Are You Making Changes? Are You Pursuing Your Passion?

Gilcrease Orchard

Gilcrease Orchard Autumn 2015

Earlier this year I wrote about making changes. First, I wrote a post called Wherever You Go, Go With All Your Heart about how I had decided to become a PhD student after dreaming about it for many years. Then I wrote Hello, Goodbye: Changes Are Good for the Soul. And I still wasn’t finished making changes.

I was fortunate enough to receive a Graduate Assistant position at my university, and while the pay is below poverty wages (no joke), I wanted the experience of teaching and researching at the university level, so that was another change I made—leaving behind my full time teaching job for a G.A. position. One thing I gained from leaving behind my full time job was the gift of time. Certainly, I’m busy with university obligations, but otherwise time has opened up for me in a way it never had before. For years I wanted to put together an anthology of historical short fiction by contributors from The Copperfield Review. With my new-found time, I was able to put the anthology together, and History Will Be Kind is finally out in the world. My current writing project, the historical novel that drove me batty over the summer, is now full speed ahead and looking good for its February release. For my studies I was fortunate enough to have stumbled onto a research subject that fascinates me, and I’m finding this time at UNLV invigorating in a way I hadn’t expected.

I mention this because I’ve recently become aware of Steven Pressfield’s concept of the shadow career. In his book Turning Pro, one of the examples Pressfield uses is “Are you getting your PhD in Elizabethan Studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you?” First of all, I’m getting my PhD in Teacher Education, not Elizabethan Studies, thank you very much, and second of all, no, I’m not afraid to write the tragedies and comedies I have inside me. Then I realized Pressfield isn’t speaking to people who have a go at realizing their dreams—he’s referring to people who don’t pursue their passions. He points out the dichotomy between artists and addicts, an addict in this case meaning a self-sabotaging amateur who distracts herself away from her true passion with distractions, displacement activities, and meaningless jobs. Instead of pursuing our true callings, Pressfield says, we hide behind shadow careers.

Pumpkins 2015I’ve spoken to many people over the years who have a burning desire to be a writer yet they don’t write. I have a friend, a fellow teacher, who has been wanting to write a mystery novel for as long as I’ve known her (nearly 10 years now). She reads mystery novels, reads about how to write mystery novels, and she even travels across the U.S. to attend the Sisters in Crime conventions. I’ve often wondered what’s really holding her back. Whenever I think of people like my friend, I remember that quote from Maya Angelou in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I wish I could help my friend realize it’s okay, you can do it, you don’t need permission from anyone, do what you can do right now. I think sometimes people are so afraid of making any kind of change they make excuses and talk themselves out of doing something that’s calling to them from deep in their hearts.

The funny thing is, I don’t think being a teacher is a shadow career for my friend. I think she genuinely enjoys teaching. The problem isn’t that my friend isn’t making a living as a mystery novelist. The problem is that she isn’t pursuing her passion. Yes, it’s hard to find time to write when you’re a teacher (there’s always so much lesson planning and grading to do), but I believe that if you want to do something badly enough you’ll find a way to make it happen. I wrote seven novels and edited The Copperfield Review while working as a full time teacher. Why? Because I had to. I had untold stories burning holes in my innards and I couldn’t live with the agony of not sharing them. Pursuing my PhD isn’t my way of turning from those untold stories. I’m still writing novels—yes, it takes me longer these days to finish one, but I’m still writing them, and I’m still running The Copperfield Review. And since I love writing so much, when I’m teaching writing I feel like I’ve come home. As a result, I’m researching what can be done to train future writing teachers, and it’s fascinating stuff, let me tell you. You might have several passions as I do, and yes, it’s a challenge to juggle them, but it’s worth it. If you’re pursuing your passion and have a day job, I refer to my post about day jobs. I will insist, always, that you are not less of an artist if you have a day job. As long as you make time for your art, you are an artist. Even if my friend writes 500 words a day, 250 words a day, 100 words a day, whatever it is, it’s allowing her to pursue her passion at a pace that’s right for her. Don’t listen to the people who want to tell you how to be a writer (or a painter, or a dancer, or a photographer, or an underwater basket weaver). Don’t listen to the people who want to tell you that you’re not a writer unless you write a certain number of words every day (that is, unless it’s November and you’re participating in NaNoWriMo. Then 1667 words a day is about right). You get to decide how to be an artist for yourself. Really.

Not everyone’s journey is the same, but we’re all going to need to make changes at one point or another. Yes, changes are scary, but if you need to make a change, make it. If you have a passion, pursue it, in whatever form you can right now. Life is too short not to listen to whatever it is that makes your heart sing.

