My ‘Made It Moment’

I was recently asked by Jenny Milchman to write a ‘Made It Moment’ for her blog. My first reaction was “I haven’t ‘made it’, so what could I write about?”. But then I got to thinking and realised that my ‘Made It Moment’ is more to do with how I feel about my writing and not society’s view of success. It was quite pivotal for me – the realisation that I had actually fulfilled a major goal in my writing career was a major breakthrough and has boosted my self-confidence no end.

After the post was published earlier last week, I was amazed by the comments it received. Some of them made me feel I was not alone in the struggle I had in completing my first novel, Heart Search: Lost, and each one was supportive of me as a person and a writer. I’m so grateful to everyone who took the time to comment and show me such support!

My ‘Made It Moment’ is quite emotional on more than one level, but I wanted to share my story. If it gives even one person hope and inspiration then all the angst I felt writing it will be worthwhile. So, without further ado, here it is (alternatively you can view the original on Jenny Milchman’s blog by clicking on this link http://www.jennymilchman.com/blog/2012/12/18/made-it-moment-carlie-cullen/ and see the introduction and comments first hand)

“Isn’t it funny how it’s easier to believe the bad stuff people say to you than the positive?

Two years ago, when in the early stages of working on Heart Search: Lost, my dream of writing a novel and getting it published was almost dashed by someone who, instead of being a supportive husband, took great delight in putting me down. Phrases like, “What are you wasting your time doing that for?” and “Do you honestly think anyone will pay good money to read that crap?” and “If you’re so bored that you want to write, you should go out and get a second job!” and finally, “You’re living in a dream world – no one’s going to publish anything you write!” haunted me on a daily basis.

I’d been writing since I was a child and it was such a huge part of my life. It was my emotional escape and outlet, plus it gave me a great deal of pleasure. When I decided to write my first novel, I was excited and full of ideas. I wasn’t naïve enough to think I would land a publishing deal with the ‘big six’ (although I hoped it might be a possibility one day), but that didn’t stop me. I had a goal, one which fired me and drove me on to achieve something I dreamed about – to see my book on Amazon.

As the taunts and disparaging remarks continued, I began to get worn down. My self-esteem fell through the floor and I doubted myself and my abilities. My writing began to suffer and I started to believe I would fail before I’d even reached a quarter of the way through. But I had a shining light in my life, someone who believed in me and my writing ability, someone who encouraged/cajoled/pestered me to get each new chapter written – my wonderful daughter. She took to grabbing my laptop every time I left the room, to read what I’d just written, and upon returning was greeted with the phrase, “Where’s the next bit?” It became like a mantra. She loved the story and was eager to see where I was taking the characters next. She encouraged me right up until the final words were written, which was two months after the marriage ended and we moved out.

Just under a year later, after several rounds of editing, my book, Heart Search, book one: Lost was up on Amazon. I had achieved my goal and I felt like a kid at Christmas, faced with a pile of gaily wrapped presents. My heart soared and I was filled with joy. I’d proved the doubter wrong when, at the end of the first day, I had achieved sales on both sides of the Atlantic. If ever there was a time to flip someone ‘the bird’, that would have been it!

My daughter and I looked at the screen and she hugged me, saying, “I knew you could do it, Mum, and I’m so proud of you!” “

After I finished writing this, I realised I hadn’t only written it for other writers or aspiring authors, I’d written it for readers too. I think it’s important for readers to understand what happens behind the scenes, to see writers as real people with hopes, aspirations and rocky roads to negotiate. Once a reader connects with an author, it’s a wonderful relationship which can span many years and one I treasure.

 

You, Me and Mr W B

Next up on the Heart Search Blog Tour was this post written for my ‘stable-mate’ at Myrddin Publishing Group and dear friend, the fab Connie J Jasperson. She asked me to blog about the scourge which affects virtually all writers at some point – the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ – and how to deal with it. Here are some thoughts for you.

Block

The vast majority of us authors have day jobs and families, so we try and squeeze in some time when we can to write. But it’s just not that easy.

