Writing as a Passion

Have you ever had a passion that began as a teeny, tiny seed deep inside your heart? The more you thought about it, the more it grew from your heart into your mind. Once it became lodged in your mind, you turned it over and over, thinking about the details, the what if scenarios, and began doing research. After a while, as if the secret well inside of you was so big it was about to burst, you told someone. Not just anyone, of course, but a close friend or a family member. You knew the passion, the dream, was so delicate, you couldn’t entrust it to just anyone.

Eventually, as you let that dream flourish, as you fostered your inner passion, it became strong enough to withstand the rejection and onslaught of other people. You could be told no, and remain steadfast. You could have your dream trampled, and press on anyways. A passion for writing or illustrating often begins like this. At least it did for me.

I wrote poetry and simple stories for years growing up. My mother, especially, encouraged me to draw and paint. I still remember those days we would sit down together to paint. As I entered High School, my artistic expression went in random directions, never really finding a home. Even though I was never sure what I was really passionate about, I naturally began blogging on a variety of subjects after college. My background in website design, search engine optimization, and programming helped me create successful blogs rather quickly. Even though these projects were always exciting to pour myself into, the types of writing I was doing didn’t give me the sense of fulfillment I was looking for.

In October of 2015, my older brother Thane Keller self-published science fiction novel, Trials. I hadn’t known he was even writing a book and it took me a while to get around to read it. Once I did read it, I was filled with ideas and concepts that could help propel the world he built and reinforce the plot he created. In January of 2016, we agreed I would write a prequel novel for his series. I immediately got to work and it became an incredibly satisfying passion in my life.

As I wrote, I began doing deliberate research on how to write. My first edit feedback was humbling, to say the least. I thought I was naturally a great writer…don’t we all? But writing professionally was so much more complex than I gave it credit for. So, I hunkered down, and researched like crazy. Every day I learned something new, whether it was a better understanding of point-of-views, sentence structure, or simple tips, I began incorporating everything I was learning.

I wrote and re-vised. Wrote and revised. It wasn’t until later I could take to heart a definition of what revision really is, which is to view the work in a different way, to re-vision it. I began writing and then trying to view it differently, from different angles. Writing was truly satisfying.

Then something unexpected happened. About 30,000 words into the Trials prequel, I had a thought. A very, very different thought. It was a concept for a new science fiction novel. My mind was flooded with ideas and plots, the introduction, the ending. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Every day my brain would keep filling out details and so every morning between 3:00am and 6:00am (my usual writing time), I was torn between two wonderful books. Two wonderful but very different worlds that needed to be written.

At this point, I had been learning so much and spent my commute to and from work listening to classic books on audio, books on how to write, books on how to present ideas and techniques to captivate readers. It was like an artesian well that sprang forth from all around me that I just couldn’t get enough of. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about writing, editing, publishing, self-publishing, querying, everything.

But would you know what happened next? In the midst of trying to manage two science fiction novels, another idea flooded my mind. I couldn’t push it away. It was a children’s picture book story. I immediately wrote the outline down and polished it over a few more days. Then, another children’s book idea came. And another. And another. I was being bombarded by unique, original concepts that would enrich and enliven families everywhere.

Maybe it was the thousands of children’s books my wife and I have read to our two boys over the years. Maybe it was a love of reading that had been developed since I was young. Maybe it was the empty library shelves I would always see in children’s sections. I’m not sure. All I know is children’s books are on a whole different level of satisfaction for me. So much so, that although I am currently seeking literary agent representation, I couldn’t resist commissioning an illustrator for my first children’s book. The artwork is beautiful and I know you’ll love it. I’m hoping to have it out by 2018. But don’t worry, I have many children’s book manuscripts polished and ready to go.

Technically, that makes me a hybrid author – someone who’s friendly to traditional and self-publishing avenues. The reality is much simpler though. Writing is a passion. It can’t be stopped. The ideas come and they must be written. Some will appeal to one crowd while some will appeal to other crowds. The stories need to be told or else they’ll never live. There are people out there who’s life will be incredibly enriched by my stories. They’ll be enriched by yours, too.

