Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Cheers 4 Life

When you lose someone you love, finding your bearings is the first step and depending on who they were and what they meant to you, it’ll be different every time. Although I already wrote about Mom, I did it in Spanish and since I live my life bilingually, I need to process things in both languages, so here’s another post. In addition, although there were those lucky enough to know Mom in real life, others got to know her through me and my writing. So part of me feels like she’d like me to write to those people who knew her from my stories.

I’m also writing this because my blog has always been a platform to try and have a positive impact. A lot of what I write comes from what I need to process in my life and this most certainly is something I’m processing and shall continue to do so. I don’t know if reading this will help someone else, or maybe it’ll just help me sort feelings and thoughts via words, as is the case usually. Regardless, the words are written with kindness and love, which is always a worthy way to start any endeavor.

It’s been an odd two weeks where I catch myself picking up the phone with no one to call. It took a Category 5 hurricane to bring down communications in Puerto Rico, a cruise trip where there was no cell reception, health complications, and now Mom having passed away to not talk with her on the phone every day. It’s not like her passing hasn’t sunk in, but so much about love can seem like muscle memory and reflexes. So now the challenge is to find new ways to love and express and communicate my love for her, which is something that takes a little getting used to. Rather than big things, I find myself remembering her in the most random things and although it does make me tear up a bit, I still catch myself smiling through tears, because even now she can make me smile. Like I said, muscle memory.
Some people deal with the bereavement process by talking to their loved ones and I count myself in that bunch. So much of what I shared with Mom were conversations. Long, winding, meandering, random conversations about everything and nothing. There were no taboos and we always spoke honestly and like lifelong friends. When I was about to come into this world, her doctor told her she had to hold on for a while, because another mother was in labor, had placenta praevia, and if they didn’t see to the woman, her and the baby could die. So for about 40-50 minutes, we “stood there,” minding our own business and I suspect she talked to me and asked kindly to sit tight and just give her a couple of minutes. So even before my entrance to this world we were talking and she was thinking of other people before herself. The other baby was delivered, happy and healthy, and then at some time past 6 PM, I was born. During those first few nights, nurses wouldn’t come into the room, because they heard her talking and thought she had someone visiting. She didn’t. It was just me. And we were just talking.

So I see no point in stopping a good thing we had going for so long.

I am all about traditions and sticking to the ones that enrich our lives; so in my morning and afternoon commutes, I talk to Mom. One of the biggest differences is that I don’t have to worry about dropped signals or low battery, so those are some pluses.

A couple of days ago, someone said something on the lines of: “Well, this is the last #CheersMamaEstrada.” I gave a little smile when I read that because last I checked, I’m still breathing, she still lives within me, and we still have positive vibrations to share with the world. I have a gallery on Facebook called #CheersMamaEstrada (Click for the link) and I will continue posting to it during weekends, because she was too big to be handled in just one day or one tribute.

As for her journey, she definitely faced countless challenges. However, time and time again I was fortunate enough to witness some of the best things humanity has to offer, and not just from her determination. Sure there were scary moments, frustrating moments, and sad moments, but the moments of light, where people shared their best, unconditionally and selflessly, were quite a few as well. Doctors who didn’t have to visit yet came by every day to check up on her, nurses who came from other offices because they had the gentle hands that didn’t leave her bruised when taking blood samples, caregivers who in so many ways cared for her SO much more than just a patient, family members who came by and visited after years of being out of touch and chatted with her as if they hadn’t seen each other in a couple of weeks, and people the world around who would toast to her good health. Seriously, she loved the thought of people getting a buzz in her name. She always welcomed and appreciated thoughts and prayers, but she shall always be a being of smiles, and to know that someone would smile while thinking about her made her day each every single time. Even better if it was with their beverage of choice. So again, why stop a good thing?

As one of her three sons, I was also able to witness true greatness in the love we share as brothers for the same woman. What needed to be done got done. Period. It was never a problem. It was never an issue. It was our duty and our shared honor to show her pure love, selfless love… the type of love she taught us and raised us with and the type of love we have gotten from our wives, our families, and our friends. Where everyone was hurting but chose to smile, to toast to life and joy and love, and to keep going forwards.

