Featured From the Archives: Inspiration is a Fickle Wench

Ah yes, my post about inspiration, or rather, the lack thereof. As I stared blankly at the titles in my drafts folder this week, waiting for something (anything!) to spark an idea, I realized that this post would be oddly fitting. It’s also fairly old, so there’s a good chance it will be new to a lot of you. Given my complete lack of inspiration this week (I’m serious, I think my muse died, or decided to flit off to her beach with the cabana boy again), it’s safe to say this is better than anything I could have managed to drag, kicking and screaming, from the depths of my brain. It’s at least somewhat humorous, and I bet a few of you out there will be able to relate. Enjoy!
 

Inspiration is a Fickle Wench

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 8/10/12

 
Have you ever had those days where you suffer from a complete lack of inspiration? Where you feel like a creative well that’s run dry? Yeah, me too. In fact, it happens more than I’d like to admit. For someone plagued by the never-ending breeding of plot bunnies, I have a remarkably hard time finding the motivation to actually write. Oddly, the most sure-fire way I have to motivate myself is to declare to the world that I’m not writing. (Sorry, writing group buddies. Sometimes I have to cancel just so the muses in my head will freak out, screaming, “No! You can’t write absolutely nothing this week!” and finally show me the path to the next scene they were greedily withholding.)

But inspiration doesn’t just apply to writing. We need it for all things creative. It plays just as much of a role in creating a masterpiece of art, or choreographing a moving sequence for demo team. And some days, it’ll simply refuse to come when you call it.

I find the idea of inspiration a fascinating thing. Where does it come from? Is it an invisible lightning bolt that shocks our imagination to life the way a defibrillator brings our hearts back from death? Is it a gift from some higher power, sending waves of creative energy coursing through us like sunlight? Is it the whispered voice of a muse dressed like the women of Greek mythology? Or is it just some random combination of neurons firing that creates a delusional escape from reality? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone does. But I do find it intriguing that when a writer talks about hearing “voices,” they’re considered brilliantly touched by inspiration. When anyone else says it, they’re considered mentally ill.  What separates inspiration from insanity? The final product? Who’s to say that people with schizophrenia or brain tumors warping their neurological pathways aren’t the most in tune with that magical force we call inspiration. Or that those of us who claim to rely on it for our careers aren’t actually suffering a slight mental meltdown. Interesting stuff, isn’t it?

All I know about inspiration is that it rarely shows up when I want it to. Case in point, I’m now suffering through week 2 of the current inspirational drought. This wasn’t even the blog post I had scheduled for today, but I was too uninspired to finish the original one. Which made this the perfect week to muse about the elusive nature of the muse, so to speak.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I find inspiration through music, going into rather lengthy, and probably creepy, detail about it here. I’m not sure why that’s my avenue of choice, but it’s always been that way. Maybe I’m mooching off the creative brilliance imbued by the composer/songwriter. Maybe I’m gifted with a finely tuned sense of musicality, and I can find stories through the nuances and layers of musical instruments the way others can through dreams or spoken words. Maybe I’m just nuts. But regardless of the reason, that reliable source of  melodic inspiration only seems to cover the initial conceptual phase. It gives me the base-line, the foundation on which I have to build, and more plot bunnies than I could ever write, even if I was lucky enough to be a writer that could finish a novel in a few months. When it comes to the actual creation part, the nitty-gritty work part, I’m left to suffer the whims of inspiration like everyone else.

Every writing website, advice article, author/artist blog out there will tell you that creator’s block is a myth. That it’s just an excuse for being lazy, for procrastinating, for giving in to your fear of failure, or for a plethora of other reasons. They’ll all tell you that you just have to power through those days when you’re lacking inspiration. That you have to discipline yourself to create every day. That you can’t wait for the muse to come to you, for the weather to align perfectly, for the fourteen cups of caffeinated beverage to kick in, or for whatever that magic combo is that ignites the fires of inspiration for you. And they’re probably right.

I, however, can’t force it. When I’m not feeling inspired, I end up with this:

“Blah, Blah, more Blah, Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh! Stuff and things. Blarg. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Oh, and more Blah.”

How would you like to read an entire novel of that? I know I wouldn’t. So I ignore all those lovely professional people out there smarter than me, because their perfectly valid advice doesn’t help me. And I wait, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, sometimes even months for the return of inspiration. Does that make me a lazy, procrastinating, fear-frozen artist/writer/choreographer? Maybe. It definitely makes me slow. But one thing I’ve learned over the years chasing down my dream of making a living at something creative, is that you have to be true to yourself. You can read as many books, blogs, advice columns as you want; take a million classes to hone your skills; talk to everyone you admire who have been lucky enough to make a living doing what they love, but in the end, it’s all about figuring out your own creative style, the strategies that work for you, and the confidence to believe that just because your process may be a little different, doesn’t make it wrong.

