowen series will recognize. The name ‘Paracelsus’ comes from a medieval alchemist in history.
  4. Music is a huge part of the Beauty & the Beast story. Vincent and Catherine often went to concerts together through the underground chambers where they could listen to New York orchestra’s perform above. My love of Antonio Vivaldi came from some of these scenes, especially The Four Seasons and its amazing violin movements. It turns out that Vivaldi and I share a birthday. The emotions that classical music can generate continue to inspire me.
  5. Finally, the series was wonderful at creating tension and angst. Like any good television show, they wanted you to come back the next week. It was especially good at cliffhanger endings. In fact, the last episode of the second season was probably the best cliffhanger ever. CBS cancelled the show after that, much to the outrage of fans. Eventually they relented and decided to film a 3rd season, which (in my opinion) was so awful that I still hold that the series truly ended after the second season, leaving us with a cliffhanger that still echoes in my mind with Catherine screaming Vincent’s name. So you can blame my tendency to do cliffhangers on Mr Martin.

When I first learned of Game of Thrones and discovered that the author had originally written screenplays for my favorite TV show in high school, I was quick to pick it up. Unfortunately, the world he created was dark, more violent, and not the kind of world that I would ever want to visit. And so I guess you could say he inspired me one more time, to write another world that had some of the magic and beauty I had experienced earlier. A world that many of my readers would love to visit if only it were real. I could almost hear Colvin saying these words at the end of Scourge of Muirwood:

I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the [abbey], so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.

– Charles Dickens, Great Expectations 

vincent-catherine

One Year Later…

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — January 11, 2014 @ 7:26 pm

A year ago, I posted a blog right before the re-launch of the Muirwood Trilogy under the banner of 47North. This was a few weeks before the launch of FIREBLOOD and the launch of the Whispers from Mirrowen trilogy. From my perspective back then, I had no idea what the coming weeks and months would bring. What a tremendous year it has been and I’m so grateful to have met a ton of new readers and seen proof that clean fiction sells.

 

I received two surprise packages from my publisher this week. The first came on Monday with a  congratulatory note on WRETCHED hitting another major milestone and they gave me a box of book covers mounted on cards that can be used to write thank you notes or send to people. I wasn’t expecting anything, so it came as a delight.

 

muirwood

 

The second surprise package came Tuesday night when a box arrived full of author copies of DRYAD-BORN. It was such a special experience opening the box and pulling out the first copy of a brand new novel and flipping the pages in my hand. It was a total coincidence that earlier that day, I had asked the publicity guy for 47North if I could give away advanced copies to a handful of early readers. I posted a note to my “street team” on Facebook and the copies were snatched up really fast. I had no ideas I was going to get mine that same day. I had to walk a copy over to a neighbor and friend across the street and drop off a few copies around town this week. It’s great having a new book out and I’m so excited to hear what you think about the sequel and the revelations. I’m hard at work trying to finish the final book of the trilogy, POISONWELL.

 

box

 

Hopefully you’ve already pre-ordered your copy! Just to remind you though, if you buy the print version of any of my 47North titles through Amazon, it qualifies you for the Kindle Matchbook deal where you get the Kindle version for $0.99. And when you buy the Kindle version, you can get the Audible audiobook version for $1.99. It’s such a great deal – all three versions for less than the full price of the paperback.

 

Over the last twelve months, I have learned so much about the publishing world. I’ve met many authors (we hang out together on private Facebook boards), I’ve received so many “likes”, tweets, e-mails, and kind words from so many of you. I’ve even run into one of you at Little Caesars picking up pizza for my kids.

 

As I close my first blog posting of 2014, I just wanted to say a big thank you to you, my awesome readers. I’ve got many more stories left to tell. Thank you for reading my books. Thanks for telling your friends about my books. Thanks for the e-mails and all the words of encouragement. In a few months, I will be done with the last book of this series and will talk to 47North about what I’d like to write next.

 

Stay tuned and get ready for February 4th, launch day! If you haven’t signed up for my e-mail list yet, please feel free to. You can from the main page of my website here or through my author Facebook page.

 

The Hulu Effect

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — December 20, 2013 @ 11:29 am

binge-watching

I’d like to give my wife credit for creating the title of this blog posting. We’ve been talking about a trend that we’re seeing and maybe you are too. Recent news reports call it “binge-watching” (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/were-country-binge-watchers-feel-164000788.html) but it applies to reading books too. This is when you gulp down an entire series of Downton Abbey in a week. I’ve also seen many reviews from readers who have gobbled the entire Muirwood Trilogy in two days (which I believe is still the record). I’ve seen many comments and e-mails from readers who have stayed up all night to finish Scourge. I love it! So is this a new trend or has it been happening for a long time? I don’t think I know the answer, but it raises some curious questions.

