Category Archives: Sheila Englehart

Patterson & Co

Costco currently has a display of trade paperbacks devoted exclusively to James Patterson. I counted at least two dozen titles and did a mental shudder. My thoughts were all over the place. Not a one warm and fuzzy. I have friends who would tell me that I should be celebrating his success because it only helps the rest of us. That I should take encouragement from his achievements.

Right.

I’m not repelled by the success of others, but I find that some authors become too commercial, churning out cookie-cutter variations of their greatest hits. The last time I heard Patterson speak at a book festival many years ago, he had already achieved a healthy ego and was riding the fame wave. How did he turn the corner from writer to book machine? I tried to imagine him setting out, green with grand illusions. But co-writers doing the bulk of writing?

One in four mainstream thrillers bear his name. He has three series that don’t fall under the thriller umbrella, including young adult. He’s no longer a writer alone with his keyboard hammering out his creations. He’s more like the head of a movie studio giving his final stamp of approval on the final product of collaboration.

Perhaps I’m too romantic about writing. I love books. Mainly print books. And the future is not bright for the print book. Even Patterson’s. There is a library in San Antonio equipped only with computers loaded with more titles than any one building could hold. Personally, I like to hold a book, and don’t think anyone should require a power source to read one. I also don’t think it’s humanly possible for one person to write as many as Patterson has his name on.

He’s won more awards than one person knows what to do with. He made the 50 Most Influential People list. He’s changed the definition of bestselling author by producing a staggering number of titles. And his sprawling estate in Palm Beach makes Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home look like a Tiki hut. Most authors I know don’t earn enough at their craft to pay their car insurance.

Jealousy, you say? Nah. I’ve no desire to live in Palm Beach. I used to work there.

Must find the positive. Okay…

Patterson does spend a lot of his time and money promoting reading. He created the first dual book, where the adult book comes along with a book for the child. This guy has done more to encourage kids to read than any author I’ve heard about, donating massive amounts of books to more than 400 schools and the military. That is “putting your money where your mouth is.”

As a writer, I can’t view his huge display at Costco with admiration. I’m not even inspired by it. But I can’t dislike someone who champions literacy in a world where books are vanishing. The more readers he helps to create, the better chance the rest of us have of being read.

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing, as well blogging on all things paranormal at http://www.sheilaenglehart.wordpress.com

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Words

Few films have been able to capture my heart as completely as The Book Thief, based on the 2005 prize winning novel by Markus Zusak. This is the story of an illiterate girl sent to live with a foster family that is hiding a Jew from the Nazis.

Max, the young Jewish man, tells young Liesel that his people believe that words create the life of a thing. They are truly alive when there are words for them. I couldn’t agree more.

To see the main character discover words and the power they brought to the human spirit stirred long dormant feelings. I had escaped into words from the time I could understand them. Books were the one thing I was never denied. Reading someone else’s words strung together like lights on a Christmas tree, twisted onto its branches, and reflecting off sparkling ornaments transported me from my troubled existence to a places of dreams and delight. They created stories that didn’t necessarily have to sound pretty or set scenes of beauty and happiness, but took me on a journey, discovering people embroiled in situations far more fantastic or difficult than any I would encounter.

I’ve often wondered about people who didn’t love to read the way I did. I’ve even felt sad that they missed out on amazing knowledge because they never opened the door that is the cover of a book – or in the 21st century, the screen of a digital device. I remember being taught the proper care of a book — how to make a homemade jacket out of a paper grocery bag to keep the cover pristine; how to open the cover for the first time without damaging the binding; and how to handle the crisp pages as if each were one of a kind and carried an ancient secret.

Leisel read far deeper works than I did at her age. As a child I identified with animal stories. Animals, like children, have no choices. I remember falling in love with Elsa, the lioness, in Born Free and seeing a larger Africa than I’d seen on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on Sunday night television. Black Beauty and National Velvet took me to England and showed me another side of humanity. Books were my greatest treasure. Still are. Although I’m not the hoarder I used to be. I find more satisfaction in sharing them.

Words gave me a life I wouldn’t have known without reading. Stories freed my mind to travel far beyond my home. Leisel lived during the most atrocious time in our history and words gave her power to survive the unimaginable.

Words give life to our language, our emotions, our history, and our daily lives. Burning them, as they did in Leisel’s time, was nothing short of murder. When she plucked a smoldering title from the ashes, hiding it in her coat, she was saving the lives of the author, his characters, and herself.

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing, as well blogging on all things paranormal at http://www.sheilaenglehart.wordpress.com

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Art?

