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.

Writing Myths: “It’s such an easy gig.”

When people tell me that writing is easy, I have two reactions. The first reaction, my outward reaction, is that I often chuckle and say sure it is. The second reaction, the one I scream inside my head about, is the exact opposite. Being a writer, especially an author, is an exceedingly difficult job with little thanks. You know, if I’m being perfectly blunt, writing is incredibly difficult. If you’re not a writer then I’ll briefly explain my writing process in terms of a news writer and an author. Then you can decide whether I’m justified in my ranting or just a crazy nutjob that shouldn’t be writing anything at all.

For example, I cover government meetings and write articles based on what happens during the meeting. Sometimes, as in the case of a BZA meeting I attended last year, the meetings can last more than one, two, or three hours. Not only do you have to be furiously scribbling notes the entire time, but you also have to be able to sit still for that long. You better hope that you aren’t predisposed to blood clots (like I am). Then when you get back into the office, you have to set about the task of writing that article. Do you break it apart into separate articles? Do you leave something out or include something out of fear that the reader calls and complains because that issue wasn’t in the article? Especially at government meetings, you have to make sure that all the names are correctly spelled. Believe me, there are sometimes when I have to fight with autocorrect because it’ll change a name three times. You’ll also want to make sure that you leave your opinions and bias out of the article. I can’t tell you how annoying, frustrating, and grating it is to hear the term “fake news” applied to your article.

Then you submit it to your editor who reads it, edits it, and puts it into the paper. If the article is a sensitive subject, if you’re like me, you’re going to be walking on glass for the next day or two because you think someone is going to come in and complain about it. And sometimes they do. Or sometimes they send anonymous letters to the office or leave voicemails venting their own frustrations about the article. I love feedback as much as the next writer, but at least have the common courtesy to leave your name. I like to put a name to the punching bag I have at home.

But that’s just my thoughts on news writing. Let’s talk about what book writers go through.

Writers work hard to do what they do. We sit behind a computer screen and pour that combination of imagination, blood, and a pinch of our soul into a piece of work that may never see the light of day. Even if we finish, sometimes we don’t, that’s not when a writer can relax. Once we have completed our work, we have to literally tear it to shreds line by line, word by word. Writing is tough, but editing is soul crushing work.

Even when a writer is finished editing, you might want to submit it to a publisher. Did you know that most publishers have a response time of months? Once that writer submits, they’re checking their inbox almost hourly. Don’t deny it writers, you can’t con a conman. And when you finally get that response saying that your book has been accepted, that means you can sit back and watch those fat royalty checks come in? Maybe if you’re a Stephen King or James Patterson. Let’s be honest, you’re not. I’m not either so we’re even.

Now it’s a waiting game. The publisher isn’t going to put your book in the front of the publishing schedule. Imagine walking into the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. It’s a packed Saturday and you enter to find fifty other people sitting down with tickets in their hands. So you walk over to the ticket machine and grab yours. After waiting patiently, you get another email. This time it’s from the publisher’s editor who has painstakingly picked the corpse of your book clean. Now you have to go through the book and change everything the editor has commented on.

After that is done, you send the edited version back. That’s where the fun begins because there’s the cover to approve, the author bio to write, the formatting to approve, you have to find people to read an advanced readers copy so that they can leave reviews at the time of the release, there’s the online release party to organize (if you have one), then all the other promotional things to market your book.

Once the book does get released, then you’re trying to juggle promotions, getting reviews, and then also writing the next book.

Do you all want to know the common denominator between being a news writer and being a novel writer other than, you know, writing? We don’t get paid that well. Having worked four years at my day job as a news writer I believe I’m paid rather well, but that’s because I’ve put in the time and effort to get there. As an author of three books and a few short stories, I think I’ve made about the equivalent of a PlayStation 3. In today’s market.

Well Jim, you might ask, why do you do it if you hate this profession so much?

To be perfectly honest, I love this job. I love being a news writer and being able to witness events that will reverberate through the communities I live in. Writing news, I feel like I’m part of the community even though I’m an introvert at heart. I couldn’t stop writing novels and short stories even if I wanted to. It’s something that’s ingrained in my soul. Even if my books are shoddy, which I tend to lean towards even though people say otherwise, I’ll still write them.

So when people tell me that “your job is so easy.” Sure it may seem that way, but it’s not. If anyone tells you differently, that’s when you can say “fake news.”

