We Get to Choose

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cabin

I’ve missed you. It’s been too long. For that, I’m sorry.

Over these last few months, as my new store got off the ground, I’ve affirmed a deep seated conviction. Life and art are not that different. Creativity is inherent in everything we do and art is not dependent on media. My store, Utopia, is as creative as my sculptures, my canvases, and my books. It evolves, changes, and grows every day. Because it does, I do. The relationship is symbiotic.

It’s also all consuming. Last weekend, my husband and I got away for the first time since the business opened. We drove south and camped in the Cibola National Forest near Magdalena, NM. The experience, as always, revived us.

On one of our walks, we ventured over a fence and discovered a couple of crumbling homesteads. After exploring one of them — rickety stairs, creaking floorboards curled up at the ends, stained concrete walls tinted and worn by time and weather, we hiked further up the trail. Turning to look behind us, we stopped short. The breathtaking view of red rock cliffs towering over the ponderosas juxtaposed against the ruinous cabin impressed us deeply. It seemed, in that instant, that our lives are infinitely small. We are only the dash between dates and everything we strive for is irrelevant compared to what will endure beyond us. Then we shook our heads, kissed briefly, and proceeded up the trail.

This world, this land, this beautiful sky are vast and powerful. What can any of us do that can compare? Write a book?  Bear and raise a child? Scratch our names and a date into a cliff?

The only thing I can think of is love. Love our people, our planet, our creative endeavors. The forest and its towering cliffs are, by nature, impassive. We get to choose.

Fate in Writing

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I am so happy to have Dan Levinson as a guest on my blog today. Dan is a native New Yorker, and a reader of all things fantastical. His debut novel, the sci-fi war epic FIRES OF MAN, is due out June 17, 2014 from Jolly Fish Press.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18755001-fires-of-man

Today is his cover reveal and I am very impressed. Check it out and then read on for a great post.

FiresofManCover

Fate in Writing by Dan Levinson

Have you ever read a novel, and thought, “My, this is certainly convenient”? Somehow, the protagonist has come across that key piece of evidence he needs to put the villain away for good; or he’s met his true love on a street corner, after searching for her the entire book. Miraculously, all the pieces have come together.

Fate, destiny, serendipity . . . A familiar set of words for what some might consider an alluring type of deus ex machina, just sitting in our writer’s toolbox, tempting us to be used. One might say they represent an arbitrary coming together of elements, where the writer’s hand can be seen behind the pages, neatly arranging, moving things into their proper places; even dismiss such a thing as trickery, or laziness, or a lack of inventiveness.

But is that really the case?

While it’s true that a coincidence unearned has a certain sense of cheapness, of potential conflicts unfulfilled, this is not the only way to utilize such concepts.

So how to earn it?

First and foremost—foreshadowing. That, above all else, can sell a quirk of fate to a reader. For when there is legitimate foreshadowing—moments that reader can go back to and say, ‘aha, it was all leading to this, even though I didn’t see it’—then the final denouement is no longer arbitrary. It makes sense. It feels organic, like it belongs in the narrative. Proper use of foreshadowing shows that the hand of fate has been present all along, silently pulling the strings.

So what are some good foreshadowing techniques?

Imagery is one. A recurring image, or set of images, especially when described vividly, can lend an almost mystical quality to whatever you’re trying to highlight.

These images can be external—something in the character’s environment that has an opportunity to return. Or they can be internal—a metaphor, used to describe the character’s inner state, or reaction to circumstances that echo the eventual “serendipitous twist.” However you choose to do it, the imagery should be evocative; it should stick in the reader’s mind; it becomes a motif.

Another great device is the verbal warning. This can be as simple as subtle references to the eventual outcome, scattered throughout conversations with the character in question. Or it can be used more overtly: supporting characters—perhaps even random passersby—offer advice or admonitions, pointing toward or away from a certain course of action. Of course, the main character should probably defy this advice at every turn, or at least not fulfill it completely. It is only at the end, when the character finally listens (ideally breaking out of some negative pattern of behavior), that the puzzle pieces “miraculously” fit together. In this way, it feels like the character is earning his or her just reward.