Picture the scene; you’ve had a rotten day at work so you’re feeling kind of up-tight and frustrated – angry even. When you get home you find some bills in your post box so now you have to work out which ones you can pay now and which will have to wait a week or two. Your spouse/partner is worried about money, the kid(s) and is fed up because he/she broke a favourite ornament. One of the kids is ill; they’ve got a bit of a fever and keeps throwing up, and the dog has decided to expand its’ culinary repertoire by chewing on your slippers.

After all this and having had dinner, you manage to find half an hour to sit down and write. You fire up your PC or laptop, open the relevant page and nothing. Mr Writer’s Block has taken up residence in your head and you can’t think of a single thing to write. You re-read some of what you’ve written before in the hope it’ll spark something, anything, so you can continue with your story. But what happens? Zilch, zip, nada, nothing. Before you know it, your half an hour has gone, it’s time for bed and now you’re even more frustrated.

Is it any wonder?

Our busy lives get in the way of our writing and just trying to find the time is hard enough, but when you’re worried about money, job, kids et al, it’s really no wonder so many of us suffer visits from Mr Writer’s Block, is it?

For us to be productive with our writing, we need to be able to put aside all the stresses, strains and problems thrown across our paths. We need to allow our imaginations to soar in a creative way rather than imagining what will happen if a particular bill is not paid by the due date. We need to find our zone and shut everything else out. Sounds easy, right? Like heck it is!

So how do we do it?

Preparation is key here and there are a few techniques you can use to get past it. I’m going to share three with you here.

If you’re the sort of person who listens to music when you write, put on a CD or your iPod for a good 10-15 minutes before you start and really concentrate on it. If it’s instrumental, listen to how the notes rise and fall, the harmonies created by the different instruments and think what scene the music conjures; if there are vocals, listen to the words very carefully, and try to picture the artist’s mood when they were writing it or how they would look performing it on stage. By concentrating on the music, you’re beginning to free your mind.

Another way is deep breathing relaxation exercises with a twist. Sit or lay – it doesn’t matter as long as you are comfortable – and close your eyes. Start breathing deeply then begin by thinking about your feet and mentally picture the muscles relaxing and the stress as a puff of black smoke or a black cloud which appears outside your feet as the muscles relax. Then you start working your way up your body; ankles to knees, knees to top of thighs, hip / groin / stomach area, chest, shoulders, arms and hands, neck and last of all your head. Then you picture a shape, any shape you like. It starts off small then gets increasingly larger until it fills your vision. Then you allow the shape to morph or distort itself, bending in on itself, twirling around, basically anything your mind can invoke. Now you’ve spent that time relaxing and playing with the shape, it’s pushed out the worries and let your imagination go to work.

The final one is ten minutes of free-writing, using pen and paper. Most, if not all of you are likely to know what this is, but in case you don’t I’ll explain. Pick a word, any word you like, at random. Now you just write anything which pops into your head about that word. Spelling, grammar and punctuation go out the window. You don’t even need to worry about sentence structure. You can write a list of words you associate with your chosen topic, you can write sentences. It doesn’t matter what you write, how it sounds, how arbitrary it is, the important thing is concentrating on your chosen word and just keep writing. The mere fact of you concentrating on something else has opened your mind and allowed the creative side to emerge.

After doing one of these exercises you go straight to your computer or writing pad, whichever you use and begin to write. Allow your mind free rein on your work in progress; it’s primed and ready to accept the sparks of inspiration your preparations have encouraged. It might be a little hokey at first, a little off compared to how you normally write, but that’s okay. The important thing is you’re now writing and as you progress your style, sentence structure and all the things you’re used to will materialise and ‘hey presto’ you’re back in your groove. The worst thing you can do is concern yourself with your first few lines which may not be up to your normal standard – it can always be edited later – you’re putting words on the page or screen and that’s what matters.

So the next time you’re tense and Mr Writer’s Block come knocking on your door, slam it in his face, do your chosen exercise(s) then write to your heart’s content.

I really hope you find these techniques useful!

I Am Blessed! (Blog Tour – week 3)

It’s not until you undertake something like a Blog Tour that you realise just how supportive the writing community is and what good friends you’ve made during your journey.

