Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

Art Holcomb on… The Nature of Talent

A guest post by Art Holcomb

Let me tell you a story . . .

I had my first public success as a writer when I was 13. I wrote a play as part of a six grade class competition that — against all conceivable odds — went on to be professionally produced at a theater in San Francisco in 1968.

It ran for 6 weeks.

A play.  Written by a sixth grader.

What a wonderful feeling – perhaps the greatest feeling of my life to date. And I learned an important lesson about myself that day – which was that I could create!

In the years that followed, I came to live for that rush, for the fire I felt.

Sadly, as a result, I became quite prideful, and even a bit stuck up. Because I discovered that I had TALENT! I believed that I could do something that few others could do.

And so it has for many years. I wrote and published and was convinced that I was a star.

But then a day came in college when I called upon that talent to get me through… and it failed me.   I came up empty – literally – and thought I was done for sure.

I felt like that, lost in an ever-increasing dry spell . . .

. . . that lasted for 11 years.

After trying everything I could to create again, I reached out to someone who was to be my first writing mentor – famed science fiction writer David Gerrold.

I was so desperate that I drove over 120 miles once a week just to attend a class with David.

The weeks that followed were like torture – watching other students thrive while I still struggled to even one well-written sentence together.

At some point, David took me aside and we talked frankly about what was going on. As a result, he soon had me start doing the work: setting deadlines, shouldering my way through my daily pages and disciplining myself to produce work on a regular schedule.

Eventually, my productivity and quality came back and I got back in touch with my abilities once I realized that creativity works best in harness and under the thumb of a good work ethic.

I realized that I was able to change my life – once I stopped believing that my talent controlled my destiny.

And I learned the real truth about that TALENT:

What was once a source of great joy and power had, in fact, done exactly what the universe intended for it to do – give me just a glimpse of what it was like to be a producing artist – to be the writer I could become.

Because talent only gives you the taste of that fire, the rarest preview of all the things that could be.  It tells the lucky recipient of a future lying just beyond the horizon.

But the truth is – that future lies ahead for anyone willing to fight for it.  Because talent never lasts.

It was a long hard battle for me to reach that sense of fire and joy once more.  To be able to PRODUCE and to CREATE.

I never took it for granted again.

I never again mistook my skill for my talent.

I am here today to do perhaps what no one else has ever done for you.  To tell you what I know to be absolutely true.

That, for each person willing to do the work, there is a fire that can live forever inside of you. A fire to create, which warms the soul and ignites the imagination.  My life would be hollow without it and I am grateful every day that I get to write and create and weave stories that can move friends and strangers alike.

So — enjoy your talent — but always see it for what it is: just a taste of the fire. And know that you cannot depend upon it forever.

Know that a lifetime of joy from writing comes from a lifetime of struggle and dedication, and that – if you do the work every day – the universe will reveal itself to you as you reveal yourself to it.

So – keep writing. Keep going deep into yourself.  Demand more from yourself at every turn.

Because what is waiting for you just beyond that horizon – will amaze you.

(Larry’s comment: Amen.)

ART HOLCOMB is an accomplished writer, Hollywood script/story advisor and well-known writing teacher, as well as a frequent contributor to Storyfix.com. Check out his website HERE.

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Art was recently interviewed by Creative Screenwriting Magazine, where he is a frequent contributor.  It’s a great look at the man and his contribution to the writing conversation, which includes a long-running contribution to this website and to it’s creator… check it out HERE.

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Storyfix was recently named by Angela Han’s website, Global English Editing (www.geediting.com), to their list of “The 120 Most Helpful Websites for Writers in 2016,” placed at #2 in the “Helpful Tips on Writing” category (out of 19 named, and ahead of some of the monster sites you’re familiar with).  Click HERE to check it out.

They also have a helpful roster of the “55 Most Helpful Apps for Writers.”

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If you haven’t done it yet, check out my upcoming Mega/Master 4 day writing workshop, co-presenting with Jennifer Blanchard in Portland, OR, April 3 -7.  Go HERE for more information, or click on the ad in the left column. There’s still room, and we’ll even feed you.  But fair warning: be prepared to go deep, where your darkest fears and wildest writing dreams dance to music you may not yet understand… but after this, you will.

