Finding Your Voice

 

00Stinky+Face+with+clip

What I do when something smells just a bit presumptuous.

Yes, I know, this is primarily a writer’s blog, though I have been known to go off the rails topically now and again. I’ve seen a lot of other writer’s blogs and there are more than a few that seemed geared at telling you, the reader, how to write. Since very few of these blogs, including the one you’re currently reading,  are authored by anyone you’ve ever heard of, that has always smelled just a bit presumptuous to me.

 

Anyone who has read my blog at all will know that even when I am talking about writing, I generally just focus on my experiences in the craft, things I’ve done or thought about doing or wish I could do, (like sell a damn copy or two of my novels!) and much less on preaching to you, the reader, (yes I’m going to keep doing that all the way through), how I think you should go about writing your novel, short story, memoir, cook book, etc.

Today, at first glance, it may seem like I doing that. Because today I want to offer a teeny-tiny nugget of advice. Ok, it may continue to seem that way at second glance as well. Ok, all the glances.

00mrhelpful

This is me.

I’m not doing it because I think I’m “up here” and you, the reader, are “down there.” I’m doing it because I think it may be important and helpful.

 

Again, this is based on my experience and not some random, hair-brained theory that I dreamed up while mowing the lawn or something. (I live in a wonderful apartment complex and get my lawn mowed professionally, so that whole field of philosophical pondering is closed to me.) Because dig this, (as we used to say back when I started writing): I’ve been doing this for most of my life, and I’m starting to collect some significant years now. I’m not an NYT best selling author, but I know what I know, based on close to fifty years of putting words on paper. So now I’m letting you into the super-secret VIP lounge that is my mind. Don’t trip over the broken floorboards.

In all of that time, I’ve learned many lessons pertaining to this craft, but there are two that rise high above all the others.

  1. Stay true to the story
  2. Find your voice

I’ll talk briefly about the first, then drone on and on for hours about the second, (that’s a Monty Python reference… I’m not really going to do that to you, the reader.)

Stay True to the Story

Staying true to the story, as I define it, means worry a whole hell of a lot less about what other people, including you, the reader or in this case the writer, think should happen. Yes, I include the writer in the list of people to ignore. A story is a road map from point “A” to point “Z”, with many stops along the way, and anyone, to some extent, can write one. But a good story, while still satisfying the “A” to “Z” criteria, will have a life of its own, and it may not give a damn about your road map. If you’re writing along, whistling like Mickey Mouse in “Steamboat Willie,” and you suddenly encounter something in your story that you did not anticipate, there’s a very good chance that it’s exactly what was missing. And you, the writer, did not even realize it. Someone may look at it and wonder what you were thinking and advise to you take it out, but if it makes the story work, if it fits in with the organism, if not the road map, then tell them to shove off and leave it in. See where it takes you.

Being true to the story also gives you the ability to flex your writer’s muscles a little. It may require things of you that you, the writer, did not even know you were capable of doing, and that, my friends, is an awesome feeling. My wife will tell you that there have been times when she’s been in our living room, watching something educational and edifying on the television device, (because that’s all that’s on TV, right?) and she will suddenly hear a war-whoopish sound emanate from my writing box, (or “office” as some people call it). That sound was made by me after I’ve written something so much better than I thought I could ever write, and the adrenaline rush that it gives me manifests itself in an ear-splitting vocalization.

But now onto the main thing I wanted to talk about. (“Damn this guy takes a long time to get to the point,” said you, the reader).

Finding Your Voice

00opera

You can bet she’s found her voice!

Finding your voice is something that only time and honesty can make happen for you. The writer. (Ha! You thought I wasn’t going to do it that time, didn’t you?)

 

I have had the opportunity to work with some wonderful, amazing high school-aged writers in the past couple of years, and I am constantly blown away by the quality of work they are producing at an age when I aspired to be a writer, but in looking back at my journals from the time period, I realize that “aspiring” was about all I was doing. Their skill at writing dialog, at crafting rich, easy to visualize settings, and their ability to create memorable characters is miles beyond what I was doing at age 16-18.

But what is very obvious to me, as I listen to them read their work at our Tuesday night writer’s group, is that they haven’t totally found their voice. Not yet. It’s almost as if they are writing in a manner that they think they must if they’re to be able to call themselves writers. Does that make sense? What I’m saying is they seem to have a preconceived notion of how a writer must say and do things, and they don’t necessarily come across as someone who is comfortable in what they’re saying and doing. They are chasing a standard, rather than looking for a way to tell the story in their own voice.

The same is true of some of the adult authors in our group. While I believe that finding one’s voice as a writer requires time, the passage of time doesn’t guarantee that the skill will be developed. That’s where the second element comes in: honesty.

Finding your voice is as much about learning how not to say something as it is learning how to do so. And that’s where the honesty comes in. One of the things that hindered me in my early writing was that I rarely read anything I’d written after it was done, and I never revised. My oeuvre from the 1970’s to mid-1980’s is just one continual first draft. When, years later, I did start reading that stuff, I saw, every now and again, a nugget of something worthwhile, buried in a huge mound of manure. I realized that in those immature writings I was not the least bit honest with myself about what I was doing. I assumed that because I’d written something down on paper, it must be good. I was a good writer after all. Everybody told me so.

But the vast majority of it was filled with words that I shouldn’t have used and phrases that I shouldn’t have put together. I was doing what I thought I a writer was supposed to do, not what I was supposed to do.

This is a point overlooked by almost as many adult writers as young writers. We’re still not saying things the way we want to say them, we’re saying them the way we think we should be saying them. That makes for dishonest writing, done in someone else’s voice, not your own.

