The Talent Myth in Creative Writing

When I was practicing law, no law student ever said to me, “I’m going to get listed in Best Lawyers of America.” It takes seven years of higher education to become a lawyer, months of intensive studying to pass the bar exam, and then more years of unrelenting work to build the kind of reputation and satisfied client-base that gets you noticed. Most non-lawyers are impressed when they hear I’m listed in Best Lawyers.

On the other hand, when a group of people finds out I’m a published author, someone always pipes up, “I’m going to write a novel. I’ll be joining you on those bestseller lists.”

Although lawyers are not held in high esteem in this country, but there is a profound respect for the time and effort it takes to become one. For authors, it is exactly the opposite. We adore authors. We follow them on Facebook, we show up at conventions to get signed copies of their books, and we sit in rapt attention listening to them read. But at the same time, there is little appreciation for the time, effort, sacrifice and sometimes brute force it takes to write a novel. As a society, we believe that writing is a matter of talent and if you have it, the words flow out all at once, with little practice or preparation, and in perfect form and order.

For far too long, I believed this talent myth, and given how much effort I put into my novels, despite the reviews, I thought the bucket I’d dipped from the talent pool was drier than the Sahara Desert. But talent is largely a myth. Sure, you need an innate sense of when your words flow together and a touch of imagination but, otherwise, writing – like any other skill or expertise – is about long, time-consuming, hard work. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book, Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours to achieve complete mastery in any field.

I didn’t make it into Best Lawyers in America until well after I had 10,000 hours of practice under my belt. Writing fiction set that clock back to zero, but I’m nearing 10,000 hour mark and I’m a lot more comfortable with my skills and understanding of what works and what doesn’t. The talent myth doesn’t play games with my head anymore. I’m too busy writing to let it.

But the next time you read a novel where the words flow effortlessly off the page and you find yourself marveling at the author’s talent, stop for a moment and appreciate the hours of sheer determination that went into it as well.

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The Cursing Dog: a Horror Potter!

Mark Davis Day of Dead skullThe artist world is filled with interesting people. One my favorites is The Cursing Dog (aka Mark Davis) who creates pottery pieces that juxtapose the the light and dark of our world.  Mark agreed to stop by and say hello this morning.

Welcome, Mark. I don’t think I did a great job of describing your work above. Can you tell us about your pottery?

I make handmade pottery, usually functional. I also create some paintings. All of it has a horror theme, but horror with big smiles and tongue planted firmly in cheek. All of my skulls smile and all of my zombies know when to laugh. 

Laughing zombies? What led you to creating pieces like that?

My early life included some dark relationships. I think the way I got healthy was to embrace the darkness and laugh with it. I truly believe that Batman and The Joker made me realize that it was OK to see the darkness and still smile. That may sound silly but it is very true. Death imagery can be an inoculation against fear. I am hoping to inoculate the world against fear, violence and hatred by looking into the dark and laughing like a madman. 

Mark Davis skull vaseWell, there’s a lot of fear in the world today – fears building on fears until we’ve forgotten what we were afraid of in the first place. Cheers to anyone who can alleviate even a bit of it.

I know you’re a pretty deep person, and without getting too personal, I’d like people to get a feel for that as well. Many artists and writers have an “a ha” moment, where some major piece of their life and their art come into focus. Can you share what that moment was for you?

Possibly the single biggest lesson I learned was from an early professor who I complained to. I mentioned that I was having difficulty producing a particular form and he said “The first ten thousand are hard. After that it gets easy.” I found that phrase very painful in that moment. I have taken amazing comfort in it ever since. Repetition can be comfort. Comfort can make almost any idea easy to address. It took me a little while to understand that he was saying that you cannot think about a backflip while doing a backflip. You have to have done it so many times that your body is free to act. 

That reminds me of the 10,000 hour rule mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s nonfiction book, Outliers. It takes 10,000 hours to become really good at anything.

Mark Davis PotsYou’ve got a shop on Etsy for your pottery, and I know you are in some shows as well. Are there any coming up?

I am showing in Danville, VA in early October, Rising Star in Bluefield, WV in Late October and I am a Guest Artist at Mysticon in Roanoke, VA in late February. 

I’ve listed below the social media sites where people can find out more about your work and where you’ll be showing. Thanks for stopping by, Mark!

Follow Mark Davis, The Cursing Dog



Or see more of his work on Etsy

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Meet one of my new friends, Author Selah Janel

I’ve head the pleasure of meeting a lot of authors and new friends over the past few months. This week, one of them, Selah Janel, sat down and allowed me to interview her so that you could get to know her too.

