28 June 2015

I Didn't Know to Dream This

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Gather at the River, a two-day choral conference put together by the New Hampshire and Vermont chapters of the ACDA. It was held at Dartmouth College, in the lovely little town of Hanover, NH. You can visit the link above to see the rundown of the things we did during those two days, but it was basically workshops, learning, and singing with dozens of choral directors and choir members from VT, NH, and MA. Friday night there was a more formal concert where three groups (including the Concord Chorale, my current musical family) performed for the public. On Saturday evening, we held an informal concert where we performed for each other to showcase the pieces we had learned over two days in three small chamber groups, as well as the whole group performance of the Duruflé Requiem under our guest conductor, Dr. Joe Miller of Westminster Choir College. It was an overall wonderful, enlightening experience.

During his keynote speech at the start of the conference, Dr. Miller talked about how his love of music and choral singing developed in a non-musical football family. Now that he's teaching at the Westminster Choir College, he said someone once asked if it was his dream job, and his response was, "I didn't know to dream this."

I didn't know to dream this.

Those words stuck with me. I find myself feeling similarly about certain things in my own life at times. I'm the type of person who likes to daydream about the best outcomes while acknowledging the possibility for the worst and knowing the reality will fall somewhere along that infinite spectrum. I generally try not to have too many big expectations about things. I go with the flow. And the result has been that sometimes the best outcomes are things I hadn't even imagined on the spectrum of possibility.

In high school. I attended a young writer's workshop for a few weeks one summer. The feeling of being among other young writers who loved this thing that I also loved, and who enjoyed learning and practicing and sharing our craft together the way we did there, had been something that, before I experienced it, I wouldn't have imagined possible. The same thing happened with this choral conference. I had never been to anything like it, and it exceeded what I could have hoped for. I had that same feeling of being a big old nerd finding the mother ship of other music nerds who just really love music and singing and learning about both of those. In a few short weeks I'll be attending the Romance Writers of America annual conference, and while I'm trying to do the whole "no expectations" thing, it won't surprise me to be overcome by the same sense of nerdy joy when I find myself surrounded by hundreds of other writers who want to geek out over writing and the same things that I love.

Going back to the idea of a dream job or profession, where I am right now in life is also a place I wouldn't have thought to dream. Nailing down what I "want to be" into a clear path and career goal was always something that filled me with dread and uncertainty. I just didn't know. I still don't know. I knew that I loved a lot of different things in different ways. I was lucky to find a college major at a school where I could combine a lot of different passions into one thing. But, as you can probably guess, that didn't translate to a clear, successful career path once I graduated. (Don't get me wrong, I don't regret my major or my degree one little bit. I loved every minute of my experience. It made me happy.) After fumbling around in retail for eight years trying to find the right company, the right position, the right place where I fit and could use my skills and love of fashion and do something I enjoyed without coming to hate it after a a year or two, I quit. I gave it up and turned toward some of the other interests I had. It was clear that this one passion wasn't enough to fulfill me.

If you had asked me at any point in my life, even right up until the start of this year, if I thought I could be happy doing three different jobs at once, I probably would've told you that that sounded miserable. And on the surface, plenty of people might agree that working three jobs is just nuts. But it's where I am, and I love it.

Earlier this year I started working as a speech and language annotator. It can feel a bit tedious at times because it's a lot of staring at the computer screen and clicking the mouse, but there's something about it that satisfies my love of language and the analytical part of my brain. I never even knew such a position existed until I was approached by a recruiter who found me based on my freelance transcription business.

I'm an author. I write and publish novels and short stories featuring the drama, humor, sexiness, heartbreak, and joy of relationships. I've also written some erotic scripts for a startup company bringing innovation to erotica.

My third job is my newest, and it's as a freelance copyeditor at Mistress Editing. After writing the romance and the sex and all that awesome stuff in my own stories and having friends ask me for help with theirs over the years, this seemed like the logical next step.

These three things together are how I'm currently making my living, and having a blast doing it. I now have the time to commit to rehearsals and performances with a community choir, which I wasn't able to do when I was working retail. I still love fashion, but my retail career made me miserable. Maybe sometime soon I'll be able to make the time and the space to do some fashion design sketches or start sewing at home again, for the love of it. Fashion, music, and writing. My three biggest passions. I never thought they could all coexist in my life and that I could also have a satisfying job(s) that paid actual money.

