Category Archives: Living Deliberately

The Origins of Smooth: A Guest Post by Joy Johnson

A guest post from Joy Dawn Johnson.


When I was approached to write a guest post about how my life experiences have shaped my writing, I almost said no. Not because I’ve never written a post before (I write fiction, not blog about real stuff—especially not about myself), nor because I don’t have a life…or experiences. It’s because some things are too painful and raw to think about, let alone display for the world. But if I’m going to move people with my writing, I have to be willing to go there.

My current work in progress is about a genetically engineered, genderless sixteen-year-old known only as 31 who struggles to choose a gender and find love. But when 31 breaks the selection process, 31 is forced to decide which of them will be recycled into genetic waste and which will live to become the future leaders of society.

I’ve heard dozens of times that it’s best to write what you know. I’ve never been genderless, but some of my most painful memories relate to my own gender identity struggles. I’ve learned to use those memories and experiences to fuel my writing.

Looking back, I still cannot pinpoint the exact reason I decided to play football–the most male dominated sport there is. It wasn’t because I had a passion for football exactly (though I’ve always had a soft spot for contact sports) or wanted to make a point. Looking back, I think I was trying to understand myself. Understand a side of me I had never explored, something inside me that playing football opened up.

In the late 90s, girls playing football were unheard of—especially in high school, on the varsity team, in a southern town like Norman, OK where football is sacred. My team hated me. Even those that I hung out with and were my “friends” harassed me on the field. In fact, sometimes they were the most verbally abusive. I was even dating one of my teammates for nearly a year before he would outwardly admit it to anyone (months after the season had ended). He was too embarrassed to even hold my hand. Looking back, he was a straight up idiot. They all were.

I wish it stopped there. The team was also physically abusive and NOT ONCE did any of them stand up for me, and tell the others to back off. They had such a problem with a female doing something that in their minds was purely for males that not one of them stood up to be a man. Any chance they had, they would take cheap shots. I don’t mean a punch to the arm. They would get in my blind spot and full out tackle me while I was standing in line or walking to the next station. Slamming me onto the concrete or against the fence must have scored them double points. Recently in the news, there has been a lot of discussion regarding helmet collisions. For me, that was a daily thing. The guys would go out of their way to hit my head. And it’s not like they would do this behind the coaches’ backs. The coaches encouraged it.

It started as headaches. Sometimes the pain was so intense that I thought my head would explode. My neck and back were messed up, too. One time, when one of the guys was going for what I can only guess was a curb stomp, I tried to get out of the way and his cleat scraped everything off my shin down to the bone. Instead of helping, the coaches yelled at me, the trainers refused to help. I couldn’t even stand. Finally, my body recovered from the shock and I wrapped it up myself and finished practice. Not long after, one of the guys cheap-tackled me, aiming his helmet at my face. He caught my chin and split it open. The coaches and trainers wouldn’t help but couldn’t ignore the fact that my white uniform was now a sheet of red. I went to the emergency room. The doctor pressed and I finally divulged my symptoms. After some scans, he told me that I’d had multiple concussions and if I continued playing, I could get paralyzed. I’m not a quitter and getting run off was the last thing I ever wanted. It felt like they won. It still feels that way, sometimes.

It wasn’t like I was a total butch or anything. The same year I played football, I won Miss Teenage Oklahoma, was a national finalist and won Miss National Congeniality—very accepted by the girls. You’d think that having Miss Oklahoma in the school would turn some heads but I’d already been labeled as an outcast. I won national dance and cheer titles and went on to be a cheerleader in college. Nothing mattered. To them, I was forever the freak who played football.

In college, I was still drawn to understand myself. I took honor’s gender studies and discovered that while I was female on the outside, I was more like a male on the inside. It made sense and I was relieved, but I didn’t know what to do with the information, didn’t know there was anything I could do. Gender fluidity wasn’t openly discussed back then.

Today, going against the norm is more acceptable. Being “different” can sometimes be “in.” Though being different for different sake is about as bad as people who conform to match everyone else’s desires until they’re unrecognizable even to themselves. With empathy comes truth that isn’t always what we want or like and it may not be what’s accepted. It’s about you being true to you.