Going back to May, I actually did go to the Puerto Rico Comic Con, because I knew Mom would insist and I wanted to bring her some happy news about my adventures. I was alternating between being at the hospital and being at the Convention. Among the many amazing things I got to see first hand, it was that if anyone had any doubt about why they call my wife the Captain, it got dispelled handily. She handled the booth and countless other situations being so much more than just a Captain that she might get a promotion in Book 3. She also gave me my space and endless love and patience to express and feel whatever I had to feel. In short, she was essential in me being able to give my best to my Mom, my brothers, and our family. Then at the convention, everyone had a kind word to say. Both of our booth neighbors and several other people offered help and support and were truly wonderful in so many ways. Seriously, there were so many bright moments shared by people and kindness all around, with nothing but positive vibes. And I took all of that to Mom when I went to the hospital and every time I toast in her name.

So we shall continue to toast to her and share good vibes for those who need them. Because if we have received kindness, love, and support, the right thing to do is to pay it forwards. On my part, if you have someone you’d like to toast to their health, let me know and we’ll toast to them as well, because we’re all in this together. I shall also pair #Humans4Humans Efforts with #CheersMamaEstrada because I want good deeds to carry her name forward as well and because if I say we have to do our best to give our best, this is the perfect opportunity to show that regardless of what we live through, we can help others and have a positive impact.
Lastly, a little bit for those who have read or will read my work. You don’t know Mom as Mama, Tata, Marietta, or Doña María… but you will know her as Mrs. Fawn. There are several people I include in my works and Mom is one of them. If you haven’t read the Human Cycle series or Given to Fly, I won’t offer spoilers, though just know that her role is as essential as it was in my life and she shall always appear as Mrs. Fawn, with the exception of one story to be included in a future collection that will be her as I saw her. Mom was definitely consistent in who and how she was as a human, and the same will go for Mrs. Fawn. I wrote her with kindness, with love, with wisdom, and with lemon cake… because that’s my Mom and that’s how I will always see her.

My thanks for reading, for caring, and for joining me for a toast or four.

Peace, love, and #CheersMamaEstrada

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Contigo Siempre

Apenas han pasado dos semanas desde que nuestra Mama Estrada logró descansar. Aunque parece que ha pasado un siglo y un suspiro a la misma vez, creo que es de esperarse. Es raro no llamarla por la mañana y por la noche. Sin embargo, la siento conmigo. Esta es la primera vez que escribo al respecto desde ese fin de semana y pues, el camino a seguir dando lo mejor de nosotros es único y por mi parte quería compartir palabras que incluimos en su recordatorio y algunas notas que escribí para cuando los tres hermanos hablamos de Mama. 

Comparto esto para los que no pudieron ir a la misa de Mama o vernos en Puerto Rico porque creo que a Mama le gustaría que la gente leyera esto para que sigan brindando y sonriendo. 

Primero el recordatorio:

“Marietta, Mama, María, Tata

Aunque son muchos nombres para un ser humano, cada uno inspira una sonrisa por quién fue y cómo fue con cada uno de nosotros. 

A La Marietta le brindamos diciendo lo siguiente: La vida no te debe nada y nada le debes a la vida, excepto las gracias por poder vivirla y compartirla contigo.

“You’ll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in fields of gold.”

Luego de su misa, todos tuvimos la oportunidad de compartir algunas palabras sobre nuestra chica. Cuando me tocó a mí, empecé por preguntar una de las cosas más importantes para cualquier persona que tuvo la dicha de conocerla, ¿quién nos hará los bizcochos?

Mama nunca fue de mantenerlo serio y pues, soy hijo de mi madre al igual que mis hermanos porque los tres tuvimos nuestro momento de decir algún chiste. Ella siempre conseguía sonrisas y risas y era pícara y media porque esa era su naturaleza. El detalle es que ahora que ya ha dejado este plano terrestre, nos toca vivir un momento en donde podemos ser egoístas y decir que una parte de nosotros murió o podemos escoger ser un mejor tipo de egoísta y decir que una parte de Mama vive en cada uno de nosotros.

