Authors Life, Books, Fantasy, novel, Publishing, Urban Fantasy, Writing

I Wonder Is the Magic Gone

Writing is a curious habit by its nature. Some attempt turning it into a profession with varying results. One might have better odds winning the lottery than publishing a best seller that makes the author wealthy. Don’t quote me on that. But I’ll bet the odds are close.

Creative people, like writers, analyze things, read things into situations that others may not consider and, yes, see things that are not there. How else could watching from your back porch as a bird sings in a tree in your garden inspire you to write a murder mystery thriller? It happens.

With every book you write there comes a point, no matter what the book’s about or how long or short it is, that you wonder if it is good enough to submit for publication. If you have never experienced the magic of having someone else validate your art by accepting your work for publication, you may only imagine the exhilaration. It is a magical moment. But with each subsequent submission you will always wonder if the magic is gone, especially if it takes months for your publisher to get back to you. 

In some ways I’ve had an exceptional experience. Exceptional not in my subsequent success, but in that it kind of goes against the grain and bucks the usual course. When I wrote Fried Windows, I was in a bad place in my life. For many years prior I’d been battling demons, both internal and external, imagined and real. Toward the end of my tenure as a retail manager I was abusing alcohol and frequently felt depressed. Often the two are linked. I’d been writing for years. I’d published a few things, a couple of books through a small publisher and others I’d self-published. I sold some books, but I didn’t feel there was a great future ahead of me. Still, I never gave up on writing because…well, if you’re a writer you know that stopping isn’t a choice. It’s not how we are wired. I doubt my body would respond in the same way as if I stopped breathing, but it would be close.

Work, my ‘day’ job that is, had long since ceased to inspire me. Since all my kids had grown and were out on their own, I wasn’t sure why I was still going through the motions any more. When I married, I made a commitment to family and struggled a lot, putting in long hours, many too many times, to support them. Although I wrote whenever I could, because, again, it is what writers do, I set aside pursuit of my personal ambition of being a published author. Every parent understands that a part of the job is subordinating private dreams for the sake of putting your children first.

On February 22, 2012 I snapped. It occurred to me that no longer did I have a valid reason to continue putting up with my company’s abuse. It was my day off. Although I’d been scheduled to have at least one day off per week for the past 21 days, regularly, I was putting in 16-hour days and coming in on my days off. My masters were abusing their slave all because I was on salary and, let’s face it, they’d always gotten away the abuse before. Okay, technically they were paying me so it was not really slavery, but I wasn’t being fairly compensated for the hours I was working. You see, salaried = no overtime pay = abuse. They surely owned me for all intents and purposes. I received alarm calls waking me in the middle of the night that I had to respond to even when I had to come back later on to work an entire shift. And because my store was old the alarm system was buggy, It went off all the time. Only occasionally had there been a break-in.

I had been a manager all for the sake of getting paid a little more, never having my pay cut when business was soft, and maybe earning a bonus at the end of the year. That last part, by the way, is a moving target, a carrot that corporate dangles to entice while, in the background, doing everything they possibly can to make it unobtainable. If you have ever worked in retail management, you may have experienced some of that. Not every company does it, but the last couple for which I worked did.

It’s a given that nothing was ever good enough. And yet they told me I needed to be more positive. It’s damned hard to be positive when all you receive from your superiors is negative reinforcement. I was told to execute their plans not to think for myself. Hey, my last DM was an ex-Marine. He ran things as if he were still in the corps.

As a result of the pressure and stress, I drank to excess. Whatever didn’t hurt was so tense that I couldn’t sleep without putting myself into a stupor. Yeah, I know that’s an excuse. But it was why I drank so much. And so, roughly 7 years ago, I was enjoying my first day off in three solid weeks. Then, around 1 PM, I received the dreaded call from my boss telling me I needed to come in to work because his boss was there, in the store, raising hell about all the stuff that needed to be done. For some reason I was the only one on the planet who could do the work – oh wait, I’m salaried, so they were already paying me for doing it. Like Inspector Gadget, I was always on duty.

