Did you know that learning about and acknowledging the truth of your past lives can help you resolve current life issues? Sometimes small things (like a patch of eczema or a feeling of being choked… More
Sometimes we doubt ourselves. Believe it or not, it happens to almost everyone. But then, how do you convince yourself that you have the talent, the skill, and the reasons to continue with your creative endeavors? Nick Maccarone has written an excellent article that explains how to get past your self-doubts and keep moving forward with your writing (or art).
Do you want that story you just wrote to pull in your reader? Do you want your characters to jump off the page and into your readers’ minds?
Intriguing your readers so that they want to continue reading your book is not easily accomplished. You need to pique their curiosity by asking a question, setting up some unique and interesting situation, showing them something relatable, or engaging their senses.
While many an author tries (and while most authors think they have succeeded), the truth is, a lot of authors fail miserably. It isn’t something that is easily done, and it isn’t something that is easily taught.
Finding just the right opening to your book can happen easily or not at all. This isn’t because you’re not a good writer. More often, it’s because you’re trying too hard. Most new writers overthink that opening line instead of letting the story flow naturally. If you allow the story to lead you, you have a much better chance of coming up with an organic and meaningful first line.
One of the best opening lines that I have ever read is from the first Rachel Morgan book, Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison. This opening line not only hooks the reader, it introduces the main character in a way that makes her unique and relatable.
I stood in the shadows of a deserted shop front across from The Blood and Brew Pub, trying not to be obvious as I tugged my black leather pants back up where they belonged.
To me, that line not only gives me a sense of place, it tells me this story isn’t ‘normal.’ After all, how many pubs do you know with blood in their name? And it begs you to find out why this character is standing in the shadows casing some pub. Is she the protagonist or antagonist? At this point, it’s hard to tell, but I’d like to know more. Yet, at the same time, I find myself relating to her tugging at the pants. (I mean, how many times have you found yourself having to do the same thing, when your pants just won’t stay where they belong?)
However, what constitutes a good opening line (or even a good opening paragraph) seems to be quite subjective. After all, every reader and every author is different. So, what intrigues me, may not intrigue you. But I’ve included some more opening lines (and paragraphs) with my opinion as to why they do or don’t work.
When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.
That line is so odd that I can’t help but read further to find out why the character, Nick Dunne, would make such a bizarre statement. (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn)
The primroses were over. Toward the edge of the wood, where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog’s mercury and oak tree roots.
Between overdone descriptions and long sentences, this is not an opening that would intrigue or inspire me to continue. (However, I will admit, I did push on and finish this book. It was interesting despite it’s overblown descriptive passages.) (Watership Down by Richard Adams)
It was either Thomas Jefferson—or maybe it was John Wayne—who once said, “Your foot will never get well as long as there is a horse standing on it.”
Again, the oddity of the sentence makes me want to read more if just to find out what (if anything) that statement has to do with the overall story. I love a bit of quirky humor, so this just sets my mouth for more. However, someone who is expecting something more in tune with the book’s promised premise may simply close the book and walk away. (The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank by Erma Bombeck)
It must have been 1963, because the musical of Dombey & Son was running at the Alexandra, and it must have been the autumn, because it was surely some time in October that a performance was seriously delayed because two of the cast had slipped and hurt themselves in B dressing-room corridor, and the reason for that was that the floor appeared to be flooded with something sticky and glutinous. (At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald)
Unfortunately, this run-on and extremely boring sentence left me wanting to close the book, not read it. All I kept thinking was that if the opening sentence was this long and convoluted, then I didn’t want to wade through the overdone prose to find the story.
And my favorite opening line (I have to say that because it’s from one of my own books), is:
Have you ever thought about what happens when we die? (Escorting the Dead by TA Sullivan)
It’s succinct, clear, and just begs you to read more.
But as you can see, the success or failure of an opening line is quite subjective. And that’s why hooking your reader has more to do with the author’s ability to craft a good story using just the right cadence and words, than it is has to do with a single sentence or a single paragraph. After all, not every reader is going to be moved by the opening line to your book any more than every reader is moved by the following opening line, “Mr. Phileas Fogg lived, in 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, the house in which Sheridan died in 1814.”*
So, don’t overthink the opening to your story, but do craft it well enough that it invites the reader into your story.
