How Pain Can Lead to Wonder

ImageI’ve insinuated during this blog that my high school experience wasn’t easy. That’s putting it lightly. In fact it was the hardest four years of my life. Social anxiety prevented me from talking to anyone for fear of making them not like me. That fact, in turn made them not like me. By the time my junior and senior years came around I was simply known as the silent kid and any attempt I made to make friends was laughed down or looked at with mistrust because I was trying to step outside of my prescribed role, and in high school roles are everything.

Because I couldn’t have friends in the real world (or at least told myself I couldn’t), I resorted to creating friends in my head. First and foremost was a big sister character who was tough, funny, protective and a wise-ass who could love me even though I was quiet. She needed a face, so I looked around at my classmates and saw a tall striking blonde who looked like she was always ready to kick someone’s butt. That became Melissa Moonbeam.

Next I needed a brother character who would be the thinker of the group. He was intelligent and philosophical but also kind and with a dry sense of humor. That became Jason Dredd. There was no one around me who was quite like Jason at the time, so I composited a middle school friend named Damien (my first African American friend) and my real life brother Andy.

I realized then that I was missing an important element to this group: a love interest. I needed someone who would react to my character (more on that in a bit) with kindness, understanding, encouragement and warmth. It just so happened I had an enormous crush on a girl I barely knew at the time. That crush developed because of one instance of kindness showed to me after I had embarrassingly goofed up during a mandatory school play. Because she had shown that element of kindness I needed I took her face and her name and combined it with the warmth and understanding I wanted in a character it would always give me butterflies to be around. In that way, Stacy Cross was born.

Now there was one thing developing during all of this that I’ve neglected to mention. I was assembling that “ideal” circle of friends around me, but during the course of it I was also creating a fictional character for myself. It wasn’t the ideal me, for this version of me had flaws as well, but it was a me I could respect during a time I found it very difficult to respect the real thing. When I looked into my mind’s eye I stopped seeing myself and began to see Nick.

I mistrusted my own identity, so Nick was a character with no identity and no last name. I was skinny and weak, so Nick was skinny but could still kick ass. I didn’t care for my face, so Nick wore a mask. I was uncertain about what I was meant to do with my life, so Nick followed a Pull towards a destiny he neither knew nor trusted. In ways Nick was stronger; in ways Nick was more broken; but he was always quintessentially me even when I didn’t want to admit it.

There were other elements that sprung up around these characters. I wanted a constant companion so a dog named Blitz was born. I felt that teenage life presented an ever-present adversary for me and always whispered in my ear that I would never be strong enough, so an unstoppable monster named The Whisper came to life to unceasingly torment Nick.

These characters were born to give me comfort. When I sat in the back of a classroom struggling with my schoolwork, Melissa, Jason and the others comforted me and made me laugh. When I felt bullied or threatened, a scene would play out in my mind where Nick battled The Whisper and always held his own – or his friends joined him and battled the threat along side him.

These characters soon grew beyond mere comforting mechanisms and began to have lives of their own. In bed at night dreading what the next day would bring, I’d suddenly find a scene playing out in my mind. I’d see Nick and Melissa arguing over something. At first I wouldn’t be sure what, but like wiping the fog away from a window soon I knew. I knew what they argued about and what caused it and what that fight led to and how Stacy and Jason felt about it and that The Whisper was watching the whole time and that Blitz the dog was curled up on the couch oblivious to it all.

My subconscious took these characters from my grasp – maybe borrowed is a better word – and brought them to life. As if glimpsing a movie or a TV show, I watched the entire story of their lives, from Nick waking up alone in the woods with a sword in his hand to the fateful battle atop the *omitted for spoilers*. I gasped when Jason defeated Raven atop a factory in New Orleans. I grinned in triumph when Melissa took to her motorcycle and decided to face her past for the sake of her friends. I wept tears of loss when characters died and screamed in frustration when The Whisper showed up at the wrong time and just couldn’t be beaten.

My conscious mind created fantastical versions of the friends I truly wanted, and my subconscious mind pulled a life – a story for them to live through – from the ether. I didn’t intend to create the story of The Pull, and yet it happened. What I did decide to do, though, was grab a notepad in my parents’ basement in 1994 and begin writing those scenes down.

The story of the process of shaping The Pull into a novel is best left for another time, but I wanted to share that because I think its important for us to realize that even the worst times in our life can give birth to something beautiful. I’ll never call The Pull “the greatest story ever told” but it is my greatest story because it is the one my heart gave me when I needed it most. I share it in hopes that it may be able to give a bit of comfort to those in pain in the same way it did to me. It’s an adventure story. It’s a popcorn tale, but it just so happens to be one about finding your true value in a time when nothing is certain.