That doesn’t mean you have to write only about what you know experientially. I write about wizards and dragons in a world that doesn’t really exist. This does not draw from my personal experience, (although back in my more chemically liberated days I may have thought I’d actually seen these things).

The trick is that I write about these fantastical things by filtering them through my experience. Thus when I want to write dialogue between two bumbling, not-too-bright sailors who are piloting the single-masted sloop which is bringing a stow-away from his home to a new life and a grand adventure he’d never even dreamed of, I do it in a way that sounds true to me. Here. I’ll give you a taste:

“I’m tellin’ ya, I heard someone talkin’ in this hold! Singin’ even!” came the now familiar voice of the sailor he called “Crane-man.”

“And I’m tellin’ ya, yer nuts! We loaded in this cargo ourselves! Do ya recall loadin’ in any people? Cuz I sure don’t!” shouted the second, who Ban had named “Big-words,” because the other had teased him about that back on the dock in Tarteel.

“Well o’ course we loaded it ourselves. We’re all there is!”

Even in his impaired state, Ban realized this was good news. If the small ship’s crew indeed consisted solely of these two half-wits he had a better chance of getting through the voyage alive. But first he had to get them to reseal the hatch.

“And regardless, I heard someone singin’,” Crane-man continued. “Now are ya gonna hold the lamp and go down with me to check it out?”

“Listen, if ya want to poke around in that stinky hold, then be my guest. I ain’t climbin’ down,” said Big-words.

“Yer useless. Why yer mother didn’t just drown ya at birth I’ll never know! At least hand me over the lantern.”

“Here take it. I’ll even lower the ladder for ya.”

Ban could see the lantern’s light playing off the ceiling of the hold as Crane-man reached it down through the hatch, and he heard the rope ladder unroll and hit the deck below the opening. A moment later he heard another sound: that of Crane-man cursing as he lost his grip on the ladder and fell eight feet to the hold’s deck, followed by the sound of the lantern shattering.

“Perfect, ya damn fool!” shouted Big-words from above. “Now ya set the cargo on fire. I hope ya burn right along with it!”

“Shut up and fill a bucket, ya wizzle-worm!” Crane man screamed back. “My breeches are burnin’.”

I can’t tell you how much fun I had writing the entire story of Ban Alawar’s sea voyage, or how much my spell checker hated it. The particular dialect of the sailors was based solely on how I imagined a pair of ignorant bumblers would sound. It would have never worked if I’d tried to write how I supposed someone else would expect them to sound.

Even more challenging, though equally fun, was imagining how Ban, who is twelve-years-old, would think and speak if he was drunk, which he was in this scene. [Ed. note – in no way does the author support or condone underage drinking.] Ok, I’ll give you one more sample, but that’s it. If you want any more, go buy the damn book!

The experience was not unpleasant, he’d decided. He felt jolly and at ease. It made him feel like singing, which he knew better than to do, or perhaps like dancing, which he didn’t have room to do. So instead he just lay in the small space that existed between his home among the wicker baskets and the other stacks of goods nearby. He lay there and thought about profound things.

Girls smell so much better than we boys do, he thought. I know some, who can afford it, put perfume on themselves. But even girls without perfume smell nice. I like girls. Girls are wonderful. And they smell nice. Did I say that already?  So do those pink flowers that mother loves so much. I remember when I was young I used to pick them for her, before I found out how much easier it was just to steal her a bouquet. She never scolded me when I brought them to her, even after I started lifting them.

“Do you know what else?” he said aloud, not realizing he’d begun to do so. “Dragons smell pretty nice too. I didn’t expect them to. Most of the animals I’ve been around stink to the Next Plane. But that wizard who told me I couldn’t join the army had his dragon standing nearby and when I walked by it, it smelled really nice. Like spices or something.”

This was the extent of young Ban’s profundity. Girls smell nice. And so do dragons. The subtle trick of going from thinking to speaking out loud, and eventually to singing at the top of his lungs (nope… you gotta buy the book if you want to hear Ban sing), was I device of which I am quite proud, because that, in my voice, is how it would happen. It’s believable. It’s honest.

I can’t really give you a set of steps to take or tools to use to enable you to find your voice as a writer, aside from the two I’ve already given. Keep writing, and thereby gaining experience at doing so, and at every step of the way be honest with yourself. Keep asking yourself, “Is this how I really want to say this? Is this how I would say it, if I were speaking to someone about this situation?”

Over time, if you continually do this, you will find a couple of things have happened:

  1. You will begin to be really happy with your writing. It will sound right to you, and it will spur you on to even better work as you go.
  2. You will begin to notice that your writing doesn’t really sound like anyone else’s writing. This is a great moment. When you come to recognize your voice in writing and know that no one else in the entire world sounds quite like you, you may find yourself letting out a war-whoop or two. Just see if you don’t.

 

00boring prophet life of brian

This is also me

OK. I’m done being the boring prophet from The Life of Brian now. (“…Obadiah, his servants. There shall, in that time, be rumors of things going astray, erm, and there shall be a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really know where lieth those little things wi– with the sort of raffia work base that has an attachment. At this time, a friend shall lose his friend’s hammer and the young shall not know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers that their fathers put there only just the night before, about eight o’clock. Yea, it is written in the book of Cyril that, in that time, shall the third one…”) That’s two Monty Python references in a single blog post. You’re welcome.

 

It’s time for me to crawl into my writer’s box and get some work done. And since today my writer’s box is actually a study room at the public library, I’m going to need to curb the war-whooping. Although the door is shut. Maybe I’ll get away with it without being tossed. We’ll see.

