Seasons Greetings

Worlds can change within moments.

When you write a book, one moment you can kill off a character. A few days later, you may rewrite and allow the character to live. Or it might go the other way. This happened with me last month. I killed a character and then my sisters convinced me that Lilith needed to show more humanity up front. So with a stroke of the pen, I changed her path.

Real life can change as quickly.

I spent Christmas Eve at my sister’s house so I would be there Christmas morning. 2:30 AM my sister’s heart broke as her beloved husband went home to spend Christmas Day with the Savior. My pen couldn’t change anything. As a writer, I control the world. As a sister, all I could do was hold her and cry with her and her family. No eraser, no delete key.

This week our family is gathering around in love. For 44 years my sister and brother-in-law were one person. Now they are separated for awhile. Nothing I could write would ever be as poignant. No love story as deep. No catharsis as whole.

My niece asked me today if I missed her father. Yes. I do. He could be a character. He could rile you up. He could touch your heart. He was a wonderfully complex character that appears in the best books.

He made me a cane to help me walk, a journal to keep thoughts in (designed for a vampire since that is what I write about), he taught me about savings and getting out of debt, and he showed me that he loved me by the respect he demonstrated for my teaching and my intelligence and a lot of other things.

Yes, I will miss him.

Rekindling the Fire

People need to eat. Authors need to breathe fire. The creative element needs to burn brightly. The muse blazes until finally it flickers in a hypnotic dance as the words flood onto the page. But once in a while, the author needs to refuel. One way we do that is by gathering together and feeding off each others’ flames.

This year I have fed twice at the font of the muses. Calliope, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, & Erato circled the poets while Melpomene and Thalia focused on the screenwriters and playwrights. Clio wandered between the non-fiction and fiction authors alike. Terpsichore and Urania sprinkled their inspiration around the group when movement or stars caught the authors’ fancy.

The first encounter was in Omaha at the Nebraska Writer’s Guild Spring Conference. It was delightful seeing friends that I had left behind when I moved to Wyoming. Feeling their spirit and listening to the classes and speakers helped rekindle the smoldering coals of my imagination. One of my best experiences was meeting Deidre Knight, agent extraordinaire. Owner of the Knight Agency, Deidre is an absolute delight. Of special interest to me was that she was heading to Italy for the summer. Having lived there, Italy holds a VERY special place in my heart. I will be sending Deidre a few chapters after they come back from the editor. Keeps fingers and arms crossed!

The second was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. What a fabulous conference! The only problem was that it is so expensive there, you better not forget to bring your lunch. 🙂


We were treated to the most marvelous classes, speakers, and meeting with agents and writers. I had private meetings with three different published writers and one agent. Their feedback was helpful and got my fire burning at a much higher level. I discovered my book was actually two books. I have now divided the books and rewritten parts of the first book to complete it. This was an amazing experience. Everything suddenly made sense. The agent I met with told me that the book was ready for an editor. What a rush!

I finally had to do something. I had to have faith. It was time to move forward and quit waiting. So with full fire burning, I marched forward into the future, rekindled by the fire.

 

The Book is Finished.

Your lifeblood bleeds onto the paper. The words flow and it is perfect. Then you start rereading. Version two. Version three. Sometimes you are correct grammar. Version five. Sometimes voice. Version seven. One time I was trying to get rid of all the passives that come from my speaking two foreign languages. I never realized how much they affect my thought pattern.

Ten times. I have written and rewritten this book ten times. Finally, it is ready for an editor. I have awaken with my character telling me, “You forgot! That would give me a headache. Write that down. Headache.”

I owe so much to my writing group. I left them behind in Omaha but they are with me in my heart. “Show, not tell.” I ripped out so much narration and made my character interact. They were lazy and now they live.

The journey isn’t over. It is really just beginning. Now, it is moving forward.

I am a writer. And, by the way, you want to read this book.

NWG 2015 Spring Writer’s Conference

Had a fantastic time attending this year’s conference. I had the great pleasure of a short meeting with Deidre Knight from the Knight Agency. She was an absolute delight and answered the burning question for me… what is my genre. *drum rolls please* We shall call it Urban Fantasy. And it was so.

The  good news is that I am beginning work on the second book in the series. Onward!

We had a wonderful speaker on the Author’s Platform. It really helped clarify a great deal and hopefully lit a fire underneath me. I’ve been working over my site and there is a fun new material here so check it out. My home page has several links that are worth visiting and there is also a form where you can sign up to follow the site.