Now, “fate” can not only be used to unite, to expedite, but also to do the opposite: to tear apart, to create conflict, to evoke tragedy. This may be the best use of it, I think! Consider Romeo and Juliet, those “star-crossed lovers.” It was as if fate conspired at every turn to drive them apart, make them agonize. Their deaths result from the most tragic of misunderstandings!

Tragic coincidence—I feel that is one of the most effective techniques a writer can utilize. And when something bad happens—something that makes a character suffer—I believe readers are less inclined to balk at the unlikely chance of such occurrences. Life is by necessity chaotic, and so when a character’s “destiny” seems to create a downward spiral, it feels easier to accept. When, by some freak happenstance, one bad thing piles atop another, no matter how implausible, it seems somehow more “real” than were it to be good thing upon good.

When used properly, “fate” can be a very effective tool. It can create a sense of depth, of powerful inner workings the reader isn’t privy to. It’s a risk, to be sure! But with forethought, and careful execution, even the most unlikely and opportune of resolutions can feel not only possible, but appropriate! So earn your twists of fate! And write, write, write on!

The Hollow Living – I need YOUR help!

destinyallison:

Congrats, and happy to reblog!

Originally posted on C.N. Faust:

Hello my darlings,

The Hollow Living is very close to its intended release date (November 1st) and I would like to, over the next few weeks, market it as aggressively as possible. But to do so I need YOUR help!

Here is what you can do!

ONLINE: 

- Like and share my FACEBOOK page! https://www.facebook.com/cnfaust

- Direct people towards my website for the other books in the series - http://cn-faust.com/

- Share links, covers, reviews, testimonials, pictures of you with a thumbs up, on Reddit! http://www.reddit.com/

- Create a featured post on your blog! Do you want to host a giveaway? Email me at cnfaust@outlook.com and we will talk!

- Tweet about it! (I am still trying to make #pharunswag a thing, lol). https://twitter.com/Glitzkrieg_King

- Add The Hollow Living to your to-read lists on Goodreads and / or recommend it to friends! https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18652761-the-hollow-living

- Reblog this post!

- Do you…

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Integrity

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Something whole and healthy is that which has integrity in relationship to itself. Which means that if your actions are in conflict with any part of who you are, you are violating the well being of all the parts of you.

You can’t be passionate in one area without being passionate in others.

You can’t decide not to feel pain and expect to feel anything else.

If you write a book, sing a song, or plant a garden according to what’s trending you can’t expect to change anyone’s life.

I got this letter yesterday from the CEO of Branders.com. It impressed me tremendously. Check it out:

Hi,
 
As the president and CEO of Branders.com, I take pride in our ability to carry nearly every item our customers could want to promote their business or organization.
 
So today, my message is a little unusual: We’re no longer going to carry prescription bottle products.
 
Here’s why. I recently had a conversation with one of our loyal customers, Celeste Clark. Celeste is the executive director of the Raymond Coalition for Youth, an organization that works to prevent drug and alcohol abuse among young adults in Raymond, NH.
 
Celeste had visited Branders.com earlier this year to purchase giveaways for an upcoming festival. It was while Celeste was on our site that she noticed the prescription-bottled mints. Usually, businesses purchase these mints to advertise their company as a “headache killer.” They print things on the label like, “Got a problem you can’t solve? Take two mints and call us in the morning.”
I wouldn’t be a marketer if I didn’t admit to finding this a clever approach. But I also wouldn’t be a responsible marketer if I wasn’t open to understanding the unintended messages of this approach.
 
 
I began to see how people using the mints in prescription bottles we were selling on Branders.com could be modeling unwanted behaviors, especially for small children.
 
And as a businessman and a father, I wanted to make sure I was doing what I could to support the message that prescription drug abuse is a serious issue. Removing the prescription-bottled mints from our offerings was an easy call to make.

At Branders.com, we’re proud to be a one-stop shop for all your corporate giveaway needs. We may be selling one fewer product, but we’ve added 10,000 new items just in the last year. We’ll help you find whatever you need. And we always love to hear from you.
 
To learn more about prescription drug abuse and what you can do to help, please visit www.drugfree.org or the Raymond Coalition for Youth at rcfy.org.
 

All the best,

 
Jerry McLaughlin
So many companies (and people) cave to financial pressure, but what Mr. McLaughlin did here was earn my loyalty and respect. He distinguished himself from his competition by acting according to heart.
Integrity. How much is it worth?

