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Learning to Write Villains

In late 2017 the Garth Brooks Anthology Part 1 was released. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a massive Garth Brooks fan. If there is anything with Garth’s name on it around me, it’s mine. I learned to love the poetic form of storytelling through songs like “Lonesome Dove” and fell in love with the passionate beauty of “The Red Strokes.” I also learned key turn phrasing in songs like “What She’s Doing Now.” “I can hear her call each time a cold wind blows” has always been one of the most simple, yet most powerful song lyrics to me. The rise and fall of his voice matches the lyrics perfectly.

Essentially, a lot of what I learned from writing and storytelling form came from these songs. They fueled my imagination for those first ten or so years of writing and this anthology was no different. To be able to see the way “If Tomorrow Never Comes” is written on paper, and listen to how it was recorded was just mind boggling. To hear the stories and inspiration behind each lyric and song formation was breathtaking, and just like his music, I learned a lot of lessons from these stories about writing.

The most shocking revelation to me was “Burning Bridges,” another one of my favorite storytelling masterpieces. In the anthology, the writers discuss how and why they wrote the song. Garth originally wrote the song with his landlady, who also introduced him to his producer, Bob Doyle. The song starts out “Yesterday she thanked me for oiling that front door, this morning when she wakes up, she won’t be thankful anymore.”

Unlike most popular songs written for the heartbroken, “Burning Bridges” is declared THE song for leavers, those who do the heartbreaking or leave because they don’t know any other way. Garth says in the book, “I’d like to think the music of “Burning Bridges” comforted those people that were not stick-arounders, the people that burned bridges even though they didn’t mean to.”

In break ups, the person who leaves is often vilified, is often berated and belittled, but as Garth puts it “The people being left are better off than the person that can’t stay. Because at some point, the people being left are going to find that person they’re supposed to be with but the person that’s leaving all the time never will. And that, to me, makes the villain the victim.” In a  later paragraph, Garth goes on to tell the story of explaining the first line of the song to their drummer, a lyric that even I didn’t get until I read this book. “Mike saw it like oiling the door was a chore. For a while there he didn’t get it that until that front door didn’t squeak, he couldn’t leave without waking her up…”

I never thought about that song like this until reading the book. I always imagined the story unfolding with two lonely, single neighbors hooking up for one night. I never thought about the characters being an actual couple until reading this story and then the song took on a whole new meaning and in that new meaning I found a new character in story telling and new method of writing villains that will be explored in the next couple of blog posts. In the meantime, dear readers, what non-book writer has inspired your writing?

I don’t know about other writers, but one of my biggest struggles when writing is often crafting the narrative of the villain in a way that makes sense to the reader, but isn’t overtly evil. I know this is one of my issues because of the fact that it often comes up in writing editorials, beta reader comments and elsewhere. I’m not ashamed to admit this fact, nor am I ashamed to admit that I still struggle with this after almost fifteen years of writing. You’d think it’d get easier, but the villains are still my toughest subject.

A huge part of the problem for me is finding that origin dynamic, the single moment where the character becomes the villain and why and how this affects the story. I think a huge part of the problem is that I never truly related to the villain in any story and most villains in modern fiction seem to be incredibly vague to me. Especially writing high fantasy characters and bad guys/girls, it always seemed that the villain needed something otherworldly to make them the villain and that was something I usually missed.

However, in the lyrics from a song, I found a new interest in learning to work with writing villains. In less than 20 words, with the first line of the song the act of an everyday chore suddenly becomes the moment when an otherwise normal person becomes the villain of the worst kind.  It’s such a small act that takes less than five minutes out of a person’s day, but there it is. So simple. So easy.

From a paragraph in an anthology on country music I learned that being a villain, even in high fantasy, doesn’t have to be hard. Or extreme. Not every villain has to be a serial killer or war strung god. Sometimes the easiest answer is the best. For me, in a world where villains must have an excuse for being villains and readers look for the most drama around every corner, this took on a whole new life for me and I immediately began exploring the idea of using this in everyday fiction writing. Of course, it’ll be some time after this blog post  before I will be able to see if it is something the readers pick up on or enjoy, or if it even makes my writing of villains better, but it is a theory and test I’m willing to work with and try whenever possible.

And remember:
Say it with words.

