Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Should Books Be Written on Soapboxes: Social Responsibility & Literature

As someone raised in the Midwest, I learned at a young age not to discuss sex, politics, or religion. While I’ll gab about the former with the right people (and after a glass or two of red wine!), I tend to avoid politics and religion. From a cultural standpoint, I learned by example that discussing these issues seems pointless and sometimes rude. How can I, as one little person, cause any real change in the world? Why waste my time trying to alter someone’s mind on such divisive topics? What does someone’s political affiliation or religious beliefs matter if they’re a good person?

protestFrom a personal standpoint, I feel I have no right to discuss these issues. Since I don’t have a political or religious association of any kind, who would take me seriously? How can I ensure the information I learn is even factual? And, given how much I hate conflict, why open myself up it?

However, with the current state of the world, politics and religion are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. And perhaps rightly so. Between the radical propositions made by President Trump, Alt-Right/Nazi rallies (a phrase I never thought I’d type in present-day context), and devastating climactic events, politics and religion arise in nearly every conversation. And as I sit there, mouth clamped tightly shut while friends and family members rattle off their views and theories, I have a realization.

While I don’t often voice my views on contentious issues, I’ve written them into my books.

In the Desertera series, I’ve woven in several topics I care strongly about — sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. I advocate for a positive view of female (and all) sexuality. I grapple with the de-criminalization of prostitution (an issue I’m still uncertain about). I support homosexuality by making it a non-issue in society (except for where it prevents the nobles from having biological heirs). I condemn classism and social stratification. And, especially in the final books of the series, I’ll warn the reader about climate change.

Listed bluntly like this, I marvel at my boldness. I do have opinions — quite a few that would shock my fellow Midwesterners — but I’ve made them more palatable, I hope, by lacing them in fiction. And I’m not alone. Not by a long shot.

Most of the literary fiction I studied in college contained moral or political messages for the reader. Many of my author friends use their writing to advocate for causes or social issues. Hell, Science Fiction as a genre basically serves as a warning from the future (it’s one of the reasons I’ve always been attracted to it). You’ll find the same agendas in nearly every form of artwork at nearly every stage in history.

This brings me to the crux of this article: As an author, do you feel a social responsibility to stand on your “soapbox” in your writing? And as a reader, how do you feel when authors “preach” a message within a novel?

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.

On one hand, inserting your views into fiction can be a noble endeavor. It gives readers with similar views a safe place in entertainment. It allows readers with different views a chance to consider a new perspective without being personally attacked. And it offers you, as the author, to remain at arm’s length from the topic.

On the other hand, shouldn’t fiction just be fiction? In a world where the news constantly showers us with depressing topics, our social media feeds fill with contention, and our dinner table conversations get usurped by arguments, we need a break. Isn’t it just as noble for books to offer pure entertainment and unbiased escape?

I go back and forth on this issue a lot.

As a writer, I do feel an obligation to make my fiction meaningful. Though, I don’t always agree with myself about what is “meaningful.” Sometimes, I want to use my fiction as a platform. Other times, I just want to offer my reader that innocent escape.

Same goes for when I’m reading a novel. Mostly, I appreciate when an author attempts to make me think deeper — so long as she writes in way that feels respectful to me and doesn’t belabor her point. Though, other times, even the slightest hint of an agenda will make me cringe and wonder, “Why can’t I just enjoy this story for the story’s sake?!”

Maybe it’s about choosing which type of author you want to be, or which type of writing is right for each particular story. Maybe it’s about knowing what your ideal reader expects. Maybe it’s about striking a balance between theme and entertainment. Maybe it’s about being sneakier, having your cake and eating it without the reader even noticing you baked it.

My specific answer keeps changing, based on whether I’m writing or reading, the story itself, the mood I’m in, even the day (it’s no coincidence that I’m writing this on 9/11). But my politically correct, moderate, agnostic answer remains the same: as long as the author respects the story and the reader, that’s what matters most, soapbox or not.


What do you think? Do authors have a responsibility to advocate for their political/religious views in their fiction? As a reader, do you expect a “message” from the author, or are you only looking for entertainment? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Month-End Update: August 2017

Yes, I’m alive. Yes, I’ll be around more in September. And yes, I have stories!

