The Eclipse: Like, Wow.

There are two events that consistently disappointed me when I was in my 20s: Halloween and New Year’s Eve.

After a massive buildup between friends and community, the evening would invariably fizzle because Halloween is primarily for kids, and New Year’s Eve is primarily for drinking alone and asking your cats if they’ll eat you after you die.

The Great American Eclipse was hyped beyond anything I’ve seen in this area, and it didn’t just deliver, it smashed my expectations in every way possible. Think about that– an event that lasted (the good part, anyway) less than three minutes has now become one of the most impactful memories of my life. We had 2:36 of totality here in Portland, TN, and it was–

— unearthly? That comes close.

‘muriclipse!

The air began to still after the first nibble from the moonshadow, descending from the upper right corner of the sun’s scorching globe. It was brutally hot here, but in minutes, the day began to grow softer. The light was undefined, and more so with each passing moment. Outside, trees looked dimmed, their shadows crisp and odd. The first insects began to trill, their confusion a verbal accent to the lowered light. Frogs croaked. Birds that usually sang went quiet, and night birds perked up, early to the party.

Shadows and light took on the crescents of the eclipse. Things began to slow down. Looking up through eclipse glasses, the sun was still a defiantly blinding wedge, but shrinking with each moment we stood out in the swelter of August. There wasn’t a puff of wind; even the breeze was stopping to watch the spectacle.

Crescents through the tree, courtesy of Tim McCoy.

And then the most incredible thing happened. Every nerve in my body began to hum as I watched the sun– one second a blazing, punishing wedge of heat– be consumed by the moonshadow, eroding like a fading smile. My family was with me, all eyes upward and transfixed with the kind of wonder that only the heavens and babies can produce. The air grew still and time stopped. The diamond ring formed, a lurid gem of white-hot light that flew outward from the darkened sun, a final cheer before the curious dusk went to black.

Wife’s bestie captured this; our town was in the galactic sweet spot.

Going, going–

Angie again. The perfect shot.

— gone. We whooped. In the distance, kids shouting, and their parents, too. Unalloyed joy at this confluence of shadow and light. The corona glowing in space, laid bare for us to see if only for a moment.

And what a moment. It was perfect, archaic, primal, elegant– in that brief, dim triumph all of the myths were believable and all the legends true. I stared up in disbelief and the visceral knowing of what hung there in the blackness. A memory from somewhen else tickled at my consciousness like curious minnows on the legs of a wading child. Every part of my sight was locked on that gloriously lurid otherness that replaced what I knew to be the fountain of life on this planet. The shadow sat smugly over the sun, whose rays speared into the darkness of space on a scale that made me feel lucky and small whether I wished to or not.

Every second of totality was perfect, except for the ticking clock that brought the diamond blazing to life on the opposite side. The ring grew, shadows faded. The otherness drained away even as my smile remained. We hugged, unsure what to do with our wiggling hands, at a loss for purpose in the memory of something so grand, but so brief.

The heat returned, followed by a storm of chatter and some internal reflection. It’s just science, right?

All of the legends were true, and they will be as long as I remember that moment of half-night, and how it made me feel.

Terry

 

 

 

The Tattered Glory of August

August is one of my favorite times. It’s hot, but there might be the odd fresh morning that lets you know autumn is around the bend.

My running route is packed with summer. Over the past two weeks, all of these signs have begun to fray, and beautifully so. There are late blackberries, some scorched and some still plump.

Some are still sour. We’ve got a good long season here.

Among the thorns, I heard a rustle. She was hung up by her foot. When I let her go, she flew to the little creek immediately– thirsty but okay.

Along the way, the true glory of August is on display. It’s easy to run and be cheerful despite the heat. (Full disclosure: I LOVE running in the heat. Unsure why, but it feels better, like hot yoga provided by Mother Nature)

Everywhere I looked, flowers. Some people call them weeds, but that’s not true.

Things are past their peak, but still radiant. The colors are stunning, and there’s a desperate quality to the lower leaves on all the plants. They’re sun-scorched but defiant, pushing up blooms that are visible at a distance. Summer beauty is persistent.

The goldenrod and purple glory is just starting. Up next: September, when we start thinking cozy thoughts.

Off to run. Hope your neighborhood is filled with color, too.

