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The First Steps At Dawn

Hello! My name is Rickey Jackson Jr, author of the fantasy novel: The Edge of Snow and Dust (releasing this winter 2017). Welcome to my website dedicated to the series. Here I will share my journey from taking a story swirling around in my head to sharing it with the world. Each post will update you on my progress from tentative writing to tablet publishing. I have already written several drafts but like any bold venture, you eventually have to cross that line, make that leap from cautious to courageous.

 This website is that leap. Even now as I write this, my first blog entry, I am taking that first anxious step at dawn to commit to telling this story. So I hope you will join me as I walk the path of an aspiring writer!

An Observing Creator

Hello Readers,

Last week I told you I started a second iteration of The Edge of Snow and Dust. It was a pretty long post, over two thousands words actually. This time I’d thought I keep this one relatively short. Today I want to show you the mind of a creator not while he or she is hard at work making a movie, a song, or a book. But what runs through their mind while they are consuming others’ creative works.

First off a quick little background note. After taking a year off from high school, I attended Monroe Community College here in Rochester, graduating in 2007 with an Associates in Mechanical Technology. Everyone said I had an analytical mind and was great at building things, so the degree made sense. My family and friends constantly noticed me staring hard into an object, speculated on how it was designed, and then guess ways it could be improved. That was all well and good, and encouraged by my parents. But the same enthusiasm cannot be said when I deconstructed art. Instead I constantly hear, “stop analyzing it.”

See when I watch a movie, hear a song, or read a book, I usually have a list of observations I want to talk about afterwards. In each piece of art there is so much to breakdown and understand. “The director introduced the unicorn twice but completely forgot to give us the payoff, or the editor cut it. I wonder why?” or to everyone’s chagrin, “You could definitely tell that was a studio note. The character’s flaw should have been this, but that would turn off this audience, and they wanted that money.” Those around me hear all this an assume I can’t see the art, or don’t like art in general, or enjoy ripping apart art. None of its true.

I break them down because I am a creator at heart. Be it fan-fiction (of which I have written plenty), to writing my novel, to quickly coming up with an absurd take on a commercial, I am always creating. And as a creator, I know what messages I want to convey with my own creations. Character traits that resonate with me or messages that have affected my life that I hope can have the same effect on others. So when I hear people say “just enjoy the thing” or “it’s a movie you can just turn your brain off and enjoy” I fundamentally disagree. These aren’t manufactured creations. Someone living and breathing whose life is a thick novel of joy and sadness and fear created this thing. You can learn so much by analyzing why they used this paint brush, this color, this camera lens or angle, or this instrument. And if some big corporation did manufacture that song or movie with a boardroom of executives with polling data and test audiences, then what does that say about the society that created those people or warranted those studio notes. I’ll give my creator eye on two examples.

I saw Bumblebee yesterday, a Transformers prequel with a different director and take on the fighting robot mythos. I really enjoyed it. It felt like a movie, felt like a story. With each sequel under Director Michael Bay becoming more and more incoherent, I was really hoping for a change in vision. Now it is not perfect and as a creator I could see the studio notes and deals within the movie. Firstly, (minor spoilers) we see a number of transformers that look like the toys from the 80’s which served two purposes. One, to let us know they are abandoning the more insect look the previous five movies had. And two, more importantly, to hit us with nostalgia. Nostalgia is a powerful tool when you want someone entertained. For very little effort you can remind people of a portion of their live that never existed. Boy was Bumblebee banking on that. After the opening scene, the audience is hit with 80’s posters and gadgets, 80’s TV shows, and FOUR famous 80’s songs played back to back over scenes that just don’t need them. Why do all this? Because Stranger Things on Netflix made 80’s nostalgia popular and profitable.

Seeing all this nostalgia didn’t affect me. I had seen countless new shows find reasons to pull themselves back to the 80’s to try and jump on this bandwagon. It didn’t ruin the story for me, but I noticed it. I noticed that was the studio hoping to revitalize their dying big blockbuster franchise. But I also noticed a touching story of a character trying to get over some difficult hurdles in life with a giant transforming VW Beetle trying to do the same. By noticing and separating the studio mandates and the writer and directors vision, I was able to connect with real people who made something they wished to share.

Another example I will give you is my own personal take on today’s popular music. Most of what I hear today sounds so similar in tone, pace, style, that I can’t tell them apart. Even the message feels confined to a specific topic: love. My girlfriend, Lord bless her, has to deal with me asking a sarcastic question every time we get in the car. “Hey, is this song by that girl, you know, the one that sounds like all the others, about that guy she loves but shouldn’t, or has and is leaving, or loves him and is leaving because she shouldn’t have him but does?” And she always shouts, “I like this song!” I then ask who is it by and she starts laughing, “I don’t know.”

From a creator point of view I only make fun of the songs because I know the corporate thought behind it. Because of how integrated the internet is in our life, especially with our cellphones instantaneous connection we, as the older generation loves to point out, don’t communicate with one another. Which is factually false. We now communicate with more people than ever and with people we would never see in real life. And personally that’s okay. You can connect with like-minded groups about things you love. I play D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and other rpg’s. But my close  group of friends don’t. But online I can find a community that does, and we can talk and debate and laugh about it together. We may not be able to touch one another but we are still communicating.