Every single cast member of my Blog Tour have gone out of their way to promote not only their own posts, but those of others in the tour. Each person has presented their posts in a wonderful and appealing way to give followers and readers the best experience they can. Some have been rather creative in their presentations too, which is only to be expected really as we writers are a creative bunch! [chuckles]

On social media platforms, mainly Twitter and Facebook, information has been shared and retweeted by other authors not taking part in the Blog Tour – such is the ethos in the writing world: Authors Helping Authors. I’ve been gobsmacked by the support I’ve received thus far and we still have a week of the tour to go! What other surprises have they in store for me? I can’t help but wonder.

I truly feel blessed to be part of such a wonderful community and thank everyone for their fabulous efforts on my behalf in bringing news of Heart Search: Lost to the world.

We’ve only got one week to go until the climax of the tour on All Hallows Eve, so let’s finish this as we started, with lots of noise and an almighty BANG! And if you haven’t entered the fab giveaway yet, get in quick! The answer you seek is in my previous post and the link for the giveaway is in the sidebar! Good Luck!

Seven Cans Short of a Six-Pack?

A writer’s life can be quite strange in some ways. That’s not to say we’re strange people (well maybe a few are, but on the whole…), but strange things happen to us. Let me explain.

I can only tell you how it is from my perspective, but some of my author friends have voiced the same things so I know I’m not alone here.

When I’m working on Heart Search: Found (book 2 in the trilogy), I’m totally focused on it to the extent I sometimes forget to eat lunch (like yesterday). I’m totally engrossed in the story I’m creating, the interaction between the characters, building the next twist, where I’m taking it next, but at the same time the story seems to write itself. I start writing a chapter knowing what I’ve got planned for it and suddenly I find I’ve thrown a curve ball into the mix and something I’ve not planned for takes shape on the pages. It happened when I was writing Heart Search:Lost (book 1) as well.

In some ways it’s like the books actually write themselves and I’m just the channel to put the words on the screen. I believe my Muse has something to do with it. Many writers believe they have a Muse who helps and guides them on their writing journey – I know I have, and can describe her, tell you her name and a little of her history! But anyway, I digress.

It’s when I’m away from Heart Search that things get strange. On the rare occasions these days when I leave the house, I watch people more closely than before, scrutinising their expressions, mannerisms and listening to the inflections in their voices when they speak (that’s probably one for another post), basically anything I can use to help bring my characters to life. Those of you who have been following my blog for some time know my feelings on this matter, but for those of you who have just found me, check out the archives and you’ll see how much emphasis I place on making characters real so readers can relate to them.

The other things I suffer from are random characters running around in my head begging me to tell their stories. They have nothing to do with my current project and yet they make themselves known to me. They give me just enough to pique my interest and if I’m able, I jot down some notes for future reference. I just never know when one or more of these characters will make it into one of my stories.

In addition, I get new story ideas floating around and they can appear at the most random places and times. The weirdest things can set this off; an overheard conversation, a painting in a shop window, a building, a person, or just walking (or in my case hobbling) or driving somewhere and letting my mind wander.

If I write all the story ideas running around my head which I’ve made note of, I’m going to be writing about 30 books and that’s just what I’ve got at the moment!

I love how inspiration for a story can appear ‘out of nowhere’ – it’s strange when it happens, but it’s what we writers live for, to get that spark to start the next book or a new twist for one we’re working on. It’s our form of sustenance and without it, we can’t create the stories to entertain you.

So the next time you’re walking down the street and you see someone grab a small notebook and start frantically scribbling or they have a slightly glazed look in their eyes, don’t write them off as someone who’s seven cans short of a six-pack, they’re probably authors getting inspiration for what could well be the next best seller!

Author Spotlight: Roger Grubbs (and A Fab Contest)

I have two, yes two, really special treats for you today (so make sure you read all the way to the end!); I’m so pleased to welcome Roger Grubbs, author of over 38 books, to my blog today.

Welcome, Roger. Could you please tell us when you started writing and where you get your inspiration from?

