Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

The Dark Side of Creativity

August 13, 2014 2 comments

Nothing shiny and fun here. No name dropping of new books or anything of the sort. The point about this post is it’s my way of trying to process a lot of recent events. You know the events, you were probably as shocked as I was when you heard about Robin Williams.

After the initial, “It’s got to be a hoax!” I got to thinking that maybe it wasn’t. Sure, for some celebs I might have that animalistic glee that I want to see them fall from grace. This wasn’t a reality star though, this was somebody who has touched generations of people in a positive way. The kind of guy that makes you feel you’re a better person just because you knew who he was, even if you never had the chance to meet him.

I could see the possibility. The act of using humor to mask pain. We all do it in some fashion. It gets us through and is more than just a coping mechanism, it helps us find something positive to redirect our attention on. I had no idea that Robin suffered from depression or was battling addictions – I’m blissfully ignorant of most celebrity gossip and news stories. That made sense too when I heard about it, and for the same reasons.

Now, in the aftermath, I’m seeing more and more postings on social media about depression and studies citing links to creativity. I’m a creative guy, should I be worried? Is the shadow of doubt and depression going to come knocking some day? My wife tells me I can be moody at times, is it a precursor?

Knowing I have family and friends that read this – don’t worry. I’m not. Sure, I have my moments but don’t we all? I’m not bipolar or even given to fits of dark despair. Lagging book sales can ruin my day, as do surprise bills while I’m trying to save up to buy a house. I’m as susceptible to bad news as anyone is. I tend to think long term a lot and that may have me act like I’m brooding, but that’s about the worst of it.

The point is I can understand all of that. I’m creative, but there are people a lot more creative than me out there. As a creative person I understand the thirst for adventure and thrill. We like excitement and maybe even danger. Risk and reward. For me every book is a gamble. Every crazy stunt I’ve tried to pull over the years as business ventures is a risk (so far none have paid off either). Without that thrill of trying something new I’d have to find something else to keep me from getting bored.

Is that what happened to Robin Williams? Did he become successful enough that he ran out of thrills? I can imagine him being disgusted with himself for falling back on addictions, and if that happens it can lead to depression. Of course what I can imagine and what he went through probably have nothing in common. We’ve all got our personal demons. Calling him cowardly for his chosen exit strategy would only show a gross lack of understanding. It’s easy to argue that he fell on an emotional grenade just as destructive as one filled with ball bearings thrown by terrorists into a crowd.

I’m thankful that we have so many movies and shows to remember him by. Media that I can show my children as they grow up and enrich their lives with, much as he enriched mine. I’m about as far from a religious person as can be found but I had an odd thought earlier today— Some very impressive rain storms covered most of the United States the other day. For example, Detroit (where I live) suffered record flooding. That was the same day that Robin Williams died. Was it, perhaps, tears from the heavens at his passing?


To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at

Breathing Room

September 25, 2013 Leave a comment

I just took a lot of pills. Not the scary pills that put you to sleep for a long time, I’m talking about cold medicine. Came down with a head cold today (thanks, kids) and while it’s no more brutal than any previous head colds, the current one always feel the worst.

So anyhow, whether induced by a cocktail of anti-sinus, anti-congestion, and anti-feellikepoo medicine or because I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, I decided to toss out some random writing tips.

I’m working with a promising young man that I believe has a lot of unpolished talent. We’re writing a novel together, the first of – I hope – many. In the process of doing so I’m helping him fine tune his craft and finding myself reminded of many things I learned along the way. It also helps me make sure I stay sharp on my own prose!

To that end the first item I think is worth mentioning is character detail. It is essential to flesh out a character for a reader. Flaws and quirks need to exist and be described, otherwise how will a reader become intrigued, enamored, or annoyed by them? This emotional connection is necessary – yes, even the annoyed one – because it means the reader is invested. He or she has acknowledged your story at that point and it has meaning to them. It’s worth something. They will read more because they want to know more. And beyond that, the odds are better that they will share their thoughts with others, who will in turn become intrigued and want to find out for themselves.