*This is the opening line to Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
While this post has little to do with writing, it has a lot to do with life. I read it and thought the author had some interesting insights. I especially think that the thought-provoking questions at the end were something that we should all be contemplating during these tumultous times. So, please enjoy this shared post:
If you’ve ever lost faith and wondered if it was at all possible for an independent author to be successful, then you need to read this article. Jessical Ruscello shows us 10 independent authors whose books actually made an impact. And (best of all) most of them even made it to the top of the list in their genre–not an easy feat when you’re doing the writing, publishing, and marketing.
So, perk up and take heart…being an independent author is not easy, but it is still possible to be noticed.
I’ve asked Dr. Bob Rich, author, conservationist, and professional granfather, to join me today. After reading two of his books and sharing a number of long conversations, which covered a multitude of esoteric topics, I thought it would be interesting to share some of his insights and witticisms with my readers.
Tricia, I am delighted to accept your invitation for a chat at your blog. I hope to give your visitors a few laughs, and plenty of food for thought.
You live in Australia and are passionate about conservation and improving the quality of life for everyone. Can you share some thoughts about that with us?
I currently live in two realities.
One is utterly crazy, and I stay sane by occasionally escaping into the other one.
To illustrate the crazy reality, let me tell you about a phone call yesterday. It was from a computer asking to survey me about politics.
It then asked me to push a button to indicate which of 6 options would influence my vote if an election was held today. The options were 6 different ways I might be bribed, so I disconnected.
If I’d written that survey, the questions would have addressed matters like species extinctions, climate change, the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, homelessness, wealth inequality, the toxic role of money in politics… real issues.
So, I spend considerable time and energy in doing my little best to address such things.
The other reality hides within my computer, and it’s a much better place to be.
What are you currently working on? (If it’s another book, give a short summary of it, please.)
At the moment, I am in the middle of processing a steady stream of entries for my free book edit contest.
The prize is the free edit of a book-length manuscript.
The deadline is October 15, so I expect the stream to increase to a flood.
An entry consists of a 200 word book summary, and the first 1000 words of the manuscript. (If the entrant follows instructions. I am surprised at how rare that is). I edit this approximately straight away, stuff it full of helpful feedback, and send it back. I can then feel good: even people with no chance of winning will benefit from our contact. I enjoy being a teacher.
In between, I visit my young friend Bill Sutcliffe, and his little son, Albor. This is in the 4th volume of my science fiction series, The Doom Healer. I want to finish all 5 volumes before having the first published, so they can follow each other in rapid succession. As a reader, I hate getting captivated by the start of a series, then having to wait for the sequels to drag themselves out of the author’s mind.
Bill is the Doom Healer. His task is to well, heal the doom hanging over our planet. You know: species extinctions, climate change, greed and cruelty… the list of issues in the imaginary world outside my computer. In the real world within, there are solutions, and Bill is their champion.
He achieves his aim at the end of the third volume, and now I am working toward finishing the fourth, The Prince of Light. That’s Albor, who is 2 days old at the start of this volume. My current task is to wait for him and his friends to tell me how his 5th birthday was celebrated. I know the end of the story. It’s when he turns 15. I just have to fill the intervening 10 years.
How has writing changed your life (for good or for worse)?
I don’t know!
Some people’s lives may well be like a plate of food with visibly different components: a steak, 3 vegetables and a side salad. My life is more like a stew, or to jump to a different metaphor, a symphony orchestra rather than a bunch of soloists.
That is to say, writing is an organic part of life. From infancy, I’ve always solved problems and exercised my creativity intuitively, in the background while doing other things. Since writing has become the main expression of my creativity, it’s the ideas I need to record that simmer away in the pressure-cooker of my mind. Actually pecking at keys on my computer is not writing, but documenting the result.
Certainly, I have changed enormously. I feel that in this life I have grown spiritually, and have had the privilege of helping a great many other people to do so. Much of that was through my decades of psychotherapy practice, and hopefully also through my books and stories.
Here is my take on how writing can be meaningful without preaching: “What Makes Writing Memorable?”
Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?
Sorry, I can’t help it. That’s my invariable answer to any disjunctive question.
Nonfiction is bread and butter (though I haven’t put butter or margarine on my bread for 32 years). You work out what you need to say, organize the material in a logical order, then say it.
