At a loss for words…

Right now, I’m laying in a hotel bed typing this column on my iPhone. That’s one of the magical things about writing. Writers are sort of like time travelers. I’m communicating with the future. Originally, I had a column about April being National Poetry Month and why I don’t like writing poetry. I know what you’re going to ask, “But Jim, haiku you say that?”

Well, you’ll never read that column because someone stole my laptop. That’s right, you read that correctly. I don’t like reading or writing poetry. Seriously though, someone stole my laptop. I am literally out of words. Somehow, somewhere, Alanis Morissette is laughing.

The sad thing was that it wasn’t just my things that were taken. I was with my sister’s family in Fort Wayne attending the Christian concert Winter Jam. We got out to our vehicle and that’s when we found that someone had broken in and stole all the ibuprofen and electronics. They even took my sisters broken prescription glasses. I’m not sure if the thieves were being funny by taking the ibuprofen or if they were doing it strictly for drugs. By stealing the laptop and my nieces and nephews tablets, they caused a real headache.

Some of you might be wondering why I’m making jokes at a time like this. Mainly, it’s a defense mechanism of mine that some can find annoying. I understand, but at times like these my humor is all I have. That, and my intense hatred for Michigan.

As a writer, this theft left me staggering and speechless. They stole my livelihood. Everything I had written was on that laptop. That brand new, 15.6 inch Lenovo laptop that I’d worked to save up to buy. It may have only been about $400, but to a writer that’s a lot. A little known fact about writers: we’re not that rich. Worse than that though, they stole my hard work. I’d been editing a book for my publisher, Burning Willow Press, LLC. It was my second book I’ve edited for them. To say that I worked extremely hard to edit this thing would be an understatement. I had promised the Vice President of the company that I’d have that book back, edits completed, by the end of March. I wrote him an email tonight explaining what happened and that I was going to have to break my promise. There would be no way for me to complete the edits have them back by then. Even though I didn’t purposely break my promise, I’m still ashamed to have to tell him that I failed to live up to my word.

But, even worse than that. They stole my ideas. Snatched right from my head. Everything I’ve written is on that laptop. Sure, most of that is backed up on an external hard drive so it’s not gone forever. That doesn’t change the fact that all of my ideas, all of my personal thoughts and creative content is in the hands of another person, a thief. I feel downright violated.

And there isn’t anything I can do about it.

I want to spring into action with a “particular set of skills” and track down the bandits and show them why they should have stayed in Michigan where they belong. I want to quell the sadness I and the rest of my family felt. Also, that insecure feeling of knowing a stranger had rifled through your things. That feeling that your safe, comfortable, secure bubble had just been popped by the sharp prick of a thief’s needle. I can do none of those things, however.

It was my younger nephew that spoke up and said that it was actually a blessing and a test from God. He went on further explaining that we didn’t really need the things that were stolen. The things we really needed were left behind.

Now, let me tell you something. Hearing someone, doesn’t matter the age, tell you that you never really needed that laptop isn’t an easy thing to accept. How can that person know this? They don’t understand that it isn’t just games and files on that laptop. I couldn’t tell you how many evenings I’ve spent hunched over that thing typing out words or editing that book. I wanted to tell my younger nephew that he was wrong, that to me, that laptop was practically my life.

It was at that thought, that laptop was practically my life, that I knew I was wrong and he was right. It was such a selfish thought. Sure, I’ve suffered a setback. Sure, I’ve broken a promise. Sure, I live about an hour south of Michigan. But at least our vehicle wasn’t damaged beyond repair. At least they didn’t take my prescription blood thinners. At least they didn’t steal our clothes.

Here’s the best at least of them all: At least we left the parking lot together and unharmed.

There are worse things than having your laptop stolen. Living in Michigan for example.

