Category Archives: Writing Life

The Dirty Secret Fiction Writers Don’t Want You To Know

Before I became an author I thought of fiction writers as either genius or insane. When I started writing my first novel I quickly discovered that I was correct.

And I’m no genius.

As an author I get asked a lot (A LOT) where I get my ideas from. And as an author of suspense I get asked a lot (A LOT) how I can conjure such macabre material from my mind. I usually give some pat answer about having an active imagination or wanting my readers to see the world for what it really is. I talk about telling the truth through my writing.

And all that is true . . . but it’s not the whole story.

What I don’t tell those inquiring minds is a dirty little secret that fiction writers keep well protected.

Until now.

The truth is that fiction writers are all slightly off center. A little insane.

I say fiction writers because I don’t want to unjustly lump my non-fiction brothers and sisters into that group. And fiction writing is an animal all its own. (A disclaimer is necessary at this point. I’m sure there are fiction writers who don’t fall into this category and I apologize for generalizing here but really, c’mon, admit it, we’re all a little wonky).

Think about it. We create worlds that don’t really exist. Towns, buildings, and people to inhabit those places. We give those people personalities and lives and histories and then we converse with them in our heads. Sometimes we talk out loud to them. We spend time with people who don’t really exist. We grow to care about them. We hear voices in our heads. At times, we obsess over those voices and people behind them. And at times, we let those people tell their own story.

The American Psychiatric Association has diagnoses for all those behaviors. No kidding.

But we live with it because we say it’s part of our imagination, our creativity. We’re okay with being a little insane.

Regular folk (I say “regular” for lack of a better term) don’t understand the mindset of a fiction author. They can’t. And it’s probably for the best. If they knew what really went on in our heads, if they could hear those voices, if they knew the fine line we walk, I truly believe they’d have every single one of us committed.

Of course, maybe things are topsy turvy and fiction writers are the normal ones. Maybe everyone else is insane.

Then again, maybe that, too, is part of the delirium.

Get Your Writing in Gear in 2014

For those of you who don’t know or need to be reminded, I do offer coaching services for writers at any stage of the game. From not-even-started-yet-because-you-have-no-idea-where-to-begin to already-published-and-looking-to-get-more-published. The services include everything from editing to critiquing to mentoring to brainstorming to accountability. Whatever you need, whatever you want. We can cater anything to your schedule, goals, and abilities.

A sample list of services and prices can be found on my coaching page (members of my Darlington Society get 20% off) but below are some examples of coaching plans and prices (per month). I think you’ll find the pricing competitive with the rest of the market at worst, a bargain at best. And if you join my Darlington Society the prices drop even more.

Example #1: For the casual writer who needs some guidance

1 critique/edit (up to 15 pages) and 1 half-hour phone chat to discuss it  (once a month) . . . $60 or $48 for TDS members

Example #2: For the novice who needs a little more guidance/instruction/editing

2 critique/edits and 2 hour-long phone chats to discuss it and for instruction . . . $140 or $116 for TDS members

Example #3: For the established writer who struggles with motivation/scheduling and needs accountability

1 half-hour phone call every other week . . . $40 or $32 for TDS members

Example #4: For the established writer who needs someone to look over material and critique it, comment on it, catch errors, etc.

2 critiques (up to 15 pages each) per month . . . $80 or $64 for TDS members

So you can see there are services and combinations of services that won’t break the bank. And there are a plethora of other scenarios available. Again, the services will be totally based on your need, desires, and finances.

If you’re interested, contact me either by leaving a comment below or emailing me privately and we can discuss your needs and wants. The first half-hour consultation call is FREE.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Reach Your Writing Goals!

Writer Wordart

(Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

A few months ago I added a page to my website introducing a new coaching service I was offering for writers. I didn’t really push the service, didn’t do much in the way of announcing anything. I just kind of put it out there and let it be.

To be honest, I wasn’t ready to start accepting clients on a regular basis.

But now I’m ready.

If you’re a writer, especially a fiction writer, or if you aspire to be a writer and are looking for some personal coaching/tutoring to hone your craft . . . I can help.

If you have questions about writing or publishing that you need answers for . . . I can help.

If you’d like someone who is experienced and impartial to look at your material and give an honest opinion . . . I can help.

If you’re trying to determine whether to go the traditional route or self-published route but can’t decide which is best for you . . . I can help (I’ve done both).

If you’re discouraged and in need of some encouragement and help in determining what your next move should be . . . I can definitely help!

Please, if any of the above scenarios describes you, check out my coaching page, review the pricing, and contact me. I’m flexible. If what’s offered on that page doesn’t fit your needs or budget, contact me anyway and we can work something out. I want to see writers succeed.

