Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nothing to Fear...Part One: Fear of Failure

"The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."
Nelson Mandela

"Cowards die many times before their deaths
The valiant never taste of death but once."
William Shakespeare, Julius Ceasar

Fear can be a healthy emotion.

For example, fear of being mauled and eaten is what keeps most people from walking up to a hungry bear and smacking it on the rump (by the way, those who may wish to conquer this fear are not what I consider brave--they are something that I like to call "morons").

Without fear of predators, the human race would probably not have survived; our ancestors would have been eaten long ago, and Chihuahuas, who fear everything, would probably have evolved into the dominant species on this planet.

Perhaps I'm being a bit extreme, but the point is that fear has its place as a positive, healthy feeling.

But it can also be poison.

For the writer in particular, fear burns and destroys.

Fear kills.

There are two kinds of fear that can keep the writer from accomplishing his or her goals. One of these is easy to understand, so we'll look at it first.

Fear of failure.

Like I said, easy to understand, isn't it?

Think about it; you've spent countless hours constructing your tale. You've sacrificed time and relationships for the solitude necessary for craft. You've built up your world and your characters. You've laughed with them, bled with them, and wept with--and for--them. A great deal of your energy, your soul, has gone into this.

And now it's time to let it out.

It's time to share it, and you can't help being afraid.

What if no one likes it, you ask yourself. What if all of this sacrifice, all of this emotion, is for nothing?

The rejection will hurt too much, and only prove that I'm wasting my time. It's better to not send it out; if no one reads it, no one can reject it.

No one can reject me.

As Drew Carey's character in Robots says, "Never try, never fail."

Rejection is inevitable. It's part of the business.

It's part of life.

But the fear of rejection, of failure, is also a ridiculous waste of time.

How many great works, how many world-changing ideas, have died with their creators because those creators were too afraid to take a risk and put their work out into the world?

How many people spend life as the walking dead because they are too afraid to truly live?

Fortunately, this fear can be fought.

This fear is built on the "What If's", and you can use the "What If's" to fight it. What if no one likes it? What if everyone hates it? What if I just can't do this?

Yeah, well, what if you can?

What if you can do this?  What if people do like your work?

How different would things be then?

C'mon, folks. We're writers. We live and breathe by our imaginations. Use 'em.

Picture your book on display at a store. Picture your name in the "based upon the novel by..." credit in a Spielberg film. Picture an interview with you, where you tell how you overcame fear of failure, inspiring someone else who has those fears to step up to them and say "What if I can do this, too?"

Doesn't that feel better than, "What if I fail"?

I'm not saying there won't be rejection. I'm not saying there won't be more pain, frustration, and heartache.

What I am saying is that if you don't try, there will be nothing.

That's how fear kills. Yes, it can keep you alive.

But it can also keep you from living.

Just so you know, this is something I struggle with myself. Writing this helps.

I hope reading it does, too.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Special Guest Blogger--Janice Hardy: Storming the Brain

Welcome back to Second Star!

It's been a bit since I've posted, and I'm working on a few things to get a more regular schedule going.

What better way to kick off a new beginning than with a special guest post by fellow blogger and writer Janice Hardy?

Janice is stopping by today as part of her Blue Fire Blog Tour, to promote the release of Blue Fire, the second book in her trilogy, The Healing Wars.

Take it away, Janice!

Storming the Brain

My husband and I play “what if?” a lot. One of us will toss out a question (usually him), and we’ll run with it. It started out as silly things to entertain us on long car trips, but it’s evolved into an endless stream of story ideas for me.

You’d think this would be a fabulous resource for a writer, but we often end up with too many ideas. I can’t possibly write them all and not every idea – no matter how cool it sounds at the time – would make a good book.

So how do I pick out the good ones?

I can’t.

Yeah, I know, not very helpful. But the truth is, every idea has the potential to become a really great book. It’s more a matter of figuring out the story that goes behind that idea, and that can be the hard part. I’ve had many a premise that got me excited, only to discover later that I didn’t have a story, much less a plot, that would go with it. I think this is one of the reasons there are a lot of novels that stall after fifty or a hundred pages.

When I start brainstorming an idea, the first thing I look for is the core conflict, because without that, I can’t write the story. Something about the situation or premise has to be able to cause trouble, and hopefully to a lot of people. If it can’t, there won’t be anything for the protag to strive for. No matter how cool an idea sounds, if there’s no conflict, there’s no story yet. No idea is too crazy at this point, because it’s all about exploring the potential, and you never know where one idea might lead.