And mostly, that inspiration is a fickle wench you can control about as much as you can control the weather.

Book Review Wednesday: The Curse Merchant by J.P. Sloan

Yes, I know, it’s technically Tuesday, but since this will be occupying the spot of glory on my blog until Friday, I thought we could let that slide. Besides, I’m part of this here spiffy blog tour:

Tour Banner for The Curse Merchant

And no, I’m not lying. The banner does say the tour ended yesterday, but this is the date I was given. So, this is the date I’ll supply my review. Right after I give you the obligatory information about the book.
 

The Curse Merchant

by J.P. Sloan

 

Cover for The Curse Merchant

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Dorian Lake spent years cornering the Baltimore hex-crafting market, using his skills at the hermetic arts to exact karmic justice for those whom the system has failed.

He keeps his magic clean and free of soul-corrupting Netherwork, thus avoiding both the karmic blow-back of his practice and the notice of the Presidium, a powerful cabal of practitioners that polices the esoteric arts in America. However, when an unscrupulous Netherworker interferes with both his business and his personal life, Dorian’s disarming charisma and hermetic savvy may not be enough to keep his soul out of jeopardy.

His rival, a soul monger named Neil Osterhaus, wouldn’t be such a problem were it not for Carmen, Dorian’s captivating ex-lover. After two years’ absence Carmen arrives at Dorian’s doorstep with a problem: she sold her soul to Osterhaus, and has only two weeks to buy it back. Hoping to win back Carmen’s affections, Dorian must find a replacement soul without tainting his own.

As Dorian descends into the shadows of Baltimore’s underworld, he must decide how low he is willing to stoop in order to save Carmen from eternal damnation… with the Presidium watching, waiting for him to cross the line.

This book starts with a bang. From the first sentence, we know we’re in for two things: a snarky narrator (and it’s no secret I adore a snarky lead) and a gritty, rough-around-the-edges kind of read. And neither disappoints.

Dorian Lake crafts hexes and charms fueled by the karma of the person purchasing them. But he avoids anything involving the darker arts of the Netherwork. That is, until an old flame reappears and pulls him head-first into turmoil. Now, in order to save Carmen, Dorian has to find a way to replace her soul, all while evading detection from both his rival — the man responsible for Carmen’s predicament– and the Presidium, who essentially police the use of magic.

One part gritty police procedural/spy novel, one part supernatural thrill-ride, The Curse Merchant is definitely intriguing. I found the world building to be generally well-done, with lots of attention paid to the history and back-story of both the craft and the characters. The structure of the story was a bit disjointed in places, as the narrator has a tendency to drift down memory lane, but the wit and tongue-in-cheek sarcasm more than made up for that. Fast-paced and full of twists and turns, Sloan definitely knows how to keep his audience hooked. But I found his take on magic, especially the karma angle, to be the most intriguing. It was refreshingly original.

I wouldn’t recommend this to readers who prefer their books to be clean, as swearing and violence are both very present. But for those who don’t mind a little grit in their fantasy, this book is a great find. With a lead character whose charm and integrity endear him immediately, and a plot that will have you questioning your own sense of morality, The Curse Merchant is everything a great urban fantasy should be. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is because I felt it could have been a little better edited. But that’s no reflection on the author’s talent, and doesn’t sway me from recommending his work to fans of the genre.

**Disclosure Statement: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

 

About the Author:

J.P. Sloan is a speculative fiction author … primarily of urban fantasy, horror and several shades between. His writing explores the strangeness in that which is familiar, at times stretching the limits of the human experience, or only hinting at the monsters lurking under your bed.

A Louisiana native, Sloan relocated to the vineyards and cow pastures of Central Maryland after Hurricane Katrina, where he lives with his wife and son. During the day he commutes to the city of Baltimore, a setting which inspires much of his writing.

In his spare time, Sloan enjoys wine-making and homebrewing, and is a certified beer judge.