However due to these long-ranged spread out communities, it is harder to find a connection with people closer to us that we are attracted to. Think about it, if you saw someone at the store whom you found attractive, say they laughed at something and the laugh was so genuine and warm, what would be your “in”? Would you just start laughing with no context, walk over and just ask what’s funny? Most of the options you would come up with would be weird or unnatural. Now before social media, you would know someone who would know someone who knew that person. Now you don’t and instead you wonder what-if. Then get in the car and what do you know, there’s a song on the radio or Pandora or Spotify describing how you feel. Because so many people constantly struggle to find a natural way to connect in a physical space setting when it is so easy to talk online, there’s more and more songs about it. I see all this by breaking down why corporations would want to constantly create eerily similar music and radio stations play the same four songs over and over again. Those songs make money. Despite seeing the generic song on the radio as a studio crafted, purpose built, money making opportunity, I can understand why they are prevalent and what that says about our society and the individual.

I can see the art.

So the next piece of art you consume, in its infinite forms, consider breaking it down. Seperate it into is many components and see not how it affects you, but what glimpses it gives into the state of our society today. Why is this subject the focus of so many artist? You might fall down a rabbit hole like I do, but you might just learn something that’ll give that art a new perspective. A new perspective that might turn you into a creator.

Take care!

Standing Eight Count

Hello Readers!

Happy New Years!

It’s been a while, my last post being the end of August and a year after I started this website.  With 2019 here, I thought an update was in order. I would have done it sooner but it has taken me a while to get back up (a nod to the post’s title). But I’m back on my feet and ready to go. Now the update:

If you recall I had nearly rewritten The Edge of Snow and Dust from beginning to end, and was asking for beta readers to help review the novel from a story perspective before I hired an editor to work on the mechanics. The project would start on September 1st and end on Halloween. From my research, you should give your beta readers a month to read your story, to factor in their own lives. Since my word count was higher than the average (Mine weighing in at 158,000; the average 100,000) I gave them an extra month.

Halloween, that was the mark. If I was going to have time to incorporate the beta readers comments, give it to an editor, and then correct what they noted to release it in time for Black Friday then the 31st of October was the latest I could wait. With that date circled, I sent out the manuscript to everyone whom volunteered to be  beta readers. I broke up the novel into three parts. (Three rounds in the ring, that’s all I need.)

The first part was reading the Prologue to Chapter 3. If the first part didn’t catch my beta readers than it was best to know as quickly as possible. I asked for responses by the end of the first week as I was on that tight deadline. Out of the seven, I got four responses. Most didn’t seem to have any problems with the story and were noting specifically the grammatical errors. That was understandable as I noticed them too during my own self-editing. I tried to lean them more towards the character and stories but as my girlfriend noted, sometimes the right grammatical error can take someone out of a story. I took their circling the errors however as a good sign. Bad sticks out, if they aren’t commenting on the characters or story then thumbs up. (Those jabs, they’re strong but I can handle them. Just have to keep my guard up and keep pushing.)

The second stage (Round 2, ding!) was the first half of the novel. Through coincidence or talent (rooting for the latter) the midpoint was a great cliffhanger for the beta readers. On the 7th, a week after starting the beta testing, I sent out the first half. This gave me time to continue refining the second half, most of it technical stuff such as dialogue tags, further descriptions of certain locations or characters, and any plot holes that were in my mind but not on the paper.

Each week I would go over the second half and each week I would hear nothing from my beta readers. No questions on story structure that may be confusing, or characters not quite visually fleshed out, nothing. My girlfriend, Lord bless her, had to hear me every couple of days speculate on what was going on. Was my novel that good? Was it so bad no one wanted to tell me? Did they receive the emails? Then September 30th comes, a full month has passed since I’ve sent out my story and I’ve heard nothing. So I contact the beta readers for a quick check in, just any update on their progress. (What happened, that right hook came out of nowhere. I think I’m cut just above the eye, but I can still see. I’m alright.)

I emailed and messaged all my beta readers and saw notifications that they had seen or read my messages. A full day goes by and no one response. Not a “hey I’ll email you as soon as I can” or “at work, text ya tomorrow”. Just silence. Silence added to the previous weeks of silence. I start to panic: maybe it is terrible! I look over my storyboard, my character notes, plot points, looking for where everyone may have ran into an issue. One month was enough time for most fantasy novels at a 100,000 words. I had given them a month to only read half of mine, so about 80,000. They should have been done with the first half, or close anyway.

It isn’t until I inform them that I’ll look for more beta readers, that the originals respond. I learn from some that they haven’t read the 5th Chapter. They had covered the first three in a week and then over the course of a month barely read the forth? The others say their reading it but nothing more than that. Still no feedback, not even an “Hey, Anila is a cool name”.  I scramble to find more beta readers, anyone willing to take on the crunched deadline of only 30 days instead of 60. (I’ve taken some serious blows, a few good shots to the gut. My legs are jelly and my hearings muffled but I’m still standing waiting for the bell. There it is. Round 3 let’s go.)

