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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Carry your story with you. And I don't mean just around in your head.

Writers need to write. We crave it. While others are thinking about what they are going to watch on TV when they get home from work, we are thinking about what event will start our next chapter. The thought of crafting a story is always somewhere on our minds, and if you happen to catch a writer in his natural habitat, you will notice the quirky mannerisms. The rubbing of the fingertips together as we imagine typing away at a keyboard even as the boss drones on about the value of the company's parsnip investments (that may not apply to everyone,) or how writers always seem to drift off when speaking to people after a few seconds. It's not that we aren't interested, you probably just inspired a great bit of dialogue that is now running at full click around our brains. Writing isn't a job or hobby. For a lot of us, it's our lives.

And sometimes we hate it.

See, as I've covered before, the realization that we must actually produce a written work to be successful is an annoying little creature that likes to gnaw on the base of our skull while we are trying to go about our daily lives. We procrastinate to the point where often good ideas that we had at the initial point of our story have long been forgotten. We put off touching our story for a day, then a few days, and before we know it, it's been a month. And then we go back and read some of the story and it's very much like a stranger wrote it.

But it wasn't a stranger. It was you. And you neglected your story. And now it weeps alone in a dark corner and wonders why you ever bothered in the first place.

Feel guilty yet? Well, you don't have to. Not anymore. From now on, you are going to carry your story around with you wherever you go. On a flash drive.

I have mine. It's in the little pocket of my jeans that I think was once designed to be used for lighters. You know the one.

And I carry it with me always. Along with my keys, my wallet and my phone, it is always on my person. And because it is always there, I am constantly thinking about it. When I walk in the house or happen upon any other unsuspecting laptop, I plug in my flash drive and write a few pages. My progress on my novel is on warp speed because I don't leave my story alone anymore. I literally carry it with me like a child everywhere I go.

So put your book on a flash drive and make a habit of having it on you at all times. You will be surprised how much more you write when your best friend in the world, your story, is always there to remind you to get to work.

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm.


Monday, June 22, 2015

My Interview with Singer/Songwriter and published Author, Melissa Fleckenstein

I would like to thank Melissa Fleckenstein for allowing me to interview her. Please do yourself a favor and check out her music and her book. She's amazing.