The Tyrant's Heir booksAugust kicked off with a bang, as August 8th marked the publication of my third novel, The Tyrant’s Heir. Book launches always stir up a lot of emotions for me: excitement (Yay! It’s finally out in the world), fear (Will my readers like it?), but mostly gratitude. Thank you to everyone who has read the novel, shared it on social media, and of course, left a review. I seriously couldn’t do this without you.

Good news: if you’ve been waiting to order your signed paperback copy of The Tyrant’s Heir, go ahead! I have two boxes of books ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered. Visit the book page for ordering info.

What happened after the book launch? Well, the very next week, Daniel (my husband) and I loaded up our belongings and moved to our new home in California. As you might remember, Daniel finished his Master’s degree in Connecticut, but now he’s off to complete his PhD. I couldn’t be more proud of him. We had kind of an extended, two-part move, but it definitely made for an adventurous summer!

Most people think I’m crazy for it, but I love driving. So, getting to say that I’ve driven literally coast to coast in my beloved Pontiac feels really cool. (And I mean coast to coast. I didn’t let Daniel drive a single mile just so I could claim that title for myself! Luckily, he hates driving just as much as I love it.)

Of course, it wasn’t all long hours in the car. We enjoyed a stopover in Kansas (my real home), where we caught up with friends and family. On the second half of the road trip, we made a 150-mile detour to pop up to the Grand Canyon. And let me tell you, if you haven’t seen the Grand Canyon, it’s worth the trip! I always worry about seeing monuments and famous tourist destinations in person. Sometimes, they appear more impressive on TV or in photos, but the Grand Canyon lives up to its name and then some. I’d love to go back and explore it more!

Eventually, Daniel and I made it to sunny California (113 degrees Fahrenheit driving through the desert!), then onto our new home in the Bay Area. We’ve been here for a little over two weeks now, and we already like it 100x more than New Haven. Being in a real house with plenty of nature around has improved my emotional well-being more than I can say. I grew up in the country, and I had no idea how much I needed wildlife around me until I lived in the city. As dramatic as it sounds, I feel like I can breathe again.

As you probably guessed, all this upheaval left little time for writing, reading, and the other author-related pursuits I enjoy. But now that we’re finally settled, I’m ready to dive back into my projects. August became a month of personal productivity, so I think it’s only fair that September focus on writing again!

Before I sign off, here’s the quick recap as concerns my annual goals:

Writing & Publishing

Main goals:
Create five days a week – a little behind from the move!
Publish The Tyrant’s Heir (Desertera #3)

One of my goals for August was to decide on my next writing project, and my goal for September will be to make some serious progress. First, I’ll keep plugging away on the free Desertera short story for my Reader List. Second, I began planning my next series in August, and I hope to have a complete outline (maybe even a first draft started) on my first book in this series. Don’t worry — I’ll still have Desertera #4 out next year!

Business

Main goals:
Make $2,000 from Boxthorn Press – catching up
Create short story for my Reader List – in progress
Blog once per week – getting back on track
Read 52 books this year – catching up!

Most of my business goals are ongoing, so I don’t have any new ones to cross off this month. However, I’m happy to report that I’m almost caught up with reading books written by my author friends. As always, you all haven’t disappointed!

Books Read:
Friend or Foe: A MenoPausal Superhero Short Story Collection by Samantha Bryant
Face the Change (Menopausal Superheroes #3) by Samantha Bryant
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (audiobook)
Fall of the Titan (The Desolate Empire #5) by Christina Ochs

Book in Progress:
A Time to Die (The Legend of Carter Gabel #3) by Jonas Lee
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Personal

Main Goals:
Work on positivity – still going great
Break a bad habit – doing well
Visit a new state – several during our whole road trip!
Recoup savings post-Yale – such a relief!

I’m down to three personal goals for the year, all of which are continuous. Focusing on a positive outlook has been going well (I’m even adding meditation to my routine to help!), and I’ve been avoiding my bad habit. Exercise, though, remains my Achilles heel. The good news is that I have a free spousal membership to the university gym … so my excuses have dwindled to almost none!

Goals for September
Write Desertera short story for my Reader List
Outline the first novel of my new dark fantasy series
Establish a new author routine for my new surroundings


What successes do you have to report from August? What do you look forward to in September? Any tips for me on establishing a new writing routine in a new home? Leave it all in the comments!