Yo siempre escogeré la segunda porque Mama se dejaba querer y quería sin medirse. Aunque a veces le traía dolor el ser así, siempre fue genuina y cuando te amaba, lo sentías en cada átomo de tu ser. Aparte de eso está el hecho de que si la conociste, es muy probable que aprendiste algo de ella y hasta más probable que fueron muchos “algos”. Si me preguntas a mí, eso es vida. Eso es un cantito de ella. Una semilla. Hemos llorado y de seguro seguiremos llorando de vez en cuando. Nada cambia el hecho de que nos hace y hará mucha falta.

Por mi parte, siempre haré lo máximo por llorar con una sonrisa en la cara, con orgullo en el alma y con copa/taza/vaso en mano porque me acostumbré a brindar por ella y por todos los que necesitan vibras positivas y risas. Eso la haría feliz y por cuanto yo viva seguiré haciendo todo en mi poder para que siga sonriendo.

Por 70 años fue una luz en la tierra y por sus acciones nos mejoró la vida. Ahora brilla en el Cielo mientras sigue siendo parte de nuestras vidas, porque así fue y así siempre será.

Se les quiere y brindamos por ustedes también

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A call to say #CheersMamaEstrada

During the past few weeks, Mama Estrada has been having a rough time to put it lightly. Rest assured, she’s getting the love and care she needs to get her better. Both of my brothers continue to be the main support for her and have been phenomenal in managing situations I can’t begin to fathom. Our extended families are also offering beautiful support and it’s nice to see how much love Mom inspires and how much love people give during this challenging time. Nurses, doctors, and everyone involved are on board and also refer to her on a first name basis. That’s the attitude we’re bringing to the game. 

Although some days are good, some days could be better. We’re always trying to win an inch, win any victory, big or small. I’m writing this post not to share specifics, but to make a small request or invitation more so: to say #CheersMamaEstrada. Even though we welcome thoughts and prayers and we welcome all forms of support, we love a smile and she loves people having tea, drinking coffee, doing a shot, sipping on a margarita, eating cake, and the such, getting a buzz while sending positive vibes. Capturing a moment of happiness and sharing it with her. 

That’s Mom for you and we are all following suit. Keeping it positive and taking it one day at a time.

I’ll be posting #CheersMamaEstrada pics and creating a gallery on the Facebook Author page. You can send me pics or put them in the comment section. Want to include a poem, a joke, or a happy thought? Bring it. Want to share a prayer. They are welcome. Found the perfect puppy or cat video? Post below. We believe in the power of positive thoughts. We know how empowering a smile can be. We are in this together and we are thankful for everyone who continues to share smiles and positivity. 

Cheers to you and #CheersMamaEstrada

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Mother’s Day Tradition continues

For several years I have always kept a promise to mom that I’ll publish something on Mother’s Day. She didn’t ask for it, but it was something important for me to do as was the choice for my author name. 

I often get asked if there’s a reason for my pen name and I always have to say there are several. Firstly, my last name might be misleading to people looking for other type of literature. Secondly, my name is so unique that in high school I had 3 other people with the same name and it was always funny to try and figure out who had messed up. Thirdly, and most importantly, I take issue with the phasing out of one parent’s surname as time passes. I shall always love my dad and I’m proud of the name I bear, but I’m also proud of my mom’s side of the equation that is me. If you read my author name in Spanish, it reads “jota de Estrada”, or Estrada’s J. I make it no secret that I’m a mama’s boy and I’ll always freely say how much I love my mom because although I was taught to be the best man I can be, I was not taught to shut away my feelings. 

If you’ve read the Human Cycle, my daydreams, or Given to fly, you’ve come across Mrs. Fawn, a character inspired by my mother and one of the most important characters in the Human Cycle (wait til you read Book 3). I didn’t do it to be cute or to win brownie points or anything like that, I include her in my stories because she’s one of my favorite characters in the story of my life and I wanted to share a piece of her through my literature. She’s the favorite of a lot of people and everyone now knows that lemon cake is indeed a slice of home thanks to her. 

For this year, I’m doubling down on the motherly tribute as I bring my Blanc Comics project to book form so anyone can be able to be a part of it. Whereas I dedicate books and write poems about some people I love, for my grandmother, I want to take a different approach and create a concept as a tribute to her. My grandmother was visually impaired and had advanced glaucoma ever since I knew her, but that didn’t deter her from having amazing discipline in morning and evening stretches and exercises, a beauty regiment that was responsible for one of the most immaculately soft set of hands you could imagine, and she could tell a detailed story with lush descriptions even being blind. 

