Friday, January 29, 2016

The Oscars' Boycott: Agree or Disagree?

As many of you are aware, Spike Lee and the Smiths, Will and Jada, have opted to boycott the Oscars this year. For the second year in a row, no people of colour were nominated for a major award. There has been a great deal of chatter about this by both film makers and film critics, some of it quite thoughtful. As a novelist, however, my perspective on the situation is much different.

Novels and films are completely different art forms. This may sound obvious, but how often have you heard someone say "the book was better than the movie?" (That always drives me crazy) Writing a screenplay is nothing like writing a novel, and the only thing that ties the two together is story. The structure, however, and what the respective art forms can do, have little in common. If I were to suggest that a painting and a sculpture were the same art form, sculptors and painters would look at me like I'm nuts. And they'd be right to.

That said, most of the lead characters in my books are minorities. This was a conscious decision. If you follow this blog, than you know how I feel about social justice and equal rights and the responsibility of the artistic community, particularly writers, to not only see the imbalances of our society, but in some way to address those inequalities in our work. The easiest way to do this is to create minority characters and let them tell their story. Even if, as in my case, their story is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world.


Spike Lee has been a significant film maker for a long time, even if his work has been somewhat uneven the past fifteen years or so. And I don't think he's boycotting the Oscars as a publicity stunt. He's been in the inside and has seen what goes on behind the camera. And, as the black producer Effie Brown pointed out on Project Greenlight this year, the problem is not limited to what happens onscreen, but what happens off screen as well. Hollywood is still largely run by old white men. And they are not going to be harbingers of change, not in a society where they hold most of the power. And though it has changed somewhat the past decade or so, the Oscars remain a very "white" event. (The average age of academy voters is 62. Nearly all of them are white.) 

In a time when we have candidates running for president who are clearly xenophobic and 
racist, as well as movements like #BlackLivesMatter stemming from decades of systemic racism, it is imperative that the artistic community gets it right. And for better or worse, Hollywood represents the most powerful artistic group in the world. They need to be leading the way. (And having a talented actress like Charlotte Rampling talk about "reverse racism" is so beyond idiotic that I refuse to call her an artist any more. Artists must be the soul of a moral society. I don't care how well you can act, if you're a bigot, you're not an artist.)

So in that, I agree with Lee, and his boycott.


I've always liked Will Smith. He's a charismatic actor that has starred in a number of great movies. (Or great "bad" movies, like Bad Boys) But he's never shown himself to be an activist in any way, unless he's campaigning for the lead role in a Tarantino movie. Unlike Lee, they haven't earned the benefit of the doubt. The Smiths own a powerful production company. If they want more black actors represented at the Oscars, start making films that give them better roles.Or support films like Selma with their stardom and maybe some of their own cash. (They are uber-rich)

The Academy has proven that it will reward films by and starring people of colour. 12 Years a Slave was voted Best Picture just three years ago. I didn't see one this year. (I don't see as many films as critics, so again, take it for what it is, one novelist's opinion) I thought Michael B. Jordan was excellent in Creed, but it sounds like the producers didn't mount the proper campaign for him.

That's right, a campaign. To win an Oscar requires the proper schmoozing and marketing to all the right people, and if that campaign is poorly timed or executed, films will be left out. Insiders believe that this is what happened to Selma last year.

The other issue here, of course, is that representing minorities isn't just about people of colour. What about Asians? What about better roles for women, considering how many movies are made that still can't pass the Bechdel test? (Hell, I'll bet most Academy members don't even know what it is.) And yes, I know that women get equal representation at the ceremony, but that doesn't mean they're getting equal representation on the screen or behind the camera. (I see you, Jurassic World.)

The fact is, so long as the Academy is made up of a bunch of old white guys, and producers need to run political campaigns to get their films noticed, this is going to happen. And boycotting the ceremony does nothing to change that, particularly for those who have worked their entire life for this kind of recognition. (I'm thinking in particular about the parts of the ceremony that aren't televised. the awards for short films and documentaries, etc...)

Frankly, I think the Smiths are being hypocritical. Instead of boycotting, why not show up and talk about what needs to change. This can be done in a positive way. They're both stars. And don't just talk about the dearth of black nominations, but talk about equality. Talk about social justice and the importance of the artistic community getting it right. Talk about the need for better developed female characters and better roles for Indigenous people.

