All posts by JR Simmons

That Feeling of Relief

So, the feeling of relief…it is pretty amazing, right? Take the following examples:

  • Sitting down with a gaming controller after a long day.
  • Taking off shin guards after a soccer game.
  • An ice-cold drink of water after mowing the lawn on a 100+ degree day.
  • Pulling a foot out of one of those tight ski boots after a long day on the slope (this could also be replaced with a too-tight bicycle cleat after a long ride).
  • That first plate from your favorite buffet after a day of fasting in eager anticipation.

imageI could go on, but hopefully you see where I’m going with this. As I thought about what I wanted to write for this post, I couldn’t help but consider my own current mindset. You see, I just finished Ragesong: Alliance, and that beautiful ‘I can finally sit back for a minute’ feeling hit. It was a huge relief.

With my current schedule, I am usually able to churn out one or two books a year. It isn’t a lot, I know. I learned a long time ago that failure to prioritize can lead to some pretty hairy situations, however, and it is always worth avoiding those. In the example of my writing, I found a schedule that works for me…more or less.

So, here I sit, excited for tonight. After the kids go to bed, I can relax and unwind in the best way possible. That’s right! I’m talking about video
games (where did your mind go, people??). There is nothing better than sitting down for a nice binge session on video games when you feel you completely deserve it. Alliance is in the hands of my editor and I get to dust my hands off and wait until it comes back.

Here’s the thing. For the past several months I have been struggling to stay on target with Alliance. I would find things to occupy my time that kept me from writing in the evenings. Stupid things, like: video games, Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, etc… In short, I was finding it extremely difficult to stay focused. The downside (and upside) was that I had readers hitting me up to know what was going to happen next. In all sincerity, I love it when this happens because it shows that a reader is invested and they care. It is extremely motivating. So, like any good procrastinator, I grounded myself. I would not allow myself to enjoy in any late night gaming sessions until after I finished.

Oh boy, it was grueling at times! The only use my poor ps4 received for the last several months was when I would watch a movie with my kids. It was tough, but since I wanted to play, I was able to focus more and I was able to finish the book. I will say, that I can’t remember enjoying a gaming session quite as much as the one I had the night I sent Alliance to my editor. It was SO great!

At first, I simply enjoyed the night for what it was. Kids in bed, the wife NES_controllerwatching T.V. in the other room and me, sitting on the couch with a controller in hand watching the opening cut scenes for MGS5. Now, as I sit back and consider that euphoric feeling, I realize it wasn’t just the gaming. It was the fact that I could sit down and play without a shred of guilt because I had accomplished something I was proud of. I knew that in that moment, there was nothing more I could do for my book, and I really felt I had earned that time.

Upon coming to that conclusion, I tried to think about what I can do to experience it again. Because, honestly, there is nothing quite as good as a guilt-free evening of doing something you love without the nagging feeling that you should be doing something else. So, my question to myself was, ‘what can I do to experience it again?’ The answer of course comes by way of lists. Why? Because…lists.

  1. Set worthwhile goals – Half of the reason I enjoyed the reward as much as I did was because I felt like I had accomplished something truly worthwhile.
  2. Set reasonable expectations – I was already through with a good portion of the book. I knew that my goal obtainable. I was not setting myself up for failure by trying to do too much.
  3. Find what works – Withholding something enjoyable not only gave me motivation, but I also found that I enjoyed it all the more after taking time away. ‘Absence doth make the heart grow fonder.’ There’s a lot of truth to that.
  4. Enjoy the reward – Give yourself time to enjoy the fruits. Don’t rush on to the next project so fast that you can’t sit back and take joy in what you have done.

In life, we do a lot of things in life that aren’t easy. I found that occasionally those tasks can become more manageable when we are properly motivated. Not to mention, the end result can make a fun experience even more incredible. I’d love to keep writing…but I’ve got games to catch up on before the PlayStation Holiday rush hits. So, until next time, folks!


J.R. Simmons
– Author of the Ragesong Saga

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Drowning Out the Siren’s Call

music-note-clip-art-musical-notes-clipart-cropped1Out on a lonely island sits a group of women. Their song is so heartbreakingly beautiful that the mere sound of it is enough to override basic survival instincts. The moment that song reaches mortal ears, the listener throws away all restraint and flings himself into the sea in a mad desire to reach the singers. Only too late do they who are stricken realize that the island cliff’s are unassailable. All who swim for the Sirens drown, accompanied by the beautiful music of their own seductive funeral dirge.

