Author bios…does anyone read them?

bookbackAuthor bios…does anyone ever read them?

It’s an interesting question to me, because I’m back to struggling with whether I should include a bio or not on my upcoming book; and, if I do, what information to include.

When I released my non-fiction books I agonized over what to do, but in the end, I didn’t include a bio on either of them. The Psychopomp book was autobiographical; therefore, I was already openly sharing myself and my life with complete strangers, what more could I offer. As for the Dream Symbol book, well…there was little in my background to indicate why I was qualified to interpret dreams or offer advice on interpreting dreams. (I mean, I’ve been interpreting dreams since I was a kid, but only for myself and any people who ask me—friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers. It’s not like I advertise it as a talent, make money from it, or make note of it on my resume or anything. It’s just something I’ve always done.)

So, now here I am getting ready to publish my first novel and wondering what qualifications do I have that would make anyone want to read my novel versus anyone else’s book? What can I say about myself that might intrigue someone enough to want to check out The Starstone?

I started to think about my own experiences. When I was growing up, I spent hours roaming libraries and book shops looking for books. The first thing I always noted was the title and the book cover. If those caught my attention, the book at least got removed from the shelf for a closer inspection. Then came the story synopsis…if it sounded good, I would read a chapter or two to see if I liked the author’s writing style.

The last thing I would check out was the author’s blurb. What I remember about those was that I wanted to know if the romance was written by a glamorous (or handsome), romantic-type person (Danielle Steele comes to mind, with her gorgeous photos and luxurious-sounding lifestyle); and was the adventure/thriller written by a dashing daredevil (Clive Cussler and his dashing Dirk Pitt were a daring duo).

But other bios that were quirky, humorous, or somehow stood out to me, might just get me to read a book that I was on the fence about. Perhaps the plot summary was just so-so, or the cover rather plain, but if the author bio made me laugh, it would make the book worth a look-see.

So, how about you? Do you read author bios and why?

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Evolution of a Story (Part 4)

emergingBy the time I got back to my series, more years had gone by. So much had changed – in my life, in the world – I wasn’t sure how much of what I had written or plotted was even worth keeping anymore.

I had evolved as a writer both professionally and personally. Not only had I taken on more responsibility at my 9-to-5 job (writing more complex manuals and documents, and acting as an editor and designer), I had also replaced my newsletters with a blog.

The blog gave me the freedom to experiment with stories, mixed media, and reporting in ways I never dreamed of. I could present researched articles based on historical or current events, I could write articles based on personal experiences, or I could simply indulge my passion for story telling. Whatever I wanted to write, I could.

This new medium gave me a freedom not available just a few years before. I could  branch out in any direction I wanted. My own personal writing voice evolved and grew stronger; my understanding of how to write for a specific type of audience expanded; and my knowledge about storytelling grew.

The book industry had also evolved. While traditional publishers still existed, they were struggling. Technology had moved to a level that had at one time, seemed to be science fiction. Now electronic books were not only possible, they were gaining in popularity. This made it easier for outsiders (like me) to gain a foothold in the book industry. The stigma of being an independent author was being wiped out by this new booming industry. I had dipped my toes into the waters of independent publishing with a few books combining my poetry and photographs, and while they weren’t mega-sellers, I was still excited to be a part of this new world.

Somewhere along the path of this journey, the story I was trying to tell also evolved. It was no longer just a mash up of past life memories combined with my mediocre story telling talents. Instead, it had become a philosophical statement. It had become a way for me to express my views on how the world worked; it was a way to voice my perceptions and my beliefs. But I needed to do it in a way that entertained and intrigued my readers (much the same way as Mr. Matheson had done in his books).

As I child I was a voracious reader, and I realized just how much of my world view was forged by the authors I read. People like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Andre Norton; also Mary Norton, Lewis Carroll, and L. Frank Baum. These had been just some of my companions as a child, thrilling me, entertaining me, but at the same time shaping me, firing my imagination, and allowing me to go through life always asking “what if.”

In my mind there was so much more to life than our basic senses showed us. I just wanted a chance to say “what if” to all those possible readers out there. If I could create a world that was real enough, with characters that they could relate to, then the readers might just be willing to say, why not. Why can’t I do that? Maybe that is possible.