I hope to hear from you soon!

The Bestseller That Never Was

Darlington WoodsBack in early 2010 I was getting ready to release my third novel, Darlington Woods. I’d released The Hunted in 2008 and it enjoyed some moderate success, enough to land me another contract. Then in 2009 I released Scream and that did even better, almost doubling the sales of The Hunted.

So in preparation for Darlington Woods I planned for a big release that would net big results. I truly felt it was my best writing to date, both in style and storytelling. The plot was engaging and fast-paced, the characters were interesting and unique, the theme was right from the heart and I knew it would touch many lives. It was the first full-length novel I wrote after battling colon cancer and so much of myself, my journey, my emotional roller coaster was poured into every page of the story.

To launch the book, I’d scheduled a handful of book signings in Pennsylvania and Maryland and a fairly comprehensive online book tour I called the “Light the Darkness Tour”. Emotionally I knew, just knew, that this one was going to be big, this was going to be my break-out novel, the one to “put me on the map.” I spent a lot of time in prayer, dedicating the book to the Lord for him to do whatever he wished with it.  Then, just a month before the big release Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the book. Here’s an excerpt:

No shortage of vampire books stock bookstore shelves today, but few combine Christian themes with ghoulish vampire villains like this headlong rush of psycho-spiritual suspense . . .  Never indulging in long boring tangents or fussy character descriptions, Dellosso’s pacing is perfect and passionate. Even though the choice of setting and parts of the plot mirror the popular novel The Shack, readers familiar with that book will find this new combo of Christian vampire fare a quick and breathless read and will scream for more.

Now, remember, this was when the Twilight saga was at its prime. Vampires were the in thing. And the fact that Publisher’s Weekly not only called it a vampire novel but also compared it to The Shack . . . well, I was sure that would seal the deal. And why wouldn’t it?

The big day came and to make a very long story very short . . . the book flopped. Sales were mediocre but worse than both Scream and The Hunted. I couldn’t understand it. I’d prepared more for this release than either of the other two. The book had gotten more exposure than I even planned for. Publisher’s Weekly had given it a glowing review. And both vampires and The Shack were still very hot. What went wrong?

You know, three years later I’m still asking myself that question. I still think Darlington Woods is my best book. It’s my favorite of all my titles. I look back on that release and the subsequent trip and can’t understand it. I think part of it is the environment of the Christian fiction industry. One, supernatural suspense as a genre was on the downslide in the Christian market (and still hasn’t recovered) and horror was never a hit. And two, maybe vampires were hot in the secular market (and still are) but in the Christian market there was (and is) little interest.

Funny thing is, never once in the book are the creatures referred to as vampires. They’re called darklings and though they act like vampires I didn’t even think of that while writing it. But it seems that Publisher’s Weekly comparison turned out to be at least one stake in the book’s heart.

The other truth I need to face is that it just wasn’t God’s time. I don’t know why and may never know but I have to accept it. So much of this business of writing is skill and talent and marketing ability, but so much more is reliance on God and faith in him to do what he knows is best. It’s a walk of trust every day.

And isn’t that so much like the rest of life?

Rename My Blog . . . Um, or Maybe Not

So I had this contest to rename my blog. And well, I hate to say this and feel really bad about it but . . . there isn’t a winner.

Blockhead

 (Photo credit: Kaptain Kobold)

This makes me feel like such a blockhead because when I hold a contest I like there to be a winner. That’s kind of the point of a contest.

I guess I was looking for an entry that would give me that instant “That’s it!” moment and I just didn’t find it. And I can’t just put something up there that I’m not thrilled about.

THANK YOU to all who entered and gave suggestions. Really, it’s me, not you. I’m the blockhead. There were some great titles offered, some very creative, some just plain funny . . . I just didn’t find the right one.

Please feel free to continue to submit suggestions if you like and if I use yours you’ll still get the free books. This might help . . . I’m taking my fiction in a new direction, more focus on psychological thrillers so if we can incorporate something about the mind and life and fiction . . . I don’t know. I’ll keep thinking on it too.

Man, I hate it when a contest fails. Sorry.

Name My Blog Contest

I want to change the name of this blog. It’s time. Currently it’s “What Mike Says” and I’m tired of that. It’s trite, boring, vanilla.

So here’s what we’re doing: I’m going to give you a chance to rename this blog. Not the entire website, just the blog, what you’re reading now. If you want to, take some time to peruse some of the posts and get a feel for the type of stuff I write for this blog. It’s not really focused on any one topic. A little about writing, a little about parenting, a little about life and faith and how the two intersect. There’s also some about my writing in particular, my books, my activities.

