Category Archives: Update

Defeating Doubt: 10 Steps

Dark Dreamers,

It doesn’t matter who you are, how healthy you eat, or how many sit-ups you do, anyone, at any time, can be stalked by the silent killer on panther paws: doubt. From doctors to lawyers to new adult dark fantasy writers, each is equally likely to be pounced unexpectedly, usually at the most inopportune moments. For me, I know it often comes just as I try to settle in to sleep. I could be exhausted, a day that has run me hard and put me away wet, yet those little tendrils of doubt slither their way into my brain. Then we’re off to the races. My mind won’t stop. Anxiety whips my thoughts into a fury. At this point I might as well and get up and do something. There will be no sleeping tonight.

Between Facebook, Twitter, blogs and professional meetings, I see I’m far from the only one. This hunter stalks indeterminately and is always hungry. What gets me is not only do I feel it at night; I see it in my students every day. Whether it is holding back an answer or losing points on a test due to anxiety, doubt has a near emotional monopoly on the world reaching every man, woman and, yes, child. Also, unlike my books, there are no vampires to save us from it.

No, defeating doubt is not a passive skill. In fact, the more we hide and hope it’ll take someone else and go away, the worse it gets. Fighting it is an active counterattack requiring strategy; we have to engage in this battle every day if we hope to keep the clutches of depression and defeat at bay. In dark days and hard moments, when our blinders are the thickest, our sparring techniques can be forgotten, so today I thought I would force myself to remember what they are.

  1. Stop and Breathe. Bring the world and your responsibilities down to the size of your breath.vipassana-997078_1920
  2. Don’t Ignore It. Making pretend everything is okay will only make you feel guiltier.jailed-1251615_1280
  3. Don’t feel guilty. Emotions happen. You are already taking charge.shame-927085_1920
  4. Probe the points of doubt with questions. Where did it come from? What do I know about it?woman-1207674_1920
  5. Is the source real and concrete, or am I creating my doubt through perceptions? Check to see if there was an actual cause that I can deal with or work on. If not, identify it as a neurotic doubt and ask why I have created this for myself.nothing-1394845_1920
  6. Don’t judge or compare: Work with the hand I’ve got. I can play no one’s life but my own. Woulda, shoulda, coulda will get me nowhere. All I can do is make a plan from this point forward with the real world, not the one in my head.meditation-1009307_1920
  7. Create a plan and put it into action. I feel more in control when there are steps I can take. Figure out what I can do right now and do at least one thing. head-1345064_1920
  8. Have a way to remind myself of all that I have and can accomplish. Have this ready before, prepared when I feel good and confident. Create a Victory Deck of index cards, each with something on it that I’m proud I’ve accomplished. Remembering this when doubt has its claws in me will never work. opposites-680065_1920
  9. Change something small physically into a confident gesture. Whether that is the way I walk, my posture or my facial expressions, changing something small about myself into something more confident can set off a chain reaction. positive-954797_1920
  10. Go do something I know will build my confidence. Whether it is an activity, a hobby, a game, cook some food. Just do something that makes me feel confident. It can even be just putting on a piece of clothing that makes me feel stronger or better. motivation-1388479_1280

So there’s my 10 step chain that I use to make darker times of self-doubt better. No supernatural shifters or vicious vampires required. Just active steps to chase away my internal ghosts. So, dear Dreamers, what’s yours? I would love to learn how to be stronger and better and you may just have my clue. What works for you?

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Happy Birthday, OF SCIONS AND MEN!

Oh happy day, Dark Dreamers,

It’s release day for OF SCIONS AND MEN, my debut novel! OF SCIONS AND MEN is the first book in the American Scions Series and it’s being published by Curiosity Quills Press. And, most importantly, you can get it now!

If you can’t wait for the rest of this post, here’s where you can order it: Get one in your hands

Now, for the deets:

OF SCIONS AND MEN by Courtney Sloan

Book One of the American Scions series

New Adult, dark urban fantasy

Fantasy elements: Vampires, Shifters, Scions, Mediums

EBOOK STORE COPY

Synopsis:

Geopolitical babysitting while arresting preternatural killers, it’s just the daily grind for Scion Rowan Brady. Brash and sarcastic, Rowan has sold her life, her career and her very blood to the controlling paranormal ruling class of America, all to make sure her kid brother can eat. Now she uses her powers as a scion to kick the ass of any preternatural creature idiotic enough to break the rules and prey upon humanity without a license. All it costs her is her freedom and a pint or two per week to her new Master.