Meet Bjorn

001This is Bjorn. He’s happy to meet you. Bjorn sits on the corner of my laptop while I work and he sticks his yellow tongue out at me.

Before I tell you his story I should warn you that if hearing about people’s struggles with mental illness are upsetting or distasteful to you, then this isn’t the blog post to read. Bjorn doesn’t care if you stay or if you go. He’ll give you the razz either way.

He may not look like much to you. After all, he’s just a Mr. Potatohead toy, and a cheap one at that. He didn’t come with dozens of interchangeable parts, just the elements you see here. (Remember when Mr. Potatohead came with felt eyebrows you could stick behind the eyes? I always thought they made him look like Groucho Marx). In fact, to every human being in the world, he’s nothing more than a silly toy.

But to my wife and daughter and myself, he represents a lot more.

I’ve talked in the past, on this forum and others, about my struggles with mental illness. I’ve talked about the soul crushing depression which began when I was very young and continued through my adult life, coming to a head in 2009 when my son entered the military.

At the time of my first hospitalization in 2011, I was at the lowest point in my life. I’d like to say that that visit turned everything around for me, and started me on the road to the place I occupy today, (which, it is important to emphasize, is a much, much better place). And maybe it did. But it certainly did not feel that way.

I don’t remember a lot about what I thought and felt during the days I was there. I can’t even remember off the top of my head how long I was in… it feels like maybe ten days? Regardless, I worked hard during the time I was there to convince the people that mattered that it would be ok to let me out. That was pretty much my only goal because it took me about twenty seconds on the inside to realize that I needed to be outside.

However, when I got home I was, in all honesty, probably in worse shape than when I’d gone it. I was now living on a daily cocktail of psychopharmaceuticals which may very well have been restructuring my brain chemicals but were also wreaking havoc on just about every other part of my body. I was a hateful, horrible way to live.

My poor wife and daughter were amazing, however, and one of the first things they did when I got home was to ask me if there was anything I wanted. I remember, through the fog of the medicines, asking them to get me a toy. A few hours later they brought me my buddy, Bjorn.

They were a little nervous that I wouldn’t like him. I hadn’t given them much to go on, after all, just asking for a toy. But for not being sure what to get, they couldn’t have made a better selection.

I remember looking at the box he came in and being attracted to its bright colors. It was a happy box. Then I opened it and his half-dozen or so parts tumbled onto the bed next to me. The act of putting him together was both the first constructive and first creative thing I had done in a very long time. Seeing him come alive piece by piece, (which sounds very Mary Shelly-ish as I type it now), was an exercise in victory. With each limb attached, he became a little more whole, and eventually, when I pushed his hardhat down onto his head, he was complete. Even in my diminished state, the metaphor was not lost on me. If I could put Bjorn together, maybe I could do the same thing to myself.

After he was done, I kept him on my nightstand, and I looked over at him often. Knowing that he’d be there, giving me the razz, was a comfort, an anchor.

For the next few years, I led a pretty miserable existence. Getting through the day at all was a win. Eventually, though, my wife and I realized that I wasn’t getting better, and if anything I might have been going downhill a bit.

There are photos of me taken during that dark stretch, but I do not like to look at them. I’ve never been much for looking at “dead things in the water” as Frodo says, and that is exactly what I see in those photos.

So it was decided a second stay in the hospital was needed. What I didn’t know at that time, for she has only recently told me this, was that if I didn’t improve during and after this stay, my wife, who clearly was being put through way more than she signed on for, was considering placing me in a group home on a permanent basis. She had reached the end of her personal resources, emotionally.

But I went in not know this, as I said, and instead had only my own motivations to work through. This stay was different. I decided that I wanted to do more than convince my doctors to let me out. I decided I need to work through my own darkness and see about the possibility of coming out of it.

There is irony here. During my first stay, I was a very model patient. I attended group therapy, I spent a lot of time in the community room, getting to know the other people on the ward, watching a lot of TV and playing board games.

During my second stay, I remained in my room pretty much constantly, reading books. I read more books during that stay, (which I think was a little longer, maybe 12 days), than I’d ever read in such a concentrated amount of time. I read all three of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, a volume from Barns & Nobel which contained five full H.G. Wells novels, and then I started reading books from the small library on the ward. In total, I think I read fourteen books during the time I was there.

I didn’t go to group therapy and I didn’t interact with the other people who were on the ward.

But here’s a funny thing: the doctors responded by beginning to decrease my medications. A couple they just cut out altogether, till eventually, I was only taking two. And I started to feel better. Between the removal of the vast number of chemicals I was ingesting and the total literary immersion, I started to see things improve. I started to see things differently. I started to experience a foreign, funny feeling that at the time I could not identify. I gradually came to realize that it was hope.

Now, I’d like to tell you that from the day I got out the second time, everything was great, but I can’t. I was still seeing a therapist weekly, still taking two psych meds and in the midst of everything, we moved from the house we’d lived in for 16 years, which was an experience that tested my coping abilities to the maximum extent. I hated every minute of the task, and it seemed to me like it went on for years, though it was only a period of a month or so.

Eventually, though, Kimmy and I got into our little apartment. It was small compared to what we’d been used to, and it required that we divest ourselves of huge amounts of possessions collected over the course of our lives together. There just wasn’t room for all of our stuff.

That proved to be cathartic. It’s amazing how much of what we carry around with us from place to place is nothing more that: moveable chains with no function other than to be carried around. When they were gone, freedom broke out like an uprising.