Once I have that core conflict, I start thinking about the people I can put into it. Who would be affected, who would benefit, who would be hurt? What kinds of people would be needed for this situation? Sometimes I already have an inkling of who might be part of this (character and plot often develop simultaneously), so I’ll look for connections that person might have to the other people in the story. Conflict often comes from those connections, and they can help you develop the plot later.

Then I dive into the characters. Lots of writers do characters first, but situations have always come to me first. Once I have a general idea of the world and the conflicts, I’m better prepared to see what people I can put into it and how their back stories and goals can grind those conflicts together. Sometimes the characters aren’t even named. They’re just concepts, like the best friend, or the bad guy, or the possible ally who might be a villain. Ideas of the types of people I might throw together.

Finally, I look at goals and stakes. Without knowing what my characters want and what they’re risking to get it, the story will be pretty boring. I might also look at my themes for this if any have started to develop. They often do, even this early, because I see recurring concepts between possible character types and the conflicts I’ve discovered. I explore who wants what and why. Who is the most likely to be involved on a personal level? Who’d be against it and why? Where can the huge failures occur? (Because that might just turn out to be what your protag is after) What situations would lend themselves well to the growth of a character? I’ve learned that situations with lots of gray areas work great for putting characters into situations where there is no real right or wrong, and the choice is tough as can be. The potential for inner and outer conflict is high, and there’s lots of plot to mine there.

Brainstorming is a great way to dig deeper into an idea to see if it really does have the legs to carry an entire novel. The more layers you uncover in the early stages, the higher the chance that they story can work as you hope. Any idea that falls flat after a few minutes is one that would probably have you banging your head against the keyboard by chapter three.

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins.  She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.

Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

Click here to order.

Thank you very much, Janice, for visiting here at Second Star to the Right! Developing an idea into a story can be very difficult, and I appreciate your look into the brainstorming process.

Please check out Janice's site and blog for more information about The Healing Wars and see some of the other great articles she's written for the Blue Fire Blog Tour.

Now I'm off for some brainstorming of my own!



Hello, folks.

I just wanted to offer a quick reminder that Janice Hardy will be stopping by tomorrow on her Blue Fire Blog Tour.

I certainly hope you'll join me in welcoming her tomorrow, and together we'll all learn something good.

Mark well and remember,


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I'm Baaaaaaaaaaaack...


Time flies when you wish you were having fun.

I just looked and discovered that it's been over two months since I posted anything here.

I've been writing; I just haven't been writing about writing.

Hopefully you'll join me in brushing away some of the stardust that's settled around here while I've been gone, and we can get back into the swing of things.

I also hope you'll mark your calendars for a very special guest blogger this month:

Janice Hardy will be visiting on October 19, as part of her Blue Fire Blog Tour to celebrate the release of Blue Fire, the second book in her Healing Wars series.

With all of this excitement, and Halloween (my favorite holiday) coming up, I hope you'll stick around.

This time, I promise I will.

Reach for the stars,

Monday, July 26, 2010

I'll Think of a Clever Title Later...

There are many obstacles faced by writers.



The dreaded "Writer's Block".

There are several things that are placed in our paths to keep us from attaining our goals; some occur naturally, some are placed there by others, and some we put in our way ourselves.

My greatest enemy is procrastination. Not every writer deals with this, but I'm sure I'm not the only one.

It's easy to joke about:

"I'll join Procrastinators Anonymous next week."

"Never do today what you can put off til tomorrow."

"The early worm gets eaten by the bird."

At the end of the day, however, when you've accomplished nothing to move yourself forward, it's not all that funny.

I call it "Someday Syndrome", because it's so easy to get caught up in "Someday, I'll be a published writer. Someday, I'll make enough money writing that I won't have to do anything else." Then you ease into the dream (and it's such a nice dream, it really is) and spend your time dreaming it instead of doing it.

It's easy to blame it on someone or something else. For years, I was married to a woman who told me that my dreams were foolishness, and I should give them up. I'd never be able to make a living as a writer, so stop trying.

I could blame her, but it's my fault that I fell into the trap of "Someday, I'll prove her wrong."

Here's the thing about never arrives. It's always just today, and today is all you have to work with.

The dream is a beautiful thing, yes. And dreaming is important--no, vital--to a writer.

But it will never become anything other than a dream if you don't make it happen.

The moments drip past, turning into a steady stream of tomorrows; this keeps flowing stronger and longer into the raging River of Neverwhen.

It's been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Well, guess what? The writing of War and Peace began with a single word.

I still dream. But there's a song that says "Don't dream it, be it" (yes, The Rocky Horror Picture Show--funny what you can learn from Tim Curry in drag, eh?).

