Only One Way to Go: Down

I was driving a van up a one-way, steep mountain incline. Four of us were on our way to a mountaintop retreat with a van packed with luggage and accessories. I whipped around one steep turn and gunned it in first as I plodded up the hill when a horribly sick sinking feeling struck me: this van was not going to make it. It bogged down and nearly stalled. The power had dissipated. The only thing which was still going higher was the engine temperature. A driving predicament presented itself in vivid tropical terms: to the left was a steep cliff down to a quick death, to the right was walled cliff straight up, to the front was the steep grade my van couldn’t conquer, so only one option remained. Down.

As I looked in my rear view mirror, I didn’t like this option any better than the other three. Well, okay, it was better than the cliff to my left. The mirror revealed a narrow steep path I would have to back down. At the bottom of the grade was a hairpin turn that I would have to make in reverse with a van full of people. If I missed the turn, we would scoot into a large gully. I didn’t like our chances. I wanted better odds, but if I couldn’t get better odds, at least I hoped I had good brakes. I didn’t want to back this down, but there was no other choice. We couldn’t very well stay stuck on the steep grade for eternity.

So with the clutch pushed in, I started backing down, now hoping, trusting, and wishing on the brakes.

Life, from time to time, gives us little moments to increase our awareness of our own humanity. One slight misdirect and it all goes crashing over the cliff. The heart rate increases, the tense eyes are brought tenser by the dour movement of the eyebrows, muscles contract, the voice is slightly raised and urgent, sights and sounds are zoomed into a narrow focus — keep it tight, keep it real, stay focused, a lot rides on this — and you give it all you have to make it right, even if it doesn’t feel right in your gut.

When was the last time you felt like this? When was the last time that circumstances gave you a lesson in humanity, its frailness, its fickleness, its fleet-footed-ness?

In this particular case, I backed the van down to the lip of the curve, and as providence would have it, a van-sized pull-off was on the right. All I had to do was pull up the hill a smidgen, back carefully into the pull-off without my front tire falling off the cliff on the right, and I was on flat ground in the middle of mountain. I could breathe again.

Whatever cliff you are next to, keep the focus, look for the nearest pull-off and remind yourself that it’s a good day to be alive.

Writing Anywhere. No Pen, No Computer Needed.

Writing is one of the most versatile passions anyone can have. To be productive, you need nothing but your brain and a little time.

Paper is helpful at some points.

Of course, a laptop is even more helpful.

But neither of those are needed. No. Not at all, or at least until “eventually” comes around. All you really need to be productive is an active mind and time to let it explore.

Here’s what I mean. I’m currently working on a variety of writing projects including book two of my first trilogy, a Christmas show for 2017, and a variety of other play ideas. But lately, I’ve been swamped and have had no time to actually write. Yes, it’s killing me, because I want to get back to the stories. I want to push them forward. I want to explore where they are going and how everything will piece together in the end. But, life happens. Weekend baseball trip to Bangkok, theatre projects, rehearsals, work requirements, etc… and I’m stuck looking at another day checked off the calendar without a word written.

But it’s all right. Calm down. Everything is not lost because writing is the most flexible of passions. The crucial element of writing is thinking. A writer must ponder, must weigh options, must zigzag around in the mind before the pen ever hits the paper. And that, the pondering, the zigzagging can happen anywhere at anytime. A stray thought during the day can bring a character to mind and make me wonder about what will happen next. A daily happening can lead to new ideas. The other day, one of the readings from my social studies class I teach talked about a certain type of snake. It jolted my memory of something I’ve written in book two of my novel series, and I started to ponder if I could actually use that snake in my story. I thought about throughout the day as I complete many tasks not related to writing. Finally, I concluded that it would be a wonderful idea and can really add to the story.

Now, have I actually added  it to the story yet? No. Like I said. No time. But I have furthered my writing. I do this many times in many different situations. Allowing your writing mind to connect to what you do in every day life is a great way to move things along and be productive  even when you have no time to actually be productive.

So I guess the bottom line is this: write at all times. When possible, use a computer.



Inspiration is Cheap. Just Open Your Eyes. (or Ears)

I’m amazed at the inspiration around me. I went for decades not seeing it. But it’s there. Everywhere – Invalidating our self-pitying claims of writer’s block.

