Hyacinths and celebrating the magic of spring:

Spring is here, tentatively, minus a weekend of dreary weather and this morning’s freakish snow. For once, I actually didn’t mind seeing those snowflakes too much, probably because by the end of the week, it will be April, and I’ll be one step closer to sandals, sundresses, and the magic of springtime.

My ritual for Ostara was simple, but I did bless these flowers (see photo below) in the name of the goddess, wanting their blooms to be a reminder of the healing power of nature and of the season of rebirth. I dedicated the then-closed blooms in honor of Persephone and Ostara (one, a woman who lives in both the Underworld and the world of the living, a vegetation goddess and reminder of the rebirth following darkness; the other,a fertility goddess whose name later became associated with the Christian holiday Easter). I thought of the sadness and hurting going on in the world, and I sent out energy of love and healing. A photo of my new spring blooms and the remainder of this entry are posted below this cut:

Pen names, secret identities, and Superman

Do you use a pen name? If so, why? Are you staunchly in support, adamantly against, or somewhere in between, shrugging your shoulders and saying, “It depends?”

Dirty secret revealed: I use a pen name. Initially, I didn’t, partially because, to be honest, I couldn’t think of a name to which I would feel as connected as the one my parents bestowed upon me. Names are powerful things; who we are gets wrapped up in our name. Maybe our name even has power over us, as works as varied as Joss Whedon’s Angel (remember Jasmine, Angel fans?) to Ursula le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea have suggested. You know that feeling you get when someone says your name, your turn, only to find they’re talking to someone else? The names we’re born with us become part of us.

When I got married, I didn’t take my husband’s last name. It was a feminist thing, but also a career thing. I had published journalistic writing under my “maiden” name. But it was also my name. It wasn’t merely my family name, my father’s name. It was my name. I owned it, and I was proud of it. It was the name on my high school diploma, my bachelor’s degree, and my master’s. My education is important to me; it’s shaped me in wonderful ways and opened up doors in my life that would have otherwise remained closed. As the granddaughter of a coal miner, I understand how far I’ve come, the sacrifices my ancestors made for me to have those opportunities, and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Perhaps I felt changing my name would distance me from my accomplishments (silly, I know now—those are just pieces of paper, records, symbols, not the journey itself). Maybe it was the feminist in me, railing against the system. Point is, my name meant a lot to me.

So when I considered using a pen name, the idea at first felt strange. But after much debate, I figured I should, if only for practical reasons: my real name is common, the URL is taken, and it’s also the name of an accomplished musician. I also wanted the freedom to write what I wanted to write without worrying what my boss would think. This way, I don’t have to worry about awkward looks over the water cooler if I suddenly decide to write naughty erotica—which isn’t what I write, but hey, a girl likes to keep her options open… It also leaves me free to discuss magical topics without worrying about creating awkwardness at the day job. I am a very private person. I am not ashamed of my faith and will tell you if you out and out ask. But yeah, sometimes the day-job me wears a mask. (Though unlike Clark Kent, I actually need the glasses, just one of many differences setting me apart from the Man of Steel.)

So I decided to use a pen name. I went back and forth. I thought and thought about it and mulled it over some more. Finally, I came up with the last name Madigan, which has a lovely sound to it, yet is easy to pronounce. It feels like part of me. It also means “mastiff,” and I’m a total animal-lover, and it’s Irish, so I like that it pays homage to my family’s Irish roots. (Note that I chose the name before I knew what it meant. Initially, I wasted wayyy too much time pouring over books of names and their meanings–and bear in mind that those books can often contradict one another.) One of my best friends helped me choose my first name. I liked the ring of it, simple but unique at the same time. And it wasn’t taken by anyone in the genre. So off I went.

And yes, just like my “real name” (Hint—it’s not Kal-El.), my nom de plume is a part of me. I can feel it entwining with my heart, becoming a part of my identity. Janelle Madigan. Yep, that’s me.

So I support pen names. If it’s good enough for Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), it’s good enough for me. On her blog, Kait Nolan offers a couple very valid reasons for using a pen name: one, privacy, and two, writing across genres. And Rachelle Gardner offers a list of reasons why you might want to think of using a nom de plume.

Conversely, Kristen Lamb offered a strong and reasonable case against pen names. In many cases, I find myself inclined to agree. If you have no real need for a pen name, why go to the hassle of having to explain to all two-hundred of your Facebook friends that you’re actually writing under x name and they can also friend you under your pen name or become a fan of your Facebook page? Don’t even try to explain it to grandma. She’ll just be confused.

