A “Real” Writer?

A “Real” Writer?

Scott and Christine, San Diego 1982 Photo by Chet Cunningham

Scott and Christine, San Diego 1982 Photo by Chet Cunningham – all “real” writers.

It’s come up more than a few times lately, with more than a few of my friends. What is a “real” writer? When do I get to that point? When does it all just flow?  Well, in the 13-plus years I’ve been writing, this is what I’ve come to know about being a “real” writer.

So Much Noise.

A real writer writes. They hide in their cave/laundry room/nearest coffee shop and write.

A real writer only writes on Wednesdays.

A real writer writes five thousand words a day when it goes well. Other times it’s like pulling teeth to get five hundred words done.

A real writer only writes when the muse strikes.

A real writer complains. They talk to like-minded writer friends about their hopes, dreams, and fears for the current manuscript, and no matter what, they go back to that manuscript until that sucker is done.

A real writer feels like a fraud, and when they do write a book that sells, they’re secretly afraid they’ll never be able to repeat it.

A real writer dives into each novel without planning, never knowing what’s going to come out.

A real writer gets to go on author tours and talk to kids about their middle grade books,

and opens minds and changes hearts while on said tour.

A real writer has Hollywood knocking on their door constantly.

A real writer does it all – writes, edits, designs covers, reviews books, formats books, and puts books out all by themselves. All the time.

A real writer never gets screwed by her agent/editor/publishing house.

A real writer has discussions with his agent/editor/critique partner about what’s just not working about the current book, and how to make it better.

A real writer doesn’t make good money.

A real writer plots meticulously before starting a new book.

A real writer gets reviews wherever reviews can be posted. Some are glowing. Some are not. Sometimes it looks like the person reviewing never read the book. Sometimes there aren’t many reviews, and the writer’s heart bleeds for that book.

A real writer has written books that will never see the light of day. Conversely, a real writer publishes everything they’ve ever written.

A real writer makes serious money.

A real writer only writes and pushes his wares to real publishers. Big five or nothing, baby.

Market market market. Twitter and FB and Instagram and Goodreads until you die. It’s the only way to make an impression.

A real writer can only write one good book a year.

A real writer refills the well when life hits hard, and puts the writing aside until the storm has passed (because it always passes).

A real writer can write a good book every month.

A real writer only writes for the intelligentsia.

A real writer writes no matter what’s going on in his life – death, birth, hurricanes or earthquakes, they’re writing.

A real writer gets agents and editors excited about their work.

A real writer writes every fucking day because there is no muse and the bills need to get paid.

And Then…

A real writer eventually learns that there is no correct way to be a real writer, and that what works for one person just won’t work for another. There are as many different roads to Publishing Nirvana as there are people trying to get there.

What is very interesting, is there are a LOT of people out there who want you to buy THEIR way to get to Publishing Nirvana, because THEIR way is the ONLY way. To which I call bullshit – be very wary of ANYONE who says their way is the only way to do anything, especially anything to do with writing. One size does not fit all, and these folks are preying on artists (because writers aren’t the only ones who get scammed in this manner).

So, to all you real writers out there, wherever you are on the writer’s journey, know you aren’t alone. What makes the journey worth while, for me at least, are the other writers/agents/editors we surround ourselves with, and the readers we reach with our words. You CAN do this. You CAN make this into your dream career.

Every writing career is a roller coaster. Sometimes it seems like we’re in free fall; other times it feels like getting to the top is taking forever. What is irritating and fascinating is that no two writers are on the same roller coaster.

Writers, musicians, artists of all kinds, actors, singers, dancers – the arts help to put the world around us into perspective for those who aren’t artists. It’s a gift, an obligation, for us to work on our art.

What is a “real” writer? One who doesn’t quit.

Chet Cunningham, June 2011. 325+ novels out and counting. He's as real as it gets.

Chet Cunningham, 325+ novels out and counting. He’s as real as it gets.


Go out into the world, dear hearts, be brave, and write. Paint. Sing. Film. Dance. And do it with your whole heart. Sending love and hugs to you.

Oh, and check out the writers depicted above. If you know a real writer, please give them a shout out by putting a link to their Amazon page in the comments.


Yvonne Jocks, Evelyn Vaughn, Writer Extraordinaire!

Yvonne Jocks, Evelyn Vaughn, Writer Extraordinaire!

Yvonne Jocks, Author

Yvonne Jocks, Author (Isn’t this logo FABULOUS??)