I know this post is long but over a decade in SEO shows it doesn’t really matter. What matters, is you. If you’re an aspiring author or illustrator, please don’t give up. Live your passion. Fit it into your day, somehow, someway. If you have a different role in literature (editor, agent, publisher, lawyer, assistant, etc.), your role is vital. Bookshelves are empty. Children need more beautifully illustrated, wonderfully written books. Parents need fun books to share with their children, new stories to choose from. Educators need tools to help in the classroom explain complex concepts in simple ways. The world simply needs more books.

Is writing your passion? Is your passion something else? I’d love to hear about it. Maybe we can help each other along the way and leave this world a little lot better than when we found it.

Interview with Author James Conan

James A. Conan is a Toronto-based writer and sous-chef. He has published several short stories over the past two years, focusing mainly on science fiction, but recently on literary and upmarket fiction. James is also a first reader at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, an online magazine of speculative fiction of all types. He draws on this experience to write his blog, Notes From the Slush Pile, which offers advice to other writers looking to hone their craft and achieve publication. Other than his website, you can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

1. You manage a personal blog called Notes From the Slush Pile and refer to yourself as a “First Reader”. How has this position helped you grow as an author?

Being a First Reader has helped me become a better writer for the simple reason that it’s exposed me to a larger, unrefined body of work than I would have come across otherwise. Reading the finished, published short stories and novels of other writers is important, but this way I get to see the earlier steps in the process. I encounter the mistakes people make, many of which I’ve made myself. I have the opportunity to learn by observation all the ways that other writers can try and craft a good idea into a plausible, engaging narrative. Sometimes they succeed and I give them the thumbs up. When they don’t, gently explaining to them why what they’ve done didn’t work gives me valuable experience. I’ve been teaching myself what works and what doesn’t.

2. You’ve published quite a few short stories. Stephen King has made it clear he started with short stories as well. How would an aspiring writer know short stories could be their starting place?

The fact is I didn’t start that way. I made the mistake of writing a novel first. I was only 23 and fresh out of school, I didn’t know better. I’m still trying to get it published by the way. You can check out a sample chapter on the blog. My point is, I found out the hard way that most publishers won’t take you seriously unless you can come across as professional (I wasn’t). This means the blog, properly written queries, being at least somewhat active on social media, and most importantly having a published body of work to prove you mean business. Any aspiring writer who thinks otherwise is likely in for the same rude awakening I got. That said, once I began writing short stories to help myself get noticed, I began to appreciate the technical challenges. When I was writing the novel I could take as long as I felt I needed to get to the point, but with short stories I learned that sometimes less is more.

3. Since many of our readers are aspiring authors, what is some of the best advice you’ve received in your writing career that you can share?

I’m really better at giving it than receiving. The blog attests . If I took half the advice I gave to others I’d have way more stories and a few more books done by now. Don’t be afraid of rejection, I guess. You have to develop a thick skin. People are going to tell you why they don’t like your work. You need to be okay with that. If anything, you should share your work around with your peers, and encourage more people to give you constructive criticism. Just remember that it’s your work, not theirs, and you don’t have to make any changes you don’t want to. Other than that, just don’t give up, keep writing. It takes time to get good at anything, and the time and effort will show. To quote Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame; “with a little practice it can become an intimidating and impenetrable foe.”

4. The medium of publishing has seen some change with the digital era we find ourselves in. Latest of which would include chat stories, where readers receive text, audio, and video messages that push a story forward regularly like a TV show. Do you think already published authors, self or traditional, can break into these new markets with existing work?

I think so. Serializing a novel is nothing new, the technology has just given us a new format. It might take a while to really catch on, but if there’s one thing the digital age has given us more of than anything else it’s ways to consume popular culture. If authors don’t engage and chat stories don’t end up lasting, there’ll be some other new platform before too long. I’m holding out for realistic holograms.

5. With short stories, magazine articles, and novels, the use of an illustrator is typically minimal to create a great cover or add a few graphics to help with the story. Have you found trouble hiring an illustrator or graphic designer when so many work exclusively for agencies?