Today is all I have. It's the only place I can be.

I'm making today "Someday".
til later (sorry, sometimes I can't help myself ;)),


Monday, July 19, 2010

(Hopefully not a) Big, Fat, Deal...

No matter what kind of writer you may be, whether you love to make people scream, wonder “what if”, feel their hearts flutter at bodice-ripping 18th-century passion, or simply write a manual to help people set up their Blu-Ray players, everyone who sits down at a computer or with a notebook and quill has at least one thing in common:

We sit.

A lot.

You can think about your plot while you’re on the move. You can work on character description while you’re shopping. You might even have the greatest revelation in the history of your story while you’re playing softball.

But eventually, you gotta sit down and write it.

This can create a bit of a problem for some writers (and by “some writers”, I clearly mean “me”).

That problem being, of course, this: clothes that used to fit are now a bit tight. They shrunk in the dryer, obviously.

Sometimes, especially when I’m on a creative roll, I’ll sit for hours, never working off the calories from the chips or candy (or honest-to-gosh real food; I do eat more than junk, you know) that I eat.

Just to paint this fairly, I want you to know that I’m not a lazy man. I have no problem with hard physical labor when it’s called for, but exercise for its own sake? No, I’ve always been one of those “objects at rest tend to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force” kinda guys.

Which creates a bigger (pun not intended…well, maybe just a bit) problem. I’ve noticed that when I’m not in the best shape I could be, when I have put on a few pounds, my mind isn’t as sharp.

This is a problem because, as a writer, my mind is my most important tool. If I can’t think clearly, the writing suffers.

When I graduated high school, I was 335 pounds. I took a job unloading trucks to help pay for college, and rather quickly lost 150 pounds.

I mention this to show that I have been more than a little bit overweight, and I’ve also been in extremely good shape, with muscle tone, low body fat percentage, and lots of energy and clarity. I can speak from experience when I say that the mind is sharper when the body is fit.

Right now, I’m a little bit over my ideal weight. Not by much; I’ll never let myself get as big as I was in high school, but I do need to lose a few pounds. More accurately, I need to remind myself to get up and move.

I think it’s important for writers to remember that we need to do more than sit. Not only will we live longer lives (hopefully having a much longer writing career as well), but the quality of both life and career are so much better if mind and body work together.

Stay healthy, writers!


Thursday, July 15, 2010


Just the other day, I had planned what I thought was a pretty good piece about creating memorable villains. However, my fellow writer Emily beat me to it in a great piece entitled, appropriately enough, "VILLAINS".

She mentions pretty much what I had planned on saying about memorable bad guy characters, villains with what they perceive as noble intentions rather than just Mr. Burns trying to steal Maggie Simpson's lollipop because it's been too long since he took candy from a baby.

I'm paraphrasing here, but even Hitler loved his mother.

So I thought I would do a "companion piece" of sorts and talk about, yep, you guessed it (well, you read it in the title, so I'm sure you're not surprised), heroes.

Not protagonist, which can be the same but doesn't have to be, but hero.

What makes a good, memorable hero?

For me, a good hero is a character I can identify with, who seems real on some level.

A person with flaws.

No villain should be pure evil, and a good hero shouldn't be purely altruistic.

I love comic books, so I'll use an example from there:

Superman--sometimes called "The Big, Blue, Boy Scout". He has vast power that he uses to defend the helpless, because that's what a hero is supposed to do, right? He saves the world time and time again because it's the right thing to do. Some of his stories can be interesting, and I love the pop-culture history that he represents, but at the end of the day, Superman doesn't stick with me because I can't identify with him. Unlike, say,

The Batman--Now here's a hero I can sink my teeth into. Bruce Wayne fights crime as The Batman with an obsession that borders on (and sometimes slides into) psychosis. He is relentless, driven by tragedy, and pursuing a goal that is ultimately impossible. At the heart of The Batman is a scared little boy lashing out in vengeance at the criminal world that robbed him of his parents.

Obsession? Fear? Vengeance? These things I understand. I've felt those things because I am human, and a hero who feels those things is more human to me (even if said character is alien or supernatural), and I identify.

I like heroes with internal conflict. Wolverine, for example, is constantly at war with the savage beast that lives inside him. He sometimes has to force himself to act against his nature in order to do the right thing. That's heroism.

A good hero doesn't even have to be a "good guy".

Friend and fellow writer Lydia Sharp references Pitch Black often, and with good reason. Not only is it an example of brilliant story telling and structure, it's filled with good, memorable characters.

In Pitch Black, we have Riddick. Theif. Fugitive. Murderer. He's the hero of this piece, but is he a good guy?

