Thursday, December 30, 2010

That season

A little over a week since the last update, which is strange because I knew that, and yet did not find myself here until now, New Year's Eve eve. I think every year I introspectively rediscover some dingy spot on the china white finish of the holiday season; I never stare at it for long, but it does show up in my dreams. Fortunately, that led me to turn to my writing for distraction, and consequently, my goal of reaching chapter 20 before I returned to work is very much on pace. Today I will draft chapter 19, and I still have a few more days off next week (sometimes, working at a school is marvelous).

Though, a few of my friends haven't been so lucky (in regards to productivity). One friend actually revealed to me that cabin fever is real, or rather, is not the fear of being stuck in the woods cut off from all internet access (like being stuck in a log cabin, witness protection-style). Apparently, cabin fever more pertains to being stuck inside for an extended period of time. In his case stuck in his apartment, waiting, stuck in his car, driving, then stuck in a house, having dinner, for three days straight. I could actually hear him going crazy over the phone. I examined the walls of my own room, and recounted how long I hadn't stepped outside, and chalked it up to people just being different.

Another friend was having troubles of a writerly kind. And again, I both could not empathize with him and thought that if such a condition afflicted me, given my lifestyle, I'd be in a very bad way. My mentor back in college, during our writing workshop, would often times address questions about writer's block. No one bothered to explain what it was, because everyone assumed that each of us had been struck with it at some point. So, my professor moved on to how to alleviate it. At least I'm pretty sure he did. I never remembered any of those discussions because the information wasn't all that useful to me. But that's what my friend had, and it was a little sad to be unable to help him, except to hurl empty platitudes in his direction. He expressed a desire to get lost somewhere, and just write for days, weeks on end. I supposed that while people are different, they can also be very similar in certain ways.

My latest published story on fictionaut has been up for a couple weeks. Going back to it after some years, I was happy with it, and even happier with the comment a kind person left, complimentary of both the story and my skill. I also did another story for the sports site, and even had it in mind to write another but a familiar malaise struck me then, similar to Monday when I was going to update this blog again. It was going to be about the spirit of the fan and the spectator sport that is attending football games, but it just seemed a bit out of place, and boring. Perhaps that's what writer's block feels like.

In any event, I've been busy at points this week, driving about and doing favors for people or getting up late because of poor decisions made the previous evening, and a chapter has been drafted and edited each day regardless. As always, in this one, specific, socioeconomically unproductive way, I feel a tad unstoppable. I plan on going to bed early tomorrow night, so I suppose I'll count my blessings now, and say goodbye to the year. I loved it, and hated it, because there was so much room for improvement.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The passage of time like stones on the roadside

Yesterday I passed into the final stage of edits for my novel to be released in March (if I'm not going to be confident about it, who will?). The copy editor congratulated me because the only problems the publishing editor had were "accidental double spaces between words" and "repositioned commas." The copy editor called the stage "errata" and gave me a list of instructions. It seems to be a little different on their end but more or less the same on mind: read my novel all the way through, line by line, and tell them what I'd like changed. The only difference, really, is that "this is not the time for rewrites, but rather to catch any last minute mistakes or oversights." I'm amazed once again about how little I know about this whole process; I guess I missed the chance to rewrite anything...

I hear stories about how writers dislike their first novel, and many of them habitually pour over the produced volume with a marker or highlighter, agonizing over things they can't change (until the re-release, that is). I even got a decent explanation from a co-worker that espoused that for the rest of their lives, the trajectory of their writing career would be associated with their initial effort. It would be something they could never get back, or alter. It takes years to get out of a contract in order to re-release the book somewhere else, and in that time who you are as a writer could be cemented in the minds of whatever readership you may be enjoying. I remember back then my desperation overshadowed everything; it seemed like such a small thing to be labeled a hack because at least I'd be published.

And I'm not saying much has changed. But I know more, I think. And I know that this time, I did not leap head first into reading the book again, to find and fix the corrections. I actually stared at the email for a few hours and thought about things. I hemmed and hawed about the momentum I had on the current novel I'm working on, and hovered my cursor over the file in question. Ultimately, I went to bed without doing very much. Yesterday morning I had composed a chapter, edited it, and even did a story for that sports site (this morning I got my first disagreeable comment: milestone!). Last time I can remember a keen desire to get right into things, and this time I have even less time (10 days to return my corrections rather than 14).

One line in the email stuck with me: "it's very important to read your manuscript and correct errors and omissions that we missed and take responsibility for your work." I guess it might sound like they want me to do their jobs for them, but that isn't how I took it. As always, I've thought that the success or failure of my efforts was solely on my shoulders, as much as it isn't. And this is a good opportunity to prove that. The overall tone of the final notes struck me that a writer could simply wait a few days and send the copy to the editor with a message of "no changes, good work!" and go about their day. A friend of mine told me once, after I had noticed how dense my writing can be sometimes, that such close attention to detail would do me a service, and bare itself out in the end to my advantage.

So I guess I'm trying to psych myself up to reading all the way through it again, line by line, and with the same excitement that I did before. With a second thorough read, I'm sure I'll be many steps closer to being one of their authors that hates their first book, or believing more strongly that it will be a success. Honestly, I wouldn't mind spending every holiday season like how I'm spending this one: reading, writing, editing, and looking forward to an upcoming release. I am blessed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Links in a chain (of being)

Whoever heard of vacation hitting someone hard? Last night I was not struck with an obligatory urge to go to bed early and voila, here I am bleary eyed at lunch time. The entire weekend was also a bit unproductive. I was social; I did hang with friends. But otherwise, I brought none of my various plots to fruition.

On the other hand, there is news of a small sort. One of the editors at the sports story site got back to me, and gave me an assignment. Not long after, I completed my fourth story for the site, however I've yet to receive any feedback from the editor who gave me the story to do (and it wasn't even much of a story, just a loose frame of an idea, and a rigid title of sorts).

Likewise, I discovered, or rather re-discovered a site called Fictionaut (two people, when told this story over the phone both replied "Knot, like k-n-o-t?"). I will admit to not knowing at all how the site functions, but there seems to be hundreds if not thousands of writers there. Since discovering that I could post, I've done so. The first story published was lite-sci-fi, if that's even a term. The second was actually flash fiction, one that I'm proud to say even garnered a comment from another author. The third was among the first science fiction shorts I wrote; I like it because it has all of my initial sensibilities and vigor before I was influenced, even marginally, by "what people are reading now" and "what the magazines are looking to publish."

Despite these bits of news, I did intend to do some serious editing this weekend. I drafted up to chapter 10 of the novel, and that being a round number, decided to do something I've never done before: go back to the beginning, and read all the way through to where I'd stopped before the novel was completely drafted. I call myself taking extra steps to make sure the work is sharp. Extra sharp, even. But then a chilling fear crept up in me: that I would find glaring error after glaring error and that by the last chapter, I'd just delete all of it and hold myself.

But now, except for an award ceremony tomorrow, I really am on break. I really don't have anything to be doing. I have no excuse to not exude my fuller energies to push forward. So, what else is there to do but push forward? I must confess again to only having questions.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Contrarily confused cognition

Monday morning seems to work better for blogging. I get up hours before I need to be anywhere and I sit and stare at my computer screen, thinking about nothing. I can't say why, but I do desperately hate getting up and rushing, woken by a blaring alarm clock and pushed about by the crazy urge that if I don't rush, I'll be late. Slow suits me. And, I have time to post these erstwhile updates about this existence of mine.

I was very excited yesterday when I realized how one of my book series would end. I hate admitting that I was writing while not knowing every last single detail of the story, even more so that I was honestly writing while thinking that it would just come to me. It did, but that doesn't necessarily feel like my assumption was laudable. It also turns out that thinking of things I'm not currently working on isn't so bad so long as shortly after I jump right back into what I am working on. I've worked through my mini-outline and will be starting chapter 9 soon.

In jest, I told a friend of mine that he'd have to complete all of my works in the advent that I die suddenly and soon. I showed him notes, and he looked at them oddly. Empathizing a bit, I realized what he was actually looking at was a pile of scratch paper and napkins and flyers with something a lot like jibberish written on them, arrows pointing from certain bits to other certain other bits. It had never occurred to me to write the stuff down in code, so I guess I assumed it would be perfectly literate to anyone else.

