The Art of Becoming Great

Listen and I will tell you how to become greater than the world.

First, become small. As small as you can without disappearing altogether. Tighten your arms around your knees and shut your eyes tight and think “smaller smaller smaller.” Don’t get excited as you begin to shrink–only remember that you will never be tiny enough.

Second, eat a balanced breakfast. Balanced does not mean, in this particular case, you should eat a collection of nutritious, physician-approved food items. It means eat something you enjoy. Eat tuna salad and egg rolls and grilled cheese. Eat cold cereal or raspberry jelly or pie. If you’d rather, eat nothing at all. Drown yourself in coffee or peanut butter milkshakes if that pleases you. Keep in mind that by “eat,” really I mean eat, drink, laugh, shower, run, kiss, cry, sleep, do. And by “breakfast,” I mean lunch, dinner, midnight snacks and all the times in between.

Third–and this isn’t so important, but could hasten your becoming great by a good deal–don’t have too much fun. Beware of turning up the music, of dancing with closed eyes and blissful abandon. Beware of singing too loud in the shower and reading good books for long periods of time. Don’t work so hard that you get many things done and don’t laugh so hard that laughter is the only thing you can hear. Because then, you will miss armfuls of things. You will miss the people who choose to dance beside you and they will get tired and give up and eventually find another partner. You won’t notice the harmonies trying their hardest to join in with your song and when their throats are hoarse and their voices thoroughly ignored they will close their mouths and forget how to sing in the first place. And in the end, you will only have things that have gotten done and there will be nothing good left to do.

Fourth and finally, ignore this. Ignore me. Ignore my advice. Because–and this is key–if you spend effort–even the littlest bit–trying to become greater than this world, trying to become greater than a few, trying to become great at all, then you are wasting your time. And no one can teach you how to get that back. It can’t be done.

 So stop trying, and be. Stop learning, and do. Stop listening, and live. There is no becoming great. So stop becoming, and be.

 

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Interview with Steven O’Connor

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Steven O’Connor is the author of EleMental and its sequel, MonuMental. He writes ” Thriller sci-fi/young adult fiction… with a bite of romance,” which to me sounds delicious! He’s also a father, and a social worker (and a pretty nice guy).

So here’s the conversation we had!

1.    Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your “aha” moment. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I know exactly when. Spring, 1968. I’m not sure how Aha! it was, though. And it’s a bit of a sad story too. I was at Junior school and I was put on the spot by a teacher who asked me in front of the whole class what I would be when I grew up (not even what I wanted to be). I had been successful with some daffodil bulbs I’d found and planted back at home (another story), and I enjoyed gardening with my mum, so I said, ‘A gardener’.

The teacher proceeded to ridicule me, saying that was a woman’s job. Very wrong on so many levels.

At that time, I had also just finished reading my first ‘proper book’. So I decided I would be a writer instead. But I kept that to myself.

2.    Your debut novel, EleMental, and its sequel, MonuMental, both seem to have very heavy gaming influences. Are you a gamer? If so, what’s your all-time favorite game and why? Do games influence your work?

I haven’t got time to game as much as I’d like to, and I don’t know if I have the right to call myself ‘a gamer’, because, truth be told, I’m not very good. I need plenty of save points. But I’ve been playing video games since Space Invaders. My all-time favorite has to be any of the Halo games and I can’t wait to get into the latest. I particularly love video games where I can immerse myself in another world. It’s like reading CS Lewis or Tolkien. I also love Bioshock and Skyrim. Games that feature amazing other worlds. They are so imaginative. I have also enjoyed all of the Lego games. The last one on Lord of the Rings was a lot of fun.

If you read either EleMental or MonuMental, I think you’d spot a real appreciation of video games from me, both in content as well as in the way I have structured the stories. I have written some scenes in a way that simulate certain video games, such as Super Mario Bros and the Lego games. It was a lot of fun doing that. I won’t say which scenes. Readers should find them themselves. But there are plenty.

I also like stories with depth as well as action. So in the first book, EleMental, I am exploring the idea of someone who has become so addicted to a video game that it kicks in around them at unexpected moments. In the next book, MonuMental (which can also be read by itself) I explore the idea of confusion about who is real and who is a video game character.

I also had a lot of fun describing how video games of the future start up and shut down. In fact, I am keen to make some audio recordings of myself reading some of those moments – so beware!

By the way, I’m in my 50s – I can quite genuinely say I don’t know anyone else my age who games.

3.    So I hear that you’re a social worker, Steven–quite a noble profession. Can you tell us how social work influences your writing and vice versa? Is it difficult to juggle both careers?

Thank you, I feel very committed to my social work. I’ve principally worked in the areas of drug addiction and HIV/AIDS. I now work with schools.

Growing up, I have always loved sci-fi and fantasy stories, but my experience as a social worker is very much present in my writing too. The whole idea of exploring addiction in EleMental comes from my time working with drug users and alcoholics. The complete pattern of addiction right through to recovery is present in EleMental. In my latest book, which is still in draft form, I am writing about a young HIV positive boy who finds himself in a fantasy land. I’m loving writing it.

It certainly is difficult juggling both my writing and social work, and also my family life. They very much blur into each other. I drop into bed at night very late and spring out of bed again before sunrise every day to try and stay on top of it all.

