life

Yet Another Update

Just checking in. Things have been slow-going, though not for bad reasons. Two weeks ago my son was born, so that along with my daughter has been keeping me busy. Writing hasn’t fallen by the wayside though, at least not completely. I’m in middle of the sixth draft of my book, and this one is going to be a heavy rewrite. The story is still mostly the same, but I realized that the book would be easier to sell as a YA book than as an Upper Middle Grade book, so I’m rewriting the book to age it up somewhat. Due to this shift, the sequel to that book, which I’m still in middle of, has obviously been pushed off to the side until I lock the first book down.

I’ll do my best to keep you guys apprised from here on out.

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What has it been? Two Years?

Wow. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Despite the lack of posts, I haven’t been sitting around on my hands doing nothing. So where’s the second Spark book? Well it’s written. It was written a while ago. But I don’t like it. I still like the first half, but something about the second half just wasn’t clicking. Every chapter was a chore, and I still don’t know how I feel about the ending. I’m going to have to completely rewrite at least half of the book. So it hasn’t been released yet, and it won’t be for a while. Since A Spark Ignites had an actual ending and didn’t leave any loose ends, I don’t feel pressured to release a sequel as soon as possible. A Spark Ignites is a stand-alone book, and while I’m sure some people would love a sequel, it just doesn’t need one. So for the time being, Spark 2 will sit as a file on my computer. I hope to return to it eventually, but right now I have other things on my plate.

Being a lawyer is time consuming, as is being a father and husband. It’s hard to find time to write. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped. I’ve been working on another book unrelated to Spark. Several of them, actually. I recently finished a fourth draft of one, and started writing another, not to mention I have several more books outlined. I won’t be releasing anything anytime soon though. Unlike A Spark Ignites, these books are part of a series, and I’ve learned my lesson with Spark. Until I have a number of books finished, I don’t plan on releasing any of them. I’d prefer not to force people to wait years in between books.

So yeah, just letting you guys know I’m still alive, still writing. You’ll see stuff from me eventually. Just bear with me please.

Update: The Last 3 Months

Yeah, I haven’t been posting much lately. There’s a reason for that. The past few months have been very busy for me. First, there was the bar exam, and intense two day test that I spent months preparing for. Then I had to find a job to support me, my wife, and our daughter. Then I had to spend time either helping take care of my father-in-law, or spending time watching my daughter so my wife could. Then my computer broke (and every time I get it back, something else seems to be wrong with it. Hopefully the next time I get it back, it’ll be in working order). I was busy and stressed, and frankly I couldn’t get much writing done, and didn’t care to.

Then my father-in-law passed away. I was close to him, and loved him like my own father, so this hasn’t been the easiest time for me. I can honestly say that he was the best man I’ve ever known. It’s been barely two weeks since he passed, and it still feels raw. I’ve found myself writing more now, if only to express my emotions, to find some way to let them out. I keep on thinking back to the times I could have spent with him, but didn’t, often for my own selfish reasons. It’s hard not to dwell on such things.

So I’m not going to lie and say that I’ll be updating this blog every week. I honestly don’t know when the next time will be. Right now I’m just going to focus on my life, my family, and my writing. But I will try to post here more often. But for the time being, don’t expect it to be a regular thing.

Dealing with Death in Life and Fiction

Death is common in fiction, just as it is common in life. It is the highest of stakes, even though ever character, just like you and everyone you know, will end up dead eventually. Different people react to death, or even the possibility of death, in different ways. Fear is the most common emotion associated with it, but it isn’t one that everyone experiences.

Until my child was born, I never feared for my own death. I did, however, fear the deaths of others. There’s an elderly British man in his eighties who I was fairly close with about eight years ago. We met while I was spending a year abroad, and often had philosophical discussions. Over time, we’d fallen out of touch. Yet whenever I feel the desire to call him and find out what he’s up to, I hesitate. I’m scared I’ll find out that he’s not around anymore, and as long as I don’t call, as long as I don’t know his status, I can tell myself that he’s probably still alive.

Because death is a universal experience, it is bound to come up in your writing at some point. When it does, try to remember that not everyone has the same reaction, and not everyone faces death the same way.

I remember my grandmother, a holocaust survivor, telling me that after the murder of her family, she no longer wanted to live. She was jealous of people that didn’t wake up in the morning. When she finally did pass away, I think she viewed it as a relief. Death was something she welcomed. My father realized this, and yes, he mourned her loss, but at the same time he found a sense of peace, knowing that her suffering on this world was finally over.