I know there are some very creative people out there. I’m looking for something outside the box. Something that isn’t cliche for a fiction author or suspense writer. Something that begs people to click on it and see what it’s all about.

Just comment to enter. You may enter as many suggestions as you want. Winner will be announced Thursday morning.

And the prize for the title I choose? One of my books and a PDF copy of a never-published book I wrote several years ago called Fear Mountain. Only a handful of people have ever read this book. I recently edited it and am now making it available in PDF form for limited giveaways such as this as.

So are you in? Get that creative engine humming and give it your best shot!

How My Imagination Gets Away From Me

Last week I posted about how a story idea came to me while sitting in church, how the extraordinary stood out from the ordinary. There’s plenty more where that came from too.

You see, I have what’s called an overactive imagination. I see stories in everything.

The little old lady walking her dog down a quiet street. The window salesman who I turn away on the front porch. The homeless man asking for help by the traffic light. The single guy who walks alone and takes pictures of other people’s homes (okay, that’s weird but true).

They’re all stories to me, or at least potential stories. It’s something I can’t turn off. My mind runs with even the most mundane activities and creates mayhem and mischief, suspense and surreality.

I consider this a blessing. It’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, it comes in great handy when conjuring up story lines and plots and characters and twists and turns.

But it can also be a curse.

Case in point. Last night I was sitting in the living room working on some things for the upcoming week and daughter #2 (D2) was on the front porch with daughter #4, our 2-year-old (D4).

I was really minding my own business, doing my thing, when my imagination kicked on. What if D2 came bursting through the front door: “Dad! Some guy grabbed the baby took off!” I jump up and run outside in time to see the car pull away. We live in a residential area so it’s difficult to pick up speed quickly. I tell D2 to call the cops and set off on foot after the car, running down the middle of the street in my slippers, pumping my arms, tears blurring my vision, willing my legs to move faster. The car is putting distance between us. I pray, “God, please just this once give me inhuman speed.” The car’s front windows are down. If I could just catch up I could cause it to run off the road, into someone’s yard. But the car continues to accelerate and my legs eventually fail. It’s gone. She’s gone. I collapse by the side of the road, panting, sweating, crying, cursing, praying.

And then I wonder how I would react to God. He could have given me strength, could have given me speed. What harm would have come of it? My baby girl would have been saved, she’d be all right. Instead, she’s gone and who knows if we’ll ever see her again? Would I trust him? Curse him for allowing it to happen? Would I question my ability to ever trust him again?

See what I mean? With me it’s not just a wondering . . . what would I do if the baby was taken? No, that’s not enough, it has to be a whole scenario, a story, complete with characters and tension and pivotal moments and questions. Complete with stress and anxiety.

I don’t know where this came from, and I don’t know how to fully use it yet. And I’m still trying to figure out how to control it. But it’s not always a blessing.

So how about you? Do you have an overactive imagination? Has it ever gotten you into trouble?

The Story Idea Engine

As an author I constantly get asked where I get my ideas from. I usually say something like “from all over the place” or “from lots of different places” or something equally as generic and non-committal. If you’ve ever asked me that question and gotten that or something similar for an answer, I apologize. I know it’s rather a non-answer.

English: Thinking, bright idea.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it’s difficult to say exactly where ideas come from. It’s like saying where dreams come from.

At times, though, I can give specifics and I should. So here goes . . .

I was sitting in church, toward the back, scanning the crowd while the choir sang. Being a people watcher I love doing that. You can catch all kinds of interesting things if you watch folks in church. You learn a lot about them too if you watch closely enough.

Anyway, my eyes fell on this one young couple who had a small boy with them. I don’t know them well but I know who they are. They’ve been attending our church for several years but are a quiet couple and tend to keep to themselves. But then I got to thinking that it seemed their son was the same age years ago. I thought back to the first time I noticed them at our church, probably six years ago, and their son had to be the same age. No way he was six years older than he was six years ago. He didn’t even look six years old now. They have another son that I know of but he hasn’t seemed to age either. And come to think of it, no way they look six years older.

Pop! Story idea: How could a couple keep from aging? How could they remain ageless and no one would notice? This story is about a couple who started attending a church but stayed on the fringes, never really got involved, didn’t make many friends, blended in and became just one of the “Sunday morning crowd.” Only one morning someone notices something not quite right about them. This particular couple never seems to age. Their children never seem to age. For years they’ve remained at the same stage of life.

How could they remain ageless? What if they had a time machine and once a year they travel back in time exactly one year and switch places with themselves. So their doubles (from the past), a year younger, take their place in the present. And every year they do the same thing, always starting over with their age, never moving forward, never aging. How long could they keep this going before more folks started noticing?