But juggling her job and duties becomes even tougher when she is tasked with keeping a contingency of diplomats from Canada from getting gnawed on. However, negotiations for an International Blood Exchange are interrupted when bodies start showing up.

Now Rowan must rely on her talent and wit to defend the society she despises to save the lives she’s sworn to protect. But as she stumbles into the truth, she chances becoming a target of not only these killers, but of her own government. With shifters, ghosts, vampires and psychics all watching her, can she stop the killings before she is silenced?

Purchase OF SCIONS AND MEN: Amazon / Barnes and Noble


Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler

Let the good times roll, Dark Dreamers.

For the displaced New Orleanian, today is a hard day. Back home, everyone is celebrating Mardi Gras. No school, no work, just play. A day to celebrate as a city. I was well into my teens before I realized not everyone had Mardi Gras off. I thought it was like any other holiday. But sadly, no.

Don’t get me wrong. I love living in Maryland. It is beautiful and you don’t have to swim through your basement (another concept that took a long time to get used to). There are seasons. In fact, as my friends and family clamor for beads, there are huge flakes of snow falling quietly outside my window. Later me and my trusty four-wheel drive will get out in it and make our way to work. Something I never thought I’d say in all my growing up years.

But you can take the girl out of New Orleans, but you can’t take the New Orleans out of the girl. As such, bringing Mardi Gras to Maryland has become a hobby of mine. Each year we have given a party with homemade creole cuisine and music and lots of fun, plus king cakes straight from New Orleans. I love bringing this celebration to an area where no one really knew of it first hand. I learned in the first year to put up the story of the king cake so people stopped looking at me like I was trying to kill them when I told them to let me know if they found the baby in the cake.

This year was no exception. Saturday night we had a fun party full of friends and good times.

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I’ve written before about the importance of routine and places of comfort to us and thus to our characters. Well, culture and how they celebrate is important too. Not something I really thought about before, but you think I would have given I teach about it in my communication classes. Connection, a sense of belonging not only in the moment but to something bigger and older than ourselves, these things are important. Culture is more than how someone speaks. It reaches deep down into our soul and pulls out a heritage that makes us more than just a momentary blip. Hmm, food for thought. Now, where’s that left over king cake.


An Asymmetrical Approach to Anger

Serious moment time, Dark Dreamers,

No dark urban fantasy or even vampire fun today. Today something happened to your friendly neighborhood  new adult author that really stuck with me. I shared it with some, and was asked to share it here.

Sometimes a different approach works best:
This morning I wasn’t feeling well so didn’t get breakfast at home. Driving to work I realized I hadn’t eaten last night and also not this morning. My hypoglycemia made its awful presence known, so I pulled into a McD’s to get a quick breakfast burrito to pick up some protein. Paying cash, I fumbled putting the change back in my purse and this seemed to upset the gentleman behind me. In his Lexus SUV and suit and tie, talking on his cell phone, he began honking at me in line for taking too long. Yelling between me and his phone, he drew not only my attention butt that of the young lady at the window. My first reaction was to unleash my frustration of not feeling well and yell right back and get angry.

I took a deep breath and a different tactic. I looked at the young lady and asked how much his order was. She blinked at me and replied $3.54. I told her I would like the pay for his meal. She blinked at me with a new air of disbelief and said “Really?” I told her “Really.” So I paid for his meal as he edged his car closer and closer to my bumper, obviously trying to give me the hint to get out of his way.

I pulled up to the next window and waited for my food, which did take a little longer than I expected. Behind me, I watched as the girl explained to him and pointed at me. He looked at me, still holding his cell phone and then hung it and his head. He pulled up a respectful distance from my car and waited. I got my burrito and as I pulled away, He looked up. I could tell he wanted to say something, but he quickly looked back down again.

Too often responding in kind only makes situations worse. Sometimes the Asymmetrical approach gives a louder message than screaming. I felt better than if I’d let him get to me and he actually heard the message.

P.S. When I opened my bag, the people inside gave me like 3 times my order, lol. Maybe today won’t be as bad as the start.

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Pass it on


Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Raise your glass, Dark Dreamers,

I have always been a lover of the dark. Call it the New Orleans in me. But that doesn’t mean that it was all vampires and ghosts all the time. As I child I can remember watching the show Cheers with my mom. Everyone would smile, both on and off screen, whenever Norm would walk in and the bar would erupt with “NORM!” That sense of belonging and the village coming together, even in the heart of the big city, warms even the most distant heart on a cold Boston night. Isn’t that right, Dr. Frasier? In New Orleans, a big city in its own right, people are extremely loyal to our regular spots. The holes in the wall that become a part of home. It’s why we loved the Saints even when they were the Ain’ts and a lot of chains have so much trouble staying alive. I still don’t think the city has forgiven Rite Aid for taking over the K&B spot when I was a kid.