Odysseusand-thesirensbywaterhouseHow did one resist these singers? Well, Odysseus strapped himself to the mast and plugged all of his sailor’s’ ears with beeswax. Even still, he nearly tore the mast down in a desire to reach the strange birdlike women. The Argonauts? Jason recruited Orpheus. The skillful musician was able to drown out the Siren’s song with music equally beautiful from his lyre. Butes, however, heard the song and leapt into the sea. Only the divine intervention of Aphrodite kept him from becoming another victim.

The Sirens and their song have long been used as a teaching tool. Usually, we apply it internally. We ask ourselves “What is my Sirens’ song?” “What calls me away from productivity and forward momentum?” “What keeps me from moving forward and realizing my full potential?”

Those are all excellent questions, and it can take a lifetime to find the answers. However, that is a discussion for another day. Instead of thinking about our own Siren’s song, I would invite you to ponder the Siren’s call to others. In lieu of taking the Odysseus route and tempting fate by immersing ourselves in the seductive sound, let us consider Jason’s solution.

NES_controllerIf we are Jason and our readers are the Argonauts, what are the Siren’s songs? Video Games? Electronics? Toys? Sports? Social Media? Yep, I’d have to say that those are definitely things that I compete with to win and keep readers. Are there more? Of course. Those are simply the songs that hit closest to home.

lyreSo, now I ask, What can be my Orpheus? Well, to be frank, I haven’t found a permanent solution yet. In competing with video game/social media/one-click downloadable app market, I am losing horrendously. Honestly, since those Siren’s also sing to me, I can’t really blame the readers. More than ever before, we are flooded with cheap (and not so cheap) entertainment. It is easy to be enticed by the song of a quick game of Clash of Clans, a dip over to Netflix for a binge movie watching session, or a late night game-a-thon.

As parents and teachers, we can help influence young potential readers. If we want to make our own songs heard above the cacophony of sound, we have to start with those we can influence. I know that I am preaching to the choir here. It is because of people like you that pleasure reading has not already been completely drown out with the more mind-numbing Siren songs. I can still remember reading days and read-a-thons in schools.

Perhaps they are still happening, but kids don’t seem to rave about them the way they did in the past. Maybe if we encourage and support similar events in the schools and even our own homes, it will increase the chances of seeing a teenager flip open a book during ten minutes of downtime instead of plugging away on a phone to check Facebook, Text Messages, or the latest app. Who knows, maybe one of those books will even have been written by an Emblazoner.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read!
J.R. Simmons (Author of the Ragesong Saga)

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Powering through Discouragement

Ever had those moments were you want to simply throw your hands up in the air and shout, “Why am I doing this? It doesn’t make a difference!” Well, I have. I’ve noticed it in many aspects of my life over the years. Looking back, I can see that some of those times have been pretty silly. Like, when I used to play videogames. NES_controllerI remember the days of Nintendo, when if you died, you started over at the beginning and the controller-throwing rage that those moments induced. There was the time when I was told in school that I couldn’t music-note-clip-art-music-notes-clip-art_jpgsing and for three years I gave up completely before involving myself in community theatre and starting over again. Silly examples, I know, but those stand out to me as times in my childhood when I came close to giving up on something.

As I’ve grown older, my issues and insecurities have changed. For example, I have always struggled with weight. dietMy size tends to yo-yo depending on my diet and exercise. I’ll just tell you now, for a dieter, there is nothing worse than reaching (and in many case surpassing) your pre-diet condition due to a brief indulgence of binge eating. What about seeing your hard-earned money disappear after a single high-end purchase that you later discover you didn’t want or need? I am ashamed to say that due to poor risk-analysis skills, that has happened to me on a number of occasions.

So, you are probably asking yourselves “Why is he bringing up all of these depressing issues?”. Well, the answer to that is because I am seeing the same thing now with my writing. I can still remember the emotional high I was on after finishing my first book. I recall the giddy excitement I felt the moment a publisher answered my query letter, expressing an interest in my manuscript. What wasn’t to be excited authorabout? I was going to be a published author! I’d make a quick million bucks, retire from my job, and write for fun, just because that was what I loved to do! Of course, now that I am about to publish my fourth and fifth books, I can see how unrealistic my expectations really were.