In addition to her talent for storytelling, two other things prompted this project. Firstly, a couple of years back in the Puerto Rico Comic Con they had talent scouts looking for comic book artists. If I’m not mistaken over 200 people (or close to that amount) tried out and only 2 or 3 got selected and there were a lot of people feeling pretty bummed out. Apart from that, I had wanted to do a project that would promote the acceptance of differing points of view to inspire dialogue rather than what we see daily from political parties and people who think winning an argument is better than finding resolution and who would rather bark louder than think before they speak. 

Enter Blanc Comics. 

I offer comic book panels, a fully fleshed storyline, special effects integrated in the panels, and a description of what goes in each panel… but as a story teller, I’m blind… and I need everyone’s help to see our story. I wrote these stories to entertain, to offer a canvas for artists to express their talents, to inspire people to look for varied points of view and instead of resisting, finding worth in a different perspective. I wrote these tales challenging myself in genres that were new to me and trying something new. I wrote these stories with several perspectives of love: for my family, for story telling for the graphic medium, for future artists, for mom, and for my grandmother. 

And I now share them with you. 

There are currently two titles:

What does a wizard have in common with an angel? A pet macaw and a detective agency. Let’s face it, too many crimes go unsolved and some people say you need a miracle to solve certain cases... or a little magic. 

It is the 19th century and zombies exist. Hundreds of attacks have been reported and for the most part, there are no survivors…. 

For the most part. 

A vampire has been battling zombies for over a century. 

A Native American was the sole survivor in a 500-mile radius.

A samurai’s village was eradicated.

An army of three shares one common hunger… Revenge. 

* * * *

It’s been a challenging year for mom healthwise, but she continues showing resilience, strength, grace, and beauty. So I continue writing and giving my best, because if she can do it with everything she overcomes, I find no reason why I can’t do the same. 

Thank you. Mom.

For love. For inspiration. For encouragement. For support. For life. 

I’ll be with you in a couple of hours to give you a banana hug. 

Peace, love, and Cheers Mama Estrada

Sunday, March 31, 2019

You have more time than you think

If there’s a common complaint nowadays it’s that people insist that they don’t have time for the things that matter to them… but it begs the question, is that true or are we just squandering our time in things with little or no value but that chip away at our time?

Working in advertising, odd workloads are common, meaning that one week you’re chill and then you forget what the sunlight looks like for 2 ½ months. But even so, there’s time to do what matters. 

The first things you have to take a look at might be at what time do you wake up and go to sleep? I ask this because I normally get up between 6:00 AM - 6:30 AM. This gives me at least an hour to do my “me things,” which go from social media, promoting events or my books, or writing. Other activities include contacting people to do blog hops, appear on their podcasts/booktube channels, etc. At night I rarely get many things done, but what I actually do is read books, my notes, plot points, or a to-do list so that while I sleep my imagination is going vroom-vroom-vroom… and yes, you should sleep with a notebook next to your bed.

Secondly, and VERY importantly, what do you do for lunch? For me, I’ve been able to write SO much during lunch hours that you’d be amazed how much of my published work has been written on salsa stained pages and sponsored by the second full meal of the day. You are forced to crunch in time to get at least one or two pages down and if you really get in a stride, you’ll be amazed at what you can do. By the way, I should add that I do most of my writing by longhand, which requires an extra level of editing when I transcribe but it really works for me, so I stick with it. 

And that’s just a couple of examples. I’ve known to go into the bathroom and lock myself in a stall with a notebook. I’ve also known to bolt out running because someone entered an adjacent stall and hadn’t been briefed on the kindness that is encompassed in a courtesy flush… that, plus some people might say that they feel dead inside, but other people smell as if that’s the case. But I digress. 

What I do want to focus on is the fact that I made adjustments and got creative in regards to writing times and capture tools for ideas, notes, or writing in general. I know people who take lunch breaks in their cars. I know people who have voice recognition and use their voice to write while doing house chores. I know people who pick doctor appointments at times that are full to make sure they have time to write. And like this, I’m sure you can come up with several ways to get more time to do what you want to do. 