Cheers,

Terry

Pretzel Power and Author Events: 5 Dumb Things

You want a pretzel? We’ve got a pretzel.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Bavarian Inn Lodge “Big Twist”, which powered me through an entire whirlwind of signing books, fandom, and fellowship with other authors. Located in gorgeous Frankenmuth, Michigan ( my new favorite town in America), it’s a magnificent Grand Dame of a resort that I will be going back to– and soon.

The event? Once Upon a Book. The host and organizer was Stacey Rourke (buy her books, she can really write), and it was more than just a book signing. It was, as usual, a learning experience. Fellow authors, and young authors– please take note.

  1. Thinking of attending an author event? Look at the organizer. If they write, look at their books. Are they crisp, attractive, professional? Is it a dalliance? Is it their life? They might treat the event like their books, and you can use this information to help you determine where– and with whom– you want to sign books.
  2. Is the venue superior? Remember, readers love books as much (or more) as we do. They want to be comfortable, engaged in fun, and treated well. If you wouldn’t stay/eat/visit the venue, why should your reader?
  3. Look at the other authors signing. Are they professionals? Are they serious? Are they committed to writing great books? Is the event a chance for them to be away from their family for a vacation, or is it an opportunity to both have fun and meet readers in a superb setting? I met an author I’ve admired for years, and I told her so– because people who are doing things the right way should know that they’re being seen. (Thanks Mary!)
  4. If there are authors attending that you admire, plan on introducing yourself. I’m an extrovert; this is easy for me, but even if you’re shy, watch your favorite authors and take notes. How do they conduct themselves? What are their public strengths? What would you do differently? Why do they impress you, and if so, can you adjust your own career goals and improve?
  5. What are the readers saying? This is a tidal wave of honest criticism that you must process. Listen to them. See what they’re reading. See who they come to meet. Ask them questions about books, without pressuring them to buy yours. If you’re forgetful, take notes. Every author event has an area where serious readers can be found reading the books they purchased moments ago. This is your goal. You want your books in their hands as they read and get lost in your worlds.

Also, wear pants. Trust me on this one.

Now, to quote my friend Lawrence, what are you going to do about it?

 

Cheers,

Terry

 

Dealing With Bad Reviews: 5 Dumb Things

TL;DR Don’t.

Now for the longer version, and a few specific examples of who and what tribulations await you, the writer.

  1. The Hater.  They’re out there, and in another life, you’ve personally kicked their puppy. They’re going to get every ounce they can out of a punitive review, and by all that’s holy, no one will wonder where they stand by the end of it.  Example– from one of my actual reviews– I have to say this was singlehandedly the worst story I’ve EVER read (and I read quite extensively). Ouch. How, you might ask, do I deal with this? Simple– you don’t. Ever. It’s a no win situation to engage someone who has an extensive desire to write bad things about what you do. It might irk you, but it’s not personal. It’s the Internet.
  2. The Frustrated Writer. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on how they view your work. Simply stated, they take time to write a review that is clever, sometimes mean, thorough, and often scattered with personal attacks. These are, for me, the most troubling, because so much of me goes into my stories. In effect, they attack your history, which can evoke a powerful reaction. Example– I haven’t seen such blatant yet backhanded anti-Semitism in a very long time. In this case, the reviewer refers to a character changing their name to be a YouTube star, which is common in the entertainment industry and– here’s the kicker– what my Grandfather did for his music career. He was a big band leader in the 1930s, prior to going off to fight Nazis. With a last name like Grabowski, he chose Gray for his performer name and we’ve used it as a family tradition for restaurant reservations ever since. In essence, the reviewer made an incorrect assumption and branded a fun tradition in my family as something sinister. What did I do? Nothing. And that is, once again, the right move.
  3. The Crusader. Oy vey. These are among the most difficult to deal with because they have an agenda prior to even reading the sentence of your book. They’re taking a square peg and hammering it into a round hole and damn the consequences. Using magic? You hate Pagans. A man makes a decision? Misogyny. Not enough Lithuanian characters? You must hate Lithuania. You get the picture. Example–Terry Maggert manages to subtly insult every single practicing Pagan in the world and maybe some atheists and other religions as well. This is radioactive. Back away, forget it ever happened, and keep writing your novels. I’ve written stories about the Pope being a vampire and zombie sex, but reactions like that one are best ignored. This also speaks to the issue of censorship. I’m against it. Period. I can’t allow exterior forces to shape a narrative in a fictional place. This is my policy, and as I tell people at conferences, “Your world, your rules.”
  4. The Scholar. *Heavy Sigh* Some people could take the fun out of a naked demolition derby, and they will invariably show up in your reviews. They’re experts on virtually any topic you choose to write about, and they’re going to let you know. They will chide you for perceived errors, and in some cases even reach out to you personally to do so (I’ve had it happen at signings). I write fantasy and science fiction. Therefore, I operate on the principle espoused by Mark Twain, “Get your facts straight, then you can distort them as you please.” This ties in to #3, but also stand on its own as a cautionary tale about the immediacy of “expert opinion”. Example–The Adirondacks were named by the Mohawk, not the Huron, so Maggert doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Setting aside the concept that original cultures moved around, this is a shining example of The Scholar. They’re angry, they don’t like your book, and they’re going to make it a personal attack based on their perception and bias about your intellect. If they paid for the book, sally forth, I say. If they got it for free, well, you should be warned that NetGalley is where dreams go to die (more on that at a later date).
  5. The Soul of Brevity. Often cross-pollinates with the Compulsive Cusser,, these reviews can be as short as two words, leaving no doubt as to the position they’re taking about your book. I actually like these, because more often than not, they strike me as honest. Example- Totally sucked. Attaboy. That’s at least honest, and it leavens the other windy reviews. There are varieties in which the reviewer channels a soldier or stable hand’s language, but that’s okay too. If nothing else, it pumps up your total and gives you data about who is– and isn’t– reading your books.