0908_Selah_Hedshots_60C (2)

Welcome, Selah!

Let’s start off by letting everyone know that you are an author. Can you tell us what you write?

I write in various genres: horror, fantasy, urban fantasy, general speculative, and I like crossing and combining them to break the limitations of any one genre.

Excellent! That’s a similar list to my own work. Because of that, I’m often asked what kind of readers like my books. Can you describe who is attracted to your stories?

I think people who enjoy my work are those that are willing to explore the genres or themes they know while being open-minded to have them changed up a bit. I like putting Easter eggs into my longer work, especially if it’s with a genre or topic I really know and love. I like twisting and turning, and really delving into what makes my characters who they are. At the end of the day I try very hard to pen good stories, so I think anyone who is into a interesting tale, no matter the genre, can get behind that.

What is it about those types of genres, themes and stories that appeals to you?

A lot of the genres I write in (fantasy, horror, speculative) really give possibility to a lot of variety. I like to challenge myself to wander off the beaten path to write something different or to do different takes on classic themes. It’s one of the reasons why folk and fairy tales appeal to me – although it’s in style to be using those now, the fact is they involve classic archetypes and there are an infinite amount of ways to explore those.  I also feel that a lot of the genres I write in really lend themselves to character explorations, which is another reason why I love to write.

I know you’ve recently released the first book in The Kingdom City Chronicles, called Olde School. Can you share the pitch for it?

OldeSchoolCoverFinal_650X433Kingdom City has moved into the modern era. Run by a lord mayor and city council (though still under the influence of the High King of The Land), it proudly embraces a blend of progress and tradition. Trolls, ogres, and other Folk walk the streets with humans, but are more likely to be entrepreneurs than cause trouble. Princesses still want to be rescued, but they now frequent online dating services to encourage lords, royals, and politicians to win their favor. The old stories are around, but everyone knows they’re just fodder for the next movie franchise. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all old superstition and harmless tradition.

Bookish, timid, and more likely to carry a laptop than a weapon, Paddlelump Stonemonger is quickly coming to wish he’d never put a toll bridge over Crescent Ravine. While his success has brought him lots of gold, it’s also brought him unwanted attention from the Lord Mayor. Adding to his frustration, Padd’s oldest friends give him a hard time when his new maid seems inept at best and conniving at worst. When a shepherd warns Paddlelump of strange noises coming from Thadd Forest, he doesn’t think much of it. Unfortunately for him, the history of his land goes back further than anyone can imagine. Before long he’ll realize that he should have paid attention to the old tales and carried a club.

Darkness threatens to overwhelm not only Paddlelump, but the entire realm. With a little luck, a strange bird, a feisty waitress, and some sturdy friends, maybe, just maybe, Padd will survive to eat another meal at Trip Trap’s diner. It’s enough to make the troll want to crawl under his bridge, if he can manage to keep it out of the clutches of greedy politicians.

Do you have any appearances or new releases schedule that you’d like to tell us about?

I’m doing a lot of online promotion for Olde School this month, and I’m hoping to attend an event in Columbus on October 25, as well. As for new stuff, it’s all still in the works!

October 25th in Columbus?  I bet that’s the Off Con Season Party and Book Signing, which looks great. Despite living in Columbus, I’ll be in Indianapolis that day, so I hope everyone has a great time there without me!

Thanks for stopping by. Before you leave, let’s let people know where to find out more about you and your books?

Amazon page –

Website –

Facebook –

Twitter – @SelahJanel


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A New Day, a New Look, a New Blog

You haven’t heard from me for awhile but that’s about to end. Today is a new day, and with it comes a complete makeover of my website and newly invigorated blog.

Over the two years as a full-time author, I’ve learned differences between the legal profession and life as a novelist that seem obvious, yet somehow I hadn’t grasped the ramifications.

  • Missing a deadline as a lawyer was unforgivable;; now it’s not. Douglas Adams wrote, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I get that now. Missing deadlines still stresses me, but the Supreme Court isn’t going to forbid me from ever writing again. Unlike in law, it’s better to get it right than simply to get it done. So far, I’ve been blessed by readers who understand that it takes a long time for me to interweave the stories in my novels and have been patient. I hope I will never disappoint them – even if that means the books don’t come out as fast as they’d like.
  • Few come looking for me, but the people out there actually care. You go see an attorney because you have to, but you don’t want to be there. Reaching new readers, on the other hand, doesn’t happen automatically. It requires word of mouth and that, in turn, requires viral vectors – those rare and unknown individuals who influence others with their shared opinions. But unlike marketing as a lawyer, those viral vectors aren’t going to find me if I am sitting in my office with my nose buried in a laptop. I need to get out more. I’ve started doing that this past month and am overwhelmed by the welcoming community of readers and writers – it’s almost as much fun as writing the novels in the first place!