If I help even one person to not be afraid, to be stronger, to see who they truly are, to not have to go through even a fraction of what I did, everything I’ve been through would be worth it. I’m not telling my personal story in my young adult Sci-fi novel, Smooth. Smooth is about it being okay to be different. It’s about acceptance and being open, even when you don’t understand, because you never know when you might need someone to be there for you. But most of all, it’s about being true to yourself.

It’s hard digging down to the very core of who we are, to get close enough to painful memories to use them in our writing. Find the courage to connect with the emotion of those experiences and tell your story, in your own way. I hold onto knowing that the more I can tap into that scared, determined girl and let her tell her tale, the more it makes everything worth it.


Joy Johnson bio:

Shortly after receiving her BFA and MBA, Joy Dawn Johnson worked as a project manager for more than ten years, including a stint in Baghdad, Iraq, as a government contractor. She is a member if the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and was the 2015 recipient of the Superstars Writing scholarship. Joy typically writes middle grade and young adult Sci-fi and fantasy. She will begin to query agents later this year with her current work in progress, Smooth.

Read the first chapters of Smooth: JoyDawnJohnson
Twitter: JoyDawnJohnson
Follow and chat with Joy live on Twitch: Joylovin

Pages of Inspiration: Books for Writers

The creative well runs dry. The heart is as desiccated and desolate as a dusty Old West street, because you’re certain your Work in Progress is utter cowflop. You shout into the endless black void, listening mournfully for a few spurious, uncertain echoes. Where can writers go when they need to pour some fire back into their souls? The same place that got us into writing in the first place: Books.

At various points in your life, you’ll encounter books that are like a blessed bowl of warm chicken soup on a wintry day when your nose is crammed with snot and you ache in every bone. You’ll encounter books like the smooth, sweet burn of good whiskey that warms you from the inside. You’ll encounter books like a smart kick in the buttocks from that hot personal trainer.

Allow me to be so bold as to suggest some books for writers that have made an impact on me.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is a short, sweet blast of poetic inspiration. Bradbury was a consummate master storyteller, and being able play with techniques he’s used to cultivate the creative soul is incredibly valuable. This book is less a nuts-and-bolts how-to than techniques for cultivating the creative soul.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a swift little kick in the pants. Each short chapter puts a finger directly onto the throbbing wounds of all the reasons we do not write, all the reasons we hold ourselves back from achieving our potential. The book provides a useful psychological framework for overcoming all of those excuses.

On Writing Horror by the Horror Writers Association is collection of essays from the luminaries of horror fiction. Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell and many others tackle aspects of effective storytelling that go beyond writing horror. Much of this book is simply about writing good fiction, and I still reference various chapters.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a great companion to Stephen King’s book below. Part how-to manual and part memoir, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, every chapter is spot-on. The chapter on first drafts is worth the cover price alone. In fact, I give that chapter to my English composition students as a lesson in how to get past the psychological blocks common to beginning writers.

Few writers can boast the impact that Stephen King has made on American fiction. On Writing is part memoir, part how-to. There are chapters on specific writing and revision techniques, but it’s also a memoir of his writing life. I found great inspiration in his writing life because he talks about the course of his career. Much of it is incredibly familiar, forming parts of every writer’s path. He had the skill, the drive, the support of a partner, caught a couple of lucky breaks, and his career exploded. And if he could do it, so can I. So can you.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron was a life-changing experience for me. This book is a twelve-week program designed to reignite the sparks of a creative person’s soul, whether the person is a writer, graphic artist, musician, etc. It helps examine and reprogram all the ways our creative impulse is squelched–by our own fears, by our families, by the outside pressure of society. If you work through all twelve weeks of this program faithfully, you will experience a sea change in the way you approach writing, the way you approach life. I had already been writing for two decades when this book was given to me by a friend, and I found it so transformative that a few years later I went through all twelve weeks again. It was fascinating to see how much of it I had internalized. And also how far I still had to go. The Artist’s Way treats a creative life as a spiritual journey, making writing into your art, into a way of life, not something you try to do in between your day job, kids and soccer games, and your next session of World of Warcraft.

I hope someday to discover another gem and be as enlightened, invigorated, and inspired as I was when I discovered these books. Everybody needs a shot in the arm sometimes.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind, The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He lives in New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and a burning desire to claim Hobbiton as his own.