Fiction is the chocolate icing on the cake of life. You create a reality, introduce some people, then become one of them, or one at a time if you switch from witness to witness.
So, I mix them. There is plenty of nonfiction even in my fantasy and SF writing. And there is plenty of creativity and imagination even in my nonfiction.
My upcoming book (From Depression to Contentment: A self-therapy guide), which is nonfiction, is designed to help people overcome depression using some self-guided lessons. One of my beta readers has already sent me an advance review. She concluded it with “All of Bob’s novels I’ve read are full of therapeutic lessons. Here is a book designed as a set of therapeutic lessons that is as enjoyable to read as any novel.”
What question do you ask yourself most often?
When I was a severely depressed young fellow, the question was, “What the hell am I doing on this planet?” This eased off in my mid-30s, when I left a high-status, high-paying job in order to work on self-sufficiency, enjoying the benefits of voluntary poverty, and becoming effective as an activist for a better world.
In turn, my education in practicality started my writing career. I wrote regular articles for a marvelous magazine, Earth Garden on building your own house, and this resulted in my first book, published in 1986. The fourth edition went out of print in early 2018.
I actually got an answer to this question in 2007, when I recovered a few of my past lives. The story is told in fictionalized form in my novel, Ascending Spiral.
For perhaps 25 years, my most frequent question was “How?” rather than “Why?” I was, and am, a problem solver.
During this century, “How?” has expanded into “How can I be of service?” An example is my nightly meditation. An invariable part of this is sending healing thoughts. Sadly, there is a long list of targets. I have no idea if my activity is effective for them, but it’s guaranteed to be more effective than not doing it.
Sometimes I am on my list, since I am old enough to be working toward a body transplant, but then, it’s OK to be of service to yourself, right?
When I answer the phone, I typically say, “Bob here. How can I be of service to you?”
What part of your writing has improved or changed the most over the years?
I’ve always had the knack of explaining complex issues in simple words. That’s why my self-help magazine articles took off.
I’ve always had way more empathy than is good for me. Empathy is the major tool in psychotherapy — and in creative writing like fiction and biography. So, getting into a character’s reality, and putting the experience into words, was a strength even in my early fiction writing. Here is my first prize-winning short story, way back in the 1980s: “Peace for the Joker.”
Having a tight storyline was a problem early on. Two or three attempts ended up going nowhere. Then I started explicitly plotting, which helped. What I found, though, was that as I gained experience, I departed from the original plot, and let my characters guide me. By the late 1990s, writing was fully organic. My first novel to win an important award was written entirely without a prior plot. Oh, the plot was still there, only I didn’t know it until it emerged. This was Sleeper, Awake.
Beyond that, several of my fans have written to me that my most recent book was my best to date. This was after the publication of each of Ascending Spiral, Guardian Angel and Hit and Run. Being a scientist by training, I have the urge to ask three groups of people to read the three books in different orders. Perhaps each group will judge the last read to be the best?
In any case, this is evidence that my writing is improving, but I am not sure what aspect tickles these lovely people’s fancy.
What (in life) brings you the most joy?
Only one thing?
Human puppies would have to be the top of a long list. That’s kids from 0 days to 25 years old. They give me the greatest joy, and the worst heartache, which I need to handle using Buddhist equanimity.
They are all my grandchildren. That’s why I am an environmental and humanitarian activist. If I had a magic wand, I’d transform our insane society into one that will last indefinitely into the future instead of rapidly heading for extinction — and one worth surviving in.
During school term, twice a day bunches of teenagers walk past my house. I enjoy the sound of their chatter. Without being obvious about it, I watch the way they interact with each other (or don’t).
Tiny kids consider me to be funny. Whenever I capture the gaze of one, the little mite laughs at me, or at least smiles. Maybe they like the light glancing off my scalp?
I love storytelling to kids, to get a laugh, to open little minds to ideas.
Having a serious discussion with a teenager or young adult is wonderful, whether it’s face to face or via email. I often learn a lot from such exchanges.
Oh, why the heartache? When encountering a youngster, one of my frequent automatic reactions is inner grief because of the coming world. I wish for them to have a good life, knowing that a series of environmental and economic disasters is far more likely. In part, that’s the motivation for my latest book, which is waiting within my publisher’s computer: From Depression to Contentment: A self-therapy guide. It shows how I can live a GOOD life even though I struggle with this issue on a daily basis.