Even better, become active in the community. Do what Magic Johnson has done. Or Common. Follow in their footsteps and set the ground ablaze with what needs to be done.

If the Smiths really want to be activists, do something first. Let us see some of your riches go to projects that create change. Until then, your boycott is self-serving nonsense. 


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Deadlines, Book Signings, and the Oscars

My apologies for not posting recently. I'm hard at work on WINTER, Book V in the Desolate Kingdom series, and writing the first draft is more exhausting than any of the others. This is particularly true of us Panzers. (Writers who work without an outline) I have about four or five thousand words left, and I just haven't had the energy to post here. Thankfully, I should be done within the week, because there are a few things that have caught my eye recently.

As for book signings, thank you for your patience. I had a few issues with my second shipment of books, but they should be here in the next two weeks, which means I can finally start scheduling the first one, which will be held either in Richmond Hill or North York (Bayview Village). In the spring I'm hoping to schedule one in Welland, my hometown, and perhaps Ottawa. Again, thank you for your patience.

Reviews for The Last Angel continue to roll in, and they are as good as it gets. Every day someone knew messages me or emails me to tell me how much they enjoyed it and couldn't put it down. And many of those messages are coming from people who normally do not read fantasy. It's all been very encouraging, and I'm looking forward to releasing Book II, CITY OF SLAVES, on April 6th. The book is ready to go, and right now we're just working on the cover.

As for the Oscars, and the boycott by the Smiths and Spike Lee, I wanted to write a post about that from the perspective of a (white) novelist that had minority characters in lead roles. Ever since Gods and Kings was released, with Christian Bale playing the part of Moses, I've felt the urge to write about this, but simply haven't had the time. That remains true. Later this week perhaps.

Thank you all again for your patience. Once this first draft is done, assuming it doesn't kill me, I'll be able to blog more regularly. It should be done by the end of this week.

And remember, if you've read The Last Angel and enjoyed, please pass it on to someone and drop a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads for me. The amount of reviews determine how widely the book gets exposed. Thank you all so much!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The End is the Beginning

“How’d the writing go today, love?” Bethany asked as I bustled inside.

“I don’t know. Good, I think.” I’d spent the past six hours at a local cafĂ© after work. I managed a hug and kiss for my wife as I slumped into a chair. “I don’t know, babe. I don’t think I’m getting anywhere.”

“You will,” she smiled. “The book is good. Hear anything from the agents?”

“Two more rejections.”

I bit my lip and glanced at our apartment. Our two cats were laid out comfortably on the floor. They didn’t care if I became a successful writer. They were at peace. I knelt down to scratch Nelson, our fat one, between the ears.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, well, I’ve been failing at this for a long time. What’s a few more rejections?” She kissed me again and moved away. I didn’t bother telling her how much these rejections hurt, because they all hurt. I’d been writing for eighteen years. I’d spent the past five working on an epic fantasy novel that had gone through many shifts. I'd been certain that it would break the glass ceiling for me. 

It hadn’t happened.

Hell, not even a sniff from the agents. Nothing but form rejections. And this after completely re-writing it (and sending it out) three times. I don't mean simply editing it, either. I'd probably written about two million words to get to the ninety thousand word novel that it was right now. 

It hadn't mattered.

I had no idea what to do. I’d been writing for so long, and had encountered so little in the way of success, that I wondered if it was time to give up. Oh, I’d keep writing, of course.. (It was impossible to imagine a life without writing stories.) But maybe I had to accept the fact that I wasn’t good enough. It wasn't like I wasn’t a prodigy. I hadn’t studied writing or English Lit. My degree was in theology, and I’d spent most of my life working with students with special needs.

I’d just turned forty-one. Nearly two decades after I’d penned my first novel, I was going nowhere.

My wife walked back into the room. “Are you sure you're okay?”

“Yeah. I just… I don’t know how to be good. I’ve done this every day, babe, and I’m still… They don’t like it.”

She wrapped her arms around my shoulders. “It’s good. You’ll make it. Just be patient.”

I was lucky. I knew that. Bethany understood who I was and that the man she’d married was an artist, successful or not. She didn’t care that I hadn’t broken through, didn’t care that the agents had rejected my work. Instead, she found time to edit my drafts and encourage me. It might’ve been a great story if a publisher or agent had sent me something other than a form rejection.

But they hadn’t.