By mid October only two had made it to the last step, the second half of the manuscript. I keep being told by everyone else they are going to make the deadline. I offer them bailouts: just tell me where you are now, answer the questionnaire based on that and I’ll take it from there. They all say the same, they don’t need a bailout, they’ll make the deadline, they still had however many days left to get there. But the analytical side of my mind just kept running the numbers. If you couldn’t read 80,000 in 30 days, how are you going to cover that in two weeks, now one week, now a few days? What I kept hearing was “just been busy”. (That jab known as ‘busy’ is keeping me at a distance and yet I keep eating them).

I just needed feedback, any kind from any where. Maybe everyone stumbled at the same point. One chapter, one section of track missing or broken. If I could just fix it. Keep the train rolling, make the deadline. I just needed someone to point me in the right direction, hell, any direction. (That cut’s bleeding pretty bad. I can’t see out my left anymore, don’t panic. Breathe, keep those nerves in check.)

Halloween comes. Midnight goes. Wait! I said they had two months. Halloween is still October. Still within two months. November 1st, 11:59 pm, that’s the true deadline.

11:59. . . midnight. 12:01 . . . 12:30 . . . 1am. (I think my rib broke, I can’t catch my breath)

Nothing from anyone.

My girlfriend comes into the living room and sees me staring at my story searching for a truth somewhere. People mentioned it was good, good is not great. Some mentioned it was great, but they would finish great.

(I’ve taken too many blows, can’t hear my corner anymore, what do I do, where do I go?)

She tells me her sister is on the last few pages. That’s right! I begged her sister to read it three weeks ago. She was one of the two that asked  for the second half. My girlfriend tells me she will give me her feedback the next day, including filling out the questionnaire.  The news catches me like the ropes of a boxing ring. I lean back against it, let it catch me. With it I can find my footing a push forward. (Hold on a few days, there’s still a few seconds left in the round, I can win this fight.)

The next day comes and my girlfriend tells me she just forwarded her sister’s email. (Here we go, just as coach taught me. Square your feet and press into the ball of your foot. Twist at the waist, generate the power there. Keep your punch in alignment) I open the email and two key points stick out among the well thought out review, “First half is boring, the second half feels rushed”. (I never even saw the punch. It lands square against my temple and everything goes dark. Boring. The second punch comes in so fast I barely register it. A deep blow to the gut. Rushed.)

Those two words are the death blows of a book. You never want it rushed and certainly not boring. The review drops me to the mat. My girlfriend tries to catch me. She tries to match up what her sister says with points in the story, trying to triage the damage. But each wound she finds has already compromised another vital part. Each filled out answer is like a referee counting me out. I take a day to process the information.

My girlfriend comes in and sees I have spread all my material across the table, a huge six by four folding table my dad and I built. My storyboard, my plot graph, my reference material, and the pictures of the main characters, only one item is missing from the table: the manuscript. When I looked at it I saw that fight, that boxing match. On it was my blood and sweat from five years of working on it. But it failed me. Each blow I took not just from the beta readers, but from all those before I had given a portion or section of the book to and they failed to read it, compounded into a devastation defeat. I was going to miss my deadline. Even if I spent every waking moment revising and restructuring the story, I would not make it.

In boxing, a Standing Eight Count, is a rule in place to give a boxer a moment to collect themselves before continuing. It doesn’t matter if you get up the moment you drop, or take a knee and rest for a moment, you have to wait eight seconds. Those eight seconds would put me pass the deadline. At 5,000 words a day it would be possible to at least get it done by mid December but with an editor taking two to four weeks, Christmas was impossible. For context, 5,000 words a day is twice the rate of Steven King who has a lifetime of experience. This is my first novel.

So I took those gloves, that manuscript, and hung them up. It’s done. I zipped the file and sent it to my backup drive. I put the paper copies in a box and carried it down to the storage unit. David Mamet, a playwright, said you can’t get good at writing unless you are willing to create something, put it out there, and fail. And fail I did.

I gave myself a week to come to terms with that failure. And to be honest with you, I still haven’t, not entirely. But that’s for another entry and maybe I’ll post it for you. After that week I stripped my backboard of all my notes and started with a single note card: Act-1 Scene-1. I started from the beginning with no strings attached to the past. I gathered up all my old notes and put them in a box and dropped it right beside the manuscript. I adopted a whole new style to writing, from plot gardening to character creating to prose styling. Like moving to a new gym, I started fresh with no connection to the old form. And it’s worked out.

I have written better and faster than ever before. I covered more in three weeks than I had the whole year. My characters can breathe, they react more naturally, the story flows more naturally. I cannot give you a deadline because I do not have one. What I can tell you is I plan on not only publishing it in 2019 but a second book as well. And that is just the start. With this new approach I have the ground work for several more books, including romance, drama, sci-fi. I can promise you they will be written and published. As long as I stick to this new “training regimen”. So stay tune readers, I may have lost the first fight but I’ll be back in the ring soon with stronger and tighter book.

Take care!

Reached the Summit

Hello readers!

I have some wonderful news, but first an apology. I am sorry for the long gap in posting. I know I said I would be posting more frequently after I decided to make this my career, however I had to adjust that.

