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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Risky Business

How do you feel about risk? How do you feel about risk in your personal, daily life, or in your professional life? When I look back over my life, it's been a long series of safe, easy bets, punctuated by the occasional out-of-character, insane and crazy risk. As a general rule, I've been lucky; I haven't been carted off by serial killers on horseback or lost my house because I quit a profitable job. Sometimes in order to fully experience life, we need to take an occasional, well calculated risk.

This holds true in writing as well. I think a great deal of what I write is fairly safe and predictable for the type of industry I'm in. I ran into a couple walls early on, learned a few facts about what hurt sales, and what helped them, but in all, I try to play by the rules. On occasion though, the risk-taker begins to prod me and tells me to try something break a few rules.

When it's my creative self that begins to get restless, that's when I do an experimental project, and I'm fortunate enough to have publishers who will give me an outlet for those stories. As a rule, I tend to take my less commercial novellas and shorts and put them into anthology projects. I also will experiment a little with stand alone shorts such as Changeling Press's themed Hot Flashes.

One of my more unusual stories is Snowfire: Chrysalis. It was an experiment in first person writing, and also a test to see if I could create a believable hero that was completely against heroic type. Kell and Pim are androgynous and sexless throughout the book, and it isn't until the end that the reader discovers who, and what Kell and Pim really are. As I expected, the short didn't sell very well, but the critical praise was gratifying. It was a calculated risk and paid off in that it satisfied my inner risk-taker, it also got me some good press with reviewers and reader reviews. After a couple years have passed, I can honestly say that Chrysalis is one of the stories that I've written that I'm most proud of.

Sometimes to be successful, we need to jump in the deep end and pray that we don't sink. This is true in life as well as in writing. It's frightening, its unpredictable, and sometimes you end up doing a belly flop. But sometimes you end up doing a swan dive, and when that happens, you're so tempted to climb out and try again.

Taking risks helps us evolve and develop our skills. This is where we gain a bit of courage to be a bit bolder with the next endeavor. Risk-taking allows up to open our creative vaults and take others with us.

Don't be afraid of a little risk.

* * * * *

Kell is haunted by memories of a place that doesn’t exist. He dreams of a face he’s never seen. He senses that somehow, his life is wrong. Compelled by loneliness and isolation, he walks away from everything in a quest for answers.

Come with Kell as he journeys down a long, snowy highway to a mysterious town called Arcada. Maybe, just maybe, he will find his answers there.

And maybe he will find himself as well.


Vintage sports cars don’t handle all that well in the snow.

Not that the elderly Jag lets me down all that often, but as we crawled through drifts on Highway 70, I began to get the feeling that my long journey was about to come to an end.

The snow fell in those tiny, crystalline flakes that are so fine they dazzle the eye. When you try to make a snowball, it just falls apart like sand between the fingers. At first, it barely settled on the roadway, dancing away from the headlights of the car, but in time, the snow began to drift and blow across the road, eventually obscuring the roadway completely. I navigated using the slight elevation of the blacktop and the instinct that rarely lets me down. I was guided by the odd compulsion that had taken me from all that I knew for the promise of all that should be.

I’d been wandering in a funk for what seemed years, having sold my apartment and my business. Life had dried up, lost its appeal. One Tuesday I looked around and found myself alone, friendless and so painfully, obviously different from the general population, that it was clearly time to move on.

In the midst of my unhappiness, I remembered a face I’d never seen. I had memories of events that had never happened. A place came to mind, the memory of a small town that my family had visited in my youth. It was quintessential small town America, a town square, City Hall. The sort of place you generally see only on a movie set. Normal. In fact, that was the nickname of the place. While I couldn’t remember the name of the small city, I vividly remembered the signs entering the city limits. They playfully welcomed the traveler to “Normalville, USA.” I’d forgotten the state, the name of the town, even what part of the country we’d been in. Only that happy sign lingered in my memory. Funny, though, my parents never recalled seeing that sign. In fact, they hadn’t remembered the town at all. I couldn’t forget.
Welcome to Normalville, USA.

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