And so, that leads me back to the makeover of my blog. Starting next week, there will be a new post every Wednesday. It may be a feature from some guest blogger, or an interview of another author or artist I’ve met. I’ll be doing a lot more traveling to events and conventions across the country, so you’ll probably see reports on the fun places I’ve been and the interesting people I’ve met.  I may post some really awesome something-or-other I’ve come across.

I’ll mix it up and keep it fresh. And I hope you’ll follow along.

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Gang-based societies and immigrant children

In my research for the novel, Choices, I became familiar with the horrors of gang-based societies – of the atmosphere of constant murder, rape, and torture of and by those we consider children, of parents extorted out of their meager resources so their daughters will not be taken, of mothers sacrificing one child to protect the others. While the details of the society in my novel are extrapolations of actual facts, they are, if anything, softened to suit our comfortable, safe sensibilities. The reality in several Latin American countries is far worse and has spurred the flood of children illegally entering this country.

I read posts that we, as a country, should not be assisting the children who were sent to violate the law by entering the United States. I don’t entirely disagree with that position – although I find it too absolute. I see the same people posting that we, as a country, should not be providing aid to any other country as long as people here in need – even if it is need for relief from taxes so they can afford to send their children to college. I can understand that position as well.

But put yourself in the place of a mother or father – being demanded to turn over a child to be raped and killed. What would you do to save your children? Would you break the law? What would you want the individuals they encounter to do?

I believe our response as individuals need not be the same as our country’s response. If a child came to your door, hungry, exhausted, having escaped certain rape, torture, and death, would you turn away? That is the question all of us – including myself – now face.

I don’t have the answer for us as a country, nor do I have the answer for all of us as individual human beings. But I know from my independent research that the danger and horror they are trying to escape is real. I cannot pretend not to see the child on my doorstep. I cannot simply close the door. Whatever I do as an individual won’t fix the problem in a global sense or even have an impact, but just perhaps it will save a person.

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Gratitude: A business perspective on the Amazon-Hachette Negotiations.

Amazon and the Hachette Group continue to be locked in unfruitful negotiations over the price of ebooks. From what I’ve been told, Hachette, the publisher of David Baldacci and such recent popular titles as “I am Malala,” demands that it’s ebooks be priced at $14.99 while Amazon demands they be no more than $9.99.  As the negotiations dragged, Amazon stopped promoting ebooks from the publisher.

“FOUL!” cried Hachette. “Help!” cried its authors who watched their book sales plummet. “This isn’t fair!” They are taking to the media to solicit our sympathies. I feel bad for them – I really do. But I can’t join in their outrage. Being stuck in the middle is frustrating and obviously something they didn’t anticipate when they signed the contract Hachette pushed in front of them. But that doesn’t mean it’s unfair. It’s simply business.

Amazon is now fighting back on the public pressure/media front, sending out lengthy emails to ebook authors and independent publishers explaining their analysis that Amazon, Hachette and even Hachette’s authors would make more money based on the increased book sales at a $9.99 price point. Amazon asked us to email Hachette and demand they stop their tactics. I’m not doing that, either.

It’s simply business.

Let’s look at another retail giant, Walmart. Everyday, its buyers consider which products to carry – say a bath mat, usually negotiating on the price point with the hopeful bath mat supplier. The supplier can refuse to go any lower than a certain point, and Walmart can decide to carry the bath mat or not. But Walmart has so much of the market, you say. The supplier will go out of business and its bath mat factory workers will starve. If this is a really great bath mat and there is sufficient inelastic consumer demand for it, then the supplier has leverage to get Walmart to come up. If not, the supplier can find other retail venues for its luxury bath mat, perhaps boutique bath shops that provide a shopping experience rather than the lowest price.

