Author Archives: kaidamian

About kaidamian

Author of the Carpe Terram Trilogy. Book One, Healers, is now available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/KaiDamianHealers

Savages

***Warning, some light swearing ahead***

I went to see Savages last weekend (the only break I took from writing). I hadn’t read the book, but I had read about it (which is by no means anywhere close to a substitute, I’m just sayin’ I wasn’t completely clueless.) I thought the movie was brilliant–just the right combination of story, character, acting, setting, and soundtrack.

So I came home, and I decided to download the preview to Don Winslow’s book (because if you don’t have to commit, why do it, right?). I’m not about to provide a review for the book, because that would be a little absurd (there are authors that are past being reviewed by people like me). And besides, there are far too many reviews on Amazon that are trying to be cool and hip and oh-so-intelligent that another “regular” honest review wouldn’t be worth it.

But I would like to make this one comment: How brilliant of a screen writer / director team can one have to turn that book into that movie? Pretty damn brilliant. No, seriously. Consider the first chapter of the book: “Fuck you.” That’s it. That’s the entire first chapter. Now, I may not know much about good writing, but I’ve been a professional reader since the age of four (no TV till the age of ten, long story) and I think that having that as the first chapter of your book is a little gratuitous, because my clearly un-hip, un-cool mind cannot comprehend how that adds to the story. And this is coming from someone who is not shy about swearing in real life. Not at all. In fact, fuck, my swearing is pretty bad.

So I just can’t stop wondering, could it be that the author is so brilliant, that he figured nobody would dare question it, because it’s so out there that everyone will be too afraid to say something for fear they might appear un-cool and un-hip and un-cultured? Like another case of “the emperor’s new clothes?” And his first chapter is a dedication to the suck-ups who grinned and told him how brilliant that was? I’d rather believe that, than accept that he actually believes that that first “chapter” is an essential part of his story, and that the initial shock/awe/confusion of that opening makes one understand and enjoy the story in ways that they couldn’t otherwise.

Regardless of what I think, he’s still selling that thing like hotcakes and the movie made him a millionaire. So he’ll be laughing his way to the bank while I sit here and wonder. Ohhh… Fuck. I finally get it now.


Honesty

I haven’t posted anything in a while because I’ve been spending every spare minute I had on my books. This writing journey is fascinating–that is, when I’m able to detach from myself and look at it with clinical eyes (the rest of the time is very emotional, as you might expect). Here are some things I’ve learned recently.

1. There’s definite value in traditional publishing. I’ve been going through some stuff lately at my “other job,” where everyone thinks they can do my job (instead of doing theirs). Because it must be so easy. Well, it’s not. What I do is a combination of art and science, and while you may think you can get the art down, it’s the science that will make the difference. I think it’s the same with publishing: anyone can write some words down, but do they have the science behind it to know if those are the best words they can be, and most importantly, if those words have a shot at standing out? Traditional publishing is not the purveyor of art in writing, but the gatekeeper of writing science, which is what will often make the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

2. Traditional publishing is an old, slow scientist enamored with her own legend. If they were able to fix the part that keeps a book stuck in their process for over a year, if not longer, and if they un-stiffed their frozen upper lip to expand their content pool to writers who are not whores to the process (query letter rules, manuscript rules, email rules, call rules, agent rules, networking rules, associations rules, etc. etc. etc.), but simply honest people dedicated to the act of writing, they’d probably come out on top at the end of this storm. Alas, they’re too stuck up to do that, so the spiraling will continue. And I tend to avoid torture, so I probably won’t try my chances at traditional publishing any time soon — life is short, and I can’t bear the thought of wasting another minute on bureaucracy. Maybe it’s a mistake, but I’m owning it. Or maybe I wouldn’t be good enough for them anyway.

