Category Archives: Work-Life Balance

Hi! My Name is Nathan, and I’m a Writer!

Several years ago, my company sent me overseas for a few weeks of training. Since I was already enduring the long trans-Atlantic flight, I decided to take some vacation time to make the most of my trip. I booked my flight a week early, and paid out of pocket to delay my connection in Frankfurt. I had been wanting to do a backpacking-via-rail trip for a while, and so I booked a Frankfurt to London round trip in order to take the opportunity to spend 10 days exploring the stretch of the UK between London and Newcastle.

Knowing that one of my friends participated in an study abroad program during college in Newcastle, I asked her what I should do with my few days in the city. She recommended that I take a bus ride up to the gardens at Alnwick. As she told the story, the gardens were created in response to a local student dying from a drug overdose. The city decided to create a poisons section in their local botanical gardens with the intent of educating visitors on the dangers of drugs.

Writing BookshelfMost writers I know are gigantic nerds for trivia and other useless tidbits. I am no exception. Just take a look at the bookshelf I have reserved for my writing references and you’ll see why the idea of a garden devoted to poisons appealed to me. One morning, I made my way to the Newcastle bus terminal, and spent the some time watching the beautiful countryside. Before long, I made to Alnwick. After paying my entrance fee, I spent a couple hours wandering and admiring the gardens.

Eventually, I found the poison gardens, which occupy an open space roughly the size of a small parking lot. Alnwick’s Poisons Garden is sectioned off from the public areas by a heavy, black wrought-iron fence. The only access is a gate that is kept locked at all times and is decorated with skulls and crossbones. Hard to misinterpret the message even if you don’t speak the local language.

As I approached, the tour guide waiting outside the gate informed me that a tour had just begun. When I asked her when the next would be, she smiled and assured me that waiting would not be necessary. She would open the gate and I could simply catch up the tour.

Once inside the gate, the Poisons Garden didn’t appear to be significantly different from the larger public space. There was a small path that meandered through flower beds and the plants were protected by mesh cages to keep people from touching. Otherwise, the deadly plants appeared to be unremarkable. However, I listened to the last three quarters of the tour aptly, taking pictures for reference material, and writing notes as appropriate. Upon leaving the poisons garden, I saw that another group was already forming to start their tour.

In one of my less-than-bright moments, I decided to catch the first quarter of the tour with the new group. As it turned out, each of the three guides gives their own version of the 20 minute tour, and with over 100 plants in the Poisons Garden, there was plenty of material to choose from. Enthusiastic for new information, and not thinking about how it looked to the locals, I decided to join the third tour as well and see what else I could glean.

As I left the gardens for the final time, I found the first two tour guides standing together and casting nervous glances at me. Concerned, I moved close enough to eavesdrop and began digging through my bag. The word “constables” was especially alarming. I did not have the time to be arrested in a foreign country; after all, I had a flight to catch from Newcastle to London the next morning so I could continue on to my company mandated training. Thinking fast, I did the only thing that I could to avoid being arrested.

I walked up to them with a smile on my face and introduced myself.

“Hello,” I said, “my name is Nathan Barra, and I am a writer. I came to the gardens to do some research for a book. Thank you for the tours, they were very informative, but I was hoping that you ladies could clarify a few questions for me.” The two women who had just been looking at me as if I were prone to poisoning the town’s water supply lit up and became passionate about helping me. Turns out, the the information on the tours is nothing compared to what the tour guides will give you if you make friends.

And that, is why I love to be a writer. Yes, there is joy in creating, relaxation that comes from the control of an entire world, and the sense of pride and accomplishment from a completed book. But in the end, writers get to do, and get away with, things a normal person wouldn’t have access to in the name of “research.” I have writer friends who gone on special tours of NASA, have shadowed prison guards, and are on a first name basis with rock stars. All in all, the perks of being a writer are pretty sweet.

This month, you heard from Fictorians and our friends in the writing community about why we love being writers. I hope y’all have new insight into our worlds and some inspiration to pursue your own dreams and craft. Life is only as interesting as you choose to make it. So go out, and make awesome choices.

Moments That Make Me Love Being An Author

A guest post by Ramon Terrell.

To be honest, there are many things and many moments that make me love what I do and what I am. There are aspects of being an author that are great, such as the freedom to set up my own schedule, or work from any location in the world. It’s an excuse to research topics I find interesting, as well as go to the movies or play video games as an educational experience on top of entertainment.

Being an author is one of the most rewarding endeavors I have ever engaged in, and though it is hard work, just as with any profession, the rewards so far outweigh the difficult times that they are as easily forgotten as a cold once you’re healthy and running again.

But moments are something different. Unlike aspects of a profession that are a constant, moments are something that are fleeting, and often powerful. Sometimes moments can be inspirational, or enlightening, or even life-changing.