I have since parted ways with my publisher and attempted to go into business for myself and I have discovered a great deal of discouraging factors that I wasn’t prepared to deal with:

  • Getting lost in the mass of indie authors
  • Writer’s Block
  • Marketing Fails
  • Low Sales
  • Agent and Publisher Rejection
  • Poor Reviews
  • Lack of Time

I am sure I could go on, but I believe that I have made my point. Unfortunately, I have seen a few authors, authors that I respect and admire, fold to these pressures and give in to the discouragement. More than once I have heard phrases like “I am done” and “It just isn’t worth it”. Although I am confident they will work their way through the slump, I am saddened to see them disheartened, temporary though it ffi-the-end-nesmay be. So, after a particularly difficult stretch, I began to think to myself. Even as a kid, after I finished screaming at the T.V. and stepped away for a few minutes, I could pick up the controller, press start one more time, and try once again…and eventually I would finish the game.

If I once found myself motivated by a pixelated, 30 second ending to a game, I think it is time to ask myself about my current motivators. To better my singing, I tried out for musicals. At first, I struggled quite a bit (I still remember trying out for Wizard of Oz and butchering ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ in front of a whole room of people). Eventually, though, I started taking choir classes and vocal lessons and continued to improve. Now I find myself looking for opportunities to sing instead of shying away from it. For weight Spudmanmanagement, I sign up for a series of races and triathlons every year. This forces me to stay active, so I don’t walk into the race unprepared.

So…what can I use as motivators for writing? Reviews? Well, they are a fun motivator, but I learned early on that relying on reviews is only temporarily satisfying. When they stop come in or are negative in nature, a review can have the opposite effect. Money? Sure, money is a motivator for lots of things, but…I don’t make a lot of money from writing. I haven’t found the time/resources for decent marketing and my reader base is still rather small (though extremely loyal). So, probably not (at least…not yet).

Well, what then? If I am not making money from it and reviews (or lack thereof) are not consistent…why keep writing? One of the answers came to me not too long ago. When I walked in the door from work and my kids came in to greet me, one of my twins pulled me aside and said, “Hey, Dad, this is where I’m at in twinsRagesong.” It was completely awesome! It made me realize that as much as I enjoy writing for the masses, my true love is writing for my children. Since then moment, I have caught them reading over my shoulder, pestering me for updates, and begging to be allowed to read the next story early…and I love it! So, this has become my writing goal. If I can keep my children excited for what comes next in my stories, then I can make it through the discouraging moments.

Most of the time, I chug through life on a pretty decent track, but every once in a while I catch myself experiencing one of those deep dips in the road. That’s where I need to take a moment to reflect. Usually if I take the time, I can figure a way to snap myself out of it.  So, my friends, best of luck working through your own discouraging moments!  I’d love to read about your methods for overcoming the slumps in the comments!

Thanks for reading!
J.R. Simmons (Author of the Ragesong Saga)

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What in the World are Videogames Doing to Our Readers?

I know what you are thinking. ‘Here comes another anti-videogame message.’ We’ve been hearing it for years. Videogames are damaging our children. They are the reason for all of the corruption. Children have lost their desire for creativity and imagination. Kids are more prone to excessive violence and they now all have ADHD. Videogames are the reason that America is in the sorry state it is in…blah yada blah.

Well if that is where you are thinking this post is going, you are WRONG! If you think that access to videogames is destroying a child’s creativity, I dare you to spend twenty minutes watching an eight or nine-year-old kid play Minecraft. It will BLOW. YOUR. MIND! Seriously, as the father of nine-year-old twins, the volcano-moated fortresses that my children build in that game are amazing! Honestly, they put my old Lego and Lincoln Log creations to shame…but I digress.

Videogames have come a long way from the old Mario and Marble Madness days of the original Nintendo. Games now demand a sense of realism. Game developers have progressed in their ability to immerse a gamer into a story. Don’t believe me? Go and play Last of Us, Mass Effect, Skyward Sword, Skyrim or any of the Uncharted games. Heck, go play Pokemon (although I ABSOLUTELY do not want to hear about what stupid Pokemon you capture, what their weaknesses are, and who they evolve into). The advances in gaming have been seriously amazing and there is no reason to believe that it will be tapering off any time soon.

So…what does this mean for us as writers, especially those of us that shoot for the midgrade audience? Have we lost our target audience forever? Are they drowned in a sea of visual stimulation and mindless button mashing? I say NO! In fact, I shout it from the rooftops!