Nebraska Writer’s Guild Conference 2014

This weekend was a shot in the arm. NWG held it’s Spring Conference at Mahoney State Park with over 100 writers present. We were treated to four wonderful speakers: Kelly O’Connor – editor from Harper Voyager and HarperCollins – who discussed how Harper (one of the “Big 5” publishing houses) is adapting to the rise of popularity of eBooks; C. Hope Clark – Author and editor for fundsforwriters.com – who discussed means of making an income as a writer; Harley Jane Kozak – Actress and Mystery Author – who told about her life in Hollywood and her transition between acting and writing; and Pilar Alessandra – director of the “On The Page” writing program – who discussed editing screenplays.

All were wonderful although I particularly enjoyed laughing with Harley Kozak! Kelley O’Connor’s information was especially useful to me. I also had the opportunity to chat with Kelley for a few minutes and appreciate her support and offer to give feedback on my writing.

This was a wonderful experience and I am ready to get back down to my writing. My love is refreshed and my heart renewed. It is time again. Ready, set, go!

How Can I have Fans When I Haven’t Published Yet?

Authors speak a foreign language. I am still not sure what it is, but I am sure it is foreign. Oh, the words are English, to be sure, but the “Ancient Ones” hid the meanings from the novice. There they sit,  just waiting for you to find the right mentor or to have the stroke that will finally create the necessary brain lesion to clear the path to your Rosetta stone.

When I was in the Air Force, USAFSS assigned me to RAF Chicksands in England, which was cool because I already spoke English. On my first Sunday there, I found my way to church and sat in the congregation. As the meeting opened, I listened in horror as I realized something terrible had gone wrong and I was anywhere but England. I understood not one word issuing forth from the mouth of the man in front of me. As it turned out, no one else did either. Or maybe they were just humoring me. The man was from Newcastle upon Tyne. The region was apparently notorious for being difficult to understand. Still it took me awhile to be comfortable understanding English as spoken in England.

That is a little like authorspeak. The words are the same but the meaning – not so much. Like the time I was teaching a candy making class in England and told them to add a little paraffin to the chocolate to keep it from melting in your hand. Would anyone from England like to explain the problem to the rest of my readers? If no one comments within a week, I’ll tell you why my class thought I was trying to poison them. Mwhahahaha.

However, back to authorspeak. I was recently at a writer’s conference in Nebraska. One of the things I learned is that I needed an “author’s platform” now.
Okay. Where do I get the wood? Where do I build it? Why? Oh, you mean what do I stand for? No. Ummm… what are my politics? Why would that matter?

Somebody give me a hint!

Do you have any idea how many times I heard things like: “Do you have you author’s platform yet?” or “How are you doing your author’s platform?”

Aaargh. One problem is that I am intelligent – just enough that I do not want to look like an idiot by not knowing what an “author’s platform” is.

I used to tell my college students that the only stupid question was the one not asked. I finally listened to myself. My hand rose skyward and the question erupted from my lips, never to return to the void of silence.

“Just what do you mean by an author’s platform?”

I wonder if anyone else there said a silent prayer of gratitude. I would like to think so. The answer opened up more frustration for me but at least I was no longer ignorant. I had stepped within the circle of knowledge.

THIS is my platform – or at least the beginning of it. It is how the author presents herself (or himself of course) to the world. It is the gift of chapters from my books or my plays or short snippets. It is my interviews with authors and actors. It is my research into Lilith mythologies and vampires in general. It is my book reviews and art collection. It is www.jeanniemusick.com and it is growing slowly each day.

So, what is the frustration I speak of: simply that you are supposed to start this before you publish, before people know if they are going to love or hate your work. As the agent there told us, I am an author – not yet published. Going through the painful steps of rewrites and editors, I work toward the best book I can give you. My readership is growing and I hope it will continue to grow through you. Pass along links. Let people know I am here. Leave comments. Communicate. Suggest books. Review books. Get involved. Then realize my biggest frustration is that I don’t have twice as many hours in the day to do this website which I have come to love AND my writing which I ADORE!

Do You See What I See?

 

An author is far more than someone who writes out a plot on a piece of paper. Sometimes that is the problem with self-editing and self-publishing. That is why you need someone to tear you apart. An author is a thick-skinned storyteller. Homer didn’t just tell a story – he painted it, infused it with smells, wrapped it in memories, and walked it from village to village singing it forth with a voice trained to heighten every emotion he could illicit from his listeners. That is what too many people don’t understand. An author doesn’t crank out a story – she breathes life into it. There is a section in my book where Lilith shares with Cainan the nightmare she went through after the flood. Her emotions explode and comes in waves as she paints pictures of the horror. As I was writing my original draft, I would speak this out loud into a recorder to my invisible Cainan. I would literally break down in tears as I worked through her history here. I would work on it at night in bed or when I was alone driving. It was emotionally heartbreaking as the word came to me. Each time I worked on it, I made changes as I understood Lilith’s pain more. Ancient storytellers would change the story as they told it until it became the epic that has lasted until our day. The modern author works on it – crafts it – loves it – until it goes to print. Sometimes it is hard to say “It is ready.”

One of the important things I have learned as an author is that you have to create the world around your character. If you can’t see it, your reader can’t see it. Sometimes it is possible to go overboard in the creation process but usually the author errs by not creating enough of a vivid world for the reader. As I began working with my writer’s group, one of the things I learned was that, although I create a lush world, it isn’t always specific enough. So I’ve rewritten and rewritten, trying to create the best work I can deliver – the one that will last several generations.

 

First Public Reading

 

Beta Readers can either dash your hopes or lift your spirits beyond belief. Mine did the last. I asked for written critiques and loved those that I got. Certain I was ready for the next step, I headed to San Diego to the SDSU Writer’s Conference. Agents met with hopeful writers. Agents, publishers, and editors taught classes in writing, pitching, finding an agent, and self-publishing. I finally got the opportunity to “pitch” my book to one agent who agreed to allow me to send her the first 50 pages. Perhaps the most fun was the late night read we had. After sessions were over, a stalwart group of writers met and read excerpts from their manuscripts aloud and then received criticism from the group. My feedback was great and I felt that this was my time to get the book published. I knew it would happen. Through the next couple of days, I spoke with several agents and received permission to submit chapters to them. I went home excited and ready to have my book on the shelves within a year or two at the most.

Then I received my first rejection letter. And they kept coming. They were all very sweet and encouraging, so I kept submitting. So… they kept coming. Somehow, that does something to a writer’s confidence. Other writers told me those were good rejection letters. I thought that was quite an oxymoron. Good and rejection do not belong in the same sentence. Instead, I turned my attention to other things while family and friends kept telling me I needed to keep trying to get it published.

The glow of my first public reading was eclipsed by the cold harsh reality of the lifeblood of the publishing world – rejection slips.

The First Draft

 

As the words flew from my mind to the keyboard, I had a few very hungry readers waiting for the next installment. These were my biggest fans and supporters.

Erika and Leah on separate computers reading Chapter 10 while away on vacation.
Erika and Leah on separate computers reading Chapter 10 while away on vacation.

At one point I thought to publish the book under a pseudonym to give myself anonymity and let Lilith be the author of the book. I’m a bit of an introvert and appreciate my privacy. One of these supporters loved the idea because she was my counselor and she wanted to be able to say her client had written the book. Obviously, I’m giving her free reign to make that claim. After all, she helped keep me sane during a doctrinal program. As a friend told me during my program, PhD stands for Permanent Head Damage, so that was no small feat! Also, it was Erika who encouraged me to write the book. She nurtured it along from the first few pages to the full dream it is now.

Each chapter I finished was eagerly read by Erika in Louisiana who passed it on to Leah. Now poor Leah had no idea who the author was but she avidly read every word. The third member of this trinity was Shelley in Wyoming. Each sent their comments and corrections and then waited for the next chapter to be finished. Once I had sent out the next chapter, I would make corrections in the previous chapter. By the end of the process, they had read the book at least three times each. Shelley has since read it through a couple of more revisions, and recruited a couple of other Beta readers to send comments to me as well. I cannot begin to thank these women for their enormous contribution. One of my greatest supports now is my sister Leni. She doesn’t like vampires. As such it took awhile before she read the book and that alone was an act of love. Now she encourages me in every way to get involved in writing groups and to spend time on my writing. She and Shelley – my sisters and best friends – are my strength.

The Inspiration

I was in Louisiana studying in Baton Rouge. I was house sitting at the time and was surfing the internet. Well, the entire experience was going to be the prologue for the book, although I have been told many times since not to use a prologue. (That fact alone has made my writing experience much more difficult. lol) I’ll let Lilith tell the experience from her point of view. It was, to say the least, a shared experience. 🙂

Prologue

I have watched the birth of mountains and seen their decay. I have witnessed the changing stories of the constellations in the sky. I hold the only remaining memories of verdant forests that once teemed with life where now there are only desert sands. I have lived long enough to see everything in existence change many times over. Including man. And yet with all his changes, it is man who has changed the least. Pity.