I met Yvonne Jocks at my very first Romance Writers of America conference in 2002 in Denver, Colorado. Yvonne was not only signing books, but she was teaching a workshop on how to incorporate the use of magic in your writing. When I saw in the syllabus for the week that one of the books she used as a reference was one of my brother Scott’s, I of COURSE had to introduce myself. Big hugs and instant friendship – I count myself very lucky to have Von in my life (though it has been TOO LONG since I’ve hugged her!) She is also a part of the online band of intrepid writers that I belong to, along with Jenn Reese and Anne Nesbet, middle grade authors that I profiled last week.

Whether you pick up books by Yvonne Jocks or Evelyn Vaughn, the experience is always spellbinding.  Harlequin has published many of her books (two series I adore, The Grailkeepers and The Bladekeepers, are written under Evelyn Vaughn for Harlequin), and she has a new series out now called Overtime, written under the Yvonne Jocks name. The Overtime series is the one I’m focusing on today.

Here’s the first in the Overtime series. SEARCHING

Overtime, Book 1

Overtime, Book 1 – Searching

When an 1870’s trail boss with no sense of humor rescues a pretty time traveler with no memory, there’ll be trouble on the cattle drive.

A girl doesn’t wind up naked in a Kansas creek bed without asking herself the tough questions. If the first one is “Who am I”, she’s in for a rough time … or maybe the wrong time completely!

Despite the reluctant help of an 1870s trail-boss, “Lillabit” finds only contradictions. Though she’s guileless, her language shocks Texas cowboys. Though independent, she can’t rein a horse. She’s smart, but not about “current” events. And her dreams feature elevators, electricity, plumbing–and impossibility.

Something awful has happened. So as Lillabit acclimates to the slow, steady world of an Old West cattle drive, is she really finding herself? Or is she, just maybe, losing worlds more than her memory?

And book 2…TURNING

Turning, Book 2 in the Overtime series

Turning, Book 2 in the Overtime series


Amnesia was easier.

Stranded in 1870s Dodge City, Lillabit remembers: She’s Elizabeth Rhinehart, a modern woman thrown back in time against her will.

Also? Someone may be out to kill her.

Her only hope of returning home lies with a trio of scientists in Colorado. To get there, Elizabeth needs passage with someone she can trust… perhaps someone like the no-nonsense trail boss who first rescued her from the desert. But even if Jacob Garrison lets her rejoin his cattle drive to Wyoming–once he learns her secrets, will he let her go home? Will she WANT to?

TURNING is the 2nd book and continuation of the somewhat romantic, sometimes comic, cattle-drive time-travel OVERTIME series. It ties up several major elements of the story–but we have 2 books to go! 

Don’t those sound fantastic? If you want to know more about Yvonne Jocks, drop by her website.

And if you want more information about the Grailkeepers, click on the Grailkeepers button over to the left – there’s a wealth of history and research and other fun stuff there.

Speaking of books, what are you reading right now?


Jenn Reese, Awesome Middle Grade Author

Jenn Reese, Awesome Middle Grade Author

Jenn Reese

Jenn Ree

It’s not Writer Wednesday, but sometimes you just gotta break tradition! So, here we go!

Another one of those fantastic writers that I hang out with (and who humbles me with her snippets of awesomeness) is Jenn Reese. I’ve known Jenn since before I began my writing journey; she’s one of the very first people who assured me I can do this. (She’s still assuring me, and I don’t take that for granted one little bit.)

So, in my totally unbiased opinion, Above World is an adventure that ANY middle-grade reader would devour.

But before I introduce you to the books, here’s more about Jenn from her Amazon page:

“Writer. Martial artist. Geek.

Jenn writes science fiction and fantasy stories about heroes and adventure and lasting friendships. Her short stories have appeared online in Strange Horizons and in a number of anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning Paper Cities. She makes her home in Los Angeles, a sun-bleached desert city of freaks that she absolutely loves. When she’s not sitting in traffic, she’s studying martial arts, playing video games, and dreaming of rain.

For more information on her stories, novels, and adventures, visit www.jennreese.com.” 

Here’s the scoop from Amazon:

Jenn Reese's middle-grade debut, Above World

Jenn Reese’s middle-grade debut, Above World

  A suspenseful sci-fi escapade plucks two children out of the ocean for a thrilling adventure. Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colony’s survival is at risk. The Kampii’s breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people. But can Aluna’s fierce determination and fighting skills and Hoku’s tech-savvy keep them safe? Set in a world where overcrowding has led humans to adapt – growing tails to live under the ocean or wings to live on mountains – here is a ride through a future where greed and cruelty have gone unchecked, but the loyalty of friends remains true.