Maybe we put blinders on and can’t see it.

Maybe we become so focused on the page that we forget that the page belongs in the world. That’s where it originated, and that’s where it will find it’s conclusion.

Every sight you see is a setting. Every person you watch is a character. Each of them need to be molded and shaped, manipulated and re-imagined on your page, but the spark is right in front of you. What’s keeping you from igniting it?

Even physical sight is not needed, and sometimes not preferred in order to be inspired by one’s surroundings. A breeze, a whistle, a bird’s persistent call, the shifting of the ocean, the honking of a horn, the laughter of friends, the confabulation of lovers, the braking of a car. All of these give depth and insight, we only need to listen. Hear the words, hear the sounds and allow the scenes to come alive in our minds.

And what of words themselves. These pre-arranged letters have a lot to offer on their own. How many of these single words or partial phrases have hidden meanings, unknown characters and plots hanging from them if we only prod them with our minds just a little.

“respectable” – Is it a son trying to please his father? Is it a girl looking for the right man? Is it the banker looking for a neighborhood to move into? Is it the drug addict with an unattainable label?

Stories are hidden behind each word.

Entire books can spring forth from a specific sound.

Trilogies have been erected upon a single panoramic scene.

Inspiration is everywhere, at each turn of every day. Don’t let it pass by.

Notice it and create.

Ideas for Indie Authors: A Novel is Chasing Me. I’m Losing. (and Winning)

When good ideas impregnate the mind, why fight them?

Over the past three weeks, I’ve had a novel idea, actually related to novel-writing, and I haven’t been able to shake it. Even in the midst of revising novel #5, which was supposed to be my priority, this new idea has consumed me every free moment that I’ve had.

When I go to the store, I’m thinking if the characters drink whole milk or skim. When I’m in my bedroom, I’m thinking about this little flying thing that annoys one of the characters and wonder what it would be like to have that happen. (Sorry, I can’t divulge what I’m talking about there.)

And the plot – it’s embarrassingly exposed – like I downloaded the novel’s Cliff Notes and have been cheating on my writing. It’s seemed so easy, so smooth – the dialogue, the characters, the setting – all laid bare in front of me.

This is the type of inspirational groove that I hope never leaves me.

So why am I losing? Because I’ve lost control of all other parts of my life because of this novel.

So why am I winning? Because I love writing this novel and have had so much fun putting it together.

Why has it been so easy so far?

Perhaps it’s an unimportant question that I shouldn’t try to answer. Just count it as a blessing and enjoy it while it lasts.

But I have to say that I might know what’s going on. In this novel, I’m starting from a premise that is completely unlike me. It dabbles in the supernatural and fantasy genres which, if you’ve read any of my writings, you know if not what excites me. I like real, down-to-earth human stories.

However, this unique premise has allowed me to tell a human story in a very different way. It has led to new discoveries and new ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of anyways. And while the end result will be different from much of my other works, the reader will undeniably see the same creative Sasse hand at the helm.

So if your inspiration is stuck firmly in a hole filled with quick-drying cement, shake things up a little. You might find yourself losing a lot of time on a winning idea.

Bad Writing Sessions – Push Onward

Ahhh! The tortured writer. Tortured in thoughts. Words that taunt. Phrases which elude. Plot which plods. Characters I don’t care about.

When will it end? Perhaps when I end this tortuous session.

We’ve all had them – those unproductive sessions when nothing flows right and everything sounds exactly wrong.

That was me this afternoon. I did manage to squeak out 1000 words, which is better than nothing.

Or is it?

It was one of those days that I question the assumption of being a writer. Everything sounded so bland and stale. Those words keep ringing in my ear. What words? “Every novelist only has one novel.” No, it can’t be. Am I re-writing my old novel or borrowing plot or characterization. Is my voice in this one even distinguishable.

Help, where will it end?

Get a grip, writer! You know how things work.

One day your fingers are magical, the next day they feel like lead. One day your thoughts flow like the amazon, cascading down a myriad of waterfalls – invigorating, cleansing, inspiring. The next day you are a stagnant pond covered with green crud.

Today I was the crud.

But don’t give up hope just yet. Perhaps something will grow out of the crud. It might even be beautiful.

Never give up.

Push, renew, re-write, and try again.