Not on your life, and that's why I love the character.

The hero of my novel Sword of Glass, The Raggedy Man, is a good guy, but he still has flaws. He has the power and responsibility to fight against the villain, but he resists because he just wants to be left alone. He doesn't want to go to war, even though he knows he should. It isn't until that war comes to him that he is forced into action, realizing that he'll never have the peace he covets unless he steps up to his responsibility.

This makes him more real to me as I'm writing him, and I hope it will make him more real to readers, as well. I hope they can identify with him, so they'll care about what happens to him.

Superman is okay now and again.

But I want a hero with problems.

Give me a hero who is afraid of his past. Give me a hero helps other people because it's conducive to his plan of saving his own skin. Give me a hero who does the right thing because it's part of his struggle to not be a villain.

Is he or she arrogant? Conceited? Selfish, even?


I can identify with that.
Thanks for reading!


Saturday, July 10, 2010


It seems appropriate for the first writing-related post here at Second Star should be about beginnings, so I though I would share a bit about the origins of my major work-in-progress, "Sword of Glass".

Let me describe my mind-set at the time this was born, so you can get an understanding of how important this work has come to be.

Early in 2009, I was in a very desperate place. My ex-wife had moved out a little bit over a year before. I will not use this space to vilify anyone, but you need to know at least one thing: I made her leave because I had caught her cheating for the third and final time. Again, I'm not using this space to go into any of that; you just need to know that, even after a year, the pain of that betrayal was still eating away at me.

I was trapped in a job that I wasn't well-suited for merely to pay the bills and struggle to keep and maintain a house that I was desperately unhappy in. Though I still had the shining stars of my children to keep me going, everything else was pain and desperation.

Then one night, I had a dream.

In this dream, I stood on a shattered hill scarred by a long-ago decimation. A sea of dark, writhing shapes surrounded the hill, creeping up all sides to the pinnacle, where I stood watching them.

I knew that if this teeming horde reached me, I would be consumed, forever lost. I felt the darkest fear I have ever known, dreaming or awake, as I watched them gain inch after inch, knowing that my end crept with them.

Then I realized that in my hand, I held a sword.

A sword made of obsidian.

I felt a surge of hope as I knew that I had a weapon with which to defend myself. A weapon that would cut sharper than steel, but was also fragile, and would be shattered if each stroke and thrust were not carried out precisely.

The dark glass in my hand thirsted for the blood of the creatures approaching me, and as the first one reached the crest of the hill, the sword itself guided my hand to the perfect thrust against the beast, and it burned as the blade pierced whatever form of a heart beat within it.

More of these creatures gained the top of the hill, and each one fell as the sword and I moved as one, slicing, thrusting, and burning.

As the creatures burned away to ash around me, I realized what they were: demons.

My demons.

Each one had a name, and I knew it as it fell.

Fear. Doubt. Anger. Hate. Loneliness. Despair.

Each one seeking to devour, to drag me into the abyss in which it lived, and each one burning away at the touch of my dark sword of glass.

I awoke from this dream, and for the first time in over a year, I felt alive. I felt as though I had hope, and I knew that I certainly had an idea.

I wrote down what I could remember, though most of the details didn't come back to me til later, when I began crafting it into story. What I wrote, what still exists in my tattered notebook that I keep by my bedside, is this:

Wounded man stands atop shattered rock, slicing despair with a sword of glass.

And so it began.

The wounded man became The Raggedy Man, haunted by his past, desperately trying to find peace while still mourning what he has lost, what was taken from him. On his journey toward reclamation, he battles some of those same demons that accosted me on that shattered hill of my mind.

I discovered that as I wrote his story, he was helping me to battle the demons that still tried to gain hold in me.

The story, like me, is still very much a work in progress. I have been and continue to be on a very personal journey with The Raggedy Man and Sera, a similarly wounded woman who is quite literally pulled into his life. Their struggles become mine, and mine theirs.

So the genesis of "Sword and Glass" was very real pain, and a dream in which I was able to fight that pain.

And now, I'm curious.

What's the genesis of some of your work? Where did your idea come from?


Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Journey Begins

Hello, everyone!

Welcome to my new blog; don't worry, Bradley's Brain isn't going anywhere.

I just decided that since that one is my random slice-of-life blog, I would create a new one, dedicated to the craft of writing, of journeying into imagination.

I'll post updates on my WIP's from time to time, as well as any ramblings and/or insights about the writing process itself.

I may offer tips or advice, as well as solicit tips or advice from my fellow writers out there.

I hope you'll join me on this journey. The writer's life can be somewhat solitary, and it's good to have company.