That value is always there to be found. Sometimes we need monsters to fight, journeys to take and friends to take it with us, but I truly believe that at the end of our own Pull, something beautiful is always waiting.

The Pull Costume for Dragon*Con 2013

ImageCosplaying as Nick from The Pull at Dragon*Con this year. I’d say its coming along nicely. Have any of you ever cosplayed as characters from your original fiction before?

Creativity Through the Fog of Depression

Some of the best artists were inspired by their sadness. Poe, Dickens and van Gogh immediately come to mind. Maybe inspired isn’t the right word though. Maybe they were driven forward by depression; shoved to push their emotion through the only outlet they knew and in the process creating art that lasted through the ages. I’d say more of us, however are simply halted in our tracks by it.

When I say depression I don’t simply mean sadness or loss; I include apathy, lethargy and self-doubt in this grouping because all affect artists in a similar way: they are feelings that either create art within us or prevent us from doing so. I myself am a victim of the latter kind of depression. When I’m filled with self-doubt, every word that appears upon the page is one I neither trust nor feel that I can follow through with. On my down days, I’ll type out a page, absolutely hate it and not touch the keyboard for the rest of the day.

I’ve tried pushing through it. On rare occasions that has worked but more often than not I end up junking everything I’ve written that day because there’s simply no spark of inspiration in it. It’s the sad ramblings of a distracted mind. It might be different if I was a poet or a painter or a songwriter where stream-of-consciousness creation can often lead to genius, but as a fiction writer if I’m not in the game and in the head of my characters that work is going nowhere.

Before I give you the wrong idea with this entry, let me stop and tell you that I don’t have a solution to this dilemma. There won’t be a magical “ah-ha” proclamation at the end of this page that tells you how to pull yourself up by your bootstraps while feeling down and get back to creating great art. I’m a seeker just like you are. This is a blog of questions more than answers, no matter how much I wish it to the contrary. I want to know what you want to know, and in voicing these questions I hope to begin to see answers peeking through the fog, or perhaps even discover that those answers lie within the questions themselves.

Perhaps the ups and downs and how we deal with them are what make us alive. We can’t be at our “best” every day or even most days because on any given day we will only be who we are. I can’t put on a magic hat and suddenly be the best Rob there can be. I can only be today’s Rob. I think…there’s something beautiful in that. My inspiration will come not out of pushing and pulling and fighting it, but out of letting it happen. If you believe yours comes from a similar direction, try to be proud of that, not frustrated by it.

You know the adage about the quietest of us often having the most profound things to say? Maybe that’s a good metaphor for some of us. We sit. We listen. We live, and then suddenly we open our mouths and something beautiful comes out.

I may be back to being frustrated with myself tomorrow, but today that realization makes me smile 🙂

Just…Can’t…Get…MOTIVATED!!!

It’s Tuesday. Tuesdays are usually high-energy, super productive days for me. It just so happens that this particular Tuesday is the day after Memorial Day, and therefore feels like a Monday. What should be a productive day for me is turning into an aimless slog because I am generally useless on the first day of the work week. Whine whine, cry me a river, I know. So what does one do on a day like this when demand is high and energy is so low you can barely feel it? Hell if I know, but I thought I’d throw out some possibly valid solutions.

1. Caffeine: Obvious answer is obvious

2. Meditation: Now we’re getting somewhere. Sit still, preferably but not necessarily in a quiet space, close your eyes and focus on your breath for ten minutes. See if calming your mind and slowing the traffic of unorganized thought can bring about a new burst of motivation. Sometimes its easier for me to get into that space than others, but frequently the simple act of internal stillness can work wonders and point me in a productive direction.

3. Talk to someone you love: Get encouragement. Call your mother or your spouse or your child and simply embrace the joy of hearing their voice. Share how you’re feeling and accept any support or compliment they have to give you. Remember that no matter how down you feel, there’s always someone on your team cheering you on.

4. Exercise: This can be as simple as doing 100 jumping jacks or as intense as running two miles. Just get your blood pumping, kickstart your metabolism and see if that doesn’t drive some energy into your brain and senses.

5. Have sex: Get that feeling called sexual healing. If only it was that easy for most of us to do this in the office or workplace. Okay, maybe it shouldn’t be THAT easy or we’d all be in trouble.

6. Just do it: Forge ahead even if you don’t feel the energy to do so. Sometimes you’ll tap into a momentum you can carry forward into the rest of your week. Don’t allow yourself to say no and you might be surprised at what you can do.

So that’s about all I’ve got. For me, the simple act of writing can conjure up some energy. Maybe embracing our passion can drag us out of the doldrums.

Leave a suggestion or two in the comments. What do you do to motivate yourself on a Monday (or Tuesday after a holiday)?