I’d like to tell you that since we moved everything has improved… so I will. We moved into our apartment in May of 2015. Since then I’ve written and published three books. I write constantly. Aside from these blog posts and the novels, (the fourth of which, as I’ve hinted here recently, is almost two-thirds complete), I have my own website, I’ve published numerous poems on the website AllPoetry.com, I maintain a good old fashioned pen and paper journal, and I’m a regular annoyance on Twitter and Facebook. Let’s face it I’m everywhere!

BlueAnd earlier this year the final medication, which I’d been taking primarily to help me sleep, went the way of all things, and the only thing that alters my brain chemistry is the rush I get when I read something that I wrote and realize it’s just about as damn good as it could possibly be. And the occasional Labatt’s Blue. Let’s not be ridiculous here.

So now my old buddy Bjorn watches everything I write, sitting constantly at the periphery of my vision, his tongue still poking out to remind me not to take myself too seriously. And to remind me that if I never sell another book, if no one ever reads another word I write, I have still won a victory far too major to discount.

Thanks, Bjorn.

Thanks.

The Honeymoon

MHRsmallIn the midst of all the excitement over the release of my second novel in the Cerah of Quadar series, (perhaps you’ve heard? Many Hidden Rooms is now available?) I haven’t done much writing about what I’m writing currently. (Don’t you hate writers that write about writing? I should write something about that one day!)

This seems like as good a time as any to correct that. I’m currently 18 first-draft chapters into the third Cerah of Quadar book, entitled A New Shadow. It has been a somewhat different experience than writing the first two books.

I found the process has evolved over the course of the three, which I suppose is a logical outcome. Everything changes, and if you’re working hard at it, hopefully it changes for the better.

ADC CH final03When I wrote A Dark Clock, (perhaps you’ve heard? A Dark Clock is still available!), I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had an idea, and I started writing and hoped that eventually, I’d end up with a book. Thankfully that’s what happened. With Many Hidden Rooms, I knew exactly where I was going, and I only had to figure out how to get there. Thankfully that’s what happened.

The third book deals with a new generation, with new challenges and a new shadow, oddly enough [ed. note: see title above] cast upon the planet. What I’m running into here is a new phenomenon for me. I don’t know if I will be able to fit the scope of story I’ve envisioned into the same format that characterized the first two. As I said I’m eighteen chapters in, and I’m just beginning to get to the heart of the story.

I should probably explain what I mean when I speak of format. The first two books worked out, totally organically, to be 30 chapters in length, with a 31st chapter that served as a teaser for the book that followed. I am not 100% sure I’ll be able to do that again.

honeymoon-beach-sand-overwater-bungalowOf course, we’re still on the honeymoon. The first draft of any book is all about plunking words down on the screen and not worrying much about if it’s any damn good. (I can tell you right now: it isn’t!) Like any relationship in its early stages, you overlook a lot of faults that will later drive you to places you do not want to go. It’s all about getting to know one another. It’s about good feelings.

 

aaCrammed

Kind of how writing book three feels.

So the fact that I’m feeling with each new chapter that there’s so much more that I need to fit isn’t really freaking me out… too much.

 

The folks on my mailing list, (perhaps you’ve heard? You too can join my mailing list), are going to receive some insider info about A New Shadow very soon that will discuss some of the intricacies and specifics that separate the storyline from what’s come before but I won’t cut you out of the sizzle altogether. I will tell you this: book three will end with a short teaser chapter that holds a twist which will make the first two seem positively blasé. Your face will literally look like this:

 

shocked-brunette-girl-with-hands-on-face

This will be YOUR FACE!!

 

Something Very Old

 

kds

This is the first picture I allowed taken of me in four years. (Couldn’t lay my hands on the uncaptioned version).

There are no photographs of me taken between July of 1983 and July of 1987. That is because I spent those four years “casting the smallest shadow I could.” (I quote a poem I wrote from that time period.)

 

They were dark years, bookended by the month and year my first wife left me, and slightly after I met the woman who would become the love of my life. Thirty years later I pose for pictures often. I am no longer afraid of my shadow.

I don’t often think about those years now, but today something happened to bring them flooding back in a very stark, gritty way. I stumbled upon a journal I did not remember existing, opened on June 6, 1984, not quite a year after my first marriage ended. I remember writing in the days and months after July of ’83, but those things were written on legal pads and envelopes and toilet paper and napkins. I don’t remember a single word I wrote on any of those scraps, but I remember them being among the best writing I’ve ever done, even now. After all, as I told my friend a little while ago, they were written using only pain and adrenaline. Mostly pain.

But eventually I got myself together enough to buy a marble composition book, and I actually filled it. (When I first pulled it off the shelf I expected it to have been abandoned, half-empty. And before you make any comments, the glass is always half full, but the journal is always half empty.)

I haven’t read much of it yet because I’m not too eager to dredge those feeling up at this point in my life. But I did open it, and the first thing I read was possibly one of the more profound things I’ve ever scribbled down. It might mean nothing to you, and after reading it you might think, “He thought that was profound? He probably gets emotional reading cans of peaches at the store!” (I do, but that’s not the point.) Listen, I love ya, but this was my soul laid bare, so I suppose it only makes sense that it’s sounding deep to me today. Anyway, here it is:

What a man does with his life is no more or less than what he refuses to do with it. One is just the old stiff negative of the other. At some point, or perhaps at a number of points, he will stand in review of these two worlds – of the done and the undone. And always there is balance. Always the undone will reluctantly and angrily equal the done. For every book he never writes, his heart has pumped a beat. For every bridge he does not build, his feet have walked a mile.