Me: When did you first start singing?
Melissa: I may have started singing while still in the womb. I have always loved singing from the time I was itty bitty. I still remember the first song I had in my head @ just 3 years old, having a fisher price tape recorder, dancing around the coffee table to the Beatles, taking an actual Beatles record for show and tell in Kindergarten etc...
My friends used to joke that maybe I swallowed a canary because I often had a song in my heart and was often singing. I am the type that always has music playing, even in my kitchen, bathroom, sometimes even when I am walking back from the car on my Mp4 player.
Me: What did your family do to encourage you?
Melissa: It's really a hard profession, the music business, that has had to overcome a lot of false stigmas over many generations.  Despite all that, I was blessed to have my Dad as a constant motivator for me to sing @ the country club, sharing my live recording of  "I will always love you" by Whitney Houston when I was a teenager, he also assisted with me putting together my first demo and was supportive of my majoring in music in college, as long as I wasn't a Performance Major. He wanted me to have more than that to fall back on.  And my mother's sides of the family comes with a deep spiritual legacy, where Christianity and song found rich harmony together. My mother also took me to my music lessons. I feel like I have much to be grateful for here.
Me: Who are your musical inspirations?
Melissa: I have so many musical inspirations. It's a very vast array. I love melodies and Top 40 music. I have also listened to a lot of K- Love. Some of my inspirations are Kari Jobe, Plumb, Toby Mac, Crystal Lewis, Jars of Clay, Mandisa, Whitney Houston, Leona Lewis, Beyonce, Mariah, Chris Tomlin, Matthew West, & classical influences i.e. Sarah Brightman, Jewel's Ave Maria, Mozart & Bach; to name some that come to mind.
Others include: Switchfoot, Lecrae, Warren Barrenfield, Colton Dixon, Francesca Battistelli, Hillsong United, Allure, Celion Dion, U2, Mary J Blige, Sarah Bareillis, Tori Amos, Taylor Swift, Bella Ferraro's (Birdy cover), Sarah Mclachlan, Usher, David Guetta, Neyo, Bruno Mars etc.
I am also a fan of many indie artists/bands and strive to be an advocate for them. Great music that is untouched by manufactured hands is amazing and has a very special place in my heart. I LOVE Soundcloud, good quality music and the community there etc...
Me: Where would you most like to perform?
Melissa: I'd love to perform @ a large well respected venue i.e. Harvest Crusade, The Dove Awards, K LOVE Fan Awards, Grammy's or Madison Square Garden orTimes Square. It might also be pretty cool to perform on TBN, or @ the Crystal Cathedral.
I am trying to stay open to where and what I am called to do. Whether it's a small venue like a convalescent home, a humble church, or a larger venue, I am trying to be as flexible and open as I can.
Me: Who would you most like to open for?
Melissa: I have been thinking about that a lot. That is a very difficult question for me. I have a lot of love and respect for other artists and their artistry/vision etc.. I especially have great respect for commerical songwriters to meet all the qualifications of radio and the industry. Any of the above influences would be amazing, but if I can only pick one I'd like to open for Switchfoot. Their songs on the Walk to Remember soundtrack changed my life and I love their harmonies, strings and songwriting.
Me: Aside from singing and songwriting, you are also an author. Tell me about your published works.
Melissa: I just released my first self-published book. It's a motivational/inspirational eBook. Being an entrepreneurial musician has developed a lot of character in me since it's such a tough industry. I wanted to encourage, inspire and help foster encouragement among other musicians to keep working hard, grinding, and keeping the faith when things get tough. The book consists of 365 of some of what I feel are some of the best motivational/inspirational quotes. Of course these include some scriptures in there as well. It's a combination of the two.
The book is Free on my website @ By signing up you will be on my mailing list and I will keep you in the loop with exclusive content such as early releases etc... The title of the book is called "Keep The Blaze Returning" which underlies the concepts and purposes of the book that I spoke of. It is a direct quote from a lyric from my song "Turn My Darkness Into Light."
I plan to re-release the book on Amazon in the future, but like I said, subscribers get the original early-release now.
Me: How has your faith helped inspire your music and writing?
Melissa: I believe most of my songs were given directly to me from the Lord. So many cool things have happened. Each song has a personal story. Working for free and on one limited income to do this was pretty tough and took a lot of faith. However, God would give me lyrics and songs to comfort me and meet me exactly where I was. The immense sacrifices that my husband and I made, to continue on this path, have tested our faith many times. A lot of that came right out into the songs. I believe it was all for a purpose for others though. At the time I just wanted to know why God was allowing and not allowing certain things, but now that I am on the other side of it all, I see how much sense it all made. He was refining me, preparing me, giving me strong roots, and developing character within me for everything that I'd face. Some of that has led to writing the eBook, songs, and brought a lot of positive things to fruition.
I also believe that Christians should be loving and try hard not to judge other people. I am really big on that. Giving people freedom and taking great care to avoid, what many refer to as the Pharisee spirit.
Me: What’s your “go to” Bible verse?
Melissa: That's another tough question for me since I mostly grew up in the church. I have a Bible that my grandfather (who was a very well respected prophet and pastor) gave to me. In there are tons and tons of highlighted verses that I added over the years. I turn to them. I also like books like Beth Moore's "Praying God's Word" because for whatever you may be going through there is usually one or more scriptures that have comfort or an answer. This book categorizes them and will take you right to the gems for various specific setbacks. Used the right way scriptures can make a huge difference if you are right with God and have the faith. They can protect your mind, change your situation etc...
It took me a long time to figure this out. God has secrets and reveals them when we really search for Him.
If I had to narrow it down to one, I guess I would pick Mark 11:23-24.
Me: Where do you see your singing career taking you?
Melissa: I am open to whatever God wants me to do. I'd love to be a successful recording artist, possibly tour, have my music on the radio etc... The main thing that has always been very important to me is to work really hard to put out more high quality choices for Christian music. Growing up I always had wished that there was more and more Christian music that resonated with me. However if God just wants me to solely be a songwriter and only perform every so often I am also open to that. I believe that being a performer and being a celebrity/public figure brings it's own set of challenges. I am not sure I'd want that, but I know that either way God will meet me in my path as He's always done as long as I continue to surrender it fully to Him.
I'd love to also have an opportunity to become successful so that I can bless others and be able to do more philanthropic work to change the world.

Me: Finally, what advice do you have for other artists/writers?
Melissa: When you put God first everything that is supposed to happen falls into place. Fight for what you want, even if you can’t see it yet, still believe it and work toward it until it comes to fruition. 
Keep practicing your skills as consistently as you can to build and keep those muscles.  What good is learning if you can't apply it? Keep yourself accountable until it becomes automatic.  No matter how good you are or how much you know, in music there’s always a higher level that you can reach.
Surround yourself with those who are getting the results that you want and those who know more than you and have credibility.
In terms of writing, nearly every single detail is a major decision and should be treated as such. Don’t take it lightly, especially when you have the power to make something good, great, and something great, excellent. Don’t compromise or settle until you believe it’s your best work. Try to be objectively hard on your own work, improving evaluation process so that when other pros etc...encounter your work you have a better chance of providing others, customers, the industry, artists, what they all want/need etc... 
To illustrate this: I am currently devising my own checklist for the cumulative knowledge that I have learned thus far. This has been on my heart for the past couple months and I am collecting data from various sources to be as thorough on this as possible.
Find out who you are and what your voice is in the world and go for it. You have more power in your voice and decisions than you might think and you can change the world and add value to this world, just don’t give up when you face resistance.
Finally, whenever possible,  Colossians 3:23 should be more than just a verse in the Bible, but a pillar to writing your own music. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Stuck? Write the ending and work backwards.

When the protagonist from my novel I Will Follow, Jude, first arrived in Austin, I hit a wall of writer's block so hard I had a mild concussion and couldn't remember how to tie my shoes for a week. You see, being the shoot-from-the-hip writer I am, I started my novel with no outline or any particular sense of direction. I had the story in my head, and I just ran out of the gate. I know that it's incredibly unprofessional, but at the time I couldn't be bothered with such nuances like outlines or character development. Sometimes, ya just gotta go for it.