But showing how Adrian gets red faced and goofy every time a girl smiles at him is one thing. Telling ad nauseum how each smiling girl has blond / brown / red hair to their shoulder blades and C / D cup breasts in 34 / 36 / 38 inch bras above there 22/24/26 inch waists and—oh, you’re eyes are glazing over and you don’t care? Exactly. If she’s got a noteworthy rack then have the character notice it (trust me, if it’s a male character, gay or straight, he’ll notice it). Don’t go into great lengths about crap that won’t stick and don’t matter. It slows the story down and does not improve the experience.

A further reason for showing how a character is without listing their resume is to allow some ambiguity. How many times has a book been made into a movie and the readers find out that the actor playing their favorite character is NOT right. The character is supposed to look like x, not y. The list goes on. Well, we can’t increase the available talent at Hollywood to fit every possible character, but we can open it up to allow the readers to connect with the characters in their own special way.

For example, if I tell you that Carl is a weathered looking man that stands stiffly against the wind in his army jacket, you probably paint a picture in your head of him being older (weathered), and either active or, more likely, retired military. The picture in your head might even have him holding a rifle of some sort (for the record it’s probably an M4). If it’s relevant to the story I might add a line where someone notices his green eyes stripping away their smile to dig out the real person they are. Now you know he’s got green eyes and a gaze that can make a person uncomfortable. The rest of it you’ve made up.

Does he have combat boots on? Are his hands chapped and his finger nails broken and rough? Does he have any scars or maybe a chipped tooth? If it’s not important in the story I don’t know. But you do. You’ve drawn the picture in your head by assigning bits of pieces of people you’ve seen that fit the description with what you’ve been told or imagined. You know what Carl looks like, and your Carl may not look like my Carl. That’s okay. That’s better than okay because that means you became invested in Carl, and by proxy, the story itself. A reader has to have room to breathe with a character so they can interact with them in their own way.

Writing is a lot of work, but it’s work that’s shared with the reader. We, as humans, have the greatest appreciation for the achieving and accomplishing things that are challenging to us. Writing a book is a challenge. Reading a book is too. Don’t scoff, think back to that first big novel you read and how you felt when you closed the last page. You were emotionally moved, not only by the words in the book, but by the fact that you had just managed to read all of a big ass book! And you liked it!

Reading is more than just interpreting words. It’s more than comprehending them. It’s also about tying in what you know with what you’re being shown. You create the picture and the story, the book is just the script for the movie in your head. The more work you do without realizing it, the more it means to you as a reader. That’s the job of a writer, to give you all the tools you need to create an epic story that thrills, excites, titillates, upsets, scares, and fulfills you. The more easily our words are crafted to make it possible for you, the reader, to do that, the more successful we are.

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at

I’m Not This Creative

I can come up with some pretty far out concepts. One good example is an undiscovered planet that seems to possess a life and intelligence of its own — not to mention a desire to destroy anything remotely human (Vitalis). Or a way to combine our world with a darker version of Earth in a parallel dimension (Dark Earth, The Lost Girls).

In one book (two now, if I include Sex Sells and Broken Slipper) I’ve got an unlikely couple that found each other and turned a sleazy hobby into an Internet empire. I have aliens all but destroying humanity and leaving a barren and desolate planet behind (Human Nature). Other books feature wooden spaceships using magic to sail the solar waves through space (Voidhawk). Warriors and wizards fighting the forces of evil and waging a war against an insidious cult of dragon worshippers (Blades of Leander, Order of the Dragon). And probably a few other books I haven’t even thought of. Not to mention some great ideas I’ve got for future stories!

How about a man who’s happily married and working hard his entire life. They’ve got a kid and he’s happy and proud, though always busy and working towards keeping his family in a good place. Let’s say nearly two decades passes like this and life is good – until the man’s wife confides in him one day that in spite of all the money he’s given her the house payment has slipped for a few months.