And Book Two, Mirage…

Book Two in the Trilogy

Book Two in the Trilogy

A thrilling sequel from an exciting new voice in middle-grade sci-fi tracks two ocean-born children braving the dangers of the Above World. The desert is no place for ocean-dwelling Kampii like Aluna and Hoku, especially now that Aluna has secretly started growing her tail. But the maniacal Karl Strand is out to conquer the Above World, and the horselike Equians are next on his list. Aluna, Hoku, and their friends — winged Calli and Equian exile Dash — race to the desert city of Mirage, intent on warning the Equians. When they arrive, Strand’s clone, Scorch, has gotten there first. Now the Equian leader has vowed to take all his people to war as part of Strand’s army. Any herd that refuses to join him by the time of the desert-wide competition known as the Thunder Trials will be destroyed. To have any chance of defeating Scorch and convincing the Equians to switch sides, the four friends must find a way to win the Trials. The challenge seems impossible. But if they fail, the desert — and possibly all of the Above World — will be lost to Karl Strand forever. Here is the action-packed follow-up to Above World, which Kirkus Reviews called “a thrilling sci-fi adventure. Imaginative and riveting.”

And of course, there’s a third book, coming in February 2014! Here’s Horizon, available for pre-order.


Aluna and Hoku, Kampii from the City of Shifting Tides, and their friends, Equian Dash

Horizon, Book Three in the Above World Trilogy

Horizon, Book Three in the Above World Trilogy

and winged Aviar Calli, are determined to stop a war. The maniacal ex-scientist Karl Strand is planning to conquer the world with his enormous army of tech-enhanced soldiers . . . unless the four friends can get to Strand first. Aluna’s plan is dangerous: pose as Upgraders and infiltrate the army. But the enemy isn’t what they expected and the strategy begins to crumble. When the friends are torn apart by conflicting allegiances, their slim chance of avoiding war seems to disappear completely. For Aluna and Hoku, what began as a quest to save their own people has become a mission to save the world. But do Aluna and her friends have any hope of defeating Strand if they can’t take him on together?



If you have middle grade readers, add these books to their Christmas – they and you will be glad you did! Again, these are books worth giving in hardcover, as they will be read over and over again.

I have SO MANY talented friends. Do you know middle grade authors who deserve a shout out? Feel free to put a link in the comments…after all, Christmas is coming.

Thanks for stopping by – big squishy hugs to you all!


Alone in the Publishing Wilderness

Alone in the Publishing Wilderness

All the advice for writers on the Interwebs has been making my head spin the past year or so, and lately that advice is really getting on my nerves. Advice such as the following:

Blog 3 times a week or more.  The more you blog, the more people will come to your website.  Twitter twice daily, for at least fifteen minutes each time, but be a real person. Facebook is the way to make friends and informally chat. Become a book bloggers’ best buddy, and they’ll be happy to push your book for you.  And don’t forget to comment on every blog you can, every day. Give, give, give your time and energy to your fellow bloggers/authors and they’ll give back. Push your brand!

Self publish, but do it the right way. You don’t want to be a publisher, you just want to write? Grow up, be a big girl, pull up your panties and get over it. With the internet revolution regarding the written word, writers have to do it all now in order to be successful.

Some more tidbits of the revolutionary “truth”: Don’t bother with New York Publishing anymore, they’re the Titanic and they don’t see the iceberg in front of them. Agents? Who needs agents? Please, agents are so Twentieth Century.

All that advice gives me a headache.  Plus it makes me feel very alone. I long for the years when it was simpler; when a writer’s job was to write a damn good book, then get an agent, and the agent found you a publisher, and you were half way to a career. Note that I said simpler, not easier.

Is it wrong for me to still want a contract with a big New York publisher? Is it wrong for me to want an agent, someone who will help me, guide me in this new and confusing world? Is it wrong for me to want to work with those professionals who have so much to offer? That’s the message I’m getting from bloggers that I like, trust, and care about, that what I want is wrong – and that makes my stomach hurt.

I’m not denying there’s a revolution. I just want to have tea with the Queen, just once, before her crown is crushed underfoot by the internet.

I feel there is no way I can measure up to the “new” way of publishing and the social media expectations. Thinking about all the things I “should” be doing (other than writing) is draining, especially since I have a full time job and a family (and no assistant, no trust fund, no financial safety net, and most importantly, no backlist).  Doing all the social media stuff has become a chore, where it used to be fun. (I miss my 1k1hr buddies on Twitter!)

 Even writing became a bit of a grind for awhile. In a fit of desperation, I talked to

“…a fierce, take-charge Aluna is the kind of heroine who is easy to get behind.” Publisher’s Weekly

Jenn Reese, a lovely writer who was one of the very first to encourage me, all those years ago. I had a story that I liked that I was working on, but the plot seemed to be missing (maybe because I was trying to squeeze writing in between bouts of Facebook and Twitter).

