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Dreams

When we’re little, most of us want to grow up to be someone wonderful and/or famous: a brain surgeon, an astronaut, a professional athlete, an Oscar-winning movie star, a chart-topping singer, a bestselling author … and the list goes on.

Somewhere along the line, however, most of us begin to believe our dreams are not only far-fetched but unattainable. According to Webster, a dream is a “strongly desired goal or purpose.” But our parents, or brothers and sisters, or teachers, or friends tell us we’re nuts to think we’ll ever hit number one on the country charts … or the New York Times bestseller list. They lay out the odds, in explicit detail, against us becoming the first-string quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.

We buy into all the “good advice” about how we’re being unrealistic and immature and selfish when we plan to skip college to join a rock ‘n’ roll band or submit our applications to NASA.

My job here today is to tell you that all that “good advice” is bullshit. And those people don’t know what they’re talking about.

Doris McHenry

How do I know? Because I began living my dream on 11/11/11–which would have been my mother’s 78th birthday if she were still alive. Which is ironic, since she was one of the biggest supporters of my dream … while also being one of those people who nagged me to put my dream on hold while I attended to the responsibilities of living in the “real world.”

I always wanted to be a published writer. As in: a writer who supports herself with her writing. Yes, part of that dream was being a bestselling author of fiction–which hasn’t happened yet. But I am supporting myself with my writing. Exclusively.

Am I doing it exactly as I’d dreamed? No. Am I doing it as quickly as I’d dreamed. Hell, no. But am I doing it? Yes. Imagine how quickly I could have done it if I hadn’t allowed myself to believe all the garbage…

Then again, maybe this is exactly the way it was supposed to be. Maybe the lessons I learned along the way– and the patience I acquired and the flexibility and adaptability that are so much a part of my professional repertoire–were an essential part of the journey.

Here’s the lesson: don’t give up on your dreams. Even if you have to put them on hold while you live your life in the “real world,” take them out and examine them on a regular basis. Do what you have to do to fulfill those dreams. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Because if you do, your dreams will come true.

 

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2011 in Inspiration, Just Saying..., Motivation

 

Musty Writing – a guest post by Michaelbrent Collings

When considering self-publishing on Kindle, there are four things you must do (“Must”y writing – get it?  Ha!).  They are like the mustard on my hot dog: a non-negotiable element.  Without it, you may as well not even try.  ‘Cause I won’t bite.

Now, before I dive into what those elements are, I should probably tell you how I know about them.  So y’all know I’ve got street cred.  And mad skillz (part of having street cred is always spelling “skillz” with a z).

I’ve been writing for most of my life.  I sold my first paying work when I was fifteen.  Going to college, I won a bunch of creative writing scholarships and awards.  Then I became a lawyer, where my job involved mostly (wait for it!) writing.

Oh, yeah, and somewhere along the way I became a produced screenwriter, member of the Writers Guild of America (which is statistically harder to do than it is to become a professional baseball player), and a published novelist.  Throughout all this, I had a book that I really liked, called RUN.  And though I had done all the above, no book publisher would touch RUN with a ten foot cattle prod.  Largely, I suspect, because it was very hard to figure out how to market it: it was a sci-fi/suspense/horror/thriller/apocalyptic novel with romantic elements.  There is no shelf for that at Barnes & Noble.

But I believed in the book, dangit!  So I researched around, and discovered self-publishing through Amazon’s Kindle service.  I decided I didn’t have much to lose, since RUN was just sitting on a shelf anyway, so decided to try my hand at self-publishing an e-book on Kindle. 

Within a few months, RUN became a bestseller, topping Amazon’s sci-fi chart, and eventually becoming the #61 item available for Kindle, out of over ten million books, games, puzzles, and blogs.  I also published a young adult fantasy called Billy: Messenger of Powers which has hovered on various genre bestseller lists on Amazon for the better part of a year now.  And followed those up with another e-book, and another, and another.  Some of the others became bestsellers, some didn’t.  But all have made money, and all have increased my fan base.