He’s surprised and maybe a little irritated, but this is the mother of his child. The woman he knows better than himself. So he writes her a check with a little to spare. Not quite $20,000, but close enough it’s hard to tell the difference. Then a few months later he gets a call from somebody else telling him his house is entering foreclosure.

He’s sure it’s a mistake – his wife took care of it, right? Things start to happen fast. Email is uncovered and phones get turned off. Bank accounts are drained and closed out and he’s watching the life he carefully constructed spin around him out of control. The icing on the cake is finding out she’s been seeing another man. A man roughly thirty years older than he is.

Unbelievable, right? Who does that sort of thing? It’d make for a lifetime movie, except on that channel they’d probably change it so that woman is the one who’s wronged instead of the man. Nonetheless, this is a true story. It’s the story my family got sucked into by chance. The poor bastard in question is my landlord. The vindictive money hungry thunderc*nt would be his (now) ex-wife.

To be fair, there’s two sides (or more) to every story. Given that she emailed us asking us to change the account we direct deposit rent into without his knowledge and that she gave us her daughter’s cell phone number and encouraged us to call if we had any questions, her side is taking on water fast. She’s disappeared at present and my landlord has no idea where she is. His daughter can’t talk to him for more than a few minutes before her grandfather takes the phone from her and tells him he can’t speak to her (daughter or mother) and hangs up.

So my friends, no matter how bad you think you’ve got it, or how crazy you may think your significant other can be, rest assured that somebody out there drew a shorter straw. It’s amazing, to say the least, and I can’t help but feel bad for the guy. In fact, if I’ve whined or complained about having a deadbeat landlord as we dealt with renting a house going into foreclosure, let me publicly retract and apologize any and all such statements. The person in need of being dumped into a full septic tank and left to marinate for a while is his ex-wife, not him.

I asked myself if I could use any of this experience in a future book and who knows, perhaps I will. Nothing comes to mind right now though because this is an example where real life is stranger — and more cruel — than fiction.

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at

Fictional Event Planning

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

I love how I can almost hear readers of this blog asking, what the heck is he talking about? For most of us, dealing with the day to day events is bad enough. Why fantasize about events that may or may not exist? Or even worse, why simulate them in our heads and map them out?

More years back than I care to recall, I had a group of friends that would regularly get together for role playing games. Typically the game being played was Dungeons and Dragons, but from time to time we tried out other ones as well (including a few we made up on our own – just to prove how socially awkward many of us were). Amongst our tight knit group it fell to a couple of us to run these sessions. That made the person in charge game master (GM) or dungeon master (DM), depending upon the game.

I tried different styles of running games over the years. Sometimes I’d come up with an idea and set down to prepare all the reference materials for it. These might be maps, encounters, creatures, and outlines or it might be little more than a suggestion of things to come along with possibilities the players might encounter or do. Of course playing with real people is the ultimate experiment in Chaos Theory, so that meant I had to be ready to roll with whatever they threw at me as well. Linear progression was virtually impossible!

And that, in a nutshell, explains how I came up with fictional event planning. Every gaming session was an event filled with multiple scenarios and opportunities. Maybe it was interacting with a serving maid in a bar to find out that the tavern’s latest shipment of ale was stolen or maybe it involved fighting a group of troll bandits that had stolen the aforementioned ale. And let’s not forget how much cuter the serving maid was after the ale was returned and a the first couple of rounds offered for free as payment for the adventurer’s services!

Fictional event planning is far more far reaching than gathering a group  of imaginative people to conduct fictional events in a made up setting. It’s used in all walks of life, from writing papers in college to telling jokes to preparing business cost analysis or life cycle management. Heck, we even use it when driving down the road and predicting what traffic around us might do and how we might react to it.

There’s another group of people to have learned to become pretty good at organizing fictional events: writers. The great thing about being a writer is that as long as something looks good on paper, you’re done! Real world implementation virtually never works out the way it appears it should on paper, but this is fiction. It works the way I want it to (or the way the characters tell me it’s going to).

