The Lion’s Gate, Fighting Resistance And Mental Toughness For Writers With Steven Pressfield

I’m super excited to bring you this interview with Steven Pressfield, who has been one of my ‘virtual’ mentors for many years through his books and his blog. I’m definitely a fan girl! We talk about Israel and his latest book on the Six Day War, The Lion’s Gate – and we also go into the Resistance and some of his tips for writers around habits and mindset.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Steven PressfieldSteven Pressfield is the author of screenplays including The Legend of Bagger Vance, novels around the classical wars of ancient Greece and modern warfare like Gates of Fire, and non-fiction works including The War of Art and Turning Pro, which I know are on the desks of many writers listening. His latest book is ‘The Lion’s Gate,’ a hybrid history of the Six Day War.

I’ve split the interview into two on video: you can watch our discussion about The Lions’ Gate here, and another on tips for writers here. You can also listen to the audio above or on the podcast feed on iTunes or Stitcher, or read the transcription below. In the interview, we discuss:

  • A brief overview of the Six Day War and the events that feature in ‘The Lion’s Gate’ as well as why Steven wanted to tell this story, after many years of writing books around classical wars
  • The concept of ‘en brera.‘ Why the Israelis had ‘no alternative’ at that time and perhaps, still don’t?
  • Our mutual love for the country of Israel, and the places that particularly resonated with Steven
  • Why Steven chose to tell the history in the first person POV, and his interview research technique, plus using the techniques of fiction in writing narrative non-fiction
  • the lions gate pressfield“The Lion’s Gate’ as the book Steven has been avoiding writing, and how resistance manifested during its creation
  • I have a quote by Steven  from The War of Art on the pinboard by my desk. “On the field of the self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon. The battle must be fought anew every day.” How we can fight resistance as authors.
  • How spirituality plays a part in Steven’s writing life and books, including his prayer to the Muse
  • From Turning Pro, “The difference between an amateur and a pro is in their habits.” The habits of a pro writer and the discipline to keep to the path.
  • Defining success as a writer– after multi-million books sold, being on Oprah, movie hits and more. ‘You have the right to your labor, not the fruits of your labor.’ It’s not about the rewards of writing, it’s about the writing itself. How it took 10 years for ‘The War of Art’ to find its audience.
  • On comparisonitis. Getting a handle on jealousy.
  • Balancing the demands of ego against fear and self-doubt – and how to stop self-censorship.
  • Mental toughness and being a warrior as a writer. This is not easy work. It’s a battle, and mostly, you’re on your own.
  • Thoughts on the changing world of publishing
  • You can find lots more about Steven’s writing process in his FAQ here

You can find Steven at and also BlackIrishBooks. You can find The Lion’s Gate on Amazon here.

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Happy Father’s Day! A Father-Daughter Self-Publishing Story

One of the great things about self-publishing is that it enables the fulfillment of dreams.

Arthur J Penn and Joanna Penn

Arthur J Penn with Joanna Penn, celebrating!

A physical book with your name on the front still holds a magic that ebooks can’t compete with. It’s proof that your work has turned into something that people may even read!

Last year, I helped my Dad self-publish his historical thriller, Nada, set in Sardinia during the Second World War. After querying agents and generally not even receiving a reply, I suggested we move forwards and do it ourselves for his 65th birthday.

When Amazon came and filmed me earlier this year (the full video should be out next month), my Dad came too – the Penn indie author dynasty! In the video, or here on YouTube, you can see a glimpse of our journey, with thanks to Amazon KDP and Createspace.

You can also watch the unboxing of Nada in the video below or here on YouTube.

In this article on Later Bloomers, Dad talks about his love of Sardinia and the real, historical characters that inspired Eleanor and Marco, as well as the dark history of Fascism.

If you like historical fiction, you might like to check out Nada.

A young woman’s struggle to free herself from the manacles of fascism and the bigotry of faith.

Nada CoverSardinia, 1934. On her eighteenth birthday Eleanor Cardinale is relishing the warm embrace of local festivals, red wine, and her first lover. Her passion is set against the backdrop of the island’s crystal seas, mountain crags and ancient magical legends.

But her joy is fleeting, for dark forces gather as she openly challenges her suffocating religion and Mussolini’s twisted vision of a new fascist Italy. The Duce is at the height of his popularity and Eleanor finds herself dangerously alone in her dissent.

Eleanor’s simple Sardinian life is shattered by a series of hideous crimes against her loved ones; savage rape, atrocity and finally murder by masked dancers in the fire and shadows of a demonic festival.

Is Eleanor willing to pay the ultimate price for freedom and independence?