Speaking of confusion, I dreamed a few weeks ago. Dreamed vividly, so much so that I was able to recall it almost perfectly and even tell it to other people. Everyone has since told me to write it down, so of course I refused. There were blue skies and a mirrored terrain and a steep incline I was trying to climb with poor footing. Once, briefly, I even saw myself and I was made of the same stuff as the land, smooth reflective surfaces turning the sky into my skin. There were other things, but I hesitate to write them down. Perhaps one day I will understand what it all means.

I got an email from an editor on the sports blog I've been dabbling in. I couldn't be sure if it was a blanket gesture given to all knew writers or if he actually found something unique and appreciable in me, but there was mention of a program whereupon I could work towards more exposure via becoming a featured writer. Perhaps something will come of that. I said I was interested, but have received no other word.

This week is the last week of the year at the school where I work, and I feel blessed. This semester has been harsh, and has reminded my co-workers of something they simply call "the beginning," an event that makes them shudder and rock back and forth. I'm glad to have survived it without too many break downs. Perhaps it means I've grown. I never did take that standardized test, nor did I apply for grad school. In retrospect, I feel almost like I always knew I wouldn't do those things, at least this year.

I have to squint in thought to imagine what progress I made this year. Maybe that means I've come far.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A war for middle ground, begat by tiny green demons

In a previous post, I mentioned a resolution to double the writing I had already completed this month, which at the time was two blog posts (one here, one on bleacher report) and three chapters of the novel. On yesterday evening, I fulfilled that goal. For those of you so inclined, at least some of the evidence is here. The chapters (which now number six and an introduction) you'll just have to take my word for. It's coming along. I told a friend about how surreal the process was of taking a chapter from its roughest, least realized state to something I was much, much happier with. And so, one piece at a time, I'm building me a road.

The destination I've always been confident in knowing, but the dips and curves, the climate and conditions, those have always been foggy, to use a pun. The other day, on an email group I'm plugged into, one of those terribly long streams was compiled and compiled and sent to me. I try to keep abreast of such things in as far as figuring out what the conversation was about and where it was going, in most general terms. This one had to do with some discussion board somewhere, or shall I say a battle field, and on opposing sides were mixed groups of readers and authors.

And even that isn't most accurate; the group/forum/board belongs to the veteran, most-involved posters the way a city belongs to people. They don't own it in any pure or true sense, but it's where they eat and sleep so they feel very responsible for it. And there was a gripe, a long-standing grudge that had finally boiled over, against authors who would come by and take advantage of the significant readership and dive bomb self promotions. At the beginning of the email I received, the other authors seemed concerned about what this meant and how it could be addressed, but ultimately divulged into a movement to go over, en masse, and post the first group into some sort of submission, or at least, understand what all the fuss was about. Naturally, the innocent curiosity and calm explanations were responded to with bullet-shaped rebuttals. As usual, it was two groups failing to empathize with one another.

The people on the group are there to discuss specific genre fiction. To talk to each other about the sorts of things they like to read, and everyone is welcome to do so. At some point, someone realized it was a good place to promote one's work, and the stream became a flood, hence the hubbub. The authors, at least the ones I heard from, were trying to understand how best to market to their readers, and began by explaining their position, which was contractual obligation to overturn every stone in search of promotional gold (because as they belong to smaller houses, there is no money to pay for advertising, or at least, desperately little), and a societal drive to make as much money as possible within whatever subjectively reasonable means (we are, after all, Americans). It was overall a sad and negative situation.

I'm hoping against hope at this point that my March release comes to fruition. I think to myself that there's little to stop it, but evidence in the past has showed me otherwise. And when that time comes, I will be expected to engage in some level of promotion somewhere (I would like to, after all, actually make a living doing this; read: make money doing this). To that end, I read the entire multi-page post, even the deleted comments, and picked up some decent bits. Apparently, there are places that review books if they're given a free copy. I will likely harvest double-digit numbers of these places, and send them copies. Of course those will be free for them, not free for me, which illustrates one of the sticking points in that very lengthy dramatization. The authors asked "Well, what if you don't have money for promotion?" and the readers replied "Tough." What's the old saying? You have to spend money to make money? Perhaps a better plan would be to make enough money to move away from this place, somewhere pastoral and imaginary.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A simple update about complex things

I wish these hiatuses of mine indicated some great, fiery period of productivity, but really, how little I commit to this blog has nothing to do with how active I'm being otherwise.

I did start the novel, successfully turning NaNoWriMo into NaNoStarMo (see what I did there? magic). I'm ten thousand words in and mostly happy with what those words are, their order and arrangement. Working with a friend in his scene shop at his theater, I was holding a screw gun, staring down at a nailed together structure that would, once install and painted, be the wall of a set and realized that we do sort of the same thing. Emphasis on sort of. There's a handy manual filled with useful knowledge like invincible knots and saw horse designs and how to hang something from the ceiling so it swings, doesn't swing, or can even raise up and down after being affixed. For writers... well, I guess you could say the book hasn't been written yet, ironically.

Like today at work I saw a flyer, approved to be hung on the announcement board, for a book signing. I work at a school, so, the fact that the book was obviously sci-fi impressed me into doing some research. And I hesitate before using negative phrases, but something is to be said for the kind of places that will prey on young authors and work with them in a limited fashion to produce something that could stonewall one's career. Not that the book on the flyer I saw was one of those stories, but I did find several places where the publisher was being badmouthed, and the company's site itself is bereft of thorough or even moderate proofreading. There are signs, and then there are omens. I'm set to be in place, earning my pay check during the hours in question, but I wonder if I'll be able to make some time to go to the person's event. I'd want someone to come to mine, after all.

Something else that's news that has little to do with my recent efforts is that I got a mock-up for my release that should (barring setbacks similar to my previous, still slowed, release) be out in March. It's interesting how a visual of something can make it more real. Honestly, up to that point I had never considered the book as much of one until I saw what might be the cover for it. Of course, I annoyed the nice artist over the course of half a dozen emails, asking that the letters be moved just so, or the background be cropped differently. Currently though, I have an email praising her efforts and giving the latest draft my blessing saved, just waiting to be sent. So that was fun.

Also, because I have the kind of awesome people that push others to achieve as friends, I found myself on a more professional looking sports writing consortium type contraption and recently, published this article. Admittedly, it was an older piece which I threw into the mix just to see how the system worked, but I got some good feedback from honest to goodness editors. It doesn't pay, but the story got more hits in a day than anything I've done to date. And three tweets, whatever that amounts to.

So I haven't been as productive as I could've been, but I also haven't been slacking entirely. I think the commitment I'll make is to double the writing I currently have done before the end of the month. Ready, set, procrastinate.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

There are excuses and then there are reasons

Sometimes, when people tell me it's this month or that month, I wish I could retaliate with some well-prescribed barb, but mostly it is out of my own lack of watching or reading or embracing any sort of news. I don't know how long November has been "National Novel Writing Month" (I also just figured out how to say the acronym) but it seems like for the past couple years I'm re-reminded at the end of October. Thankfully, even people that both know I'm a writer and that November is what it is don't ask me if I'll be writing a novel. Not that I'd go so far as to tell them off, but it would avoid the slight mote of sadness that I won't be.

This year I have an excuse, though. I wrote a novel this year already. Actually, I wrote four. None of them took less than a month to pen, but they were all started after January 1st and drafted before now. I also sort of cheated. Because as I'm finding out with the new idea I'm working on, from the concept itself to actually putting words on a page somewhere has taken weeks if not months. It's much harder, I'm re-remembering, than simply putting ducks in a row, or even caring for and hatching each individual duck then arranging each linearly. It's more like thinking up the word duck, then physically creating what that thing is, then putting them in a row. My fantasy novel took years of musing; it was slow and off and on, and in the beginning I didn't even know that that is what I was doing, but it's clearer now. But even focused and conscious, this new story is a bear.

But, the whole point of things like NaNoWriMo is to create initiative where previously there was none. Tomorrow I'm going to finally wash my car. Next week, I'm finally going to visit that friend I said I would. Those are just examples of course (I mean, it's cold and wet outside). So, given how much progress I've made, and where I had wanted to get to this year, perhaps I will use all the energy in the air and make November my novel starting month. I mean, if I really, earnestly wanted to draft this entire thing, I probably could. However, it wouldn't be very good, or even mildly good. And I want it to be great. So, this is a fair compromise I think. So, basically, I have this week and next week because madness ensues towards the end of the month (which makes me wonder, do all these other writers pen their way even through the turkey day festivities and xmas shopping? so far as effort goes, isn't November only 3/4 of a month?).

