The Escape

This may sound strange, but when I get stressed out, I read books about the American Civil War: memoirs, journals, biographies, histories. For some reason, combat and camp life are equally interesting; reading about it always makes me feel better.

It’s an escape to some degree, yes, but what it comes down to is this: No matter how stressful or unhappy life can sometimes get, at least I know life is better for me than it was for those soldiers, who faced hardships far worse than I could possibly fathom: bad food, exhausting marches, seemingly endless tedium interrupted by sudden violence, the loss of dear friends with sometimes little or no warning, and the very real chance that a simple cough might turn into an illness from which they might not recover.  By comparison, even at the lowest ebb, my life looks pretty grand.

One of the more stressful times in my life occurred many years ago when my wife and I were searching for a house. At the time, the real estate market in Seattle was hot. Houses in our price range were going fast. That meant you had to be on call if a new house came on the market. Waiting even a day would likely mean it would be snatched up before you had a chance to see it. And if you toured a house you liked, it meant you had to make an offer immediately. There was no night’s sleep to mull over your decision. Frequently, with good houses that needed little or no work, there were multiple offers.

Reading novels kept me sane. I was at the time working my way through what would become my favorite book series of all time: Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. Before then, I could never read two books by the same author back to back. Even if I loved one book, I needed a little variety before I moved on to the next one.

image

Not so with the Aubrey/Maturin series. I remember fondly finishing one book, closing the cover and setting it down, then immediately picking up and starting the next one with scarcely a pause. Luckily for me, there were plenty of books in the series.

After three months and forty-nine house showings, my wife and I purchased a home. By the end I remember being utterly grateful to Mr. O’Brian. He had given me a profound gift, offering me the means not just to escape reality but just enough distraction that life became bearable in a very stressful time.

I remember thinking that this, more than anything else, is what I wanted to do as I writer: to give someone the gift that Mr. O’Brian gave me. A place to go when life wasn’t comfortable. Characters to laugh and cry with, surrogate friends who I loved as if they were the most cherished kindred spirits.

Has a book ever done that for you? Where do you escape? Please let me know in the comments below.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine’s Author Blog.

_________________________________________________________ Author Photo 2 Square - Copy copy Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.  URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

Scattering Seeds

Okay, here’s the scenario: You’ve been writing a while, right? You have a story you’re passionate about and you’ve been devoting your spare time to writing, editing, and generally educating yourself on what it takes to create a great novel, one that might get published one day.

You think you might benefit from some outside advice, maybe network with other writers, so you join a writers group. Now you’re getting to know people. They’ve read your stuff and like your writing. Would you mind reading their stuff? They’d really like your opinion. This would mean taking time away from your writing, but it’s only fair. They read your stuff, right?

You learn that in order to get published, it helps to have a platform, get your name out there, so you start blogging. And your blog is growing a following. People like what you have to say. Sure, it’s taking time from working on your novel, but the way you see it, you’re planting seeds, hoping something will grow. You never know who might read your blog. Maybe it will lead to something.

And it does. A fellow blogger likes what you’re doing and invites you to guest blog on her site twice a month. It turns out, she has a huge following. This would be great exposure for you, so you agree. Add it to your list of writing tasks. You’re planting seeds, hoping to see something grow one day.

image

Then one of your writing buddies informs you that he’s starting a site featuring book reviews. It’s a paid gig. Not much, but it’s a writing credit. Something to fill in the blanks in your query letter. You sign on.

Someone at work hears you’re a writer and asks you to submit an article with him. It’s not a done deal, but it’s a possibility. He’s providing an introduction to the publication’s editor. A great contact, so you go for it. More seeds hit the ground.

Okay, you with me? Now, here’s the thing with the seed-planting metaphor. Planting seeds, the way a gardener plants seeds, is a very prescribed process. The seeds go in the right soil at just the right depth, and at just the right temperature, and exposed to just the right amount of sunlight and water. If the conditions are right, as they are for a seasoned gardener, it’s not long before flowers blossom.

The writing scenario described above isn’t really planting seeds, is it? It’s more like scattering seeds; flinging seeds around and hoping that one hits the dirt and gets lodged just deep enough so that the right combination light and moisture and heat will cause the seed to germinate.

It’s rare, but that kind of thing does happen, like in my scenario. But is the growth leading in the direction you want to go? Is the kind of plant life that’s coming out of the ground what you want to reap?