Grateful!

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Bitterroot_new_subtitleI haven’t done much to market my new book, Bitterroot. Basically, I finished it, put it out there, and focused on opening my new store. Life keeps moving and book 3 wasn’t nearly as cathartic a release as the two prior. So when I finally found some time this morning to take a look at what’s happening with it, I was delighted to find the first review.

Here it is, for those interested:

“I liked the first book in this series (Pipe Dreams) but felt a lack of consistent emotional involvement, personally, with the characters. Not true in this installment. Fabulous story, expertly written and paced, very absorbing, read it in one sitting. This story (both Pipe Dreams and Bitterroot) is gritty and does not shy away from tremendous trauma. It can be hard to take sometimes – the more so because my complaint with Pipe Dreams is not true for this book. I did identify with the characters, did feel that sense of numbing horror, and did feel terrifically sucked into their hopes and fears. The character development expanded greatly upon that which initially appeared in Pipe Dreams. An intense ride – can’t wait for book 3. I applaud the author for wrapping up the story appropriately instead of going with what seems the current trend of chopping one book into three parts for the sake of releasing them separately. Even so, we get a tantalizing snippet at the end that has me eager to read the next book.” — A Wing

Beyond the thrill the review gave me, it also gave me pause.  I keep reading that the best thing you can do to develop an audience for your books is to keep writing books. I think this is true, mostly because we get better as we go. I don’t know if Bitterroot will have great sales or not, but it doesn’t really matter. I write because I love it and I’ll keep writing because not writing is like not breathing.

I’ll tell you something though. With Bitterroot, I didn’t worry about all the rules, didn’t spend countless hours editing to make it like all the blogs say it should be. I wrote, I cried, I laughed, I wrote some more and it’s better than anything I’ve done.

The moral, write from the gut, take the experts with a grain of salt, and be true to your voice.

Blew it

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I make lists, send myself emails, have Google Calender remind me of where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing, but every once in awhile I blow it.

Today’s post is a sincere apology to Kori Miller. Kori’s blog is fabulous and so is the radio program she hosts (Back Porch Writer).

A few months ago, Kori invited me on the radio show to talk about Pipe Dreams. I was psyched! Then, amidst travel, life upheavals, and a new business, my brain hitched. I missed the call in and left Kori hanging.

Now, I’m beating myself up because I let a friend down. Kori, you rock and I’m sorry.

I hope everyone checks out what Kori is doing. She deserves all the support in the world.

Bitterroot Release!!!

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Bitterroot_new_subtitleI’m so psyched to announce that Bitterroot has been released and is now available on Amazon! It will be available on all platforms by the end of the month (just a little crazy busy right now). I hope you check it out and take the time to leave a review.

Here’s the description:

Edenton is a waste of rubble and ash, Vanessa has a secret, and the designers are still at large. Until they’re dead, she’ll never be free. In this exciting sequel to Pipe Dreams, Vanessa lays claim to her legacy and teams with McGrath to take them down, but the betrayal runs deeper than she thinks. Lewis also escaped the island and the Priscilla virus is almost ready for release. As the pieces come together, Vanessa must decide what’s more important — vengeance or family.

Praise for Pipe Dreams

“Allison’s voice has been described as poetic or lyrical. Perhaps it is the artist in her that allows “heart” to shine through her writing.” — Museiddity.com

“Allison keeps up the pace with plenty of plot twists and engaging dialog, but it’s her writing style that makes this book a gem” — Amazon customer review

“Creepy, honest, and sometimes even bone-chilling, Pipe Dreams is a taste of reality that you won’t be able to put down.” — Amazon customer review

“With a steady pace and strong characters I found Pipe Dreams a gripping and emotionally engaging read.” — Amazon customer review(less)

The Difference Between Good and Great


(Sorry about the blurry video.)

We raced across the country in two days and spent eight coming home. The magic journey erased grief, inspired dreams, and solidified souls. In New Orleans, we went in search of good jazz. On Bourbon Street, abundant sounds conflicted with each other in a cacophony of mediocrity. As we walked, drinks in hand, I paused when a strain caught my attention — the lines of a standard I like, a trumpet solo that braved its voice above the noise — but mostly, we kept walking. Strip clubs, hawkers, con men, and scantily clad girls selling Jello shots to passersby assaulted my senses and threatened to destroy my perceptions of the city.