Firstly, I was spending a lot of time writing and editing the post. I would sit in front of my computer at my website’s dashboard, trying to think of a good topic. I would come up with a few rough ideas, draft a post for each then see which felt right. Once I had settled on one I would edit and add to the draft. All this took time, time away from writing The Edge of Snow and Dust. Secondarily, I was writing just so you the readers had something to keep you interested in the website. I felt that should not have been the case. I already promised myself I would not be one of those Youtube streamers with the list videos: “10 characters that should be in your novel,” “20 things I wish I did differently” etc. I understand why they do it. While you are watching their videos they are establishing a connection which they hope translate into a sale when they publish their book. Something about it felt off, so instead I just did not post. I did something radical: I rewrote the whole thing!

During my last couple of posts, I was editing the tenth version of my story but it still did not feel write. First off, I was using outdated software to write which was slow and constantly disrupted my flow. Then after upgrading, I struggled to find the right environment. When should I write, should I have music in the background, should it be after dinner or before breakfast. And that is not even focusing on how to write. So after taking a week off to reset, I sat down and started back at the prologue. Line by line, story-point by story-point I tore down what was there and rebuilt it. Character names changed, backgrounds were tightened up, locations shifted, the world itself was rebuilt with a history that was clear to me. There was not a single sentence that I did not examine, not a single paragraph that was not altered.

So with that said, I have some great news: IT’S DONE!

I finished my manuscript after rebuilding it practically from scratch. At the moment it is 381 paperback pages (if I did my formatting right) with over twenty characters spanning twenty-five chapters. All of it reforged till what was before me was my best. Now it is time for the busy work. I have entered the “Beta Stage” of publishing a first novel. That entails gathering together a group of readers and presenting them with my manuscript, and see how they feel. They will give me feedback into how they feel with characters, how lost they were with particular scenes, and the general emotional state they find themselves in. With that feedback I check it against what I want them to feel, to know, to see. I could have an idea for a character, put him on paper, and feel the audience will resonate with them. However my beta readers could look at the same character and see the confidence as arrogant and reject them, which could have long reaching consequences for the rest of the novel.

Therefore I am asking for dedicated readers willing to read my novel and give me the critical feedback I need. I would send them portions of the story, three chapters or four at a time, and receive notes after each portion. That way the raw emotions and important questions will still be fresh in their mind. Then after they’ve finished I’ll send it off to an editor for a final line-edit then off to the printers! All those who give me feedback from start to finish will receive a signed copy of The Edge of Snow and Dust, and a mention in the acknowledgement page. So please, message me either on my Facebook page (where I usually post these links) or here, and we can work together to make The Edge of Snow and Dust a success.

Thanks and take care!

A Brisk Pace

Hello readers!

Sorry for the gap between this post and the last. Life created a bit of a traffic jam this month. Life has become so busy that I have turned to writing The Edge of Snow and Dust late at night, something I used to do after night shifts at the movie theater.

Speaking of being busy and having to keep leaping from one thing to another, I wanted to talk about pacing today. Pacing in storytelling is the flow of information given to the reader. Depending on the genre, be it horror, action, or romance, the pace can be slow and methodical or frantic and exciting. The key is to find a pace that keeps the reader engaged but not so confused or bored as to be taken out of the story. The reader should never feel the passage of time. Movies have the same challenge. I will use one movie with two different cuts to illustrate good pacing from meandering pacing. The 1986 Theatrical Cut of Aliens, directed by James Cameron, and its 1991 Special Edition cut.

Aliens is a fantastic movie, one whose legacy is an ever-expanding franchise with a film just released last year. It is an action movie’s take on its predecessor’s horror. I remembered when I was a teenager watching it on VHS over and over again. The film only has two great action set pieces: the Colonial Marines first encounter with the xenomorphs and Ripley’s rescue of newt, and I loved them both. A quick note – an action set piece is action with multiple scenes and points of view. It tends to be longer than an action scene, which usually occupies one location and seen from one point of view. By today’s standard, two exciting set pieces is considered too few to be an action film. Today action movies are categorized by having so much going on on-screen that you forget what the hell the plot is. With cities and even planets exploding across a gigantic theater screen and the bass so thick it reverberates in your chest, you would think the audience would be wide-eyed and attentive. If you were to turn around and face the audience, you would see a field of boredom. A lot of that boredom can be linked to pacing.

The Special Edition cut is 14 minutes longer than the Theatrical Cut. The extra 14 minutes include additional background on the main character, shows what starts the conflict of the movie, and two extra action scenes. The background scene is Ellen Ripley finds out her daughter passed away while she was in cryosleep. The scene starting the conflict is Newt’s family finding the derelict ship. Both of these are at the beginning of the film. When I first watch the Special Edition, I was surprised the two scenes were cut from the film. They filled out the story, gave the audience more information. It even shows the catalyst that leads to the great action.  How could giving the audience more hurt the story? Answer: pacing.

The Special Edition starts out at a slow pace so the audience can settle into the world in which the story takes place, just like the Theatrical Cut. The additional information does not build more of the world it slows down the “river” to a crawl. It stretches the movie to the point that the first xenomorph is not seen until the 1:14 mark. Sure there is a facehugger when Newt’s family finds the ship at the 20-minute mark, but that excitement actually upsets the pacing. The audience watches a working family of four head to the derelict ship just outside their colony on planet LV-426. If the audience saw the first movie, they know what’s in store, if they had not then the pacing of the scene would build the suspense.  The family’s off-road vehicle crawls along the desolate ground, letting the suspense build as they come upon the ship. The parents head into the ship; the music is mysterious and low. Then a jump cut to show the passage of time. Then, boom! Facehugger, fear! A clash of building music, roaring wind, and a shrieking girl. The audience is ready for the pace to pick up, the story to gain speed. Time to get to the planet, get to where the action is.

