New Semester, New Year

Welcome back to the blog. I’ve been quiet for quite a while and there really isn’t much excuse for that. It’s been a little hectic with family life and work but really a great summer. I finished the first draft on a new short story and have begun working on a science fantasy project. I’m excited to see where that is going to take me, as I explore topics of diversity, racial hatred, and compassion.

The spring also brought some great opportunities and challenges. I taught my first course, Fantasy Writing, at my alma mater of Washington University in St. Louis. I will say this. There are times in life when you start something new and it fits. You realize that this is what God built you to do. It just fits your skin perfectly and you can’t imagine giving it up and doing anything else. That was and is teaching for me. I spent a couple months planning out this course. Each week I would stress over my powerpoint slides and my lecture notes. But the moment I stood in front of the class, the world slowed down. Time became this arbitrary medium that no longer affected us. For those two and a half hours with those ten students, all that mattered was the words on the pages and the information I was imparting to them. We all learned something new each and every class period. It was intoxicating, this feeling of having the students’ complete attention as I shared my passions with them. With that feeling firmly rooted in me now, I can never imagine doing anything else. I love teaching. I must teach, to maintain that feeling.

I can happily say that as of today, I will be teaching again this coming spring. It looks like I will be teaching a Horror Writing Course and once more, I find myself stressing over the syllabus, wondering if this story is better here or there. But the benefit of having a semester under my belt already is that I know I can do this. I know what is to come when I finally step in front of this new batch of students. And I can’t wait.

The Year of the Novel

novel1, noun: a long written story usually about imaginary characters and events

novel2, adjective: new and different from what has been known before

I just celebrated my 26th birthday over the weekend and had a great time. My wife threw me the greatest surprise birthday party with some of my best friends here in St. Louis.

For most people, turning 26 means they’re on the downhill to 30. The idea that they haven’t achieved anything yet can be paralyzing and draining on their confidence and self esteem. I have no such fear though. I’ve already found my soulmate and started my family. I’ve completed my bachelor’s degree and finished my MFA. I’ve written my first novel, Sentinel’s Soul, and begun the process of publishing. I’m working on a sequel, with another novel idea just waiting for its turn. And I’ll be teaching my first class in the spring.

While celebrating with some friends, someone asked me what I wanted to dedicate my year to? The idea being that you would focus on whatever concept for the following year and see where God led you. And as a writer, the idea of the novel was tossed out.

1445496548706590349Mind = Blown.

This works on multiple levels for me at this stage of my life. First, the noun definition of the novel. In the coming year, I hope to complete my second novel (that’s right, you heard me, complete it) and start on my third novel. I also hope to find an agent for my first novel. But in addition to all of this, I’m hoping to spend some time reading some really great novels. (Any suggestions in the fantasy/scifi/urban fantasy realm?) I’ve been a student for almost 20 years of my life and it’s high time I started reading what I want to read rather than the assigned readings, although I’ll be doing my fair share of those since I’ll be the one assigning readings in class.

The second definition, novel as an adjective meaning ‘new and different from what has been known before‘, is equally profound. As I move into this next year of life, I’m looking forward to many new and exciting developments. As I said, I’m hoping to get an agent for Sentinel’s Soul. But I’m also hoping to enjoy teaching undergraduates this year and start building my credentials there. I’m nervous but also excited, as this will be the first chance I’ve gotten to really use the degree I worked so hard on attaining. In my personal life, I just want to keep raising my boys well and continue being a good husband. But I want to do so in a way that is exciting and fulfilling. And I’m always up for new friends and experiences.

So this is the Year of the Novel in all of its multi-faceted meaning. I’m excited to share it with you and look forward to my next birthday.

Writing Advice #1

I recently received an email from a Buzzfeed Article titled “33 Essential Tips for Aspiring Writers“. I found a lot of the advice to be quite good and it sparked an idea. Over the next many posts, I’d like to take a piece of advice from the Buzzfeed Article and expand on it with a bit of my own advice. Hope it helps some people out.

01. As Kandinsky says, “Everything starts with a dot.” Sometimes the hardest thing in writing a story is where to start. You don’t need to have a great idea, you just have to put pen to paper. Start with a bad idea, start with the wrong direction, start with a character you don’t like, something positive will come out of it.

-Marion Deuchars, illustrator and author of Let’s Make Some Great Art

I think this is a great piece of advice and very well placed as the first piece of advice on the page. Also, with today being Novmber 1st, it’s the beginning of NaNoWriMo and many writers are taking part in the challenge.

So many young writers that I talk to have great ideas for stories and novels but don’t know where to start. They ask me “Where would you start?”

And I find this question to be one I struggle with myself. The answer is quite clear here in this bit of advice. It doesn’t really matter where you start, as long as you do start. (Although I have a few good ideas that can get the creative juices flowing.) You can’t get any writing done until you sit your butt in your chair and start somewhere, anywhere.

A bit of life experience from my life:

When I started graduate school, I had a very vague idea of a story. But I had no idea where to start with it. So I started in the middle of a fight scene. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t able to explain everything I wanted to. The important part was that I had started. I made progress and once I started writing, there was no stopping me. Later, when I went back to do revisions, I realized where I started wasn’t really my start point but three chapters later. And that was okay, because without having started and made it all the way through the first draft was I able to see where I actually needed to start.

So, like I said, it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you do start. In the end, that’s the most important lesson.

But, young writers do ask “Where would you start?” And I do have a bit of advice on that.

  1. Start with something that gets your blood pumping. For me, it’s a bit of action, some fight scene or point of tension. For you, it might be a bit of romance. Or a coffee shop in Paris. Whatever it might be, if it gets you pumped about writing, then that’s where you should start and remember you can always change it later. That’s the joy of writing.
  2. Start with a character sheet/POV writing. Sometimes, when starting a new project, it can be helpful just to write for a little while in the head of your POV character. Once again, it gets those creative juices flowing, gets you in the mindset of your character, and when you are ready start writing material for the story, you’ll be off and going.
  3. Outline, outline, outline. I can’t stress this enough but put some thought into an outline. It doesn’t matter if you change it later. It’s totally fine. But if you feel like you’ve got the gist of the story on paper in an outline, you’ll be more inclined to start writing it.

Those are just a few bits of advice. Any thoughts from you, readers? I’d love to hear any suggestions on where you like to start writing at.