I guess my overall point is this: Dream your dreams, but keep your eyes open. Don't let expectations or even dreams blind you to potential opportunities that may just having you saying I didn't know to dream this.

21 April 2015

New Release! DARK LIGHT by Richard Pieters

Dark Light
Richard Pieters

Storm clouds have stalled over the sweltering, riverside town of Avebury, Ohio and something dark and deadly is spreading when Carter Collins returns home. His quiet hometown is falling under the sway of an evangelist whose form of salvation is anything but holy. Those opposing the "way of the righteous" are silenced. Carter's father tried and had a stroke. Or was it?

The town protects an ancient mystery. Otherworldly forces want control. The Reverend may be a Trojan horse. With only a few days and the shadows closing in, Carter must uncover the real reason he's come home, discover the town's secret, and take his place leading the resistance to this invasion. The cost to secure what the town has guarded will be high. Not all may survive. But the cost of failure would be much higher, plunging the earth into a new age of darkness. 

(This story may scare you, make you laugh or shed a tear, but it will keep you turning the pages.)


Something dark and deadly is spreading in Avebury, Ohio since a new evangelist came to town with his unholy form of salvation. Carter Collins returns home after his father's stroke. Or was it? Those opposing the Reverend's "way of the righteous" are being silenced. But the town holds a secret, something evil otherworldy forces want to control.  Carter must unravel the real reason he's been brought home and find his place as leader of the resistance to this invasion. The cost may be high, might demand great sacrifice, but failure might cost the life-force of the planet itself.


Stalk HIM

Writer, musician, singer/songwriter, actor, hippie, media ad exec, business owner, Realtor. Not necessarily in that order. It's been a convoluted road.

I remember an idyllic childhood, which is odd, since my mother died when I was twelve and my father two years later. At fourteen, I'd lost both parents, and came back to the Ohio town of my birth, home also to my new mother (my dad had remarried.) She died nine years later.

Little wonder I took to performing, theater, movies, and books. Particularly to stories about death in one way or another.

My father was a Presbyterian minister who believed the Bible told interpretative stories, attempts to understand and draw lessons from the unfathomable, not to be taken literally. My stepmother, a highly intuitive person, read Yogananda. My questioning began early.

I studied creative writing as an English major in college. I was a terrible student. Beyond required short stories and college-kid poetry, most of my writing was songwriting. In those days, the age of the folk movement and protest songs, I believed the "new consciousness" emerging in my generation could change the world. The more I learned of spiritual, mystical teachings, the less I could know to be true. I questioned everything. I still do.

I returned to California as a singer-songwriter, then became involved with a theater troupe, performing in theaters, on the beach, and in the streets. Guerilla theater. Off-Broadway. Exciting, creative work, but reality set in.

Exhausted with the starving artist's life, I went to work in industrial design, then in advertising, in broadcast sales. All the while, I studied and practiced the craft of writing, never expecting to make a living as a writer. Now, at a ripened age, I've reached a place where I don't give a damn. I'm free of that fear.

I am a gay man, a fact I didn't come to terms with until my early thirties. Once I owned it, it was a wonderful opening. I did enjoy a short stint as a wild boy living the West Hollywood high life in the days prior to AIDS. Luckily, I met my partner of thirty-eight years, and we no doubt saved each other's lives at a time when many friends were dying around us.

Eventually, we left LA and the media business and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we had our own business. There, I dived into my writing, journaling and writing short stories, and finally embarked on novel writing.

We left Santa Fe after five years. I'm now back, again, where it all started. Oddly, while in New Mexico, I was compelled to set the novel in Ohio, in a town not dissimilar from the one of my birth and my high school and college years. As the opening of Dark Light says, referring to Thomas Wolfe's famous line, maybe you can't go home again, and then, maybe, sometimes you have no choice.