J.P. Sloan

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Featured From the Archives: The Curse of Being a Slow Writer

Apologies for having to go archive-diving again this week. Let’s just say, it’s not been a great one for me and leave it at that. I wanted to find a post that could do what I couldn’t — bring some humor to my otherwise bleak mood — and this one seemed like the perfect fit. Snarky, but still inspiring, it’s a good reminder for anyone struggling to find time to write. Even if it doesn’t apply to you, I hope it will at least bring a smile to your face. After all, laughter is the best medicine, or so they say. 😉
 

The Curse of Being a Slow Writer

by Kisa Whipkey

(Originally Posted on 5/31/13)

 

I don’t think it’s news to anybody that I am the equivalent of a sloth when it comes to writing fiction. At least, it shouldn’t be. I’ve said it quite a few times. But usually, I try to put a positive spin on that fact, embracing my molasses-covered words and declaring it proudly, like it’s some kind of statement of quality. But the truth is, it sucks. It is the single most frustrating thing in my writing career. So today, I’m going to indulge in a moment of venting negativity. Today, I’m not going to try to convince you that it’s okay to be slow; that it’s all right to procrastinate with research, or editing, or any of the other excuses I’ve told myself are justifications for slackerhood. Because it isn’t. If you want to make it in this industry, you have to be prolific. That’s just a fact.

We had a saying at Dragon Heart Tang Soo Do: “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll have to be a horrible warning.” So let me be your horrible warning. Being a slow writer isn’t a blessing, it’s a curse. Here are the top 5 reasons you don’t want to be me.
 

#1: Limited Productivity Potential

 
At my current rate, I’ll be lucky to finish a novel a decade. And since I also conveniently dragged my feet in deciding to take my writing career seriously, that means I’m joining the party late. So that puts my productivity level at direct odds with the amount of life I have left. If (fingers crossed) nothing horrific happens, I could potentially be looking at a long and happy life. But how much of that will I realistically spend writing? I’m going to say that probably by my 70’s, I’ll be running out of oomph, and likely, Carpal Tunnel will get me before then. So, given my late admittance that I really wanted to be a writer after all, that optimistically gives me a productivity potential of 4 books. (4?! That’s pathetic. This is why I dislike math; it never pans out in my favor!)

Now, say you were smarter than me and realized early on that you were destined to write for a living. I’m not so ancient that you’d have that much of a head start. Most people figure out their life’s passion during their twenties, and a lucky few know by their late teens. So at best, you’re a book and a half ahead of me. That’s still not a rosy picture of successful writerdom. I suppose there is a chance that you don’t see yourself being prolific. That you only have one or two titles in you and then plan to call it good. But I think the majority of us choose to be writers because we’re bursting with ideas waiting to find their way to the page. Am I wrong?

Which leads us to reason #2 why you don’t want to be me.
 

#2: Royally Pissed Off Plot Bunnies

 
The thing about plot bunnies is they breed like, well, bunnies. I have yet to go longer than a month without finding another cute and fluffy little detour hopping innocently across my path. (Innocently? Yeah, right. Those little buggers know my muse can’t resist them. They’re about as innocent as creepy children in a horror film.) So when I compare my maximum potential output (the measly 4 books) to the avalanche of rabbit fur weighing me down, you can guess what happens.

Personally, I don’t want face the legions of plot bunnies running around in my head when they realize that only 4 will ever get their moment in the spotlight. They’ll probably start a riot. They might even turn carnivorous. I don’t know. But I do know that they’ll be royally pissed off, and that can’t be good for my muse. Or anyone, really.

So unless you’re one of those rare writers content to write only a couple books, I’m guessing you’ll be facing the same predicament. And in case the thought of angry, carniverous plot bunnies hasn’t scared you away from my path of slackerness, let’s move on to reason #3.
 

#3: Getting Lost in the Discoverability Jungle

 
It’s a well-known fact that the fastest way to gain momentum in a writing career is to continually publish new content. Whether you’re self-publishing (especially if you’re self-publishing) or traditionally published, name recognition is everything. In an ever-growing jungle of titles, being prolific enough to constantly have your work in front of readers is the only way to survive. No problem, right? I just established that, like me, you have a plethora of ideas to choose from. “Prolific” will be easy!

Hear that screeching of the brakes? Yeah, you forgot about one key element — reason #1. When you’re as slow as I am, your chances of consistently staying on your readers’ minds goes out the window. I’ll survive in the Amazon jungle about as long as a fruit fly with that level of productivity. There’s no amount of marketing in the world that can save me from sinking into the mire of oblivion.

Pretty convincing case for not being me, no? But, just for kicks, let’s say the issues of discoverability aren’t really that bad. That I’m being over dramatic in my snarkiness. (I did warn you I would be venting negativity.)

Welcome to reason #4.
 

#4: Being Stuck in a Permanent Day Job

 
Every writer dreams of waking up every day and spending the entire time writing. But the reality is that most of us still have to work day jobs. The fridge doesn’t fill itself, unfortunately, and the bill collectors don’t look kindly on IOU’s. So chances are, unless you’re secretly a billionaire, married to a billionaire, or homeless, you need some source of income. Where do you get it? The dreaded day job.

