Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Poet's Diary: Overcoming Ipage and Microsoft

Yesterday was one of the more productive I have had recently.  Not that I haven't been working.  I have, but way too many of my working hours in the last few weeks have been taken up with tech problems.  First it was the nincompoops at Ipage that never did resolve my problems there and precipitated my move back to blogger.  Then, it was two weeks of computer software problems caused, of course, by Microsoft, finally fixed by the very competent folks at Hewlett Packard.  

Yesterday was the first day in ages I have worked unencumbered by technical difficulties other than my own lack of experience.  The result is that Sizzle is ready to be published on August 1 and Under The Sheets is about to be in layout.  Yesterday, I decided Bette and Lizzy does not belong in Sheets.  It is just too different from the rest of the anthology.  It will be published on its own in October.  

Today will be layout and work on a new poem, possibly a short drama.  I have a couple of small projects in mind that need trying, just to see if they have legs.  Later today, I'll be leading the regular Thursday Promptly Erotic Workshop in Second Life.  More about that can be found HERE.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

About Writing: Steph's Boot, Session Three

Last week, we considered the myriad tasks it takes to write and get your work on the market.  I gave you a list of the tasks necessary to my own work.  Did you think of more?  If so, add those to the list and ask yourself the same questions I asked you last week.  Will you complete these tasks yourself or seek help?  

For most of us, seeking help is an impractical solution.  Hiring help costs money, which indie writers cannot afford to spend, and "borrowing" help requires that we have associates with the skills we require as well as the time and the interest in helping us.  It is also possible to barter some work, but that might require as much time and effort as doing one's own work would have, thus negating any advantage to the trade.  

I have opted to hire help with three tasks:  proofreading, because I don't trust my own eyes and ears with the job; illustrations, because I am not an artist and some of my work needs more complicated illustrations than I can create myself; social media marketing, because I hate it and because it is very time-consuming.  Are there some tasks from the list started in Session Two you have decided to delegate?  If there were, these are not the tasks we'll be worrying about in this third session of Steph's Boot.  

I am always working on several projects at a time and you may multi-task as well.  For the sake of this lesson, however, you will choose one project you can commit to completing and putting on the market.  It can be a larger work, like a novel or play.  It can be a shorter work like a short story or article for a magazine.  

Focus on that one project for this session.  In fact, I am going to ask you to focus only on that one writing project until it is completed.  I have found that the most important factor in actually completing a project is giving it the attention it needs.  I had to learn to do that by...well... doing it.  I started with one project, a poem.  I committed to finishing it and to having it published and performed.  I didn't start another project until that one was completed.  It has taken several years to get to the point where I can balance the requirements of several projects at once. Even now, there is only one larger project (alongside several smaller ones) on my plate at a time.  I know what the next larger project will be but I won't touch it until this one is done.  
What is your one project?  
What can you commit to finishing and publishing/performing? 

How quickly you can reasonably expect yourself to complete your writing project? The answer to that will be affected by many factors.  Do you have small children in your home? Aging parents who require your attention?  Are you getting married or planning any other big event?  Do you have a day job other than writing?  Can your body tolerate long hours planted in front of a computer screen?   Do you have any limitations on the amount of time you can commit to completing your project?  Be realistic here.  Optimism is not your friend if it causes you to set unrealistic goals.  
How many hours, days, months will it take to complete your goal project?  
Is your projection a reasonable one?  

Having answered that question, double your estimate.   
This allows time for the many tasks beyond writing that go into getting your work out into the world.  It also builds you a cushion, a buffer between you and self-created stress due to a looming deadline.  I find that deadlines, even self-imposed deadlines,can be a writer's best friend.  Stressing over deadlines is not helpful though, so double your time estimate and thank me for the suggestion later.  

I use Google calendar for scheduling big deadlines and  Remember the Milk for scheduling daily tasks I must complete to achieve those larger goals. I like Google calendar because it sends me reminders if I ask it to.  I like Remember The Milk because it allows me to make and use lists, which is one of my most effective organizational techniques.   You can use whatever calendar(s) please you.  
On your calendar, mark the day you want to have completed and performed, published, or begun submitting your work for publication.  