And now for my monthly optimism. Ahem. Some of you may have noticed the comment (one of the very few) at the end of my last post. This person is not real. Clicking on the name will send one to a site to get help on taking standardized tests. And if that wasn't enough, there's the message itself. Given how enthused I was to actually receive a comment, it might have been more than a bit of a let down to know that it was not a person, but a robot, and not even a robot in need of a friend. Instead, I've chosen to hope that it means that the grand internet has found me, and decided that my site is a good place to ensnare travelers with his tarnished goods (you know, because the traffic is so high). I can almost smile.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What were you supposed to be

Seems appropriate for this to be a Halloween post. Or is it? I realized last night at a party (if you knew me, you'd be shocked) how little I knew about the event. I know it comes from Hallow's Eve, and it happens at night, so I guess the real time to have done this would've been last night, among all the ghouls and goblins and such. Or maybe it's like Christmas and there's an eve, then an actual day. I digress.

It turns out the blood wasn't real. I opened the file from the editor and actually guffawed at all the red and spiraled back to a time when I was small and when sitting in a desk my feet didn't touch the floor (again, if you knew me, you'd be shocked). But then, I took a closer look, allowed to me by a healthy amount of rejection and criticism over the years, and realized a few things. 1) Microsoft Word track changes randomly picked red; when I made my own changes later they were in blue, and when I re-opened the file the editor's changes were in blue and mine were magenta. 2) A majority of the feedback was positive, and all of it was constructive. I learned a lot about the things I do in longer writings that are not so helpful. Moving modifiers and clauses around ended up creating easier understanding for some of my sentences, and all it took was different, trained eyes thoroughly inspecting my many pages. And finally 3) the editor thought it was good. Some of the comments had nothing to do with grammar or pacing or sense, they were simply compliments.

I had ten days to read through it, make my own changes and send it back. I did it in two, spending so many hours on the first day trying to get ahead so I could slack off this weekend that I found myself in a completely different place. I was hungry for the kind of feedback I was getting, the kind that I wasn't getting and shouldn't have expected from my friends, perhaps even the writing group. I realized that there just might be a difference between writers who edit and editors who write. The editor informed me that she would be going over my changes this weekend and if everything worked out, would be sending it on to the copy editor who would be in charge of the next step of the process, and that whatever the case, she would be informing me of what was going on and what to expect. Now I understand what some of the major differences between self-publishing are and going with a publisher, even a smaller one.

And I never had to step a foot into a court room. My lawyer, provided to me by the insurance company, put on her most frightening mask and scared the plaintiff's lawyer into convincing his clients to take the settlement. I was extremely happy, first because I wouldn't have to testify (my lawyer shared with me the fact that I tend to give too much information when speaking) and second because my attorney was for me and not against me. Over this  whole past several weeks, she is probably the scariest thing I came across, and she was smiling and laughing whenever we interacted.

Otherwise, the year creeps on. I fear that at least one of my resolutions is going to fall unaccomplished. I think I've also decided to take the GRE, and see what the test thinks of my chances in graduate school. A new job would be in order, otherwise. Or maybe regardless. I changed my status on facebook to "Perhaps next year maybe I will probably have a costume." I'm thinking I'll go as the future. Scary, right? I know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Aspersions as hallow's eve shadows

Timeliness is one of those things they teach us in school, but not really. There are penalties for being late after a certain age, and maybe someone will sit us down and explain in brief the importance of being on time. But there's no homework or essays or discussions about it. They just tell us, and some of us listen. In college, all of us at least once skip out on a professor who wasn't on time themselves. I got the edits of the novel back later than when I was initially told, but the editor was gracious about being late, and I reciprocated, because I've been late on at least a hundred occasions so far in my life. I got them today, and they came with a stipulation to have my feedback back to her in ten days (contractual stipulation).

It's been some time between passing this work along (ie, reading it over that last time) and now, so I can't be completely sure how long it would take to read through it, much less fine-tooth the thing with all sorts of dangling bits of someone else's commentary sticking out of various places. But I do know that this should be a very busy next ten days (having got the email in the morning while at the library doing research, I also did not drive home and begin working, but stayed out, had lunch at a bar, even stopped for a milkshake during a leisurely drive home). I can't really be sure what's come over me. Perhaps it's (over)confidence or some other strange malaise. I did give up on making plans for the weekend, but I don't exactly know what Microsoft track changes is (this was even mentioned earlier and I didn't take the initiative to figure out what it was and how it worked before I'd need to use it).

I guess this is one of those "do as we say..." moments. The dust may clear in just over a week with this phase of the process having been a breeze. I'm not ruling that out (I might even be banking on it). But for once I have a legitimate reason for my random hiatuses. For the next week at least, I will (should) be legitimately busy. Hurray?

And in no way could all of this be a way to mask the simple dread of reading the serious edits of something I've written, of finally getting to know what an editor of the profession thinks about the things that I do when I put ink to paper.

I'm not scared at all.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rich today, but with metaphor

A few weeks ago, I made a mistake that cost me. It was maybe the first great piece of advice I ever received about writing: get it all down before you realize it stinks. My mentor, as you might imagine, is a bit of a cynic. And while I always believed him, I found out that he was right. I had a story that I was pretty excited about going. I might have mentioned also that it was not without its problems. But I was working. And then I stopped, because I realized it stunk. It's the first time in a long time that that's happened, and something of mine imploded, sort of like one of those whimpering cakes that fail to rise, or more appropriately, rise and then sort of flatten, dejected. It was a cornerstone of my very early years in story telling that I'd spin off yarns that were not endless so much as leading to a frayed edge that bespoke of the greater tapestry being woefully incomplete.

However, last week I went out with a friend from the writer's group to a Borders of all places, committed to do some writing. I did not try to revivify the corpse of the story that I just mentioned, though. I took a step forward and worked on something else. It was an interesting experience, typing away at a laptop with my ear plugs in, doing my best impression of a quiet, unknown artist "in the zone." And it's true, there were points where I forgot about how uncomfortable the chair was, or the conversation of the people the next table over, the smell of the coffee, the distracting movements of passers-by. I was there with my friend for some hours, and there were long spans where I was just tunneling through the white space of the page with only my fingers. It was interesting, though I did come away a bit exhausted. Typically, I write in my room with the lights off, the door closed, and no sound about me save for my computer's preternaturally loud cooling fans. I peck-peck-peck away and emerge some hours later with no one the wiser as to what I was doing, not unlike a prisoner mining in secret, one teaspoon of freedom at a time. So I guess you could call writing among someone else's writing a change of pace.

Although I cannot say that I'll make it a regular thing, it was a nice experience. In the past, I've actually forced myself to type in situations where I normally wouldn't, sort of as a test, almost just to prove that I could do it. This experience was less painful, and probably more rewarding. I got 4500 words drafted and the story is complete enough for me to begin chipping away at it, or layering where needed. I hope to use a new schedule to make regular advances in my short story writing, and the beginnings of the novel which I swore (secretly) to myself that I'd have have submitted by Thanksgiving (that, too, is a lie. While I didn't have an exact date, I was a bit surprised that I hadn't done any writing at all, and it being mid October). It was a bit surreal when I re-re-realized that the only progress that would be made on my writing would be affected by the progress I created with my own hands.

As a bit of a sidebar, I peeked into the chatter that is constantly flitting to and fro on the groups I belong to at those publishers. Some writer posted some sort of a monologue about her tenacity, citing some large, double-digit amount of books she has writing, waiting to be published, and shaking her fist at all the agents that passed up on the potential millions her work would yield. I was given pause, because of course I'm at a bit of a crossroads myself, making palpable forward progress very slowly and not steadily at all. I'm very confident, but that ambition was shaken considerably when I thought about being someone who had become that embittered. It was a bit like watching an old buck die in the forest, but not from predators or hunters, but age, like he had been running around lost his whole life and finally, time became too heavy a rider. I do feel a bit of pride, and joy, that I'm able to commit to taking steps forward despite that possible, and horrible, future. But it's a very quiet, very small elation.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Too scared to be afraid

Catching up with a friend, I told her I had learned a wealth of things since we last spoke. And I guess I sounded really serious; she asked me what sorts of things I could've learned in only a few weeks. Before I go any further, the list is actually shorter than you might think. The items' weights were only real to me. It occurred to me that I don't mention the fairly constant stream of rejections I get from various places I submit to, not because I'm ashamed but because it's more or less the only sort of non-bill mail that I get. Every other month I tell myself I'm going to start mailing myself correspondence, mostly blank sheets of paper with smiley faces in the corners. I spoke with a writer friend, the same one who was nice enough to bug me about going to dragon con, and he and I have decided to lean on each other some in regards to redoubling our efforts on the writer's path.