Not so fast. After the exciting and terrifying facehugger scene, the audience has to sit for another 45 minutes, almost an hour before the first action set piece. The elevation then sudden braking of pace kicks the audience out of the experience and makes the movie’s length known.

The Theatrical Cut does not have the facehugger scene. The audience instead finds out contact with the colony has been lost with no explanation. Ripley joins the marines sent to investigate. The military routine of the Colonial Marines’ briefing and preparation to deploy to the colony cranks up the pace and suspense in a more natural way. Their by-the-numbers search and clearing of the colony builds up the suspense just like the facehugger scene. Only now they have to wait 15 minutes instead of the original 45 for the first action set piece. And that action hits at precisely 1 hour. If this were a streaming show, the audience binge-watching the series would reward them with excitement at the very start of episode 2. Perfect!

A movie, or any story for that matter, should move at such a pace that by the time you reach the end you are shocked at the passage of time and yet are satisfied with what it gave you. You should never feel the tug to check your phone, think about what chore you have to tackle when the story ends, or look around upset that the story you were ready to invest in is already over.

What story did you get caught up in that time flew by? That by the time the story finished you were stunned how much time had passed? Leave a comment below; I would love to discover these stories which had mastered the art of pacing.

Take care!

Progress Report

Hello readers! It has been six months since my website went up and the announcement I was writing The Edge of Snow and Dust. Six months of a lot of hard work with an immense amount of time researching the field of storytelling and writing. I figured then I should show you how far I’ve come.

Currently I am at 131,130 words, that spans over twenty-two chapters so far. Just as a reference, the Harry Potter series averaged about 154,000 words. So you know you will be getting the most about of bang for your buck. Now as a manuscript 131,000 words equals about 496 pages. Formatted for ebook, the primary way the book will be sold, it becomes about 211 pages. I will also have hardcovers for those looking to have something more tangible.

You can see the manuscript is a little more than twice the size of the ebook.  A few people I have talked to have asked what exactly is a manuscript and why it is so much bigger than the final novel? A manuscript is the “I’m almost done” part of writing. It is after you have finished developing your characters, describing the settings, and plotting out the story. Unless your editor believes there should be some radical change, it is done. The reason the manuscript is double size is because it is double spaced. It needs to be so that editor can have room to make comments and corrections, as well as make it much easier to reread sections without getting lost moving from one line to the next. I primary write using single space until I feel the chapter is done. Then as a marker, as another line in the sand if you read my last post, signaling I am one step closer to finishing the novel.

I get questions about too about the chapters. How do you know how many chapters it should be? Truth is I don’t, not really. Yes, chapters are more or less scenes in a movie. When a scene has run its course and pushed the story far enough along it ends and another begins. Each scene had could be the mark for another chapter. However another mindset is to have multiple scenes within a chapter. There is no set rule. I personally write until a feeling or an idea is finished. That means it could take just a single scene or a series of them for that feeling to work itself out. When a new one starts to surface, that’s when I jump to the next chapter.

The final question I get is: when will it be done? Last winter was my deadline and in a superficial way I made it. The story was finished. There was a beginning, a middle, and an end. It was not however, complete. There were emotions that I was only able to touched on, thrills not quite used to their fullest. I kept feeling this hook tug at me during my final reread before moving on to publishing. It was a signal there was more meat on the bone.

The answer is soon. I know it is abstract but it is the truth. I have purchased new software which is allowing me to work quicker. I have arranged a schedule that’s allowing me to get the most out of the day. This is now my full-time job. Eight hours a day writing and editing. And I can see that finish line. I wanted you, readers, who have journeyed with me this far to have some hard numbers to see how far we’ve come. It has been an exhilarating six months doing something I am passionate about. I hope you will join me as see that passion payoff.

Take care!

 

The Mindset of Five Percent

Hello readers! It has been ten days since I decided to make writing my chosen profession. And today I am happy to announce I have entered the 5% of the 5% of the 5%. No, that is not regarding my financial security (I wish), it is a threshold you draw in the sand and stomp across, a threshold not just in writing but the pursuit of any goal.

I first learned of this five percent mindset about a month ago. I came across an article at work during lunch while scouring the net for a lighthouse on a hill. You see, I had heard for the fiftieth time “you know, a lot of people try to become authors.” I took the first forty-nine times silently, or at the most with a joke, to hide how equal parts infuriating and baffling the warning was. Did each person that told me that really think they were the first? Why would it be necessary to tell someone whose pursuing a dream, how many have traveled the same road and fallen by the wayside? Has anyone ever said, “you know, a lot of people try to work their whole lives in a cubicle so those above them may live a life of luxury”? I sure haven’t.

I knew any argument based on emotion would persuade no one. Despite the fact that what drives anyone towards a far-reaching dream is precisely that: emotion. I could say staring at my monitor for eight hours left me feeling no more satisfied than the previous thirty-two that week. I could tell them having the executives, who had the power to decide my fate at the company and in effect my entire life, not know my name made me feel less of a human than a cog in a machine.