Now, some of you may be lucky enough to actually have a career you enjoy. But the rest of us punch the time clock like we’re signing in for a prison sentence. The only thing that gets us through the day is that shiny dream of someday getting to say “F you!” to the boss and walking away with certain fingers held high.

But what happens to that shiny dream when you write like a snail? It shrivels up and disappears. Yep, that’s right, your shiny dream is now a rotting, wrinkled hunk that looks like a dried apricot. Why? Because you’re too slow to be considered prolific. And since you’re not prolific, no one knows who you are. And because no one knows who you are, your books don’t sell. And when your books don’t sell, you get to offer that chicken-scratched IOU to the bank and pray they let you keep your house.

Such a pretty picture isn’t it? I think I’m rather gifted at casting the most depressing slant ever on the situation. But in case you missed the lesson in that dreary portrayal, let me reiterate it. If you don’t want to be stuck permanently in that day job you hate, don’t be me!
 

#5: The Burden of Emotional Turmoil

 
By now, I hope you’re seeing the downfall of succumbing to the slow-writing curse. If not, (man, you’re a hard cookie to convince!) here’s one final reason.

I’ve already covered the practical, tangible reasons it sucks to be a slow writer. But there’s also an emotional aspect. When you move with the agility of a tortoise, you tend to find yourself battling things like frustration, irritation, depression, anger, all the lovely turmoil that goes with swimming in the negative side of life. That self-doubt all writers experience? Yeah, quadruple it about a gazillion times. That lure of perfectionism? You’ll be chasing after it like a siren’s song. The regret over letting your dream slowly starve to death and die? You’ll carry it around until you start to look like Atlas, carrying the world on his back.

My point is, eventually, you’ll find yourself so immersed in the quicksand of negative emotions that you’ll end up writing a blog post just like this. 😉

So, there you have it. The top 5 reasons why you shouldn’t be me; why you shouldn’t succumb to the curse and let your writing career languish on the back burner. If you already find yourself hovering dangerously close to joining my sinking ship, don’t despair. There’s still hope. All you have to do is kick your lazy booty into gear. Figure out where you have the time to write and commit to it, even if it means sacrificing sleep, weekends, and watching Celebrity Game Night. (Seriously, though, that last one’s not a sacrifice. Whoever decided that sitting around watching celebrities play board games was quality television needs to be fired. Immediately.) You can do it. I have faith in you. In fact, how about we make a pact? Let’s take all the negativity and turn it on it’s head. Let’s laugh in the face of frustration and prove to everybody, including ourselves, that we do have what it takes to be writers, and we can be prolific. Let’s break the curse together. Deal?

Book Spotlight: Review of The Undead: Playing for Keeps by Elsie Elmore

I know it’s not Wednesday, but I wanted to take a moment to spotlight a fellow author who’s actually helped contribute to the content of this blog. Some of you may recognize her as the person who nominated me to write this post on my writing process. So in some ways, I feel connected to her and was honored to be invited to participate in her blog tour. See? Here’s the obligatory banner to prove it:

The blog tour banner

 

I’ve made it no secret that I like to give back to the writing community when I can, and this is my way of celebrating Elsie’s success. So, without further ado, I give you my review of her newly released book:

The Undead: Playing for Keeps

by Elsie Elmore

The Undead: Playing for Keeps by Elsie Elmore

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

When an undead woman with serious de-comp issues stalks sixteen-year-old Lyla Grimm, her hope of rescuing her rock-bottom reputation takes a back seat. Especially once Lyla’s new talent of resurrecting the dead draws the attention of Eric, a Grim Reaper with a guitar and a chip on his shoulder.

While Lyla navigates the gossip-ridden halls, Eric works to gain her trust and discover why Death’s clients aren’t staying down. If she passes on her gift, his death-messenger destiny might be altered. But the closer he gets to Lyla, the less sure he is of his plan. The dead are way easier to deal with than the living.

Gossip explodes, the Grimm family implodes, and desperation sets in. Death wants the gift and a soul. Lyla and Eric face hard choices with hidden consequences. Sometimes life’s choices aren’t really choices at all.

I’ll admit that when I first saw the cover for this, I wasn’t terribly impressed. But don’t let it sway you, this is a fantastic read. Elmore had me hooked from the first sentence, and she never let me down. The Undead: Playing for Keeps is not your average zombie story. It starts with Lyla Grimm, the daughter of a mortician, applying make-up to a corpse after the cosmetologist for her family’s funeral home quits with a horrifying flourish. What she doesn’t know is that her touch is special — she can reanimate the dead. When the body mysteriously disappears later that night, rumors start to circulate.