27 February 2015

Nuances of Punctuating Dialogue: Em-Dash vs Ellipsis

This is a fairly specific post about punctuating dialogue. If you're unsure on the basics of where commas and other punctuation go in relation to quotation marks, dialogue tags, and action beats, this post won't answer those questions. Sorry! Perhaps that's something I can touch on later. What I want to cover today is how two specific punctuation marks, the em-dash and the ellpisis, can change the feeling of your dialogue. If you're writing a romantic or sexy scene, this is an important distinction that can really alter a scene.

Ellipses in dialogue

An ellipsis serves many purposes. In academic writing, you probably know it as the symbol you use when you've omitted part of a quote. It can serve a similar purpose in dialogue, and it can also be used to indicate trailing off. When would an ellipsis work well in dialogue?
  • When a character pauses mid-sentence and then resumes speaking, but along a different train of thought. "It's not that I don't want ... He's forgotten me by now, I'm sure."
  • If a character's voice fades out or trails off at the end of their dialogue, regardless of whether they finish the thought. "You know that's not true ..."
  • To indicate an elongated pause in speech. "I just wanted to say ... I love you."
Be careful not to overuse ellipses in your dialogue, though. It can make a character seem uncertain, hesitant, or reluctant. If you met someone who always ... took long pauses ... and whose voice was always trailing off ... you would probably question their confidence, at the very least. Not to mention it can make your dialogue feel painfully slow to read.

Em-dashes in dialogue

An em-dash can also be used when a character's train of thought shifts from one thing to another in dialogue, but it's a much more abrupt change. I like to think of ellipses as softer and em-dashes as harder. An em-dash in dialogue shows a sudden change in topic or a sudden end to the speech. Use it in these types of situations:
  • When a character is interrupted by someone else's action or dialogue. "How could you—" She pressed a finger to my lips.
  • If a character stammers or abruptly changes direction in what they're saying. "No—I mean—yes, I did kiss—but you said I should do what I wanted."
  • When a character just suddenly stops speaking of their own accord. "I was only with him the one—" She closed her mouth, realizing she was only digging herself into a hole.
Again, beware of overuse. Where too many ellipses in your dialogue will feel sluggish, too many em-dashes will feel stilted and herky-jerky.

Here's a quick example of each from one of my erotic short stories, The Guest. Mateo and Gwen are married, but a flirty house guest is complicating things.
“Were you expecting David?”
“I wouldn’t have minded.” I froze the moment the words were out of my mouth. Stupid wine. “Not that I would ever—”
He silenced me with a kiss, his tongue forcing past my lips and drawing a moan from deep in my belly. “I like the way he looks at you.”
My cheeks grew hot. “He wasn’t looking at me any particular way.”
“Ah, mi preciosa... of course he was.”
How might the sentences with the ellipsis and em-dash feel different if the punctuation were reversed? How about if the punctuation was the more basic period and comma choices? When trying to convey your meaning to the reader, don't forget to consider more than just the words your characters say—look at how you punctuate those words, too.

12 January 2015

How I'm Using Crowdfunding to Attend a Writing Conference

Crowdfunding. Maybe you love it. Maybe you hate it. Maybe you don't know all that much about it. If you don't, it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like: people asking other people to help fund their project or cause. Some of the most popular sites for this are Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe. People ask for funds to help them create something tangible like a comic book or movie, or for help paying for things like large medical bills, or to help with living expenses after personal tragedies for family or friends. There are endless possibilities of what people will try to fund this way. Authors will often use crowdfunding to raise money to publish books, or for the smaller parts of production along the way, like cover art or editing. For me, I'm trying to fund my way to the Romance Writers of America annual conference this summer, which is being held in New York City. So let's talk about the logistics.

Know Your Platform

And no, I don't mean your author platform. I mean the site you plan to use for your crowdfunding campaign. Look at their terms and conditions, FAQs, and pricing. Browse other campaigns that might be similar to yours and see what the successful ones look like. Make sure the thing you want to fund is a good fit for the platform you choose. For example, Kickstarter only allows for campaigns that will produce a tangible product. A book, a film, a CD, etc. While I am working on another book to release this year, that's not what I want to fund (because I'm not sure on the timeline that I'll be able to get it done). So Kickstarter wasn't the place for me.