With this goal driving me, I dove into my notes and started out again. This time as the story grew and flowed from my core and into the computer, I realized that the time had come. Something in my subconscious said that this was the right time to actually finish it up and get it out there.

The confluence of the planets, the merging of the energies, the life lessons I had stumbled through and managed to complete were all pointing in one direction. It was now time to put myself out there and actually complete the books (notice the plural—the one book had grown to at least three books; the single story idea had grown into a trilogy).

This time my quest was clear. I took all my emotional attachments to the material and let it go so that I would be free to rework it, reframe it, and make it flow the way it needed to. I became committed to my characters, and they wasted little time showing me how to bring them to life.

As the characters now evolved, their names changed (Katyra became Neerah and Jarrod became Joelnar). Ethereals (golden beings of light) got written in and stayed. (In their own way, they became the elves that normally populate fantasies…all wise and all knowing. However, they never leave their reality to participate in the quest—and, oh yes, the quest was reinstated). Several personalities shifted dramatically, but the one thing that never changed was the original lesson that had always been embedded in the story…tolerance.

Here’s the synopsis, which has also grown from that simple sentence stated at the start of these evolution articles, to a more comprehensive summary of my novel:

synopsis

Interested in finding out more about my journey, and my book? I hope so…because Joelnar, Neerah, all their friends, and I are just waiting to tell you our stories.

Evolution of a Story (Part 3)

stampAlthough, my book wasn’t anywhere near done, I started sending out letters to agents. (Everything I had read about getting a book published said I would need an agent before a publisher would even look at my manuscript; therefore, I figured why not get a head start on that.)

One of the agents on my list of possibles was named Tricia A. Sullivan. I saw her name and thought it had to be fate. I mean how could someone with my name not like my story?

I wrote her a letter and included a description of the series I planned to write along with a synopsis of the first book. Surprisingly, she wrote back and said she liked the story idea. She suggested we meet in a few weeks to discuss things.

I was over the moon. Things were happening that I had only dreamed of, but never expected to actually occur. In a frenzy, I tightened up my synopsis, reworked and formatted my character summaries, and wrote up a rough marketing plan (another thing I had heard was necessary in order to sell your book idea).

Two days before the arranged meeting, though, she called and left me a message. Seems she had decided to become a science fiction author rather than continue her career as an agent. Unfortunately, no one else in her office was willing to meet with me at the time.

I was crushed. How could the fates have been so cruel?

Determined to show the fates how wrong they were, I spent the next two years sending book proposal packages to agents and to those publishers with open acceptance editors (aka: slush pile editors). The printer churned out copy after copy, and every weekend I trekked to the post office to drop off my piles of proposals. I contacted firms and individuals from New York to Oregon; from the UK to Lithuania. I printed, I bundled, and I shipped out my story. The folks at the post office got to know me by name, and we joked and quipped about my bundles of proposals.

Eventually, though, I ran out of people and places to send my samples and proposals to. After all, there are only a finite number of publishing companies and agents, and they tend to get rather testy when you keep sending them the same item they rejected just six or nine months earlier.

So, I gathered my rejections, my story notes, and all my electronic and hardcopy bits and bytes, and I shut them up in a drawer. Summer had come and gone twice, and it was time to face life again.

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Evolution of a Story (Part 2)

coffeeandglassesAfter several years of reading myself into a stupor, I once again pulled out my notes and bits of papers. This time, though, I actually managed to put together a high-level plot synopsis:  Katyra and Jarrod end up pursued by Lord Darkwind and his minions as they search for the starstone. (Note: most of the character names and traits got changed; however, Lord Darkwind, his windriders, and the starstone remained constants throughout.)

I planned the world, made a map of it, and even identified friendly nations, and those that were at war with one another. I identified the main players in my story, and wrote their backgrounds and personality traits. (This was something I had actually learned to do as part of my job as a technical writer. I had taken several classes in the psychology of users, and I had learned how to identify the seven basic technology users and their traits. Turns out these are fairly basic traits for most people–kind and helpful, irritable and grouchy, etc.)

I created an outline of the story, making notes as to what should happen at various points throughout the story. In fact, I spent one whole summer on the lanai typing, plotting, and thoroughly lost in my fantasy world with my characters. I was so deep into my own world that it became almost real. More than once, I would look up from the computer to see myself sitting in Danaria with all its unique creatures and landscapes. I listened to my “friends” bicker and plot, argue and laugh. Their world became my world.