Tricia, thank you for the honor of being here. I look forward to chatting with your visitors via comments.
To purchase his books or to read more of his articles and insights on depression, mindfulness, conservation, and other topics:
Bob’s Writing: https://bobrich18.wordpress.com
Writing showcase: http://bobswriting.com
Anxiety and depression help site: http://anxietyanddepression-help.com
Conservation and practicality: http://mudsmith.net
To contact or follow Dr. Bob Rich:
I was perturbed when the American Library Association announced its intention to drop Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious children’s literature award. The purpose of this action, according to one source, is “to distance the honor from what it described as culturally insensitive portrayals in her books.” As far as I know, no one […]
ellisnelson conducted an interview with TA Sullivan about her book Escorting the Dead: My Life as a Psychopomp, and we have republished it here for you to read.
AN INTERVIEW WITH TA SULLIVAN
One of my favorite movies is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir starring Rex Harrison (1947). In it, the ghost of a sea captain comes back for Lucy when she’s ready to pass. I always loved that he came back for her when it was time. Many of us will have heard stories about people getting close to death who see their loved ones, or sometimes angels. Beautiful, satisfying stories. But what if they’re not stories? What if that’s precisely what happens for many of us?
I recently finished “Escorting the Dead: My Life as a Psychopomp” by TA Sullivan. It’s a fascinating read about her experience as a death escort for the recently departed. As a child she was sensitive, but it wasn’t until she had her own near-death experience (NDE) that her life took a turn and she started to train as a guide for the dead.
Please welcome author and photographer, TA Sullivan. Thank you for agreeing to talk about what is a difficult subject for many.
Can you briefly describe your NDE when you were hit by a van? How old were you then?
What I remember most about the NDE are the emotions—the feelings of loving acceptance and joy that surrounded me like a warm comforter on a cold day. But what stayed with me the most, was the feeling that I was finally at home.
As for my age…well, I was old enough to know better, yet young enough to ignore my own advice. I’d just hit my mid-forties and had no idea what a crazy ride life had in store for me on the other side of that mid-point.
At the time of the accident, had you been exploring any deep philosophical questions or were you at a turning point in your life?
At the time of the accident, my life was in a bit of a turmoil. My mother had just died, my spouse and I had just relocated (changing states and jobs), and one of my close friends had just been diagnosed with cancer.
With everything that was going on in my life, I was feeling somewhat uncentered and scattered. The accident and accompanying experience, actually helped me put things back in perspective. It made me realize just what was important and what wasn’t.
What is the basic role of a psychopomp?
We ensure that the death experience is what the soul (person) wants.
Think of your life as a movie extravaganza, where you are the director and star. The psychopomp would then be the set designer, prop master, and extra in your death scene.
Can anyone take on the role of psychopomp or must a contract be in place prior to an incarnation?
Anyone can function as a psychopomp at any point during their lifetime without making it a full-time commitment, such as I have done. Someone can ask you (at a soul level) if you would be there for them when they die. Often, it is referred to it as a shared death experience. Whatever name you give it doesn’t really matter, though; not as much as your being there for someone who needs you and your support during that transitional period.
What have you learned as an escort that could help alleviate people’s crippling fear of death?
That life is eternal. It doesn’t stop just because the body dies.
This isn’t some abstract belief based on religious teachings. It’s a belief born of experience. I’ve been there (multiple times), and so have you…you have simply forgotten. Let yourself remember. Remember the encompassing feelings of love and compassion; remember the feelings of acceptance and peace; and remember the feelings of belonging.
If you want to help someone overcome their fear, just give them love. John Lennon said it best, all you need is love. Believe in the love, and the fear will disappear.
What are some healthy ways to communicate with loved ones who have died that won’t create the negative energetic cords you caution against?
Communicate, but don’t cling.
Love them, but without strings.
In other words, accept that they are physically dead and not a part of your reality anymore.
Speak to them, if it helps you. But don’t cling to expectations of getting a response or seeing a ‘sign.’ You all have to move on. After all, some souls may wait for you (as depicted in the movie ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’—one of my all-time favorites, also), but others may move on to take on new lives and new families. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you; it only means that things need to change.