I haven’t really worked with enough illustrators one-on-one to answer this well. The magazines I’ve been published in have all contracted their own artists. I had nothing to do with it. For the blog, I use entirely public domain science fiction and fantasy images, mostly from Pixabay. I did hire a friend to do some concept artwork for my novel back when I was first writing it. I never ended up using it for much. It’s still hanging on my wall though. Sort of a memorial to the time and effort I put in. Ian, if you’re reading this, I promise when I get it published your stuff will be in there.

6. With so many digital readers, the end of print is always a hot-button issue. Do you think traditional print books or magazines will ever fade away, or will there simply be more options to choose from?

This is a question that people have been asking for years now. I think there’s room for both. I have a kindle app on my phone that I use to download public domain classics. Being able to read “Heart of Darkness” for free helped me pass the time on a transatlantic flight recently. Digital publishing certainly has it’s place, but it’s not going to replace print for me anytime soon. A lot of us stare at screens for a good portion of the day, be it at work or at home. Reading print books is a relaxing, sedentary pastime that lets me take my eyes away from the blue-light glow. My tiny apartment is full of bookshelves groaning under the weight of my library, and that’s just the way I like it. I can admit it’s an affectation in this digital age, but it’s one I’ll never stop enjoying and I think a lot of people out there feel the same.

7. As authors, we continually grow and develop our writing craft, whether in word, form, or style. How has your writing transformed from where you started to today?

This is an interesting one for me. I’d just finished university when I started writing seriously, so one of my biggest challenges was my own verbosity, writing stuff like I would if I were doing an academic paper. It was a big problem that I’ve (mostly) overcome. In general, I’ve had to work on being patient. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and getting anything published is almost always a long, slow process. I’d like to think that my work has become more refined as a result. I think about what I’m writing more, and go through a few more phases of editing and rewrites with every
rejection. 

8. If you could pick only one thing from one of your published short stories that might come true…what would it be and how would the world be different from it?

It’s a pretty generic answer, but space travel. Other planets in our solar system, faster than light, whatever. As a science fiction author, any significant progress in this field that might see human beings living on other planets within my lifetime would be a dream come true. As for what that might mean for the world at large, I’m not chasing some vision of utopia. I think humans generally make a lot of catastrophic mistakes. It just might mean that a mistake that kills this planet might not kill all of us. Optimistic pessimism.

9. What can we expect to see from you in the next 1-2 years?

In the next year or two I expect my next novel to be done. I’m moving away from science fiction towards more mainstream fiction. “I Think I Can” is the story of a down and out motivational speaker who finds himself in therapy after his wife leaves him, and the personal and professional obstacles he encounters on his road to recovery. The first two chapters were published in short story form in The Danforth Review. In the meantime, I’ve got plenty of other short stories I’m trying to find homes for. I’m also going back to school this fall. Working as a First Reader woke a deeper interest in publishing for me, so ‘ll be taking a post-graduate course in book and magazine publishing at Centennial College here in Toronto in order to pursue that.

Interview with Illustrator Alicia Arlandis

Alicia Arlandis is an illustrator from Valencia, Spain, a beautiful city near the coast. She’s been interested in art for as long as she can remember and has been illustrating for over twelve years. Alicia loves drawing, painting, reading, and teaching, both older people and children. She is a graphic designer and illustrator that loves continual learning in both areas. To learn more about her, check out Alicia’s website and Alicia’s Twitter account.

1. You’re a very talented illustrator with a fascinating portfolio online and you’ve mentioned being interested in art your whole life. What are the earliest memories you have that have helped shape your career as an illustrator and what can other parents do to cultivate a love of art in their family?

Since I was little, I remember that in my house, my family valued all artistic ability. We are five sisters (I am the little one along with my twin sister) and everyone, including my parents have artistic skills. Whether painting or illustrating, how to write or sewing … We value all kinds of artistic expression and my parents fostered in me the love of art in a very natural way. I would recommend that parents encourage and empower any child, whether artistic or not. To introduce your children in a didactic way and also cultivate fun hobbies.