There’s nothing wrong with networking with other writers, getting your name out there, or earning publishing credits. Yet for those with “day jobs,” time devoted to writing is limited. Look at the pie chart of your time. How big a slice of that pie represents your writing time? Now how much of that slice are you devoting to writing your manuscript?

At some point, you have to reassess. It’s okay to say no to the guy who wants you to read his stuff. If your blog is taking too much time, scale back. If someone asks you to write an article on a topic that doesn’t interest you, just say no.

What story inspires your passion? Are you writing it?

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine’s Author Blog.

_________________________________________________________ Author Photo 2 Square - Copy copy Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.  URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

What’s in Your Way?

I started writing fiction regularly in college. I remember that time well, especially the summers there in my bedroom, sitting behind the desk as a warm evening breeze wafted through the open windows. Even now I can put myself back there and recreate it exactly in my mind: the feel of the chair beneath me, the texture of the keyboard under my fingers, that tiny Macintosh SE screen lighting up the room, the scent of trees and river and freshly cut grass.

When I first started writing, conditions had to be perfect. My homework had to be done. I couldn’t have any crap piled on my desk. My room had to be picked up. Bed made. Clothes folded and put away.

image

It occurred to me recently that maybe the reason why my writing sessions are so clear to me all these years later is because they happened so rarely. Conditions had to be just right before I wrote anything. Often, too many piles were stacked up between me and opening that word processing document.

Yes, those moments when I actually was writing, like those lovely, luxurious summer vacations described above, were romantic and pleasure-filled. But they were all too rare.

I think now about how my writing has evolved. When I’m in The Zone, I’m writing all the time: In the morning at my desktop, on the bus on my notebook computer, dictating on my phone as I walk to and from my bus stop, writing emails to myself when a compelling description or plot point or line of dialogue comes into my head. Now, I write on the go and fuck the piles and obligations and the perfect conditions that would ideally exist before I put fingers to keyboard. Now I just have to write.

What conditions have to exist before you allow yourself time to channel the muse? Does it have to be absolutely silent? Do you need long stretches of unbroken time? Do the kids need to be at school or at camp or daycare?

Is all that really true are or they just excuses? Do you really not have time to write or is there something more to it? Is there a fear keeping you from what you really want to do, one that you haven’t even consciously acknowledged?

Maybe it’s time to put all that aside, put your butt in the chair, and write.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine’s Author Blog.

_________________________________________________________ Author Photo 2 Square - Copy copy Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.  URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

That Little Voice

Have you been there? You’re writing your novel and everything is going splendidly. You’ve created engaging characters, built tension, added a sprig of humor in just the right places. Then you hit that spot that you’ve been building up all through the first act, that scene that the readers have been waiting for since the protagonist heard her call to adventure.

You’re writing the scene you thought would captivate, but it feels flat. Everything that’s propelled you to this moment is beginning to slip away and that little voice in your head starts to talk to you: This sucks. Where is this going? What am I doing? All these cool things I have planned for the rest of this book, if I can only get past this scene.

image

Doubt creeps in. You think, If even I’m bored with this scene, how can my readers get through it? Is this where I lose them?

Suddenly, you’re finding excuses not to write. If you do, you find yourself working and reworking that scene, trying to discover what’s missing, trying to make it shine. It’s not writing anymore. Now it’s work when everything before it came so easily. You’re losing the magic and you don’t know why.

There are things you can do to overcome this. Some people will choose to write, “Chapter 9: Boy Meets Girl” and move on. Others will step back an analyze their story for plot flaws or try to rework their outline. Still other will mentally talk to their characters and let them inform them what’s not working. There’s nothing better than when your characters start to speak.

For me, I get this feeling in scenes when nothing surprising is happening. Characters are saying and doing exactly what you’d expect characters would say and do in this situation. The magic is gone because it feels like a path you’ve been on before, like that last mile or two before you arrive home, the stretch of road that’s so familiar it becomes backdrop.

I ask myself, “How can I surprise the reader? What aren’t they expecting? How can I introduce a roadblock in this route that they think they already know?”

If you’re an outliner, this is going to feel uncomfortable. This might screw up all your carefully wrought plans. But it could just introduce an entirely new element to your story that adds depth and tension to the scenes you already have mentally plotted out.