At the multiplex I stood behind a man who was buying tickets for himself and a nine-year-old to see Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The ticket taker pointed to the warning notice posted in the box office window and asked if he’d read it. This notice didn’t just warn parents that the film contained inappropriate language and situations for children, but also warned that they would be removed from the theater if the child did not remain in the seat immediately next to their parents and behave.

My husband was appalled. “I can’t believe anyone would bring a child to that kind of movie.”

Sadly, I can. There are a lot of irresponsible parents out there. But in their defense, one of the primary characters is a child.

But this got me thinking about the artists who made that film. Did they consider Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa to be a piece of art or a commercial cash cow? And are they responsible for the effect it might have on children?

And what about my own work? Am I responsible for the thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and behaviors that a piece of art might generate?

This argument has been ongoing for decades.

We live in a country where freedom of speech seems to be an invitation to let it all hang out in the name of Art. Crimes have been committed copying those written in a book or viewed on television and film. The artist may not have had a direct influence on the person who committed the crime, but his art certainly generated an idea and planted a seed that grew into an action.

Art is a form of expression created in many voices. Some of those are highly inappropriate for children who need responsible parental guidance until they come of age. Parents can freely choose entertainment with adult content while keeping children at a safe distance. That’s their job, not the artist’s. Yet I try to be conscious of the kind of work I create. I don’t wish to offend anyone, yet I am well aware that I might. Language, sex, religion, and politics can be land mines.

As much as I don’t believe in censorship, I do believe that, as an artist, I serve the work first, then take the audience into account. After that I have to respect my own integrity. I want to be proud of the product I put my name on, even though it might not align with everyone’s sensibilities. If I use colorful language in a piece where that is appropriate to the characters and situations, I am being true to the work. But some readers might be offended. I can’t please everyone. No one can.

I don’t write with everyone in mind. I write for a specific audience, as did the writers of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. And I’d like to believe they did not intend for their target audience to bring young children. Perhaps they didn’t care. But this was the first time I had seen such a prominently displayed notice of warning on a box office window.

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing, as well blogging on all things paranormal at http://www.sheilaenglehart.wordpress.com

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What’s in Your Hand?

handwriting

Handwriting, that is.

In grade school, teachers used to tell me I had perfect penmanship. But decades of fast-paced administrative jobs took their toll and I’ve had to work to make it legible again.

A handwriting expert at a recent expo was offering free analysis. Intrigued, I followed the instructions and scribbled out the words “As I am” and “Golly” in cursive. It looked terrible. The only cursive I did with any frequency was my signature.

A sweet Midwestern lady with a bright smile and boisterous demeanor went to work pointing out my hidden characteristics in a tone a librarian might use with a child looking for a book. Words like close-minded, mistrusting, and reclusive tumbled merrily from her. She tossed in a couple of positive terms (free-thinker and book-lover) before she said, “See that “s” that you printed instead of writing cursive? That means you have difficulty with authority.”

Gee, I thought that meant that I was unpracticed at cursive handwriting. But she had a point. As long as I can remember I have had levels of difficulty with everyone from parents to the parish priest.

After five minutes with this woman, who probably had the penmanship of a third grade teacher, I felt marked. The FBI and CIA used handwriting analysis in criminal profiling, right? What if I dropped my grocery list in the supermarket and a retired member recognized darkness lying dormant there, then placed me on a watch list that made it difficult to pass through airport security? The character that this woman described was an antisocial malcontent who thrived in isolation and enjoyed plotting wrong-doing.

I thanked her, grateful that I had not paid for this revelation into my psyche, and chewed this over like a piece of overcooked meat. Certainly I wasn’t that person. Sure, I lived out in the country, but I wasn’t holed up in the back woods plotting against humanity for Pete sake. I’ve yelled at bad drivers from the privacy of my own vehicle. I often preferred the company of pets over people. And I did spend a great deal of time in alone. Hadn’t my suspicious nature mellowed with age?

That’s when it hit me. As a writer, those qualities made me perfect for The Job.

I had a soft spot for morally ambiguous characters, but in reality I had no stomach for dirty deeds or people who did them. I did have a strong sense of justice, but often disagreed with the laws and the people continually writing new ones.

Having handwriting that suggested a Dexter-like aptitude for plotting ill wasn’t such a bad thing. In fact, that made me uniquely qualified to bring the dark side into the light. Like Wednesday Addams, I’m still fascinated with The Bermuda Triangle and have not yet outgrown the age where “there’s only one thing on a girl’s mind.” And it’s not boys.

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing, as well blogging on all things paranormal at http://www.sheilaenglehart.wordpress.com
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What’s in a Name?