Like a good obedient dog, I went to the store. The guy I worked for was a new boss. In many ways he was the same as my old boss who had just retired about a month before, but in other ways he was not. My past manager was reasonable about dressing down if I was going to be doing physical lab, as in sweating a lot and getting dirty. Since the new guy told me I needed to put away freight, I assumed I could dress to make a mess. Ever before, when I came in to work ‘for a few hours’ to slam freight, that was what I did.. So, wearing casual clothes, I reported to work. When I saw my boss, he asked me why I wasn’t in uniform. I explained. He told me to go home and change. I started to do that, got all the way to the front doors and was about to go home and comply fully, when I asked myself, why am I still putting up with this crap?

Why was I killing myself – figuratively and literally, enduring the torment? My job was interfering with what I wanted to do with my life, what I loved to do, what I had been doing that day (my day off) prior to receiving the call – writing. I was divorced, my kids no longer needed Dad breaking his back to support them. Why was I doing it again and again and again?  Because it was routine? Because I had bills to pay? Because it was force of habit?

There is an old saying that most managers know but few heed. Never allow your subordinate to reach the point of not caring. I’d been pushed well past that and, although everyone told me after the fact that I was crazy to do such a rash thing, I handed in my keys and never looked back.

What are you going to do now?

I don’t know, look for another job, maybe something with lower stress. Or maybe I’ll just focus on writing. I’ve always wanted to do that, and I got sidetracked.

Are you nuts?

I thought you knew me well enough for that to be established. Yes, I am nuts. That’s part of the reason why I write.

For a few years I’d belonged to an online writing community. I won a couple of feel-good trophies for my writing. But being among other creative people served a valuable purpose, validating what I wrote in draft and posted online for all to read. Having the almost immediate feedback of other writers, be they poets, novelists, script writers or short story writers bolstered my confidence in storytelling. It helped me improve basic writing skills and allowed me to explore and expand the range of my author’s voice. Without that experience I would have never evolved past where the brute force of hammering out words led me, a.k.a. nowhere. 

For several years before that, I’d worked on downsizing my life. I’d started walking or riding a bike to work. Getting rid of my car was one huge expense eliminated. You see, subconsciously perhaps, I’d been adjusting for the inevitable all along. Something told me that I needed to learn how to survive on next to nothing because that was what it would take to become a full-time writer

I stopped drinking beer, not only out of necessity because there was no money for it. but also, because the reason for my drinking was gone. One day in March 2012, one of the people I knew in the online writing community challenged me to write a poem about being a child at a carnival. Not being a poet per se, what I wrote was of dubious merit. But the poets in the community were kind and encouraging about the noob’s effort. They wanted more of the same. But the well had already dried up. Instead, I wrote a short story. And, because that went over well. I wrote another story based on the first, receiving a stronger response than before. I continued, for 16 days, composing a story a day. Each story was part of a series that collectively I had called Fried Windows (In a Light White Sauce), based on a scene in the first story. Still, titling them as a bundle was for my sake and did not necessarily imply intent for them to ever be a contiguous story.  

When I finished, I set all that work aside to pursue other works in progress that, at the time, felt more important. Around me, my world continued falling to ruin. With no job, and no money. I was living with relatives. And, as every writer knows, relatives don’t usually consider writing a valid endeavor – because it doesn’t generate a weekly paycheck and all you appear to do is sit in your room staring at a computer screen.

Have you ever considered the lunacy of that last part? You can sit all day staring at a computer screen in an office somewhere outside of the home and no one has an issue with it (maybe because someone is writing you a check for your attention). But an author gets paid long after the fact – if at all. Therefore, that’s not a job at all. Uh, isn’t that the point? I want a profession not a job. 

New Cover for Fried Windows

Around a year from the initial creative spurt that produced the nucleus of Fried Windows, I decided to stitch the sixteen pieces together, adjusting and amplifying the story arc that was there. You see, I’d always thought of the individual parts as a series of stories. But once i read it as a whole, there was some continuity. There were common characters and the same fantastic world. Why had I never read through the entire thing as if it were a novel? I saw the potential immediately. Sure, it was missing stuff. But there was magic in those pages. Somehow, I needed to continue that. Still, I wondered if I had it in me to transform what several people had validated as good, into something better.