I withdrew so far into myself that I found even more memories that would fit with the storyline that was now writing itself. Before I realized what was happening, I had enough memories and storylines for at least three books and perhaps even four. The words flowed like water from a faucet. My fingers couldn’t keep up with all the information that was erupting from my soul.

I really thought I had something special and I couldn’t wait to share it with the world. And that’s when I met the other Tricia Sullivan.

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Map of Danaria

 

 

Evolution of a Story (Part 1)

shooting_starTwenty-five years ago, I came up with several great (I thought) story ideas based on some of my past life memories and past life remembrances of a few of my friends. Using my moderate writing ability, I tried to mash them all together into something understandable and interesting.

What I ended up with was two characters who didn’t like each other much (or at all), but had to work together to save the world. (You know, standard stuff; nothing fancy.) I played with some characterizations and some plot lines, but couldn’t seem to separate my characters enough from myself and the people I had drawn the past life information from. I was still too close to everything and everyone. When I tried to strip down the characters into something different from the memories, I couldn’t do it. And when I tried to pick one timeline and one scenario, it didn’t work.

I also discovered that while I had spent years writing for a living, writing a novel was something all together different. I was used to writing short items: news articles, how-to guides, and short stories. While the first two types of writing helped me hone my basic writing skills, they did little for my writing voice (my author’s voice) and my story development skills. The short stories had kept my creative skills from getting rusty, but writing a short story is still quite different from writing a full novel.

Short stories have quick arcs. You need to introduce and develop your characters within a page, maybe two. The same with the situation (plot) and the motivation. A short story, by its very nature, needs to be introduced, developed, and resolved in an abbreviated time frame (hence the title – short story).

Frustrated with myself and my lack of skill in novel writing, and finding the everyday drama of life intruding too much, I took all my notes, outlines, sketched out scenes, characterizations, and pieces of dialogue, and I tossed them into a drawer for a while.

Every few months or so, I would pull out everything and take another stab at creating something cohesive from the bits. I would twist the ideas around, add some substance to the characters, remove character traits that no longer seemed to fit, add a plot twist here and there, but in the end I would toss it back in the drawer. However, the story was always with me; it was always in the back of my mind, stewing.

Eventually, I realized that I was never going to get the story to conform to the format of historical fiction (ala Taylor Caldwell), so I started thinking about creating a period romance. However, the past life memories were too scattered and piecemeal, and there were too many periods jumbled together for me to pick just one. And the story pieces I was finding embedded in all of these memories wasn’t romance so much as something on a larger scale. There was a bigger lesson, a more overarching story being told. I just needed to pick the right pieces to make that story work.

So, having discarded the historical formats for my story, I wondered what type of format I could use that would still let me incorporate a myriad of timelines. Someone suggested fantasy. I hadn’t really read much fantasy, at least not lately (I head read some when I was a young adult, but that had been years ago. ). But from what I remembered of it, it just might be a good fit. I could create my own world, which would let me incoroprate all the different time periods (or many of them, anyway) into the story and it wouldn’t appear quite so odd.

Freed from the stumbling block of placing it in our own reality and time period helped the ideas flow. Sure, I had to ensure that the story still felt real; everything had to be within the realm of possibility, but it no longer mattered if magic merged with technology, or if my alien world was populated by Medieval societies.

Because it had been so long since I had visited the realms of fantasy writing, I began reading all the fantasy novels I could. I wanted to see how the authors built their worlds, introduced their characters, and explained their societies without slowing the pace of the book or killing the story before it even got started.

I went for a wide variety of fantasy authors from Piers Anthony to Margaret Weis, from Marion Zimmer Bradley to JK Rowling. They all had their own style of bringing their readers into their fantastical world–some I liked, some I didn’t. But it definitely gave me more to think about. And so my own story was again placed in a drawer while I went off to read, study, learn, and read some more.

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A Visionary Journey

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Teacher: one who imparts knowledge or aids in the learning process. Someone who shows you the path to enlightenment through the use of various means and mediums.

Visionary Fiction: one of the mediums through which knowledge, wisdom, or enlightenment is imparted. It embraces spiritual and esoteric wisdom, often from ancient sources, and makes it relevant for our modern life. This wisdom is presented in story form and enables readers to experience the truth of the information and express it within themselves.