There’s a book, A Brush With Death : An Artist in the Death Camps, by Morris Wyszogrod (or Moshe, as he was called by his friends). The book recounts the author’s experiences in the Holocaust, and actually bears a few similarities to Yossel, something I pointed out to author Joe Kubert when I had the opportunity to meet him, a year before his death. Of course, Moshe Wyszogrod isn’t around anymore either. Few survivors are. But what makes his book unique isn’t just that it is an account of death and horror, recorded as experienced by someone who faced it day in and day out for years, but rather because of a few paragraphs written here and there, throughout the book. The author mentions a friend of his, who he met in the Warsaw Ghetto, entered into the concentration camps with, and eventually was separated from as the war went on, only to be reunited in America with years later: Mayer Lachman. My grandfather didn’t talk much about his experience in the Holocaust (or talk much at all, for that matter), so a decent amount of what I know about his experiences come from that book. There were of course some things left out, such as his wife and daughter, who never made it. My uncle once asked him what he did when he found out his wife and daughter were killed. He shrugged and said, “I went back to work.” Because mourning would mean death for him as well. Instead her persevered, and lived long enough to see his great-great-grandchild. Not long ago he was watching some great-grandchildren run around in his son’s backyard. “They didn’t win,” he said with a smile.

Mayer Lachman passed away exactly one year ago, at the age of one hundred and five. A sick child who doctors didn’t think would live beyond his first year had lived through two world wars. The anniversary of a loved one’s passing is a time to reflect on life, and celebrate their legacy. I suppose that’s why I’m writing this.

Where Have I Gone?

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Hello, dear readers. You may have noticed that I have not posted much lately. That’s because I’ve been busy. Both my blog and book writing has fallen by the wayside, due to adjusting to taking care of my newborn daughter, finishing up law school, and a close member of my family getting hospitalized due to major health issues. Now, as I study for the bar exam, I am still writing, though at a snail’s pace. The second Spark book is over halfway done, so there’s that, and I’ve fleshed out the outline for the third. I hope to begin writing more in earnest soon enough. Please just bear with me.

Time Lost

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Every year on my birthday, I get well wishes, cards, and gifts. Even with all the celebration though, it is impossible not to think of my own mortality. While celebrating the day of my birth, I’m one year closer to death. And now I find myself closer to thirty than to twenty, a thought that scares me. Just ten years ago I was a clueless teenager, unable to imagine I’d ever get this far. My current age seemed forever away, as did marriage and children. But here I am, an old man (or so my sister-in-law tells me), who could become a father any day now. I’m not thinking of my own birthday, but the day of birth of my child. How can I be a father when I’m a child myself? How can the calendar tell me I’m an adult when I have never felt like one? How did I make it this far? Can I handle what’s just around the corner?

I thought I had more time.

Marketing Failures

A little while ago, I offered a short story ebook for free to anyone signing up for my mailing list. No one signed up. Not one person. I didn’t understand. I had people who view the post and even the mailing list page. Heck, the post that I announced I was giving away a free short story had numerous likes, yet no one signed up to the mailing list. Not a single person. Every time I would check to see if anyone signed up, there would be a this feeling in my stomach over overwhelming dread. And for good reason.

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Failing is horrifying. It reminded me of when I used to make animated shorts. I would spend months animating a little 4-7 minute animation, and I was lucky if I could get 50 views after a couple of months. What’s worst of all is seeing horrendous books and youtube videos that are way worse than mine, yet get more views or sell better. But every time, I lift myself up. And her I am again. Last week I released my first novel. Will it sell? I don’t know. It hasn’t been selling as well as I’d hoped up until now. I do have other marketing plans though, which I have not yet put into effect. Additionally, I’m still working on the second book, and they say the more books in your backlog, the better the series as a whole does. Here’s hoping there’s some truth to that. Unlike the mailing list idea, I’m not ready to write my book off as a failure. Not yet. But regardless, my failures will not define me, and I genuinely believe that with enough work and effort, I can make A Spark Ignites a success. I’m putting myself out there. Because I’m a creator, and that’s what creative people do. Failures be damned.

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Description:  Matt was just a regular teenager, dealing with homework, hormones, high school drama, and an obnoxious older brother. He found his life complicated, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Then, when Spark, the city’s greatest superhero unexpectedly dies, Matt finds himself in possession of the hero’s costume and gadgets, with a note asking him to carry on the legacy. Finding himself unable to refuse, he reluctantly begins his superhero career, hoping he can live up to the name of his predecessor. Not knowing the first thing about being a superhero, Matt soon finds himself overwhelmed. Will he find himself in an early grave, just like his hero?

Meanwhile, an aging supervillain, the Inventor, creates a powerful device capable of killing thousands. An elaborate plan is put in motion that could lead to the destruction of everything Matt holds dear. Will he be able to figure out the how to stop him in time? And when evidence arises which indicates that Spark’s death may not be the accident everyone believes it is, Matt finds himself consumed with trying to uncover the truth. Will he be able to get to the bottom of this mystery? And if so, will he be able to handle the dark reality behind it?

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Your One Good Idea

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(Not representative of A Spark Ignites. At all. You can tell this was written by a teenager.)