But balance can be an uneasy cloak to wear. More than once when the scales have come to rest with the needle straight up, despair has come like a paid assassin. No man is safe from his own perfection. It can swallow him so quickly that as he is digested, he can only lie back to be consumed, perhaps shaking his head a bit. There is no way to fight the Absolute.

In the end, even the weakest man must bow down to himself, and that is seldom easy.

Maybe it’s because I caught a whiff of the man I was when I wrote that, but I was shaken by the reading. As I transcribed it just now it marked the third time I’ve read it, probably the only three times I’ve ever read it because I didn’t read what I wrote back then. I just got it onto paper as quickly as possible, believing I’d spit a little of the poison that I was living on in lieu of food and water and air, and maybe that bit being gone, I might live a moment longer.

 

peaches

Sniff, sniff! Bwah!

My point, though, is that after three readings it hasn’t turned to tin. It may just be that on July 5, 1984, eleven days shy of one year from her leaving, I managed to capture just a small peek at the abyss into which I looked every day. And maybe, without even realizing it, that being a day that I didn’t die, I gave myself permission to one day dare to look there again, this time as a (mostly) detached observer.

 

There, I’ve shared it with you. Do with it what you will. I’m going to read some peach cans.

Boy, Do I Need Your Help!

Writing books? Easy!

Editing? Sucks, but Easy!

Publishing? Easy!

Getting people to take notice when it’s all been done? HARD!

MHRsmallMy second novel, Many Hidden Rooms, was released last Saturday, and, man oh man, did I tell everyone about it! I posted it on this blog, on my website, on Twitter, on Facebook. I even took the plunge and boosted me FB release post to reach beyond my friends and followers.

But all of those outlets are limited by the number of people who are reached by those posts. I have a lot of friends, but I need to get way beyond just them in order to start really selling books.

And that is where all of you come into play. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, or maybe even if you haven’t, but can relate to the woes of a struggling indie writer, would you consider lending a hand?

All I’m asking is that people share the news about MHR and my other two books, A Dark Clock and Welcome Home with YOUR friends and followers. It can be as easy as reblogging this post or clicking “Share” on a Facebook post. There’s plenty of them on my S.J. Varengo-Author FB page. If you’re not yet following that, take a moment to do so, then start sharing.

 

av-2561

Actual image of an Indie Author.

I know not everyone is into high fantasy, and that’s cool. But I know that a lot of people do enjoy this genre, and you might even know some folks who do. (And Welcome Home is actually a collection of short fiction, for those who might still like to check  out my work but get the heeby-jeebies at the thought of reading fantasy – which sadly today most people think of as vampire stories and/or that kid from Hogwarts and won’t even give a second look, thereby missing many well written, engaging books filled with wonderful characters and amazing settings.

 

As a writer, I know the importance of word-of-mouth, and when my author friends publish something new, I always go as far as I can to let more people know about their work. Obviously, the same limitations that hold my progress back mean that I’m not adding thousands of names to their list of readers, but I’m adding some. And that’s all I’m asking of anyone who might read this post.

Believe me, I will appreciate, and reciprocate!

Here are some key links that will help get the news out there. Feel free to copy any and all:

S.J. Varengo – Author (This Blog)

S.J. Varengo – Author (My Website)

S.J. Varengo – Author (Facebook page)

Mailing List Signup Page

Amazon Author’s Page

Many Hidden Rooms is Released!

 

keef

Using age progression technology…

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the birth of Theodore Cristy Varengo, my brother. I chose this day to release the second book in the Cerah of Quadar series to honor him, (he is mentioned first on the dedication page). We lost Cris in 2014, and I have missed him every day since. I just went through all my available photos and realized I do not have a decent one of him, but I did find one that looks a lot like how I assume he’d look today on his birthday. (And if you think this is insensitive, you didn’t know Cris. Believe me, he’s in heaven sitting with Jimi, laughing his butt off right now).

 

 

MHRsmall

Keep your collection current!

But back to our headline topic. Many Hidden Rooms is now available on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle versions. If you read A Dark Clock, book one of the series, then you’re going to want to get your hands on book two as soon as you can, because I left you hanging mercilessly.

 

If you didn’t read A Dark Clock, now would be the perfect time to do so. How else can you face your friends and family? They’re all sitting around the dinner table discussing the book. What are you going to do? Try to fake your way through the conversation. Don’t embarrass yourself!

And of course, the best place to find all of my books is by clicking the “Purchase Books” tab at the top of this page, (or the link right here if you’re having a lazy day and don’t feel like scrolling all the way to the top of the page!

So, to summarize: Happy Birthday, Cris, and Happy Reading, everyone else!

Out Of The Blue

I have indicated in the past that I’m a bit of a “fly by the seat of my britches” kind of writer. I have an idea of where I want to start and a less well-formed idea of where I want to finish, and then I kind of sit back and see what happens along the way.

I know there are authors out there who cringe when they hear that. They have their whole story outlined before the type their first “It was a dark and stormy night.” They know on which page the hero will almost lose his life two hundred pages prior to writing it. And they think guys like me are hacks, amateurs, or at best just plumb crazy.

outoftheblue2

From whence many good ideas cometh. [Photo Credit: Out of the Blue Project]

Well, I am all those things, plus a scoundrel, a cad, and on Wednesdays and Fridays, a scallywag. But for my money, and I don’t have any, so this next statement has nothing but my winning smile to back it up, one of the most fun parts of writing a book is seeing where the writing takes you along the way.