But it didn't stop me from thinking about why I keep getting rejected. The kicker of course is the inconsistency of  feedback. And something could be said for those close to me just telling me what I want to hear, but I don't think that's it. Something could also be said for my work falling between the cracks at numerous places for various reasons. But the epiphany I had on the subject I found in someone else's writing. Translated from the Spanish (that's how they put it, I'm not being erudite), the story's title was No Problem. It was a quirky little piece about a man living an enjoyable, but pedestrian life who comes across a mysterious hat box that changes just about nothing. The contents affect people in startling yet mundane ways, and ultimately the reader never even finds out what was even in the box. The author played with a few different well-finessed techniques, and I came away liking it. But I also came away realizing that it would go into the trash bin at the kinds of places I submit to. I was reading it for work, a co-worker of mine was putting together a lesson plan for an advanced literature group and we were reading various pieces and discussing their merits and what possible questions the works would bring about. On the other hand, the small pamphlet of a sci-fi publication (one of those places that keeps rejecting me) sits unread in the back seat of my car.

And no, before you ask, it actually wasn't that obvious. Not until right then. I was brought up in a literary fiction tradition, not a genre fiction one. I like fantasy and sci-fi and historical and detective novels, but that's never been a huge part of my consumed reading. But I guess I need to change that. Another friend, who apparently knew all this but never said it, who even took the trouble of lending me Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light to make the point without saying it, finally told me that I was a "different kind of writer," somewhat for these reasons. And my first reaction to that notion was disregard. Disdain, even. My goal to submitting to contests recently has been to place, to get an honorable mention, because winning seems like too lofty a goal. I'd like to get there eventually, but it might be easier to say that for now I'm just trying to fit in, that I've been trying to fit in the entire time, and that could be part of my consternation.

But no matter what occurs, it seems like I can still take a step forward. I still want to write, so I will. I'm still interested enough in things to be curious about them, so I recklessly ponder. One thing I've wanted to do for a while now is collaborate with some other people on something a little less serious, and I started that today. Preceding it were some breakthroughs in the upcoming novel as well as short story.

I guess the obvious question isn't what have I learned, but what will I change as a result. And I suspect you might already know the answer to that. I do, or rather, it seems like I always have.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Quoting others can create the illusion of wisdom

I'm returning from a brief hiatus during which my computer was at times broken, at times just in pieces. A friend helped out, and I learned some things about how computer hardware works. This of course doesn't mean that I'd be able to perform maintenance myself; as a point of fact, I'm simultaneously confident that I learned some things yet have no idea what those things actually are. Something very similar happened when I read this essay by a scholar self-professed to be disdainful of creative writing programs. Being confused, naturally I forwarded it to my mentor, who is not a "technician incapable of abstract thought" which is what he refers to stereotypical doctors of literature, but a creative writer, like myself (I think?). Not that I learned much of anything from hearing his own subjective view. Or maybe I learned that no one is objective in the matter, which I realized is what I was looking for. The same friend who worked on my computer waxed philosophical, saying "the more we become [ensconced] in a particular tradition, the more we come to its defense."

In other news, I pushed myself to work on the sci-fi short story, whose deadline is the 30th, despite not having my computer. I even stayed late at work. I secured a couple readers to look over it for me before I send it off, which is beginning to look like one of those down-to-the-wire submissions. I wasn't able to summon my usual productivity but I conjured some, so I was happy about that, managing to get halfway through the first draft. Making the transition from the meaty outline I contrived and actually putting literal details to paper helped me make some discoveries about the characters and the setting and the story. Sadly, I came away slightly worried that the effort is going to be too... busy. Detail is something I used to get criticism about, that I had too much, useless amounts of the stuff. I'm not really afraid that I've fallen back on that specific old habit, but as I've followed the story's path, there are passages here and there that seem unnecessary. It could also be that I wanted the story to be about one thing, and it's taking longer than usual to get to that point, so it makes me wonder why it takes so long, and the importance of all those details that precede it. But, "when it comes down to it," and "at the end of the day," it's my story and I have the final say about how it reads before I send it out. There's never been a mold for such things, but for some reason I find myself less able to just do the work.

And with the approaching end of September comes the beginning of October, and the final three months of the year. I haven't completely forgotten about my resolutions made at the year's beginning (only one of which I've failed to keep up with... I think). Whether to apply for graduate school comes to mind, applications due at the beginning of the year, which means it would be better to get them mailed at the end of this year. Which means that I have an even shorter clock to pay for, register to take, and perform the GRE. And I had also planned on not only being done with my sci-fi novel, but having already sent it out. And it's not inconceivable. I think I'm experiencing one of those stints of time that older people feel, where they turn around and squint after their vanishing years, a little wistfully confused. It still feels a bit to me like August.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dusty knees red palms and lasers

I talked with a new acquaintance recently about my quest for new experiences. Or rather, my acceptance that new experiences will work to my advantage as an author and my half-hearted attempts at seeking them out. As it turned out, the topic of conversation came right around the time that one of my email accounts was hacked. Or perhaps phished, I'm not sure which. I'd heard about the phenomenon before, and seen the towers of rage people became over the occurrence. But I was a bit senseless about the whole affair. I was sad, and deflated that it had happened to me, and felt pretty low about being misrepresented. I even went so far as to be curious as to why someone would spend their time burrowing into other people's lives. I do have that experience though, piled on top of all the others, so I guess it can't all be bad.

I also was finally rejected by a quarterly contest I've had the habit of entering repeatedly over the past year. It took longer than usual, and just to make sure I even asked the submissions director about that being some sort of indication at progress. She didn't confirm or deny, but did give me a tip mentioned to her by one of the main people that reads the stories. And apparently, on many occasions, the person couldn't decipher if the story was fantasy or science fiction. Which boggled my mind. Inwardly, my response was "does it matter?" and I even replied truthfully that I worked harder at making good stories and less at shaping them so they fit better into categories. I guess that made me a little sad, too. But, I don't have the luxury at this point in my career to write what I think is good, knowing that it will be accepted and then classified later. First it has to classify and thereby appeal to the judges of whatever peg hole I sent it through. So to that end, the next submission (yes I will probably be trying yet again) will be "harder." I thought science fiction just had facets of the imagined or yet to be; apparently there is a requirement for more... lasers?

A friend from the writer's group went out of his way to offer to give me a ride to the convention, which he seemed pretty excited about. I'm not sure if it was the fanfare or the costuming or the writer's panels I'd heard so much about, but ultimately I turned him down as is my way. I had been feeling a little down since last week, but I resolved to take the extra time to be more productive. And so the novel is finally drafted. I went through about six chapters in four days and used one of them to read the items through after a good night's sleep. I was happy, even impressed, with what I had accomplished. I still plan on having that celebratory dinner as well, and I've begun brainstorming on the next story. Some edits of a previous one given to me by the group need to be applied, and the grossly ignored screen play needs some attention, too. And at some point in the upcoming months, I will begin the monstrous undertaking of the sci fi novel. The initial chapters I'll be sending to the big publishers, the print book folks. I guess this time I'll be starting at what some folks think of as the top. And I guess it implies that I'm fully prepared to be thrown off the mountain, as if there were no question about my already planning how to get back up.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Go upstairs to check the basement

Another week, and another end, and not much accomplished. For about a week I've been staring at the last few chapters of the novel scribbled down in summarizing paragraphs. I don't know the term for it, or even if there's a word to describe it, but I've seen it done for a script. Whatever the case, I got the rest of this bad boy more or less wrapped up and it all fits, finally, on one sheet of paper. I might have mentioned doing a celebratory type outing in honor of the draft being complete. I might have also mentioned that so far I've only mentioned it to another writer in the group. But I'm happy enough with it that I could eat out alone and still feel pretty awesome.

I'm less proud of phase two of a fairly deep regression. I'm still watching the anime, to be sure, but I recently purchased a video game and have also begun to dump hours and hours of my life into that as well. Helpful little program by the name of Steam lets me know how many hours I've spent and and when the last time was that I played. And no I won't be disclosing either of those bits of information. I am enjoying myself thoroughly, but it makes me wonder about the sort of obsessive manner in which I and other people I know play. To quote a text message I got from a friend who also recently began playing the same game, "[It's] ruining my life." He was joking. Mostly.