“Everyone has at least one good story in them.” I don’t remember who it was who said that to me (and no, I’m not talking about the Hitchens quote, who might I add was not actually the first person to use it), but I remember I thought about it a lot in high school. I had been working on a webcomic which would eventually become A Spark Ignites, and I was beginning to worry that Spark was my only idea, my only story. Allow me to explain.

003PromoWhen I was seven years old, I created my own comic book character, and began writing and drawing my old comic books. Every year until I was thirteen, through one thing or another, all my comics would get destroyed or go missing. And so, I’d start it all over again every year, promising myself to outdo the years previous. Mind you, I didn’t just try comics. I wrote scripts, animated cartoons, and even programmed video games, all about Spark. By the time I was halfway through high school, I began to wonder if that one lone idea was all I had.

002PromoPieceSo I stopped. For a couple of months, I didn’t work on Spark at all. I just let my mind wander. I kept a small journal where I’d jot down whatever popped into my head. And by the end of those two months, I’d had ideas for a book, a television show, and another comic book (and not one of them involved superheroes). That’s why every year I’d allow myself a break from whatever it was I was working on, just to think. Sometimes I would revisit the journal and play with those ideas (I’ve taken the old tv series idea and used it to outline six books, which will be my next project after the third book in the Spark series), and other times I’d come up with entirely new ones, like the animated short below:

The trick is to just stop working on what you’re working on. Think about another genre. Something totally out there. Brainstorm. Read. Watch. Listen. Daydream. Just get your head out of you “one good idea.” Focusing on the one thing can be stifling to your creativity. You shouldn’t be afraid to let yourself get out there, out of your comfort zone. You cant worry about failure. Ultimately, while I decided to write my first novel based off what evolved out of what I considered my first good idea, I know it wasn’t my last, and that there will be many more to come.

The thing is, no one is uncreative. Everyone has an original thought. An original story to tell. And who knows, if you just push yourself away from your first idea, maybe you’ll find you have more. You won’t know until you try.

Writing What You Don’t Know

write-what-you-knowThey say write what you know. Sounds simple enough. But when writing fiction, you’ll inevitably have to write about things you’ve never experienced. What do you do then?

You can always do research, and read about other people’s personal experiences. It can be helpful, but often it can come across as just spitting back something you heard or read, not something you experienced, and sometimes the reader will be able to tell that the feeling behind it is hollow.

Your own personal experiences are the best wells to draw from. Just because you didn’t experience something exactly doesn’t mean that you can’t approximate your experiences and adapt them to suit the story. For example, I did not go to a public high school. I went to a private religious boys-only school. As such, I never experienced a high school romance. In fact, teenage dating is alien to me. However, my high school experience was not without drama, and my college experience was not without dating. By drawing from my high school and college experiences, I was able to write scenes taking place in a public school that felt grounded and real, even if I did not have those exact experiences myself.

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When it comes the the more fantastical elements to a story, one can still draw from personal experiences. It just requires a little exaggeration. I may not know what it’s like to turn into a seven-foot-tall green rage-monster, but I know what it’s like to be angry. I know what it feels like to have that power and adrenaline coursing through me, and how easy it can be to lose oneself to the blinding rage, doing as one pleases without thought of consequence. I don’t know what it feels like to fly, but I know the feeling of exhilaration when the roller coaster drops, leaving my stomach behind as the ground rushes by me, my face fighting against the wind. Just take what you experienced and exaggerate it, and it will read better than simply imagining it and writing that down.

Whenever able, write what you know, even if you don’t know it.

Making a Difference: The Reason We Write

I used to enjoy Taylor Swift. I loved how Norman Rockwellesque her early music felt. The innocence. It brought forth images of a simpler life in a small town, where every love is your first love, true love, where every kiss is your first, where life was ideal, simple, beautiful. Perfect. Of course, life is not like that, I know. It never was. Not for us, not for our parents, and not for Taylor Swift. But still, I liked it anyway. Call it nostalgia for a time that never existed. There’s a song though, from her relatively more recent years, that is probably my favorite of hers.*

“All Too Well” by Taylor Swift

There’s a reason why this is probably my favorite Taylor Swift song. Its because it touches a primal desire. Throughout our life, all of us meet people only to fade out of their life after a time, and its nice to imagine you had some sort of impact, that they haven’t forgotten you, that it wasn’t all for nothing.

Its nice to imagine you mattered.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
-Shelley’s “Ozymandias”

The reason we write, the reason we become writers, is very much the same reason we have children. We do it to leave something behind. Not fame or fortune. Rather, a legacy. When all is said and done, when we’re lying there on our deathbed, we want to know we made a difference. We want to be remembered. Because as long as we leave something behind, we can rest knowing that in some way, however small, we mattered.

Our legacy is our immortality.

 

*I should note that her recent single, Wildest Dreams, deals with similar subject matter, but does it in a more shallow way, not to mention the music video, although gorgeously shot, seems to be advocating adultery, which is as unNorman Rockwellesque as you can get.