Actually I began my writing career in 1979 as a market analyst.  In order to get my information in the hands of my clients, I was forced to learn the art of writing.  The next step was to market my services.  To be truthful, copywriting helped boost my career.  That is one of the toughest things to write.  There is a limited amount of space and so much to tell in order for it to be successful.  I became interested in writing novels in 2008.  Since then, I have written thirty-eight books, some of which have not yet been released.  I find that editing is the most difficult process to do before releasing a novel.  Writing stories seems to be a breeze for me because I enjoy it.  I feel it shows because my readers like them too.  

What inspires me the most is ‘good’ winning out over ‘evil’.  I have seen a lot of injustices in the world, and because of that I choose to write about characters that are instrumental in bringing about justice.  This motivates me and is expressed throughout my works.  My readers generally love the endings of my stories and are ready to read another one of my books when they finish.  

I’m sure our readers would love to know, of all the books you have written, what is your favourite and why?

I’m sorry but I have trouble picking just one, but I will choose three of my favorites if that is okay with you.  The Twelve SEALs was written to create awareness about the global problem of human trafficking.  I have just finished the 5th book in that series.  A team of former Navy SEALs is bringing about justice for the victims.  Survival is another book that readers love.  The story is centered about two young people of different social circles that really like each other.  But because of peer pressure, they have been unable to have a relationship.  After being stranded on a desolate island, that barrier is broken down.  Still they have a problem with telling each other that they are in love.  I cannot tell you how that turns out; you will just have to read the story.  Be prepared for a surprise ending.  The third book that I consider one of my favorites is A Mountain’s Secret.  There are four major plots going on at the same time in this Adventure Series.  The book ends in dramatic fashion when a storm prevents Dr. Andrew Rogers and his two companions from leaving Mt. Ararat.  There is something strange about this mountain that holds its visitors captive.  It is a test of endurance.

I can understand how difficult it is to pick just one out of 38! I’m curious – have you based any of your characters on yourself?

I would have to admit there is a little bit of me in all of my main characters.  I determined long ago that the best way to live a successful life is to stand for truth, justice, and honor.  My goal is for my characters to be good role models for everyone, especially young people.  It really makes me feel good when they get involved with the characters and want to imitate what they see.  Once they do that, they will follow them in the series if there is one.  Some of my single titles are so strong that readers return to them over and over again.  It is nice to see them enjoying those stories and characters.  

If you were to give one tip to an aspiring author, what would it be?

Always consider the reader.  I consider the most important aspect of my novels to be presenting the story and characters in a way that will be entertaining and interesting.  I refuse to bore my readers.  That is one of the things that kept me from reading more during my younger days.  If our novels are not capable of keeping the reader involved, then do not release it.  Put it aside, and work on another one.  Most importantly, do not become discouraged.  It takes time for a new author to reach the level of notoriety.  Patience is the key.  

That’s great advice there!

Now I happen to know a couple of random things about you, like you go weak at the knees for homemade meatloaf and sweet tea with plain cake and fresh strawberries on the side, is that true?

Well, yes! My favorite meal of all time is something most may consider unusual, but I don’t mind at all because I am a country boy. My knees go weak just thinking of it. It would be a plate filled with meatloaf, fried potatoes, cold slaw, and iron skillet cornbread. To the side would be a bowl of piping hot dried northern beans, seasoned to perfection. Top that off with sweet iced tea, and you have a meal fit for a king. And for dessert, picture this: a big slab of homemade yellow cake with white frosting, piled high with luscious fresh strawberries, crowned with whipped cream. Now that is what I call a meal. Barring any unforeseen complications, I am always served this meal for my birthday, Father’s Day, anniversary, or any other special day my wife feels I deserve such a treat. When my beautiful wife (excellent cook) moved in the front door, the canned chili went out the back. It can’t get any better than that!

Sounds yummy! While we’re on the subject of things you like…what type of books do you like to read?

Not to sound boastful, but I have to be truthful.  All of my works are original.  When I have time to read, I love going back and picking stories from my own library.  Every time I do that, it seems like a new experience for me; and I really enjoy it.

I think that’s pretty cool actually. Now what is your favourite holiday and why?