2. Illustration software and tools are always changing. What’s your favorite medium or software to illustrate with and why? What are your least favorite?

My favorite method to illustrate is to make my sketches in pencil and then color in Photoshop with my Wacom. I do not dislike any specific method and find them all interesting!

3. Many people wonder what a great author and illustrator relationship looks like. How would you describe your ideal author/illustrator project?

My ideal relationship between author and illustrator is one based on trust, respect, empathy and communication between both parties.

4. Speaking of authors and illustrators working together, do you do freelance illustration? What would be the best approach for an author to take who would like to work with you on a project?

Yes, I’m a freelance illustrator. The way an author approaches me, is to contact me and explain his project. It’s very simple!

5. Being located in Valencia, Spain, how would you describe the international market for illustrators? Has it been easy or difficult for you to extend your reach beyond Spain?

I would describe the international market of illustrators as a very varied market with many opportunities (as long as you are consistent in looking for job opportunities). The difficult thing has been to develop my work within Spain, surprisingly. It’s funny but I value my work much more outside my country. Maybe it’s because of my style of illustration.

6. Speaking of extending one’s reach, how would you advise an aspiring illustrator who wants to grow their international presence?

I would advise aspiring illustrators and graphic designers to frequently look for contacts. It’s also important to review and refresh your portfolio (at least once a year).

7. Most illustrators have people who’s styles they look up to. Do you have anyone you look up to for their artistic style?

I admire many current illustrators but the ones that really inspire me are artists like Alphons Mucha, Gustav Klimt, Frida Kahlo and the Pre-Raphaelite artists.

8. Illustrating any project takes a lot of time and effort. What are some ways you’ve found to speed up the process from concept to delivery?

Unfortunately for me, I have not yet found any method. I am naturally a perfectionist and adore the small details, so that takes a long time. When I am immersed in a project, I have no social life! I sleep very little to make sure the project is delivered on time. Project schedules are very important.

9. I like to close by looking towards the future. What can we expect from you in the next 1-2 years?

I wish I knew! I hope to keep improving and working hard to live my profession.

The Voracious Appetite of Readers

You’ll often hear writers say they are not in competition with each other. Although I believe this to be true, it’s easy to see why some would disagree. There is such a thing as finite space in bookstores, limited page 1 landing room online, and only so much money the average reader has to spend on a new book.

However, authors still are not in competition with each other. Why is that, you may wonder? Easy. The average reader has a voracious appetite. It’s that simple. Whether a book costs $2.99 or $34.99, the human mind and heart were set to crave words. Readers literally cannot get enough words in their system. While some hugely popular books can crowd out the space from lesser known titles, the reader eventually moves on.

Readers have a thirst for knowledge. Young and old. They may thirst for different topics or styles but they thirst nonetheless. And once that thirst is quenched, they’ll thirst for something else. Yes, you may have a favorite book that you’ve re-read time and time again. But, if you’re truly open about it, you recognize the innate desire to move on. To move on to something else. To the next book by the same author. To a similar book by a different author. You, the reader, want to explore what is out there.

That’s why authors aren’t in competition with one another. A reader’s lifetime contains many, many books that one author, even a handful of authors, can never monopolize. Consider, even the fastest author’s road to publication can be devoured in days or weeks by the average reader. Author careers are built learning from and supporting one another over long periods of time. Do you know what else? Authors are often the most voracious readers! And guess what? They don’t just re-read themselves.

So, here is to my fellow authors. I applaud you. I am excited for you. If you are an aspiring author, take heart. You are not alone. There are many who are happy to help you start not at the bottom, but from the shoulders.

Purpose of Platform

Communication through the written word. It is rife with rewards and consequences. A good word nourishes the soul while the opposite breaks the strongest spirit. We, as men, women, and youth, are charged with a responsibility to use words wisely, whether written or spoken.

This website has been created to foster good words and serve as a platform for my writing. Through it, I aim to connect with you and help you in some way – whether you are looking for a good book or an aspiring author hungry for help. Additional information and extra content will be added as time allows. Consider reading more about me with the links above and connect with me on social media.

“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”

-Ray Bradbury