3. I’m an impatient fool. My most important lesson from this past month: just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. I’m a down-to-earth, cerebral writer with lots of self-awareness. You won’t see me throw tantrums, and act like I’m God’s gift to the world (though sometimes I think that would serve me much better). But that doesn’t mean I don’t love writing from all my heart, or that I don’t believe in my ability to break through. But I got so caught-up in the “traditional publishing” “science” of it, that I forgot to listen to my heart. “I have a deadline,” I said to myself. “And I keep my deadlines, damn it!” So I published Healers a month earlier than I should have. And then I downloaded my own book, and started reading it for the fortieth time, and discovered that it wasn’t exactly what I had intended it to be. (Regardless of the fact that my beta readers had great feedback on the story.) So I made a hard decision: re-write it once more. What I didn’t expect was how fast that was going to be. Because this time I listened to my heart instead of the rules (You should never write a book in first person present tense!!! And especially if it’s a suspense science-fiction novel!!! Only great writers can pull that off!!! You know nothing!!! Be afraid, be very afraid!!!) and it took me ten days to do the re-write that ignored the rules and made me happy. Maybe I was wrong, and maybe it’s not as good as I think it is. But at least I LOVE IT. And that means I can promote it, and talk about it, and be proud of it without worrying that I didn’t give it my best shot.

4. Impatient fools learn the most. Should I have waited a little longer before hitting the publish button the first time around? Maybe. But if I had done that, I wouldn’t have learned any of this. And I’m that much better for it. I’d rather screw up and come out better, then play it safe and bury myself in worry and guilt.

5. And lastly, when it comes to writing, the only way is up. I’ve learned so much this time around, and I know that will happen again next time, and the time after, until I’m gone. And it’s a great feeling to know that every word you put down on paper will make you a better writer. That is a great reward.

So, hey, if you’re reading this, give Healers a chance. I stand behind it, and I’m ready to take on any criticism that comes my way, because I wrote it from the heart and I believe in it. You don’t have to buy it, you can download the free preview — you’re bound to know if it’s your cup of tea by the end of it.


Shadow And Bone

Fantasy reads fall into three categories for me: #1) (most frequent) good plot, bad-to-mediocre writing, #2) bad plot, who-cares-about-the-writing (it’s usually bad), and #3) (hardest to find) great plot, great writing.

Shadow and Bone is a definite #3. An incredibly talented writer, Leigh Bardugo creates a vivid world of magic and medieval darkness, complete with teenage romance, a coming-of-age-with-fireworks story, and the cherry on top, a really intriguing villain (the kind you hate to love and keep rooting that he’ll turn himself around–I won’t say if he does or he doesn’t).

But the true gem of this book was the writing. It flowed as effortlessly as a hot knife through butter. I highlighted so many passages that I might as well had highlighted the whole thing. My hat off to Leigh Bardugo (and her editor) for her skills. The best compliment I can pay is to say that I can’t wait for the second book, and unlike with many other series, this time I’ll remember every single detail of the first one.

I probably couldn’t say much more than some of the reviewers on Amazon and elsewhere have already said, and I don’t want to take away your reading pleasure by slipping in spoilers because of my enthusiasm. So I’ll just urge you to read it–if you’re a fantasy fan, you’re bound to like it.

 

Find Shadow and Bone here

The publisher also made the first five chapters available for free here

And this is the UK version, entitled “The Gathering Dark”

 

Enjoy!

Kai


Machine Gun Preacher

I just finished watching “Machine Gun Preacher,” a movie in which Gerard Butler portrays Sam Childers, a man who turned his life around and is now running a charity in Sudan and Uganda.

A few thoughts:

– Devastating. What’s happening in the African war zones comes to my mind frequently, but I have to admit that at times it all becomes a little bit of a philosophical concept than an on-the-ground reality. Movies and documentaries are good reminders to keep the reality top of mind.

– I wish it didn’t take movies to remind us of these atrocities, but I’m grateful that they exist and someone realizes the importance of making them.

– It’s hard not to feel guilty; I try to remind myself that feeling guilty doesn’t solve the problem. And that compassion is completely different than guilt. So I donate what I can, and I hope that one of these days I’ll be able to get involved in more significant ways.