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Although I’ve never had the job title of teacher (or any of its variations), I have been a teacher my entire adult life. I teach philosophy, a world point of view based on my experiences, my insights, and my own understanding of how things work. But just as my topic is slightly unconventional, so are my methods of presentation. I don’t stand in the front of a classroom with a determined audience; instead, I have conversations, go to concerts or movies, write visionary fiction and other types of pieces, and generally just participate in life.

Actually, visionary fiction is a new term for me, but one that fits my writing style like a custom-made garment. I never labeled my musings and blog postings. I simply referred to them as “those paranormal and fantastical ramblings of mine…”, or “the musings of a soul needing to share…” As for my books, well…those got listed as paranormal or fantasy for lack of anything better.

But another blogger and author, Ellis Nelson, happened to peruse my blog site and left her calling card for me. I followed her back to her blog, EllisNelson (which has some interesting posts on it), and the first post I read was “I Write Visionary Fiction – Who Knew?

I used her VFA membership link to get to the Visionary Fiction Alliance (VFA) website. There I learned more about what visionary fiction was and what the VFA was all about. Visionary fiction is an actual book genre, which focuses on the primary characters’ growing awareness and enlightenment by using reincarnation, dreams, visions, and psychic abilities as key parts of the story.

Since this echoes my own life and philosophy, it has been only natural for me to incorporate these elements into my stories. After all, you’re supposed to write about what you know, and what I know the most about is (what most people consider) the paranormal. So now, instead of labeling my books and stories paranormal or fantasy, I can use a label that is closer to the truth—visionary fiction.

For me, visiting Ellis Nelson and the VFA has been an enlightening journey. Make the journey yourself. Click the VFA icon in the right sidebar and find out what the VFA can offer readers and authors.

 

The Next Taylor Caldwell?

My Life as a PsychopompWriting a novel is a maddening, magical, and mind-bending experience. It’s a mystical journey that can take you anywhere and nowhere. It’s a journey that can go on for eons, or it can last only moments. When you’re enjoying the experience, it’s heaven; but when the characters won’t talk to you, it can be hell.

My novel began 25 years ago (yep, you read that right–I started this journey 25 years ago), while involved in some meditation classes and past life review sessions. As stated in my book Escorting the Dead: My Life as a Psychopomp  (gotta get those plugs in), I have a knack for being able to read other people’s past lives from their auras; however, I could never easily read my own. But as I learned different types of meditations, I was able to bring out details of some of my own past lives.

I recorded the details and followed the path of the stories that I found. The paths led me to other people that I knew, but who had also been part of my “pasts”. So, from reading their auras I got more details and, many times, a totally different perspective on the incidents. I scribbled snippets of dialogue, I dashed out descriptions of scenes and character interactions, and I began to formulate an idea for a story to weave all these disparate bits and pieces of past life memories together.

In my naivete, I thought I might be the next Taylor Caldwell. While growing up, I had read nearly every book she ever wrote; her stories were brilliant and had felt so authentic. She knew so many details about each of the time periods she wrote about. Yet, when asked about the amount of research that she must have done to imbue each of her stories with so much realism, she denied it. She said that she just knew what was right for each story because she could see it in her mind’s eye. She claimed that most of her research was in regard to the events of the period and the placing of those events in the proper sequence.

She was a brilliant writer, and very clever. So, it seemed less than surprising to learn (years later) that her historical fictions were a combination of her past life memories and her ability to write a story. But, as I would learn, it takes more than being able to “read” auras and discern past life memories to create a story, let alone a novel. There’s a fair bit of story telling ability needed, too. Oh, and let us not forget the ability to write…a small matter that so many of today’s wanna-be-authors seem to feel is unimportant. And while I admit that spelling and grammar can be a bloody pain in the keester, they do make it so much easier on the reader.

Recognizing that I had a lot more work to do wasn’t easy. I’m not always a very patient person. All I saw was that I had the makings of some great stories; great stories that I truly felt others needed to see and share, too. However, 25 years ago was long before the age of the blog or other social media outlets. In fact, PCs were not something that everyone had, and the internet and email were barely out of their infancy. So, unless I could pull my stories into some cohesive book or collection of short stories, no one was going to see them except me (oh, and probably my hubby). And so began the greatest adventure of my life…learning to be a writer, an author, and a novelist.

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