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The Pen and the Sword – Guest Post by Kevin Coolidge

by Kevin Coolidge

It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, though I much prefer my Swiss army knife. Still, I could not help but be fascinated by a class called “The Pen and the Sword” taught by an Aikido master.

Truly, now was my chance to learn to kill a man with a ballpoint pen and land that job with the CIA. If he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword, then he who lives by the pen…? Writing is not for the weak. I must be strong. I must be prepared. I must be ready.

I was ready to become both master of the pen and the sword. Anxiously I awaited the sensei’s arrival. The room was filled with gymnastic mats-also called tatami-and nervous energy. Here I would forge the weapon of my mind, the strength of my spirit, the tool of my will.

A stout man came waddling into the room with a Grizzly Adams beard and blazing blue eyes, like a half-crazed Viking warrior who forgot where he put his bearskin. This could not be the teacher? Surely such a man was born to wield an ungainly battle-axe, not the eloquently crafted katana. Lost? Searching for a Wagner opera? A drumming circle?

His voice boomed, “You have to write a poem. You have one minute. Go!”

A mad rush of students surged to the back wall where a table sat loaded with clean, white paper and pencils. Quickly, I grabbed a pencil. “Only a minute to craft a poem of truth and beauty, and it has to be great!” I looked to the heavens for inspiration; I pleaded to my muse for guidance. I looked within myself, and found me.

There’s a saying, “No matter where you go, there you are.” And there I was. There’s some that might say I’m bull-headed or have a blatant disregard for authority figures. Maybe, maybe not. But I was in the moment, and that rebel in me grabbed that pencil and wrote four quick lines that spilled out of me.

I have to write a poem.

It has to be good.

No, I don’t.

No, it doesn’t.

I put my pencil down and smiled smugly like that smart-ass kid in geometry class that always finishes his test before anyone else. Don’t you just hate that? The berserker glared at me and snarled, “Are you done?”

“Yep.” I arrogantly replied.

“You now have thirty seconds!” roared the madman…

Aikido (aikidō) is translated as the “way of harmonious spirit,” and emphasizes joining with an attack and redirecting the attacker’s energy. Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  So this class was not to turn me into a lethal weapon, but it did make the art of poetry more accessible to me. The arts of war have strong traditions in many art forms, from poetry to calligraphy to flower arranging.

Martial arts are more than what you do, or do to someone. Martial arts can help build confidence, fitness, discipline and awareness of one’s surroundings. It is something that you feel. Being what you are. Being in the moment and it ain’t always pretty.

What is poetry? Is it more than just words? If it has no structure, is it poetry? If it doesn’t rhyme, is it poetry? If it’s in free form, or freestyle, is that a poem? Poetry, and discussions of it, have a long history, and poets and scholars will never agree on a definition.

For me, poetry is a means of expressing an idea, emotion, feeling or memory in a concise way. It may be graceful, beautifully expressed, or even brutal-an elegant arc of a well-honed blade or a swift body blow to the breadbasket.

No, my aikido teacher was not a tyrant, or a bully, but a kind, gentle man with lessons to teach and a wicked sense of humor. The real power and truth of a poem is the honesty and truth to it. You can dress it up, flesh it out, or make it dance the salsa, but if it isn’t real it really isn’t anything at all. What is poetry? All I can say is, “You’ll know it when you feel it…”

For further reading check out, Sword and Brush by Dave Lowry: The way of the brush reflects the strategic principles of the sword; Lowry is master of both.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury: A celebration of the act of writing, by a master storyteller. I am unaware of his prowess in the deadly arts, but I don’t recommend meeting him in a dark alleyway.

Kevin resides in Wellsboro, just a short hike from the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. When he’s not writing, you can find him at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, an independent bookstore he runs with his lovely wife, several helpful employees, and two friendly bookstore cats, Huck & Finn. He’s recently become an honorary member of the Cat Board, and when he’s not scooping the litter box, taking out the garbage, or feeding Gypsy her tuna, he’s writing more stories about the Totally Ninja Raccoons.

 

 

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Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone – Guest Post by J.S. Frankel

by J.S. Frankel

It’s easy to write what you know. As a guy, white and cisgender straight, that’s what I started writing roughly six years ago because it was what I knew best. I wrote about white dudes and dudettes, introduced outlandish (at times) situations, had fight scenes and romances and it was all very good.