Being a true child of my hometown, I love finding my spots. Plus, once I’ve found them, I stick to them even way up here in the frozen north of Maryland. Today, my Cheers isn’t a bar. My favorite routine spot is a little hole in the wall Greek restaurant: Greek Aroma. This place drew me in because it is amazing. For such a small venue, they serve the freshest and cleanest food. I have brought people in from out of town there all the time, not to mention the locals, and everyone loves the food. But for me, it’s more than that. Good food is of course key to any successful restaurant (and this place is successful with people there waiting from open through all afternoon) but what made this my place, my regular place, is the people. The people there are so friendly. Especially the main manager, her smile could power a city and her open and welcoming nature makes you feel at home even on the roughest of days. The combo of the two…they had me at gyro.

This is a job for a Super Gyro. Comes with his own cape.

This is a job for a Super Gyro. Comes with his own cape.

Here, I get to feel that warmth deep inside when I walk in and am greeted with cries of recognition. Often, my order is put in before I ever make it to the counter. I may never be rich and famous, but for this one place to remember me from the hundreds that eat there every day. I want to go back for that as much as the food.

But this got me thinking about routine. People each have their own places. They may not have “Norm” moments, but a place they make a part of their everyday lives, giving them that same sense of comfort and belonging. It could be a coffee house or a restaurant or the gym where other “strangers” comment on your progress and keep you going on the hard motivation days. We are social creatures (even the introverts) and thus even if it is just a person or two, we enjoy a momentary easy connection.

So why do so few written characters have these places. Where does Bruce Wayne stop for coffee on the way to Wayne Enterprises after a long night of vigilantism? Does Jean Grey have a quiet bar she goes to when Cyclops is just being too much of a jerk? We see regular hangouts in sit coms because it’s easier for set design, but what about in books for character design. The few times I’ve seen it in books, a character having a “place” (not their job space or their home space) where they felt safe, really made that character much stronger to me.

Thus, a new space in my book world is born. They say don’t piss off a writer, or they’ll kill you in their book. The reverse is also true. One of the highest honors a writer can give someone is to write them well in their book. So, Greek Aroma, my place, has inspired me to create such a space in my series. Rowan has just developed a taste for Greek.

Image courtesy of Greek Aroma


Our First Writing Wednesdays

Dear Dark Dreamers,

These last few months I have been a part of a talented group of authors who all have books coming out in 2016. All are either new adult or young adult, and we write in everything from dark urban fantasy to romance to thrillers. These people are as amazing as their upcoming books. Together we are pushing each other to be greater and get more done by blog hopping once a week. Basically every Wednesday, we’ll post what we’ve been doing writing or publishing-wise during the week, anything we’ve learned, and what we hope to get done in the next week. It’s just a fun way to keep on track with writing goals week-to-week and push for more.

This week has been amazingly productive and busy.

1st– For the last few weeks the publisher and I have been working like crazy artistic bees on cover ideas for Book One of The American Scion series, OF SCIONS AND MEN. We’ve decided to push the envelope and not do a traditional style cover. As of the end of last week, we have settled on concept art, and it’s off in the hands of an exceptionally talented artist. I now know who the artist is. I cannot wait to share this amazing idea and work with the rest of you.

2nd– I am hard at work on Book Two of The American Scion series, THE SCIONS OF WRATH. So far I’ve written about 10k words this week. So, it’s going well and my structure is shaping up well. I was having some trouble with chaptering my inciting event chapters. But I lucked out and this week was my critique group’s meeting. Not only did I get some great suggestions, I also seem to have made some fellow writers white-knuckle as they read the events of this chapter. So, yay!

I’ve gotten a lot done, but I’ve got to push for more. Time to crack the whip, and I’ll hope you’ll all join in.

Yes, Readers, may I have another.

Yes, Readers, may I have another.

From now to next Wednesday, I want to get another 10-15k written. Also, I want to get some more marketing ideas under my belt and set up. This is the part I need to learn the most about. It’s a strange new world, and I need to jump in educated but with both feet.

Image courtesy of  Jeroen van Oostrom at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


I’m here to Break Rules and Chew Bubblegum

And I’m all out of bubblegum.