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Month-End Update: July 2017

Camp NaNoWriMo 2017 WinnerJuly marked the first month with my revised goals and author vision. As you might remember from my June month-end update, I took 2017’s halfway mark to reevaluate my New Year’s resolutions, as well as consider who I am as an author and what I want for my independent publishing business.

These changes, combined with the fact that July was a book launch preparation month, have helped me focus on what’s really important. As silly as it might sound (and as invisible as it might be from the outside), I feel a new sense of purpose and maturity with my business.

However, now that The Tyrant’s Heir (Desertera #3) is all-but ready for publication, I’m also feeling a little lost. Yes, I have a massive to-do list to tackle (as always!), but I’m also standing at a proverbial crossroads. Should I finally start the new series I’ve been daydreaming about for months? Should I dive right back into Desertera and begin the fourth book? Should I take a creative break and focus on marketing for a while?

I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I know I’ll have fun figuring it out! For now, let’s take a look back at July – aka Camp NaNoWrimo #2.

Writing & Publishing

Main goals:
Create five days a week – doing really well
Edit The Tyrant’s Heir (Desertera #3) – done!
Publish The Tyrant’s Heir (Desertera #3) – on track

Technically, I won Camp NaNoWriMo by completing over 31 hours of “author work.” While I wanted to split my time between finalizing The Tyrant’s Heir (Desertera #3) and creating a Desertera short story for my Reader List, I ended up working solely on the book launch. But, it’s all good news. Readers will get the third book on August 8, and my Reader List subscribers will receive their bonus short story in a month or so. Everyone wins!

Business

Main goals:
Make $2,000 from Boxthorn Press – catching up
Create short story for my Reader List – in progress
Blog once per week – on track
Read 52 books this year – catching up!

The “business” side took a backseat to publishing this past month. However, since I wasn’t working on my own writing, I took time to read a few books written by my author friends, and I hope to read more this month. Another big August goal? Officially deciding on my next writing project!

Books Read:
Deceived by Heena Rathore P.
The Gate Guardian’s Daughter by K.T. Munson
A Bhikku’s Tale by David R. Jordan
Cemetery Shift (Cheston Chronicles #1) by Nina del Arce

Book in Progress:
Friend or Foe: A MenoPausal Superhero Short Story Collection by Samantha Bryant
Face the Change (Menopausal Superheroes #3) by Samantha Bryant
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Personal

Main Goals:
Work on positivity – great!
Exercise 3x per week – doing a little better
Break a bad habit – on track
Recoup savings post-Yale – I’d say we’re nearly there!

As you might remember, I’m (kind of) in the middle of a cross-country move, and Daniel (the hubby) is adjusting to his new Ph.D. program. Despite these rather drastic changes, my personal goals remain strong. If the last few years of moving and post-university”adulting” have taught me anything, it’s to take life as it comes and appreciate the present moment. Now, if only I could be as wise about exercising …

Goals for August
Publish The Tyrant’s Heir (Desertera #3)
Write Desertera short story for my Reader List
Decide on and begin my next book project


How did my fellow NaNoWriMo campers fare? What are your goals for August? Share in the comments!

Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Guest Post: Skill vs. Talent – Which Do You Have? by Ryan Lanz

Please welcome back author and blogger Ryan Lanz! This time, Ryan will be discussing the differences between talent and skill, and which you need to make it in the writing world. 

  • tal·ent [tal-uhnt] noun: a special natural ability or aptitude.
  • skill [skil] noun: the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well.

What if you don’t have natural talent? Does that mean you may as well give up?

It’s not quite the chicken or the egg debate, but it’s up there. I’ve heard people go in circles about which comes first and which is necessary. At what combination of both does one continue the grind and attempt at success? I’d be surprised if you haven’t asked yourself that question. It’s a part of being human.

What does each really mean?

This comes from the university of my opinion, but I would describe talent as the natural ability that needs little to no refinement, and skill is the unnatural ability that you have to develop. For those of us who’ve played sports (myself excluded), I’m sure you’ve all encountered someone who strides onto the field and makes it all look so darn effortless.

This person hardly shows up to practice, and you have a fairly good idea that it took hardly any effort to accomplish. Same with the person who aced every test in college with little preparation, leaving you in study hall time after time with a bucket of coffee. You must have missed at least three parties because you had to cram for the Calculus exam, right?

Which is better?