After all, I had to go with what I knew and pen a story about it. That’s what the experts say, and who are we to question them?

But is it the best way to improve? It depends. It’s my contention that a writer can improve within the genre they’ve chosen, working on narrative, dialogue, action, and so on, without having to switch to another genre.

At the same time, though, some writers can become complacent, coasting along on the formula that got them noticed in the first place. So, it depends.

In my case, not only did I want to improve my narrative technique, I also wanted to grow as a writer. For me, that meant stepping out of my comfort zone. It meant writing about the unfamiliar.

In the past, I’ve written lesfic as well as explored transgender issues. I did this because those two areas are unfamiliar to me, because there are people who are in the LGBT category, and because they have their own stories to tell, that is, the characters that I wanted to write.

If you are going to step outside your comfort zone, how you approach it is up to you, but this is what I’ve learned.

1. If you don’t know–ask. With the transgender crowd, I asked a few people to tell me their experiences. They were more than willing, and I incorporated their ideas.

2. Do your research. I cannot stress this enough. If you’re going to write about something unfamiliar to you, research it first and then research some more. Then ask if you are truly stumped. A wise person admits their ignorance; a fool does not, and thereby exposes everything.

3. Expect to be called on it. In fact, even if you’re writing about something you know, chances are at least one person will call you on it. When writing about a different orientation, the chances of messing up are doubly so, so expect criticism.

That’s what happened to me. Some of it was justified; much of it was not. It had nothing to do with the style or the narrative. Some people simply couldn’t accept a straight guy writing about lesbians. That’s how it goes.

4. Make the characters real. An excellent novel I read, Crimson Fire, had a black lesbian as the main character. The way the writer, Mirren Hogan, approached it, was nothing short of incredible, and yet it was so naturally and simply done, I had to keep reading.

Her main character said that she preferred women and that was that. No muss, no fuss, no much ado about anything; it was stated clearly and it is to Ms. Hogan’s credit that she not only created a very fine novel, it also showed her main character in a very positive light. The orientation of the character turned out to be unimportant. It was the character, what she did and how she conquered, that was the most compelling part of the story.

To me, that’s how you should portray someone who is different from the default, not dramatizing, but simply showing.

Even if you do everything right, see point #3. Sooner or later, someone will take offense at what you write. It doesn’t matter how good it is or how sympathetic the characters are or how well it’s written…at least one person will always find fault with what you do.

That’s the risk every writer must take. It is then up to the writer to either accept that criticism–if justified–or discard it. In any case, keep writing. That’s been my mantra from day one. To quote Captain Picard: “Make it so.”

J.S. Frankel was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up there, receiving his tertiary education from the University of Toronto and graduating with a double major in English Literature and Political Science.

After working at Gray Coach Lines for a grand total of three years, he came to Japan at the age of twenty-six and has been there ever since, teaching English to any and all students who enter his hallowed school of learning.

In 1997, he married Akiko Koike. He, his wife and his two children, Kai and Ray, currently reside in Osaka. His hobbies include weight training, watching movies when his writing schedule allows, and listening to various kinds of music.

His novels, all for the YA set, include Twisted, Lindsay Versus the Marauders and it’s sequels, Lindsay, Jo, and the Tree of Forever, and Lindsay, Jo and the Well of Nevermore, all courtesy of Regal Crest Enterprises. He has also written the Catnip series (five novels), Mr. Taxi, The Titans of Ardana and its sequel, The Titans of Ardana 2: Battlefield, along with Picture (Im)perfect and more novels, courtesy of DevineDestinies.com.

Future projects for Devine Destinies include the final novel in the Titans trilogy, the final novel in the Just Another Quiet… trilogy, The Undernet, the re-release of Star Maps, and more. He is also the author of The Menagerie and The Nightmare Crew trilogy, all courtesy of Finch Books.

You can find J.S. Frankel on Amazon and Twitter.

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Surviving Co-Authorship: Guest Post by Jennifer Pallanich

By Jennifer Pallanich

 

Co-writing a novel can be the best idea you’ve ever had. Or it can be a miserable experience that causes you to swear off co-authorship for the rest of your life.