NADA is a story of love, murder and revenge set in a time of Italian fascist expansion and ending in the early days of the Spanish Civil war. A historical novel, for fans of Robert Harris and Louis de Bernieres Corelli’s Mandolin.

Buy now in ebook or print format on Amazon

 Happy Father’s Day all the Daddies out there :)

Why Authors Should Consider Graphic Novel Adaptations With Nathan Massengill

Today’s podcast episode will get you super excited about the possibilities of adapting your work into a graphic novel. It’s definitely become one of my goals after talking with Nathan.

In the intro I mention the expansion of Nook into the UK and other European countries, some of the lessons learned from hitting the NY Times & USA Today lists with the Deadly Dozen box-set, an update on my own writing, and I mention the brilliant LearnScrivenerFast training.

The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

nathan massengillNathan Massengill is the author and artist for the Viscera graphic novel series. His comic credits include Wolverine, X-Men, Batman and other New York Times best-selling comics. He’s also collaborated with notable creatives, including Joss Whedon on Buffy and also with Christopher Nolan.

You can watch the video of the interview here on YouTube, or listen to the audio podcast above, or by subscribing here. You can read the full transcription below. Highlights of the conversation include:

  • Nathan’s background in comics and how the fans of comics really are super-fans
  • Why strong female characters are so interesting (and rare) in comics, and why Nathan chose to write one in Visceraviscera
  • Why we love superheroes and action violence
  • How Nathan actually creates comics
  • How the distribution works with comics including Amazon’s new Kindle ComicCreator tool
  • Why authors should adapt their books into graphic novels
  • How to find and work with graphic novelists
  • On crowdfunding for graphic novels

You can find Nathan at and Viscera comic at Nathan is also on twitter @NAMartist.  You can read the full transcription below, and please leave a comment if you have experience with graphic novels or have any questions for Nathan.

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Adapting Shakespeare To Thriller Pacing And Academic Publishing With AJ Hartley

One of my favorite books of 2013 was an adaptation of Macbeth, which I recommended as part of my Christmas reading list. Today I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with one of the co-authors, A.J.Hartley.

In the intro, I mention that Deadly Dozen, the box-set I was part of, hit the USA Today list  AND the New York Times bestseller list – woohoo!

The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
AJ Hartley

A.J. Hartley is the NY Times and USA Today  bestselling author of mystery/thriller, fantasy, historical fiction, and young adult novels. He’s also the Robinson Professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of North Carolina.

  • Andrew talks about his career, writing the kind of books he wants to read himself and he reads in many genres! It took twenty years of writing fiction and 8 books for Andrew to get published in the days before ebooks and self-publishing. He went into academia as a career and had been teaching Shakespeare for ten years before selling his first novel.

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What Is Your Definition Of Success? How Do You Measure It?

One of the inherent parts of being human is a general dissatisfaction with where we are. However much we achieve, we often want more.


This has an evolutionary benefit as it means we are always striving, always creating, always building. But it’s important to recognize your achievements, so whatever you decide you want, you also need to establish how you will measure this success.

I’ve also been thinking about it in the wake of the discussions around the Author Earnings site, which has had the industry blogs all aflutter and brought out the agent and publisher big guns to discuss the impact of self-publishing. Some have said that the report is turning the focus to money, that writing should be about creativity and the rewards are in the work themselves.

But it’s important to remember that we are not a homogenous bunch, and we all strive for different things, for different reasons.

For me, it comes down to three questions:

  • What is your definition of success – for this particular book and for your writing career?
  • How will you track and measure that success?
  • What do you want to do with that success? What is the point in your work?

It will also tend to change over time as your definition of success will be dependent on the progression of your writing career. In this article, I outline some of the more common responses to the question, as well as potential options for measurement.

(1) I want to create something I am proud of and hold my book in my hand 

This is perhaps where we all start – with the desire to finish a project and create something tangible. This is also why most first time authors want a printed book.

Arthur J Penn and Joanna Penn

Arthur J Penn with Joanna Penn, celebrating!

I helped my 9 year old niece publish her first book, which led her to win national prizes speaking publicly about the experience. I also helped my Dad with his historical thriller, Nada. Neither of these are really commercial prospects, so the focus of success is more on creativity, which is a totally brilliant reason to write a book!

If this is your goal, check out this article on how to self-publish and look at print-on-demand options. If you don’t want to DIY, I would also recommend you read ‘Choosing a self-publishing service,’ by the Alliance of Independent Authors so you can avoid the (ever-increasing) scams in this growing industry.

(2) I want to see my book on the shelves of a bookstore

We have shopped in bookstores all our lives and for many of us, the bookstore is a place of solace as well as adventure. When I was most miserable in my job, I would go to the bookstore at lunchtime and indulge in retail therapy to escape my life for a time. To see a book with our own name on it on those shelves must surely be every authors dream.