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My newest book release and following your gift

On Saturday, Feb. 2, my third book is being released by Burning Willow Press, LLC (BWP). They are a phenomenal company that cares about the quality of the books they publish. It can be purchased at a variety of places, but if you search “The Book of Ashley, James Master” on Amazon.com you’ll find it easily. Enough of the shameless promotion though.
I watched a video of Steve Harvey while hiding inside my home during the polar vortex on Wednesday. He talked about how you should follow your gift and not your passion.
“All of you have this gift, identify it. It’s the thing that you do the absolute best with the least amount of effort. That’s what you should be doing. You’re wasting your time pursuing your passion,” Harvey said.
If I’d watch this video a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have understood this message. Up until a few years ago, my passion was playing video games. I’d spend hours playing them, didn’t matter what game it was. Admittedly, I was pretty terrible at esports or other competitive video games. That ruled out playing video games on a professional level. I was terrible at computer programming, ruling out creating video games.
I spent so much time and money trying to follow my passion instead of following my gift. Making the choice to follow my gift, my life has been changed. I have a better paying job, several published works, and an interesting side job with a really great publishing company.
Some of you may be thinking, “but Jim, don’t you work for BWP? Doesn’t that make you biased?” The answer is… sure, maybe a little. For full disclosure, I will state for the record that I am a contracted author for seven books with BWP as well as an editor for them. I also work in the submissions department which typically entails reading submissions and giving my opinion on whether they would be a good fit underneath the BWP umbrella.
Having said all of that, I don’t believe that it would change my view on the publishing company. If anything, this relationship has strengthened my view on BWP. If you ever get a chance to talk with Edd Sowder, VP of the company, you’ll come to the same conclusion I’ve reached. This man loves four things: his wife Kindra (author and BWP President), his company, his coffee, and his authors. You can typically find Edd on the Writer Imperfect Twitch stream that airs Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If you don’t watch Twitch or don’t know what that is, then go to YouTube and search Writer Imperfect with Joshua Robertson.
Enough about Burning Willow Press, LLC though. Let’s talk about my newest release. For those that might be interested, The Book of Ashley is the third book in my series, The Soul Eater Chronicles. The whole series is based around demons, monsters, and the holy crusader that stands against the darkness. When people ask me what kind of genre the series falls in, I typically call it “Religious Horror.” Basically, if you like monsters, demons, and books about good fighting against evil then these books might be for you.
This will be the third book I’ve had published. I’ve also had three short stories that I’ve had published in anthologies. All of them with BWP. Every time I publish something, there’s this triumphant feeling of accomplishment. It’s a feeling I’ve never experienced while playing video games.
I know that last week’s rant might have seemed like I didn’t exactly like my profession. Which is totally the opposite. I do not regret one word that I’ve written in the last five years of being a news writer/author. I am so grateful to be doing what I’m doing for a living. There’s nothing else I could possibly see myself doing. Well, maybe I’d be doing something in the dining service/gas station arena. I sure wouldn’t like it, whatever it would be.
“A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, or because everything she does is golden. A writer is a writer because, even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway,” said Junot Diaz, professor of writing and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008.
Even if I was still working in a gas station or as a supervisor of a café at a college, I’d still be a writer. Even if I received rejection after rejection, I’d still be a writer. Even if I had absolutely zero training in the craft, I’d still be a writer. Even if I lived in Michigan, I’d still be a writer (because if I lived there, I’d need something to take my mind off the fact that I lived in Michigan).
Identify your gift and follow it. It doesn’t mean that you must abandon your passion. I still play video games, but I’m not focusing my time on it.

When the End isn’t really the End

So here we are at the end of 2018. For me, it’s been a year of some really great moments. Of course, like the roller coasters at Six Flags once taught me, what goes up must come down. Fortunately, it seems that 2018 was filled with more ups than down.

Side note, I’d like to apologize to the people in the row behind me for that incident I had during the ride. Turns out roller coasters and chili dogs when you’re a ten-year old kid don’t quite mix.

The good thing about the end of the year is that there’s another one immediately as soon as the prior year ends. You also don’t have to wait for it to come out. The same can’t be said for books.