Some extra tips though: If social media is taking up too much of your time, delete apps for a couple of days to not even have the temptation. If you find yourself progressing levels in smart phone games but not in your projects, delete the apps, hide them, or simply turn off the phone. Be honest with yourself in regards to the time it takes to do things and adjust accordingly. It’s possible. You can do it and I’ve seen a lot of people take all sorts of challenges and persist. You can too and it all starts with you giving yourself the best shot to do the most with the time you have… and finding time where you thought there was none. Hope this helps and hope you write up a storm. 

Peace, love, and maki rolls.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Writer Events: Broadleaf Writers Association - Self-Publishing Seminar (March 16, 2019)

Some things are so obvious that we forget to do them. I’ve lived in Atlanta for almost 3 years and I hadn’t been to writer events in all this time for several reasons including life, work, and mother nature derailing plenty of plans. Still, 2019 is up and running and if you read my assessment of the year, I mentioned the word “Breakthrough” and I’m focused on finally leaving a mark in the ATL and going for it in several new ways, which includes going to these events, meeting new people, and putting myself in a proper position to learn. 

Last Saturday, March 16, Broadleaf Writers hosted a Self-Publishing seminar with the participation of Lynne Hansen, Jeff Strand, Margaret Johnson-Hodge, Bernette Sherman, Bobby Nash, and moderated by Zachary Steele, Executive Director of Broadleaf Writers. Each of these creatives brings a different aspect and perspective to the discussion and I think that was a key to why I think it was such a solid event. 

Lynne has gone from doing any cover design she could get a hold of, to focusing on her genre of choice – horror. Jeff Strand is a hybrid author with over 40 books and a cheeky sense of humor. A peculiar thing to mention is that while many people post wide, he has honed all his efforts to focus on Amazon and KDP, dropping all other channels. Margaret Johnson is not a fan of Amazon, KDP, Createspace, Ingram Spark, or traditional publishing due to past experiences with each, that definitely offers a lot of food for thought. Her approach has been to connect with local printers, buy her own ISBN numbers, and focus 100% on physical books, something I hadn’t witnessed before, but refreshing to see. Bernette Sherman is a multi-genre author, has music out on CD Baby, and goes wide with her distribution. Her take was interesting because her fiction work has been quite uphill but she’s made it work through LOTS of effort… and then her non-fiction work resonates with people so much that with NO promotion, it still sells pretty solidly. To round out the panel, there’s another hybrid author, Bobby Nash, a friendly happy-go-lucky creative who is extremely keen in finding small, mid, and large events where he takes his books and makes it work. His approach was interesting because he had novellas that went out of print, got the rights back and sells them as standalones, compilations, and hard cover compilations.  

What’s curious is that although the crew was diverse, everyone was friendly, talkative, and engaging in their own way, offering honest advice and sharing raw experiences to show people what could happen, good and bad. The event started at 9:30 and went solid until 4:30 with a lunch break in between. Tea, water, and coffee was offered, which was actually a great place to chat it up with people. Funny how water alone doesn’t cut it, but when you add tea or coffee to it, magic.  Also, during the day, all authors participated in all the panels.

In regards to what was covered in the event, I’ll post the sections and my biggest takeaway from each panel. 

1. The Choice to Self-Publish: Why You Should (or shouldn’t)

Self-publishing is not an easy road. It has great things if you’re successful but success is something you have to constantly work at. But if you have the itch, then why not? Main thing to remember is to have a back-up plan because you won’t go from zero to Rowling in one published book. 

2. How Long Will It Take? The Process of Self-Publishing

Every single person will have a different answer to this and you have to be flexible enough to find what works for you. Also, don’t jump the gun. If you think it’s not ready, make sure. One of the authors published and pulled out a fiction work 3 times before they were satisfied with the end result. 

3. Putting It All Together: Editing, Cover Design, Interior Design, and More!

Do not skip the steps. In theory you can do it all… but be honest with yourself in regards to what you can do and what you can’t do. Cutting corners helps no one and the difference between success and failure is often in the details. 

4. Sell More Books: Publicity and Marketing Before and After Publication

If you don’t promote, you will not sell. Set a budget for this, ramp up enthusiasm, and remember that you need to maintain momentum. If you lose it, you pretty much start from zero again. 