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Why I Changed My Name for Publishing

Why I Changed My Name for Publishing

Why it Matters, and Yours Should To.

I mentioned in my very first blog post that I will be publishing my books under the full name Maggie M. S. Burleson, rather than my given name – Maggie Chapman. I took my name seriously in college, which is when I began writing seriously. I realized several things:

1) Megan Chapman is not a very marketable name.

2) Megan Chapman is not who I am. At least not biologically.

It’s a long story, but to make it short, my mother was still married to her ex-husband by the time I came along. Despite the fact they were separated, and due to the rules of the state, Chapman was given as my last name, when technically, it should’ve been Shields. However, my biological father was never an active figure in my life, and thus my name was never changed.

M.S. is a secret representation of two names that mean the most important to me—my grandfather’s mother’s name. My middle name is a long standing tradition in our family. The youngest inherits the name, along with its storied history. S honors my great-grandparents, who loved me dearly enough to seek me out when my biological father stepped aside

My great-grandparents were very active parts of my life and I loved them both dearly. They carried the name of Shields at their passing, so when I began contemplating a more marketable pen name. One that would connect with readers and stand out on a bookshelf, I also wanted to choose something with meaning.

I chose Maggie as the first name of my pen name. It still honors Megan, the name my grandfather gave me, but isn’t Meg. (I hate the name Meg and few are allowed to call me this). I started teaching in August of 2018 and my students easily adapted the name, so it stuck.

Burleson is my grandfather’s name. It’s an ode to the man who helped raise me and taught me everything I know. One day, I will carry this name on paper, as much as I do as a published author. This name is the one that matters most, the one I carry in my blood. The one I look to when I need strength and love.

In everything we do, our names are a link to who we are. Where we’ve come from. Our history. Even if it isn’t your real name. Even if it’s a name you chose simply for marketing purpose, that name will alway be connected to you and your past. There are dozens of Megan Chapmans in the world; there’s even an up-and-coming actress. There are not many Maggie M.S. Burlesons in the world and that definitely makes all the difference.

So, lovely readers, what’s in a name? Do you believe names matter when marketing your book? Do you have a pen name? What’s the history behind it? Would you create one? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts below!

And, as always, remember, lovely readers,

Say it with words.

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Why Writing is like Dating

Why Writing is like Dating

And how to succeed at at least one.

Here you are, single and dateless again. With your best dress on, trying to make the best possible impression. A blank page stretched out before you and a clock ticking away the seconds as you get to know each other. The seconds until you get to decide if this is worth taking a chance on, worth asking for another date.

But are you dating your significant other? Or are you dating books? Your books, specifically. Your writing. I know I have.

Sometimes being single feels like a stamped passport for people to dig into the deepest part of your life. Next time, redirect the questions and take control of the conversation.

I haven’t dated in the traditional sense in some time. Since 2010 to be exact. It’s not because there haven’t been any men interested in me, but I haven’t been interested in anyone. As I ended my last relationship, I made the stark realization that I’d never really been interested in any of the guys I dated. I had no intention of marrying them and certainly no intention of sleeping with them. Yet there I was, so attached at the hip to them, people were already setting wedding dates two months into a relationship.

I was done with dating. I was done with the  string of emotionless relationships. And I wasn’t the only one.  It’s the same scene I’ve seen go down in a hundred relationships between my friends and their significant others. My high school best friend, who’s boyfriend cheated on her after almost four years together. A friend in the army, whose wife cheated on him with his best friend (And later divorced after she showed up pregnant). One of the longest married couples in our neighborhood divorced after forty two years of marriage when the husband stepped out with one of the young girls who worked at the dollar general.

Honestly.

And none of this particularly urged me to care much about relationships. That was the problem. I didn’t care.

Dating at the time took more energy than I cared to give and I didn’t find anyone worth sticking around for. Writing, on the other hand, was always worth it.

I’d just ended my last relationship that December with Daniel. The relationship was pretty physical, as most tend to be, and getting more so every day. However, the relationship lacked an emotional and conversational quality that didn’t go beyond picking our movie nights.