Indie Authors You Should Know

ImageToday marks the launch of Follow The Pull’s “Indie Authors You Should Know” feature. Every so often I’ll be showcasing a self-published or indie-press published author I admire.

Indie authors are the unsung heroes of the publishing industry, and many of them can craft worlds and stories to rival or even surpass your favorite literary superstars.

My first showcased author is Rachel Hunter, a fantasy author with an imagination and world-building skill to rival Tolkien himself.

Come check Rachel out, and meet another indie author you should know!

https://followthepull.com/indie-authors-you-should-know/

Writer + Gamer = ?

I was a gamer before I became a writer. In fact, I was a gamer before I got out of the fifth grade, before I hit puberty, before I got my first job and waaaay before I lost my virginity (connection there? who can say). Zelda and Final Fantasy and Castlevania provided food for my imagination in a way that only the adventure cartoons of the early 80’s had before. It was one thing to get lost in a world on a screen or on a page; it was another thing entirely to get lost in a world YOU controlled. As a gamer, I wasn’t just observing an adventure play out. I WAS the adventurer.

Between that and the He-Mans and Thundercats and G.I.Joes I grew up with, you can say I developed a bit of a hero complex. He-Man saved the world, Link saved the world, Simon Belmont saved the world. What’s the message there? Cool guys save the world.

After many childhood years of swinging a wooden sword around by the creek near my house, dodging poison ivy instead of wizards and copperheads instead of dragons, I realized that while I wasn’t a world-saving hero in real life, I sure as hell had become one in my imagination. Not enough adventure in the real world? All I had to do was open the pages of my mind, wrap myself in a warm mental blanket and become whatever hero I wanted to be.

In my mind, not only was I a hero, but all of my friends were. Smartest kid at school Brian suddenly became super engineer Brian who built alien-fighting mecha-suits for a team of superheroes. Funny guy Jay became Speed Demon Jay, a crime fighter whose super speed was almost as quick as his wit. My mom even got in on the action, monitoring the police-band radio to let her crime-fighting son and his super-powered friends know where danger was soon to strike.

Though my head was a vast repository of dreams and fantasies, even it couldn’t contain all of the soul-stirring input it was getting from the games I was playing, the shows I was watching and the random oddball ideas I would have while knee-deep in creek water and in desperate need of a tetanus shot.

So what is a boy overflowing with imagination to do? In my case, he put pen to paper and began writing those dreams down. What became an amorphous hero fantasy suddenly became a character, a quest and an antagonist. (For The Pull fans, those were Nick, The Pull, and The Whisper. Yes I started writing The Pull when I was FOURTEEN! WTF)

So a dreamer (let’s be honest, that came first because once a dreamer always a dreamer) became a gamer who became a writer.  And then a little game came around that pushed that writer into new grounds of imagination:

That game was Final Fantasy VI. Those of you who are not gamers are probably saying “Bubba Wubbawuh What?” Just bear with me. Final Fantasy VI is the story of Terra, a girl with a mysterious past and mysterious powers who was born to be a hero, but doesn’t want to be one. Joining her on her quest of discovery was Locke, the thief with a secret heartache driving him to recklessness, Edgar the handsome prince who loves his inventions more than he loves ruling a kingdom, and Gau, a child raised in the wild because his father branded him a monster when his mother died in childbirth.

These were heroes. They had adventures. They saved the world (or tried to); yet there was something else here, an element to adventure I had never explored before. That element was loss. Terra mourned the normal life she could never have because of her birthright. Locke was a broken man due to the tragic loss of his first and only love. Gau was a child without a family and Edgar was a man with endless wealth and respect, yet a gaping hole in his heart because he could never have the life HE wanted.

Suddenly I knew heroes didn’t just save the world. Sometimes heroes suffered. Sometimes they cried and sometimes they lost things that were important to them. Sometimes they even died along the way. Adventures weren’t just about saving the day and conquering monsters, they were about enduring suffering as well. They were about being broken inside, hurt and afraid, yet still doing what you had to do to help those around you.

Through that realization I came to another epiphany. The world I was creating, the protagonist I was following was a reflection of me. This much I already knew; but what I HADN’T known up to that point was that Nick wasn’t a reflection of me because he wanted to save the world. He was a reflection of me because he was broken. He suffered. He hurt. He cried and lost and sometimes made terrible decisions and hurt those he loved because of it. The Whisper wasn’t just a demon following the hero in my story, he was the big scary world that I didn’t feel like I fit into. He was the bully that called me faggot and the parent who yelled and the girl I had a crush on who thought I was a geek.

A video game taught me this. A collection of pixels and sprites and code taught me this, and yet it wasn’t just that. It was a story. It was an adventure with consequences and meaning. In the end, it became a life lesson learned through my awkward teenage hands on a plastic controller.