 

 

In each of my novels I have, at some point, come to a section that I had imagined would go one way, only to watch it take an unexpected, fascinating turn. In every case (so far) this has proven to be a good thing. It has made the story stronger or made a character easier to love, hate, or understand. It has allowed me to flex my writing muscles a little bit, and simultaneously ride out the unexpected change while molding and conforming the new twist to get me to the place I vaguely wanted to end up. [Ed. note: he already said that. See paragraph #1]

 

 

twists-300x199

Celebrating the Twists and Turns! [Photo Credit: Kerri Richardson]

Many Hidden Rooms has several of these twists and turns within its six hundred thirty pages, some of which I hinted at in A Dark Clock and remembered in time to include, some of which were totally out of the blue, and will send ripples through the future installments. For example, chapter 31 may or may not set the tone for the entire third book in the series. I’m not tellin’.

 

Also coming from parts unknown was the title of the first book. I had written the line of dialog, (spoken by the wizard Kern) in one of the middle drafts, but it wasn’t until I was doing the final rewrite that I heard it in my head, and realized it was, in fact, a perfect title. The actual line, (from page 269) is as follows:

“I think it is right to expect that Cerah will continue to grow in power and wisdom,” said Kern. “But I share her concern. Surok’s goal is obvious: he would rule Quadar. But his plans remain shrouded. We do not know what he is doing, and we do not know his timetable. I hear a dark clock loudly ticking.”

Bam. Title.

For the second book, it was a little different, title-wise. Many Hidden Rooms is, again, a phrase spoken by Kern, although he says it in book one to describe Slurr before Cerah saw who he really was. Again I offer up the passage:

“Slurr is a house with many hidden rooms, young Cerah. You should neither underestimate him or ever fail to give him your eternal gratitude. He had carried you a good distance in his arms before Szalmi and I could overtake him. I watched over you and sent him to gather the Witch’s Spike and blossoms of sour corrinthia that I needed to begin purging the poison from your bloodstream.”

I knew shortly after writing that sentence the first time that it was going to be the title of the second book.

Book three is over half-way finished now, (in first draft format), and until today I had no inkling what I was going to call it. But in the midst of one of those unexpected turns that I spoke of earlier [Ed. note: he really did. See paragraph #’s2-6], it happened again. A character spoke a line, (this time it was Parnasus), and as soon as the words escaped his lips I knew I had my title.

And that title is…

 

bogey fretting

Bogey, wondering and fretting. He did NOT join the mailing list!

Not so fast! I have to announce it to my mailing list subscribers first! They know everything that goes on prior to the general public. But don’t fret. Don’t feel bad. You can join the mailing list by clicking here and filling out the simple, intuitive and rather attractive Mail Chimp form. If you do it quick enough, you can get in before I send the title reveal. Otherwise, it will be days of wondering and fretting on your part. Is that what you want? Days of wondering and fretting?

 

I didn’t think so.

So in summary, hail to the seat of the pants twists and turns, hail to the wizards who keep coming up with titles for me, and hail to you if you join the email list.

And don’t forget, Many Hidden Rooms will be available on Amazon, 24 June 2017. (That’s four days from today, by the way!)

The Library of Freakin’ Congress

Library_of_Congress_and_lawn

If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere… it’s up to you LOC, LOC! Photo by Mr. Gray

When I was a kid I held the Library of Congress in awe. With over 100 million total items, it’s a book nerd’s dream. And when I opened a book and saw that it had a LOC Control Number, I thought to myself, “Well, this author has made the big time. (S)he is in the Library of Freakin’ Congress.”

So when I started my career as an independent author, self-published and rarin’ to go, I thought it might be neat to find out how to go about obtaining a Library of Congress Control Number for my books.

Thomas_Jefferson_Building_Aerial_by_Carol_M._Highsmith

My books are not clearly visible from this altitude. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith. 

Turns out, it’s not all that crazy difficult. You can do it all online. (Thank you once again, Al Gore, for your miraculous invention: the interweb.)

The first step is to go to the LOC Website dealing with Preassigned Control Numbers. This will give you all the information you need, and allow you to open an account.

Here’s the tricky part. In order to start getting LOC numbers for your books, you need to be a publisher. This threw me a little at the outset, because I publish my books using CreateSpace, which is an awesome service for the indie writer. And so I was thinking, “Well, aren’t they the publisher?”

In a lot of ways you could consider them to in fact be your publisher, but they are really just a service that prints the book for you. You are your publisher. Once I got that figured out, I realized that all I had to do to get my LOC account going was to give my little publishing house a name and and address. Since I already live somewhere, I was able to use my home address, and I struggled for about ten seconds deciding on a name, settling on Littlewing Publishing, Littlewing being both an amazing Jimi Hendrix song, and my wife’s nickname.

pcn_app

The first few lines of the PCN Application. It’s not bad at all.

Once you complete the form establishing your account, you can then begin applying for your PCN (Preassigned Control Number). This consists of a number of questions about the book. Key in this is already having an ISBN number, which if you go through CreateSpace they will provide for you. There are a number of other methods for obtaining an ISBN, but I’ve always used CreatSpace for mine.

When you’ve completed and submitted your form, the website hedges its bets considerably by telling you that you can normally expect to wait for a week before receiving your PCN, but if they’re experiencing a high volume of requests the turn-around could be longer.

loc_baby

“Well, I guess THIS guy’s made it…”

I got mine the day after I requested them. I got an email, which, coming so quickly after I’d submitted my request, I naturally assumed meant there was some sort of problem. I opened the message expecting to read, “Dear Mr. So-Called Varengo, if that is your real name. We’ve determined you’re no more a publishing house than we are a front yard lemon aide stand.”

That is not what it said. It said, “Here ya go, bub!” Or words to that effect. It even gave me instructions on how and where to place the number in the book, so that all the world can know it’s registered with them.