Now I don’t say this to brag, but I want you to understand I know a bit whereof I speak.  Through the process, I have learned the ins and outs of Kindle publishing (and e-publishing in general), learning as much from what didn’t work as from what did.  And that’s why I’ve come up with these four important things to do:

 1)  Make a kickin’ cover

This is one place where approximately 99% of self-published authors get it wrong.  Look at most self-published books, and they look less professional.  And like it or not, a lot of people go strictly off the cover.  You have about ten seconds to wow them with your cool cover before they click the button and move on to another book.  For the Kindle edition of Billy: Messenger of Powers, I spent days upon days designing the cover.  Everything from the cover image, to the typeface, to the composition of the elements.  It was critical.  And it paid off.  Same for RUN, and another of my books, Rising Fears, all of which have been praised for the fact that the covers are interesting enough to “hook” readers.  Some of my other covers aren’t as effective, or as professional looking, unfortunately.  And guess what?  They also don’t sell as well.

2)  Market yourself

Here’s a fact of life in general: people generally don’t give you things for free.  You have to earn them.  And that includes getting people to read your work.  When I wrote Billy, I spent over a month designing a website (www.whoisbillyjones.com) that was interesting, conveyed a message about the book, and had a look and feel that I felt would intrigue people and make them want to find out more.  Same with the website for RUN (www.seehowtheyrun.net).  And my own website, michaelbrentcollings.com, took even longer.  But that was only the start.  I also had a Facebook “fan” page, a Twitter feed, and did the rounds of book and genre conventions.  Not to mention doing interviews, podcasts, guest blogs, and generally talking to anyone and everyone who would listen.  You have to do more than write a book.  You have to create an event.

 3)  Have a grabby description

 “What do you do when everyone you know – family, friends, everyone – is trying to kill you?  You RUN.”

 That is the description on amazon.com for my book RUN.  Two sentences that I spent an extremely long time writing.  Like the cover of your book, the production description is something that has to grab people, reel them in, and not let them go.  Some self-published authors think the best way to get someone to read their work is to describe every jot and tittle.  But in reality, the secret isn’t information, it’s captivation.  You have to intrigue your (prospective) readers.  You have to leave them with serious questions that they want answered.  Describing what your book is about is less important than creating a specific feeling in the mind and heart of your audience: the feeling that they will be better off reading your book than not.

 4)  Write something worth reading

 This may seem obvious, but the fact of the matter is you have to have something pretty darn special.  I’m not saying this to depress anyone: I firmly believe that most people have great stories in them, and have the potential to learn how to tell them.  But make no mistake, it is something that takes practice, dedication, and perspiration.  Writing is a skill.  It is a discipline.  Anyone can knock out a sentence or two.  But getting those sentences to grab a complete stranger to the point that he or she is willing to fork over hard-earned cash to read them is another matter.  Let alone getting them to like the sentences enough that they want to tell their friends to spend their hard-earned cash on them.  Again, I really do believe that most people have it in them to do this.  But I also believe just as stridently that to get to that point takes practice, practice, and more practice.  I have spent thousands of hours learning how to write … and I continue to learn.  Any author who wants to charm people into buying his or her work has to be willing to put in the effort to make it happen.  Because without the skill to back up your work, no matter how good your basic ideas are, they probably won’t sell.  There are exceptions (that’s right, Twilight), but for the most part a book has to be extraordinarily well-written in order to get people to buy it. 

That’s not to say that everyone will like your book.  Some people don’t like RUN, or Billy: Messenger of Powers.  Or Harry Potter or anything by Stephen King or even the bestselling book of all time (the Bible).  But if you don’t care enough to develop your writing skills in service of your storytelling, you can bet that few (if any) will like it at all.

And so…

… there you have it, folks.  Again, I think most people have interesting stories to tell.  But without doing the four things above, the great story will probably sit quietly in a dark corner of your closet.  And that, my friends, is no fun at all.