– It’s also hard not to feel disgusted by everything that’s happening around you, by all the trivial pursuits and petty complaints; unlike guilt, I wish everyone realized how few things in this life, in this world, truly matter, and we all started behaving more like human beings and less like rabid wolves. I know I engage in stupid, petty things all the time, especially during my work day. I’ll make a much more conscious effort to not do that anymore and this time I won’t need another movie to remind me of what really matters.

– What an amazing spirit Sam Childers seems to possess. What he’s doing is outstanding. And I bet that the reality is a lot more harrowing than even the movie portrayed. It also turns the idea of individual transformation on its head and provides an example of how one person living on the fringe of humanity, where little hope ever exists, can end up changing and making a massive difference in the world if they put their mind to it.

– I hope that Carpe Terram will someday become a beacon of life for those in need. I realized that what I described in Healers is much too timid. I am going to be a lot bolder in Rebels, and make sure the message of freedom and food for all is much clearer and more vividly illustrated (even if it’s still fiction).

– Everyone should watch this movie. Because I think collectively we can make a difference, even if it is simply by donating. Everyone can make a difference if they want to.

You can find the Machine Gun Preacher site here. You can donate to their charity here. And this is the movie trailer:

 

 

Carpe Terram!

Kai


Snow White and The Huntsman

Today I went to see Snow White and The Huntsman. If you don’t like spoilers then this is where today’s blog post ends for you. Thanks for reading!

But if you have seen it or can’t stay away from the temptation of a spoiler, read on after the trailer…

***SPOILER ALERT***

You have to have some creative chops to bring depth to an old good vs. evil children’s story. Especially one in which you cast Kristen Stewart, and pitted her against Charlize Theron. (Sorry, I just think Kristen Stewart only knows how to play Kristen Stewart. Bella Swan, Snow White… same character, different wardrobe.)

So, while the movie wasn’t as wowing as the trailer promised, here is what I think made it worth watching:

1. The characters have more depth than in the fairy tale. Snow White is still the beautiful little princess, but she’s not this confident, smiling, amazingly joyful, full of love woman, she’s just a scared teenager (of course, it helps that Kristen Stewart only knows how to play SAI – scared, anxious, insecure). The wicked step-mother is even more evil than in the story, but her evilness comes from a spell cast on her as a child by her own mother (which she couldn’t have really controlled), so she’s not evil just because that’s who she wanted to be. (And Charlize Theron does an amazing job on the role.) The seven dwarves are still good-hearted people, but with a lot of spunk and gritty looks.

2. The relationships are more realistic than in the fairy tale: the prince doesn’t get the princess; the “commoner” does. Or so I like to think. The ending can be left to interpretation, but I believe she picked the Huntsman (especially since it was his kiss that brought her back to life, not the prince’s). (Which brings me to another point: really, just one dry kiss while she was technically dead? It was a movie for adults. Spell it out next time, it would be nice to know what they feel about each other, otherwise it’s kinda pointless.)

3. The setting was dark and more Game of Thrones than Disney theme park. You could feel the terror everywhere, and the depressing medieval setting and the dark forest were characters of their own. As was the mirror (which looked more like a gong or an over-sized gold plate).

So if you like a good twist on an old story, you should watch it.

P.S.: Next movie I’m going to see? Magic Mike. That trailer was hysterical (I want to see it for the humor, who cares about Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey stripping? Just the way men buy Playboy for the articles.) Plus, I need something to balance out the “dryness” in Snow White. 😉


Imagine A World

This reminded me of the message in Healers… (Especially the final words: Do Epic Sh*t :))

(Source: http://www.highexistence.com/images/view/imagine-a-world/)


True To Who You Are

A while back I shared Jessie J.’s Who You Are. A friend sent me another version, filmed in NYC in the subway, from what the singer calls “The Boombox Series.” It’s cool to see, because it’s such a powerful “I am who I am and I’m not afraid to show it” message.