Two weeks later, still revising my manuscript,  I stumbled upon a website called National Novel Writing Month. (NaNoWriMo) Their challenge was to write fifty thousand words in thirty days. I’d written between two and three million words the past five years, but when I looked at my manuscript, I decided it was time for a change. Something new. Maybe the agents were wrong. Maybe my book was good. It didn’t matter. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to write about. That it would be fantasy was a given. It was my favorite genre, the one I felt most comfortable in. But fifty thousand words in thirty days?

But I had nothing to lose (the website was free) so I signed up. 

That first day, I barely crawled past the necessary word count (1,667 words). Unlike my past attempts, however, I knew that my obsessive self-editing was no longer possible. Not if I was going to meet my goal. Not at this pace. 

So I stopped. I stopped worrying about who I might offend with language or religion. I stopped caring about what my friends and family might think. I stopped editing myself as I tried to unveil the story. In this, I’d reached the end. The end of trying to please people. The end of trying to make others happy. The end of trying to write so that everyone felt better.

I reached the end, and it was a new beginning.

With only a couple of vague pictures in my mind, The Last Angel formulated into something solid. I finished the challenge and completed the first draft ten days later. I still had no idea what I’d done until I showed it to my wife.

“It’s a winner, love,” she said.

But she’d said that before. I began the usual practice of sending it t agents, only this time, it garnered interest. Real interest.

Bolstered by what I’d written, I used the same thirty-day tactic to write the sequel. No editing. No censoring. Write from the heart.

The result, CITY OF SLAVES, was another book I was immediately proud of.

And while the interest from the agents waned, I was no longer deterred.

I had something. I could feel it.

I contacted my old editor, Erin Healy, who’d become a best-selling author in the years since we’d last spoke. I was on the verge, she said. And self-publishing was probably my most viable option.

The publishing world had changed greatly in the past four years. No longer did the gatekeepers hold all the power. The digital revolution had changed everything. And with my esteemed editor’s words ringing in my ears, I published The Last Angel.


Four weeks have passed since I made the decision. The reviews for the book have been overwhelming. Every day, I am astounded by the love and encouragement from those who have picked up the book and cannot wait for its sequel.

One might think this to be an easy adjustment for an artist. It is not. I wrote for nearly two decades in the caverns of underwhelming. To have so many people leap to my work and love it is exciting, but oddly disconcerting as well.

The Last Angel wasn’t the beginning for me. It was the end. It was a desperate attempt to change things. And to do it, I had to ignore all the well-intentioned voices in my head, the ones about my friends and family and everything I’d ever read about best-selling books. Instead, I wrote the book that I wanted to read. I emphasized the scenes that I liked. I didn’t have time to consider the “public.” It was just me, my characters and a story that somehow made me feel better about myself and the world. That’s it.

It is so difficult today for artists. I suspect that has always been true, but in a world of fifteen second “takes” and “memes,” it has become increasingly difficult for story tellers to find a home. Hollywood seems more interested in sequels than new stories, and people are reading less than they did twenty years ago.

It’s easy to get lost in the mayhem. Easy to say that it’s not worth it.

But it is.

Even if it’s only your friends and family who read your work or listen to your songs or look at your paintings, it matters.  We have to end this notion that art is just for others. Yes, we hope people admire and buy our work, but art is ultimately for the artist, first.

 It isn’t the end of their dreams that creates life, it’s ours. It isn’t their pain that draws us to the page, it’s ours. And it isn’t their critique that matters.

It’s ours.

Until we stop trying to please people, we will never create the art we want, we will never be the person we want to be, and we will never live the life we long for.

So you’ve reached the end. And you are absolutely certain that no one wants to hear what you have to say?


You've reached the end. It's time to begin. 


Monday, January 11, 2016

Beta Readers: Why, Where, and How

If you've been writing for a while, you probably know what beta readers are, unless you're like me and you came to the party a bit late. Though I'd heard  the term in the past, it wasn't until about two years ago that I finally started using them. It changed my work dramatically, and this past month I published my first novel, THE LAST ANGEL, to positive reviews

That would not have been possible without my beta readers. They helped me take a good concept and turn it into a polished work of fiction. If you're new to the writing game, (I've been doing it for over twenty years) don't wait like I did. In this post I'll outline exactly what beta readers are, why you need them, and where to find them.