Good question. And one not so easily answered. Sure, we would all like natural talent that we don’t have to pour so much effort into, but sometimes that doesn’t quite pan out. Often, we are born with enough talent to have an affinity for a profession, but the rest has to be made up with skill. In writing, there are dozens of abilities that need to be present to make a good novel, such as foreshadowing, prose, description, natural dialogue, pacing, etc.

Let’s say that you have a knack for writing dialogue, but your setting description rambles on and on. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and you’ll have to practice at writing setting description over time to develop it into a skill, even if it’s not a natural talent. To be fair, natural talent does get you to the goal quicker.


Related: Finishing a Book is a Skill


The combination of the two

If Tiger Woods is not the best golf player of all time, then he comes very close. He started golfing on professional courses at the age of two years old and was featured in a golf magazine at the age of five. Tiger spent 545 weeks combined total as the world number one. In my opinion, that is some superb natural talent. Although Tiger has mounds of it, he still had a golfing coach (and probably still does) through most of his career. That’s combining the natural with the refined skill that creates that sweet spot. Think about how you can make a similar combination.

Is it so bad if you don’t have natural talent? Should you give up?

The one downside to having natural talent is that you don’t have as much appreciation for the effort. Let’s look at two writers: one who writes his/her first book and quickly becomes published, and the other is a writer who labors for ten years to even become noticed. Both eventually become published and successful, let’s say. I think it’s fair to say that the latter writer has more appreciation for the effort of the craft. There are small nuances of writing that I feel are best represented when someone has to massage and mold their skill over the long-term.

I believe that about anyone can accomplish about anything if they were to dedicate their entire life to it, even if that person doesn’t have a drop of natural talent. Ask yourself what craft you can accomplish if you were to invest 20 years to its perfection. So, no, don’t simply give up on it. You may have been born with talent in a profession you’re not interested in. That’s okay, just work to catch up in a profession that you are.

Conclusion

If you sharpen your skill enough, people will believe that you’ve had talent from the very beginning, regardless of how much you actually had to start with.

Original post here.


Guest post contributed by Ryan Lanz. Ryan is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and Tumblr.

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Month-End Update: May 2017

I can’t believe I survived May.

As you cleverly inferred from the radio silence on this site and social media, May swallowed up all of my work time, then lapped up my free time for good measure. But you know what? It was a blast, and I’m so excited to share my many updates with you and get back to our regular programming.

So … what happened in May?

On the writing front, I finished the first draft of Desertera #3 and sent it off to the editor. She’s already returned round one of edits, and I’m floored and humbled by her feedback. This week, I’ll dive into the manuscript to make her changes and keep moving forward. Depending on how the next few rounds go (and when I finally select a title … I know, it’s my creative Achilles Heel), the novel should be on track for a late July or early August release date! More soon.

Rainy graduation day in a flattering blue poncho!

The second half of May revolved around my personal life. As you know, I’ve been living in Connecticut while my husband worked toward his Master’s at Yale. Well, Daniel graduated (so proud of you, honey!). My mother-in-law and her friend flew over from Australia to celebrate, then the four of us took an epic road trip around New England. (I’ll share more later, or you can check out some pics on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.)

And it doesn’t end there. Daniel begins his PhD at Stanford this summer, so we packed up our apartment and started our cross-country move. While I’m sad to leave our New Haven friends and the best ice cream on the planet, I’m thrilled for our next adventure together. Again, I plan to talk more about this transition later, once I’ve had time to process and establish a new routine. (Sensing a pattern yet?)

What will I do while Daniel studies? Well, obviously, I’ll still be writing, blogging, and building my author business. I’m also elated to report that I have been able to take my day job with me, so I’m still a copywriter for a fantastic wine marketing company. I love my job (and wine, duh) and getting to do it without three hours of commuting every day is awesome. While I’ll miss writing on the train, I won’t miss the train itself, the bus, other commuters, or braving the elements to get to the office!

Looking forward to June, my top priority is editing, titling, and starting the cover design process for Desertera #3. Second on the list? Establishing a new routine that balances my author work, my copywriting job, and my personal life. I’d also like to catch up on my favorite podcasts and my ever-growing to-read list (a big shout-out to all my fellow authors waiting on reviews … I haven’t forgotten you!).

Have a great Monday (or whatever day you’re reading this), and best of luck with your own goals! As always, I’d love to read what you’re working on in the comments section.


What did you accomplish in May? What are your goals for June? Share in the comments!