While most holidays hold something special, Christmas would have to be at the top of the list.  I have even written a book entitled, “The Greatest Gift of All”.  The reason I like this holiday best is because it brings families together and encourages sharing.  It also provides opportunities for us to do something good for someone else.  The best way to do that is anonymously.  You will find that out by reading this novel.  

I must admit, Christmas is my favourite holiday too and for the same reasons as you.

Finally, is there anything you would like to say to your readers?

Readers are my reason for writing novels.  I respect you and want to make sure that you are not disappointed with my novels.  We have a stringent checklist that each one must pass before it is released.  If at any time it does not measure up, my readers will never see it.  They deserve the best and that is what I strive to provide.  I write books in a lot of different genres.  I encourage you to pick out one that is right for you.  If you do that, you won’t be disappointed.  Finally I want to thank my readers that keep coming back for more.  That is the greatest compliment any author could ever receive.  

Roger, thank you so much for visiting today and letting us get to know you a bit better. I wish you every success with SEALS III, Big Trouble in Aruba!

It was my pleasure, Carlie, and I consider it an honor to be featured in this interview. This is a great way for readers to get to know authors on a personal basis. I have found that once a person reads one of my books, they come back for more. It is a matter of more people finding me. The connection between me and my readers is personal, and this opens the door to meet new people. Thanks for your help!

Readers are very pleased with the SEALs Series. It is being used to create awareness concerning human trafficking. There will be two more installments in the near future to add to this series. If you get a chance, check out SEALs III – Big Trouble in Aruba. Most people will be surprised by what is revealed.

 EXTRA SPECIAL CONTEST

Roger and I have come up with an incredible opportunity for you:

To enter this contest you need to come up with a name and description of a hero or villain. You have a limit of 300 words. It has to be a person and not a fantasy or sci-fi creature.

The winning entry will have a choice of one of two of Roger’s latest books for free, personally autographed AND their character will be featured in Roger’s next book.

How awesome is that?

Email your entries to carliecullenWP@yahoo.com by midnight GMT on 7th April 2012. Please include your name, location and email address in your entry. Entries received without contact details will not be considered. The winner will be announced on this blog no later than 21st April 2012.

So go get creative peeps and GOOD LUCK!

BIO: Roger Grubbs is a Market Analyst and proud owner of Market Consultants. Born in Alabama and a graduate of Auburn University, he currently resides in Central Florida where he enjoys running his company and writing.  He is also the proud owner of his very own publishing company.  This is not just any book publisher, but one that puts the emphasis on the readers. 

The motivating factor behind Roger’s writings is to entertain his readers.  His motto is simple.  “I want my readers to be eager to continue the story, long for the ending, and – when the experience is over – be happy they took the time to read my book.”  After all, reading can and should be enjoyable.

Follow Roger on Twitter: http://twitter.com/RogerGrubbs

February Free Fiction

In my last post, I made a pledge to blog more for readers, particularly those who aren’t writers. So, with this in mind, I thought I’d share a short story that I wrote in July 2011. I’ve updated and improved it in the last couple of days so I really hope you enjoy it.

 

Uninvited

 

Jasmine stared out the window, marvelling at the breathtaking scenery flying past. This was her first major trip alone and she was so excited. As the sun began to set behind the distant hills, the colours streaking across the sky brought tears to her eyes. She had never seen anything so exquisite.

As night fell, Jasmine got ready for bed. She pulled the hidden bunk from the wall and climbed under the covers. It was surprisingly luxurious and with the rocking motion of the train, she was soon asleep.

A whispering voice woke Jasmine sometime later. She lay in the dark, disoriented and confused. She listened carefully for the voice she thought she heard but the only noticeable sound was that of the rails on the track. Believing she had dreamt it, she closed her eyes and was soon asleep once more.

Less than thirty-minutes later, more whispering awaked Jasmine. The voice did not disappear this time and lying on her bunk, she strained to decipher the words. The voice had an ethereal quality that she had never heard before yet for some unfathomable reason, she wasn’t afraid.

She reached out and pulled the light cord above her head, flooding the room with dazzling brightness. Blinking furiously to accustom her eyes, she noted the voice had disappeared. Her eyes swept the roomette yet nothing had changed. She shook her head, turned off the light and, just as she was about to close her eyes the voice started up again, only louder.

