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:

authorrealitycheck

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

 

A (Super) Hero For A New Generation

We all know and always look forward to that small segment in all the super hero stories and movies where we find out how the super hero actually became one. Spiderman gets bitten and begins to develop his abilities, the Hulk is being exposed to gamma radiation and changes for the first time, Iron Man develops his suite, learns how to use it, and so on. Usually, any story about a super hero has a small portion of it set aside to tell the tale of how the hero became who he or she is now.spiderman

The White Dragon tells the story of eighteen-year-old Kasey Byrne, an average teenager who lives on Long Island and who has just finished high school when the apocalypse hits full force. The first book, The White Dragon – Genesis, is a real time account, through Kasey’s eyes, of the first thirty six hours of this apocalyptic event.

Toward the end of book one, it becomes clear that the opponent – an ancient demonic being that wreaks havoc on the island while spreading a terror that is beyond the imaginable – is much more powerful than anyone could have thought. In book two, The White Dragon – Crucible, Kasey has to leave this world and travel through a gateway to a different time and place where she will be trained for one single purpose: to find the white dragon, to tame it, and to bring it back to our world in order to save it..

But nobody has ever found the dragon and the odds are stacked against her. For her friends, a small group of survivors hiding out in a thrift shop in Babylon, one hour passes. For Kasey, three years go by before she returns.

While the apocalypse unfolds and throughout her training, something inside Kasey awakens. It is gift and curse alike for it can destroy her or turn her into the most powerful weapon against the evil that has reached the shores of our world.

All three books – Genesis, Crucible, and Alchemy – are part of an overreaching arc, attesting to the birth of a completely new kind of super hero. The apocalypse, as horrific and all consuming as it is, is nothing against the inner battle Kasey has to fight in order to become who she needs to be.

I’m in the midst of writing book two at the moment. May the epicness ensue.

Cheers,

Stefan

The Emotional Impact of Landscapes in Writing

Have you ever had dreams where the natural laws were suspended, where you were able to swim under water for  long periods of time, or float in the air without wings? I’ve had a lot of those dreams during childhood. In my early twenties, I discovered a German painter named Hans-Werner Sahm. His work could be categorized as surrealism as he paints stunning landscapes that never quite follow the natural laws of physics or nature. Nevertheless, or maybe because of it, the paintings evoke emotions of longing, hope, and limitlessness of spirit.

hochland_hiWe all know that the basic task of the writer is to evoke emotions in the reader. Ideally, each scene includes at least some element of that. Usually, emotion is created when one or more characters in the story go through experiences of loss, love, fear, external and internal struggle, etc. I always felt that landscapes can evoke those very same reactions, albeit in a completely different way.

Refugiumwindows

As an example from my own writing, in The Three Feathers, the landscape itself is what pushes a good amount of the plot forward. The characters travel from one location to the next and the landscape itself, dangerous and beautiful alike, becomes an obstacle or a place of refuge, depending on where they are on their journey. The images create an emotional arc, adding depth to the individual arcs of the characters.

Aufbruch

The depth of the landscape can mirror the depth of the emotions the characters go through at any given point in the story. I found that whatever the landscape is, should reinforce the emotion of the characters so that, even if there is a scene where nothing much happens in terms of character development, the emotional impact of the landscape is still present.

Entdeckung

Landscapes can make characters seem powerless and small in comparison, adding to the sense of danger and futility the characters have to overcome in order to reach their goal.

Meeting Point

The image above is a good example. For me, it evokes feelings of loss and parting, danger, and a certain finality. I imagine a traveler reaching this point in her journey only to realize that she cannot continue. Her quest is in jeopardy, maybe the life of a loved one on the other side of the bridge is now more in danger than ever before. How will she get to the other side. Here’s an idea: Eagles!!! 🙂

In the book I’m working on right now, I have just reached the point where I was able to begin working on a map of the main character’s whole journey. Simply working on the map always provides me with immense insights into the story and characters. Plot points begin to fall into place and things come together more coherently. Drawing a map, to me, is always the most helpful part of developing a story (Besides, in this case, listening to an extensive amount of DRAGON FORCE!). The book is called Apocalypse Weird: The White Dragon – Crucible. It will be out next year.

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Hans-Werner Sahm does not have a web site but if you Google his name, most of his paintings will come up in the search.

Cheers and happy reading and writing,

Stefan

The Three Feathers – An Approach to Location-Driven Writing

In fiction writing, we usually distinquish between plot-driven and character-driven stories. Ideally, there’s a healthy balance between the two, otherwise the story ends up either in the shallow part of the pool or drowning in the deep end.

In my other job, I’m a licensed real estate broker. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to a third approach: location, location, location. But let me back track a bit. When I was in my twenties, there was a German painter I loved. His name is Hans-Werner Sahm. His forte was surrealism. In most of his images, the natural laws of gravity, scope, and physics were completely suspended.  His paintings had a big imapact on me. You could say they spoke directly to my soul.

prison cell

You can see what I mean in looking at this example. Fast forward to 2011 when I began to write The Three Feathers. Its a fable and, growing up in Germany, I’ve read tons of them at school, together with all the Grimm’s fairy tales and such. In one sense, my subconscious was primed for something I didn’t even know yet. When I was about fourty pages into The Three Feathers, I began to draw a map. That lead me to searching for and finding Hans-Werner Sahm’s paintings online. I printed a bunch of them out. At that time, I wrote mostly at the kitchen table which had a glass surface. I stuck the print-outs under the glass so I could look at them while I wrote.

Refugiumwindows

I began to like my characters but realized that what really pushed the story forward were those images. Their scope and beauty and utter abandon of physical laws created this field in my mind (sorry, I couldn’t find another way of describing this) that pulled – or pushed – the characters along. The locations became plot points. The hero’s journey now moved from one to the next. The character development happened within those locations. The plotpoints came out of them.

If you have read The Three Feathers, you might remember The Refuge, a high tower completely enclosed in glass. Its inspiration came from the above image. You can see the tiny people in this painting. That’s how I envisioned Joshua, Grey, Krieg, and Wind as they had to solve the riddle of the Porte Des Lioness – the entrance to the mountain. It was an amazing and kid-in-a-candy-story-like experience to discover and embedd those images into the story.

LeuchtFeuter

This image shows what I envisioned the Lake of Tears and Refuge would look like. You cannot but be captivated by the sheer scope of it. The other thing that happened, at least in my own mind, was that the characters became an integral part of the landscape and took on a depth and soul that mirrored the landscape. I’m not sure if I am describing this correctly. It’s kind of hard to put into words. I cried sometimes while writing, overwhelmed by the beauty of it.

There was one character in particular that came right out of one of the paintings. The lioness, a presence in the world of Hollow’s Gate, was inspired by two paintings. This is one of them:

Lions

The Porte Des Lioness in the story – the entrance to the mountain – lies right below the lion’s head. It was easy to imagine the characters travelling this world. Danger and beauty were built into them already.

Entdeckung

In the third part of The Three Feathers, Grey, Joshua, and Krieg make it into the mountain where they discover the ancient mining town, abandoned for thousands of years. You can see how one can get inspired by this image to write just one out of so many possible story that happened there. The light source in this image has become a major plot point in The Fourth Sage as well.

Aufbruch

The above image is a great example. The spheres in this painting became a huge part in not only The Three Feathers but have fueled the rest of the five-book series. I imagined that the spheres were devices through which one could travel through a wormhole. Imagine a movie with those images as inspiration. It would be breathtaking.

Check out Hans-Werner Sahm’s paintings. He doesn’t have a website there’s plenty of material online by simply looking for his name.

Cheers,

Stefan

 
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