We’ve all been there. In fact we’ve done it all our lives. “No, mom, I can’t do my homework until I clean my room.” “Honey, there’s no way I can do the taxes until all these dishes are done.” “There is no way I can go out and save Gotham with this spot on my cape.” We’ve all be there.

Dun Dun Da-oops. I hate laundry day.

Dun Dun Da-oops. I hate laundry day.

That point where the mess we’ve been living in, no matter how small or great, suddenly become unbearable and we must remedy this situation NOW. Usually at that exact moment when something even more important comes along.

This phenomenon of distracted productivity has led to some of the best and most effective outcomes of my life. That guilty pleasure of breaking the rules of what I should be doing now with the rationalized justification of “but I’m doing something that just HAS to be done” mixes together to create a beautiful synergy. Without which we would never have the clean rooms our mothers loved so much.

Or the clean manuscripts. Yep you knew I was going to make this about writing somehow. In writing people are always setting up great lists of how to write and create the perfect manuscript. I read these and try to take the great advice to heart. One of the biggest and most often quoted of these tips of writing is don’t break your momentum. Save your editing and revising for where it belongs, after your first draft is completed. The concept is that the more we put on the brakes to read and re-read what we’ve already written in an attempt to make it perfect the first time around, the less likely we are to finish it. We get bogged down in the first fifty pages doing them over and over and thus lose motivation and momentum to ever finish the last fifty. Every stop, every backtrack makes every restart that much slower and harder to accomplish.

And I believe in this tip. I use it and even teach it to my students in class. I put up a big picture of the Nike swoop and tell them “Just do it.” Just write and get the draft out without censorship or revising. Don’t break the momentum and writing become a lot easier.

Then we come to the rule breaking part. This last month I’ve been working on book 2, The Scions of Wrath, of the American Scion series. I have my beautiful research and outline to work from. I’m set and ready to just push through this manuscript. I’m even really excited because there’s so much happening in this book the readers can really sink their teeth into. But the first thirty pages were really bugging me. They came out far longer than I intended. They were pushing the inciting event way too late in the book. And as I kept sitting down to write the inciting event scene, one of the most important in any book, I would stare at the screen and worry and fret over those overly long first thirty pages. It was distracting to the point of debilitating.

And then I remembered cleaning my room before doing homework. It was a sneaky little trick to put off the inevitable, but it worked and in the end I had a clean room and completed homework. So yesterday I sat down and revised the first thirty pages making them much more concise and punchy. And it worked. I not only feel better about where they are but also feel great about writing the next scene and getting this bad boy rolling into hell, for my characters at least.

So there it is. I’m a teacher of rules and methods, and I’ve gone a broke a big one. And it felt great. As writers we need to listen to the rules and tips and trick to know not only when to follow them to make a great book, but also when to break them to make it all come together.

Image courtesy of  Jeroen van Oostrom at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Tilting at Emotional Windmills

Today is a selfish day, full of desires that are just for me.

I’m a geek. I admit it. I adore fandoms like Doctor Who, Batman, Harry Potter, Supernatural, Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, etc. I have sat around and discussed the emotional make up, journey and evolution of various characters and when on the screen, how those were portrayed.  I’ve spoken about these characters like real friends with probably more detail than I can with some of my actual friends. And I’m far from alone. The internet and world are full of people who are equally or more so immersed in these characters and worlds.

Me. Every time.

Me. Every time.

As writers, we create worlds and hope to fill them with true characters that our readers will feel real honest emotion about. I have seen it happen time and time again. Even with my own husband author J.P. Sloan. He gave some people a short story of his in the same week the last Harry Potter was released. One of those who read it had more of a reaction and shed tears for his characters more so than Harry Potter. I have had to put down books… okay okay, sometimes thrown down books, when a favorite character leaves us.

An honest emotional reaction. As story writers, isn’t that what we are truly aiming for? In fact, by the very definition of the thirds purpose of writing that fits fiction writers, to “entertain” doesn’t just mean to make someone laugh, it means to stir them to emotion in some fashion.

Thus, as I am wrapping up this belly of the beast and climax for my latest work in progress, let that be my windmill to aim at. I shall fight the good fight and hope to provide a character with enough dimensions that someone reading it will actually feel a true emotion for her.

“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”
“Obviously,” replied Don Quijote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote


Nerves and Writing

“The mind is a wonderful thing.  It starts working the minute you’re born and never stops until you get up to speak in public.” –Anonymous

As a teacher of both English and Communication, I am constantly impressed by my students. I have to ask them day-after-day to do things that scare them, sometimes to the point of near passing out, and they rise to the challenge and accomplish what they once thought impossible.