The next step is to go back to that list we made, the list of the tasks it takes to get your writing from being just a twinkle in your mind's eye to printed or performed literature shared with the world at large. Which of those tasks are necessary to your project?  
  • How many hours per day and days per week can you commit to writing?  This needs to be a commitment taken as seriously as wedding vows.  Don't over-commit or you may hate yourself in the morning.
  • It will definitely need to be proofread. (I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to get a second and third set of eyes for this task.)  
  • It will most likely need to be edited and revised.  
  • Will it need illustrations or a cover?  
  • Will layout be an issue?  (Hint:  Layout for drama and poetry  can be picky.  Layout for DIY publishers like CreateSpace, Lulu and Kindle is demanding.)  
  • Will you be publishing this work yourself?  
  • Printing it yourself?  If so, you need a plan for that labor intensive process. (Been there, done that!) If not, you'll need to know what your printer requires with regard to layout. 
  • Will you do your own PR?  
  • Are there other writers who will support your work?  If so, you will need to support theirs and have a plan for doing so.  
Mark all of these tasks in your calendar.  
What are your  target dates for completion of each task?  

Again, be realistic about this.  If you have never done layout before, allow more time for the task than you think sounds reasonable.  If you are planning to create your own books, allow more time than seems reasonable for that too.  Pad your plan with ample time to complete each task. You can pat yourself on the back if you finish early, but it is no fun at all to feel like you are missing your own deadlines.  

Your final step in creating a practical plan for getting your project finished is scheduling your work time each day.  Mark your writing time on your calendar.  Then, mark the time you will devote to tasks associated with writing and getting published.

How much time are you planning to spend on your work every day? Notice, I did not ask IF you would work on your project every day.  The truth of the matter is that you will need to work at this each and every day in order to develop the habits it takes to be a professional writer.  It took me years to learn that lesson.  Once I accepted that being a creative person is not an excuse for sloppy work habits, I started producing consistently good work worthy of being shared.  This does not mean you need to devote 12 hours a day to writing, only that you must write consistently every day.  If you actually schedule that time, you are far more likely to demand that time for yourself and meet your own goals.

Following are two examples of a plan for completing projects.  The first is a plan for a major project, a novel.  The second is the plan for a short story.  I include these so that you can see how all this calendar marking and list making works.

Example 1:  One of my own major goals is to publish my planned book, The Ballad of Donny Granger , in hard copy, ebook and audio formats August 15, 2014.  That is almost a year away and I have another major project to complete before then. so I am not yet facing reminders for the tasks I will need to complete for Ballad.  I will begin actually writing the book (For the second time.  This is a resurrected project.) in November of this year.  I know I want the book illustrated by a real artist and have already begun considering illustrators for the project.  I will need to hire an illustrator by February 1.  I will need to get the completed book to my proofreader, editor and beta readers by June 1.  That means that between November 15, 2013 and June 1, 2014, I will need to write the book.  I will spend three or four  hours a day on the actual writing until that is done.  While the book is with the proofreader and beta readers, I will create the book's cover, title page and copy right page, dedication, table of contents and notes. When the book comes back from the proofreader and beta readers, I'll do the book's first revision and begin the layout process.  I will need to complete that by July 9 because that's when the book goes back to the proofreading editor for his final round with it. When he sends it back to me, if there are revisions to be made, I will have about a month to complete them before uploading the book to CreateSpace for publication and distribution. (I will upload around August 8 to allow a week for dealing with any problems that arise in that process before my August 15 publication goal.)   Immediately following (within 24 hours), I will adjust the layout for kindle and upload the book there for distribution and publication While the book is with my editor that last time, I will be spending five to eight hours each day creating the audio book so that it is ready to upload to ACX for publication and distribution within a day or two of the hard copy and ebook, so somewhere between August 6 and August 10.  I will begin PR for this project in June 2013.  Long before Ballad hits the market, there will be twitter and FB posts, diary entries on this blog.  My friends will share these posts as I have shared theirs.  I will create the content of these posts but my social media manager will deal with scheduling them. When the book is released, there will be launch parties, public readings, LOTS and LOTS of PR. There will also be promotional giveaways and a whole lot of glad-handing for free PR and product placement.  All of that  will be in my schedule too.  

A section of my Google Calendar in agenda form.

Example 2:  I plan to complete a short story in the next two weeks.  I started it a few days ago and will complete the first draft on or before September 27.  After a cursory revision of it, I will send it to my proofreader/editor for input from him by October 1 and he will return it by October 8.  Then, I will do a final revision before sending it back to him on October 15 for one more read-through.  It will be published by public performance on October 27 and in printed form as part of an anthology in September 2014.  


