The most important question: “What is it for?”

There’s a scene in one the books I’d written where one character, Ty, questions the motivation of another character, Aries, to do something dangerous. Ty asks her why she wants to go through with something that seems impossible, against forces that are much more advanced than her. He isn’t satisfied with her answers. He asks the same question again and again and in doing so he breaks through her defenses of the more obvious reasons to the true reason why she wants to do it – the fuel that will eventually propel her to move forward.

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We need to ask this question. It’s the only question that gets us a real and true answer. We need to ask this question with regard to our life.

Why am I here? What is my purpose?

There is a phase in every child’s life when it asks this question a million times, it seems. You remember? The kids are on to something at that stage. As if they have access to the sense of something bigger, vaguely perhaps, but almost within reach. What is our life for? What are we doing here?

Seriously, what are we doing here?

The saddest question of all is the one that is being asked at the end of one’s life: “What was this all about?” Too many ask this question too late. It’s sad because without purpose there is nothing. Without purpose, this life will have been nothing but the blink of an eye, too short to have meaning of any kind.

We might not know what the answer is for a while. But we need to ask the question. Like a four-year-old. Why am I here? What the fuck? So that I can work a little? Live a little? Go to the beach once a year? See my children grow up? Retire and die? Really?

We need to ask the question.

Fervently.

With everything we got.

We can’t be satisfied with surface answers. We can’t stop until we know, with every fiber of our being, why we’re here. Purpose is everything. What do we want from life? What is it for? What the hell is it all for?

Have you ever met someone who was certain of his or her purpose in life? Their lives aren’t perfect. Nothing here is. But there is a burning in each one of them – a burning that grabs you, if only for a brief moment, and lifts you up to a place where you can soar freely for a while.

What is your purpose? Ask the question. Don’t stop asking. Don’t be satisfied. Until you find it. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to everyone you encounter.

Why are you here?

Don’t be afraid of the first answer, the very first time you ask the question. The answer will most likely be: “I don’t know.”

Don’t stay there. This is a devastating place. It’s a place where dreams die and a deep depression takes hold. Ask again: “Why am I here?” Ask again: “Why am I here?” Write down the answers. Sit with them. Don’t be satisfied. Ask again. And again. This is a painful process but it’s much less painful than answering “I don’t know” and stopping there. Don’t give up. Once you’re past the first answer, the path is set and you’re on your way. Stay on it. Stay with it.

At the end of the path, someone is waiting for you, stretching out their hand toward you. Remember why you came and you will know where to go.

 

 

Selling a Movie Option

It was the summer of 1973. I was eight and spent most of my school vacation at my grandmother’s house that year. What I remember from that summer was one thing: the movie The Time Machine. I must have watched it a dozen times at least. I was fascinated by how the passing of time was depicted through the glass ceiling in the traveler’s workshop. I loved the Eloi. I was scared of the Morlocks. To this day it still is (maybe because I’ve seen it as a kid) one of my all-time favorite movies.

Fast forward 40+ years to 2014. I had been writing for a while and had the distinct pleasure of being included in Sam Peralta’s The Time Travel Chronicles with a short story called The Traveler. It was meant, in part, as a homage to A.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine, the basis for the movie. As it so often happens, the story took on a life of its own and I found myself bawling while writing the ending. It doesn’t happen often that something of your own writing grabs you so deeply. I could only wish that readers would have the same reaction.

The Time Travel Chronicles came out in November of 2015. At roughly the same time I began to write the screenplay for it. I’ve been studying screen writing for a while and felt that it would make an awesome little indie movie one day. Knowing how impossible it is to actually sell and/or option a script (out of 40,000 registered scripts, only 400 get optioned each year), I didn’t have high hopes that it would go anywhere. In March of 2016, when the contract with Sam Peralta was up, I published The Traveler on its own as a short. The e-book and paperback went on Amazon. I also published a pocket edition that I handed out to people in the hope they would pass it on to the next person once they had read it.

 

One of the people I gave a copy to was Jillian Fisher. I had first met her at one of my very early readings of The Three Feathers at a local farmer’s market a few years back. We had stayed in touch and when the paperback came out, I gave her a copy. I didn’t hear anything for a few months and had forgotten all about it. I knew she was connected to the movie business but didn’t know exactly what she did. A few months later, I think it was September of 2016, I got a message from Jillian on Facebook. It looked like this:

I was happy that Jillian liked it but thought that she already had a copy of the book. I wasn’t sure what she meant with “I want it.” We talked back and forth until I finally got it. She wanted to option the story. She had been working in location scouting for two decades and had made many great connections in the movie business over the years. Now wanting to branch out on her own and become a producer herself, her first movie, she felt, should be The Traveler.

Cool, right?

Fast forward a few more months to April 2017. Today. I signed the option for The Traveler. I can’t imagine a better home for it. Jillian and myself have a similar vision for the movie (which is basically to make people bawl their eyes out during the ending and then come back for seconds :-).

As it so happens, Jillian, together with her producing partner Anjul Nigam (Growing Up Smith and others), is optioning both the short story and the screenplay. The latter has been a very long time coming as I started screen writing in the early 2000s and have tried for one of my scripts to be optioned since then.

This is Jillian and myself after the signing of the option agreement.

The kid watching The Time Machine a dozen times during that summer of ’73 is dancing around the room right now. Throughout life, some circles stay open, others close and return to the beginning. This is one of them. Nobody knows where it’ll go from here but I have a feeling this isn’t the end of the story. Only the beginning. As Samuel Peralta always says, “The best is yet to come.”

I will post updates here on how things are going. Please sign up for my newsletter if you wish to stay informed on the progress.

 

Cheers,

Stefan

 

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.

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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

 

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.

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