Many female authors use their maiden names, and I suppose any of us could use a family moniker. But please don’t make it your pet’s name and the name of the street you grew up on. Unless it really works. Like, Sadie Stone. I’d pick up one of Sadie’s books. But, Rocky Elm or Cookie Sunset, don’t go there. Now, it’s getting late, and I’m getting silly…

So where do you stand? Are you using a pen name? Do you write in different genres under different names? Would you consider writing under a name other than your “real” one?

A dose of inspiration: Why writers need to remain in tune with their inner selves

  “You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every
moment of your life.”

–Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Once upon a time, I was a messy-haired girl who rejoiced in the feeling of mud squishing between my toes. I sang impromptu, horridly off-key songs in my backyard. And hours of my time were spent in fern-filled forests of home, making up my stories or pondering the meaning of life.

I’m twenty-seven. What happened to that little girl?

Yeah, she grew up. Somehow, that happens, and while we remember some of the moments with painful clarity—the guy who broke your heart, or standing beside the grave of someone you loved and realizing that person is no longer there to guide you, or chastising yourself when the credit card bill comes and you realize there’s no one but you to pay it—a lot of growing up is gradual and unrecognized.

I love adulthood. I love the freedom of making my own decisions. I could move to Texas or to France if I wanted. If I want to draw on the walls in marker, I can. Of course, I’d be the one to go to the store, buy paint, and paint over it myself, and I recognize that I’m no Picasso, so I refrain from the creation of murals. Being an adult, for all of its hectic, non-stop insanity, is good.

But not that long ago, I had a realization. I occasionally feel homesick, not for the house where I grew up, but for the woods where I first realized I wanted to be a storyteller and a writer, where I first found a connection to nature and spirituality that would drive the person I would become. When I meditate, I often imagine walking in those very woods because they are a part of my deep self. I’m more real there than anywhere else. And that’s when it hit me. Something was missing.

That something was me. Me, being the person I wanted to be, not to impress or please anyone else. I’m not talking about irresponsibility, about immaturity, about selfishness. But our lives are our own. As children, we recognize that. We know we don’t want steamed peas and no, daddy, we’re not going to eat them. We hate that ugly hat Aunt Edna bought us. But sometimes as grown-ups we’re so busy pleasing everyone else that we forget to tune in to the voice that knows what we really want. When we silence that voice, we open a door to unhappiness. And we put up barriers between our “talking selves” and the writer we’re meant to be, the stories we’re meant to write.

How we remain in touch with the deep self and our sources of inspiration

Sick days and short stories:

So what promised to be a week of steady progress turned into a battle with sore throats, fevers, and smashing headaches. Felt like I’d been pushed off a cliff and then run over by a truck. Translation: I am far short of meeting my writing quota for this week.

Considering all else that is transpiring in the world, though, I am grateful that all I’ve had to grapple with is a passing illness. It’s hard to lose momentum on a story, but there are worse things. One needn’t scroll too far down CNN’s home page to find them, these days.

Current WIP…

Crazy questions people ask Wiccans:

I’ve gotten some good ones in my day. When you say you’re Wiccan, people’s reactions range from dismissive to insulted, from “Are you nuts?” to “You realize you’re letting the devil into your soul, right?”

I’ve heard a number of good (and some not-so-good) questions over the years; some said in insult, others only out of confusion. Here are a few I’ve been asked. If you walk a pagan path, feel free to chime in with your take. What are the craziest questions you’ve been asked? What’s the worst reaction you’ve ever gotten? Is there any time you’ve been open about your faith and then wished you hadn’t been?

And for those of you who aren’t Wiccan, what questions do you have? I won’t get offended, unless you purposefully insult me or accuse me of being evil. Then, I’ll be offended. Who wouldn’t? If you have an honest question, feel free to ask!

Disclaimer: There are many different traditions within Wicca. It’s a very personal religion, and everyone has his or her own view. Still, my response to the answers below should give you a better understanding.

Common questions:

Balancing acts: Writing and marketing

You don’t have to be a Libra to recognize the importance of balance.

I’ve always been a big fan of balance. And the more I grow, personally and professionally, the more important balance seems.

It’s everywhere. Ebb and flow. Yin and yang. Night and day. We call it “finding a happy medium” or “the middle ground.”  As writers, we call it “show vs. tell” and in every part of our lives we struggle to focus on details without losing sight of the bigger picture. We balance relationships with jobs and work with play.

So how do we balance our time for writing—nestled in between, sometimes encroaching upon the other aspects of our lives, like love, play, silliness, eating healthy, working out, cleaning house, paying bills, etc.—with the marketing aspect? When I first began writing, all I wanted to do was tell stories. And that’s still my priority, but I recognize that I don’t want to be a band playing to an empty room. It’s important to share those stories with others. That sharing gives a story life, breath, wings—whatever you want to call it.