  1. Complete the calendar and/or list-making tasks above.  
  2. Set up reminders if you use an electronic calendar.  Make notes to yourself if you don't.  If it's a paper calendar, put it where you will see it each and every day.  
  3. Now that you have a plan, start living it.  Tomorrow will be the first day under a new writing regime, one you have designed yourself with your own realistic expectations.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Poet's Diary: All About Heat

It's HOT in Florida these days, but oddly not as hot as it often is in places further north.  Maybe it's the ocean breezes that keep us from completely melting.  It might also be the almost daily rainstorms which cool us off at least while the rain is falling and, when we are lucky, for an hour or so after it stops.  I remember days in Ohio when I really thought the heat would kill me.  Those were days when the mercury soared over 95, sometimes breaking 100.  It rarely passes 100 here.  In fact, I don't think it has in the 3+ years since I moved back to Florida.   Still, Florida summers can be rough, mostly owing to their length.  Seriously, summers here last for more months than a season.  You can count on the heat setting in sometime in April and lasting until sometime in October.  By "heat" I mean temps over 85.  Not that we don't sometimes have a summer day below 85 -- we do.  But they are rare and serve to remind us that, when the temps drop even a little, Florida really is Paradise.  

Speaking of heat, I believe there will be a poem soon about personal summers.  If you don't know what I refer to there, you are either a man or a women still young enough to have been spared first-hand knowledge of the the phenomena.  Let's just say change of life is changing my life in ways I could never have predicted. I think it needs a poem.  TMI, fellas?  You'll survive.  

And in other heat related news - Sizzle is soon to be published.  Layout is done.  I await corrections from one author and a head shot from another.  The lit mag will be ready to fly on August 1.  I am really, really excited about this publication.  Great stories and poems, fabulous art work, and a new layout in goggle drive. I hope you like it as much as I.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Poet's Journal: Focusing On Balls Already In The Air

A Poet's Progress is soon to publish Sizzle!  I am very pleased with the art, poems and stories it will contain. There are contributions from Eve Merrick-Williams and Amanda Z., to name just a couple of the folks involved.   I am in the final editing stages and will begin layout in a day or two.  Watch this page starting August 1 for more information.  

Sizzle has been a major focus these last few days.  So has Under The Sheets.  Illustrations have arrived from Vicki Barnes.  I am slowly doing what I believe will be the penultimate painstaking read-through of the text for the book.  So is my proofreader.  When she and I have finished this round of editing, I'll dive into lay-out.  Then, if all goes as planned, we'll do one more revision before publishing the book in mid-September.  It is a collection of short fiction, poetry and drama for the haunting season.  You can find some early recordings of some of the pieces included in Under The Sheets here.

In the last week, I have completed two new poems, Golden Mourning, and Boy Browsing at Paradise Beach, which will be included in Sizzle.  I am not writing any fiction at this time because I am trying like all heck not to have too many balls in the air at once.  That is one of my more frequently made mistakes.  I need to focus for a few months on getting these next three big projects published:  Sizzle, Under The Sheets, and Escape From Pig Hill.  All three are currently on schedule, even with a major change in the plan for Escape, but it will be a great relief to have them in the can, as it were, so that I can move on to the next big thing.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An Interview With Nat Russo

I met Nat Russo through the Facebook forum, Writers' Muse.  I was often impressed with his responses to questions and queries from other writers and followed his own posts with interest as he delved into the world of self-publishing.  in January, he published a thoughtful piece about his choices in that regard. Reading it led to this interview.  I feel like we have barely touched the surface with some of these questions. I look forward to more discussions with Nat and to the release of his upcoming novel, Necromancer Awakening.

The interview that follows was several weeks in the doing.  There were delays on both sides.  At long last, I am proud to introduce my readers to Nat Russo!  As always, I have edited no portion of the interview for content or length.  Where it seemed ethical to do so, I have corrected for spelling and punctuation.  

1.  I have to start with the basics.  How long have you been writing?  When and how did you realize you were good at it?  

I began writing as a Junior in High School. I started with an absolutely terrible bank heist story that I forced my poor Advanced Algebra teacher to read. After high school, and several years of writing technical papers for my bachelor's degree, I jumped back into creative writing. I was still horrible at it, but every time I started a new story I got a little better. In my early 30's I wrote a piece of comedy related to an online role-playing game that my friends and I played regularly. It went viral before "viral" was a thing, so I began to write creatively for my friends. It was always centered on gaming and it was in the form of a newsletter. But I conveyed the news through the mouths of the fictional characters that my friends played online. Everyone had a big laugh, so I kept on with it. It wasn't until I turned 40 that I decided to take my writing seriously. I threw myself into it, absorbing everything I could read on the subject, and it culminated in my first novel, Necromancer Awakening. I finished the first draft of Necromancer back in 2011, and I'm proud to say it's being published this May.

2  Speculative fiction.  The term can cover everything from Tolkien to Atwood to Heinlein.  Where does your work fall along the curve?  Which authors of speculative fiction have influenced you and your work?  