The common theme here is this: there is no scenario in which engaging a bad review can end well. In point of fact, I’ve personally watched two NYT best-selling authors nuke their career by clapping back at bad reviews. If they can’t withstand that kind of pushback, then I know I can’t. *

At least, not until I have my island filled with giraffes and rocket launchers.

See you in Frankenmuth, Michigan this weekend. I’ll be the guy eating. All the time.

Cheers,

Terry

*I can, however, have someone I dislike die a horrible death in my next novel. I’ve done this four times. True story. Be careful, change their name. 🙂

 

“That’s SO funny” means it isn’t. 5 Dumb Things about writing.

I’ve always said that making people laugh is one of the hardest things to do. Writing books with humor is a challenge to even the most nimble authors, and making a character who is genuinely funny even more difficult. I reference the people in my books, who, be they witch, vampire, asshole at the bank, or good hearted truck driver, are all real people to me when I write them.

.

Now, let’s break that down– genuinely funny— as it contains two of the most important parts of your main character.

  1. Genuine. I have a single goal when I create a character, and that is for the reader to think, “I know this person.” I want my readers convinced that the character is someone they might meet the next time they leave the house. That’s critical.
  2. Three Dimensional People. I use this term to describe the characters because they should exist in every plane; you should feel their personalities, their voices, and the background of their lives. All of these make them have a weight on the pages. Don’t skimp on background. Don’t use background instead of dialogue. Here’s why.
  3. Dialogue Is Good Voyeurism.  I’m not talking about watching your neighbor through their window, you dirty little critter, although if they’re leaving the curtains open while they dance naked to Bon Jovi and you have a box of wine and nothing to do on a Friday night hey who’s fault is it anyway I mean– sorry. I meant to say, dialogue– good dialogue– is the single best method to get inside the head of your characters. For readers, one page of dialogue is equivalent to an entire chapter of exposition, because it tells you why they act as well as how they will act in the future. This is how we bring readers with us to the last page. They must burn for the Great Reveal in which all becomes clear.
  4. Real People Are Hilarious.  Don’t think this is true? Go to the returns desk at any major retail store on the planet. Then wait. Within fifteen minutes you will see: Thieves. Liars. People with sweaty ‘bra money’. Flimsy excuses. Glorious expressions from the employees. Anger. Resolution. You might even see an adult in a onesie, given the state of our planet. It’s all there, and it’s free. My point is: real life is a fountain of hilarity, if you observe the right places. If you want unlimited rage, go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you want funny, go everywhere else. Then– write it down.
  5. Read Aloud. Let me repeat this: read. your dialogue. out loud. You should laugh, or cringe, or feel. . . something. What you should not feel is nothing. If that’s the case, the dialogue is flat and it needs to die. Start over, keeping the best sentence you have, then ask yourself. What would your character do if they were at the returns desk at Walmart? It’s a great start, and you might surprise yourself by learning more about your own characters.

I know Carlie, Ring, Saavin, French and Wulfric inside and out because to me, they are real. I can hear their voices, see their walk, and imagine how they might deal with an overcooked steak  (steak cannot be undercooked, fight me!) or  flat tire. You know, life. This is why I’m able to make Carlie more than a Quirky Girl Doing Cute Things.