I have this friend (despite the rumors, I do have friends) that buys books as presents. We were walking through Barnes and Nobles before Christmas and he was looking for a book for his father. He ended up getting two or three from the same series. When I asked if his father liked the series, my friend said he’d never read the series. He went on to say that when he buys books, he often purchases the whole series or a few books from the series because if they like the book then they can immediately continue on with the next.

I’ve come across another issue with series. Specifically my own book series. Sometimes when I’m trying to get people to buy my book, they ask if they’re part of a series. When I reply that they are, they often say the following: “Well, I might read them when the entire series is published. That way I don’t have to wait for next one to come out.”

So, for this last Mastering the Craft of 2018, it’s Dec. 27 when I’m writing this, I’d like to discuss some advantages/disadvantages of writing a book series.

Advantages:

• The story you write can be much longer than if it was a single book. By stretching your plot out between six or seven books you can develop characters and include more detailed side plots for characters. Book series like The Dark Tower comes into mind. If Stephen King had written one single book about Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower, King might not have been able to really develop the characters Eddie, Jake, and Susannah. Which would have been a shame because those characters really are intriguing and only help to enrich the overall story.

• You really shouldn’t be in the writing business for the money. Strictly speaking, being an author isn’t that profitable unless you’re a King, Patterson, Rowling, etc… Writing should be about loving what you do and not loving the money you may gain from it. However, if you’re able to profit from your books, then writing a longer series may be worth it. Look at J.K. Rowling. She’s published seven books in her series. Mathematically, she earns more money from seven books than she would if she’d written one to three novels.

• Publishers tend to look more for series than single books. The reasoning I said above applies here as well.

Disadvantages:

• You could die before the series is completed. Sure, I could have built up to this disadvantage, but I thought I’d begin with the absolute worst. So fans of Game of Thrones are waiting for George R.R. Martin to keel over at any moment and leave his series incomplete. I’m sure if you search on the internet there are many articles that have been written on the subject. Shoot, Weird Al Yankovic even involved this in a parody of his. Stephen King almost died in 1999 when he was struck by a vehicle. If he had died that day, his Dark Tower series would’ve been incomplete leaving fans with only questions.

• You could have your series completed by another author. I know some of you might think this is worse, but the first one involves death. Of course, if the author that takes over your series is awful, then that would mean the death of your series. So… maybe that’s worse. An author’s books are his/her legacy. Having another author taint your legacy with their writing style is equal to dying and not completing it yourself. Tom Clancy is a great example. You’ll notice that even though Clancy is long since dead, his series goes on with “Tom Clancy’s” in front of every book. Disclaimer: I’m not stating that all those books are rubbish. I’m only questioning whether or not Clancy would want this happening. You’ll notice I didn’t include a James Patterson joke. I’ve grown up a bit.

• So you’ve decided to write a book series. Awesome! Except, you don’t really need to write a series. Your plot could easily fit into one or two books, but you’re determined to stretch it out into five or six books and call it “The (fill in the blank) Chronicles” or the “(fill in the blank) Series).” The outcome is that all your books are pretty short in length and even shorter in character/plot substance. If you ever do get the books accepted by a publisher it’ll be a miracle. But then again, James Patterson gets his books published so publishing miracles must be a dime a dozen. 

Hmm…. Guess I didn’t grow up that much.

Remember folks, when you’re writing a book and decide to make it a series you need to do two things. The first is to consider where your characters want to go, do, and how they’ll grow as characters. If your characters are the same as when they began then it might prove as a boring book series. The second thing you have to ask yourself is: Is my story meant to be a series? Ask yourself if you have the mental fortitude to lock yourself in for a few years as you write all the books in your series. If you don’t know the answers to these questions then maybe a book series isn’t right for your story. Try writing just one book and if you have plots incomplete then go forth with another book.

Have a Happy New Year and I’ll see you all in 2019! Unless, of course, assassins from Patterson and/or Michigan don’t get to me first. I tend to make enemies whenever I write these rants.