Looking forward, I've been thinking about the next novel, which will be my grandest undertaking to date. As a longer prose work of science fiction, a lot is going to be required just for the setting, never mind the story. And I'm hoping that all the books I've written thus far, all the outlining, all the world building will make it easier for me. Still, when I think about it, it gives me a headache. Technology is a huge part of it, from sophistication to transparency, which ties to culture and society. Cultures and societies. It took me weeks, maybe even months (very lazy, slow months) for the fantasy series. Most simple was the series set in the modern world (I didn't have to build the world, contrary actually, a lot of work was done for me by saying Baltimore or Catholic). So I guess I've been building towards this the entire time and never knew it.

And the Atlanta Con is upcoming (I started but never finished a mock epic about a group of bums questing across Atlanta to get paid as zombie extras by over-eager cosplayers; for some reason I like to think of it as the Dragon's Con instead). Once again, I've made no plans to go, saved no money for tickets, and have had at least half a dozen people telling me I should've done otherwise. In addition to it being a neat opportunity to see people dressed in costume and see actors of popular media, I've heard it to also be a good place to network and present oneself and works to the world. I haven't exactly looked at the process or prices for having a dealer's table or some other related thing, but I figure one of these days I'm going to have to get that much more serious. Which might make continuing to play games more than a little difficult, kind of like walking upstairs and downstairs at the same time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

On old operating systems

Today's been good, following a rough first week back at work. I got the same questions from students, the most common of which being "Why you talk like that?" and "How come you look at me like I'm stupid?" (my honest answer, at least to the second question being : That's just how my face looks). What has been especially important to me is figuring out when I will most likely have space and peace to write. In the past, I've pushed myself to prove that I can do so under almost any circumstances, but absolutely the work does suffer. And forcing myself over longer periods of time is just taxing.

But I did manage to draft a chapter today, along with an article for another gig I landed, however no work yet done on "The Worst: Bad Guy Academy." However, speaking of forcing oneself to do things, during the chapter (number 24, thanks very much) I did have to rework several pages. And by rework I mean erase and go a different direction. The very same topic came up in a writer's group meeting when I asked another member how he wrote himself into and out of holes. My question was, metaphorically speaking, why not just back out of the hole and drive around it. His answer, before the whole thing turned into a situation where they laughed at my strangeness, was that erasing all those pages would be unpleasant. I agreed with him. It's something I try to avoid doing by carefully outlining (read: planning out what I'm going to write about before I write about it, and thinking about where that would take the story) but sometimes, like today and during both previous chapters, it happens.

And I've yet to really confirm if doing such unpleasant things will ultimately make one a stronger, better writer, though I do believe one should end up with a stronger, better story. Not that there's any real objective way to measure such a thing. I guess I'm just hoping. Maybe one day I'll be able to write down a bunch of made-up rules about how I did things and sell that instead (read: in addition).

Something else new and interesting this past week also happened: someone actually asked me for advice on writing. It didn't catch me by surprise because it was an email following a previous one with a different question. It didn't actually occur to me until it happened again that the person in question regarded me as a source of information, or at least someone further along in the process than he. I made sure to edit my correspondence thoroughly so as not to be misleading or look the idiot. So that was pretty cool.

Conversely, I have completely dropped the ball on working on the script. I have no idea what happened (isn't it usually a lie when someone says that?) but I was laying awake the other night and forgot which short stories I had sent out to what places, or what I was working on in addition to the novel in what order. I feel like maybe I should step up my project organization (I mean, in addition to the clipboard filled with scratch paper pinned to the wall). What's Windows' new slogan? Microsoft Office helps make it great?

Monday, August 16, 2010

My way of the ninja

It's been a while. I'm not sure how long, which I guess means that maybe it hasn't. Certainly, I haven't been writing as much as I should have. And I haven't been all that busy, either. If I were to take some artistic liberty, I'd say I've been investing energy into a specific facet in a moment in my past that made me really happy. And as a result, for a brief time, I was excited about something, and it was deep enough a reservoir that I could dive in with no fear of it running out. It was almost a little daunting. And if I were to be completely honest, I'd say I was watching anime. A lot of it, one particular series with hundreds and hundreds of episodes. In one of my more satirical moods, it actually spawned an idea in my brain whose concept name is "The Worst: Bad Guy Academy." But more on that later.

To say that I get a lot of emails would be erroneous. Or, not exactly true. I belong to a handful of email groups, and things are sent out often on them, but none of them are hardly ever addressed to me specifically. Sometimes there are things I can use, or want to put time into, and in the beginning I was really excited about the busy-ness of it all. Now, I tend to usually lump them all together, pretend that I read them, and stuff them into an ever-expanding folder in case I ever need to track any of them down. One such that I received some weeks ago helped me connect the dots on a few things. One of the publishers I have a contract with, the one whom with I first signed, has had some editors leave. I didn't realize at the time that this meant a retardation of the process by which accepted material is poured over, made crisp, and then published. Along with the rejections, things became murky again.

I started up a conversation with a friend I hadn't spoken to in some months, asking about what he was doing and how those things were going. He turned the tables on me quickly enough, and I was forced to look at my situation with eyes similar to the ones I once had. Ones that were less knowledgeable and more impatient. His ultimate point was that if no one ever sees my work, then I'll never sell any of it. And I didn't even describe to him the fuller details of why it was taking so long. It made me wonder how often those sorts of things happen, and if it's a sign of yet more waiting to come. Self-publishing came up in the conversation, too, and I had no proper deflection as to why I wasn't pursuing it.

I remember sitting in my mentor's office back in college, and talking about publishing. He handed me a book with a plain black cover with block font lettering done over with distracting, reflective plastic. He told me one of his students, another such with promise like me but before me, had given it to him. My mentor said the man had self published, and talked about what courage that took, to sell one's work out of their trunk. That was probably when I myself attached a stigma to it. But things have changed in the years gone by. So much so that I wonder at what the difference is. A publisher gives one editing services, and networking ability, and actual marketing, which, ideally, results in a better book more people will come into contact with. And it's free. But the confidence required to submit to a publisher rates the same (or at least similarly) to that required to sell them oneself.

So why don't I? That's a question I haven't been able to answer, among others. But a guy in my writer's group recently paid an artist to do some work for him, a dream I had for a novella that I wrote (to me, at least, it was more like a graphic novel). I don't have the money of course, but I do have the initiative. So maybe I will self publish, using reputable sites that make such a thing easier. And maybe I'll get laughed at. But maybe I won't. What I didn't tell that friend of mine, what was repeatedly spoken about in all the anime I've seen, is that sometimes you have to just do you, and let the chips fall where they may.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reed Richards be damned

Typically, I'm not big on quoting people or touting the names of products, however much I like or dislike them (generally because I'm too lazy to look into the vagaries of libel). But I'm going to take a risk today: "the true measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy" (or something like that). And I don't say that to mean that I'm in overly turbulent waters personally (though life has sort of kicked me in the pants, recently), I say that to pass along some advice that I've found useful.

I drafted chapter 20 today of the novel, and was feeling kind of down about how it turned out. Some of my poetry got rejected, and another short story as well (some romantic things went astray also) so those set backs (that's what Dr. Doom calls defeats) tinted my lenses. I could feel the thoughts before I thought them: What's the point, I keep getting rejected, over and over, doesn't that mean I'm doing something wrong; maybe I should take a break from it, or stop altogether. Of course I won't. I can't say why, really, and perhaps that sort of lunacy is the topic for another discussion. More accurately, and objectively, despite my rejections, I've still received more positive feedback from thoughtful, intelligent, honest people than I have negative feedback. It would be in error to judge someone's opinions as more valuable than another person's, I think.

So I got back on the horse. I didn't buy any confetti to celebrate chapter 20, but I did re-evaluate the short story that got rejected, and then I sent it right back out to a different place (the interesting thing is whether or not I actually pull all this off. Success, and it'll be a timely message for tenacity. Fail, and I'll be the next crazy person ranting, bitter). And that is not the last magazine that publishes poetry, so it won't be the last place I submit work to. Related to that, a friend of mine told me once about how some actors do something nice for themselves whenever they audition, because of how difficult and strenuous it is, and how after being rejected, how easy it is to just give up. Much respect to MLK, but if you take anything away from all this piggy backing, please take that wisdom.