I could tell them that writing a book meant every single person that read it would see my name below the title. That among the seven billion people on the planet, my name was known by someone, that they had made an effort to learn my name. Knowing such to be true would set my soul ablaze and make me write five more novels, no ten! Such a goal is worth putting in forty, sixty, eighty hours a week. A dream like that should be encouraged and celebrated. Right? Right?!

That’s all emotional though, that cannot be the foundation for my counter-argument. Instead, I perused the net for some statistic, some tangible proof that there were more successful writers than not. That is when I came across a great article by Kristin Lamb. (http://authorkristenlamb.com/2014/12/what-are-the-real-odds-of-being-a-successful-author/)

The article did not have any of the hard numbers I was looking for: salaries, number of successful writers, number of best-selling fantasy novels, etc. It instead had a soft number that hit me like a sledgehammer,

5%

5% were those who crossed every barrier towards success in any worthwhile goal. For myself as a writer, I reached the five percent mark by writing my first word. Not the first word of The Edge of Snow and Dust, but the first word of any creative writing. Because 95% of those who say they want to be an author never write that first word. I crossed another by writing a chapter, then another finishing my first draft, then another barrier by shredding my first draft with the savageness any editor would have. Then a month later another line and then another a week from that one, I leaped past another.

That powerful single-digit number wiped out every argument against pursuing my dream. “you know, a lot of people try to become authors” – but only 5% ever start. “A lot of people try to get published” – but only 5% research the proper format to submit it. That fiftieth person tried with the mindset of cubicles and monitors and executives to caution me against flying towards the sun. Each barrier they saw, each obstacle they were worried I never conquer; I told them that’s when 95% give up, I am the 5% that’s left.

A million people can try to become a writer, a singer, a performer, a professional athlete. But only 5% will even attempt to.

You do, you are now part of 50,000. Hmm, that is still a lot. But you spend months on researching story structure, music scales, method acting, the proper training regimes.

You’re part of 2,500. That’s good; we can do better. You find writing groups and coaches. You expose yourself, make an attempt, and you take every bit of criticism with an iron chin. You make adjustments, you reflect on yourself honestly. You do what only 5% do: you push forward.

125. You can break past that Top-100 barrier. Let’s run through it again. Write till that pencil snaps, sing till the rapports rattle, pour your soul into your video, sweat, bleed, work, focus!

SIX! You, me, us – we are one of six! Now do the math, and you’ll realize there are no more barriers. Only the exhilarating feeling when a stranger knows your name from a book in their hand, of seeing your song up on iTunes, watching the trailer for your movie, hearing the crowd screaming as you take the field.

5% . . . tomorrow I’ll push to that next 5%.

Leave a comment, a pledge on a goal you want to reach and the 5% barrier you have encountered and how you are going to push past it.

Take care!

The Path Askewed? No, The Stars Aligning

Hello Readers!

My first post of 2018 and a declaration for the year, for the future. The past month or so I had been diving deep into my craft. Reading books, studying articles on writing and storytelling, and watching breakdowns of movies. I was then distilling all those sources of information into a concentrated potion, drinking it up, and applying all I learned to craft the next revision more refined than before. Then last week . . .

I get laid off.

More than a decade of my life, slamming to an ear piercing halt. From my first day, where a lovely woman helped me settle into my first career job, I worked eight to five, Monday through Friday. I worked as a CAD Associate, creating and managing drawings of varies malls around the country. I worked under the same supervisor whom from the start I called Boss as a sign of great respect, not of his position but his person. He made my jump into the world of careers and corporate life manageable while I heard horror stories from friends and families about their superiors.

The irony came when I learned how many of us supposedly laid off: five percent.

5% was going to be the name of my next post as I talked about what it took to achieve anything you have a passion for. That theory, that way of viewing a goal, became a silver shield that protected me from the typhoon of emotions surrounding me. Those thrown out beside me were drowning in their tears or leaking fires of raging fury. A crisis consoler waited quietly in the small warm lighted conference room to attend to anyone falling off their mental edge. A security contractor wandered the floor like a medieval guard to stop anyone from losing more than just a job. The coworkers that remained, my friends, were hugging each other for comfort at my departing.

Yet a small smile rested comfortably on my face as I packed up my belongings, in a silly plastic bag from the local grocer because I refused to mimic that image of a person’s life at work reduced to a stored away box. Everyone kept commenting how well I was taking it, how composed I was. I gave the cliché answers to their cliché comments and questions. When finished I said goodbye to that lovely woman the first greeted me when I started my job, Laurene. I shook Andy’s, check that, Boss’s, hand firmly thanking him not just for the job but for helping me through example become a better man. Then quietly I walked out, no racing heart, no sweaty brow, no rage in my step, no slump in my shoulders.

Then a few days later a friend of the family, upon hearing my lay off, gave me one more cliché comment, “when one door closes another window opens.” I scuffed at the tired parable and allowed the world to truly hear my thoughts since receiving that indifference, passionless, termination letter and said: “I don’t care what window they open, I’m kicking down the damn door I want.” He and my father were taken aback, laughing nervously at the determined answer.