In vain, we prowled the side streets looking for authenticity, the backroom bar the locals frequent, an artist not yet beaten down or big enough to make the strip. Finally, we ducked into a posh club with a decent trio, were blessed for two songs by a kick ass vocalist, and headed back to our camp site wearied not by the evening, but by the lack of originality.

We tried again the next night. Drunk on the river and dancing to Dixieland on board a paddle boat, we didn’t care what we found as long as it had a beat. However, we stayed away from Bourbon Street. At one club, a tiny man bellowed with the voice of a giant and shook us to our core. Then, at another, we found what we’d been looking for.

It was a backroom venue, behind an empty bar, but it reached for something beyond grunge or decor. The band opened without preamble. It played like fire. So engrossed were the players in their music we never learned their names. Instead, they mesmerized us. Eyes closed, I felt the music in my blood — a dart, a stroke, a storm over the ocean. Eyes open, I thrilled to the exchanges between them. All emotions bared, they grinned at each other or made love to their instruments as if the audience wasn’t there.

The difference between competence and quality, good and great, is hard to qualify, but my experience in New Orleans made me think about it. We saw several good bands, some skilled performers, and environments that catered to any range of desires. We only saw one great thing. What made this particular band so good was their passion. They didn’t play by rote as if they’d played a thousand times and had everything down to a science. They didn’t stroke the audience. They were genuine. As if they had invited us into their private world, they were generous hosts, but it was their home. Intimate, personal, and alive with crumbs on the counter, an unmade bed and dirty dishes in the sink.

We strive for polish, for perfection according to an intricate and often contradictory set of rules, and to belong. In doing so, we bleed the juice right out of our work, sterilizing it in the process.

As we traveled across the country, I also had an opportunity to read several books. Most were by Indie authors. Some, admittedly, were wretched. You can’t make anything sing if you don’t mature your craft. Some, however, were fabulous. In spite of the occasional error, they caught me by surprise and enriched me with their freshness. Not surprisingly, the ones I didn’t like tried to be like someone else or tried to fit in to a pre-established formula. Those I did like didn’t give a damn about supposed to’s. They just went for it and took me on a hurtling ride.

What do you think? How do you define the difference between good and great? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Life Happens in Chapters

In the fury of new adventures, loose ends, and deep fear, I didn’t write last week.

Today, I want to tell you a story.

20 years ago, a young woman became a prisoner in an ancient house. The stairs creaked, the basement was a place of nightmares, the walls crumbled behind their papered surfaces. A monster came and went, but the woman wasn’t allowed to leave unless accompanied by him.

She comforted herself with brand new babies and the tricks and trappings of age old values. Though the house was old, she made it shine. Though there was no money to lavish her darling babes with glitter and gold, she invented games, sewed costumes, and told stories to entertain them. The monster came and went. Years passed. The woman’s sadness grew and grew until one day she discovered a hidden key that unlocked a door she didn’t know existed.

The first time she put the key in the lock and opened the door the magic of the room beyond filled her with terror. Soon, however, she was sneaking into that room as often as she could. Day by day, she grew stronger and braver. The monster resented her, threatened her, and tried everything in his power to stop her from going into that room, but its magic was more powerful than he. The woman knew it wouldn’t be long before she would be strong enough to make her escape.

Eventually, she did. Shoulders straight and muscles bulging, the woman built a new life for herself and her children. She reaped riches and was known throughout the land for her talents and skills. Every day she went into the room, now filled with the tools of her magic, and wrought beauty from chaos and every day she swore that nothing was more important than the work she did.

She knew it was dangerous, but she didn’t care. That room and its magic were worth whatever she had to suffer or endure.

After a time, the woman met her prince. Life blossomed into something shimmering and warm. There were occasional dragons to slay and trolls to avoid, but all in all, the woman was living a fairy tale.

Then, one day, the magic disappeared. The woman went into the room every day and looked for it. It wasn’t under the bench or behind the massive tools. It wasn’t in the rafters or hiding in a corner. This made the woman sad so she tried to coax it back by creating new things, different and more complex than what she had done. The magic giggled from where ever it hid and the woman knew she had chosen the right path. She went into her new work with a fury while the magic played hide and seek with her.