And the screen play is moving along, too. I guess. I had the idea to story board it, to think up scenes, write them on a sheet of paper, and then organize those scene physically, rearranging where necessary. That idea hasn't really taken off. Pages of a screen play, properly formatted, round out to be about a page a minute. At this point, I have about seven minutes, and two scenes. And being completely honest, a big problem I'm having is not knowing, literally, what happens next. So I guess that means storyboarding doesn't work for me, because if it did, I'd have written down all the scenes I already had in mind. Guffaw.

And for my last bit of edible quoting, I would like to paraphrase Thomas Edison. When asked about how many times he failed to create the light bulb, a number with more than two digits, he said "I didn't fail that many times. I simply found out that many ways how not to make a light bulb." Thus, rejections or no, the writing commenceth. I go back to work next week, so maybe we'll see about amping up the productivity until then.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Just think if Obi Wan had only had a mustache

I seem to recall mentioning my making an attempt at being more self-aware. Being honest, that was less of the theme for today. I sent off another short story, and just recently completed a second draft of chapter 19 of the novel (been thinking I'd celebrate when I hit 20, like a kid growing out of their teens). I even fiddled with a little technology in regards to a wireless USB adapter and a little bit of computer maintenance (shut up, it's a pretty big thing for me). Today I feel pretty good.

Yesterday, I was lost. And I mean that literally and metaphorically. I hung out with a friend, and the main focus was satisfying a curiosity of mine that I've been holding onto for awhile. You see, marketing is pretty effective. Especially marketing for establishments that are just far enough away to make them annoying to drive to. Like Red Robin. People had told me about the place, and yesterday I finally went and tasted for myself. It wasn't what I expected. Nor was getting lost on the way back. The sun went down, and the roads weaved into mysterious shadows of themselves with names I'd never heard of. We drove and drove, and in the back of my paradigm I thought "there's no way I could go this far without running into something I recognized... is there?" Given that I'm writing this now, and the day I just described myself as having, you might imagine that I eventually got myself out of it. The literal lostness that is.

For the metaphorical, I actually had to sleep on it. The story I mentioned writing, which I selfishly sent to the inbox of the writer to be critiqued last week has been really throwing me. No, that's a lie. It's been throwing the people I've let read it. It's been frustrating me. I ended up at a bad place with it, where I had read it over so much, and stared at it so much, that it looked perfectly fine in my eyes. A tiny man with a nefarious mustache whispered to me from my shoulder "They're crazy... and stupid. Your story is good. No great. No perfect!" And I know that's not a good place to be. In fact, it might be one of the worst places to be (very similar in horridness, yet geographically different from "Everything I Write is Horrible" town). What got me lost was trying to figure out, by staring at the story itself and squinting and trying to figure out just how bad or good it was.

Sleeping cleared a lot of the cobwebs. And that clarity let me take a look at people's comments and piece through them in search of a benchmark that would satisfy me. There was a line in an email which pointed to a lack of "certainty" and "passion" evident in my other stories. That wasn't the only problem, to be sure (it's a confusing as hell read, however I was only shooting for mysterious), but I told myself (and the little man on my shoulder) that that would be my objective. I wanted it to be certain, and passionate. I wanted not only to feel that it was good, but I wanted to feel good about it. There's a certain lightness to the way I walk when I leave something "finished." I'm satisfied in where I've taken it. So I worked some with that as my objective. I just wanted to like the story as much as I liked the concept, enough to claim it, to put my name on it, and send it off.

And that's what I did this morning. Like usual, I had no idea what its chances were. I could speak on its merits, and know that it would be pointless (those things need to be evident on the page), but I was confident that it did had merit. That, and it being a cool story (which everyone that read it agreed on) was enough for me. A cool story told in my voice with as little confusion as possible in the communication. Similarly to driving, once I had found that place, things opened up for me. Like of course I had been going in the wrong direction. Left, not right. Right would take me to Alabama. And the thing is, thinking back in retrospect, I knew I was going the wrong way (again, in both cases). Or maybe felt is the more correct word? Like, I feel like I should be quoting Obi Wan right about now.

Instead, I'll just mention that the next thing I'll be working on (aside from the novel) is my screen play.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ironic distance

Thursday critique with a Wednesday one following makes for a lightning quick turnaround. That is, given an assist from a particularly social weekend. I hung with three different friends on three consecutive days and now here it is Tuesday. I thank my stars that it was only the one piece to plow through, and that it was only 24 pages. The group has refocused on getting things sharp and them sending them out, so this piece was further along than normal. In a bit of shamelessness, I actually gave the writer to be critiqued my newest piece in hopes of extracting some more feedback for myself (I mean, he wasn't doing anything but waiting for his feedback, right?). One of my friends lumps this under a personality trait of mine called the "feedback monster." I can't say it's an incorrect assessment.

The previous story I wrote got decent reviews. At least, all issues pertained to the same topic: the hardest thing that the story in question had to do, which was describe highly technological things via a narrator with cave man intelligence. I guess that they understood it at all was some sort of improvement. After I explained there were a lot of "ohs" and one guy even re-read a few passages there and asked himself openly "how did I miss that?" And that could be something I could use to make myself feel better, but really it isn't. Editors get too many stories to read, so they've developed time-honored techniques to eliminate stories as quickly as possible. And since I can't mail myself along with my story, and explain to the readers as they frown at the text, at this point what I've written is a pretty easy elimination. So we'll be working on that.

Thus far, I've also gotten similar reception from my latest story, which relies on a similar convention to convey the message. I had a strange moment when I realized what I had done. It was less like a "whoops" and more like an "interesting." Similarly, yet another fellow writer friend was reading my stuff, and he picked out things that an academically trained reader would (because he is). "You have a thing for metals" he said to me immediately. My reaction of course was not to think about his statement, but to deny it. And since it's happened again (with the two latest stories, not with metal but the sophistication of the narrator versus the subject matter) I've chosen to pay closer attention. It hasn't lead to any sterling insight, but I'm still waiting just in case.

A different friend of mine asked me about my writing recently. He knows that I'm working on a fantasy novel, but all of my short work recently has been sci fi. He asked me why that was. I didn't have an answer at first, and even now I find myself with no interest at all in a fantasy short. I think, I told him, that the setting of sci fi is easier to manipulate in regards to investigating some idea or concept. "In the future, after most people die from disease X" or "In the future, at the cusp of the proliferation of quantum technology." It might be because I think of sci fi as looking forward and fantasy as looking backwards. But really that's not the case. Alternate history is not the same thing as fantasy. A guy in the group described fantasy as sci fi with no explanations for why things are the way they are. He cites Star Wars as space fantasy. I'm not saying he's right. I'm also not saying he's wrong. It might have to do with my belief that premises need explaining, and when people say "in the future" the assumption is we're starting from our collective past, whereas in a situation like LotR, well, Tolkien had several books just for exposition. So, it'd be hard to write a short fantasy story (in my mind).

It's also time to cut my hair. And while I mean that literally, I also mean I'm going to start practicing more at looking at myself and what I'm doing. Perhaps better work can be achieved that way in addition to simply practicing a lot. But I guess we'll see... me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Today, and what the wind throws back

Well, today is the last day of the summer semester, and it would appear that I haven't noticeably ruined anyone's life or steered anyone wrong to the point of them soaring off a cliff. I cound that a win. But, I've found that our impacts are hardly visible until much later, after we've make them. This quandry is actually the focus of a mountain notes I've been expanding, and pushing in the direction of yet another novel project. I've come to more fully understand a joke Chris Rock made in a recent stand-up in regards to the difference between a job and a career (along with people with jobs and those with careers).

And I realized the differnce between writing and preparing to write. I call them notes, and sometimes I call the process outlining, but really, it's just preparation. I've become confident that I can throw my creativity at virtually anything, and in my mind, whatever it is will sprout blossoms and produce colors. And while that's all well and good, for all the chaotic sentience that is an idea, it needs some structure to be receptive to others. At least, until we derive a mechanism that translates the noises and colors in our mind into the language of another's (working on a story about that, too). So, I plan. I think about what next steps I will take, and why, and how they will lead me to the ending I had in mind weeks or months back when I thought of the idea in the first place.

So that's today, and in honor of that I thought I'd switch up the background also this soap box of mine. I tell you, they are really making it a lot easier these days to make laziness look like effort. And also in the spirit of switching things up, I also have on my mental calendar not only some (more) things to do, but some things to re-do. Namely, the novella I had published some months back and the screenplay which I finished, and let a few people read it. Both seem like fertile enough places to work; now all I have to do is have a do a neater job planting and hope for a better harvest.