The biggest influence on my decision to write at all is Raymond E. Feist, author of the Riftwar Saga and more than 30 bestselling novels. He was the reason I became an avid Fantasy reader at the age of 12. Through the miracle of the internet, Ray and I managed to form an electronic friendship over the last 20 years, and I frequently ask him for advice on my writing (and single-malt scotch selections!). My fiction is what many label "Portal Fantasy," which is where you start with a main character in our "real" world. Then, by some turn of events, that character is transported to the fantasy milieu you've created, and the story becomes a traditional fantasy story. The difference is that the main character brings real world ideology along with him/her so it opens up the prose to some interesting metaphors. I don't tend to write "high" fantasy (elves, dwarves, etc), nor am I comfortable with writing explicit sex scenes. I'm probably in the center of the spectrum that runs from Tolkien on one end to George R.R. Martin on the other. While most of what I've written is Fantasy, as a speculative fiction writer it won't be much of a stretch for me to reach into the Science Fiction genre in the future, as I intend to do at some point.

2 .You've lived a lot of places.  I have as well.  Did the moves happen mostly in adulthood or did you move around as a child?  If so, what was the catalyst for that?  How did moving frequently affect your writing?  Does it come into the story lines?  Has it made it more difficult to write?  

Most of my moves took place as a child. I was blessed with older parents, and my dad retired from the New York City Housing Authority when I was 5 years old (he was 60). There was nothing tying my parents to a single location, and they had a bit of the wanderlust in them, so we moved around quite frequently. On average, we'd move every summer. We'd settle somewhere, I'd go through a complete school year, then the following summer we'd pick up the stakes and move again. The moves became less frequent as I grew into my teens, and there was always one city we gravitated back to: Prescott, Arizona. We managed to stay in Prescott long enough for me to finish all 4 years of high school and my first 2 years in college.

I didn't really begin writing until we had settled down, but I can't deny that frequent traveling informed my writing and sparked my imagination. By the time I was 10 years old I had grown used to a life where I had seen places that most of my friends had only read about or imagined. I would often have to describe those places to them in great detail. I have a feeling that helped.

3.  Tell me about central Texas from the point of view of  a guy who "writes about the ramifications of abuse of religious authority." And talk about your experience moving from New York to Arizona to TX.  (I also was born in NY, by the way and moved to New Orleans as a kid.  Now I am in Florida and lived a whole bunch of other places along the way.)

Central Texas is unlike what most people imagine when they think about Texas or the South in general. The Austin city slogan is "Keep Austin Weird," so that probably gives you some idea of what it's like. Politically and religiously, central Texas tends to be on the liberal side of the equation. By the time I landed in Texas, my relationship with the church (Catholic) had already become so eroded because of my personal experiences that I no longer practiced my religion with any regularity.

Moving from New York to Arizona was a strange experience for a child of Italian descent. In Prescott, people didn't know what to make of me. The white kids assumed I was Mexican, so I didn't fit in with them. The Mexican kids knew I wasn't Mexican, so I didn't fit in with them either. The end result was that growing up was a bit of a challenge. I was a poor kid in a rich community with an ethnic background that no one understood. On top of that, I was an only child. I have half-brothers and half-sisters, but they're all much older than me, so they weren't around while I was growing up. I had to learn how to entertain (and protect) myself.  Books provided just the escape I needed.

4.  Connect the dots for me.  You studied to be a Benedictine priest but became a police officer and, later, defense contractor, now an author.  How did one phase lead to the next and how have they collectively changed your writing?  

The only place I really felt welcomed and at home while growing up was the Church. It was the one constant in the sea of change that was my life. The Mass was celebrated the same way no matter where we traveled, so no matter where we ended up, there was always something familiar. In my second year of college I felt as if I had a religious calling to the priesthood, so I dropped out of the Aeronautical Engineering program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and applied for admittance into the seminary. It was a grueling process, and my local diocese turned me down the first time. I started looking at different religious orders and wound up being accepted by the Legionaries of Christ in 1990. I think that was the first time I was exposed to massive abuses of religious authority. I went through several months of psychological abuse at the hands of people who were supposed to be fundamentally trustworthy. Eventually I had enough of it and left. That six-month time period could be a book in itself.

In the subsequent months, my original diocese, the Diocese of Phoenix, accepted me into their seminary program. My bishop at the time, Thomas O'Brien, had attended St. Meinrad Archabbey Seminary when he was a seminarian, so he sent me there along with several other new seminarians. St. Meinrad Archabbey is a Benedictine Monastery as well as a seminary, so this was my first exposure to the Benedictine Monks. I have nothing but fond memories of my two-year stay at St. Meinrad, and even to this day I feel that if the world had more Benedictine monks in it, it would be a nicer place to live.