Okay, charge forward, indie author. One session or a thousand in the crud will not hold you down. Remember the past, use it for the future.

If the time is not now, it will be soon because just as long as you continue to put those lead fingers to the keys, there’s always hope.

My First 15 Months as an Indie Author

Honestly, it feels like I’ve been “out there” as an author for 15 years. Has it really been only 15 months?

A simple check of the math will attest to the fact that, yes, indeed I released my first novel 15 months ago in December 2012. So much has happened since then that I have trouble thinking about what it actually means to be “out there”. But I’ve learned a lot and I’m excited to see where I’ll be after 30 months. For the meantime, let me ponder a few things I can now say with some certainty.

1. I love being an indie author. Sure it would be great to be able to write for a living, but I don’t regret at all everything I get to be involved with as an Indie author. I am completely free to write when I want, publish when I want, promote when I want, and hide myself in a corner when I want.  I love picking my own book covers, finding my own editors, interacting with book bloggers and reviewers, and just daily navigating blindly the new world of publishing. It’s darn-right exciting.

2. I’ve learned that being an indie author is extremely time consuming. There is never an awkward pause where I wonder what I should do now. Granted, sometimes I pause because I am slightly overwhelmed by the many tasks I need to do but don’t know how to find time to accomplish.

3. I’ve also learned to keep life and expectations as simple as possible. I’ll have an occasional promotion weekend when I’ll go gang-busters over contacting an insane amount of people concerning a variety of promotions or reviews. After than, I might not contact anyone for a while as I concentrate on writing, editing, revising, and just plain-old life.

4. Don’t let the highs be too high or the lows be too low. I always have great expectations. I believe in my writing and I believe one day it will find a wider audience. In the meantime, I greatly appreciate every kind word and positive review, but I try not to get too carried away by any one positive word at a time. Likewise, when a bad review rolls in, I try to think about it in a level-headed manner. I try to learn from it, but ultimately try not to think about it too much. Roll with the punches and move forward.

5. I’ve learned to enjoy blogging. I honestly had no idea what to blog about when I started sometime back in 2012. But with everything else, I’ve just learned to be myself. Write about whatever comes to my mind. The last thing I want to do is try to be a pretentious blogger. That’s not me. I hope that comes through on my blog. That’s probably also the reason that I am a reluctant and awkward tweeter. I can’t figure out what the heck Twitter is good for, and I’m sure it shows!

6. More than anything else, I’ve realized that I’m in this, this indie author thing, for the long haul. I’ve never felt more complete or purposeful with my life than when I am writing. It feels like I have found my calling and I’m going to keep churning out my ideas as long as they exist.

So when 15 months turns into 15 years, I hope to look back on this post and more clearly understand where I came from.

This is an amazing time to be an indie author. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I have a laptop. I have time. I have ideas. What more could I want?

Walk & Unleash Creativity

You know how it is.  You get home from work or school, you have so much to do, and the one thing that is easiest to expunge from existence is exercise.  It takes too long and too much energy.  It’s much easier to vegetate in front of some screen.

I was at that point last week.  I foolishly said out loud “I don’t really feel like walking tonight.” That was my problem.  If I had just kept it to myself and quietly stayed in the house, no one would have noticed and no one would have bothered me about it.  But no, I had to release my laziness verbally into the home atmosphere, and the atmosphere responded.

“You should just go.  You’ll never regret going once you go.  This is the hardest moment, making the decision to go,” I heard from an authority in the room.

Thank you very much.

So I put on my tennis shoes and started up Pearl Hill behind my house.

But you know what, that authority does know something.  About twenty minutes into my walk with my music pounding in my ears and my mind on nothing else, it hit me.  The creative inspiration that I had been waiting for for months.  An idea for a dramatic sketch that had been eluding me.  My two muses, heat and sweat, completely wiped my slate clean of all of the day’s issues and made me a perfect receptor for my new dramatic sketch. After returning from my walk, I wrote a first draft of a sketch which will be used for the RLT Players later this year. (It’s called Love Ruthless, Love Love, by the way – I’ll explain the title at a later time.)

Just this evening as I was once again trekking up the hill, the ending of the sketch came to me as well, so I have come to a resolution:  exercise is good for creativity.

Try it and see if you agree.  My authority does.