So, for the five of you who didn’t already know all of this way before I did, I hope this is of some small help in getting you to the point where someone will someday open your book, look at the copyright page, and say to themselves, “Well, this author has made the big time. (S)he is in the Library of Freakin’ Congress.”

 

And They’re In The Stretch

I don’t use a lot of horse racing lingo in my day-to-day speech. I just never developed the depth of love and dedication that the Sport of Kings requires of its devotees, and as such only those terms and clichés most fully integrated into the English language, (or at least the bastardized version we Yanks insist upon using), have found their way into my lexicon.

in_the_stretch

And they’re in the stretch!

Probably the term that get the most play with me is “in the stretch,” which technically refers to the point in a horse race when the animals have rounded the final turn and are heading down the straight portion of the course which leads to the finish line.

Dirty dishes

In the stretch is where you want to be when the kitchen looks like this!

I catch myself saying this all the time, particularly when I’m nearing the end of a particularly odious task. This almost always means some area of housework, such as a sink bulging with dirty dishes or a mountain of foul-smelling laundry, (yes being a full-time writer carries with it these glamorous side-jobs!) As soon as I’m aware that the chore is nearing completion the thought will pop into my head, unbidden, “Hey, I’m in the stretch!”

I use the term in writing as well, for all sorts of accomplishments, large and small. When I’ve put all the ideas and action into a chapter that I intended, and all that remains is to tie things up, close off the section and set up the next, I think about being in the stretch. When the book itself has reached its climax and the story is resolved, and all that remains is to gracefully close the book out, perhaps with a bone-chilling cliff-hanger (oops, did I just drop a hint?) I naturally think, “Halleluyer, I’m in the stretch.”

Being an indie author, there is another dimension in which being in the stretch is particularly satisfying, and that of course, it when I’m nearing publication.

I’ve written more than once that all the parts of getting a book into someone’s hands after actually writing it are a lot less fun for me than the act of creation. I suppose that’s not that tough a nut for my analyst to crack. I grew up dreaming of being an author, not an editor, or cover designer, or publisher, or marketing whiz… the list of jobs involved may not be endless, but it’s a lot longer than you’d think, if you thought about such things.

Having decided to go the indie route, however, all that comes with the gig and many pairs of big-boy pants need to be pulled up repeatedly, from the point at which I type “Chapter One” to the point at which you wait by the mailbox for my latest book to arrive.

And I’ve said all that so that I can say this: Many Hidden Rooms is in the stretch.

insomnia

Not much fun, but it gave me a little editing boost!

Thanks to an unexpected night of insomnia, I crawled out of bed at 3:15 am on Sunday, May 28, 2017, and edited the final four chapters. Then, before crawling back into bed in a desperate attempt to grab a few z’s before Kim’s alarm went off at 6:30, meaning I needed to pull it together and drive her to work in an hour, I synthesized the PDF file which represents the finished interior of the book, from title page to “Also by S.J. Varengo,” a total of exactly 630 printed pages.

When I clicked “save” and generated the finished PDF, I said, aloud, “I’m in the stretch!”

Then last night, while Kimmy was on the phone with her sister, I snuck into the office and finalized the cover. I’d already done the bulk of the design, but I gained about 10 pages of text in the editing process (I know, I know, editing is supposed to be a paring down to the essentials and the page count should decrease. I told you I’m a bad editor, and besides I always find better ways to say things during the drudge), and so I needed to reformat my gutter size. (I’m telling you, man, the things you have to worry about!) I also made two very minor changes to the back cover (reduced the font size on one section and added the front cover photo credit).

When I clicked “export” and generated the finished PDF of that, I thought “Holy [add your Robin-the-Boy-Wonder expletive here], I am definitely in the stretch now!”

me&bro

My brother on prom night, 100 years ago.

What remains? Uploading these two finished elements to the publisher, waiting for them to approve everything on their end and notify me of same, then one final check of the proof. Once I approve it, the book is done… finito… ready for human consumption.

All this means that I’ve finished ahead of deadline, and the book will, no ifs ands or buts, be released on Theodore C. Varengo’s 46th birthday.

And that is very good news.

Owning Music: The Audio Equivalent of the Steam Locomotive

Preface

One of the unfortunate things about having a blog is the tendency to get locked in, a little bit, topic-wise. I have two that I maintain, more or less. One is my gracefully aging humor blog, and the other is the SJV-Author site, established, ostensibly, to talk about writing.

But making people laugh and talking about the books I pen are not the only things that crawl through the twisted cavern that is my mind. Sometimes I think about other things! Sometimes it’s twisted caverns!

So, what do I do? I know I’m probably going to crack wise at least a little. Do I post it on the humor blog? I’m writing it, so is it out of place on the author’s blog? Do I launch a third blog called “Stuff That Doesn’t Fit Thematically with My Other Two Blogs?” This last is tempting, but no.

I’ve decided to solve this high moral dilemma by posting it to both blogs, knowing in advance that my Facebook followers are going to call me bad names, because they’ll get a notification about each and they’ll say, “Dude, how many times are you going to tell us about the same thing?”

Twice, I guess.

The Meat

Alright, here we go, kids.

I say “kids,” because anyone younger than 30 or so may have a little trouble relating, because I’m going to talk about music. And no, I’m not going to launch into a tirade about my music vs. your music. That was my dad’s gig. He pretty much thought everything after Benny Goodman was crap. To make a point, in the 1970’s I started listening to Benny, though he refused to listen to the Beatles. He did bring me home a Monkee’s album from the thrift store once, though, so that was progress I suppose.