5. Something Learned, Something Shared: Self-Publishing Success Tips and Tricks

Allow yourself to make mistakes, be realistic with your goals, and set milestones so you can progress your journey. Also, celebrate the victories, big and small, and use whatever means to stay motivated. 

* * *

Now for an overview. 

From the topics covered, it showed that the seminar was designed to touch on topics for people at all points of their Writer Journey, whether you are just about to make the decision to self-publish or if you’ve already done it and are curious to learn more to see what can apply to your experience. There were about 30 people in the crowd and it allowed for everyone to be able to ask their questions and to get to know each other with whoever you hit it off. 

The price for the event was $75 and I do think it’s a very reasonable price, since a LOT of what they shared could potentially save you a LOT of money. Simply put, people sharing the mistakes they’ve faced and the scams they’ve identified is worth the price of admission. That you get to meet fellow writers, get some valuable information, and later on access to audio files from all the conferences is just a major bonus. Each speaker offered their no-nonsense 100% honest perspective and answered every question they got from the crowd. Another valuable thing was to showcase just how DIFFERENT each of our paths is and that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. That was key throughout the day and I think it was very helpful for people who weren’t sure how to progress or what next steps to take.

The people at Broadleaf are very lovely and I’m sure that if you have any question they’ll be more than happy to answer. They answered all of mine and I had a ton. 

Thanks for reading and if you’d like to learn about my experience with the Atlanta Writing Workshop, click here

Peace, love, and maki rolls.

Writer Events: The 2019 Atlanta Writing Workshop (March 9, 2019)

When you live in a big city, there will be events of all types to enjoy and Atlanta is no exception. A couple of weeks back I was able to enjoy my first writer event in the city at the Atlanta Writing Workshop, coordinated by Jessica Bell with support from the Broadleaf Writer’s Association. 

This was an all-day event that started at 9:30 AM and lasted until 5:00 PM. It consisted of Five Blocks, where each block had three simultaneous conferences occurring. So naturally, the first thing I had done is identify the conference titles that drew my attention. Below I’ll put the topics covered and will bold and underline the ones I chose. After that, I’ll talk about why I chose the conferences I did and give a brief overview.


Getting published in Today’s World: 10 tips to Make You The Writer Agents and Publishers Want

Writing Other Worlds – a Guide to blending Setting, Plot, and Character in Science Fiction and Fantasy

How to Add Comic Relief to Your Fiction (And Make it Better)


Pitch, Please: An Agent’s Guide To Pitches & Queries

15 Tips on How to Write Like the Pros

*Here are the main takeaways courtesy of Lydi B (Thanks so much for offering your insights!)

- Open a book with conflict, introducing characters in unique ways
- Keep dialogue short and natural (skipping hellos and goodbyes, etc. pleasantries)
- Unusual character names are more memorable

Savvy Strategies for Creating Realistic Romantic Relationships


Writer’s Got Talent – a Page 1 Critique Fest

Another interesting series of tidbits courtesy of Lydi B: Writer's Got Talent was immensely helpful for understanding what excites agents as well as what types of mistakes make them dump your manuscript before finishing page 1.

- Strong opening sentence/paragraph that draws attention
- Get to conflict quickly, pepper in details about how later
- Don't get bogged down in details, especially environment
- Read first pages of stories in your chosen genre on Amazon to see how published authors succeeded

How to Sell a Non-Fiction Book: The 9 Musts of a Proposal

Breaking in with Picture Books


The 10 Principles of Building a Platform

New Southern Writing

The Fiendish Art of Crafting Suspense for Thrillers, Mysteries, and Crime (& Any Novel Really)


18 Frequently Asked Questions About Publishing

From A to Z: Strategies for Plotting & Pacing Tightly

How to Make your YA or MG Book Un-Put-Down-Able

BLOCK ONE: Getting published in Today’s World: 10 tips to Make You The Writer Agents and Publishers Want