A Book Is Never Finished

I worked on Healers for a very long time, and went through so many drafts that I stopped counting. Every time I went to bed thinking “this is the one,” I woke up the next morning and realized the work was far from over. When I finally recognized that there wasn’t much left for me to do without the help of others, I gave it to my reader friends and told them to have at it.

That moment, when I realized I had just submitted myself to an emotional public flagellation, was a major milestone. It’s nerve-wracking, especially if your first instinct is never “look at me, I’m so great.” My readers came back with comments and I breathed once more: they didn’t say “this sucks,” as I was sure they would, but they actually enjoyed it very much. And most importantly, the feedback they gave me was incredibly valuable because it opened up my eyes to many details that would have escaped me otherwise.

So I went through the book again, after each piece of feedback, and then again, because I ended up building on the feedback myself. But each time, there was a very clear, tangible improvement in the book. That’s always such a moment of wonder–just when you think it’s done and you have nothing left to give, you realize you’re still very far from reaching the limit of your creativity.

But there does comes a time when you have to say, “it’s done.” And that time is difficult to recognize and acknowledge. Because the truth is, the work is never done. You could spend a lifetime re-reading the book and finding things to change, language to edit, and details to fix. And even then, you will still find readers who aren’t quite pleased with the outcome. And then, it’s never done because the characters have already taken a life of their own, and they continue to live in your mind. You end up knowing them so well that you realize no book you can write will ever do them justice.

Finally setting a book free is an empowering thing. Because you’re making a conscious decision to let go of your insecurities–and boy, what a load of insecurities!–and let others enjoy the fruits of your labor, in the hope that most of them will say “Yeah, this book IS ready and I loved it. Where’s the next one?”


Song and Cry

I’m a big Jay-Z fan. I find him to be refreshingly anti-cliche. In fact, if you haven’t already, you should read his book Decoded, it’s a great read.

Someone has decided to mash-up Jay-Z and Radiohead and came up with Jaydiohead. The result is pretty cool. So here is one of the mashed-up songs (warning: it’s explicit):


The Green Monster

I’ve been watching with sad fascination over the past couple of years the commentary around success of new and self-published authors. “Serious” writers, who I always thought would be the most supportive and encouraging to newbies (because, after all, they know how hard it is to break through) turned into petty high school girls and started picking apart the success of those they considered less worthy.

Every time one of the new authors would receive significant, widely-publicized words of praise, you’d see superiority rear its ugly head, and the “established” authors make snarky, un-befitting comments.

Every time the new authors received negative reviews, you’d see the false triumph of “Ha! I told you so!” plastered all over.

Amanda Hocking is the poster girl for green monster attacks. I’ve read two of her series, and I think she’s a good story-teller. She’s creative and funny. She most certainly has terrible editing skills, but that’s something she can fix (and has fixed now that she works with St. Martin’s Press). Regardless of what I think, however, over a million readers loved her books and can’t wait for her to publish the next one. I don’t think there’s more validation an author can dream of than the unabashed support of her readers. The people who spent their hard-earned money on a book, and took the time to tell someone else how much they loved it.

Another example is Stephenie Meyer. I started reading her books right when they were on the cusp of gaining traction and followed her progress with great interest. She had a contract with a publishing house. Editors. Advisors. People to watch over her work. And even then, the establishment mocked her books with passion. How dare she be successful with books they don’t find all that great?

I don’t think the “establishment” writers realize that every time they smirk at a young mass market author’s success, they also smirk at all the readers who support that author’s work.

Clearly, Amanda Hocking doesn’t need me, or anyone else, for that matter, to defend her. She’s proven to be  not only a successful story teller, but also a smart business woman. She had confidence, and realized that those who rejected her books were just people, not gods, and she owed it to herself to put her books in the hands of readers and let them decide. Or maybe it really was all a fluke and she never thought anything would come of it. Regardless, I have nothing but respect and admiration for her.