In short, a beta reader looks at your piece of fiction (or memoir) in advance of publication and offers feedback on why the story works or doesn't work. Now, if that's all they did (and some beta readers do only that, but we'll talk about that in a minute) they wouldn't be terribly valuable. 'Yes' or 'no' is only mildly helpful, unless, as a writer, you really can't judge your own work. (And this DOES happen to writers who don't show their work to others.) 

The good beta readers, however, do far more than give you a simple answer. They offer feedback on characters, on scenes that work and don't work, and tell the author when they were pulled out of the story. Many of them can tell you "why" as well, which is incredibly helpful. I bounce story ideas off my beta readers when they tell me a scene doesn't work, or if a character seems inconsistent. I'll re-write it and hand it back to them. The process becomes incredibly collaborative. 

But not all beta-readers are the same, and they shouldn't be treated that way. Some will offer you ideas about story, but won't be able to pinpoint why something went wrong. (It just didn't "feel" right.) That's okay! That's still good information to have. Some, especially if you have a fellow writer as one of your readers, will offer editing at a prose level and red mark your work because of awkward sentences and phrasings. Every beta reader is different, which is why you need more than one. I use five. Two of them, Shelley and Caitlin, offer the deepest amount of information. 

Caitlin is a literary writer (she's brilliant) so she focuses on two things, my prose and grammar, and, because she's a feminist (like me), zeroes in on my female characters, making sure they are strong and well-rounded. Shelley is not a writer, but a prolific reader who really understands story. When she reads my work, she'll offer comments throughout the manuscript describing her experience as a reader, as well as a full report at the end as to what she liked and didn't like. She is particularly good at helping me to maximize the impact of every scene. Without her, my work would not be as good. The same is true of Caitlin and the rest of my readers.


That sounds great, right? But where do we find these amazing people? Especially since so many of us writers tend to work alone. 

The easiest way to find them is to ask people you know that like to read. Pretty simple. Most readers, especially those that don't write, enjoy being part of the process. What I did was put out a call on my Facebook page. (If you're a writer, you need to be active on social media, and while I do use twitter, I prefer Facebook for connecting.) And with 1100 friends, it was relatively easy to find a few people who were willing to read THE LAST ANGEL. Now, I got lucky with Shelley, who is the prototypical beta reader. And with Caitlin, for whom I serve as a beta reader as well, I've also been lucky.

There will be some who want to help you, but they won't know what to do. That's an easy fix. Give them four or five questions (not too many, you still want them to be enjoying the book, not doing homework) to answer when they're finished.

Example: How do you feel about my main protagonist(Name)? Are they likable enough?
                Was the story too slow, or were there parts that it slowed down too much?
                Can you just make a mark every time something takes you out of the story?
                Was the dialogue between (Name) and (Name) believable?

There are many questions you can ask, but the key is to a) limit the questions, no more than four or five (b) Don't ask for essay answers. Something that can be answered in two or three sentences or less (c) know your beta reader; understand what they're capable of, and keep it simple.


1) If you're a writer, even if you also work as an editor or are moving in that direction, as I am, you should be functioning as a beta reader, FOR FREE, for a fellow writer. Or, as I do with Caitlin and another writer, I read for them and they read for me. Even then, it shouldn't be about "give to get." Artists need to support one another. Beyond that, editing and reading someone else's work will improve your skills and give you a better eye when you're editing your own work.

2) BE HUMBLE. I can't stress this enough. If you've asked someone for their opinion, don't be a diva when they tell you they don't like something. They are doing you a favor, a HUGE favor. That doesn't mean you have to agree with them, but thank them profusely for taking time from their busy schedule to help you and tell them you will consider deeply what they said. When a beta reader knows you take them seriously, and even better, when you can point to how you changed something because of their suggestion, they'll want to help you in the future. Any time I help someone with their work, and they are grateful and humble and involve me, I'll move heaven and earth to help them again.

3) Make sure that your manuscript is ready. This seems counter-intuitive, because I said earlier that beta readers help get your manuscript ready. This is true, but I hear horror stories all the time about people sending a first draft to a beta reader. Ugh. Your first draft is going to be unreadable and filled with mistakes. I wait until at least the fourth draft, sometimes the fifth, before sending it. You want the manuscript as polished as possible. You only get the "first impression" from your beta reader once. Don't blow it by sending them a shabby copy. It also reveals a lack of professionalism. Most people want to help professionals who take their work seriously. Very few want to help someone who sends them something half-assed and unedited.