I knew of GoFundMe and Indiegogo, and when I asked the Twittersphere about platforms, a friend pointed me toward a new branch of Indiegogo called Indiegogo Life. So I started looking into those. I was somewhat familiar with the main Indiegogo platform already after helping promote and offering a perk for a friend's campaign a while ago. I have very little experience with GoFundMe other than always seemingly having trouble with text readability on my phone whenever I checked out someone else's campaign. (Random, I know, but sometimes those are the things that will tip you one way or another.)

There are a few different funding and campaign models you can use with these platforms. Indiegogo has both flexible (you keep whatever money you make) and fixed (you have to meet your goal to get the money) funding. You offer perks to people donating at certain levels. If you're funding a book, for example, an obvious perk would be to offer a copy of the book to people who donate. You could offer a digital copy at a lower donation threshold and a paperback copy at a higher donation level. But again, I'm not funding a physical product. GoFundMe and Indiegogo Life don't use the perk system for donations, and GoFundMe doesn't have deadlines.

Know Your Project

When you go to set up your campaign, make sure you've done your research about what things will cost and how much you will need. I researched registration and hotel rates on the RWA website, then found a friend who is planning on going to share a room with. That cuts my room expense in half. I researched different travel arrangements to get a range of prices. Make sure you don't just automatically go with the rock bottom option when it comes to pricing your project. My two options for transportation are coach bus or airplane. Could I potentially go even cheaper with a complicated network of passenger buses and trains? Maybe. But I would be miserable, it would take me twice as long, and it would mean additional time away from paying work outside of just the conference, and that's no good.

Conference registration opens on February 3rd, and I know from checking on past conferences that rooms and registration fill up quickly. Ideally I want to know whether I'll be able to financially make conference attendance a reality by mid-February to make sure that I can secure a room and that I don't leave my roommate hanging until the last minute. Know what your own timeline looks like for your campaign--when you need funds and/or when you need to deliver a finished product if that's what you're funding--and set a deadline for your campaign accordingly.

Know Your Platform (Again)

This time I do mean your author platform in addition to the crowdfunding platform. Take an honest look at your social networks, your friends and family, and any resources you'll have at your disposal to secure funding and to spread awareness for your campaign. How many of those people do you think will actually contribute to your campaign, and how much do you realistically expect you can count on? Are you setting your hopes on a big surge of public support from people you've never been in contact with but who heard of your campaign through some great word of mouth? Know yourself, too.

I'm a shy introvert who hates asking for help and feels super awkward about putting myself out there for something like this. So realistically, I'm not planning on slamming my social networks with this all day every day, asking people to share and spread the word. I can feel my blood pressure rising with anxiety just thinking about doing that. Besides, I don't have a huge platform. I don't have thousands of followers on social media, and I'm not a big-name author (yet). I feel confident that the majority of my benefactors will be friends and family who love me and want me to succeed. Perhaps there will be some friends-of-friends who donate, or random internet strangers, or even a kind reader who finds their way to my campaign through my links on Facebook or Twitter. But all of this factors into which platform I chose for my campaign.

I decided to go with Indiegogo Life for my crowdfunding campaign for a few different reasons. As I mentioned, Kickstarter was out from the beginning because I'm not asking for funds to produce a tangible product. Because I don't need a large amount of money in the many thousands of dollars range, and because I'm unsure of my ability to reach large numbers of people willing to donate aside from my closest friends and family, fees suddenly became the number one deciding factor in choosing a crowdfunding platform.

Both Indiegogo (the main site) and GoFundMe have platform fees on top of transaction fees. That means either increasing the amount of money I ask for or sucking it up and dealing with that 8 or 9% loss of funds once everything is said and done. With Indiegogo Life, there are no platform fees, only the 3% transaction fee to process payments. I set up a 60-day campaign where I will receive all funds donated (minus the 3%) and I don't have to worry about different fees based on whether I make my goal or not, or the dreaded possibility of coming within mere dollars of my goal, not making it by the deadline, and then not getting any of the money at all. That's what made the most sense for me, for this project. It may not make the most sense for you and your project, so always do your homework.

Why Crowdfunding?