Think about the novels you’ve read and the scenes that caught you so off guard that you couldn’t believe that the author did that. George R.R Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series excels at this and drives the story forward masterfully because you saw exactly where the story was going…  But you were wrong.

You remember those times when you were reading and something in the story made you gasp? Those surprises, that masterful slight of hand, is what your reader is going to remember when they close the book and long for your next story.

Challenge yourself. What is the reader expecting? Now how can you screw up their assumptions?

Start with your troubled scene. Now think, What if…

 

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine’s Author Blog.

_________________________________________________________ Author Photo 2 Square - Copy copy Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.  URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

The Writer’s Apprentice

Kyle is one of my oldest friends. I’ve known him since kindergarten. My earliest memory of Kyle is the day in third grade when he dressed up as George Washington on the last day of school. His earliest memory of me goes all the way back to kindergarten when, during story time as we were all sitting in a circle on the floor, I leaned to the side and nonchalantly vomited, then leaned back and continued listening, as if perhaps no one might notice.

Kyle and I truly became friends in the sixth grade. Like me, he wrote stories, but his stories took the form of little handmade comics. It wasn’t until junior high school that he started writing short stories and not until high school that he tried to get them published.

image

All my early impressions of what it was like to be a writer came from Kyle. First was what I learned when Kyle passed his stories around to friends. In second period one friend would say, “I hated the part where the parrot started smoking cigarettes and telling jokes.” Kyle would say, “Got it. Note to self: Remove part with cigarette-smoking parrot.”

Then later at lunch someone else would say, “Great story, Kyle. Loved the part with the parrot telling jokes!” This kind of contradiction would drive Kyle crazy. The lesson: Some people are going to like your stuff and some people aren’t. In the end, you must choose to keep what you think is best.

Watching Kyle send letters to magazine editors who published short fiction was also an education. I learned about the Writers’ Market Guide, what a SASE was, the proper protocol for submitting one’s work. Kyle was the first person I’d heard of making a collage of his rejection letters and pasting it on the wall.

My observations of Kyle’s efforts led me to a singular conclusion: Getting published is hard.

I wonder now how my own journey as a writer would have been different if I didn’t have that early impression. I know writers, more than one, who didn’t seem to know this when they got into writing and who met with almost immediate success.

Wait a minute, I’d think when this happened. Don’t you know how hard it is to get published?

If our beliefs do create our reality, or as Author Magazine’s tag line puts it, if we truly are the author of our own lives, wouldn’t a belief in easy success serve us better?

I’ve had the chance to interview many successful authors for Author Magazine and when I do I invariably try to determine how their mindset helped them manifest their success. Though articulated in different ways, what I’ve discovered is the concept of being in alignment with one’s success.  In other words, if you are visualizing where you want to be but in your mind you’re saying, “I suck. My writing stinks. I’m not good enough.” Or in my case, “This is really, really hard,” then that is more than likely what you are going to manifest.

To create success, the idea goes, all parts of you must be in alignment: heart, head, body, soul. Let go of the beliefs that aren’t serving you.  If thoughts are indeed energy, what thoughts are we putting out into the universe?

Kyle eventually did sell one of his stories.  “Cuji,” which began as a spoof on Stephen King’s Cujo, was a tale about a demonically possessed Mickey Mouse balloon who was adopted by a boy during a family trip it Disneyland. Cuji, the balloon, eliminated the family members one by one in his effort to unite with Satan, who had incarnated into the physical form of a Beagle. Kyle was paid $7.35 for his efforts, though I don’t think he ever cashed the check. The check made a far better wall-hanging than that tapestry of rejections.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine’s Author Blog.

_________________________________________________________ Author Photo 2 Square - Copy copy Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.  URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

Non-attachment

I am forever trying to determine the magic formula for setting my personal energy for writing success. You write the book, edit it so it’s the best it can be, research agents and send it out. Then what? Start writing the next one, sure. But what is the best method of anticipation as you wait to hear back from agents and editors? How does one stay neutral without being pessimistic? How does one visualize success without risking disappointment?

