Sneak Peek: The Pull Book 2: Home is Where the Monsters Are

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Below is a sneak peek at the upcoming second entry in The Pull series, Home is Where the Monsters Are. The book is due in the fall. The first book, The Pull is currently available on all major digital platforms as well as in Athens bookstores.

Prologue  

This world we live in is a strange one. The last year of my life was the strangest yet but I somehow know it only scratched the surface. Metal demons, a boy with no memory, a handful of young upstarts successfully standing against the most powerful man in America – perhaps the world.

Amazing things have happened to me since I met that masked boy with the green eyes and the pull inside of him. Amazing things have happened and I know without a doubt that amazing things are yet to come. Beautiful things. Terrible things. I know this because I dream about them.

Sometimes I wake up and remember. Other times I don’t, and carry with me the vague sense that something rich and powerful and ageless is stirring and we are all a part of it. That ageless power is what we call fate. It is more aware than we think, however. It calls to us. It directs us. It pulls us.

I don’t yet know where it is pulling him. I know that question haunts him every day as The Pull grows stronger and louder and more insistent. It pulled him to Atlanta, and there he found other heroes and stood with them against monsters both real and figurative. The monsters without and the monsters within. Some were defeated. Others still attempt to claw their way out from within each of them. I feel that one of them in particular will soon come to face the monster within herself, and the others may suffer for it.

They are my friends and yet they feel like strangers to me. They feel like pictures in a book or words from a poem. I feel that way about myself sometimes too. There are things down that road coming for me as well. Will I become a hero like them? Or will I succumb to my own monsters, and fall before my own purple fire?

I’ve played a part in this story and I have parts yet to play but for now these chapters belong to them. Four heroes, each with a pull of their own. Each has a destiny and a monster to overcome. Each has a weapon they hold close and a dream of a future they will fight for. Without each other, I have no doubt that each of them would fall, broken and alone. Yet together they stand strong. Together they will change the world. In fact they’ve already begun to do so.

My name is Patricia. Like my brother, I sleep now. Like him, when I sleep I see the world for what it really is. I see the story of humanity. There will be loss in this tale; but there will also be triumph. I close my eyes…and turn the page.

Look for Home is Where the Monsters Are, Fall 2013.

Follow Me and I’ll Follow You: Social Media and Self Promotion

The other day I decided to perform an experiment. See when I first started to self-promote on Twitter as an independent author, I received a tidal wave of followers. “Oh cool! Another self-published author is following me! Oh look, another one! Now three more! Now ten more! Whoopie!!!”

In that initial rush of perceived popularity and to show my gratitude, I followed each and every one of them back. I also followed a few celebrities I liked and some non-profits I supported, local restaurants I frequented and bands I listened to. My wall, however, quickly became a pulsating mass of nothing but, “Shadows of the Dawn: Available now on Amazon!” “Betsy looked at her vampire prince and could think of nothing but his cold embrace *amazon link*” “Don’t miss out on the most talked about book of the summer! Buy Colton Darkholme: Werewolf Hunter today!”

As I sat there and watched advertisement after endless advertisement by my fellow independent authors roll by, I began to lose that rush of enthusiasm. Why did Twitter feel more like Craigslist than Facebook? But I persevered. These were authors like me. They deserved my support, right?

Out of curiosity I began looking at some of these people. Most of them had enormous follower counts. 5,000, 10,000, 30,000 followers or more! And then I noticed something else. Virtually all of them were following the same amount of people. Each of them had performed the act of, “Follow me and I’ll follow you.”

Most of these authors weren’t responding, favoriting or retweeting my tweets. Many of them weren’t retweeting anyone else’s tweets at all. They were simply using Twitter and their followers as an advertisement board.

Smacked in the face with disillusion, I decided to perform my experiment. I would unfollow 90% of these characters and see what happened. Truth was, I wanted my wall back. I wanted to see the posts I wanted to see, not advertisements by other indie authors who had (in a backdoor way) blackmailed me into following them.

Within a week, almost all of those I unfollowed have unfollowed me back. My follower count was cut in half. That sealed the deal for me. They were never interested in what I had to say to begin with. They just wanted another potential sale.

So right now I’m rebuilding my Twitter following from the ground up. If you follow me, I hope its because you genuinely are interested in me, The Pull, my blog or my random blurts of comedic nonsense. If I follow you, its because I want to witness you travel your path to accomplishment as I travel mine. What I will not do is Follow, Like or Pin you because I want something from you.

Now I realize that puts me at an extreme disadvantage in the social media landscape. The fact that some of these virtually unknown authors have 30,000 Twitter followers (and are following just as many) tells me how many people are fighting tooth and nail and using every tool at their disposal, moral or not, to make a buck. Or in our case, to sell a book.

I didn’t get into this business to sell my soul in order to make money. If I’m going to build something around my passion of writing, I’m going to build something genuine. I’m going to post things I believe in or are interested in, not empty advertisements. I’m going to follow people I like, not people who have something I want. I’m going to go to conventions because I want to meet fellow fantasy and sci-fi fans like me, not because I want to meet potential dollar signs with arms and legs. If I sell a few books while sharing what I love with these people, so much the better. If I never sell another book again…I’m already happy. The Pull had a good launch because people believed in me. I believed in me. I’ll keep believing in me as I release the rest of the series and each one will mark off an accomplishment no one can take away, even if the whole world thinks my work sucks.

Please don’t come away from this thinking that I’m talking down to you or to anyone who uses the “Follow me and I’ll follow you” technique. I’m not. I know you believe in your work too or else you wouldn’t be working so hard. What I am trying to say is to try to stop looking at social media as a numbers game. What matters isn’t the number of likes or followers you have, it’s the number of those you have real, genuine connections with. That’s how you make a difference, and that’s how you can leave your mark on the world.

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.