It Ends at the Beginning

“Ka is a wheel.” This saying can be found throughout The Dark Tower series written by Stephen King. The saying basically means that everything that goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. If you’ve ever read the full series by King, I’d suggest it, you know that this simple saying has more meaning behind it.

There’s a type of plot that’s pretty similar to this saying. This style is actually very, very old. Like a couple centuries ago. Well, maybe a bit longer than that, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s really ancient. Written at the tale-end of the 8th Century B.C., The Odyssey was written by Homer and is the second-oldest extant work of Western literature. For those Jeopardy fanatics out there, the answer to what is the oldest is “What is the Illiad, Alex.” 

Just so you know, if you win the gameshow because of this answer, I’d like more than just a copy of the home game. To me, I think 10 percent of the overall winnings sounds pretty fair. Checks can be mailed to James Master or made out to cash. I also accept PayPal.

The plot centers on a person, our hero or protagonist, that leaves his/her home in order to accomplish something and when that’s done he/she has to come home.Typically when they come home, if the story is written well, the hero will have changed in some way.

There are so many stories out there that still utilize this type of plot. Not satisfied with that statement? What, you want some proof? Fine, here you go:

The Lord of the Rings (Overall book series): Sure, it took awhile but J.R.R. Tolkien finally got Frodo and Sam to Mordor and tossed that little ring of evil into the lava. Oh, oops, spoiler alert. If you’ve not read or watched it, then I’ll spoil another thing for you: all Sam and Frodo can talk about is returning home to the Shire. Now, that could just be because they were in Mordor which isn’t the typical vacationing spot. I sympathize with Frodo and Sam every time I visit Michigan. And when they do return, they’re more appreciative of the Shire. They’re changed Hobbits that realize that the world is larger than they thought.

Wizard of Oz: “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore Toto.” You know, I identify with Dorothy. Sometimes I’ll be driving with my friends and it’s dark, but since we’re dudes the stereotype is never to admit that we’re lost. You know, that old chestnut. Anyway, when we see a sign for Niles, MI then that’s when I feel lost like Dorothy. I’m not sure if my friends identify with a dog, a heartless tin man, a cowardly lion, and a brainless scarecrow. I just know I’m the Dorothy in the group. Hmm, in retrospect, claiming that I’m a little girl might have been weird. However, she kills witches so there you go. She’s also torn from her home, whisked away by a tornado, survives, kills a witch with her house, and then goes on another quest to kill yet another witch. Why does she do this? Oh that’s right, she wants to return home and face the consequences of Toto chowing down on that lady that looks like the witch that she just killed. With water. Say what you want, Dorothy is the Sam Jackson of 1900.

Taken: Before you stop reading, just go with me here for a second. Imagine you’re a retired CIA agent that used to be really awesome, but then retired so he could try and piece back the family life his old job helped to shatter. Now, his daughter gets kidnapped while backpacking through Europe. Side note, that’s why I don’t go backpacking. I don’t want to be kidnapped and sold to human traffickers. That’s another reason I don’t travel to Michigan. Everybody I know tells me it won’t happen to me, but they don’t know man. They don’t know. Anyhoo, now once that agent learns about his daughter’s disappearance, he has to take matters into his own hands and dust off those “particular set of skills” and return home with his daughter. How she was able to return home without a passport is beyond me though. You know what that agent receives on going home? A hug from his daughter. Everything he ever wanted.

So, if you’re writing a story that has this theme of a hero leaving and then returning back to his/her old life just make sure they learn something and grow as a character. Because you don’t want to have them experience all that pain and suffering without some kind of reward. Like when I last traveled up to Kalamazoo….

I’m not too sure why I’m bashing so hard on Michigan. Maybe’s it’s because I’m sick and tired of hearing Tim Allen talk about how “pure” the state is. If it’s so pure Mr. Allen, then why’s the water like that!?

But in the end, does it matter?