Beta-readers are the difference between a good story or a great story, between publishing something professional and publishing something that won't sell. It's that simple. And the first step to finding a beta reader is to be one. 

If you're new to this game, and don't know anyone that will help you, feel free to send me your first chapter and I'll look at it for free. Use my CONTACT page to reach me, however you like. 

Artists helping artists. That's how it should be.

Stephen R. Burns is the author of THE LAST ANGEL, now available on Amazon, the first volume of the Desolate Kingdom series. Three more in the series are due out in 2016. 

Friday, January 08, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions

Ever since I published The Last Angel, I've had a number of friends and colleagues ask me questions about the process. It's all been thrilling, and I was touched by the questions. So tonight I created a new page that answers those questions, everything from my decision to self-publish to where I got my ideas for the book.

You can find the new page HERE.

What a ride it has been. I'm thrilled that so many have enjoyed the book.

Monday, January 04, 2016

A Ghost From Christmas Future

            I stared at the walls of my apartment and checked my email again. Nothing. How had it gone bad so quickly? Just six months ago, I’d received the phone call I’d been waiting for the past decade. An agent had called – a highly successful agent who had worked with best-selling authors – to tell me he was interested in representing my work. But it had been two months now, and I hadn’t heard from him. I’d tried calling and emailing him, but he hadn’t responded. I glanced up at the calendar above my desk. 2005. I was thirty-two years old. Young by a writer’s standards, but after ten years of hard work, and with the hope of the expected breakthrough, this felt different than the earlier rejections.

            I wandered out onto the balcony. I was a writer, but only by night. During the day I worked at a local high school helping kids with special needs. I loved the kids, but the school life wore me down. I didn’t know if it was the florescent lights or the tediousness of the routine or what it was, but every day I went to school  it felt like my soul was dying. I loved the kids, but my hope of getting off the merry-go-round seemed lost.

            The door to the balcony creaked open, and a man stepped onto it. He looked vaguely familiar. He had a shaved head, and tucked his hands into his pockets as he looked at me.

            “I remember this place,” he said, smiling softly. “Are you still at Florida Fitness?”

            “I, um, yeah.” I probably should have reacted more strongly to a stranger, but as I studied the older man, he looked, well, he looked like me.

            “Who are you?” I said.

            “I’m the ghost from Christmas future, dummy.”

            “You’re me!”

            “Good to see that I was so bright at thirty-two.”

            “I’m thirty-three.”

            “Well, the extra year hasn’t made a difference.”

            “If I’m you…” I paused. It felt like a dream, and I was having a hard time getting my tongue to work properly. “So, I stopped working out, then?”

            “I work out. Just not as often,” he said with a sniff. “I’m busy.”

            “Doing what?”

            He smiled for the first time. “Living the dream. Writing. Happily married. Just published my first book. Three more next year.”

            I slumped down on one of the chairs on my porch. Happily married? I’d married when I was twenty-five, but it had barely lasted a year, though we’d tried to make it last. We’d ended up as friends, but marriage seemed as remote as getting a book deal.

            “So is this a dream?”

            He smiled. It was unnerving to watch your future self smile the same way you did. “Yes. Something like that. Tell me, how are you doing?”

            I didn’t know what to say. “Well, my agent has apparently dropped me. I’m stuck in a job that is mostly soul-sucking. I’m single. I have a few great friends, but…”

            “How are you doing with the depression?” he said.

            “It comes and goes. Some days are harder than others. I thought that this agent might be a way to something better, you know? But…” I shrugged.

            “What are you going to do?” he asked.

            “I-I don’t know. Keep writing, I guess. I don't have much else.”

            He smiled, and I longed for the peace of that smile. My life wasn’t horrible. I had a steady job. I was able to coach. I had a few terrific friends. But I couldn’t replicate that smile. It suggested that more was possible.

            “Keep writing,” he said. “It gets better.”

            “So you’re me?” I asked. “In the future?”


            “How old are you? Err, how old am I?”

            “Forty three.”

            I whistled softly.

            “I’m not old, pal,” he said.

            “Yeah, well.” I stopped, not wanting to offend the older version of myself. “Do we have kids?”


            “Why not? Doesn’t everyone your age, well, my age, have kids.”

            “Maybe soon.”

            “But we’re married.” I bit my lip. My ex-wife was a wonderful person, but we’d been bad together. It was not a good memory. “And… and it’s good?”