See gaming isn’t just about high scores and shooting things and conquering the last boss faster than your friend. Gaming is about stories in the same way that books are, or movies or television or any other medium. Gaming is about adventure and empathy and learning lessons sometimes hard to learn within the rigid confines of our home life, especially for a child.

I’d venture to say that gaming can foster a writer’s mind and imagination just as much as books can. Sure, I had a book in my hand almost as often as I had a controller, but it was those worlds rendered in pixels where my imagination became my drive to tell a story.

I’m still that kid waving his sword around in a creek full of poison ivy, snakes and scraped knees…and dragons. Now, however, I don’t keep those adventures in those woods or in my head. I tell them. I tell them and, in some very real way, I live them.

As a writer, I want to inspire you the way other writers, storytellers and game developers inspired me. I hope you read The Pull or Feather in the Stream or any other work I create and immediately want to go create a world of your own. I hope you read The Pull and then go run to the creek, swing a wooden sword and then run back home and start your own adventure.

Self-Published Author – Not a License to Be a Jerk

Okay, lords and ladies, I want to throw my two cents into your hat or ring or shoe or whatever other metaphorical container you prefer I throw metaphorical change in. Just because you’re a published or self-published author does not mean you get to suddenly be an elitist butthole who can dictate what does or does not make a writer, what genres are and are not “real writing”, and what style is or isn’t “art”.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have standards for things like grammar (except for lovable scamps like Cormac McCarthy) and making things clean and readable for our audience, HOWEVER, what we do not have the license to do, as authors, is tell someone whether or not they’re a real writer.

Example: Yesterday I noticed a tweet from a self-published author that read as follow: “YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen (it was a hashtag, pardon the unusual caps) you are constantly saying ‘I should write that down’.”  My quote-unquote clever response to her was, “YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen you have a dream that intelligent ducks enslave society, wake up and say, ‘I should write that down’.”  Her response to my response was as follows: “Hah.  Or maybe not….”

Now maybe I’m just reading too much into this, but that, ladies and gents, sure felt like I just got bitch slapped.

It just so happens that I actually AM working on a short story involving hyper intelligent ducks and class warfare (it’s less funny than it sounds), and it also so happens that I take offense to someone telling me what does or does not make me a writer.  So what if I decide to write about ducks?  Does that mean I can’t make an intelligent, thought provoking, entertaining piece about duck-human warfare?  “Maybe not”, at least according to one author.

Come on, people.  We get it, you’re talented and driven and successful, at least in your own eyes.  So let others enjoy their own talent, drive and success, even if it isn’t in a medium or presented within a theme that you enjoy or consider “art”.  Let me love what I love and I’ll do the same for you.

Who knows?  Maybe Urban Duck Fantasy is the next big thing.

To Twitter or Not to Twitter

Apparently the answer is “To Twitter”, at least according to the lion’s share of indie authors.  A promotional vehicle that runs on a steady fuel of hashtags, bad jokes and shameless plugging yet is somehow STILL surprisingly entertaining.  My little heart felt full after creating my first account yesterday and getting my first dozen followers.  WHO IS @PARTYINMYPANTS69?  I DON’T KNOW BUT THEY’RE FOLLOWING ME SO I LOOOOVE THEM!!!  Yeah I’m almost hoping the novelty of this wears off quickly so I can stop feeling like I crave affection from strangers.  Or at least, go back to pretending that I don’t crave affection from strangers.

I was a Twitter-doubter for years, which is why I’m so late to this particular party.  Why?  I’d say it was partially me being too hipster for it, partially me being terrified of drowning in a sea of tweets and partially because I was so snug and comfy under my Facebook blanket.  And yet even after that first day I can already tell that this is going to be a pretty big promotional tool in my Bat-Writer utility belt, right next to the shark repellent spray.

If I can get 14 followers in a day (13 now because one doo doo head dropped off overnight) just by being myself and talking about what I love; heck imagine what I can get in a month.  I sold several copies of The Pull this week already and it’s only Tuesday.  Thank you Twitter, thank you Facebook, thank you YouTube and my blogsite.  I’m new to this self-promotion game but I can already see how it can work.  The point of this really is:  you can too.

Don’t be afraid of Twitter just because people like Charlie Sheen use it to talk about their tiger blood (dated reference is dated) and there are millions of people trying to sell things on it.  It can be a fun little playground if you approach it from the right mindset.  Don’t be afraid of YouTube because you don’t like your hair on any given day.  Just crank up your webcam, open your mouth and say or do something YOU have fun with.  When you smile, others smile with you.

I say the more passionate goofballs we have in the social media landscape the better.  So get to goofing!!!