Well, as Jude pulled into Austin, my train of thought pulled off the tracks. I knew more or less what was going to happen to him and where he would end up at the end of his journey, but since I hadn't bothered to map out the trek stop by stop, I was at a loss. So there my hero sat. A man without a destination and hopelessly doomed to trudge around the Texas capital with nary a smidgen of a clue as to what he was supposed to be doing.

Realizing that I had to get Jude going soon or risk slowing my progress even further, I resorted to an old, tried and true tactic: I wrote the ending to my book and went backwards. 

Now, in the interest of maintaining the mystery of any reader who truly wishes to read my book, (and thank you for that), I won't reveal just how the book ends. Sufficed to say that it culminates in a very serious, very traumatic event that wrenches every ounce of strength and courage out of every character involved. I haven't posted the ending anywhere yet, but it'll be done soon. 

In any event, seeing how the climax of my novel played out kickstarted my inspiration and I began to understand the chain of events that would lead up to the final chapter. I then retrofitted Jude's journey to reflect the path that he would have to take to wind up there. It worked quite well, actually. 

Again, had I actually outlined and planned my novel, I probably could have avoided this, but I recommend this step regardless of whether you have mapped out every step or not. It'll enlighten you and your characters greatly. 

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm. 


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

You either finish the book or work for the man forever: Why you MUST complete your novel.

Hey, congratulations to me for the blog's tenth post!

Now then, on to business.

Every writer has that dream of one day opening up their email and seeing a message from a publisher or literary agent in which an offer has been made on your book. What a glorious day to know that you can finally shrug off the shackles of your mind-melting 9 to 5 day job and write for a living! As you sit at your computer and contemplate just who will play the protagonist in the feature film that will surely follow, you reach for the phone so you can eloquently and politely tell your boss just where he can put the job you have hated all these many years.

It would be nice, right?

Well, there's just one issue. Before that even has a chance of happening, and most of us know all too well that the likelihood of ever being published is remote at best, you have to do something that sets you above and apart from all of the other writers paddling wildly through the ocean of procrastination.

You have to finish your book.

Many of you just threw your hands up and yelled at your keyboards. Some of you may have threw up on your keyboards and yelled at your hands. I suppose you were expecting that I would reveal some great, mysterious secret that would get you instant publication and have you on a private jet to NYC to sign the contract before dinner. But, my friends, I'm afraid there is no secret.

In order to have someone publish your book, you have to have a book to publish.

That little fact is what stares a lot of writers in the face daily. It scowls at them and occasionally curses them in French. My novel has been 60% complete for over a year now, and every day that slips by that I do not progress it any further is another day that the prospect of writing for a living becomes dimmer.

Now, I know what you will say. "I'll find another paid writing job. I'll take up blogging and immediately have thirty thousand dollars a month in Adsense revenue."

"I'll copy-write and soon be giving away the hundreds of Ferraris I'll have accumulated."

"I'll just switch over to screenwriting and knock out an Oscar winning screenplay in a week or two and you can kiss my tuckus as Spielberg and I drink espresso."

None of those things will ever happen. At least not that easily. And I don't think Spielberg drinks espressos anyway.

The reason you will never truly excel in any other avenue of writing is because your novel, your book, your passion, will be incomplete. It will haunt you and eat away at you. You cannot run from it.

That's why you need to finish it.

So whatever it is you were planning on doing after you read this, cancel it. Open up your book and write at least a page. Then tomorrow write two. The day after that, see if you can do three. And so on.

And don't forget to call me from NYC when you get there. ;)

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Is your main character weird? Make him/her so

Normal doesn't sell books. No one cares to read about the mundane exploits of a stock character with vanilla mannerisms and a boring personality. If your protagonist could be any person you'd see on the subway and not give a second look to, you've got a problem.

Now, I'm not talking about physical characteristics. You don't have to immediately rewrite your precious star to suddenly be missing an ear or have a third leg growing from their forehead. I'm just suggesting you give them a quirk. Or several. Set them apart from the crowd and your readers will not be able to forget them.

The main character in my novel I Will Follow, Jude, took a page from my own life (pun completely intended). See, every since I can remember, I have the habit of uncontrollably taking paper napkins and unfolding them and then refolding them inside out before I use them. I don't know why I do it, but I have since I was a kid. And Jude does the same thing. It's only mentioned a few times in the book, but it makes him relatable. It makes him human rather than merely "the guy in the book."

People want to know that they are not the only ones who possess the little idiosyncrasies that make us all unique. We all do or say something that makes us who we are. Let your characters stand out with that same behavior.

You could have your protagonist sneeze every time someone near them says 'hello.' Maybe they wipe off their utensils before they eat. Every. Single. Time. I know at least three people in real life who do that. Or maybe your antagonist secretly cries in solitude after they verbally assault someone. Or they have to wear a red shirt every Thursday. You get the idea.

Give your character some character. Make them unique and your audience will not only understand them better, they won't be able to forget them.

Until next time, keep those keyboards warm.