            He laughed. “Yes. We met the girl of our dreams. We’ve been married for seven years. She’s kind and smart and beautiful.”

            “All right!” I felt a jolt of exhilaration rush through me, only to crash as I thought about my current prospects. “You’re here to tease me, aren’t you?”

            He scrubbed his shaved head. “No. My purpose is to encourage you. Ask me your questions.”

            “I, well, okay. I’m still writing, right?”

            “Yes! You just published your first book. People love it. You have three more due for release this year.”

            “Do I have an agent?”

            He shook his head. “No. Erin recommended that we publish it on our own. The industry has changed, Steve.”

            “Erin Healy?”

            “Yes. We got back in touch with her this year. She still works as an editor, but she’s also a best-selling author now. She read our work and that was her suggestion.”

            “I don’t get it. So we have boxes of books downstairs—”

            “No!” He chortled. “The world has changed. Everything is done digitally now. We publish them ourselves.”

            I struggled to grasp this new idea. Everyone knew that if you published books on your own you were a phony. A charlatan. “So now—”

            “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “What matters is that you have talent. And that people like your work.”

            I still didn’t understand what he was saying, not exactly, but I couldn’t ignore the peace that emanated from him in fresh waves.

From me, I reminded myself.

            “Why are you here?” I asked.

            “For a bit of wisdom. You’re hurting right now. You think that life will always be this difficult. That you will always be alone. That your writing will never be good enough.” He moved forward and rested a hand on my shoulder. “We cannot see the future, and no one knows why certain things happen to us. It will be a while before you find success as a writer, but you must not stop. Everything you learn will one day pay off. The same is true of your quest for love. Stay humble. Be aware of your failings. Never believe you have it all figured out, and love will you. Find us.”

            “What about my job? I love the kids—”

            “We have worked many jobs, but you were born to write. Do what you must to pay the bills, but remember your calling. Things are never as they seem. In two years, you will move and find yourself surrounded by people from all over the world. You will experience a re-birth, and within a short time, you will meet the woman of your dreams. Your career will change. Your life will change. And through it all, you will write. And when you are ready, you will do the one thing that has called to you since you were a small boy.”

            I swallowed. “It’s just… it’s just so hard to accept.”

            He rubbed my shoulder. “I know. Our future is always shrouded. If it were not, we would not stay humble. But don’t worry, things are going to get better. Better than you ever imagined.”

            I sighed and shook my head. “My wife, she’s—”

            “The best thing that ever happened to us.” He closed his eyes briefly before opening them. “Whatever you imagine about being with someone, she is the treasure. And no, we did not earn it, just like we have not earned the praise from people who like our writing. Yes, we have mended the soil, but God has managed the till.”

            I frowned, confused. “So if it isn’t us, then—”

            “It is us!” he said, placing his hands on the wooden balcony. “But it is us and so many other things, things we can’t identify, things that will one day infuse the series that allows you to write in your own voice for the first time.”

            “I… I do not know what to do.”

            My older self smiled. “Just keep writing. Continue to pursue kindness. Do not let those around you dictate who you are or what you will be. Accept criticism. Do not be afraid to look in the mirror. None of these things will give you money, but they will guide you. One day soon, you will be asked about these choices and they will inspire people, much like your work will inspire them.

            “Writing is not about the books you sell, but the vision you give to people. The vision you have for humanity. A vision that reminds us we can be better. That we can be loving and kind and empathetic. Never forget that.”

            “But, my depression—”

            “Will always be there. It will never leave. God gives us all burdens, and this one is ours. Be honest about it. Tell others about your struggles. Weakness is strength, and vulnerability is everything. Let it shine through your work.” He paused. “Most importantly, do not write in fear. Fear of what others will think. Fear of what they may say. Fear that you may expose yourself too much. Conquering fear is the pathway to your voice. And it is your voice that will affect others in ways you cannot comprehend.”

            The vision of my older self slowly began to fade.

            “Wait! I have so many questions! Don’t go!”

            The image flickered. “Remember what I said. Stay true to yourself. Things get better.”

            “What book should I write next? I don’t know what I’m doing!”

            The image faded away and I leaned on the balcony, unsure what I’d just seen. Had it been a dream? A daydream to help me take my mind off my troubles? I wasn’t sure. I stood and headed inside. Whatever it was, my resolve was clear.

            I sat down at my desk and opened my laptop. That the agent had dropped me didn’t matter, neither did anything else. It was time to write.