An Interview With Circa Editor Jennifer Falkner

Jennifer Falkner is the creator and editor of the online literary journal Circa, which is devoted to historical fiction, which happens to be my favorite genre (for those of you who haven’t already guessed that about me). What makes Circa unique is the fact that Jennifer is from Canada, and she loves to publish stories about Canadian history. You can visit Jennifer online at her website.

I had known of Circa since it’s one of the few journals devoted to historical fiction (the other, of course, being some little journal called Copperfield something or other…). Copperfield has published a few pieces of Jennifer’s short historical fiction, so I knew she was a great writer as well as a great lover of historical fiction. Jennifer was nice enough to answer a few of my questions about historical fiction and Circa. Here are her responses. If you write short historical fiction, take note!

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Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Jennifer Falkner: Writing stories is something I’ve just always done. I remember being nine or ten years old and writing westerns. I was going through a Louis L’Amour phase, I guess. But I only got serious about doing it well and for an audience besides myself after I turned thirty. I don’t always write historical fiction. If anything, I’d say half of what I write is contemporary. But the past has a fascination that I cannot ignore for long.

M.A.: What is your writing process like? When and where do you find time to write?

J.F.: Whenever I can. Sometimes that’s first thing in the morning before the rest of house is awake, sometimes squeezed in over lunch. Most often though I barricade myself in the study for three or four hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

M.A.: How would you describe your writing to potential readers?

J.F.: Improving, slowly.

M.A.: How did you come to start Circa, your online literary journal for historical fiction? Why did you choose to focus on historical fiction?

J.F.: There were so few venues dedicated solely to historical short stories when I started Circa a few years ago. There was The Copperfield Review, of course, and Alt Hist, Vintage Script, and Snapshots of History. Now, sadly, the latter two are no longer publishing. And none of them was in Canada. So it was partly out of self-interest; I wanted to read more historical fiction, especially stories to do with the Canadian past. And once I landed on the name, I couldn’t not do it.

M.A.: What would you like to tell those who love historical fiction and readers of Copperfield about Circa? How can they submit their historical fiction? How do you decide which pieces you’ll publish?

J.F.: To me, history is never bland. It’s lively, preposterous, funny, sad, bizarre, everything. I want Circa to reflect all of that.

With each issue, I feel Circa is getting stronger and more diverse. Pieces have to be well-written, obviously. The writer has to have done her work, researching, drafting, editing. I try to choose pieces from as many different periods as possible. This can be tricky because I receive a lot of submissions set during either the American Civil War or World War Two. And many submissions are not stories, but vignettes, a day in the life, which can be well done, but often read more like a history lesson. I want to be interested in the characters, I want to see them challenged and changed over the course of the story. And I love to be surprised.

Writers interested in submitting should check out Circa’s Submission page for instructions on how to submit.

M.A.: Which are your favorite historical novels? That’s often a tough call, I know.

J.F.: Oh, too many to list! But I’ll have a go. These are the books I read over and over. Orlando by Virginia Woolf; The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning; Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne; anything by Hilary Mantel, of course, but especially her book The Giant, O’Brien, which will break your heart, it’s written so beautifully; The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. And I’m a sucker for whodunits set in Ancient Rome, especially the Falco series by Lindsay Davis and the Ruso series by Ruth Downie.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

J.F.: Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, George Eliot, Fay Weldon, especially her Letters to Alice On First Reading Jane Austen – a must-read for any aspiring novelist and any Jane Austen fans, Jeanette Winterson, Elizabeth Gaskell. And probably a dozen others.

Hmm, I just noticed how many women are in my list.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

J.F.: Read, read, read. Read in, around, and over the period in which your story is set. Then pick out the one or two details that make the period unique and bring it to life. The reader doesn’t want a history lesson.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

J.F.: The next issue of Circa is due out October 15 and it’s bursting with great stories!

Boo! It’s Time for the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Thanks to everyone who participated in the hop! The winners for the 2015 giveaway are below:

$10 Gift Card Winners:

  1. Nicole Ortiz
  2. Holly Letson

The Loving Husband Trilogy Complete Box Set:

  1. Stacee R.
  2. Tallie Ellis
  3. Charley B.
  4. Pamela Feelton
  5. Anne Pratter

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While I’m in writing mode, working on my new historical novel, and editing mode, putting the Copperfield Review‘s first anthology together, I thought it would be a great time to participate once again in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop. If you’re not familiar with this hop, it’s one of the best events of the year for book lovers.

I love participating in this giveaway every year. After all, there’s no better time for the Loving Husband Trilogy–a vampire/witch/werewolf love story set during the Salem Witch Trials–than Halloween. There are more than 200 blogs participating, which means there are many wonderful prizes for book lovers to win. Check here for the list of participating blogs. Thanks to I Am a Reader, Not a Writer for hosting. This hop runs from October 15th to October 31st.