But I need me to speak out. Because new authors are fraught with insecurities. Beyond the regular, human being insecurities, there’s that feeling that someone will take the most precious part of you–because your soul is on those pages–and trash it, rip it to pieces, and blow it in the wind. For every Amanda Hocking there are thousands of writers, if not more, who will never see a fraction of her success. And most of them, when they see the vitriolic words of people who have already published books and enjoyed success, sink a little deeper, and lose another little piece of the little confidence they had to begin with. They become shamed into not following their dreams.

Establishment writers who wear their elitist snobbery as a badge of honor, should ask themselves, “Am I being fair, or am I simply trying to bring someone else down, because I don’t think I have what it takes anymore to rise up?” Because if they have what it takes, why does it matter if another writer, whose work they don’t particularly enjoy, is successful? The reader market will speak for itself and give them the recognition they feel they deserve.


World Map of Hunger



Dreams

I have a lot of dreams. I don’t mean the figurative kind–of which I also have plenty–but the literal kind, that come at night. I have a lot of nightmares too, depending on the day. And I find them all fascinating.

The things our minds can conjure up are nothing short of extraordinary. We bring together details that our conscious mind would never think of. We build worlds that reveal to us what we’re afraid of and what we yearn for. (That’s why I thought Inception was a really smart movie.) And we have the most vivid feelings possible. At least for me, there are feelings I get in my unconscious journeys that stick with me for days, sometimes weeks. I even have a few that have stuck with me for years and I can still remember instantly.

Karina Vega, the heroine in Healers, has a dream that’s been haunting her for years. A dream without an ending. The ending will come when she’s ready (and I won’t tell you when that is, you’ll have to read the book). Here is the dream that always leaves her anxious:

I am tiny, maybe four years old. I come out of the mansion and walk toward the vineyard, the green, damp grass tickling my bare feet. I see Grandpa Demetrio inspecting the vines with his friend Anton. If the rain doesn’t come soon, this crop is gone. We’ll have a hard time this fall. The fruit won’t be rich enough for a new Puertas vintage. If we settle for a cheaper blend and bring in grapes from the outside it will be hard to do any business; we’ll lose this year’s contracts. I can feel the sadness in my Grandpa’s voice. This vineyard is his life and legacy, the keeper of his dreams. Why wouldn’t rain come if he needs it? I lift my arms to the sky, look up at the snowy peaks, and think of big drops of fresh water pouring down and drenching everything and everyone. I remember the times when my older brother Jorge and I would run around in the rain, laughing and jumping in all the puddles. My grandparents would watch us from the porch, smiling, their love surrounding us like a bubble of warm light. Thunder and massive clouds break over the land. Somewhere between imagination and reality, the rain comes pouring down. My grandpa throws his hat high in the air and starts cheering. He turns around, sees me standing there with my arms lifted to the sky, and runs toward me, the happiest I’ve ever seen him. He twirls me in his arms and says… Nothing.


Who You Are

From time to time I’ll share music that inspired me while writing Healers. Here is the first one: Jessie J. — Who You Are.


The World’s Greatest Solvable Problem

Nobody on this Earth should die of hunger. I think we have enough for all. If only we were willing to share…


Love The Light

One of the messages in Healers is a universal one that has been expressed in countless ways already: life can change in a second, and if you’re not paying attention, you may realize too late that what you had was already what you were looking for. Our heroine, Karina Vega, is faced with such a realization at a crucial time in her life:

(…) The light above resembled natural sunlight, which, after the weeks Karina had spent in her prison, was the most beautiful thing she had seen in her life. It dawned on her then that what she had thought was a cage only a few months before, was the whole wide world lying at her feet. And she had always taken the light of the shining sun for granted. (…)

If you were to ask yourself right now, “am I happy with what I have?,” what would be your answer? And if you lost what you have right now, how would you feel?

I know I have to make a conscious effort to always be grateful for everything I have. Forgetting who you really are, and what’s really important, is the easiest thing in the world.