(Yes, I was thinking about all this during the church service. I know, shame on me. No need to berate me. I handle that on my own quite fine.)

Now, it’s not the greatest story idea and seems more like something you’d find in a Dr. Who episode but you get the picture for how these things happen. An over-active imagination can pull a story from almost any scenario.

And that’s how I get my ideas. No magic. No “idea books.” No brainstorming sessions. Just looking for extraordinary possibilities in the ordinary life all around me.

I have more of these examples and will share them in future posts.

Question: do every day occurrences get your imagination engine revving? Do you concoct stories in your head about people you meet or see or interact with?

Changing Social Media Lanes

I’ve been making some changes.

English: The logo of the blogging software Wor...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, I changed the look of my website/blog. I use WordPress because of its ease of use, functionality, and wide array of themes to choose from and options to use. This weekend I changed everything over to the Mystique theme. I needed a change and this theme offers more flexibility and options than my other one did.

Second, I’m taking the plunge and beginning this week will be moving most of my Facebook activity to my author page. If you haven’t LIKED it yet, please go to the page and LIKE it. Then stop by often as I’ll be posting comments, opinions, questions, and updates there. Also, check out The Darlington Society sign-up page (and please considering joining us) and my new book page on Facebook.

I hope to see you at both these locations!

 

Living in an Easy Button World

A Picture of an Staples, Inc. easy button

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m under the impression that many in our society seem to think there’s an easy button for everything . . . or at least thinks there should be an easy button for everything.

Somewhere along the way, since that Greatest Generation got us through the second world war, we lost our way, our work ethic, our motivation. We tossed good old fashion hard work out the window and replaced it with “the quick and easy.”

We want results now and we want them in the easiest way possible. Path of least resistance  with minimum sweating, please.

Out of curiosity I did a quick search on Amazon and here are some book titles I came up with:

The Detox Strategy: Vibrant Health in 5 Easy Steps

How to Paint Watercolor Flowers: Create Your Own Masterpiece in 6 Easy Steps

7 Easy Steps to Write Your Book

Become You Own Matchmaker: 8 Easy Steps for Attracting Your Perfect Mate

Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps

How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps

Get the picture? It’s all about the easy steps. Steps I can understand. I have no problem with following a plan, a map, a scheduled course, but easy? Let me tell you, there’s nothing easy about writing a book (and I’m sure stealing an election isn’t all that easy either, but that’s a debate for another day).

So while we’re on the topic of writing books, I found a review of my little nonfiction book, Writing Time!, on Goodreads and was interested in one paragraph of it in particular. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s not a bad little guide, worth it if it comes up free. But Dellosso certainly doesn’t offer any shortcuts (and in fairness, I don’t know of any easy ways to write a book). Instead, I took the book to say “Writing is hard work, but figure out a reason to write and make yourself make the time to do it.” It’s not bad advice, but it may disappoint people wanting easy answers of how to make time to write.

Okay, kudos to the reviewer for being honest (apparently, she doesn’t think the book is worth the $0.99 price tag, but free is a good deal). I always appreciate that. I get the feeling she doesn’t subscribe to the “5 easy steps” method of life but rather realizes that some things are just not going to be easy. She realizes, however, that there are a lot of folks out there trolling Amazon, looking for self-help books on how to find the easy button for life. And my book will disappoint them because–surprise, surprise–there are no easy steps offered.

This irks me a bit. In fact, two things she mentions irks me.

First, Writing Time! is about time management for writers, making time in your busy, hectic schedule to sit your butt in a chair and do the difficult thing: write. There are no shortcuts here. It’s a matter of motivation and determination and being intentional about getting something done. You know, the way people used to get things done before computers and iPhones and automated everything.

Second, the only easy answer I can give to making time to write is to make the time. Just do it. Stop talking about doing it, stop dreaming about doing it, stop making excuses for not doing it . . . and just do it. Sorry, no easy button there. Believe me, I’ve looked for one.

I apologize for the rant, really I do, and I fully realize not everyone is in search of the holy easy button. There are lots of folks who don’t mind hard work and wake up everyday with ambition in their belly and a fire in the chest. They couldn’t give a rat’s left ear about an easy button and probably wouldn’t use one if it existed anyway. I applaud them and wish there were more of them.

But I’m noticing more and more that this “easy button” mentality is permeating our society and taking over. People looking for shortcuts, looking for as little resistance as possible, looking for 5 easy steps.

It’s not always a bad thing, it isn’t. I’m all for saving some time and energy when I can but please oh please realize that there are some things in life for which there is no easy button.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Or are we headed down a dangerous road here?

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