Two winners will receive a gift card (either or–your choice) for $10. Five other winners will receive a digital copy of the complete Loving Husband Trilogy (all three books) as either .mobi for Kindle, epub for Nook and iPad, or as a .pdf.

To enter, just fill out the simple form below. That’s it! There’s only one mandatory entry. All entry options can be found on the right sidebar of this page.

Spotlight: C.C. Humphreys and Shakespeare’s Rebel

Here’s a spotlight on author C.C. Humphreys’ new historical novel, Shakespeare’s Rebel. Check below for the link to the giveaway for a C.C. Humphreys book bundle.

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Shakespeare's Rebel coverTitle: Shakespeare’s Rebel

Author: C.C. Humphreys

ISBN: 9781492609902

Pubdate: October 6, 2015

Genre: Historical Fiction

Imprint: Sourcebooks Landmark


 To be (or not to be) the man to save England

England’s finest swordsman and fight choreographer at the magnificent new Globe Theatre has hit rock bottom. John Lawley just wants to win back his beloved, become a decent father to his son, and help his friend William Shakespeare finish The Tragedy of Hamlet, the play that threatens to destroy him.

But all is not fair in love and war. Dogged by his three devils—whiskey, women, and Mad Robbie Deveraux—John is dragged by Queen Elizabeth herself into a dangerous game of politics, conspiracy, and rebellion. Will the hapless swordsman figure out how to save England before it’s too late?

Brimming with vivid periodic detail, Shakespearean drama, and irresistible wit, Shakespeare’s Rebel is a thrilling romp through the romantic, revolutionary times of Elizabethan England that will delight historical fiction fans and Shakespeare enthusiasts alike.

Exclusive excerpt

If John knew the odds of a street fight, he also knew its mind-set. There were always those uncommitted to its extremity. These could be swayed. Bribery had just failed to do so—yet swift ferocity might work. So he stepped away from his friend and the still bawling boy to give himself the room required.

It was a good plan, to take out the biggest threat and transform the rest into nervous bystanders. May have worked too—if John had not been betrayed by the unevenness of the stones underfoot, a misjudgment of distance, and the lingering effects of the heated double-double ale he’d just drunk.

He drew, screamed, “Heya!” and leaped. Tripped. Fell, his sword clattering onto the stones. Somehow he kept a grip upon it, which aided him not a jot, what with the apprentice’s boot upon it.

“Oh, John,” he heard his friend say. He squinted up at the butcher’s boy looking down.

“Now that,” the youth said, “was not very friendly, old man.”

He might have taken more offense if he were not lying with his ear pressed to shit­rimmed cobbles and if the youth had not continued, to the crowd, “You all witnessed who drew first. So I’m going to let him rise—and then give him a little lesson in swordplay.”

The boot withdrew. John rolled clumsily away, got onto knees, thence onto shaky legs. The butcher’s boy stepped back, handed his cleaver to a friend, then reached to his side and began to draw, very slowly, a rapier from its scabbard. The weapon’s speed was partly dictated by its length—at least a foot longer than the limit decreed by Her Majesty. Once clear, he also withdrew a long dagger, raised both weapons into the air, to another huge cheer, the onlookers so thrilled by this escalation that not one yelled out when the accused thief, cause of the quarrel, slipped from Shakespeare’s neck and sprinted off down the alley.

Escalation…escalated. Where two swords were bared, suddenly there were nine, for the six other apprentices also now had their rapiers out. As Will drew his, John stared. “Is there not an ordinance, Will,” he mumbled, “that decrees only gentlemen may carry rapiers?”

The butcher’s boy overheard—and smiled. “’Tis true indeed, sir, which is why we carries ’em.” He turned and grinned at his companions. “’Cos we is all fucking gentlemen.”

More cheers at that. They were spreading into a half­circle when, from behind them, flagons appeared, borne by drudges from the tavern, the landlord following, a large man who shouted as he came, “A sixpence says it is over in less than a minute. I offer odds of three to one!”

“I’ll take sixes,” a man cried out. “These are real gentlemen, after all.”


David Cooper Photography 2007

David Cooper Photography

Chris (C.C.) Humphreys is an actor, playwright, fight choreographer and novelist.  He has written nine historical fiction novels including The French Executioner, runner up for the CWA Steel Dagger for Thrillers; Vlad – The Last Confession,  the epic novel of the real Dracula; and A Place Called Armageddon. His latest YA novel is The Hunt of the Unicorn. His work has been translated into thirteen languages. Find out more about him on his website:




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