4.    Tell us about the main character of EleMental, Willis. How did you come up with him? How do you think readers will relate to Willis?

Thank you for all of these great questions! I think readers will relate to Willis because he is such a regular kid. He’s not especially brilliant and can be easily swept along by other ‘louder’ kids, especially Zeb. But in the end, Willis has strength and abilities he did not know he had. We’re all like Willis, to some degree. I certainly am, and that’s probably how I came up with him. That little story I told you above about the daffodils (above), for example, is about me, but could easily have happened to Willis.

I have some Zeb in me too, as I reckon we all do. And I think we all strive to be like Arizona. She’s pretty wonderful.

5.    Bring it home, Steven. Give up-and-coming authors one piece of advice, perhaps something that has helped you through your writing career or something you wish you’d known when you started?

Don’t be shy about your writing. I was, for way too long. Shout about it and live it, integrating it into your life. To hell with those who say they are sick of hearing you talking about it. Your writing is a part of the package that is you. Show others. Ignore those who say silly things, don’t get upset with them. But listen first in case what they say does make sense, and you missed it the first time. Sometimes great writing advice can come from others who don’t know a thing about writing. You have to learn to read between the lines, because they do not always know what they are saying either. They simply know they did not like this or that in your writing. And you need to think through to why and decide if you want to make changes based on what you have concluded.

After a while, you’ll come to know how to learn from others’ responses, and grow as a writer. One should never stop growing as a writer.

And finally, always make sure your writing is your absolute best. Reread, edit. Reread, edit. Reread, edit.

Oh, and (fnally finally) grab a good book on writing and read it thoroughly.

 Seriously, some good advice! Thank you for sharing about your work and about your writing process and career! I wish you tons of luck with your upcoming projects and I’m sure we’ll be hearing from you again.

If you want to learn more about Steven or if you’d like to take a peak at his work, visit his website! Also, check out and like his facebook author page to keep up with him!!

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3 Things I’ve Learned About Indie Publishing (So Far)

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I have been an author for about 3 weeks, so I thought I’d share the vast and incalculable amount of knowledge I’ve harnessed so far through publishing my debut novel, “Core.”

1. Don’t call it self-publishing.

Why? Because self-publishing, in my opinion, has a negative connotation to it, as though no one believed in me and I had no choice but to go it all alone, like some sort of lesser-than. Indie publishing, now? I feel like I’m doing something different and bold and daring–breaking the norm and blazing my own trail. It just sounds cooler, and thus, makes me feel cooler. I find myself advertising my book as indie instead of keeping it a secret. It went from “oh crap, they found out I’m only self-published” to “yes, my book is awesome and I did it myself! BOO-YA!”

2. Don’t do it yourself.

I know exactly one sentence ago I was bragging about that feeling of accomplishment that comes with knowing I did it all on my own. But the truth is I didn’t. And I suggest you don’t either. Why? Because doing it all by yourself is lonely and sad and not as much fun. I’m thankful I had my own little mini-team of helpers. My husband–who is my editor, cover artist, promoter, publicist and manager all in one (all volunteer and unpaid, I may add; what a trooper). My best friend, who edited all of my manuscripts–even the old crappy ones. Who laughed with (and at) me as we poured over each sentence of my work, and who is always there to send me a “you’re-a-freaking-genius” text when I feel down. My sister, who gushes over everything I do, even if it’s lame. Who hangs up on me when I call her to see how she likes it so far because she’s “not finished and it’s too good to put down so stop calling or she’ll block my number.”

Without these people, I wouldn’t have “Core.” I wouldn’t be an author.

 3. Don’t freak out.

I can’t tell you why I burst into tears when I think sales aren’t going well. Or hyperventilating when my mom-in-law starts texting me all the mistakes she found in the first version. I forget to remember that freaking out isn’t going to boost sales and it isn’t going to inspire me to write a better sequel. All it does is make me stall. So what do I advise you do? Call up someone who’ll tell you what you need to hear. I recommend someone who you know will tell you how perfect and wonderful and gifted an author you are; someone who will pull a lie out of their butts and tell you that at any moment, millions of people will discover your book and you’ll feel silly for freaking out. If you don’t have anyone like that, shoot me an email and I’ll tell you! It doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% true. It just has to get you to stop crying. Or whining. Or screaming.

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In summary, this is all brand new to me, and the most valuable thing in my world right now isn’t book sales or ranks or royalties. It’s encouragement. It’s a great review I didn’t expect. It’s a friend running up to me and squealing about how excited they are to be reading my book. It’s my family member wrapping me in a hug and saying how proud they are of me. This is what keeps me going, keeps me from hiding in my closet with a dozen copies of “Core” and using the pages to sop up hysterical tears brought on by the false belief that I’m a failure.

If this post does nothing else for you, I hope you find a bit of encouragement here. You’re not a loser, or a failure, or whatever your silly head tells you. You’re an author. You worked hard. You’re still working hard. And believe it or not, you’re already changing the world.

Chin up, fingers down, and keep typing.

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 (By the way, “Core,” made it to the top 5 of amazon’s bestsellers for Sci-fi/ fantasy in print this week!)