You can find him on…


July Wrap Up

When I pitched the topic of “inspiration found in the writing life” to the Fictorians and our guests, I was looking forward to tales of childhood heroes and success. We got some of that, but what I didn’t expect was how many would be brutally honest with the painful parts of their lives too. And yet they did, pushing the month from great to amazing. I’m thankful to them for their frankness and for the opportunity I’ve had to learn a great deal about some of my close friends. I know that I’ve found inspiration in their struggles, courage, and strength. Their stories helped put life into perspective, and many of them spoke to me and my experiences. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Early in the month, my good friend Emily Godhand wrote on the importance of sharing personal experience to enhance realism in our stories. In Turing Experiences into Method Acting, she talked about how her description of real world places was significantly improved when she pushed herself out of her comfort zone to actually visit them. More importantly, she showed how she could bring truth to her portrayal of her character’s emotions by being brutally honest with her own pain.
  • I also really enjoyed Scott Eder’s post on A Change in Perspective. It spoke to a part of me that learned a very similar lesson working in a harsh corporate job. Life is short and though our dreams may be fueled by passion, it also takes commitment and courage to realize them. Our world is designed to make us think a certain way, but as writers we have a duty to show others the possibilities that they wouldn’t normally think of. To do so, we must first have the foresight to break out of our own cognitive boxes.
  • It had already been a very emotional month when Lissa Woodbury Jensen sent me her post. Honestly, I had no idea what I was in for. After all, SF&F Saved My Life is quite a title to live up to. She killed it. If you haven’t had a chance to catch that one, you need to.
  • I remember when I almost gave up on my writing career as a late teenager, so I empathized with Kary English’s post On Motivation and the Quest for It. Let’s be honest. Most every writer I’ve spoken to has struggled with self doubt and with the desire to quit. Talking about and sharing our experiences is the only way to diffuse the motivation to keep others writing. Ultimately the punch line of Kary’s post is absolutely right. There’s only two ways to get out of being an aspiring author. Make it or quit. Only you can choose.
  • Kristin Luna’s post on Feeding the Foundation was also a delight! Often, I find myself struggling with what questions I need to ask to measure my own progress, but she provides a good list in her usual entertaining manner. Can you answer all six honestly? Are you happy with those answers, and what will you do to change the ones you don’t like?
  • In order to end on a high note, I reread Jace Killan’s challenge last. Live Deliberately. It sounds simple, but I know it is something that I’ve struggled with in the past. The reminder that life is for those who choose to live is essential.

July has been an amazing month filled with inspiration and stories. Which were your favorites? Comment below and let us know!

Would you believe me if I told you that August promises to be even more awesome? We’ve been quiet about this so far, but next month the Fictorians will be reaching an important milestone in our history. Our 1,000th post will go live! In a world where most blogs fail within the first year, we’re very proud of our accomplishment. To celebrate, we are doing two things.

First, the Fictorians website will be getting a face lift! Y’all spoke and we listened. Over the past few months, we’ve been working behind the scenes to make our blog more aesthetically appealing as well as make navigation and usability much friendlier. Tomorrow, our new site design will go live. I hope y’all love it as much as we do.

Second, PRIZES! Most of the Fictorians and many of our friends will be giving away copies of our books. Make sure you keep reading in the next few days and we’ll explain exactly what and how. Exciting times are ahead! See y’all next month.

Why I Write

A Guest Post by R.J. Terrell

There is a fundamental reason behind most of the things we do in life. The larger, or more significant the activity, the core value or reason will correspond. This base, or core reason behind our actions is a reflection of who we are and the experiences we’ve had in life. Now this may be dramatizing the subject if we’re referring to why I chose the shoes I laced on this morning, but if we’re referring to something with more significance in life, the ‘why’ also becomes more significant.

When Bruce Wayne climbs into that awfully uncomfortable-looking batsuit, there is a strong ‘why’ present. Growing up with the recurring images of his parents’ murder before his young eyes, he swore to make a difference, and to bring justice to gotham while striking fear into those who would strike fear into it’s citizens. There was a time in my life when I’d been at the precipice of a similar decision, where I’d been ready to become part of the night, stalk the streets of my home city, and bring justice to it through the nightly terror of those who commit crime…

But I didn’t have enough money, so I became a writer.

While my reasons for becoming a writer might not be as dramatic as Bruce Wayne’s decision to become The Detective, we share two elements in common. Love, and calling. As Bruce loved his parents was called to become Batman because of what was done to them, and to protect Gotham, I was called to become a writer because of my love of stories and writing. This is something not to be taken lightly. I believe that whether easily accessed or buried deep within us, each person comes to this life with a purpose, or to put it another way, a calling.