One powerful moment that I will never forget, was actually shared by an amazing fantasy author by the name of Tracy Hickman. (If you haven’t watched the video, do yourself a favor and watch it.) The story he imparted was the stuff of legend among our craft, and will leave you struggling not to shed a tear.

Now, while I don’t have a story, or moment, nearly as powerful as Tracy’s, I do have a few in my little newbie writer’s box. One such memory was the day a reader told me that my battle scenes reminded him of R A Salvatore’s. To say that I am a huge Salvatore fanboy would be the biggest understatement of the decade, so to have a reader tell me that anything of mine reminded him of my favorite author, was both humbling and, quite frankly, arm pump inducing. (I may have shouted a couple “YEAH’s!” in the privacy of my home)

Another moment that made me sit back and bask in my love of being an author was when a reader recently told me that he was a huge Terry Brooks fan, and that he really enjoyed my most recent epic fantasy novel, Unleashed. I can’t begin to describe what it feels like as a relatively new author to have someone mention your work alongside the work of the legends of your genre. And while I do not consider myself a Terry Brooks, or an R A Salvatore, that a fan would think of me in relation to them was an amazing and humbling feeling.

Of all the special moments I’ve had that make me love what I do, two come strongest to mind. First was when a reader chuckled and said she was pleasantly surprised at how strong and powerful my female characters are, and that it seemed to her that they were more powerful than the guys, without it being heavy-handed or forced.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love powerful female characters. A well written powerful female character that uses her strengths to greatest effect is something I never get tired of, and I think this reflects in my work.

The second moment was one that touched me deeply, though she may not have realized it. It was a simply thing, a simple unconscious gesture that really made my day, and made me love being an author.

I was talking to a reader who had just purchased Revenire, the final book in the Hunter’s Moon vampire series. After I signed the book, she told me she couldn’t wait to jump into it, then she smiled and held the book to her chest and wrapped her arms around it.

You see, when we hold something to our chest in a hug-like gesture, it is us holding something close to our heart. We don’t hold things of little value close to the heart. You don’t hold a bottle or castor oil, or a pair of smelly socks to your chest and wrap your arms around them. You don’t hold a can of cola or a bag of fries (maybe some do) close to your heart. But what you do hold close to the heart is something you value.

We hold great memories and feelings close to the heart. We hold all that is positive and welcome, and joy inducing close to our hearts. So for that reader to wrap her arms around that book and hold it against her chest, close to her heart, that was a silent way of saying that she felt that book was going to give her great joy, great entertainment, and great memories. I was honored and (again) humbled, and to be frank, thought it was pretty doggone cool.

So for me, aside from constantly being humbled, (grin) moments like these, when a reader expresses their love for my work, and the subtle gestures they make when interacting with one of my books, to expressing the enjoyment and inspiration they’ve gained from them, are the things that make me love what I do, and serve as a constant reminder of how blessed I am to be able to touch people in such a profound way.

Guest Writer Bio: R. J. Terrell was instantly a lover of 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. When not writing, he enjoys reading, videogames, and long walks with his wife around Stanley Park in Vancouver BC.

Connect with me at:
RJ Terrell on Facebook
@RJTerrell on Twitter
R. J. Terrel on Goodreads

 

Outside, in the Office

A guest post by Kevin J Anderson.

IMG_2956I write and publish four or more novels a year, and my creative office doesn’t have either a computer or a desk. It also doesn’t have the distraction of a constantly ringing phone, an endless succession of emails that need to be responded to (or marked as spam), doorbells to be answered with the latest UPS package of cat food from amazon prime (and the related distraction of cats who want me to feed them that food), or employees or family members who lie by assuring me “this will only take a minute.”

No, my real creative office is outside on the trail.

After outlining a novel, I take my notes, my digital recorder, my hiking boots, and my imagination and I hit the trail. After a few minutes, surrounded by trees, rocks, or streams, I can sink into the zone, immerse myself into my world, my story, my characters. As I walk, I think up the sentences that I would normally type out… but instead of moving my fingers around on a keyboard, I just speak the words out loud.

IMG_2915I have so programmed myself to write this way that now I find it very frustrating to sit my butt in a chair and stare at a screen for hours on end. When I’m walking, I am inspired by the landscapes in my beautiful Colorado. It may not be a genuine alien world, but I can imagine that—and all without the constant real-world distractions that harass a writer cooped up in a home office.

The only distractions I encounter are the occasional rattlesnake or hailstorm, but I can deal with that better than tedious phone conversations.

When I’m out walking, especially on long hikes, I can sink into a fugue state, entirely into what I’m writing, and when I dictate, the words go straight from my mind and out of my mouth, recorded directly without any intermediary step. I can just reel out what’s in my imagination.

IMG_2950The scenery itself is often inspirational, and when possible I try to be in a place that reminds me of what I’m writing. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado or Death Valley in California as I write my Dune novels with Brian Herbert; I’ve been in a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada mountains while writing about Han Solo and Princess Leia on the polar icecap of a planet, and I spent time hiking around the Anasazi cliff ruins of Mesa Verde while writing about derelict alien cliff ruins in my Saga of Seven Suns.