 

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“Eating Bull” – An Interview with Author Carrie Rubin

EatingBull Book Cover by Lance Buckley

This interview came in waves.  First, I love the title of Carrie Rubin’s latest novel, “Eating Bull.”  Titles do a lot of the lifting in terms of attracting readers, and this one really drew me in.  Then I met the writer online after another Storyfix reader alerted me to a post on Carrie’s website, in which she recommended Story Engineering to her readers because it had helped her along the writing road.

So of course, I’m already in at that point.  But when I did the due diligence – read the post, studied her website, bought the book, read the book, loved the book, swapped some emails with the author, liked everything about her…

… and she’a physician in her day job, to boot, which is pretty impressive…

… so, here we are.  I’m happy to introduce you to Carrie Rubin, with the confidence that comes from knowing you’ll like the author and her website and her novel Eating Bull as much as I do.  She’s an avid student of craft, and has a lot to share with like-minded writers.

There are even some valuable health tips in this interview, too.  Read and learn… and live.

LB.: I have to admit, I found you from the notification of a link after you’d mentioned me (and Storyfix) on your website.  Which means you are a “craftie” (literary equivalent of a foodie).  Have you always been a student of craft, or were things different for you earlier in your career?

Carrie: First off, thank you so much for having me here. It’s a true honor. I owe Stephanie Raffelock, producer of your upcoming workshop in Portland, a thank you for mentioning both of us in a Facebook comment that linked back to you. Ahh, the power of social media.

“Craftie” is a label I’ll happily wear. Like many new writers, when I wrote my first book fourteen years ago, I winged it. I had a semi-formed plot in mind but not much else. A year later I typed The End and thought, “Wow, I’ve done it.” Well, I did something all right. I wrote a book full of plot holes and meandering. After a professional critique, I rewrote the book and had a decent story the second time around.

I understand now that what I did to improve the story was add structure. If I’d had Story Engineering as a resource back then, the process would have been smoother. Luckily your book appeared while I was working on my second novel. Before I started the first draft, I mapped out my story parts and milestones and then expanded it to a full outline. For my third novel, I did the same and will continue to do so in the future.

I guess once you go craft, you never go back.

LB: What brought you to the avocation of writing fiction?

Carrie: Though it sounds cliché, I’ve always wanted to write. When I started reading Robin Cook’s medical thrillers, I learned it was possible to be both a doctor and a writer. Of course, life as a physician didn’t leave much time, and that’s why my first book was so long in coming. But eventually a book was born, whose process I mentioned above.

L.B.: How does craft serve you, and what do you say to writers who prefer to just make stuff up – including their own take on craft – as they go along?

 Carrie: Given my left-brained tendencies, it’s not surprising I’m a fan of structural guidelines and basic story elements. Outlining too, though why I wrote such a loosey-goosey one for my first book is anyone’s guess. To me it makes sense to iron out the kinks beforehand. When we make stuff up as we go along, we risk plot holes and pacing problems, not to mention major revisions several drafts down the road.

But I understand that style is not for everyone. Some people find outlines and essential story elements restrictive. But to those writers I’d say that even with a pre-designed structure you can—and often do—change things up. But it’s far easier to make those changes in the first draft than the fourth.

l.B.: “Eating Bull” is a title that really grabbed me.  Having read the book (almost done) I can see where it comes from, but one has to immerse in that pitch before the title has meaning.  If you ran into an agent in an elevator at a conference, what is your 30-second pitch for the story?

 Carrie: My 30-second pitch would be: “After joining forces with a public health nurse to sue the food industry, an overweight teenager lands in the crosshairs of a serial killer who is targeting the obese. Now Jeremy—bullied, fat-shamed, and ridiculed by his own grandfather—must prove to his family, the killer, and the world that he’s more than the faint-hearted coward they think he is.”

Of course, the protagonist’s nickname “Eating Bull” takes on more significance as the story goes on, but to mention why would be a spoiler.

 L.B.: Awesome pitch. Your story is highly thematic (obesity)… did you start with that, and if not, what was your launching story element?