What I’m talking about today is a little more ethereal: the concept of “owning” music.

mist

Passing into the mist.

With the advent of subscription music services and streaming music services and services that bring you to services that stream and/or subscribe you, the need for owning a physical copy of an artist’s music is passing into the mist. I heard someone say on TV that our kids and grand-kids will think the fact that we owned music will be insane. My daughter, for example, subscribes to Apple Music. When she wants to hear something, just about anything, she types in an artist or an album title, and wham! She has it. Sometimes to delightful comic effect, such as when we took my six-year-old niece to see the Trolls movie, and upon getting back in the car, my daughter downloaded the soundtrack, so that every song that came out of her “radio” for the duration of the ride was from that movie, much to my niece’s amazement. “Your radio is broken on Trolls!” was her reaction. “This is crazy!”

It is, a little.

I suppose there is a liberating experience in knowing you can listen to whatever you want whenever you want to do it.

But I grew up holding my music in my hands.

Originally, we held big old vinyl record albums, their dark black flesh beautiful to behold, their cover art large and legible, a whopping 12″ x 12″! If there was a lyric sheet insert or liner notes you didn’t need a magnifying glass. New records had a distinctive scent, like new car smell only completely different and for a lot less money.

The first album I ever bought for myself was “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. It was followed by a couple thousand others. I think the last album I bought was “So” by Peter Gabriel. By then albums were already passé, as the compact disc had arrived.

I have always considered myself something of an audiophile, which is just a nice word for “music snob.” It mattered to me that the music not only was good, but sounded good when I listened to it. To that end, the CD was a godsend. Sound quality was head and shoulders above vinyl, even the special edition discs that were touted as being sonically superior. I actually only sprang for one of those. It was “Abbey Road” by the Beatles, and when I dropped the needle on it I convinced myself that I could tell the difference from my old copy, which had cost me about ten dollars less.

Then I got the CD and realized I’d never really heard the album before.

The first compact disc I ever bought was [gulp] Journey’s greatest hits. I was married by then and was not the sole arbiter of musical taste in the household anymore, so… compromise.

The SECOND CD I bought was “Dark Side of the Moon.” I still have this disc, and whenever we’ve moved and I’ve set up my sound system, this is always the first album that gets played. It’s tradition. Like Benny Goodman. The Journey CD got lost, and has not been replaced.

As so often is the case when one begins to attain a significant collection of years, I tend, in certain areas anyhow, to like things my way. So, I still like compact discs, and I do not subscribe to any music services. I like taking the disc out of the jewel case, or with your more environmentally conscious performers the 100% biodegradable cardboard container, which will decompose one day, leaving the 100% chemical CD behind. I like pulling out the little booklet and straining to read the liner notes and the lyrics.

I liked records even better for everything except the sound. They used to even come with posters sometimes. The aforementioned “Dark Side” had something like fifty of them. I had a copy of “Chicago at Carnegie Hall” that had a poster so huge it covered almost all of one of my bedroom walls. We’ve lost that with CD’s, and no streaming music gives you posters or liner notes or lyrics or even cover art. Well, okay, maybe cover art in a one-inch square rendering on your device’s screen, but dude! It’s not the same.

Sadly, when Kim and I moved into our apartment, after seventeen years in a three-bedroom house, I had to finally let go of my record collection. There was no room to store it at the new place, and although I still own a turntable I don’t really own an honest-to-Pete stereo system anymore. I listen to CD’s in the living room through our Blu-ray player, which gives me the added dimension of surround sound, or in my office on a self-contained RCA stereo that was my mom’s then my bro’s and eventually mine. It has an aux input, but the turntable needs a pre-amp to be heard, so, ultimately, it was a lost cause.

wall art

Both great albums, both great covers.

The good news is I gave the entire collection (minus a handful of albums that I just could not let go, two of which are now wall art), to my brother-in-law who does have a sound system which allows him to enjoy them. Sadly, however, he’s sold off, or attempted to sell off, a significant portion of the collection. I didn’t put any stipulations on his ownership of the records, so they’re his to do with as he see fit, but I’ve been to two garage sales where he’s had several hundred offered for sale, and I always want to wrap my arms around them and bring them back home.

But I stay strong.

There is probably something inherently wrong with wanting to possess so much music. My CD collection is far larger than my album collection was. It probably speaks to a deeply ingrained Capitalist running-dog mentality, which while once again in vogue is nonetheless unsavory. There are children in war-torn nations who probably own no more than a handful of CD’s. As my kids used to say when they were little and still functionally illiterate, I have these many:

rock

That’s just the rock music collection. This is the jazz collection:

cds

The classical music collection is currently in six plastic totes waiting for me to build them their own rack.

classical

Pay no attention to the Temptations peeking out of the bin on the right. The bulk of this is classical music.

My daughter’s music collection takes up considerably less real estate. In fact she can fit it in her purse.

As owned music passes into the same mist that claimed the vinyl album [ed. Note: vinyl is making something of a comeback, but in a way that makes my former audiophile snootiness seem boorish, they actually advertise the weight of the album now, as if more grams means better music!] and the remotely-housed digital file becomes the gold standard, I wonder what will become of the music I’ve collected when I pass, in two hundred years. Will my kids have to go to garage sales and thrift stores to locate a CD player in order to listen? Or will they just rent a couple of dumpsters and toss them?

I think at my funeral I’m going to be a pain in the rear and request that someone track down a high-quality turntable, an ass-kicking amplifier, and a set of gigantic, liquid-cooled speakers, and play a record over my lifeless hulk. And since, technically, it will be the first music played at my new home, it will have to be “Dark Side of the Moon.”

Got. To. Be.