I sat down last night to take a break from stressing over taxes and (hopefully) overcoming this miserable respiratory ailment I picked up last week. I started brainstorming about the third book in my Blades of Leander series now that book two, Victim of Fate, is in the hands of the editors and artists. While pondering book three I realized that I had more or less become a wedding planner. Although in my case wedding = epic fantasy story and planner = guy who writes down what my characters tell me to.

I’ve made the connection in the past many times. Planning a story is very much like planning a gaming session. Sometimes the objective is out there and the trick is to create an environment and obstacles for the characters to experience and overcome to reach the obstacle. At other times I come up with a scenario and toss the characters into it so I can see what they come out with. I like to think of the latter method as the rock tumbler approach.

Oh, and about those other guys that spent significant time running the gaming sessions… one of them has a couple of books published (Food and Philosophy and Porn – Philosophy for Everyone: How to Think With Kink) and he’s a professor. Another one has done a few commercials and is working hard to achieve success as an actor by the name of James Knight. Great guys that I still consider good friends, bonds forged by gaming and other adolescent pursuits. It just goes to show that not every gamer dork is doomed to a life of living in their parent’s basement watching pirated cable and becoming addicted to World of Warcraft and Internet porn. And it let me do a little name dropping, which is always fun!

Disclaimer: Yes, I tried out World of Warcraft when it was released. I quit inside of two months, becoming disgusted with the game play and cartoonish look. There’s just no substitution, in my opinion, for pen and paper RPGs.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at

Trapped on a Desert Island With Only Twenty of Us

September 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Up to the point of acquiring a medical condition, I’m a huge proponent of spending time with yourself and by yourself. It may seem anti-social, but there’s so much focus on socialization and communication in the world that spending some “me” time can be a powerful sedative.

As a writer I can improve this “me” time by spending it in a setting of my own choosing. I’d get in trouble for it when I was younger – it was called daydreaming then. But now it’s the fuel source for my next potential bestselling book. And all I have to do is let my mind go and wonder, “What if…”.

The unfortunate part to all of this is that the social skills don’t decay. That’s because of the other people. Yes, spending time with myself involves other people. Not the people in the background wherever I’m at, but the people in the foreground. The characters. Maybe it’s Carl putting somebody in their place for doing stupid or maybe it’s Katy trying to figure out who’s been trying to kidnap a little girl in her neighborhood. It might be Elsa and Tarn fighting off some enormous jungle predators or Dexter wondering how he let his daughter convince him that he should let her learn how to sail the Voidhawk at the tender age of six. Whether it’s those characters or others (Alto, Patrina, Dawn, Robbie, Cassiopeia just to name a few), I’m haunted by voices that demand I tell their story. They live out the scenes almost like I’m watching a movie in my head. Sometimes they pause and re-enact the scene, changing details because something else might work better. That’s proof, to me, that these characters are just like a lot of us real people are – they like to embellish on what happened to make it sound better.

And sometimes that makes me wonder. Are writers really coming up with all the stories we come up with, or are we just mediums capable to conversing with beings in other worlds and dimensions? That crazy lady who claims to be the Long Island Medium – I’ve long considered her and the show a joke, but now I wonder if maybe she and I aren’t so different. Granted, I don’t walk up to alleged strangers who I’ve never met, read, or seen before and act like I have intimate knowledge of them, but I do readily share such knowledge about people that don’t exist. Or at least they don’t exist in our world. Who’s to say they aren’t real in another world? Perhaps every new idea spawns off an entire new universe in which something is possible. Does that mean that our universe might be nothing more than a story told by someone in another reality?

Deep and perplexing thoughts, and most likely random musing caused by too much or not enough caffeine. Whatever the case, it’s a glimpse into the deviant mind of a fantasy and science fiction writer. As much as that may have troubled or scared you, ask yourself how you’d like to live with these sorts of things in your head all the time? Me, I love it, but that’s because the alternative is foaming at the mouth and wearing a straight jacket.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at