Further validation came in a few months later when I signed a publishing contract for the book. Still, each time I write a novel there is concern about the magic – if it is still there. Do I still have what my publisher saw in my first or every previous work they have accepted?  The answer is always ‘we’ll see’ as I send it off. The only way you ever answer that question is to finish your work in progress and push it out into the world.    

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Review: Steph Post’s latest, Miraculum

eBook and Print Book Cover

These days there are many books that bend genres, making them next to impossible to classify. It’s to the point that lately, I’m not sure that any book deserves its pigeon hole. But people like making comparisons to whatever they know, and so, that’s why genres are assigned. I’m not sure they are as relevant as they once were, though. When a reader has fallen in love with a given author’s work the importance of artificial categorizations diminishes. You read a book expecting the author to deliver and you follow no matter where his or her imagination takes you.

Steph Post writes Southern Noir, what a lot of people refer to as Grit Lit. Her novels are about rural Southerners who often get sucked into get rich quick schemes that are often illegal. But people who live on the fringe of society face hardship daily and often must make desperate choices that run afoul of authority.

Post’s previous works are A Tree Born Crooked, Lightwood, and Walk in the Fire, and if you have already read those you respect Steph Post’s writing chops. You know her characters are lifelike down to the grit under their fingernails and the grease that doesn’t wash off their calloused hands. Her gut-wrenching scenarios are authentic dilemmas. Her settings are based on her experiences growing up in a Florida far removed from the resorts and amusement parks. In Post’s books the American South feels genuine down to cypress knees jutting up from the oozing mud. There are snakes hiding in the tall grasses and gators lurking in fowl smelling, murky waters. If you’ve read her stories you have probably been waiting eagerly for the release of Miraculum, which entered our edge of the universe on 1/22/2019.

From the first page of Miraculum, Post grabs hold of your faculties and doesn’t let go for the duration of the strange ride that often dips into the darkness that underlies the superficial world that others, those who are invested in the systems and institutions of decent society believe is real. Ostensibly, the story is about a carnival/circus experiencing an identity crisis as it struggles to accommodate the changes of the early 1920’s, as America emerges as a major industrial power that survived intact while Europe was devastated by The Great War. To compete with other forms of entertainment for the nickels and dimes of the audience it draws, the circus must exhibit what people can’t find anywhere else, or at least convince them that its assortment of geeks, freaks and exotic enhancements is unique.

In the circus, Ruby is the snake charmer. Most of her body is decorated with multiple tattoos – not particularly well-done tats at that. She’s a survivor, and as the story unfolds, we are privy to some of her secrets, her origins, her past relationships, and her few aspirations. We understand how much the world around her limits her life.

Daniel, a stranger, who is a study in contradiction joins the circus as a geek and yet he always wears an immaculate and obviously expensive suit that never seems to soil. And never does he appear to sweat, despite the blistering muggy heat of summer. He seems urbane, well educated and well traveled, leading most everyone to wonder whatever he is doing in there. Of course, Daniel is attracted to Ruby but not for any obvious reason. Where he can control others, she is exempt. He finds it both frustrating and fascinating.

As always, Post breathes life into her characters with a careful eye for detail and well-tuned ear for dialogue. Her research into the period and the nuances of backstory are evident as the past collides with what cannot possibly be. Just as in the real world, the haves shun the have nots. Shady people pop out of dark corners, trying to make a fast buck, even if it’s not completely legal. Rejected people, those who are discarded through no fault of their own congregate in the only place that will allow them to make a living. as freaks in the circus side shows.

All the elements that have made Post’s past novels visceral and gripping anchor what becomes a bizarrely compelling novel that dabbles in beliefs apart from the mainstream. Miraculum deals a weird, creepy, supernatural vibe beginning on page one. Along the way that same feeling simmers just beneath the surface while the story gains its legs. And then, it bubbles up violently toward a tumultuous and inevitable climax.


Miraculum by Steph Post
Available in eBook, Hardcover from Polis Books

Audiobook from Blackstone Publishing  

Audiobook Cover