You know what to do. Keep your eyes and ears open, take a few notes, and write people who you every day. But, you know, with dragons and swords and stuff. That’s what I do.

I’ll be in Frankenmuth, Michigan for Once Upon a Book (Aug 11-12). They claim to have the World’s Best Chicken Dinner. My body is ready.

Cheers,

Terry

Why You Should(n’t) Use A Pen Name: 5 Dumb Things

My name is actually Terry Maggert, and I made a conscious decision (a rare event, but still) to use that as my pen name. If you write, you might be faced with a similar decision as more people read your books, and I’ve assembled what I hope to be compelling reasons for the type of name you use when creating a brand. For me, even my brand has a brand. See?

  1. Necessity made you do it.  If you’re a youth minister who writes giraffe-based BDSM erotica, you may consider a pen name. (Note: I have dibs on Lance Goodthrust, and if you think I’m kidding, just watch me). First: congrats on finding your niche, you maniac, and secondly, your choice of a pen name is a defensive movement designed to protect your identity. Which brings me to my second point.
  2. There is no privacy. Occasionally, I meet some adorable writer who thinks that their life isn’t an open book. News flash– our lives are beyond open; they’re a commodity that’s  being sold. Make certain that you create two entirely different identities for your brand and your life if the two aren’t congruent. This goes down to the detail of social media (especially social media), because that’s where you’re going to build the most important part of your growth. Which brings me to my third point.
  3. Don’t Get Cute or Witty with Names. I refer to the social media handles you choose. I use Terry Maggert everywhere, and I do so despite having titles that range from Young Adult Fantasy to Zombie Erotica. (Seriously. It’s a product of my childhood. Leave me be.) People who like my books can always find me. You know who can’t find you? People looking for your name instead of Wordcrusher or PirateWench69 on twitter and Instagram. If you don’t use your real name, then you must build a brand name so that people can find you. Otherwise, you’re creating a barrier between you and your readers.
  4. Pen Names  Can Infer Genre. There’s an expectation within genre fans that their favorite authors, if choosing a pen name, will pick something that dovetails with the style of books they write. If you’re a romance author (and statistically, you might be), then Selenia D’Argent makes a lot more sense than Bill Shotzenburger, who might be a lovely person but has a name that belongs to a guy who manages a tire store. Like buying bananas, choose wisely when picking your name.
  5. Pick A New Variation. Look, we all want the money that big name authors have, but selecting a pen name that’s close to theirs isn’t just poor branding, it might anger fans. You know- those people who stand outside a book store at midnight because some author just released a playlist of things their characters did while suffering from the flu? Yeah, those people. They’re rabid, they’re loyal, and they will absolutely brand you a fraud if you try to rip off their beloved author by name-crowding.

That’s a general guideline and there are many good reasons for using a pen name (organization being one), but just as many reasons to be yourself. Remember– you are the brand, as much as your books, and you must protect that identity every day. Across the spectrum of social media and other interactions, your name will be with you when you break out.

So, pick a good one, or go with the one you’ve had since the start. It’s working so far, right?

Terry

It’s Write to Travel

Traveling makes you a better writer, and it also teaches you an array of skills you’ll need. This morning, we depart for my wife’s ancestral family land, a place called “Ill-uh-noy”.

Her tribe are a hardy people, tall, generally fair haired and prone to sacking and looting the coast of England and whatever else happened to get in the way of their ships. As I’ve mentioned before, I married an American-Norwegian-Lutheran, which is a distinct culture unto itself.

*this is how I picture us arriving. it could happen.

They are, simply stated, kind , lovely people who fancy covered dishes (casseroles to us elsewhere) and occupations like:

Farming

Building things

Teaching people things

Teaching people things about farming and building

Baking

As you can see, this is a good tribe to infiltrate. My bride was up until nearly three in the morning baking cinnamon bread and bread and just in case, bread– because we’re like a traveling circus, but with baked goods.

So, I’ll be in the American Heartland (a TRULY glorious place) for the next four days, with lovely people, home grown tomatoes, and diner food.

I anticipate a great deal of writing. And running, on quiet country roads. And eating, but you already knew that.

Uff Da, indeed.

Terry

Writer Tips: 5 Dumb Things

This is year four for me as a professional author. Naturally, I find new and amazing ways to make mistakes, but my “rate of dumb” is slowing.