 

For example, would you rather wait to start reading a series until all the books are published? Or are you okay waiting a year in between novels, depending on the publisher’s schedule? For very popular series, like Harry Potter, I did not want to wait until everything was done and looked forward with anticipation for the next book to come out and usually made time to read it soon after publication. I don’t do that with many books though and usually wait until I hear about a new book or series before giving it a try. I started on the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and finally got fed up trying to keep up and eventually abandoned the series (which finally concluded after the author died!).  When my publisher was getting ready to launch FIREBLOOD earlier this year, they deliberately left off the “Whispers from Mirrowen” tagline on the cover because they knew some readers won’t even try a book that’s part of a brand-new series. Is this because of the Hulu Effect? Or is it the GRRM effect?

 

Back when I made the decision to self-publish the Muirwood Trilogy, I chose to make them available all at once. I didn’t want to arbitrarily make my readers suffer in anticipation when they could have and read the entire series and get free shipping by ordering all of them from Amazon. With Mirrowen, it’s a different situation because I’m still writing the books, so there is a delay in when you get them. By the time you finish DRYAD-BORN in February, I’ll still be hard at work on the final book. I’m hurrying, believe me.

 

Which leads me to a question I have for you about the Hulu Effect. If you had a choice, would you rather wait a little longer and get an entire trilogy at the same time, or would you rather get them one at a time and suffer the delay?

binge-reading

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Choose your answer on the survey below and leave your comments for me. I’d love to hear your thoughts. To access the survey, first click on a number below of how you liked this blog posting. Then it will take you to the survey – only two questions, so it’s short.

 

Happy Holidays!

 

Jeff

Faith and Fantasy Day 10: “Is Religion Evil?”

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — December 12, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

My blog entry for Melissa F. Olson’s event:

Welcome to the twelve-day, twelve-author blog event, Faith and Fantasy: Twelve Days of Deliberation! Today’s post is by legendary Muirwood trilogy author Jeff Wheeler.

“Is Religion Evil?”

http://melissafolson.com/mfoblog/faith-and-fantasy-day-10-is-religion-evil-by-jeff-wheeler

 

Sneak Preview: Book II of Whispers from Mirrowen (first 3 chapters)

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — November 28, 2013 @ 12:02 am

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I wanted to do something special to show my appreciation to all my loyal (and patient) fans. My publisher has allowed me to post the first three chapters of Dryad-Born. The publication date is Feb 4, 2014 so this may be torture to some of you. But if you wanted to get a sneak preview of the book to read during the holidays, here you go. Enjoy, and thank you for supporting me!

File: Dryad-Born excerpt ch 1-3

I’ve also created a mailing list that you can sign up for here on my website or through my Facebook author page. I won’t be sending many newsletters or announcement but subscribing to this list will help you be first to know any major announcements. Please take a moment and sign up – the form is on the navigation bar on the right.

dryad-born

Guest Blog by Roberto Calas: The Flourish

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — November 23, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

So, you’ve been writing stories since high school. Or maybe you just started recently. You’ve got a Nanowrimo or two under your belt and you’re starting to find your groove. And now, you’ve decided to get serious about your writing. I applaud you for it. And I will give you one piece of advice that took me years to learn:

If you want to separate yourself from the crowd, you need flourish.

Readers can choose from thousands of different stories. Hundreds of thousands. But what they want is a story that will jump off the page. They want to be entertained. You are not a writer, you are a literary gladiator, thrilling the crowds as you knock down one sentence after the other.

“Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?”

The writers of the movie Gladiator might have been speaking through their protagonist with those lines. For those who haven’t seen Gladiator, Proximo is an older man, a former gladiator who won his freedom. He owns his own gladiators now, and he tells one of them (Maximus, the story’s protagonist) this:

“I was not the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you will win your freedom.”

That line has always resonated with me, because it applies to every type of creative writing there is. Do not write quickly or dispassionately. Thrill the crowd. Make them love you and you will win them forever.

gladiator 

Maximus takes Proximo’s words to heart and when he next marches into the arena, he takes ona handful of men and kills them in dramatic and acrobat fashion. After he does so, he holds his hands up to the crowd in a moment of self-loathing and asks, “Are you not entertained?”