Think back to those group projects in school. Sometimes the group was a dream team, and everyone contributed well and evenly, creating something that was far better than any one person could have done solo. The project was fun and you got an A. This is what you want.

But more often than not, one or two people did all the work while the rest contributed some or none at all. The keeners felt taken advantage of and the others felt nagged by the barrage of requests to participate. Not fun for anyone.

I hated group projects.

But I love co-writing: the collaborative process, working with someone I trust completely, each bringing our own writing strengths to the table.

What’s at the core of our co-author relationship? My brother and I make a good team. There’s the trust I mentioned, developed from earliest childhood and our shared upbringing. We have similar tastes in reading, culture and entertainment. We share many of the same interests and outlooks. We have similar work ethic and drive. We share certain writing ambitions and have a shared vision for what we want to accomplish.

We started our co-author lives with a deck stacked deeply in our favor.

But there are three more essential elements that make our collaboration enjoyable: artistic chemistry, mutual respect, and clearly defined expectations.

Artistic chemistry means bringing out the best in the other person’s writing and thinking. We spend countless hours kicking around ideas and brainstorming to work through knotty plot problems together. His ideas spur mine, and mine spur his. The artistic chemistry that is evident when we brainstorm makes me happy. It makes all the hard hours in front of the laptop fun.

Mutual respect is huge, and is borne of the trust we share. We treat each other well. We know the other person’s strengths and weaknesses as well as we know our own. We can see the other grow and improve in the craft of writing. We listen to the other’s opinions and respond respectfully, even when we disagree or just don’t like a suggestion. In the end, we make choices based on what’s best for the story we’re trying to tell, not based on whose idea it was or who just gave up and gave in because they just wanted the discussion to be over. To us, the story is bigger than the ego.

Probably the most important thing my brother and I did when we decided to create a superhero universe and co-write and co-publish a trilogy is draft a set of responsibilities and expectations. Our co-author agreement stipulates who has final say over story points and who has final say over the words. It outlines who handles which marketing actions. It states who works with the editors and who works with the artists. These roles are obviously in line with our strengths. I wouldn’t ever dream of collaborating with someone without clearly setting out the expectations of each party.

So, for example, if one of us believes the story should go one way, and the other thinks it should go the other, we’d both make our cases. Through the discussion – which often will include the question “what’s best for the story?” – one or the other of us might be swayed, and the discussion ends. But sometimes the person in charge of story makes a ruling. Once that’s done, the discussion is over and we move on, no ego involved.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that co-authoring is less work or somehow easier than doing your own thing. Collaborating makes far more work, although I think the final product is worth it.

We’re both plotters rather than pantsers, so while we share the same writing approach we must harmonize two different writing styles. To address this, he revises the chapters I write and I revise the chapters he writes. This approach helps blend our styles and ensures every chapter shines with both of our voices.

Right now, my brother and I are in the final throes of revising the fourth draft of our second book to send to our editor at the end of January. It’s pretty intense, with each of us spending two or three hours a day on the project. Some of that is solo work – laptop hours editing and revising. But we spend a lot of time discussing the draft and fixing loose ends and broken logic.

The process isn’t perfect, and we’ve fine-tuned it a bit since we starting writing the first draft of the first book, but it works for us.

Happy writing.

 

Jennifer Pallanich is a freelance writer. As a trade journalist, she has bylined over half a million words about the oil and gas industry. She and her brother, Baltimore Russell, created the Children of the Solstice universe and between October 2014 and January 2015, they co-wrote the first draft of the entire trilogy. They co-published book one, Awakening, in late 2016 through their publishing imprint Pair Tree Ink. The second book is expected out in mid-2018. Jennifer loves to read good versus evil stories. An avid scuba diver, traveler, reader, and writer, she lives with a lab mix named Houdini and a cat named Possum. She volunteers with a local no-kill animal shelter.  Check out her Amazon page.

Baltimore Russsell is an actor, producer, and writer.  He and his husband created the People You Know new media series, which aired on HereTV.  Almost from the time he learned to work a pencil, he could often be found creating his own stories.  He lives in New York City with his husband, John Dylan Delatorre.  Check out his Amazon page.

 

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