Freedom of Speech, but what about the Freedom to Write?

As Americans, we celebrated the Fourth of July this past Wednesday. The day is meant to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It was 242 years ago that 13 colonies of the British Empire declared themselves free and formed the United States of America. Since that time, men and women have fought and died for the country. Because of their sacrifice, the rest of us enjoy a list of freedoms. Some examples include the freedom of the press, religion, speech, right to assemble peaceably, the right to bear arms, and many others. 

Now I know that in this current political climate there is much discussion about getting rid of some of these rights (the right to bear arms primarily). I could rant about that at another time. What I’m going to rant about is the freedom to read. 

Every year, the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles a list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books. The intent of this list is to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The OIF base this list from media stories and voluntary challenge reports that are sent to the OIF. In 2017, the OIF tracked 354 challenges to library, school, and university materials. There were 416 books that were challenged or banned in 2017. Below is the list of the top ten most challenged books. Some may surprise you.

1. “Thirteen Reasons Why” written by Jay Asher. It was challenged because it discusses suicide. You all might recognize the title from the Netflix series that’s based from the book.

2. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” written by Sherman Alexie. Even though it was a National Book Award winner, it was challenged due to profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.

3. “Drama” written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier. It received the Stonewall Honor Award and was challenged because it includes LGBT characters. 

4. “The Kite Runner” written Khaled Hosseini. This novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to lead to terrorism and the promotion of Islam.

5. “George” written by Alex Gino. This Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it included a transgender child.

6. “Sex is a Funny Word” written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth. This children’s book was challenged because it addressed sex education.

7. “To Kill a Mockingbird” written by Harper Lee. This Pulitzer Prize novel was challenged and banned due to violence and the usage of racist language.

8. “The Hate U Give” written by Angie Thomas. This book was challenged and banned in school libraries due to vulgarity, drug use, profanity, and offensive language. 

9. “And Tango Makes Three” written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole. This book was challenged due to it featuring a same-sex relationship.

10. “I Am Jazz” written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas. This autobiographical picture book co-written by the 13 year old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.

I think it’s really interesting to see the reasons why these books are challenged by the public. You can go to ala.org and look at each list by the year. Two years ago Fifty Shades of Grey and The Holy Bible were on this list. Now it’s populated with books that address sexual identity and violence. Again, I could talk forever about the way American viewpoints change yearly based solely on these lists. 

For example, in 2001 the most challenged book was the Harry Potter series due to topics of anti-family, occult, religious viewpoints, and violence. That same year Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings were on the list.

As an author, book censorship is a very interesting issue. When you’re writing a book you’re trying to stay true to the characters and the plot itself. When you’re editing, you have to think about the content and how it would sit with the readers. Will the readers love it or will they rebuke it and never read anything from you ever again? I’m just a lowly author that only has a few books and short stories to his name. What I write might just determine the success of my future works. There’s a fine balance. Surely, bigger named authors don’t have this problem right?

I read in an article from The Salt Lake Tribune last week that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name is being stripped from an award named after her. The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) created a book award named after Laura Ingalls Wilder. The award was meant to honor the highly respected author. She was the first person to receive the award. 

The issue surrounding the stripping of her name is due to her book series, “Little House on the Prairie,” which was written in 1935. Since 1952, there were complaints of offensive statements about Native Americans. Late June of this year the ALSC voted to strip her name from the award.

Look, I’m not going to win any awards or have awards named after me (the Master Award for Literary Awesomeness does have a nice ring to it), but this is absurd. In my opinion, Wilder is such a prolific author and only wrote in context to the times. Punishing authors for something that was written in an entirely different time period is so absurd to me.

Freedom of expression is one of those rights that our forefathers fought for 242 years ago. It’s part of the Bill of Rights. As authors, we have the right to write (ha, right to write) whatever we want. Here’s the problem with that though. Look at the titles I’ve mentioned in the top ten list. Those authors are being censored because they enacted that inalienable human right. Look at “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. The racist language used in that book is nothing explicit or over the top. It was used appropriately in the context of that time and location. I don’t condone the usage of that language, but to deny that it was ever uttered or censor the public from reading that book is absolutely absurd in my mind.

Censorship has its place in a civilized society. However, it’s also a slippery slope. Who’s censoring these books, why are they being censored, and should they be censored are questions that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Who watches the Watchmen?