I do mention this briefly in my campaign description, but I'm sure some of you may be wondering why I turned to crowdfunding to help me attending this conference. First of all, the RWA conference is something I think will be very beneficial to me on the business side of writing. That's why I want to go. Unfortunately, it's an expensive conference, and certain circumstances make it financially difficult for me to even think about attending without any assistance. That's why I'm crowdfunding.

My husband has a great job that has transferred us a few times over the past few years after he was promoted. The adventure of moving and experiencing new cities is really fantastic. Unfortunately, we have been unable to sell the condo that we moved out of the first time we moved... almost four years ago now. And because of complicated rules and regulations, we also could not rent the house to at least break even on what we were paying. So for nearly four years we've been paying the mortgage for a house we don't live in, as well as rent in our new locations. We accumulated a lot of credit card debt trying to make ends meet during this time and recently took out a loan to consolidate all of that into something more manageable. There isn't any room in the budget currently for the hefty price tag of the RWA conference. And even though my husband is asleep in the next room as I write this, I can pretty much feel his death glare at the thought of financing this business expense with our newly-cleared credit cards.

This conference is a business expense that I can write off on next year's taxes. But I still need to pay for it up front. It's a very first world problem to have, I know, which makes it even more difficult for me to ask for financial assistance to fund this experience in the first place. But I've already seen that several kindhearted friends are willing to give me a little boost, and as the saying goes, you never know if you don't try.

I have several friends who will be attending the conference this year who are everywhere on the spectrum from traditionally published to hybrid to 100% self-published. They will be coming from various places in the U.S., Canada, and even England. As the shy introvert I mentioned I am, having a handful of familiar faces in the midst of the huge conference will be a welcome lifeline, which is part of why I decided I wanted to go to RWA this year especially.

Make it Your Own

If you're an author looking to crowdfund a product or experience, do whatever you can to make your campaign your own. Personalize it. Post video updates of you dancing, if that's your thing. Offer unique perks if you're able to do so on the platform you choose. Have fun with it and see where it takes you.

And now here's the inevitable part where I ask you to look at my campaign page and see if you are able to donate to my fundraiser. I know not everyone can. If we were all in a place to donate money to causes we wanted to support... well, then none of us would really need to be supported by anyone else, I suppose, right? But if you can share the fundraiser on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else you think it will reach people, that signal boost can be just as beneficial and every bit as appreciated.

Even though Indiegogo Life doesn't use the perks method, I would still like to offer my backers a hand-written thank you, at the very least. I can also offer a digital copy of one of my books if you don't already have one. If you donate (or have already donated) to my fundraiser, please use the Contact button on the fundraiser page to drop me a line and give me a name and address for your thank you note.

Happy crowdfunding!

Have you run a successful crowdfunding campaign? What was your experience like?

02 January 2015

Compersion for the New Year

No, that's not a typo in the title. I did mean compersion and not compassion. I came across the term in some reading a few years ago (oh, the things you learn as a writer!) and it has stuck with me ever since because I think it fits a part of me that I never knew how to name. Compersion is a word coined by members of the Kerista Commune in the '70s, I believe, and it was used in the context of polyamory to describe the feelings of joy or happiness upon seeing one's partner(s) experiencing their own happiness. When you hear polyamory you might be tempted to zero in on romantic and sexual relationships. Of course, when speaking of polyamory and compersion together, that's going to be part of it. But this post isn't about polyamory. And no matter where the term originated, compersion doesn't necessarily have to be romantic or sexual in nature.

Photo by african_fi
Think about it. When someone else's happiness or joy causes you to feel your own happiness or joy. If you've never experienced it, maybe it doesn't make as much sense to you as it does to me. I think compersion is something I've experienced and expressed for as long as I can remember, in completely platonic ways. It's still something I feel to this day, in many circumstances. It's not quite the same thing as empathy, either. Empathy is when you can understand and identify with someone else's emotions, and perhaps experience them vicariously. But with compersion, it isn't that I'm identifying with someone else's happiness exactly. If a friend gets promoted at work, my empathy allows me to share in their excitement and identify with their happiness. If I experience compersion in that same scenario, what I'm feeling is my happiness. Does that make sense? Empathy and compersion can be experienced simultaneously, and they probably are quite often. I've only very recently (as in, just today) learned of the Buddhist concept/term mudita, which appears to be very close to what I mean when I say compersion. If you're familiar with that, perhaps that's a better framework to think of it. But since compersion is the term I've come to identify with, and I really know very little about mudita, I'll stick with compersion for now.