Also, don’t expect literal responses to your communications. After all, once released from the physical constraints of our world, most souls aren’t all that concerned with where they stored the insurance policy you can’t find or where they hid that winning lottery ticket.
What is the most satisfying aspect of acting as a psychopomp? What is the most challenging?
The most satisfying part of being a psychopomp is seeing a transitioned soul awaken. It’s the moment that a transitioned soul realizes that he/she isn’t confined by who or what he/she was on Earth. It’s when the soul suddenly recognizes that he/she is more than just Billy Ray, husband and father, or Mary Francis, business woman and wife. When they see the bigger picture, the awe and wonder expressed by them is wondrous. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.
The most challenging part of being a death escort is not interfering. I mean, it’s human nature to want to help; yet, if someone wants to believe that they are completely alone when they die, then we have to remain hidden. Or if someone wants to experience excruciating pain (emotional, mental, or physical); then we have to let them, even though we know we could help them alleviate or overcome it.
Is the work energetically draining? Do you wake up exhausted?
There are times when I’m so drained by an experience that I just want to spend the next day in bed or simply lazing around the house. But there are other times, times such as when you get to see and share that awe of awakening with a soul, that it energizes and elevates you. Then the next day seems brighter and nicer, and I feel more energetic and full of hope and joy.
How do you protect yourself emotionally in difficult cases (i.e. deaths of children, murders, accidents, etc.)?
I used to find myself emotionally drained and my aura shredded from all the turmoil that I encountered. However, as I’ve grown into this role, I’ve learned more (and better) techniques for creating safeguards (barriers, cocoons, walls) around myself to keep the backlash of emotions away.
When you touch someone to see what type of experience they want, you need to have a filter, of sorts, in place. This ‘filter’ enables you to keep out the physical and emotional trauma that the person may be going through so that you can focus on what the lesson is the soul is trying to create.
The filter is like any other barrier that many empaths and intuitives instinctively learn to erect around themselves. It allows a limited amount of energy from other people to filter through…just enough so that the empath or intuitive can relate, but not so much that they feel overwhelmed. In the case of death escorts, we must learn to focus these filters so that we can pluck out the information we need without becoming overwhelmed by the situation or the people participating in it.
Do you know anyone else (in person or online) who is doing this work? Is it lonely or isolating?
I met another death escort online a while back. He had shared a comment on an online article, and something about the way he worded things sort of gave me a start. So, I contacted him directly and as we chatted, we recognized the shared connection. It was nice being able to discuss things with someone who understood the ups and downs of this ‘job,’ and who grasped why we wanted to do it, anyway. We also shared some of the ways it brings weirdness into our otherwise mundane lives (getting pulled across in the middle of the day, which might mean telling your boss you’re not feeling well, so you can answer the ‘call,’ that sort of thing).
We continue to communicate once in a while. In fact, he’s even found a couple more like us, so we now have a group of 5 that we can share our triumphs and sorrows with. It’s nice. We were a group of 6 for a very short while; however, TJ died soon after joining our group and my friend had the privilege of escorting him across. Very surreal.
What are you currently working on?
My current writing project is book 2 of my paranormal romance series.
The first book, “The Past Rekindled,” will be coming out this November. “The Past Rekindled” has Terra McGinley dividing her time between writing how-to procedures and escorting visitors to the astral plane. Her new partner is a by-the-book, hard-to-deal-with transitioner with a secret, whom she finds attractive, yet exasperating. But when one of her charges contacts Terra directly for help, she encounters Death, who has his own plans for her. Now she must decide who she can trust with her life and her heart – past love or new partner?
It kind of reflects my own life (but without all the drama), inasmuch as I’m also a techwriter and a death escort, but Terra has a much more twisted sense of humor than I do…
Thanks for joining me today to talk about your role as a psychopomp and your writing! For more about TA Sullivan’s work and books, check out her links below.
My blog, Tas Through the Looking Glass, can be found at https://taslookingglass.wordpress.com/ and contains book reviews, essays on the paranormal, and wanderings of my mind. I also have another blog called Insights and Awareness (https://michaelreadings.wordpress.com/), which is a cosmic Q & A site—I, and other intuitives and psychics try to answer readers’ questions.