Branding is a word bandied about by marketing experts today. New authors looking to make their mark in the literary world worry about the image that will be attached to their name. J.K. Rowling chose to use initials to disguise her gender when she first began publishing the Harry Potter series. I had considered doing this very thing myself. Every reader attaches Stephen King to the horror genre, Danielle Steele to romance, Isaac Asimov to science fiction. But establishing a brand name for yourself can be a chess move that you have to live with after letting go of the piece.

I was delighted to hear Deborah Harkness talk about her decision to publish under her real name when she was at Bookmarks this year. If you didn’t know, Deborah is a New York Times bestselling author of Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. She’s also a university professor, historian, and author of nonfiction with a highly respected wine blog.

When her boss at the university heard that she was releasing a vampire and witch novel, he had hoped she would do it under a pen name. But Harkness had invested a huge amount of time in researching 16th century Europe and the practices of the period. She’d also uncovered a real person connected to the world she was recreating in fiction and took license to fill in the holes of his missing past. With the extensive research and powerful discoveries, she was not about to hide behind a pseudonym simply because she chose to tell the story with witches and vampires. She’d worked hard and was proud of the result.

Her name is now aligned with fantasy writing, as well as her academic accomplishments. She giggled when she told the audience that she often meets other genre authors who chose to disguise their identities to protect their academic reputations. Standing in line at the bank she’s heard a few hushed voices admit to her back, “I write historical romance (science fiction/westerns/bodice rippers) under a pseudonym.”

And these authors were scientists, doctors, educators, and a host of other professionals.

Deborah Harkness had a reputation to preserve, but she took a chance and flew her genre colors proudly, at the risk of alienating the academic world she’d served for decades.

If you are a new author and trying to decide whether or not to publish under your real name, you can ask yourself many questions. Is there another author with the same name or one that sounds too similar? Will my readership grow if my gender is disguised? Do I want to publish in more than one genre simultaneously?

I deliberated some before publishing my first paranormal suspense under my real name. And after hearing Deborah’s story, I think you need only ask yourself one question.
Are you proud of your work?

If so, why wouldn’t you want your name aligned with that?

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing, as well blogging on all things paranormal at http://www.sheilaenglehart.wordpress.com

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Derailed by Sheila Englehart

My Cousin Vinny

Ever have times when everyone and everything conspires to keep you from writing?

Lately, a tornado of activity has thwarted my attempts to work on my current novel. My writing is as interrupted as Vincent Gambini’s sleep in the movie My Cousin Vinny.

If you saw this film, you remember how Vinny’s slumber was disturbed nightly by sounds to which a city boy is unaccustomed. A dripping faucet, heard only because the town was so quiet; the railroad crossing bells and the train that followed at 4 AM; the screech owl that broke the silence near a hunting cabin in the woods. Vinny tried scaring the owl off by shooting a pistol, but the owl had the last word. Then he moved to a cornfield only to be followed by a lightning storm.

The must-do activities in life steal my time. Odd jobs, the malfunctioning car, the AC unit that quit in 90 degree heat, weddings, deaths, family drama, along with a roster of outside obligations that take precedence on the list of priorities. Marketing, social media, and search for submission outlets sop up time the way bread does gravy. With no instant return on investment, the writing gets derailed.

Graham Greene advised, “Write 500 words a day through love and war.”

How? Steal a little time back for what is important. Write in small bites, anytime, anyplace.

According to Warren Buffet, “Highly successful people say no to everything.” I can’t say “No” to repair work, but I can say “No” to any outside project that doesn’t contribute to the writing. Time-eaters like holding people’s hands through their dramas must go.

Time management is crucial. Maybe if I record my day on a time sheet like I used to do in a corporate setting, I would squeeze more in. Or see how much time I’m not utilizing.

In the film, the only time Vinny got to sleep was when he spent the night in jail. If you’ve ever lived in a big city, you know that sirens, whistles, car horns, garbage trucks and people yelling become as soothing as rain. Vinny needed the noise.

So what do I need to get back on the rails? Inspiration from another artist’s success story? A good movie? (Definitely not reading a book written by someone who probably never gets derailed.)

A change of place helps. Going to a coffee shop or diner to write brings my focus back to the page, and I can refuel by eavesdropping on the conversations of others. When I get out in the world, I can get on my way. If the pen moves. (Yes, I write the first draft longhand.) If it doesn’t, I have to find a way to get it moving, like picking a person from the crowd to describe or give a fictional life.

For me, a change of environment can create steam when my train has stopped at the crossing. More often I feel like Vinny’s girlfriend, Mona Lisa Vito, waiting for Vinny to win his first case so she can get married and start a family, stamping her foot. “My clock is ticking like this!”

So what gets you back on track?