For example, my Public Speaking classes are more often than not filled with students who need a communication credit, but are terrified of getting up and speaking before an audience. This is not just a college student occurrence of course. Glossophobia, or speech anxiety, is the fear of public speaking, and the internet is filled with people who are willing to help you overcome this fear, no matter your age or experience. But these are students who just want a college credit. Approaching our first few assignments is a time full of questions and emails to me of why they can’t do it, asking if they should transfer out, and deer in headlight looks when they step up the first time. Yet they all survive it, which surprises the students most of all.

Do I really NEED to graduate anyway?

Do I really NEED to graduate anyway?

This week they had to do their second speech, impromptu. This adds a whole new level of fear to the mix, as they not only have to get up and speak, but they have to pick their topic out of a hat only minutes before. But to get my point across about just getting up there and commit to speaking not reading, I make sure the topics I choose help ease the tension.

“We are cannibals; convince us to eat your buddy first.”

“You are the President, announce to the country that we have made first contact but the aliens are not the brightest lights in the galaxy.”

“You’re Darth Vader. Make a more convincing argument as to why Luke should join the Empire.”

“Explain to Superman why he can’t be in the poker game anymore.”

Batman solved the problem with lead lined cards.

Batman solved the problem with lead lined cards.

Well, you get the idea. Usually, when I hold up the hat the first time I get exactly zero volunteers to start the party off. Then someone gets “volunteered”, pulls their topic and laughs. Everyone else’s interest is piqued. A laugh was not expected. Then they start speaking, and everyone gets it. People start lining up. In fact, one class this week, when they were done, volunteered to do another round for fun. People who were ready to pass out at the start of class have forgotten they were supposed to not be able to do this.

What surprises them even more is when I announce that I will never teach them to stop being nervous. But that’s why they’re there. That, and the grade, were the only things they wanted from me. But I explain scientifically what nerves do for us. They kinda get it. Then I tell them a story from Anthony Quinn.

This prolific actor of the 20th century was asked once if he still got nervous before performing. He responded that he did every time. Every single time. He explained, “If you ever stop being nervous, that’s the day you should quit.” The nerves prove you care. If you’re not nervous, you’ve stopped caring.

The same holds true for writing. I have found myself before, and right now in fact, too nervous to continue on a project. It’s not writers block. I know what I want to happen. But a scene or character has gotten too big in my mind, and I’m nervous that I cannot do them justice on the page. No matter what I write, it will not be as perfect and wonderful as what I’ve imagined in my mind. It is too pivotal to be trust to me, the author.

But that just means I care. I care that this scene needs to be encoded into written word well, so the audience can decode it just as well and experience the magic that I am seeing behind my eyes. I have to remind myself, that if I don’t do it, no one will even have the chance to. Just as my students did, I have to have the courage to commit myself to sharing my words and trust that everyone will get it.

And so with care and nerves, I shall plunge in and brave these pivotal words. See you on the other side of Act III.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Another Day, Another World

As my queries and partial live out in the world of agents for a while, I turn my attention to my next project. About halfway through revising BLACK SUN, an idea hit me for what I should write next. It is much more urban fantasy, taking our world only about a generation ahead of where we are now. The problems and forces affecting us now grow and change and make a recognizable both wholly different. Taking what’s happening now and pushing it forward with its own delicious paranormal twists.

For the last few months, I’ve let this new world germinate in my head. I’ve gotten research done (some of which I’m sure landed me interesting watch lists). I’ve written up shorts for people who will never be in the book but helped me determine what happened when everything went wrong. I’ve discovered and created political factions. Unlike Black Sun, this new world will be much deeper with a lot more characters interacting on a deeper level.

Taking a page from Kim Harrison’s highly successful playbook, I have also outlined 3 books. This way I not only know what my characters are doing and interacting, but where they are going and how they are changing as they get there. These will be working outlines that will of course grow and change as I write and revise, but knowing where my characters are headed has made me excited to jump into this world.

And jump I will. Now that the character sheets are done, scene worksheets and outlines are completed, and the GMC for all my main characters and the history are determined, I am ready to plunge into this urban fantasy head first.

Diving

Geronimo

So, my goal for the end of the week will be to send out the rest of my round one query agents and to put word to screen on my new work. An exciting week all around. Now to go for a run to get any last minute explosion of ideas.