The stars have aligned reader, for me to put in one hundred percent of my effort into this book, into this series. I can now concentrate without some other human being telling me I need to stop everything and help make another man, I have never met, a fortune, while I watch slipping away a chance to be alive. I will be able to post here more often. I will be able to dive into the zone, drop down into the world I am creating and write until the pencil breaks or the keys on my keyboard crack under my pressure.

So bookmark this page, snap a screenshot on your phone as I continue on this journey to publishing my novel and making a career out of storytelling.

A Glimpse of The Edge

Hello readers!Scribe

Last week I told you I was going to hold off on the publication of The Edge of Snow and Dust until I felt it was the best I could offer. I also explained I was going to release either the Prologue for The Edge of Snow and Dust or the book cover. Thinking about it over the weekend, I concluded the Prologue was the better choice. Anyone can create a great cover. We have all seen the movie posters and album covers out there. The dazzling images and colors draw us in, but it could be all flash and no substance. The opening scene to the movie, or the first track on the album, that can truly show you the passion behind the project. Click on the link below and enjoy the first glimpse into The Edge of Snow and Dust world!

https://rickeyjacksonjr.com/2017/12/08/prologue/

Take care and don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me what you think.

PROLOGUE

Fatal Sea - image 1

Breathe. Nothing chokes off muscles of their strength and the mind of its wit than fastened lungs. It’s what my father always taught me. Breathing can aid the heart, calm the mind, make you see the truth of the moment. Breathe while I curtsy in front of a handsome boy in the village. Breathe to stave off fatigue when grappling with a marauder in the Wasteland. Breathe when Lamont seals the deep gash in my side with the glowing red-hot tip of his blade. Breathe while I hide in terror behind this vile tree in this horrifying forest slowly devouring the world . . . Breathe.

My mask made of tough cloth swells and shrinks while I catch my breath. But I have to move. I can feel the Fatal Sea of Green’s eyes focusing on me. It has to know we are here. No matter how careful we’ve been or how well we’ve hidden, being in this place for this long; this forest has to know we’re here. We have traveled too far into the Sea in search of a relic from before Heaven’s Hail. The job was too good, the payoff too significant to not venture into this realm of vicious creatures and poisonous plants. And now that I’m here, waiting for Jolson’s signal, I can feel fear creeping up my spine like the claws of any predator here.

Breathe. I lean out from cover and can barely see my partner. He is crouched very low to the ground, behind the shadow of another twisted, corrupted, fungus covered tree. I slowly try to refill my lungs with my hand resting on the squishy moss enveloping this tree wider than I am tall. My hand suddenly sinks into the moss, and I jerk away in horror, suppressing the urge to shout and give away my position to the giant spider lurking nearby. I stare into the sinking hole in the moss, thankful it lacks the strength to keep me. With the fear dancing through my skin, I remember we already lost someone to such a trap. She had hidden from a pack of creatures when her arm and shoulder sunk into the moss. The moss fastened her to the tree, making it easy for the pack to tear her apart. Was it sheer luck the moss on this tree lacked the determination of the one that got her killed? Or does the Fatal Sea have a different punishment for me venturing in so far? I blink away the question; I have to focus.

Through a small beam of light in the forest canopy, I spot Jolson as he sprints for cover as silent as a desert fox. That seems to be the way to move. Another one of us met an end trying to fight the Fatal Sea with strength rather than cunning. We last saw him facing off against a sea savage. Jolson and I chose that opportunity to make a run for it. It doesn’t matter if your armor is infused with arcana or how big your war-ax. No one is a match for a sea savage, especially here in its domain. He, at the most, bought us a minute or so, which we’re wasting on this razor-leg spider. Stupid. Remembering another lost comrade, I pull my eyes down from the green sky of the forest and spot Jolson’s signal.

Breathe. I rush out while the razor-leg is distracted. I try to find the balance between hurrying out in the open between these two massive trees and minimizing the sound of each stride. My worn boots press prints into the moist but stable soil and kick up very little blue-green spores. The lack of sea snow is obviously the reason Jolson picked this path to get by this tall-as-a-house spider.

Halfway, I hear it hiss, and my heart pauses a beat as I look over at the spider. I notice one of its legs cut at the joint, no doubt someone else ran into this thing. How long did they survive before they were cut down by its seven other legs? It side-steps closer to me, forcing me more towards hurrying than hiding my presence. Just a couple more heartbeats away, I hear two more stomps and anticipate its gaze falling on me. I take one more wide step, lowering myself as far as I can, hoping not to silhouette myself. I plant my good foot just at the roots of the tree and pivot off it, spinning around until my back is against the squishy bark. The momentum swings my sights over my left shoulder as it bumps into something.

I inhale sharply and slam my eyes shut as one of the pods clinging to the tree explodes, showering me and everything else in its blue-green snow. My muscles tighten, my head shakes with the strain. This is it, the Sea’s punishment! I slowly open my eyes and realize my mask is still on and exhale the tension in my muscles.

A tear of fear pools inside my goggles. I had already suffered from inhaling sea snow, back when I was a child. The little bit I inhaled of the poisonous spores hardened parts of my lungs. It is because of my weakened lungs we’re hiding and not running. I was already struggling to catch my breath after fleeing the sea savage, and now my ribs feel like they’re crushing my lungs. A long sprint? Hmph! I would never make it if this monster saw us.