I recently had the opportunity to interview Tracy Weber, author of Murder Strikes a Pose: A Downward Dog Mystery. Tracy, a yoga studio owner and a voracious reader of “cozy mysteries” (a sub-genre of the Mystery genre), set out to write her own series of novels based on a protagonist who (not surprisingly) owns her own yoga studio.

image

After writing her very first novel, not only did she find a literary agent, in less than two weeks of her agent sending out her manuscript, she managed to get a three-book deal. Yes, you’ll want to tear your hair out when you hear that. Clearly, Tracy is an outstanding manifester. As a yoga instructor and habitual meditator, I felt she might have insights into setting the energy for success. During the interview, I asked her how she sets her energy for success.

After a moment’s reflection, she said, “The yoga sutras talk about the persevering practice in yoga.  And persevering practice in yoga has several components. One is that it’s something that you do over and over again, over a long period of time, with energy and enthusiasm, that is geared toward your personal growth, without interruption, and without attachment to results.” [The emphasis mine.]  “And so,” she added, “I suppose, when I look back at it, what it was was me trying to manifest that non-attachment.”

I’m going to list those things again, because they’re so important: 1) Something that you do over and over again, 2) over a long period of time, 3) with energy and enthusiasm, 4) that is geared toward your personal growth, 5) without interruption, and (most importantly) 6) without attachment to results.

Her answer is like Joseph Campbell’s follow your bliss but articulated more precisely. Let’s face it, writing takes a lot of effort. Countless hours in front of the computer, writing, editing, querying agents and editors. And in the end, we want all that time to pay off with fame, fortune, at the very least with an audience for our work.

What Tracy is saying is that the payoff is the process itself. The payoff comes during all those little moments of creation, whether it’s writing the first draft, getting that paragraph just right, or crafting a query letter that incapsulates the essence of your work.

Think about it. What if the joy of writing could be solely about the page in front of you and nothing else? What would it take for you to let all the rest of it go? By that I’m not saying not to do all the things along the path of authordom. But what if you resolved that being a successful author was not, in the end, what mattered most?

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine’s Author Blog.

_________________________________________________________ Author Photo 2 Square - Copy copy Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.  URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

My First Author Interview

I’m a big believer of setting goals and writing them down, of creating vision boards* of experiences you want to have, places you want to go, belongings to manifest, and achievements to attain. Over the years, I’ve connected with a network of friends who have had countless uncanny experiences creating the life and life experiences they’ve taken the time to document beforehand. I’ve had countless successes myself.

Recently, one of those goals took place in reality.

Years ago, I decided that I wanted to be interviewed by Author Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Bill Kenower. I wasn’t published yet, did not yet have an agent, but I felt that it was something that could one day happen.

image

 

I’ve listened to enough of Bill’s interviews over the years to be able to imagine pretty vividly what that experience would be like. I imagined it taking place in my study, with lights setup, cameras, Bill sitting across from me looking dapper and professional.

I imagined what questions he would ask, how I might answer. I took a screenshot of Author Magazine’s home page and Photoshopped my own picture in the Author Interview section, complete with my name and bio. I even went as far as sitting in the reading chair where I hoped the interview might one day take place, answering imagined questions out loud, as if it were actually happening.

That interview didn’t happen, not until years later. In the interim, I’d stopped visualizing the interview. I think that not-imagining time is important. One of the key ingredients of manifesting, I’ve learned, seems to be letting it go, forgetting about it, if only to give The Universe the space to make it happen.

Before I knew it I was sitting in the reading chair in my study, with lights set up around me,  cameras, Bill sitting across from me, looking dapper and professional. I had made it. It was here. It was really happening.

Yet even as it took place, I couldn’t let go of the feeling that it had already happened, that all that visualizing had allowed some aspect of my psyche to travel ahead in time and have the experience. The actual event was more akin to a deja vu than to something that was taking place for first time, like standing between two mirrors that were facing each other, looking into a reflection of a reflection of a reflection.

Something of a higher order happens when we have a goal and document it, imagine it, feel it, live it as if it’s already happened. I challenge you to document your own goals and things you would like to some day experience. It need not be as elaborate as my efforts, for if there is anything I’ve learned about attracting a specific future reality is that it only takes as much effort as you think it will take to achieve.

If you have a moment, please check out my author interview with Bill.

*A vision board is a pictorial collage of goals. It might be a picture of an author at a book signing to represent you at your book signing, a picture of the Eiffel Tower to represent a trip to Paris, a picture of a sports car that you one day hope to acquire. You are limited only by your imagination.

tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine’s Author Blog.

_________________________________________________________ Author Photo 2 Square - Copy copy Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.  URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp