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On Forging and Writing. And Pain.

I think it was Hemingway who said that writing is nothing but sitting down in front of a type writer and bleeding. I agree wholeheartedly. When I began writing this post, I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to convey other than a feeling I couldn’t quite pinpoint. All I knew was that it was about forging and writing and pain.

The three go together. It’s so interesting that when you look at a mundane day-to-day task and you don’t think anything of it until you look closer and from there you discover a whole other world coming to life because of it. The thing itself becomes a door that opens and what’s behind it is nothing but endless vista.

Forging.

You heat up metal to such an extend that it begins to glow. It’s not melting. Yet. But it gets so hot that it glows red. Then you can form it and shape it and make it into something new and beautiful. I’m an electrician by trade. In order for anything to happen, anything at all to happen in an electrical circuit, things have to heat up. The resistance of the very material the current that flows through generates heat. Electricity is heat.

The Traveler(3)

Can you hear the metal scream? It’s a powerful scream, a life changing scream. It’s a scream that foreshadows change. It’s like when you bench press and you’re at the eleventh one and you don’t think you have it in you to get this thing up once more but you want to and you start to scream and eventually you push it all the way up.

Forging and pain and writing go hand in hand. At least for me. Take the Hemingway quote where writing is nothing but sitting in front of a type writer and bleeding. We think pain is bad. We think it’s something to be avoided.  We think we need to distract ourselves from it. For this post, I’m talking about emotional pain, the pain that is inside, that turns your stomach upside down and makes us hurt even though we don’t know where. Our heart, our mind, our soul. We try to avoid it but that would be like the iron rod that wants to stay at room temperature. Sure it’s more comfortable that way. But is it better?

Some spiritual practices tell us to stay with it for a while, to let it rise up from the depth and come to the surface so it can be dealt with.

I’ve been through several phases in my life that were painful. The first one (only in hind sight do I see the pain there) was when my parents separated when I was eleven. It was excruciating. Then there were some break ups and heart breaks and then there was a phase where the pain was not connected to anything other than the inevitable pain that comes with major internal change.

I was the metal that lay in the forge waiting to reach a temperature high enough to become something new, something that was still the original material but now closer to the form it was meant to take on. The new is already present in the original, it’s all there waiting for heat and pain to get it to a point where it can be molded into something closer to what it was intended to be.

I very rarely can write a story without tapping into that experience – the pain that is the heat that preludes the change for the better. It’s the moment when it’s the hardest to continue, when the storm is the strongest and the night the darkest. That’s when the metal reaches the temperature that allows it to be forged. That’s when beautiful, intricate, stunning forms take shape. Like a song. Like a painting. Like a story.

Cheers,

Stefan


In The Traveler, a twelve-year-old girl is devastated by the death of her father, a master blacksmith. From him, she learned how to work with metal. From him, she learned how to create beautiful things out of cold, dead objects. Now, after his death, he challenges her one more time to reach beyond what she thinks she can do and create something that seems entirely impossible.

 

Buy The Traveler here.

 

Reality Check on Being a Self Published Author

I’ve had a good month publishing wise. At least for me it was a good one. I still have a regular job that I’m very involved in and that pays the bills, etc, and I wouldn’t be able to leave that behind at this very moment. I like my job. It gives me the flexibility to do what I love to do.

Of course, everyone of us self published authors dreams about one of our books taking off or a movie producer knocking on our door, and I’m no different. There is a fantasy phone call I’m getting periodically. It’s from Peter Jackson. I’m sure, if you’re a writer, you’ve got your own even though I hope it’s not Peter Jackson. I don’t want him to be distracted with another book he wants to make into a three part movie, besides mine. You understand.

So, Peter Jackson it is. Until then, there’s work to do, obviously. More writing and honing the craft and learning how to market my work effectively. So, when I say I’ve had a good month, here’s what I mean:

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This is the Amazon chart on my Kindle page (U.S. only). It shows me how many copies of my books have sold and, secondly, how many pages of my books people who are on Kindle Unlimited have read this month. The latter are the Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (right column).

Basically, anyone who publishes exclusively through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) gets payed in two ways. One is for the copies sold and one is for the pages that have been read by people who are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

In my case, so far this month people have read just under 7,000 pages of my books. That number sounds like a lot, right? 7,000 pages of stuff I made up has ended up in people’s heads (at least for a moment). In reality, that’s roughly one sold copy per day.

Let’s put this into perspective:

When Andy Weir put his novel The Martian up for the kindle, it was $0.99 and sold 300 copies per DAY. The Martian is an amazing book. I’m hoping to get to a level of writing craftsmanship where I can say the same for my own stuff one day. I’m not a bad writer but I know how much I still have to learn.

My (for me) good month was most likely caused by two things: I have lowered the price for all of my books to $0.99 per copy for the kindle. That’s as low as Amazon allows it. At that price, there is a 35% royalty to me per sold copy. Above $2.99, it goes to 70%.

The second reason is probably the fact that I was involved in two anthologies recently. The Time Travel Chronicles and Tails of the Apocalypse. I had a short story in each of them. Time Travel Chronicles came out beginning of November and Tails of the Apocalypse came out toward the end of November. They both sold fairly well and readers must have liked my stories and bought the copies of my books this month. Makes sense.

I’ll see what February brings and will report back to you but my plan is to keep my books at $0.99 per copy until I sell so many copies that agents and publishers notice it. Not a lot of people know me. There are a lot of books out there to choose from and a lot of really good quality content. I want my potential readers to have as low of a hurdle to have to jump over as possible. Let the work speak for itself but let it be out there and let it be available for as little as possible.

I realize that there are many other marketing strategies that work. But this is the conclusion I came to, in part after listening to some of the Author Stories Podcasts by Hank Garner and talking with or being involved in projects with other authors.

There’s a lot of help out there and the community of self published authors I’m in is incredible. I wish us all much success and more great stories to come out of this than ever before.  And Peter Jackson.

Cheers,

Stefan

 

I'm a Refugee's Child

The time: Summer of 1951.

The place: A small town a few kilometers from the border inside the Russian sector in East Germany.

That border, the one my father, his parents and three siblings, fled across that night, would become one of the world’s most heavily fortified frontiers, defined by a continuous line of high metal fences and walls, barbed wire, alarms, anti-vehicle ditches, watchtowers, automatic booby traps and minefields. It would be patrolled around the clock by 50,000 armed GDR guards. [source: Wikipedia]

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It was very simple: Russia, having lost thousands of men during the war against Germany, needed workers. After the war ended, they began scouting German villages in their sector for able bodied craftsmen. Welders and carpenters, blacksmiths and painters, all were in high demand. Those were the fathers who had just returned from the war, now trying to build their families and lives in peace. Whoever would be taken by the Russian authorities, would disappear and end up in a mine somewhere deep inside Russia, never to return.

My grandfather was one of them.  Being a master craftsman, he knew, they all knew, that it was only a matter of time for him. So he left, crossed the yet relatively open border to stay with friends on the other side for a year.

The second, not less terrifying prospect was the imminent closing of the border.

My grandmother, now alone with four children, was friends with the soccer coach who knew one of the border guards. For one year, knowing where the guards were at any given time, she smuggled their belongings on her back at night, through a stretch of forest and to the other side – the free side.

And then, on a Wednesday morning at 2:30 am, when the guards had just passed through their part of the border, they fled. Taking with them only what they could carry on their backs, my grandmother and her four children, ranging from six to fourteen, made their way through the woods. They landed in a small village in West Germany where friends took them in and they reunited with my grandfather. Here, the six of them stayed in one room for a year. My grandfather worked as a painter and my grandmother helped the family who had taken them in.

They began to rebuild their lives and family in peace.

I was born fifteen years later.

Writing For A Cause: Pets For Vets and TAILS OF THE APOCALYPSE

“There are a number of unique aspects of this anthology, but the thing I’m most proud of is our partnership with Pets for Vets.”

Tails coverThat’s how author-editor Chris Pourteau talks about his latest project, Tails of the Apocalypse. Described as The Walking Dead meets The Incredible Journey, the collection includes short stories written by 14 of today’s most innovative independent authors. Tails of the Apocalypse examines world-ending scenarios—from nuclear war to natural disasters to planetary pandemics—featuring animals as main characters.

The idea came to Pourteau last spring after publishing his own short story, “Unconditional” about a dog searching for his boy, lost to the zombie apocalypse. The overwhelmingly positive response from readers made him think that maybe he’d hit a cultural nerve. And the idea for Tails of the Apocalypse was born.

Over the next six months, he recruited his writers–including four USA Today bestselling authors–edited their stories, developed cover art, and produced an anthology that R. J. Pineiro, author of The Fall calls: “one of the most original and captivating collections of end-of-the-world ‘tails,’ shown through the eyes of an amazing cast of unforgettable furry and feathered characters.”

Giving Tails a Purpose

Even as the anthology took shape, Pourteau felt like he was missing something. The point of these wonderful stories about animals caught up in dystopian situations was about giving voice to those without the ability to speak for themselves. He decided he wanted to donate some of the profits from his self-funded project to an organization that helped animals.

It was one of his authors, David Bruns, also a US Navy vet, who suggested Pets for Vets. From the beginning, it was great fit. The name and the mission of the non-profit immediately resonated with Pourteau. And as Bruns and Pourteau have worked to drum up awareness of their project, they’ve found that the cause resonates with others as well.

Founded by animal trainer Clarissa Black, Pets for Vets matches shelter dogs with military veterans. Personnel train the animals as special companions for veterans suffering from emotional trauma, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each year,” says Ann Black, president of Pets for Vets. “And it’s estimated that 20 percent of returning vets suffer from PTSD. Bringing them together provides a loving home for the pet and a caring companion for the vet. It’s a win-win.”

The Big Idea

Pourteau plans to donate $1.00 to Pets for Vets from every copy of Tails of the Apocalypse sold through the end of the calendar year, regardless of format—e-book, paperback, or audiobook. “I’m honored that Pets for Vets allowed us to adopt them as a cause,” Pourteau says. “My goal now is to write them a big check on January 1st.”

Want to Lend a Hand?

We’re calling our project Tails for Vets. If you’d like to be part of the Tails for Vets movement, here’s how you can help:

  1. Join the Tails for Vets Street Team — Get email updates and shareable content by joining the Tails Street Team. Facebook banners, a “badge” you can post online to show your support, and chances to win paperback and audiobook copies of Tails of the Apocalypse are all available to the Tails Street Team.
  2. Buy the BookTails of the Apocalypse launches on November 20th, but you can preorder on Amazon now. Remember: $1 from every purchase goes to Pets for Vets.

Ancient Landscapes – Writing From the Subconscious

“I am somehow drawn to ancient landscapes”, I hear myself say to Julie, my therapist. That was back in 2008. I went to her for a few years and on that particular day, on my way to her practice, this sentence came into my head. I couldn’t figure out why it had come to me. In our sessions, we had explored different inner landscapes, usually connected to a conflict I was experiencing or an issue I was working on. That morning, before I arrived at her house, I realized that I had no idea what to talk to her about. Or so I thought.

About an hour into the session, I heard myself mentioning the ancient landscapes and that I somehow felt drawn to them. There was nothing specific in my mind. No imagery, no picture of old pyramids or anything similar. Julie  asked me if I wanted to close my eyes for a minute and see what would come up. Usually, for that, I’d lie on her table and we go through this process a bit differently but we didn’t have that much time left and I really wanted to see where this ancient landscape was and what it meant, if anything.

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So I closed my eyes and for a while I waited for an image to show. It didn’t. Nothing happened until at some point the words “before time was” appeared. I told Julie that the ancient landscape I was referring to might have been there before time was. This was obviously an oxymoron because how can something exist – a stone, a tree or a forest – before time existed? Without time there is no growth and nothing can start or end or be at all. Those and other thoughts passed through my mind in a split second. But I felt that there was something else there, something I had missed or hadn’t understood properly.

Then I saw, almost in a close up, a couple of old stones, overgrown with moss. As I pulled back, I realized that I stood in the middle of what must have been an old foundation. The stones were almost completely grown into the ground. Grass covered the soil. Judging by the outline and size, it must have been an old church or chapel at some point. For some reason I had the distinct feeling that the ground I stood on was very holy. Holy in the sense of clean, untouched, undisturbed – and very old. Another thing that was very interesting was the fact that there was no sound. It wasn’t just the absence of noise. It was complete stillness. Nothing moved. The spot and its immediate surroundings felt suspended. I realized, when I spoke to Julie about what I saw, that I was barely breathing. My breath was completely quiet. As if I almost didn’t need to breathe at all.

I could feel the ancientness (if that’s a word) of this place. It did feel as if it had been there before time was. And then something very unexpectedly happened. As I looked at the partial wall in front of me, where I surmised once stood the altar of the church, suddenly – and I can’t describe this any differently – the walls began to rebuild themselves. But not with their original materials made out of stone, granite, plaster and wood. No. The walls rebuilt themselves out of light. As if the stones had merely the shape of a stone but were not made of stone at all but of pure light. After a while, the church walls reached the ceiling, closing the gap until what I saw was the most beautiful building imaginable, with all the details like moldings, figurines and ornaments completely intact but made not of their usual material but out of light. The whole building had a soft glow to it. It was slightly transparent but looked very solid. And yet not solid in the usual sense. Clearly defined, very strong, but transparent.

What I saw was a perfect representation of what had been there originally. And what was broken, fallen down, deteriorated by eons of time, was still there – untouched and unchanged. As if everything that exists in time, still has its original shape from before time was. The image of the finely outlined church made of light, against the grey sky, was magnificent.

Three years later, I began to write The Three Feathers which, originally, also came out of one of the sessions. When I got to chapter 12, I knew I should incorporate what I had seen at Julie’s office a few years earlier. This became one of my favorite chapters of the book. Something significant happens there albeit very quietly with not much noise.

Here is the excerpt from The Three Feathers. Just before this section, Joshua, our hero, and Grey, the wolf, come into an ancient city from which only ruins are left. But suddenly something unexpected happens, as the whole city begins to rebuild itself out of light.

Thanks for watching and Cheers!

Stefan

 

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