Jolson knew that, and that was why he was mapping our path out of here. I hear his hurried muffled claps to reach his position. I readjust my goggles, wipe away some of the spores from my mask and center myself. This job isn’t my first dance in the Fatal Sea’s snow. I must settle my nerves and . . .

Breathe. Against my lungs’ wishes, I try to rush to the next tree. I look down at my feet, making sure to leap over a thick fallen branch and miss a divot in the ground. The quick clicking of the razor-leg draws my eyes away from the dark soil again; the massive spider has finally closed in on something. I see it dipping its head, lowering its body between its seven and a half legs, down to something small. Good, something else can feel its blades.

I then feel the ground below me change in texture. As I lift my feet, the ground seems to come up with me. Damn it! I strayed away from Jolson’s path. The razor-leg came this way; its sticky web is on the forest floor. The floor anchors me while my momentum carries me. I fall and try to brace myself, but a boulder meets my ribs first. My thick, leather plated, coat of armor protects me from the rock’s sharp edge but does nothing for the jolting impact against the unforgiving object. The blow knocks the wind out of me. With what little lung capacity I have, I desperately try to suck back in the air I lost.

But the air rushed out of my mouth in the form of a painful holler and had called the razor-leg over, the sea snow flying up around me signaling my position. It turns to me, its legs cutting through the forest’s vines and branches with ease to get to me. I try to get up but my muscles lag behind without oxygen in my lungs, and I can’t break free of the webbing. Pinned behind my back is my sword-arm, so using my left hand I first reach for my helmet’s strap to free my head from the sticky soil and try to draw in more air. I quickly reach for my hip and draw the thin sword we came to recover. I cut what threads I can but my swings are slow, and the sword catches one of the thick, gummy strings.

I look up and see Jolson rushing out behind cover for me. I inhale a bit more air in a frightful gasp when I catch him plant his foot at the edge of a tree’s shadow. His toe rides the line between light and dark, and he stops so abruptly his momentum makes him stand on one leg at the very edge of darkness. Quickly getting low to the ground again, he risks exposure by stretching a hand out into the light.

“Jackie, throw it! Quick!” I hear him shout in the shadows. He wants me to throw away the only thing I have to defend myself: the prize we took from this place. I struggle to get to my knees; the sticky webbing desperately tries to keep me grounded. I’m able to barely free the sword and attack the webbing with small swings of the refined blade. One good swing frees me from several silk arms, but the blade continues and cuts deep into my shoulder. I feel a shockwave of pain down my arm before it all goes numb. No time to attend to that now, but the tradeoff is worth it as I’m able to free my shoulders enough to sit on my knees and look over at Jolson. He leans out of the shadows, his eyes hidden behind his goggles as they reflect the canopy light, an arm extended not for me, but this weapon. With the last of the air in my lungs, I shout as I hurl it at him. “Keane Village!” I remind him the prize’s destination. The blade disappears into the shadows, and suddenly Jolson is gone. I am all alone. The razor-leg monster stands over me. I’m enveloped in its darkness as I slam my eyes shut. My ears can hear the whistling of its arm swinging through the air. I try to brace myself.

Breathe.

One Chance To Get It Right

ScribeIt has been over a month since my last post. Life as it has a tendency to do, ramped up, with special occasions, urgent tasks, and everything in between popping up, demanding my attention. Between all those events and moments, I had been working hard on The Edge of Snow and Dust. I danced with the deadline of early December to release the book, sometimes I was ahead of it and other times a step or two behind it. I wanted to release it in time for the holidays.

However I have to have absolute faith that they are getting the very best for their money. That a gift given in love has the same amount of care as a hand cut gem for those earrings or the research and depth put into electronic devices packed with countless lines of code. At the end of November, or yesterday, I looked over my work and saw it had not gotten there . . . yet. I could see parts that could be tightened, or a scene that could be expanded on to tap deep into the reader’s emotions.

 

Therefore I took my pride in hand and pinned it to the pages. To save face I could have used this post to reveal my book cover, which I was fortunate enough to have created with a quality look without breaking me. And then from there hype up the book and hope the hype outdid its quality: the image of something outshining its reality. There are movies that trick you into theaters, albums that call into question the artist’s often spoken passion, and games that lack the depth promised. I see deception evident in the world today and refused to be a part of it. We see it and hear it around us, pride casting shade on the actual effort they put into something we eagerly paid for. Truth so skewed that we do not know what it’s definition is anymore.

I will speak that hard truth: The Edge of Snow and Dust, is not ready. It will be ready sometime soon, for I feel it is worth doing. And anything worth doing is worth overdoing. When I say countless hours of passion went into this story, you will feel it. When I say getting it right matters more than being right, you will see it. But I will not leave you completely empty-handed, wondering when or even if a novel will be published. Next week I will reveal the cover to my book or the finished prologue. Over the weekend, I finalize my roadmap and confirm which will be first.

This post was hard, and I hope you can empathize with what I want to accomplish. Every night when I thought about what was on my plate for the next day, I would see the date counting up to this post and had to restrain the urge to rush my writing. Then the next morning I would read what I wrote and could feel the characters telling me to give them that one devoted chance to tell their story. I hope you will continue to journey with me down this path even if it got a little longer.