I’m not a hotshot. I worry that I’ll be mistaken for someone who only cares about finding a market for her books. And although I’m not aiming for the NYTimes bestseller list, if I wound up there, I would be thrilled, terrified, excited, and confused. Yeah, I really don’t see myself there any more than my sociologist brother thinks he’ll be the next C.S. Mills or my actress sister thinks she’ll win an Oscar. But at night, sitting in front of the mirror, a girl can dream she’ll be the next Nora Roberts. Can’t she? 😉

I love books: reading them, writing them, and talking about them. Talking about my own work gets boring after a while. So there’s another key ingredient in this whole balance thing: reading vs. writing. I often link to other blogs or mention other writers because I find so much inspiration in the work of others, inspiration for the art of my work, the practice of it, or, yes, the business of it. I read a lot of books, and I read a lot of blogs, too. It provides me with support and guidance when I start to feel bogged down. While I can’t spend hours a day on the blogosphere (maybe I will, one day, when the gods accept my request to add a few extra hours into the day), I do read a lot of blogs, not always able to comment on as many as I would like.

We are storytellers, after all, so that means telling stories, a form of sharing. I think back to works like Beowulf, imagining a quiet, captivated audience being swept up in the story as it is relayed to them, perhaps amidst tankards of ale and long, wooden tables. Now, we have printing presses and e-book readers, libraries, and book stores; stories are told from across the dinner table or across the globe. Even blogs tell stories, and we all tune in. The number of stories out there is, well, astounding.

I read a depressing statistic: 93 percent of books sell less than 1,000 copies. Ouch. It’s enough to make you grab the nearest batch of cookie dough and build a fort out of sheets. Then, in the glow of a flashlight, we can write in our sticker-covered notebooks or glitter-splattered journals, lost in our own worlds. But as Samuel Johnson said, “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” Publishing is like giving birth; it’s one necessary step on the path of parenting our books and writing careers. And given the statistic I’ve just gloomily noted, I can’t help but wonder how we all find the courage to keep on writing, fighting against the odds.

It’s hard to see marketing as a part of the creative process. Still in the pre-published stage of my career, I don’t know what it will be like when I reach what seems like a daunting and overwhelming place in my career, knowing that when I do publish, a huge part of that burden will fall to me, to reach out and share my stories.

I know I can’t be the only one overwhelmed by this prospect. I’m also excited for it, curious about where my writing career will take me, determined to push forward even through the most difficult parts of this journey, and fascinated by the technological advances that change our industry. Blogging, e-books, social media, book trailers, Facebook pages…we have so many avenues, it’s easy to get lost.

So, for those of you in the fledgling stages of your career, what worries do you have? How are you building up knowledge for your future? What worries you most about marketing?

And for those of you who’ve already published, what is the hardest part about marketing? What advice do you have for the newbs among us? 😛

Thanks for reading. I look forward to hearing everyone’s comments.

Ye old writing debate: “Literary” vs. “Genre”

Today, I couldn’t help but thinking about the old “us vs. them” mentality that permeates our society. I find it virtually everywhere I look, much to my dismay. It feels like whatever the issue, people are lined up on both sides of the line.

Sometimes, it’s just silly. There are the iPhone people and the Android people. Recently on the radio, the deejays were pondering the question, “Are iPhone users snobs?” Seriously? * sigh *Maybe I should just switch to NPR, but I’m kind of a pop-culture junkie. I like knowing when the latest Lady Gaga or Pink or Taylor Swift song comes out and hearing people’s reactions. I digress…

So what does this have to do with writers? Because I feel like we’re caught in this battle every day. There are the “literary” people and the “genre” people. And the literary people can’t understand how people can debase themselves by writing that formulaic, uninspiring dribble.  And the genre people can’t figure out why the literary people have such sticks up their arses. The literary people say genre has no place in a college classroom. And the genre people can’t figure out why the literary people can’t see that it takes a helluva lot of talent to write a good book in any genre, be it science-fiction, fantasy, romance, young-adult, or other. I once heard a professor say that he simply couldn’t allow his students to write genre fiction because, well, he didn’t know how to grade it. The man was a talented writer and well admired. How could he not know good fiction, regardless of the genre label placed on it?

Now, I guess you do have to know the conventions of the genre. These are really reader expectations. We expect certain things out of certain novels. So if you’re writing a romance novel, your readers have an idea of what to expect. If in the last scene, the characters break up, your reader is going to be puzzled or if pissed (or waiting for the sequel!). If halfway through a romance novel, a bus plows into your hero and leaves him for dead, your readers are going to be scratching their heads going, “What the hell?” And maybe we’re expecting him to rise from the dead.

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