There are certain shows that I could binge watch for days. To name a few: The Office (US Version), Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, but there’s one that’s my go-to favorite, Supernatural. If you’ve never seen the show, it’s about two brothers that save people while hunting monsters. One of the things I like about the show is that it pokes fun at itself at times. There’s an author in the series called Chuck that writes a book series about the brothers. You guessed it, the book series is called Supernatural. During one of the episodes starring Chuck, he talks about writing endings.

“Endings are hard,” Chuck begins. “Any [censored] monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end, but you never can. The fans are always gonna [complain]. There’s always gonna be holes. And since since it’s the ending, it’s all supposed to add up to something. I’m telling you, they’re a raging pain in the [censored].”

Obviously, I can’t say all the expletives here so I censored them. But Chuck’s point is still a valid one. Endings are hard and sometimes even impossible. Maybe that’s why Supernatural has been around even before the CW. Seriously look it up, the show’s been running longer than the company has. 

But in the end, it doesn’t even matter.

Sure, I could simply be referencing an ancient lyric from the band Linkin Park simply for nostalgia’s sake. But have you, my loyal readers, ever known me to do that? 

Back to my point, does it matter that all the plot-holes are covered and that all the loose ends are tied? And does the end have to mean something?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Because literature imitates life. Mimesis is the representation or imitation of the real word. Mimesis comes from the Greek word mimeisthai which means to imitate. In his Physics (350BCE) Aristotle writes that “he techne mimeitai ten physin.” For those that don’t have Google Translate, that phrase means “Art imitates nature.”

If you need another metaphor that’s more from a literature nature, check out Shakespeare’s drama “Hamlet” and what the title character says about the subject: “the purpose of [drama], whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ‘there the mirror up to nature.”

Even when you’re reading about a monster, you’re reading about the real life. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein isn’t really about a monster, it’s about a mad scientist trying to conquer nature. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is really about conquering diseases. I once wrote a college paper about Dracula and cholera. It was fascinating, but unfortunately failed to spread.

Sometimes we go through life and things don’t make sense. Those things are the plot holes of our life. Have you ever went through life and finished something, but there were issues that were unresolved? Those are the loose ends that weren’t tied. When my nine-year long marriage ended and the divorce was finalized, I was left with feelings of regret, guilt, and unresolved issues. At the time, I felt like I had reached the end of the book. Now I realize that it was only the end of a chapter.

What is the meaning of Life? That’s the age old question. It’s a question that Humanity will never solve, but will always try to find an answer.

We all try to find out the answer in our own ways. Chemists, theologians, biologists, mathematicians, and other professions try to define and explain life. As writer’s we explain life in our own particular method.

Good authors write what they know. Sometimes that includes endings that don’t make sense. Sometimes that includes an unsatisfactory ending, but it’s the best ending for that particular story. Sometimes you get to the end of the book and only questions remain. Why’d that happen? What ever happened to that character? Will they ever get back together?

Life is messy and doesn’t make sense at times. A good story imitates life. There’s a saying that you should “write what you know.” However, I’d suggest that you don’t write what you know. As a writer, explore what the meaning of life could be, what it means to you, or what you would like it to be. 

That way, in the end, it does really matter.

What makes a “good” ending?

Just before I started writing this, I watched the first trailer for the upcoming film Avengers: Endgame. It looks to be as good or better than Avengers: Infinity War. If you’re not a superhero or Marvel Comics fan then please bear with me for a few more sentences. In the first few lines of the trailer, Tony Stark (Ironman) states that “part of the journey is the end.”

To me that strikes true. Seldom do readers really appreciate the end of a book. If the novel was especially endearing to that reader, the reader might be very sad or angry about it ending. There have been a few times in my life when I turned that final page and found no more words, only the back cover. Each of those times I sat there looking at the back cover thinking “What? That can’t be the end.”