Tonight is a writer's group meeting, where I think in addition to the normal critiquing, we also have some business to discuss. And that's also something new for me. Making decisions normally comes down to the finer points of grammar and the bending versus breaking of a given rule or trend. Not concerns like how long to spend critiquing a piece, or how we decide who should go next and why, induction of new members, writing exercises, even hiatuses from meeting and/or critiquing. At a publisher I'm contracted with, there was even a vote concerning distribution, number of steps from one phase to the next, the pros the cons of each, and my vote thrown in the hat with all the others.

And this is all a bit different from what I'm used to. Then again, that's how we grow, right? Doing things we are unfamiliar with. Walking around in an unknown place at night with no flashlight. Hm. Describing it that way might be why I tend to not do much of it. But not today. Today, I'm in a mountain-clmbing mood.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Of taste and consistency

Lately, I've been catching up on things I should've done earlier. This mostly includes watching movies and television shows (it sounds like I work pretty hard when I say it like that, right?). A friend of mine chastised me for a statement I made about how much writing I do. I told her, seriously, that if I compounded up all the time I spent doing things that furthered or lead to writing, then I don't do much else aside from eat and sleep. Which is not to say that I live in an internment camp. I do it because I like doing it.

I got a copy of a signed contract back, and was invited to yet more online groups. The welcome was warm, and the emails of things rated from stuff I need to know to stuff I don't even understand is up to maybe 100 or so a day. I have discovered a really neat feature in my email client that lets me "mark as read" things I haven't actually tended to. Check back with me later for when that bites me in the ass. As a recent movie (which I enjoyed) insisted, this week I've taken time out to enjoy the little things. The top half of a box of honey bunches of oats was pretty thrilling. The pieces are big and sugar-coated and crunchy, not like the shrapnel in the bottom.

And proper to that, I also received a rejection letter on Monday from a story I have, after some deliberation, decided to "table." For any of you who read this, and wish to become published, it's very likely that you will hear about publishers insisting that you read the sort of things that they publish before submitting. The reasoning behind this will conflict with the notion that good writing gets published, which you likely won't hear ever except from me. Because there's good, and then there's better, as in a better fit. It's crowded out there, and people are trying to find their own light to shine in. And with places to go and buy reading material, it's the same way. This one publishes happy, this one publishes sad. That one you go to if you want to read about zombie robots (okay I'm joking about that one).

So I made a step. I didn't just take the letter and pin it to my wall. I did read the first line and sit it down for an hour. But then I went back and read the rest of it, the parts that they had included for my benefit, a whole page of typing someone, some day way back when had to do. And, being mature, I accepted what I did wrong, and even more than that what the story doesn't do as a whole. It isn't the first place that's rejected the piece. I've talked to people who like it, but as round as it is, I've been trying to push it into square holes. So, instead of buying a hammer, I'm going to sit it on the floor and create an end table. At least for a while. I hear people say things like going into their files and "dusting" something off. I suppose this will be my first such. That specific piece getting published is just another item on the to-do list.

In other news, I talked to a screen writer in the group, and I have a lead on some free software to recreate my screen play, which I have some fresh ideas for. The novel goes nicely, second-drafted my way to chapter 12 just yesterday. The plan is to get to 15 (appproximately half way to completion) before taking a break to work on a short story idea I had just the other night, and putting that into the rotation in the open slot I just created. So, I'm keeping busy I guess. Equally important, though, is taking time to enjoy the little things.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Like colorful explosions

Good things are producing good feelings, today and they have little to do with the extra day off work. As predicted (my prediction was accurate, so that's good, too), hitting chapters 5 and 6 of the novel were good for the momentum. I'm up to 7, with plans for 8 and looking back I think to myself with some pride about how I got this far. It's so much easier now, a breeze compared to the still-fresh memory of the teeth-grinding fiasco of the first handful. In addition to that, I have another short story in mind and it makes me laugh boisterously and say out loud, "Awesome, that's awesome!" I'm excited. 

In other news, I've read the previous short story about ten times and am really tired of looking at it. It could be that it's so much longer than most shorts I write. Or it could be something else, which watching the first episode of Lost provided insight into. A friend, a certifiable "Lostie" sat me down and watched me watch the episode. I was warned to pay attention, because the firs ten minutes are "intense." So I did. I sat and stared, blinking only when appropriate, with my critic's helmet on and my inner-editor turned way up. And that was to my enjoyment's detriment. After it was over, I was able to articulate what its good points were, and how it was very evident that (at least in the first ep) the creators had very high expectations. I was also able to say why, if left to my own devices, I wouldn't put any more time into it. 

And in some ways I think the reason I've read the story a million (read: a bunch) is the same as why Lost didn't quite work for me. The bar is too high. For me, there are subdivisions to the quintessential good story. A good story, naturally, is a subjective thing, but generally leaves a majority of folks impressed when walking away from it. And this can be caused by a few things, not least of which are good writing, and an interesting premise. With both, awards are possible. And I think that my story has an interesting premise. So, I think to myself, the only short coming is the writing, so I have to comb it, and comb it, and comb it... and when something sticks out, it's very pronounced. Sort of like my experience with Lost. 

But, I've grown as a person, I like to think. I recognize there being a chance that I might edit it until it's dust, or at least until I hate it. But more likely is that I will spend a slightly more than reasonable time with it, let a few people see it, get their thoughts and send it off, hoping for the best like a mother bird. Over-editing, and having an over active internal editor can be just as detrimental as not editing at all, and having what I've heard described as a "god complex." Like with a lot of things, there's a sweet spot to aim for. Hitting it is another thing. 

Happy Independence Day, peoples. 

 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How possible could it impossibly be

Recently, I got about as close to beating a video game as I ever do: the last, gut-wrenching level that requires the player to compress all their long hours of training and resourcefulness into one fifteen minute battle with a nightmarish scenario dreamed up by some designer somewhere with too much time and not enough friends. Which is to say I lost. Repeatedly. And overall, the game wasn't an utter waste of my time and energy. I enjoyed playing it, and even more than that, I enjoyed playing the same company's next offering even more. It was evident that they had learned some things. A friend sitting on the couch next to me commented sagely as we waited for the scenario to load again so we could give it another go: "I would really like to see them remake this game with all the knowledge they've accrued." And I second that, however impossible such things sometimes are.

The decision has more or less been made. The publisher that had one of my novels gave me a contract to print out and sign, along with other instructions. The manuscript still remains to be formatted a certain way, saved a certain way, and submitted a certain way. And the months and months of waiting. But I've become cool with all that, mostly. Because I've abandoned them, I can freely outline my dreams of instant success, money, and celebrity, of my book finding it's way into the right hands, read by the right eyes, and through some strange turns of Fate, ending up on Oprah's book club just long enough for me to repay all my debts and start putting money into a retirement fund. Long enough for me to meet people and tell them that I'm a writer, and have a legitimate answer when they ask me if I have anything published.

The things I can scarcely remember writing back in college, and even before, my mentor would refer to as my "juvenalia" and according to him, one never publishes their juvenalia. And after I had made some strides, I understood why. The stuff was pretty atrocious. More accurately, it served its purpose and that purpose probably wasn't meant to be seen by anyone but my mother. "Oh, this is good, baby," she said. And likewise, I realized recently, the things I'm writing now are serving their purposes as well. I'm getting better, not as quickly or as easily (I believe they refer to this as the gradient of diminishing returns) but I am. And when I'm better, I will have more credentials as well, things I've done that were published that maybe didn't make a lot of money, but things with ISBN numbers and backing and readership. These things will make me worthy of that advance that I'll receive.

In other news, I have completed the first draft of the new sci-fi short. And it is a whale of an ugly baby. It isn't quite so terrible that a new father would cut the camera off before cutting the cord or anything, but it's violated more than a few personal goals I set out for myself when I write a short story, one of which is an economy of language. At the last writers meeting, someone pointed out the fact that anything can be done, if done well, but looking at the page number of my latest monster remains troubling.