We have to make those acrobatic kills with our writing, but fortunately we don’t have to hate ourselves for it. Because … well … this metaphor is falling apart isn’t it?

Okay, so, how do we, as writers, make the crowd love us?

We do it with flourish, my friends. We do it with flourish.

I know my own work best, so I will provide an example from my novel, The Scourge. The protagonist, a knight named Sir Edward, is trying to goad a mob of mindless, zombie-like demons to a battlefield where his allies are outnumbered. He hopes the demons will even the odds. Here’s a section from that scene:

 

They pour from the millhouse in an endless stream of madness, their noses flared to the scent. I nod to Tristan and Morgan. “The mint works.”

We trot our horses away from Corringham. The legions follow behind us, staggering and screaming.

 

Fairly straightforward, no? Any middling writer could churn that out. It’s solid and quick. But I don’t want to kill quickly. I want to thrill the crowd. I want flourish.

At this point I guess I should explain what flourish is. Here’s how I see it: It’s the crescendo of music that gets your heart racing while you watch a movie. It’s the magician throwing his arms into the air after a masterful trick. It’s the horse rearing and pawing at the sky while the cowboy waves his hat and whoops at the top of his lungs. It’s that touch of pizazz. It’s flourish.

I wanted flourish in my scene with Sir Edward, so for the paragraphs immediately following the example above, I let my protagonist take over. And he did his best to thrill the crowd:

 

In France, I often led companies of men. At Nájera I commanded the entire left wing of our formation. But I have never led an entire army out to battle. It has been a secret desire of mine. To thunder toward the French with five thousand howling men at my back, our wind-whipped standard held high above my head.

I have only five or six hundred soldiers behind me tonight. They are men, women and children, and they are not particularly fast. But they howl with the unholy power of hell. Their lurching footsteps thunder upon the heaths behind me. I hold no standard, only a smoldering flowerpot, but I have achieved my secret desire. I ride toward the French with an army.

An army of the dead.

 

I tried to use the most dramatic language I could, without tipping into melodrama (hopefully I succeeded). I tried to build up the tension slowly, raise the excitement bit by bit like that crescendoing music I mentioned earlier.

But flourishes don’t always required long paragraphs. They can come in the little details, too. The tiny touches you add that that bring a symphony-finale to an idea. In my epic fantasy, The Beast of Maug Maurai, one of the main characters is larger than life. He’s a grizzled old hero named Black Murrogar and I wanted to make sure readers knew that he was something special. So I added a flourish:

 

Murrogar sat with Ulrean today on the final leg of their journey to Nuldryn Duchy. The old warrior wore a new crimson tabard over the old, blackened mail of the King’s army, the Laraytian Standards. He wasn’t a Standard anymore, but he would wear no other armor. He’d be buried in that blackened chain. If anything ever killed him.

 

Did you see it? The bulk of the paragraph does a decent job of describing Murrogar, but it’s the little bonus at the end that adds the flourish: “If anything ever killed him.” A small fanfare that makes the passage resonate in a way that description alone could not achieve. Just five little words that I hope will thrill the crowd.

Want another one from The Beast of Maug Maurai? Here are a few short sentences with a flourish at the end. The setup is that a group of soldiers are fighting creatures called thrulls, and some of the creatures try to escape by fleeing into a river called the Serinhult:

 

 Jjarnee Kruu fired bolt after bolt from his three crossbows. He rarely missed. Thrulls fell thrashing into the water and the Serinhult carried them to another world.

 

It’s a subtle thing here, but it’s a flourish. The thrulls could have fallen, thrashing, into the water and been carried downstream. But they weren’t. The Serinhult carried them to another world. Flourish. Crescendoing music. Happy cowboy.

Are you not entertained?

 

Roberto Calas is an author and lover of history. His serial trilogy (The Scourge) is about a 14th century knight fighting his way through a demon-infested England to reunite with the woman he loves. And every bit of it is true except for the made up parts. In addition to The Scourge series, Roberto has written The Beast of Maug Maurai (fantasy), and Kingdom of Glass (historical fiction in the Foreworld universe).

And they all have flourish.

 

Roberto lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, with his two children, and visits the United Kingdom on a monthly basis to be with his fiancée, Annabelle. Sometimes he fights demons to get to her.

 

You can learn more about Roberto on his website: http://robertocalas.com.