Some readers might sit there appreciating the ending because it was so perfect. I’ve had that experience only once or twice. You sit sit there thinking about the story and the fact that there was only one real way to tie everything together and that’s the one the author wrote. Such an ending is unique and should be cherished. When I first read Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” I rushed through the book in one weekend. It’s a fairly large book, totaling in around 845 pages. It came out in 2004 and at that point I was still living at home. I remember spending most of that weekend on the couch. For those that don’t know, “The Dark Tower” finished King’s seven book epic tale of Roland and his quest to save the Dark Tower from the evil Crimson King. The series started in 1982 and finished 32 years later. It wasn’t just a series that King created, but a universe. We all know that the Marvel films are entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Those seven books are the backbone of the King Literary Universe (KLU sounds a bit dull but I work with what I’m given). 

I knew when I started the book that some of the main characters were going to die. King is very merciless when it comes to the survival of his characters. When it came to execute those characters, and die they did, I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried. Sure, I just graduated high school and therefore an adult male. I cried at each and every death as if I actually knew them.

Endings are powerful things and need to be handled responsibly. Like Uncle Ben once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I know, I said no more comic book references after that last one. It’s true though. 

But how should authors handle that power? Well… you’ll just have to tune in next week because this is just the introduction to a new series I’m writing that discusses What Makes a Good Ending. I figured that it would an appropriate time to write the series since it’s the end of 2018. For now, let me leave you with a quote from “The Dark Tower” written by the King himself.

“There is no such thing as a happy ending. I never met a single one to equal ‘Once upon a time.’ Endings are heartless. Ending is just another word for goodbye.”

Welcome back to the Crossroads

What happens when we die? 

It’s a question that cannot be answered by man, so far anyway. And until that riddle’s been solved all we’re left with are theories. Some believe that nothing happens and our memories, thoughts, and our personality just stop when our bodies finally give out. I’m not sure if I like that theory. Maybe it’s because I refuse to think all of my efforts and time, while insignificant in the larger scope of the universe, simply don’t matter.

Another theory is that death is but a door to another higher plane of existence. Call it what you like: Heaven, the afterlife, Valhalla, the void. Every religion has some place where the soul goes when the body perishes. Often, there’s a good place (heaven) and a bad place (hell) depending on the actions of the soul during its duration on earth. 

The final theory I’ll discuss (there are plenty more, but I don’t have all day) is a combination of the two above mentioned theories. If you take the idea of no plane of existence and combine it with the idea of a soul, what do you get?

Well, you actually get two things:

1. Ghosts

2. A good story.

The souls of those that died, released by the death of their mortal bodies, forever to wander the earth searching for the lives that they once cherished. Ghost stories can be found in every part of the world. Often, ghosts don’t travel far from where they lived when they still had physical bodies. Ghosts are sometimes sent as messengers to those in need of some guidance (Ebenezer Scrooge for example). Sometimes, ghosts are jealous entities that terrorize the living. Sometimes their friendly ghosts (I’m looking at you Casper). 

What I’m trying to get across to you is that whatever your comfort level is, there is a ghost story for you. There’s no better way to figure out what kind of ghost stories you like than purchasing the new anthology by Burning Willow Press.

Crossroads in the Dark IV: GHOSTS is a collection of short stories developed in hopes of bringing awareness to suicide prevention around the world. While the stories do not tell of suicide, they do tell of GHOSTS. For whom are the ghosts that haunt us daily? What are the remains of an otherwise perfect life ended far too soon? Which are the people who we find hardest to move forward from when we lose them? The easy answer is the ones we failed to save. 

For those that haven’t read the last three CRITD anthologies, welcome.

For those that have, welcome back to the crossroads.

• Forward by Lily Luchesi, author of the “Paranormal Detective” series.

Stories by:

Kerry Alan Denney

Alice J. Black

Michael Schutz

Kindra Sowder

James Master (that’s me)

Frank Martin

L. Bachman

Carol Browne

C.C. Adams

Mirren Hogan

Erin Yoshikawa

Peter Oliver Wonder

Rachel de la Fuente

W.T. Watson

Cindy Johnson

• James Crawford

Nikki Collins-Mewha

Kevin Wimer

Brian G. Murray

– Lloyd Kerns

Edd Sowder