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing&lt

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Move it or Lose it –by Sheila Englehart

fire damage

Right now. Be honest. Exactly where are your treasured works saved? Desk drawer? Pen holder? Coffee mug? Decorative wooden box? External hard drive on the desk next to your computer?

I know that you’ve read many articles about the importance of back-ups and where to store them, but did you take action?

A storm just ripped through my neighborhood. Trees tore through power lines, blocked roads, and demolished homes. As I watched the 80 foot trees behind my house part like blades of grass, my first thought wasn’t getting to the basement for safety. No.

Is my backup in the safe? If a tornado takes my house, where would the safe land?

Thirteen years ago I lost everything in an apartment fire. Every word I’d written – a life’s work. Possessions can be replaced by insurance, if you have it. But insurance does not cover intellectual property. Nothing will bring back your treasured words.

The owner of the apartment complex had not allowed the fire department access to the property for hydrant inspection in years. Two were rusted shut. The one that did open had no water. The defense attorney said to me, “If you were a seasoned writer, you would have protected your work.” Then she went on to expound on how, since I had yet to make an actual sale, my work was no more valuable than the paper on which it was written. The heat of her words burned hotter than the fire.

Before that I had kept back-ups offsite, usually at my day job. When I was downsized, I brought my back-ups home. I was three weeks from moving to a better place when that fire happened. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know any better, but that small window of letting my guard down proved fatal.

I didn’t just lose years of precious work. I lost my identity with it. Was I really a writer if I had not hit the big time? Was I fooling myself all those years thinking I could ever be published? Was this a sign that I was nothing more than a dreamer whose messy notebooks would someday bring my sanity into question? With my many starts and stops for re-evaluation, I lost six years of productivity, during which I might have produced great work.

Until that storm, I had been content with the use of a portable safe. Now I’m rethinking its location, and whether a good storm might fling it into the next county. It’s not enough just to do the back-ups. It must be secured away from you.

I can’t shout this loud enough: Protect your files offsite!

If you trust technology, find a recommended digital cloud. I know a couple people who love this option. Old school like me? Bank box, coffee can in Uncle Karl’s backyard, or safe cemented in the floor. Because whether you misplace your flash drive in a move, lose your house to nature or accident, or your “first love” to a jealous ex, you’d better be prepared.

Masterpiece or moth-eaten notes, gone is Gone.

Now, where are your files stored?

If your life’s work is in any of the places in the first paragraph, take action. Move it.

***

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing

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A Matter of Perspective

Gabriel Iglesias 3A mentor once told me, “Everything is funny. Just depends on how you look at it.”

Okay, this might not apply to tragedies like war and natural disaster destruction, but for the most part she was right. What reduces one person to hysterics might bore another. Comics utilize their own unique perspective in their work. But in order to sell it to the audience, it must be believable. Perspective lies in the moment. What you see or feel comes with a mix of your personal circumstances, life experiences, upbringing, belief system, and attitude.

I recently watched Gabriel Iglesias’ comedy show Aloha Fluffy. He usually makes me laugh until I cry. This guy gained recognition from a comedy talent show where the audience determined the winner by voting someone off each week. Gabriel did not win his season, but he won me over. I always voted for him. I may not have much in common with a Mexican man, but I identified with his perspective on life.

Gabriel found fun in everything. Especially things others might find hurtful. Mister I’m-Not-Fat-I’m-Fluffy made good money regaling audiences with his own life experiences. He made no bones about his love of junk food – tacos, doughnuts, and chocolate cake.

“People ask me all the time, Gabriel, why are you always making fun of yourself? Well, I don’t make fun of myself. I just tell you about other people making fun of me. That’s from my real life.”

Another guy that size might hide himself away and take every fat comment directed at him to heart. He might have lost a girlfriend or job because of it, so his perspective could swing the way of great misery. But Gabriel viewed his weight through his own lens, harnessed it like lightning and turned it into a cash cow.

Some comics highlight the positive in the experience, while others seek to tear down and ridicule. I think their perspective reveals their true character. I’ve heard comics claim, “I’ll say anything for a laugh.” and “It’s only an act.” But I think they are kidding themselves. Comics create their persona around their material, similar to musicians. Gabriel is Mr. Fluffy Guy – a fun loving character. Imagine if Frank Sinatra hadn’t liked love songs. Could he have performed them with the depth of emotion required for his audience to find him believable, and immortalize his persona?

When my story isn’t working, I have to ask if I’m seeing it through the right eyes. I shift gears or I change who is telling the story to regain momentum. Perspective is the cornerstone of identity, and the difference between being a good sport and getting arrested. Some see the light through the dark, moving forward instead of grinding to a halt. Others wallow in the mud of self-pity, then refuse to shower afterward.