Some people might be surprised I chose this as one of my seminars since I’m an indie author and do enjoy a lot about being an indie author. The reality is that I’ve heard the term hybrid author, where you publish certain things as an indie and other things as a publisher and that flexibility does appeal a lot. The reality is that being an indie author, reach is something that will be far limited when compared to traditional publishing and it’s something I’m curious to explore. This conference was offered by Brian A. Klems, author of “Oh boy, you’re having a girl.” From the get-go I have to say that Brian has great energy and honestly spoke like one of those professors in college that inspire someone to follow a path to win a Nobel Prize or something. Super nice guy, engaging, answered all questions, and he was honest… and consistent (this would be the first of many times I’d see Brian, lol). The tips he offered were sensible on several levels and my main take away is that talent might go a long way to getting an agent’s attention, but being easy to work with is absolutely golden. When you read pitch/submission guidelines, follow them. Don’t get creative, don’t try to cheat the system, play by the rules and you’ll be ahead of over half of the pack that is trying to be clever and not follow instructions.  

BLOCK TWO: Pitch, Please: An Agent’s Guide To Pitches & Queries

I have several author friends of all likes who have pitched to an agent, be it on Twitter, or through snail mail. I was curious to see what I could learn from this conference, and thanks to Caroline George, I learned a lot… almost too much, lol. She shared some stories of the weirdest submissions she’s gotten, and from riddles to incomprehensible manifesto-like queries, she hasn’t seen it all, but she’s seen a lot. Following the line of the first conference, she insisted: follow the guidelines. Be clear. Also, don’t harass and always be professional. Just those tidbits will go a LONG way to ensuring you don’t waste anyone’s time, because although Caroline does read every single submission, some take a long time simply because of how out there they are. She talked about the difference between a pitch and a query, described the agent-author relationship, and insisted on the importance of being able to talk about your WIP in 30 seconds, 3 minutes, and half an hour. Also, when you pitch, do your research and personalize it. No one likes boiler plate letters…. And agents are in fact, human. 

BLOCK THREE: How to Sell a Non-Fiction Book: The 9 Musts of a Proposal

I honestly believe most people went to the Writer’s Got Talent 1 page critique, but since I write non-fiction, it was important to me to go to the Non-Fiction conference… and who do I find, but Brian A. Klems. Once again, Brian brought an A-game in regards to energy and information and honestly opened my eyes to how different non-fiction is to fiction when it comes to pitching it. Rather than a synopsis, you include the idea and from the get-go, you NEED a logline (i.e. a one-line pitch of your work of non-fiction, who it is for, and why it can sell). For me, this particular conference put a LOT of things in perspective if I also want to try my hand at non-fiction (and we all know I do, because why not?) Main take away is that for non-fiction, you don’t need a finished manuscript, you just need an idea that knocks it out of the park. Also, memoirs are more fiction than non-fiction so if you’re thinking of a memoir, you’ll need to write all of it before pitching. And one last tidbit, becoming an expert in an area and engaging people on that topic on your author platform will be invaluable. 

BLOCK FOUR: The 10 Principles of Building a Platform

I chose this conference because I honestly wanted to know if what I’m doing online is on the right path. I do a lot of things to try and have a positive impact but there are recurring themes: socks, tea, cheeky humor, and of course, bananas. Also, guess who was giving this conference. :) Once again Brian offered some great and practical information, a lot of which I’ll be implementing. My main takeaway here, commit to platforms, be consistent, and engage. If you try to do too many things, you won’t find your audience. 

BLOCK FIVE: 18 Frequently Asked Questions About Publishing

For my last conference, I wanted to get more info on publishing because I’m genuinely curious. And once again, the Energizer bunny known as Brian A. Klems was offering this conference. I make a point to highlight Brian’s energy for several reasons. A. His energy never wavered in any conference. B. He does this without the aid of caffeine. C. He might repeat some points from his Writer Journey, but at NO point was he redundant or even remotely boring. To be honest, Brian gave a hell of an example of professionalism as a public speaker. He made such a great impression on me, I gifted him a book but more geared toward his 3 daughters. Sure, I had copies of my non-fiction books with me, but I wanted to thank him by thanking his daughters. I don’t mean to digress, but honestly, if you see a conference with him in town, give it a chance. I think he has a lot of knowledge to share and a very kind heart, and I’m all for supporting that. As for his conference, solid again. He recommends to query multiple agents, always be working on something and when you pitch something, always have something else you’re working on. I’m ridiculously oversimplifying what he offered, but re-read that last sentence… each point… and apply it. It makes a LOT of sense and offered a LOT of food for thought. 