Obviously, my hiking trips are work-related.

I have a typist (several, actually, because I tend to overload them!) who transcribes my digital file and sends me a Word document back, so that I can polish it…and there’s the tedious butt-in-chair keyboard time I am forced to endure.

IMG_2888But sometimes I extend the getaway into a camping trip, so that I can really move my working office onto a picnic table out in a beautiful National Forest site. That’s where I’m writing this, sitting at a table under a lodgepole pine tree at a perfect campsite next to a river 85 miles up the Cache la Poudre canyon in northern Colorado. An extra battery for the laptop, and no internet connection, a growler of my favorite microbrew beer: It’s the perfect office, alone in the forest (except for a moose visitor who just walked through the campground), away from it all where I can concentrate on being in the worlds inside my head. It’s like taking a vacation in an exotic place with my imaginary friends.

It’s the best office in the world.

Guest Writer Bio: Kevin J. Anderson was born March 27, 1962, and raised in small town Oregon, Wisconsin, south of Madison—an environment that was a cross between a Ray Bradbury short story and a Norman Rockwell painting. He first knew he wanted to create fiction when he was five years old, before he even knew how to write: he was so moved by the film of War of the Worlds on TV that he took a notepad the next day and drew pictures of scenes from the film, spread them out on the floor, and told the story out loud (maybe this is what led him into writing comics nearly three decades later!). At eight years old, Kevin wrote his first “novel” (three pages long on pink scrappaper) on the typewriter in his father’s den: “The Injection,” a story about a mad scientist who invents a formula that can bring anything to life . . . and when his colleagues scoff, he proceeds to bring a bunch of wax museum monsters and dinosaur skeletons to life so they can go on the rampage. At the age of ten, he had saved up enough money from mowing lawns and doing odd jobs that he could either buy his own bicycle or his own typewriter. Kevin chose the typewriter . . . and has been writing ever since.

Find Kevin and his new releases on his Facebook page, the Word Fire Press page, or his blog.

The Miracle of Mentors

clouds-aircraftI hadn’t even finished my first novel. I’d written one exceptionally strange, not particularly good, short story, but was on my way to my first World Fantasy Convention. I had no idea what I was doing. The flight was full, but as fortune would have it, I happened to sit next to two writers. As Gini Koch showed her cover art for her first published novel, “Touched by an Alien,” to her friend sitting next to me, Glen Glenn, I worked up the courage to intrude on their conversation. It took me a minute–I’m shy by nature–but I finally leaned over and asked, “Are you both writers?” That simple question launched one of the best friendships and best mentoring relationship I could have ever imagined.

I talked with Gini and Glen through the rest of the flight and she told me to find her at the convention. That gave me the motivation I needed to attend the upstairs parties the next night, where I found Gini and she started introducing me to everyone. I met agents, fellow authors, and so many nice people I could hardly keep them all straight. Gini and I kept in touch, getting together for lunch, and she continued to give me loads of great writing advice. Through her mentoring, my writing ability jumped by leaps and bounds. For a while, Glen and I exchanged our writing material on a regular basis, which also improved my writing. The best bonus: I made some great friends.

Now jump ahead about three years. I’d attended multiple workshops, Superstars Seminar, conventions, and received a nice pile of rejection letters amid a few short story publications. I scraped up the money for another writing adventure, attending David Farland’s rewriting workshop, but I had other matters on my mind besides my manuscript. The seminar was great, and everyone loved my work, but I was starting to feel discouraged.

I’m a mother with five children, and all of the writing “investments” were starting to take their toll on the family finances. David didn’t know it, but I was questioning the value of my work. It was time spent that could have gone toward improving my home or working a more profitable job, and it was money that could go toward retirement or fun family activities. What was I doing going to seminars, conventions, etc so I could write fantasy stories?

At every seminar Dave gives, he takes some time and has breakfast, lunch, or dinner, one-on-one, with each of the participants. So we sat together, I remember a delicious aroma of broccoli-cheese soup so I think it was a Paradise Bakery, and talked about writing, publishing, and self-publishing. Probably because it was on my mind, the conversation turned to the social value of what we do as writers.

I’m paraphrasing, but Dave said something akin to, “The stories we write might be made-up fiction, but they come from who we are inside, and they can help people in ways we can’t imagine.”

I’d heard it before, but the way he said it that day, the way it pierced my soul, dispelling my doubts and fears and replacing them with absolute calm, changed my entire outlook. I still get discouraged, and the publishing world has done flips and turns that leave me mind-boggled, but I love to write, and I’ll continue to write, because it does make the world a better place and it makes me a better person. We need stories to work through our own values, emotions, and social perspectives.

They aren’t the only mentors who have boosted me up at just the right time, but these are turning points that have stuck with me. Have you had any turning points in your writing adventure? If so, please leave a comment and share your experience.