 Carrie: I did start with that. In fact, three things pertaining to obesity launched my story element:

  • My frustration with managing obesity in a clinical setting. Many people want to lose weight, but so many obstacles block their success—the food industry among them.
  • Reading investigative reporter Michael Moss’s revealing book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. It’s an eye-opening exposé on the role of the food industry in our country’s weight problem.
  • A tearful, severely overweight teenage patient who said to me, “Not a day goes by I don’t know I’m fat, because no one will let me forget it.”

Nonfiction books already exist on the issues of fat-shaming, food addiction, and the food industry’s role in obesity. So I decided to weave the elements into a fictional story instead. Fiction often evokes emotion in a way nonfiction does not, and it makes readers see things in a new light.

 L.B.:  The humanity and empathy inherent to youy story shines through when you discuss it this way. And you impart it to your narrative, as well.

 You have three terrific POVs in your story: a student with a problem, a health worker, and a serial killer. Which came first for you? 

 Carrie: Thank you. Though Eating Bull has a 15-year-old protagonist, it’s not a Young Adult novel. As you mentioned, two other adult POVs make up the cast.

My nurse protagonist came to me first. When I thought of the concept to sue the food industry, I knew I’d need a social-justice-seeking character to do that. A thick-skinned public health nurse fit the bill. But I also knew she would need a patient to champion for, someone to convince to sue the food industry for his or her obesity, and someone young and malleable enough to do her bidding. So I chose a 15-year-old. But since he’s the one with the most obstacles to overcome, he became the main hero.

The killer came last, and that was actually my husband’s idea. Fat-shaming is a prominent theme in the book, and an obsessive-compulsive, fitness-crazed killer allows that behavior to be taken to the extreme.

L.B.: As a “story engineer,” did you that any muses visited you during the process, and if so, how did they influence your process?

 Carrie: Some of this I answered in an earlier question, but I would add that I’m not one for muses or characters speaking to me. They don’t guide my story; I do. Not that I haven’t been surprised by a shift in my character’s direction—something I hadn’t initially thought of. That’s one of the fun parts of writing fiction. But I guess I’m too much of a realist to say the characters made me do it.

I like an objective, blueprint approach. I want to know where all the story pieces fit and how they will escalate tension before I start the first draft. It’s like putting together a puzzle, and sometimes that means roadblocks and setbacks. Of course, this is where your books helped me a great deal. They gave me a vocabulary for a process that intuitively made sense to me.

L.B.: What’s next for you, near and longer-term? Do you intend to remain with small presses, or do you have plans to go more traditional, or even perhaps self-publish someday? What informs those preferences?

 Carrie: I’m nearly finished the second draft of my third novel and hope to have it ready to query by summer. I’m thrilled with my current boutique publisher. They put together a great product with Eating Bull and worked with me every step of the way.

However, like self-published authors, small-press-published authors shoulder the bulk of marketing. Promotion is difficult and time-consuming, and getting reviews is challenging. So I may query agents and try a more traditional route. On the other hand, a benefit of the small press is a quicker time to publication. So I’ll see how things go.

 L.B.: Some reading this article are quite new to writing fiction, what is your advice to them, as well as warnings and promises?

 Carrie: My advice on the writing side would be to plan your story first. That doesn’t mean you have to create a 20,000+ word outline like some of us do, but at the very least, flesh out the story’s structure and know what plot elements you’ll need to keep the pace moving. If you sense you’ll have to fudge to make something work, then don’t start writing until you’ve fleshed it out. It makes the first draft much easier, and by the time you get to the second, most of the heavy lifting is done. Dealing with a plot hole in the story creation phase is far less painful than dealing with it after multiple drafts.

My advice for the practical side (and warning) is to know there are millions of books out there, with thousands more being published each day. Getting an audience is difficult. It takes lots of work. Expecting to become a bestselling author from the get-go who makes lots of money is unrealistic. But with hard work and steady output, you may eventually climb out of the red and into the black.

Thank you once again, Larry, for interviewing me on your blog today. It was a pleasure to be here, and I thoroughly enjoyed our exchange.

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RubinAuthorPhoto Carrie Rubin is a physician with a master’s degree in public health. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers association. Her novels include Eating Bull and The Seneca Scourge. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two sons. You can find Carrie on her website, carrierubin.com, Facebook, Twitter (@carrie_rubin), and Goodreads.

 

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