She asked me why I was drawn to write in that world. And she gave me a homework assignment, to write a list of everything about that world that I was passionate about, that I wanted to write about.

The list flowed. Writing became exciting again. After Tai Chi on Saturday, and over yummy sandwiches at Bun Me, she pressed the point home to me. Write what you’re passionate about, she said. Don’t write to the market. Don’t force a genre on the book. If you know the book’s ending, you’re half way to a solid plot (so many books don’t follow through on their opening). Most of all, keep going!

In thinking about her advice, I realized it could also be applied to social media for the writer. So here’s my personal Writer’s Manifesto, that I’m sure will get tweaked as I go along:

Be passionate about your work, and that includes social media. Don’t do what you’re not comfortable with. If you get in too deep, excuse yourself and get back out (this includes participating in group blogs, volunteering for your writer’s group, or anything else that doesn’t focus you on your own writing).

Follow your dreams, whether that is a contract with a New York publisher, getting an agent, or self-publishing a book every other month.  Make sure those ARE your dreams though, and not dreams thrust upon you by well-meaning bloggers that you  know, like, and trust. (Because their dreams ARE NOT your dreams, though they may look similar.)  Above all? Focus on writing that you are passionate about, and then send it out into the world.

I realize I’m probably in the minority, wishing the publishing world wasn’t changing so rapidly. Like so many other big businesses, it’s an effed-up industry and has been for a long time; but it was effed up in a way I understood. This new world is one I don’t fully trust, and while I’ve learned a lot in the past 18 months, I am still going to reach for my personal brass ring.

I don’t want to be my own publisher; I want a knowledgable partner to help me through the publishing business. If that makes me seem like an ostrich with my head in the sand, so be it.

thanks to natureartists.com Peter Hall “Ostrich Dance”

 But I’d much rather believe I’m an ostrich, dancing.

The NaNoWriMo Pressure is ON

I can’t do NaNoWriMo this year. That’s National Novel Writing Month, for the unenlightened.  It’s not that I don’t want to, because I do. But I’m on deadline (one I’ve made for myself) and I am still getting used to writing around a full time job.

Every writer’s loop I’m on, though, is pushing it. “Who’s doing NaNo? What’s your NaNo name? Let’s start a support loop!” The push is from ALL the writer’s groups. Not that anyone denigrates those of us who don’t do it; but it seems like EVERY writer’s loop I’m on, there’s someone putting together a NaNo support loop. Even my publisher has a NaNo loop. But the peer pressure to join the support loops? AMAZING.

If I WERE to do NaNo this year, I could technically join nine NaNo loops; I’d spend more time reading messages from the support teams than I would spend writing. Um, what’s the purpose again? I know, not every writer belongs to nine groups – some only belong to seven. Or maybe a conservative four. Still…I miss the “olden days” of NaNo. Back when only four or five thousand people were doing it.

When I first did Nano, waaaay back in 2003, the only people I knew who were doing it was my best writing buddy Jenn Reese and a couple writers I knew in Texas. It was a mostly solitary endeavor, with the exception of delightful posts from Chris Baty and the NaNo organizers; and I can truly say that my work was a vomit draft, with “no plot, no problem” my mantra. However, I couldn’t fix those 54,000 words to save my life. The book still lurks on my hard drive, waiting to pounce on me when I don’t have anything else to write about. Luckily, that hasn’t been an issue.

I next completed NaNo in 2008, along with my two teenaged sons and my husband. There were more people doing NaNo, but I focused on my own, internal support group. We all finished; we all rejoiced. That book is in much better shape, but because of the books I’ve written in front of it, it will now most likely be mostly scrapped – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ll be able to save bits and pieces, just not the whole plot. *wince*.

The good to come out of this go-round of NaNo? My eldest son is taking writing classes in college and really enjoying them; and my youngest is doing NaNo again this year, only this time he’s writing in French. (Yes – in FRENCH. I have strange and wonderful kids.)

So all you NaNo-ers out there, I applaud you. I hope you’re plotting and planning, and that your novel-to-be has some sort of structure before you start (though technically that’s against the spirit of NaNo – or it used to be, anyway). I shall plug away at my novel rewrites and continue my blogging, and not miss the STRESS of NaNo at all. I can stress myself out just fine, thanks.

Maybe next year I will have the freedom to do NaNo again. But for now, I’ll cheer all of you NaNo-ers on from the sidelines – when I’m not busy writing.