The book industry isn’t much different. Publishers are the packagers and suppliers of books to retailers. The authors are the production workers, albeit, vastly underpaid for the number of hours they work.  But they’ve agreed to the equivalent of piecework scrap terms – being paid whatever is left from the sale of a unit after everyone else  in the chain has taken what they need to be profitable. Those really are the terms most author’s publishing contracts come down to. Even mine. Each author could have negotiated the terms of the agreement, providing outs if the market changes made it undesirable to stick with the publisher. Sure, negotiating those terms as well as acting on them is easier for big names authors rather than mid-list or small ones, but it could have been done. If it wasn’t or if the author doesn’t want the hassle of switching publishers (e.g. new tracking numbers for their books meaning previous reviews might not found), that is their choice. It’s not unfair. It’s the business decision they are making.

As for Hachette, if Amazon won’t agree to your terms, I hear Walmart wants into the ebook market.

As for Amazon, as you know, the reading of a book increases the chance the person will buy another books – any other book. Therefore, I’d rather see you carry Hachette ebooks at $14.99 than not at all, but as a consumer, I wouldn’t pay that for them.

As for the authors caught in the middle, sorry about your luck. Bad turn of business, nothing more.

To everyone else, I’m glad I’m not in the middle!




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Gratitude – Origins, Book 3 of the Rothston Series

YAY!!!  The third book of the Rothston Series is off to the editor!!!  Fingers crossed for not too many edits.

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Day 146 of Gratitude – Gatekeeper

Bright sun. A cool lake breeze. And this:


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Day 145 of Gratitude – Life Interfering

Today I will miss an extended deadline on a manuscript – the original one was the end of March. I have lived my entire life meeting deadlines – school assignments, court dates, hearings schedules, client demands, and now editorial/publishing deadlines. And I have always prided myself on keeping my word – if I’ve said it will be done or agreed to a deadline, I will meet it. Because of that, missing today’s “ultimate” deadline on a manuscript has caused some soul searching.  Have I allowed other things to interfere with my writing? Am I a bad person, a failure for having done that?  Has this all been just a grand, six year “playtime” for me, and I actually don’t have the commitment necessary to be a writer?

The answers to those questions is a matter of perspective. That is, there will always be those in the writing world who don’t see me as a “real” writer because (pick your reason):

  • I do not have a degree in English literature or creative writing;
  • I don’t write literary fiction;
  • I write only one novel per year and have to write at least three or four to be credible;
  • OMG! I write one novel per year and any worthwhile novel takes years or even decades;
  • I write cross-genre stuff – it isn’t hard sci fi nor epic fantasy;
  • I don’t use big words that readers will need to look up;
  • I don’t dress up in costumes at author appearances;
  • I don’t write using software specifically designed for writing a novel …

There are a hundred other conventional “words of wisdom” in the writing world – measures to determine whether or not I am doing it “right.” No answers lie there, so I have to look to myself.

Why isn’t the novel finished? Certainly being sick for over a month is one of them. My original indecision of whether to write this novel or another added to the delay. And there is the speed and nonlinear path my mind takes – sometimes that percolating process cannot be sped up. But there is also another reason, one that I sometimes beat  myself up over: being pulled away from writing to attend to my friends, the house and garden, my family, etc. Yet, it’s this last group of “delays” for which I am grateful.

The world exerts pressure on me to push those life interruptions aside in favor of work. As a lawyer and now as a writer, it rewards me with feelings of dedication and commitment when I do so. It tells me I am good and worthwhile. But in the end, which is more important? Which would give me comfort or regrets on my death bed?   I know my answers to these questions – regardless of whether the world calls that a lack of commitment.

I will continue to allow life to interfere with my writing. I won’t put the important things on a shelf for the mythical “someday” when I have time for them. I’ve done that enough. The novels will get finished, even if a bit late. Readers will read them or not – something over which I have no control. But, either way, my family and friends will be here with me.

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Day 144 of Gratitude – Little Girls

It seems very sudden that we have a gaggle of small female children between the ages of five and eight in our neighborhood, or maybe I’m just aware of them now that our dog, Morgan, has become their favorite playmate. Two or three times each day, the doorbell rings and we open it to find a beaming little face and a singsong voice asking “Can Morgan come out and play?”  It’s great – they all run around squealing with Morgan leaping into the air.

The other day, someone brought chalk and our sidewalk is now adorned with pictures of rainbows, sunshine and ponies. When I went out to get Morgan, one of the girls looked at me with a big, sincere smile and said “Morgan kind of rolled in the chalk.”  Well, maybe the smile only looked sincere. Morgan had a large blue stripe carefully colored from her nose, up between her eyes, and onto the top of her head. Since she doesn’t possess thumbs, it seems unlikely she did it herself. Sure Morgan needed a bath after that play date, but how could I do anything but smile and appreciate the joy of being a little girl?

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