I left the seminary because I ultimately decided to get married and start a family. Unfortunately, as a Catholic, had I been ordained to the priesthood I would have had to take a vow of celibacy. So I fell back on my second career choice, which was law enforcement. Growing up as a teenager, I had done a lot of volunteer work for the local Yavapai County Sheriff's Department. Given my prior experience with them, and the black belt in Tang Soo Do I had achieved, It was a natural fit, so I joined the police force. Several years later, after I had met the girl who is now my wife, I left the police force and followed her up to Northern Arizona University, where I completed the Philosophy degree I had begun in the Seminary.

My degree landed me a job interview for an entry-level IT position at a Department of Defense laboratory in Austin, Texas. That led to a career in software development, which I still practice to this day.

By 2006, every non-Benedictine priest who I had grown close to...close enough to want to model my own ministry after...had either been laicized (removed from the priesthood) or arrested and imprisoned during the massive abuse scandal that happened around that time. The ones who didn't fall into those two categories had left the Church completely. It was as if someone had pulled the carpet out from under my life. What had been the foundation of my identity was now demolished and unrecognizable. It took me many years to process it all, and it culminated in my first novel, Necromancer Awakening.

5.  Is there a piece of work that makes you proud to think of?  

I'm most proud of the one and only book I have managed to finish so far, Necromancer Awakening. It explores a lot of the philosophy I'm attracted to through fictional characters in a fantasy universe. It also explores the good and bad sides of the priesthood and what can happen when we place a human being so high up on a pedestal that we consider them "holy" or "infallible".

6.  We all have pieces  we would be happy to disown.  How has that work been good for you and your writing?  

Every time I've put the proverbial pen to paper, my skills have improved, even if the result was work I'm not particularly fond of. From time to time I come across a story I wrote 20 or more years ago, and I can't even get through a couple of paragraphs before I have to put it down. But each failure was a success, because it taught me how not to write a story.

7.  I am aware you recently decided to self-publish a book.  Is it your first?  Tell me about the book?  

Necromancer Awakening is the first book I've managed to not only complete, but to polish into a publishable state. As we speak, my cover artist is putting the final touches on some custom artwork that I commissioned, and I expect to publish the book in May. The book was a vehicle for me to highlight the dark side of religious authority, while also emphasizing the good aspects in a positive light. It juxtaposes people's perception of good and evil. In my life journey I've found that what we often initially perceive as good can actually be quite bad. And vice-versa. To get to the heart of the matter, I believe we have to be critical thinkers. Yes, we religious people have to be men and women of Faith. But we also have intellect. And I think when we emphasize one over the other, that's when things go sideways for us. I went through a period of time in my life when the Church could do no wrong. I later went through a time when the Church could do no good. I think I've finally arrived at a place where I recognize that divinely inspired or no, religion is a human endeavor, and there's going to be both good and evil involved. I still have some work to do before I'll be able to attend mass regularly again, but writing about it certainly helps.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A New Poem: Golden Mourning by Stephanie Mesler

Golden Mourning was created as part of a Promptly Erotic Workshop in Second Life.
The prompt was this picture from Debra Kelly Makeup Pinterest page.

Golden Mourning
by Stephanie Mesler

The sun invades too early, changing sterile white to blinding gold.
My own pale hands, yellowed in this light --
The spot next to me vacant a year to the day,
loss ferments in my gut, so much virulent anguish.
How to commemorate the day that dares to start with saffron glory
when it should have been the day the world ends?
I have prepared to face this day assuming it would rain,
that the sky would be black with clouds and the streets filled with dirty water.  
But here I stand, looking out the window toward the hill where you are buried,  
naked except for this unnatural auric glaze.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Poet's Progress is FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

It took more than a week, but A Poet's Progress has escaped the clutches of Ipage, those incompetents.  I have parked my domain for the time being and come home to Blogger where things seem to work amazingly well, requiring very little of me in terms of customer service wrangling.  I am a happy writer.  

I imagine it will take a few days for the old site to completely disappear, though I officially pulled the plug earlier this morning, once I was certain all content had been successfully stowed elsewhere.  Interestingly, in the 9 months or so I had the site hosted by that commercial webhost, readership actually dropped.  I had expected it to rise.  Go figure.  

Today is the day I get super-serious about Escape From Pig Hill illustrations.  I look forward to this part of the project though it challenges me in ways the writing itself does not.  I'll also be joining some other writers for support later today and, this evening, leading a writer's workshop.  At some point, I plan also to actually write.  Novel concept, huh?