This is what keeps you going despite lack of sleep, lack of recreation, the difficult times when you’re banging your head against the wall, or even those times when you’re ready to quit. It is what helps you to think outside the box when faced with a challenge. It is what gave Michael Jordan the strength to lead the Bull’s to victory against the Utah Jazz despite being very ill.

Years ago I learned a hard lesson about striving for my calling versus striving for that which will make me money. It was a costly one lesson. I was practically born an actor who discovered during my college years that I was also a writer. The little signs of the writer in me were always there, but I’d never paid attention. Even my friends saw it despite my blindness to it. I’d always wanted to be an actor, and that was considered a hobby that people starve while working in futility to achieve success at.

So I read books on business and real estate. I devoured as much information on the subject as I could, attended seminars and workshops, classes, etc. I listened to speeches, and did my best to replicate the methods of those millionaires who’s success I sought to achieve. But I’d missed one detail. Each of these people enjoyed the business of real estate. The lived it and breathed it. They loved what they did, and were creative at being able to solve problems and create deals that had them virtually drowning in money.

I, however, had zero interest in real estate. I didn’t care for it, I didn’t like it, and I didn’t even want to do it. But it was a lucrative industry that could yield a large residual income for the rest of my life. I could build my little real estate empire, then pursue writing and acting on the passive income falling from the trees of money I’d planted.

Alas, you’ll be surprised to learn that this did not happen. My lack of interest made each problem significantly more taxing. I had no creative way to solve problems because I was going on knowledge alone without desire. Whenever a problem arose, it sucked the energy right out of me. As a result, I’d spent thousands of dollars in classes and books, destroyed my perfect credit score, and lost 3 investment houses as ‘tuition’ for an important life lesson.

The lesson? Asking and honestly answering the question of ‘why’, and understanding how the world works in relation to it.

I became a writer because I love stories. Just as I love reading about different worlds and the peoples and species that inhabit them, I love creating them as well. I love building a world and traveling alongside the characters as they relate their life histories for me to transcribe along the journey.

I write because at the time I began my first book, Echoes of a Shattered Age, the fantasy genre was severely lacking in human diversity, and this was a thing I felt the genre could benefit from, and also something I as a reader hungered for.

It is this ‘why’, the passion and love for the craft of writing that sees me through the difficult times when I’m editing a manuscript and figuring out a difficulty in the plot structure. It is this strong ‘why’, that kept me writing despite the numerous rejection letters I received in the beginning that all writers receive. It is this strong ‘why’, that plants me in the chair in the coffee shop or my office when it’s beautiful outside, or my friends are inviting me for some social ordeal or another.

I could not sit down and write a five hundred page book if I didn’t love it. I could not sit through the tedious process of reading over a manuscript for continuity and other details if I did not love what I do. And I certainly could not endure the climb to success that begins with an income that one would be happy for if it paid just one credit card payment.

Why do I write? The answer to this question is the same as when people ask me how to know if you’re really a writer. I have an irrational love and passion for the craft. Contrary to popular belief, most writers are not wealthy. Most writers do not earn enough from their work to live on. It is not a field to pursue if one strives for wealth.

But as with being a teacher, or an archaeologist, or a nurse, I love what I do, and I love how my work affects the people it touches. My calling and irrational love of writing sees me through endless hours at my craft. This love will see me editing instead of the Sunday motorcycle ride my friends have invited me on that I’ve refused with the intention to get back to work after I finish writing these words.

It is my irrational love for writing, the calling to create, that I am a writer.



About the Author:Author
R.J. Terrell is an actor and author who instantly fell in love with fantasy the day he opened R. A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard. Years (and many devoured books) later he decided to put pen to paper for his first novel. After a bout with aching carpals, he decided to try the keyboard instead, and the words began to flow. As an actor, he has appeared in the hit television show Supernatural, izombie, and Arrow, as well as the hit comedy web series Single and Dating in Vancouver, and is one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men in Once Upon a Time. When not writing, or acting on set, he enjoys reading, video games, and long walks with his wife around Stanley Park in Vancouver BC.

Connect with me at:
R J Terrell on facebook
RJTerrell on twitter
J. Terrell on Goodreads