If you character said to the box of doughnuts next to him, “Oh, when we get home, you’re gonna get it!” would you believe him? You’d believe Gabriel.

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing

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A Good Mother

I have a friend young enough to be my daughter, and when she tells me her troubles, I only want to be helpful. She was trying to decide what to do about a man when I, along with another friend my age, dealt her a hand of “do this” and “don’t do that unless” cards, like moms.

“I get it,” she said. “You guys never had kids of your own, so you have to mother somebody.”

Wow. True. But . . . wow.

We middle-agers shot each other guilty looks. We had good intentions, gave what we thought to be solid suggestions, and stressed important points we had learned from our own experiences. Three problems with that:

1. We weren’t giving her credit for being adult enough to solve her own problem.

2. We weren’t her mother – or anyone else’s.

3. She had not solicited our sage advice.

As writers, we make those same mistakes with our characters. We push them into taking our advice, living by our rules, doing and saying things they wouldn’t normally. Why? Because we think they are our creations, and therefore, ours to possess, like the mother who molds a child to fulfill her own long lost dream. So when our characters give us the cold shoulder or silent treatment, and refuse to meet the potential we imagine for them, we stupidly try to force them. Any mother who has tried this knows the distance it can create.

A good mother understands that even if a child has inherited her hazel eyes and adventurous spirit, she may not have similar dreams and desires. Children’s goals and interests are as individual as their personalities. Some kids turn out opposite of the way parents imagine, and others do exactly what is expected. One kid might lay tracks upon graduating from high school and never ask for another thing, while his sibling is too fearful to leave the house much less venture out of her comfort zone.

Our characters will behave like children. As character Moms, it’s our job to guide and nurture, allowing them to make their own discoveries as they learn how to doctor their own boo-boos without Mom stepping in to fix everything. We don’t tell them what to do, as if we could. They’re going to do whatever they choose no matter how much we warn them. They’ll trip and fall, head down dangerous roads, and engage in battles that have nothing to do with us. We can whack them with a broom if the situation calls for it. But tell them what to do and how to do it? No chance.

When all is said and done, a good character mother like Bill Cosby’s knows that she wears – and shouldn’t hesitate to wield – The Shoe of Power.

“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing

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Why Do You Write That Stuff?

You might as well ask me why I like black licorice. I just do. And I like Stephen King’s answer to that question. “What makes you think I have a choice?”

But why do I write paranormal stories?

As a kid, I had experiences I couldn’t explain and got few answers to my questions. So I went in search of knowledge, reading all I could find on the strange and usual. The Bermuda Triangle by Charles Berlitz pushed the needle in that grove for me. I was obsessed with what happened to Flight 19, and traveled through The Triangle several times. Nothing happened, as if someone saw me coming and thought it would be funny to order up the most perfect days on record. Not a white cap on the horizon or a cloud in the sky. But that didn’t make me any less addicted to the idea of experiencing something amazing and unexplainable.

I had written traditional stories for years, but none of them sold. The trending advice was: “write what you read.” I had trouble finding new fiction of interest outside the teen section. How did that happen? I wanted paranormal for grown-ups, not dreamy infatuation and delusional super powers. And I wasn’t alone. This need for more mature paranormal stories spawned a genre called New Adult.

I read literary works, and am painfully aware that serious literature gets better press. But when reading for recreation, who really wants to be mired in situations so steeped in reality? Where is the fun? Where is the escape? And I don’t mean the wrist-slitting kind. I enjoy intellectual book discussions as much as anyone, but I my hackles went up a little when a guy asked me with a crinkled face, “Why do you write that stuff?” He sounded as if he was spitting out a bitter slice of something only the Bizarre Foods guy would put in his mouth.

“People remember a good story,” I said, resisting the urge to pick a fight.

For centuries, people have passed their history and knowledge through oral stories. Never mind that the first written stories were pictorial.

Paranormal writing suffers the stigma of being viewed as dime novel or pulp fiction. Popular fiction isn’t necessarily written for the purpose of teaching, but it can. Although genre work might not garner the respect of literary fiction, escapist stories can heal and inspire while they entertain. Isn’t it more fun to be entertained without realizing that you might be learning through the relationships of the characters and their circumstances?

I like to think I’m attracted to the paranormal because I’m open to new ideas. There is so much we don’t know about the mysteries of the universe. I enjoy exploring what I think and believe about the unknown. Anything is possible, if not necessarily probable. The paranormal might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it can open a closed mind to a new world of possibilities.

I write that stuff. It’s what I enjoy.

***

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing

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