My decision to come out of the proverbial “coffin” happened a week ago. I was surfing the internet. I find it both educational and entertaining. I’ve always been amazed by Hollywood vampires because they seem to conveniently have managed to meet everyone who was ever anyone. Of course, that seems to have also been true about the Highlander, Duncan MacLeod (another television series that I must admit a guilty enjoyment of). Had “frequent coach miles” been around at that time, well… you get the idea. I, for one, found travel took a lot longer than television seems to allow for and I missed crossing paths with a great many fascinating people, mainly because I didn’t know they were such fascinating people until well after their deaths. (News didn’t travel much faster than people did back then.) So, I find the internet fills in the great void of all the history I lived through but never experienced. As far as entertainment goes, I admit to a wicked amusement at the botched up rewriting of the history I did experience. Always it is better than comic books. Of course, there are always my occasional perverse searches on “vampire” to pass the time. That might seem odd considering a vampire looking up mythological references on vampires but think of it this way: have you ever typed your name into Google just to see what comes up? It probably won’t be you, but you’re still curious about other people with your name. Which brings me back to last week…

As I said, I was browsing the internet and came across a site where people recorded goals they wanted to accomplish. I was only a little surprised to find numerous postings with the goal to “become a vampire”: not so much because of the goal – I am aware of the effect of Anne Rice’s mythology on hormones of the world’s youth; but rather because of their blatant admissions to the world and the lively enthusiasm expressed for the desire. Among these was one plea that caught my eye. The posting was from a very young mind:

I really really wanna be a vampire. Ive thout about it lot and it wuld be realy cool. I’ve done lots of reserch but cant find a reel vampire to do it. Can someone help me? If you can turn me, please write.

Despite the grating of the abysmal spelling and the obvious lack of any common sense, there was something that struck me with a force that refused to release my attention. Normally, I would have passed on to something else. These posting were after all, grocery store checkout rags to me. But this wasn’t a person who wanted to investigate an alternative lifestyle; this was someone actually seeking the metaphysical vampire – the immortal nightwalker – and he wanted to join our ranks – to give up everything that was mortal. Why? Because he had bought Hollywood’s bill of goods – that being a vampire was cool. I started looking at several of the other postings and was a little surprised at the intensity with which these souls were looking to become what, only one hundred years ago – even less – was believed monstrous – without sexuality or love or any embracing quality.

I also found some responses: a few interesting entries from one who claimed to have become a vampire and had originally been looking for someone to apprentice. He requested that interested parties do their research and be serious before contacting him. One young girl responded, stating that she had done her research and knew the vampire genealogies created by Anne Rice in a fictional work. Fiction/fantasy/fact – all confused.

For the first time in millennia, I felt haunted. I thought I had dealt with the guilt eons ago. I had dealt with the guilt. And yet, here I was, feeling it again, in my heart, in my veins, in my soul – and yes, I have a soul and it was in pain.

I finally decided to speak; I created a Logon name so that I could post a response to a series of comments in the hope of convincing even one of these to think: why would you trade your world for mine – why would you trade your pain for mine.

Why are we so quick to trade the pain we know for the one we don’t?

The one response I received was from the one who called himself Vampyres, not from the audience I hoped to reach. His response was a veiled challenge, an unasked question, and a parting blessing – I assume just in case I was actually what he instinctively sensed, even though I never intimated it. My immediate visceral response was “go ahead and fish. You’ll catch nothing here.” My next response a gentler, “pass on by in peace.” The more time passed, the more temptation gnawed at me demanding that I respond until finally I discover myself at this moment: staring at my screen, watching my fingers work against my will, seeing the words appear as they are pulled from my soul.

And so, I share my story. Believe it is just a story. Believe what you will. But when it is finished, believe that you will not find me living the Goth lifestyle, visiting the vampire clubs, blending with those that try to blend with us. Rather, I am circling myself about with the living, blending into the flow of humanity, clutching at the semblance of normalcy; for it is your humanity that I crave… as much as your blood.

So there it is. But I guess you probably need a little more information to understand why I felt such as need to write the book. There are three other pieces of the puzzle.

  1. Since childhood I have been fascinated by the vampire legend. Yes, I watched Jonathan Frid in his search for mortality and love in Dark Shadows. I saw Christopher Lee die only to mysteriously come back to life time after time. (Why do people insist on pulling out the stake? hmm?)
  2. I had studied to some extent the vampire legends and heard the legend of Lilith, the first wife of Adam. Being very religious I could not believe that God would curse her just because she wouldn’t assume the missionary position during sex. (Lilith made sure I understood that had nothing to do with it. 🙂 )
  3. While teaching college, I had a young girl that had belonged to a vampire coven. I have worried about her over the years and practically adopted her. I know how lost some of the youth are who are being pulled into these covens. I saw it in the young man I mentioned in the “no more” prologue. He was a loner so he wanted a life where he would be even more of a loner. He was in pain so he was choosing to seek a life where he would experience even more pain. It doesn’t make sense yet it is the seeming embodiment of what they already feel.

So, I wrote furiously. Or should I say Lilith wrote furiously. The first draft was done in a few weeks. Then other things got in my way and I had to set the book aside working on it only occasionally to keep from going nuts on other things. I was working on my doctorate and that had to take precedence. Unfortunately my health gave out. Long boring story. Now I have lots of time and I am going to get this book published. I have had tremendous support and encouragement from those who have read it. Now starts the descent into my own private Publishing Inferno.