I remember our last date.  I’d had a pretty rough day. Work had been hell (as flipping hamburgers is) and I had a massive headache. The date ended up being a movie at Daniel’s home, so I guess I should’ve known the expectations in retrospect. And maybe I did. I told Daniel I just wanted to relax and watch the movie as we ate dinner, but as usual, it ended with a makeout session on the couch. And yes, we only went as far as making out. I think that was the moment I decided the relationship was over.

Just a little before December, we broke up. We met once to exchange Christmas gifts and that was it for me. On December 31, 2010 as the clock drew close to midnight that year, I made a new year’s resolution. I wouldn’t settle for love or romance. Ever. Again. So when Daniel showed up on Christmas, with a string of apologies and letters, the answer was no. I was not going to date him again In fact, I wasn’t going to date anyone who didn’t make me happy and vice versa.

I was living the KonMari method long before it was the latest fad. Guys asked me on dates, even a girl or two, and the answer was always no. I wasn’t interested. They didn’t spark joy for me.

These days, any time I’m out and about, I’m likely to run into someone I know. Someone from the church I used to go to, or someone from school. Maybe an old neighborhood friend. They always ask if I’m dating. For some reason, my dating life – or lack thereof, always seems to be a topic of interest for people. I honestly used to be so annoyed by it until recently. Of course I gave the generic answers. No, I’m not dating. No, I’m not interested in anyone. No, I’m not thinking about kids. Yes, there’s plenty of time. It was like I needed to validate my choices to them.

A couple days ago, as I sat struggling through the first pages of my second novel, I began thinking about how writing is similar to dating. And the similarities really hit home.

Imagine you’re sitting at a table with your new writing project. You’re nervous as hell, wondering if this will be the one. Will this be the next big idea that ends up a best seller and making tons of money? Will this be the idea that sticks and launches your writing career?

After a successful date, you bask in those warm first date feels. The next day, you do the same exact thing. You do this, three or four times, however long it takes before you even type the first word on the page. You’re getting closer, getting to know the characters, the villains, the major plot points, what drives the story. And then, you’re ready to start dating it. You finish the chapter and the next. Finally, you commit to the project the way you commit to a promise ring or engagement ring. It’s official.

For some people, writing is the longest relationship to ever exist in our lives. This is the primary reason that I now answer with full confidence, “Yes, I’m dating. I’m dating my book.” It’s earned me some weird looks, odd questions. But once I explain it, that answer not only changes the topic of discussion, but people seem to understand the writing process better. The next time I see them, the questions they ask are different and more involved.  Isn’t that what all writers ask for?

Even though it started out as a way to avoid an awkward question, it rings true more and more every day.  Below are some great tips on how you can succeed at building a relationship with your writing.

Treat writing the way you would want to be treated in a relationship.
  1. Just like dating, there are multiple facets of writing. Choose one to focus on everyday. Don’t want to write? Cool. Do 20 minutes of research instead. Market research, plot research, whatever. There’s plenty to work on besides writing.
  2. Recognize the need for rest and learn from it. Didn’t write that 500 words today? That’s okay. Sometimes self-care is more important. After all, you have to care for yourself before you can care for others.
  3. Priorities first. Sometimes in dating, we have to put other things before ourselves. Significant others, families, prior engagements, etc. It happens. In the same way, sometimes writing can’t be our main focus. Bills come first. School comes first. Don’t stress. Instead, find other ways to focus on writing. Whether it’s reading about editing or looking up the latest publishing trends. There are always other ways to stay proactive. Take care of priorities first and do whatever you can later.
  4. Talk to it. Yes, talk to your writing project. Go over characters, plots and key notes. Is everything still working? Does something need to be changed before you continue to the next piece? Make sure everything is strong and still makes sense to your readers.
  5. Focus on the big picture and don’t forget the small stuff. It’s great to get caught up in big things like one year anniversaries, engagements, reaching an end goal, and action points. Don’t forget the small things that also matter, like that minor character who still needs a name or the town square that still needs a background. The small stuff adds up.

There’s definitely a lot more that I could add here. These aren’t hard, fast rules, but they are simple steps you can take to improve your relationship. They’re easy challenges that you can edit for yourself and use at will, but they are also gentle reminders to love your WIP as much as you love your significant other or anything else important in your life.

So please do share, lovely readers, what dating advice do you give that could be transformed into solid writing advice? Will you choose to start dating your WIP the same way you take on romantic dating? Do you agree that writing is like dating or not? Let me know in the comments.