Why you might ask? What possible reason can this thirty-something aged Clydesdale (that is a triathlon reference for those of you who might be wondering) have for such a response? To answer your unspoken question, I must take you all back with me to my youth and the glory days of the old Nintendo. Remember those fascinating times? Blowing into the cartridges until you were light-headed? Stuffing one game on top of another in the console with the hope that you could find that sweet spot and the screen would stop flashing and the game would fire up? Rage quitting a game by slamming your controller to the floor after reaching the end boss only to die for the last time and be forced to start over?

In those days there were no studies about the effects of prolonged videogame exposure (well, I’m sure there were, but due to a lack of social media, most parents were blissfully unaware of them). The adults in those days discovered one simple thing. Nintendos were built in babysitters! Videogames kept their destructive, attention-craved, overly energetic little boys from leaving Legos all over the floor, coloring on the walls, and beating the stuffing out of any sibling within reach…for hours at a time! It was a wonderful age for both parent and male child (I know there are many female gamers, but lets face it, those early Nintendo games were made for us guys). However, for all of those boy children that grew up on videogames…there were girl children. Girl children that watched as their brothers’ eyes became glued to TV screens and dismissed everything around them. In many cases, those poor siblings became the replacement babysitters and job-doers. They were the children that got things done while their brothers wasted hour after hour in front of the tube, controller in hand, every bit as plugged in as the inanimate console they played.

Well, guess what? Now those sisters are Moms! And you know what else? They don’t want their own kids to follow down the same path as those brothers of old…and they have a strategy. Oh yes, those wily mothers have plotted together and they have come up with ways to keep their children from becoming too entrenched in gaming. Now they even conspire through social media to keep videogames from rotting out the brains of their precious darlings. Pinterest boards and Facebook groups have ended the limitless gaming that the boys of my generation took for granted. Now kids have to work for those precious nuggets of game time. They do jobs, they play outside, they do art projects, they do homework…and they read!!!

Yes, mothers are a bigger advocate for reading than ever before. But…we must accept the fact that videogames have altered the minds of our readers. Kids now have experienced a realism through story telling that didn’t exist before. So, as authors competing for their limited time and attention, we must up our game as well. Now, I am a huge fan of fantasy, and I have often wondered what I could do to hold a child’s interest for prolonged periods of time. What can I do to keep a child reading, even when the sirens call of a videogame beckons?

For me, I have found that the solution lies in the minor details. Often, when a child is telling me what they have found appealing in my book, it turned out to be some minor thing that I considered unimportant at the time. They added a sense of realism for the reader that even videogames couldn’t provide. Simple things such as picking burrs out of socks after beating through the brush, the ache in the back after sitting for a prolonged period of time, or the pain and swelling of feet after a long hike.

The question is, how can we as authors provide those kinds of details to kids? The kind they can’t pick up in the game world. Sure, we can always fall back on research, but I propose a better solution. Experience!!! If we as authors challenge ourselves to try something new, we can use the knowledge and information we’ve gathered in our writing. It was always easy for me to write that my characters were tired after a trying ordeal, but after staggering across the finish-line of a half-marathon or a summersaulting over the finish mat of the Spudman triathlon, I truly knew what exhaustion meant. I now understand how muscles can turn to watery jello and how calves can burn as though you are actually standing in the midst of a fire. I now realize that fleeing from an enemy is more than simply pressing down on the b button for an unending sprint up and over the mountain to the safety of the plains on the other side.

After taking combat classes, I realize that close quarters combat is more than simply throwing a series of punches and blocks. It is all about position, speed, timing, breathing, conditioning, and everything else that can give you an advantage over an enemy. The experiences I gained there were something that made my combat scenes much more realistic and lent a sense of immediacy that had been lacking before.

Now, I am not proposing that we go out and experience everything that we plan to put our characters through. Is your character going to jail? DON’T GO AND GET ARRESTED! Sometimes we need to use our imaginations, and of course, we need to research. But sometimes, a dash of real life experience in an adventure might just be the secret ingredient in the mix to winning the fight for a child’s attention. Whether that battle might be to get our next book onto the bookshelf in the home, or simply to keep our current book in their hands five minutes after a mother calls out those sweet, magical words that nearly every kid longs to hear:

“You can play now!”

JR JR Simmons lives in Northern Utah with his wife and 4 boys. He loves spending time with his family and coaching his kids in all of their different sports. He is an avid gamer and is very excited that his boys are picking up on his hobby. JR was recently introduced to triathlons and has since found that he loves the sport. Most nights he can be found either sitting down with a good game or hunched over his iPad writing.