“Help me! Please help me! I’m going to die!”

Jasmine froze. Not only was the voice clearer, it was closer. The phrases repeated over and over, in a plaintive voice, like a litany. Slowly Jasmine reached her hand towards the direction of the sound; she felt something icy cold and filmy brush against her fingers and she jerked back, a squeal of fear slipping from her lips.

The voice hushed at the sound. Jasmine lay unmoving for several minutes as she calmed her thundering heart. She propped herself up on her elbow and tried to peer through the inky blackness to see what had startled her, but nothing was visible.

Suddenly several deafening crashes reverberated around the confined space, like someone, or something, was pounding on the walls. Jasmine pulled her knees up towards her chest and hugged them as she shivered in fear. The pounding came again, louder than before, and then a third time but so loud she had to put her hands over her ears.

The temperature unexpectedly dropped a few degrees and Jasmine could see her exhaled breath form a silvery vapour that swirled around like smoke in a gentle breeze. Now she was extremely frightened. She had seen plenty of horror films and read enough books to be blessed (or cursed, depending on your viewpoint) with quite an active imagination, but this wasn’t a scene from the latest slasher movie or supernatural blockbuster. This was happening right now!

Silence blasted her eardrums almost as effectively as the pounding had. Gradually the temperature, and everything else, returned to normal. Jasmine remained curled into a tight ball for many minutes, nervously waiting for something else to occur. All was quiet. Soon her muscles began to relax and she slowly stretched herself along the length of the bunk.

Jasmine’s eyelids grew heavy as the swaying motion of the train lulled her towards sleep. Her lashes fluttered as she yawned, but just before her eyes shut, she heard what sounded like sharp fingernails dragging across a chalkboard. Her eyes snapped open as the noise set her teeth on edge. She climbed down from the bunk and moved towards the window where the excruciatingly annoying din appeared to be coming from. She reached a trembling hand forward and yanked the blind with such force it continued to revolve after it hit the end stop.

Looking back at her through the glass was the face of a young man. She staggered back in shock, fell over her feet, landed on her rear and screamed.

His face was sad as he stared back at her. It was battered and had what appeared to be blood caked to the side where the skull caved in. Recovering from the shock, Jasmine arose and approached the glass. She put her hand flat against the window, her hazel eyes sad, and mouthed, “I’m sorry.” The man put his hand up to hers and smiled gently before vanishing into the night.

Removing her hand, she could have wondered if she was dreaming, except for one thing – a smudged handprint on the other side of the pane.

 

Jasmine couldn’t resist chuckling, when at breakfast she heard a couple animatedly discussing a story about the train being haunted by a boy who had been murdered on it twenty years before.

* * * * *

I’d really love to know what you think of this – please feel free to comment or critique!

 

Blogging For Readers

I was reading a blog post earlier today and a lady commented that every writer’s blog she reads tends to focus on other writers and not potential readers. She continued by saying readers are interested in the product not the process and she wished more writers would blog for a reading audience, rather than a writing one.

This got me thinking. Is this something I’m guilty of? Actually – yes. With the exception of guest posts, a large number of my posts have been directed at other writers, especially the more recent ones. I have tried to strike a balance by writing book reviews and featuring them on my blog, but I haven’t done hardly anything to attract readers.

If I’m honest, I’ve looked at what other writers have been doing on their blogs trying to find the secret to their success and how they generate large numbers of followers and, to a degree I’ve tried to emulate them. The majority of them write about writing so that’s what I’ve been doing, but from my own perspective and experience.

I could kick myself!

I’ve spent a great deal of my working life in marketing and the first rule I was ever taught was  ‘put yourself in the shoes of your prospective customer and ask the question, “what’s in it for me?” ‘

My prospective customers are readers so wouldn’t my time be better spent blogging with them in mind? As I want to sell my books, the answer has got to be a resounding, ‘YES’.

I’m so glad I read that lady’s comment earlier, it’s reminded me to apply the same principles I use in my working life to my writing life and I’m going to start writing more posts for readers in future!