Eventually, it might even stabilize or stop. #ThoughtsAndPrayersYall

With that in mind, here are five dumb things that new writers shouldn’t do, because I’ve done them for you already. You’re welcome.

  1. Slow down. Look, I know your friend is a romance writer who coughs out a book every five weeks, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Any skill can be honed over time– maybe they can write quality books at a shocking rate. Maybe they’ve been at it for ten years, too, meaning that it’s more important for you to get your book correct out of the gate, rather than simply in the race. You can speed up your process as you learn and grow.
  2. Don’t Waste Time. Obvious, right? Look, I love shiplap as much as Joanna Gaines, but seven hours on Pinterest looking at her houses isn’t helping you write your novel. Schedule your social media in a ratio of 8 to 2– eighty percent is planned, twenty percent spontaneous. Use apps like Crowdfire or Hootsuite to plan your social media. As a writer, you need to connect with your friends and readers. As a human, you need to have a plan. Apps can help you share yourself without getting lost in the tides of the internet. Having some discipline about your social media results in the most wonderful things of all– more books, and FAR better connections with your friends online. You learn to value the interactions, and they have more punch.
  3. Get A Plan. Your writing is a business. Businesses need a model. Write. It. Down. Mine was a three year plan borrowed from someone far more successful (thanks, Denise!). It makes all the difference to have, in writing, a model with goals that explain where you want to be as a writer. It can be simple or complex. Mine was one page– six goals– and gradually expanded as I became more savvy. I’m an author coach, and I’ve yet to find a young writer with a written business plan. Start it today, and you can have it done in the time it takes to brew another pot of coffee.
  4. Protect Your Work. Look, we’re all thirsty when we start, but that’s no reason to give your work away– and expose yourself to loss– in an endless stream of contests, awards, and vanity publishers. Here’s a simple test: if someone asks you for money to read your work, tell them to go to hell. If they want your work for a contest that costs money to enter, tell them to go to hell. See the trend? Professional agents don’t charge a reading fee. Ever. Real publishers (including YOU, if you’re an Indie) pay for work. Your stories are yours. Protect them with a dose of pragmatism, and you’ll thank yourself down the road.
  5. Exposure Is A Lie. If you can’t eat it or spend it, it ain’t worth your time. Period. Exposure is a seductive lie and nothing more. “Bring your books to give away at our event; it’ll be great exposure.” No thanks. That’s predatory, and not worth my time. One of my passions is giving books to people. I know, I just got done stating the opposite (in a sense), but there’s a key difference: I give people books on my own terms, and because I love books. I also like people. Books are meant to be shared, but artists are meant to be paid. Use your books as gifts for people who believe in you, not people who see you as something to be exploited.*Note: I also give away books written by other authors I admire, simply because I think they’re amazing and their work needs to be shared. Who doesn’t love getting a new book by an unknown voice?

That’s my top five dumb things– hits I’ve taken that I would spare my fellow writers. If you have any questions, fire away. I’ve got a lot of dumb to share.

Cheers,

Terry

Find Your Tribe.

Your tribe is the people outside your family who become family. That’s it. It can be simple to find them, or it can take years. For me, it took until I started writing as a serious pursuit, unlocking the years of memories about books, movies, comics, and art. All of these things fire my imagination like the inside of a star. It’s relentless and compelling and there is unalloyed joy in sharing it with people who not only like the things you like, but they get you.

So, back to back I’ve had two weekends with My Tribe. The first was Utopiacon, where fiction writers I know– and did not know– mingled with fans over three days of celebrating books. It’s a powerful sensation to realize that there are other humans who feel the same giddiness over books. Their imaginations share DNA with mine, and the overlapping areas of our fandoms are where we find common ground and bond (likely for life).

Then came LibertyCon. And this. . .headgear.

Your tribe foments creativity and laughter and thought. Your tribe makes you want to be better at what you do, and causes unabashed admiration for others who share your pursuit. It’s loud and grand and caring, and every minute of it flies by in a whirl of color and fun.

Something else happens, too. I’ve written five thousand words since coming home from the event, no small feat given my lack of sleep. Why is this? Simple. Your tribe stokes the boilers and makes creativity readily on tap. It’s a side effect of magical purpose, leaving you exhilarated and wide-eyed with the prospects of the coming days, eager to create and share.

I waited a long time to find my tribe, only to find that they were here all along. It’s up to you to find yours, but that’s the simplest part: find out where you can be weird, and revel in it.

Cheers for now. Gotta write. Maybe sleep. Mostly, write.

Terry