But while it teased and cajoled, the woman began to suffer an extraordinary pain. Each time she went to the room the pain intensified until she could no longer wield the tools of her trade, dance with her prince, or slay the dragons.

She started avoiding the room and her heart grew dark and afraid. After awhile, she used the secret key to open a new door and, low and behold, the magic was there. She embraced it and, giddy with delight, began a new kind of work.

Throughout the land, people cried for the work she used to do, the work that made the magic go away and the pain return, so every so often she went back to the other room and forced herself to give them what they wanted. She still loved that room and all its tools, still had the skill to produce even when the magic wouldn’t come along, and didn’t want to disappoint her people. She also didn’t want to believe that the pain was more powerful than she had become.

Walking a treacherous bridge between the two rooms, she started to slip. Cold fingered fog clouded her heart and black cliffs threatened to swallow her. She reached for something to hold onto and found only empty air. On her knees, she inched her way to a cave where she met with a shaman. The shaman looked into his cauldron and met her eyes. “If you want to walk instead of crawl, you have to give up something that matters more to you than anything else. Like a snake, you must shed your old skin.”

“But why?” she cried, knowing instantly what must be done. “Because the magic has been leaching from your bones and the damage is too severe for any spell, potion, or prayer. If you don’t, you will never walk straight, tall, and proud again.”

The woman thought about it, thought about the new room where the magic waited and the prince who loved to dance, and agreed. Then she told all the people in the land that she could not go back to the room and make the things they loved. They cried out against the injustice and the sounds of their voices caused the woman to crumble.

She felt all her power and strength seep out through her tears and, deep inside her hear,t she believed that the monster would return and drag her back to the ancient house. The only way she had bested him had been through the work she did in the secret room and now that she couldn’t do it anymore, how would she keep him at bay? How would she slay the other dragons, outwit the trolls, or continue to charm her prince? The new room had magic in it, but it was new, raw, and filled with only a small collection of tools to make work the people might eventually love as much as they loved her old work.

The woman cried in secret, leaked in public, and panicked all the time. The prince held her, though his eyes worried for her, and the people began to talk amongst themselves, spinning a tale they could believe instead of the tale she had told them. Anger flared and died, drowned by the river running down the woman’s cheeks. Without her old skin, she felt so naked and vulnerable she forgot where she had hidden her secret key.

Then, one morning late last week, the woman remembered and found it again, hidden in the mirror. She only had to look upon herself to find it.

**************

Sorry for not posting last week. I really couldn’t speak. I got my MRI results and had to face my biggest dragon. My diagnosis is severe osteoarthritis with complications and it is not treatable without spinal fusion, for which I am too young. If I continue making sculpture it will get worse. My life as a visual artist is over. Fortunately, there are many rooms and writing is something I love as much as making sculpture. I am also opening a new business, so if my posting is irregular over the next month, please forgive me.

If you want to see my art, here’s a link to my website. I’ll be taking it down in the near future.

Life happens in chapters. This is the end of one and the beginning of another. Bitterroot — the sequel to Pipe Dreams — will be released at the end of the month and my prince and I are off on an adventure across country to pick up our new teardrop trailer and take some much needed downtime. Thanks for listening to my story and talk to you soon.

The First Stage of Revulsion

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You jump in, excitement surging through your veins, your pulse throbbing, your mind humming with that spectacular, creative buzz.

A form comes together, takes a distinct shape, and you are in love.

For some, the enthusiasm lasts a week. For others, a month. Maybe you’re lucky and can sustain it longer. Ultimately, though, it fades and the thing that had you giddy has you slamming your fist or walking away.

This is normal. So is the terror that comes when you realize your darling isn’t as gorgeous as you thought. If you don’t panic, you’ll come through it and be stronger for it.

I call this moment the first stage of revulsion. It’s when doubt creeps up the back of your neck and fear fills your heart. If you dive into what you don’t like, you’ll likely mess up all the parts you do. Your hands hesitate and your mind makes up excuses until the work is a dusty thing on a shelf.

Don’t be afraid. Look to the right, to the left, up and down — anywhere but where you think the problem is. Chances are you’ll find what’s bothering you. Then go for it. Cut, slash, revise, paint over. Be bold. The work will start moving again and so will you.

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