This is easy to measure but the truth is that it is extremely difficult to get into bookstores as an independent author. It’s also costly even if you can manage it because of discounting and returns.

Folio Books windowYou can definitely do it – as Dean Wesley Smith explains in this article. It’s also possible to build relationships with your local bookstore as Karen Inglis, children’s author, has done. But it’s about where you want to spend your energy, and for me, print distribution is not a major concern.

I’ll admit that this is still a dream of mine and I’m definitely open to print only deals with traditional publishing, but it is no longer a definition of my success.

(3) I want to reach readers with my words

This is fantastic but I always challenge this definition of success, because it is so intangible. If you want to reach readers, then just put your book out for free and on every platform in the world, as Seth Godin did with ‘The IdeaVirus’ a few years ago. But most people don’t mean this kind of ‘reach.’

So be more specific – does it mean 10 x 5 star reviews on Amazon? Does it mean a fan email from a reader you have never met and who isn’t your friend or family member? Or should you measure this reach in book sales?

(4) I want to sell 10,000 copies of my book/s

This is a better definition than (3) because it is measurable and you know when you get there. The number is obviously dependent on many things: the genre you write in, as a children’s picture book will sell far fewer copies than a commercial romance novel; a literary novel will generally sell less than a commercial thriller. It is also dependent on how many books you have, as you will more easily reach higher figures with more books.

This volume type of definition will also change over time. I started off with 1000 books as a goal when I only had one book. Then I moved to 10,000, and I am just about to crack 100,000 so now my goals have changed again.

(5) I want to win a literary prize and receive literary/critical acclaim

You can achieve this as an independent author. The Alliance of Independent Authors has an Open Up To Indies campaign, which will hopefully mean that more prizes and festivals are open to self-published books over time. There’s also been the recent success of A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava, which started out as self-published and won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham prize and has been shortlisted for the Folio prize.

But you’re still far more likely to win a literary prize if you go through the traditional publishing route. It’s the goal of most MFA programs to produce books capable of winning prizes. As for critical acclaim, again, you’re more likely to get that through traditional publishing and reviews in literary journals.

If this is your goal, you should also be aware of recent research that shows literary prizes can make the book less popular. So this definition of success may be incompatible with making a full-time living as an author.

(6) I want to make a full-time living with my writing

Again, I challenge this because the definition of ‘full-time living‘ is different by country, even by region, as well as the huge difference between income needs from a family with kids to a professional couple or single writer. Try and be specific about the actual figure you are aiming for, and think about how that may grow over time, based on how much you are writing over the next few years, as well as your own financial requirements.

author earningsThen have a look at the Author Earnings website to see if your genre is likely to earn that kind of money. Follow authors like HM Ward, Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, CJ Lyons, Bob Mayer, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch who all make a great living writing books. Study how they write, how they run their creative businesses and their recommendations.

Making a full-time living became my goal in 2009, and in September 2011, I left my job as an IT consultant to become a full-time author-entrepreneur. I make about one third of the income I used to make back then, but downsizing, paying off debt and changing my own definition of what a ‘full-time income‘ was meant that I could leave the job I hated and start this new creative life.

An income goal is not necessary for everyone, and for many, creativity alone is the reward.

But I have been challenged on my own focus so I have been thinking about it a lot recently. My desire to earn (very) good money stems from my upbringing by a single Mum who worked long hours to provide for me and my brother. I am married, but my financial independence as a woman is incredibly important to me, and I’ve had paying work since I was 14.

My lifestyle is also important, with travel being a part of what I define as a good life rather than ownership of physical


Cycling down the Western Ghats from Ooty into the tea plantations

things. Last year I had several weeks cycling through South India, and this year I will be in Canada, Spain or Israel, as well as back in New Zealand. So the ‘why’ behind my definition of success is around my self-esteem as a financially independent woman, as well as wanting to live life on my own terms.

(7) I want to create a body of work I am proud of over my lifetime

This is the definition that will keep you honest about your creative output. You won’t rush a book to publication. You won’t put a book out without a professional edit, or a professional cover. You will strive for the best this particular project can be.

I am trying to balance this with (6) above and it can be difficult. Part of me wants to learn to write faster and produce more words, but my books are characterized by deep research and a sense of place, both of which require a longer writing process. I also want to live a life of research and travel so I want to honor that part of my process.

In the end, I want to write for the rest of my life, hopefully another 50 years, so I’m in this for the long haul. How about you?

I want to hear from you on this important topic. What is your definition of success? How has it changed as your writing has progressed? Who are your role models for success? Please leave a comment below and join the discussion.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Clouds by Jonathan Kos-Read