Speculation isn’t the only thing the oddity draws, though. It also garners the attention of Eric, a Grim Reaper/rock star. Sent to find out why the dead aren’t staying that way, Eric and Lyla’s paths soon cross. What happens after will keep you guessing, and the ultimate reveal doesn’t disappoint. Deceptively simple in its good vs. evil set-up, this book is actually about issues that resonate on a much deeper level — identity, self-confidence, morality, and bullying. Lyla struggles to find herself in the face of ridicule and gossip, much like “normal” teenagers do. The paranormal addition is expertly delivered with a gruesome creepiness that surprised me, but it was the humanity in the story and characters that I enjoyed most. The dual POV is strong, and each character has a distinctive voice. Elmore’s prose is effortless and smooth, and I found the entire experience to be engrossing. Fast-paced, but gripping, I highly recommend this book to fans of YA urban fantasy/paranormal romance. In a genre that is over-filled with mediocrity, this book stands out. I will most definitely be reading more of Elmore’s work in the future.

**Disclosure Statement: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

About the Author:

Elsie Elmore

Elsie Elmore lives in North Carolina with her husband and two kids. She loves the color red, has an appreciation for chocolate and coffee that borders on obsession, writes stories that challenge the laws of nature, and wishes fall temperatures would linger year round.

Elsie is a member of several writing organizations: RWA, SCBWI, and WSW. The Undead : Playing for Keeps is her debut novel. Find her on the web: on twitter at @ElsieWriter, her blog, or on Facebook.

Book Review Wednesday: The Other Lamb by Katie Young

Hey, look! I actually managed to finish a book review in time to post on a Wednesday. Fancy that. Of course, this may have had something to do with it:

The Other Lamb Blog Tour Banner

Yep, I signed up to be part of another blog tour. This time, for a lovely YA paranormal/horror combination with some intriguing twists on old legends. But before I get into that, here’s what you need to know about the book:
 

The Other Lamb

by Katie Young

 
The Other Lamb by Katie Young

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Incarcerated on Earth as punishment for breeding with humans, the Watchers found a way to escape. Zach is living proof of that… even though someone has cut out his heart.

When Zach turns eighteen he develops an insatiable thirst for blood, but he tries to bury his fears and go on enjoying his birthday. His best friend Kim has scored them tickets to the hottest gig in town. But a charged encounter with his idol, the enigmatic rock star known as Grigory, leads to a revelation that shatters everything Zach thinks he knows about himself and the world, and places everyone dear to him in grave danger.

Zach is a Naphil, the forbidden offspring of a mortal woman and a Watcher. When those who seek to destroy him snatch Kim, Zach is forced to embark on a journey of discovery spanning continents and ages. With the help of a mysterious stranger named Sam, Zach must unearth the truth about his parentage, find Kim, and discover who has stolen his heart… before he triggers the apocalypse.

When I first read the blurb for this, two things instantly caught my eye — the fact the MC, Zach, has had his heart cut out, and the obvious allusions to vampires. But the premise is actually quite a bit more fascinating, combining the mythology behind angels and vampires into something altogether new. I will admit that I find the cover design a bit repulsive, but since the story does contain graphic violence and sex, it’s a good representation of what readers should expect. This is most definitely not a story about angels in the traditional sense, but it is intriguingly refreshing.

None of the characters are clearly good or evil, and the four arch-angels (the Watchers) are far from the pristine creatures you’d normally see. Instead, they’re much more reminiscent of The Authority in True Blood, or The Volturi in Stephenie Meyers’s Twilight Saga. The history of their fall from grace was one of the better aspects of the story for me, and it was clear the author had done a lot of research into angel mythology. But I did feel that the fast pace of the story sort of prevented me from ever really connecting to any of the characters. It’s told from a distanced, third person omniscient point-of-view, and I found the shifts between the characters to be jarring. Many of them are short, barely a full page, which created a sort of whip-lash effect as I was thrown from one person’s head to another. The graphics used to separate the scene breaks often overpowered the text itself, and only further emphasized that disconnect.

I would have liked to see the story expanded a bit more, delving deeper into the characters, rather than sitting on the surface. That said, the fast pace will send you through a whirlwind of action, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. So while I was perhaps a little disappointed that it wasn’t a more immersive experience, I do recommend this series and will most definitely be checking out more books by Ms. Young in the future.

**Disclosure Statement: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. **