So anyway... why do I bring it up? Because in our society we often discourage talking about feeeelings past a certain age or beyond a certain scope that doesn't fit into predetermined stereotypes. You can "love" your friends, but you luuuurve your romantic partner (and by golly, you'd better only have one of those at a time, and you're always searching for The One who will show you that you obviously never really knew what love was!) and there's absolutely no in-between or crossover. Boys don't cry. Girls cry a lot. You're allowed to be angry, but not too angry! And so on and so forth, but most of all, nobody wants to really hear you talk about any of those feelings. And so when I experienced what I now identify as compersion at a younger age (and even still now) sometimes it led to feeling tremendously awkward and unsure. I never knew what to say or how to say it. I just knew that I would find myself in these moments of love and joy and happiness that centered around particular people. Friends, teachers, sometimes near strangers, family members. It might've been a simple smile, something small or large happening in their lives that brought them happiness, or even just their natural optimism on a particularly good day. It could be any or all of those things that triggered my own happiness in turn. And it can be potent, that happiness. But when you're a teen experiencing all sorts of complicated things, and no one ever stops and says "Hey, let's talk about happiness and touchy-feely emotional things," it's very easy to start wondering what the hell it is you're actually experiencing.

Growing up, I'd usually just keep my thoughts to myself, especially when they centered around feelings of compersion. Sometimes, though, it got to be too much, and words would just spill out of me. On paper, naturally, because that's how I've always chosen to express myself. (My shyness makes face to face expression of these things nearly unbearable.) So I'd write heartfelt thank you notes to teachers or friends. (Or I'd channel it into fiction if I couldn't bring myself to tell the actual person.) And I probably rambled a lot and tried to name specific things I appreciated about that person because it felt too weird to boil it all down to the simple truth: Your passion brings me joy. So I'd write the note, and I'd hand it over, and then I'd worry myself sick over how they might respond. I didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea about what I meant, because I was certain they would. It would be easy to interpret it as something other than what I'd intended. And I was so very afraid of looking stupid, or not being liked, and I would vow never to put myself out there that way again. And I wouldn't, for a while. But then the cycle would start over again.

My teen years went by like that. I'll be 32 this year, and somewhere along the line I really did stop taking the time to put myself out there and express to specific individuals how happy it made me to see their happiness. And if I did express it, it was in a much more careful and guarded way. I'm not sure why. I never did experience that Holy shit, you are such a creep, leave me alone response that I so feared. But I fear it still. Maybe even more now than when I was younger. I'd like to let my compersion be more readily visible again, though. Partially for purely selfish reasons. It just feels so damn nice to revel in that joy. But also because... well... maybe we all need more of it. Even if it's not a feeling you identify within yourself, imagine what it might be like if someone told you that the happiness you derive from the good things in life made them happy as well. Wouldn't that be pretty fucking fantastic? You didn't even have to bake them cookies or loan them money or cure a disease. Just being happy for something good within your own life was enough to make someone else smile. I think it would be pretty nice.

So to all my friends, family, acquaintances, and anyone I may come into contact with this year (and here's the real point of this post) I just want to say this: I'm not trying to be creepy, honest! Don't think me weird or strange or awkward (well, okay, I may very well be awkward) when I tell you how much I love the way you light up when you talk about something wonderful that you've experienced. I really do love seeing the passion you pour into your hobbies and the things you enjoy. That actor or artist you love. The new relationship that's making you walk without even touching the ground. The courage with which you face adversity. The rewards you reap from your hard work. Your book deal. That picture you drew. That kid you're raising. The animal you adopted. I love it. All of it. I'm not just happy for you in all those cases. You truly give me a joy and happiness of my own, the magnitude of which you may never truly understand, just by expressing the happiness those things bring you. Your passion brings me joy. I hope you don't mind if I say so.