We appreciate your comments and thoughts.

And, as always, remember:
Say it with words.

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Welcome to Merlot Et Mots, Publishing

I am the Queen of Procrastination

Welcome to My Really Old Blog

I am the Queen of Procrastination. I’m also the Queen of Great Ideas. Ever feel that way? Do you have a list of ideas piling up, waiting with anticipation for the moment you decide to start them? I can relate. In fact, this entire blog can relate.

I created my WordPress account in early 2003, way back when it was shiny and new. I loved the site. My problem? I didn’t think I had anything to say. I knew I wanted to blog about writing, but what did I have to share? At the time, I was just a geeky kid who loved reading Harry Potter. I had no idea what I was doing. So, the blog sat empty.  That is, until a few months ago, when I decided to change my lifestyle of procrastination.

If you’re anything like me, your desk might look like this.

My name is Maggie Chapman, but from now on, I’ll go by my pen name, Maggie Burleson–a change I will explain in a later post. I’m a 28 year-old college student and a soon-to-be published writer.

The journey of this blog began during my sophomore year of college, though my writing career began much earlier than that. Back in those days, I struggled not only with  procrastination, but also from depression, lack of self-discipline, motivation, and a slew of other things that kept me from pursuing writing as a career rather than just a hobby.

I graduated high school in 2008, right when the recession hit. I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to college at the time, but after looking for a job for almost ten years (from 2004-2014) without success, I realized I had no choice. It was as if the universe was giving me a big blinking sign at the time.

So I started with community college, where I learned to fall in love with writing in a new way. I took as many English classes and poetry classes as I could and even finished my first novel during this time. The depression that had claimed my life for the past few years seemed to evaporate. I was happier than I’d ever been before. But I still had no idea what I wanted to do for a career.

Writing never seemed like a viable career and part of me feared that I would lose my passion while trying to turn it into a business.

After earning a two-year arts degree from my community college, I was accepted to The University of Wilmington in North Carolina as a sophomore in Spring of 2017. A college almost seven hours away from my hometown (personal goal I set for myself almost three years ago.)

Suddenly, I had to decide on a path for my future. I wanted to choose a career that wouldn’t bore me or make me part of the 9-to-5 crowd, just getting by. That year, I promised myself that I would never, ever settle for anything less than what I wanted. It turns out that writing was what I wanted most seriously. I majored in creative writing. This was the best choice I’d ever made.

I decided to self-publish my own books early on in my career. I don’t think traditional publishing was ever a question for me.While sitting on the floor in a dorm building older than my great grandmother, I founded the idea of Merlot Et Mots. It would be a self-publishing company that works similarly to how a traditional publishing company does. A company that provides learners with a way to fall in love with reading and provides writers with a way to remain in control without feeling isolated. Let me tell you this: writing is lonely. Self-publishing is also lonely as hell. The stigma of low-quality content and half-assed editing attached to the self-publishing world still reigns. It is a dark, deep, and at times, frustrating and depressing industry.

I firmly believe writing is only a struggle (business wise) when we try to set the exact same rules to every project.


This blog is an attempt to break that stigma and make writing and reading more accessible. I still don’t know a lot about what’s going to happen here, but I do know that my goals include providing readers with great content that makes them happy, even if for only a moment. I also seek to give writers a voice, let them know that writing is hard and Merlot Et Mots get it too; to provide them with tips and tools for getting the job done that go beyond the basic how-tos; to teach writers that we can love and enjoy writing, find pride in our words and make a living happily writing, despite the hard work that this path requires and the anguish that comes along with it.

I’ll use this blog to provide tips on staying physically active as a writer while managing a solid writing schedule, eating healthy food that doesn’t take time away from your writing to make, and learning to fall in love with your first draft, even if it needs major editing at the same time. Togethr, we’ll discuss why positive reinforcement is a benefit to writers, especially when writing on difficult topics, and how to feel loved, even when you feel isolated in your writing. This introduction is just a small peek into what Merlot Et Mots means to me. However, I hope every post on this blog brings you encouragement, love, and health.

Because that’s what this is. A blog of love. A blog of realism. A blog of happiness. And yes, you can have it all.

Be happy, lovely readers. And remember:
Say it with words.