Michaelbrent Collings is the author of Billy: Messenger of Powers, RUN, and several other bestsellers (all available at amazon.com), and has also written and sold screenplays for Hollyweird.  He can be followed on Twitter at @mbcollings, and has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michaelbrent-Collings/283851837365?ref=ts, and you can also check him out at michaelbrentcollings.com

 

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Guest Blogger, Just Saying..., Mystery, Thriller

 

Sunday Morning Perspective

Today, on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack on our country, I didn’t suffer the anguish of losing a loved one in the tragedy. In fact, if I know someone who suffered a direct loss from the attacks, I’m not aware of it.

But, like every other human being, I’ve suffered loss and survived tragedy. I’m haunted. I don’t have dreams but my fears occasionally nibble at my sanity. I grieve.

And as I lay on my living room floor early this morning, breathing in the crisp, clear untainted air through the open sliding glass door, I was grateful I never had to inhale the stench of fire, smoke, and burning flesh. I closed my eyes and sucked that fresh air into my lungs, savoring it. A wildfire had once burned half a mile from my mountain home in western Montana and, although that experience certainly couldn’t compare to 9/11, it allowed me a brief glimpse at it.

My dog and cat–both elderly, with more and more white fur encroaching on their black velvet coats–lay across the room during these moments of introspection, hogging the sunspots on the floor in blissful oblivion. I’m a creature of the light, as my furry companions are, yet I know from personal experience how debilitating it is to live in darkness. How it drags you down, how it pours gasoline on the fire of your fears, how it threatens to eat you alive.

I thanked God for blessing me with a positive personality and giving birth to me in this country–where we have the freedom to lie on our living room floors on a Sunday morning, taking pleasure in the late summer sunshine, and doing nothing but giving thanks to our Higher Power, whoever He or She might be, without having to be constantly afraid.

Most of the things that happen to us are beyond our control: the sun rising and setting, the plots crazy madmen in other countries are intent on hatching, whether a genetic malfunction will manifest itself in our yet-to-be-born son, how one in four of the women we know and love (including our sisters and daughters) will be sexually assaulted.

We can’t control these events.  Most of the time, we can’t even prevent them. What we can control, however, is how we respond to these horrific experiences. We can do our part, however small, in attempting to prevent them.

We can take something positive from crippling, mind-boggling acts of violence and calamity. We have to take something positive from them. Otherwise, the senselessness of it all will drive us insane.

Let’s share the positive today, appreciate our freedoms, and count our blessings. Together, we can make the world a better place.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in Just Saying...

 

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What makes a family?

After spending a good portion of this past week with my family, and that of my future daughter-in-law, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about nature versus nurture. And genes.

See these two gorgeous nine-month-old babies? The one on your left (Beth) is the mother of the one on your right (Bridget). How many of you thought you were looking at the same child?

Now that Bridget is 12 years old, my ex-husband and I still find ourselves noticing similarities between her and her mother at that age. They were both born in early March and share the same sweet disposition. The physical resemblance isn’t so strong these days, but there’s something about the two of them…

Do Joe and I grasp at the similarities because we’re feeling our age or want to relive the joy of watching our little girl grow up?  Or are there really that many similarities between Beth and Bridget? I also wonder if Bridget’s other grandmother has the same thoughts: seeing Bridget as a reincarnation of Brendon?

My future daughter-in-law (let’s call her Alyssa) has two older brothers. The oldest brother has a son who looks more like he’s the child of the youngest brother. How does that work?

I have a relative who hasn’t seen his biological father since infancy. When he was a kid, he hummed when he ate his breakfast cereal–just like his father did as a child.

I have a friend, a dark-haired, brown-eyed, Portuguese fellow, who adopted his son: a tow-headed, blond-haired, blue-eyed child of Nordic ancestry. How come this child grew into a man who looks, talks, and walks just like the father with whom he shares no genes?

It’s as if our bodies have a special kind of knowledge that can’t be explained by logic or thought. And our hearts have more knowledge than our bodies and minds will ever have.

To some people, family is another word for the blood that runs through our veins; blood passed down to us from our parents and, in turn, that we pass along to our children. To other people, family is another word for the unspoken bonds created by our hearts.

Not so ironic that it’s our hearts that keep the blood pumping, is it?

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2011 in Just Saying...

 
 
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