So that was my overview of what I watched, but if anyone reads this that saw any of the other conferences, and you’d like to offer your perspective and some info on those other conference, feel free to writer a comment or reach out to me on any social media to offer a more comprehensive overview of this event. For me, it was pricey but I think I got a lot from it, though that will ALWAYS be up to you. Please remember, being at an event will not guarantee you anything. You either pay attention, engage, ask questions, or are just a passer-by. The choice is yours, but I think there’s a lot to gain from the experience and think all the conferences offered a lot of information that was new to me, and I’ve been writing and checking out information since 2014, so there’s also that. 

In case you’re curious, here’s a list of the price for the event and the other things you could add on:

$189 — EARLY BIRD base price for registration to the 2019 ATLWW

Add $29 — 10-minute one-on-one meeting with any of our literary agents or editors in attendance. 

Add $69 — for an in-depth, personal critique of your one-page query letter from Brian Klems, one of the day’s instructors. 

Add $89 — for an in-depth personal critique of the first 10 pages of your novel. 

 * * *

I’d love to hear from other people who attended the event and people who went all in with the add-ons to hear your experience. I honestly think that sharing experiences will benefit us all. I’m also very happy to have met and interacted with Lydia Boatright, J Brice Odom, Madhav Mathur, Matt Ward, Karen D. Murphy and another Matt whose last name I simply can’t remember lol, which brings me to my last point… Take business cards and exchange with fellow authors at these events. You never know who you’ll meet that’ll become a lifelong writer friend. 

Thanks for reading and if you’d like to read a bit about the other writer event I went to during March, check out my recap of the Self-Publishing Seminar hosted by the Broadleaf Writers Association by clicking here

Peace, love, and maki rolls

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Where does inspiration come from?

It is one of the most common things I’ve been asked as a writer: Where does inspiration come from? Where do ideas come from? How did I get the idea for a specific line of dialogue, a pun, a character trait, or even a name?

The reality is that there is no one single thing or method to get ideas. Inspiration strikes whenever it wants and the secret is to capture those ideas and those moments, to make the most of inspiration and that when you NEED to write, you sit down and let the ink flow.

I’ve written about this before but rather than repost, I’d rather re-invite people with a new post to listen to new music, to read outside their comfort zone, to try new foods, new drinks, visit new places, see museums, read non-fiction, and basically ingest enough information to ensure that your brain is always flowing with ideas for X or Y thing. Some people read the same types of stories, watch the same type of movies, listen to only one genre of music, and thus LIMIT themselves. 





Open yourself to the world. Make it so that inspiration has a ton of ways to attack you and take it all in. One VERY important thing is to have multiple capture tools or to make sure you remember a great idea when it strikes. And sometimes all you need is a strand of an idea to grab onto. With careful pulling you’ll be able to see that a small string can lead to a HUGE thread but it’s up to you to follow that thread down the rabbit hole. 

Life inspires. Experiences inspire. Good and bad. It's up to you to be open to live as much as possible and embrace this ride called life if you want to truly maximize your inspiration. Also, look at the classics in books, music, and film. There’s such a rich wealth of stories already out there and sometimes the path to somewhere new first traverses something familiar. 

For me, I love ideating and thinking about different projects to see what comes up. Sometimes it’s methodical, other times it’s spur of the moment type of ideas. With poetry I try to capture lightning in a bottle but sometimes I take verses and nurture them to their final form. 

What’s true is that no matter what, experience leads to inspiration. The inspiration for my 13th book, Given to Fly, came to me after I rode the Soarin’ ride at Epcot Center for the first time. In that ride, everything clicked and I paid attention, and I wrote down what I knew would be the story. After watching Quills (with Geoffry Rush) I was struck with inspiration so I grabbed a pen, some napkins, and wrote a poem in one go… small edits when I transcribed and it became the first poem that ever won me any type of prize (it's in my bilingual collection Twenty Veinte, if you're curious). 

But you have to capture that lightning. Don’t trust that you’ll remember. Don’t wait. Don’t get distracted. Get inspired… and amazing things will happen. 

Peace, love, and maki rolls.