So today is another day in the life. One of my most diligent readers (read: friends) has given me a thumbs up on at least the first small segment of the novel I'm also working on. I breathe a sigh of relief, and after I'm done with the sci fi short (Oh yes, it will be short[er]) I'll be diving back into that. These hard years will be the currency with which I barter for a bright future. says I. My high score will be etched in lights.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Testify (got a song, gone sing it, if you know the words, feel free)

I'm not sure when last I posted, so that probably means something. I have been writing though; I'm getting some traction in the novel and it's gaining momentum. Yesterday, I revised my latest short story a bit more and sent it off. The automated email told me it could take up to 10 weeks to get a reply. So, more waiting. And I'm not complaining (much), because you never want the reply to come back too soon. Sending something off on a Monday and getting a rejection by that next Tuesday is an indication of more negative things than positive ones. So, more finger-crossing, which is to say, putting it out of my mind and setting my sights on the next idea to put to paper.

A couple weeks ago, when I set out to start this next novel, I posted on facebook that I was "climbing another mountain." This past week I realized how wrong I was about that. Metaphorically speaking, the act of writing a novel, for me at least, is less like climbing a mountain and more like climbing down from those same peaks. I've always been a little philosophical (okay, maybe more than a little) but to expand on this point I'm going to have to get a little religious.

You remember Moses, right? Okay.

Having an idea for a lot of artist is analogous to something divine. Light shines on the artist's forehead and their eyes light up, maybe get a little watery. And then they have it, and all the struggle and strife comes from trying to give it to other people, their audience as well as any random traveler that may stumble upon it. And it's a treacherous climb, made only that much more difficult because of one's precious cargo. There are snares and pits like context and perspective and timing along the way, and strangers who might be friends, or might not be along the journey. And one of the biggest problems is that we become extremely protective of something that we, ironically, mean to give away.

And for me, at least, it's most difficult at the beginning: learning to walk with the added weight, around and over and under things with the cumbersome items I'm carrying. But once I know not only where to step but how, it's almost as if that knowledge makes the land flatten out and the temperature become hospitable. I can see farther and travel faster, and I typically find myself comfortable enough to smile about it.

So, the principle, I guess, is looking at the same things in different ways. I learned that it applies to just about everything, even food. In the past week, I had Ethiopian and Greek food, and even finished my second guest blog, . Some of these items were better than others, but the key, I was told by an artist friend, is that I was trying new things at all. In any event, I'm in a better place, and am thankful for that.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The teachings: from Mario and Egon

I think it's always funny when the hero says "I don't believe in prophecy," in reply to someone that just told him or her what will or won't happen because of predestination. Because the character is a construct, a grouping of ideas, a made thing. They don't believe in anything, not really. Whether they're right or wrong, whether prophecy, in their context, functions or not, has already been predetermined in and of itself. I think to myself: "you poor foolish idiot. Don't you realize the princess is already in another castle?"

The writing group went well last night. My gut's confidence is restored. The group liked my story, fairly unanimously, using words like "tight" to describe the condition of the story having very few and minuscule places where the body bends strangely or gears where the transmission catches. It does everything I wanted it to do, and does it well enough to start thinking of the next draft as the final draft (and the next draft after that). Which is what I thought, so go me. I even have some emails to make in regards to marketing and such; maybe I'll explain that later.

In other news, the novel is not going so well. I have yet to conquer the laconic urges that consternate its being put to paper, and during my thinking times, other stories are crowding in and sapping energies that would be best used on the project I've "committed" myself to. I wonder at my plan, and if it's a good one. After all, what would it hurt to just stop one project and go to work on another? Does the current story have enough momentum to come back to? I think of it as a bit of a circus: one performer is riding several bicycles at the same time by pedaling on one and then dexterously jumping to the next. My fear is that if I jump from this story, when I come back to it, it won't still be in motion. It'll be back behind me, sideways against the ground and no longer part of the show.

I believe the sagely advice was "don't cross the streams." And I take it seriously. I can see the disaster almost before it happens, feel the calamity with the hairs on my forearm standing on end. Yet, I think to myself: "maybe it wouldn't be as bad as predicted." I wonder if I could be different, if I could defy the careful strictures I have applied to myself because of experiences in the past, frayed bits of nameless stories and strands of plot, unrecognizable even to the mind that conceived them. 

So, this is a jumble I'm going to have to unravel, I think, before I take any significant steps forward. Last night I told the group about my sci-fi novel idea, its details and trappings as I had thought of them. Many, many more are required to create what I have in mind to make. It isn't a complete idea, and yet it dominates my wondering. This morning I whispered the prologue. My hands walked themselves to my keyboard, and for a brief moment, I wondered if maybe I was that hero. And if I could succeed where so many others had failed.

Ironically it's a much more, seldom-told story where the old man in the tavern, gray beard and wrinkled face rasps, "I was a hero once. I didn't believe in prophecy."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Trying to get one more cookie

On Thursday, some wily cameraman got some really good footage at the 2010 NBA Finals Game 1 in LA. Chris Rock, plugging his upcoming movie, was at the game with co-star David Spade, and as comedians do, they were cracking jokes while the game was still in jeopardy of being lost by the home team. Then, the shot expanded to not only include Rock, and Spade, but Kobe Bryant (yeah, they had really good seats). He was sweating, and breathing hard, and most definitely in ear shot of Rock's antics. Actually (or at least that's what people said later) he was actually talking to Kobe. And the hall-of-famer didn't laugh, or even smile. A clever commentator used the NBA star's expression to make a point about being focused, keeping one's mind on the task. I think wow is what my contribution to the conversation was.

Last year around this time, I was writing a novel. It's so foggy now, like a dream. I can remember what happened, but the more I try to decipher the details of it, the more vague they become. Because of fortuitous events following, I know that I completed the feat in a month. Thirty chapters in thirty days. I recall that I was partially inspired by my car being totalled, and being out of work, so I had nothing to do and nowhere to go (as well as nowhere to get there). And as you might remember, lately I've been working on another novel. It's in the exact same series, as a point of fact. I figured that summer would be the time for that, sort of write in the same world during the same time of year when the same sorts of things are going on around me, etc. Well, that was the plan.

I came home yesterday thinking how hot it was outside and how hungry I was. I considered playing a video game, or maybe going grocery shopping. I turned on the television and lamented at nothing being on. Then, instead of turning it off, I went trolling for something that was at least mildly entertaining. Then I got on facebook. It was, as you might expect, a wild departure from the production I had going last year. I'm not sure what changed. My only saving grace was, acknowledging all of these failures of mine, I took a hard look at what I've been writing and what I plan on writing, and recognized the need for some more outlining. Specifically, a character's religious philosophy can't be written about yet because I haven't invented the religion (little shot-before-the-pass action). So, I felt better about that oversight. 

And I did work yesterday, technically. I read half a book and plowed through some analysis of a manuscript. I engaged the muscle in question for about a hundred pages (okay, it was half a play, and one chapter of a novel). But I realize that I'm making excuses. Chris Rock is as funny as distractions are distracting. And don't I want to be a champion? At least, to the extent that writing can be championed. 

And so, a week later, with woefully little to show for all of the momentum I had going, I am dusting myself off and getting back on the horse. Again. This week the writing group is going to be tearing through my short story. I am a little ambivalent as to whether I want their consensus to demand a rewrite (which, generally, makes things better) or if I want them to give me the green light on sending it out (which would affirm my own gut impression that it's fine the way it is). I have some other challenges ahead of me as well, and in certain lights, at specific times of day, they look really daunting. I wonder what it was that Kobe was staring at. Even moreso, I wonder who he'd be without his own mountains to climb. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

The acme wheel

I'm learning again. Growing, too.Which also means I'm sort of failing. It's the first of a new month, at least it was earlier this week. Naturally, I thought it was a good time to pull the trigger on this new novel. I had my outlines, character synopses, motivations, sketches. I knew who was who, who was where, where was what, all that jazz.  And *counts fingers* four days later I'm more or less where I was when I began. I even started the day with a facebook status message before spitting in my hands and rubbing them together (that's how it's done, right?). Then I jumped. And now, I'm doing my impression of Wile. E. Coyote at the drawing board, tapping my foot in consternation. 


More specifically, my explanation to a friend was "the problem is that it's a fantastical situation, so [certain] things get thrown out the window, but in the vacuum I've created, the assertions [that I'm trying to put forth] don't have legs." That, also didn't make sense, so I went through a conversation about stories and their internal logic and the foundational principles that anything (that's intended to make sense) needs to "make sense." I examined a wooden board on the side of this thing I've built and realize it's wrong, along with the nail I used, and the support beam the nail was hammered into, etc. 


Something I knew about myself already was that I start slow. Maybe in life (isn't that proving to be true) and certainly in something like this. Once I've established a rhythm, become comfortable with a pace, I can live in it, and stay there until I'm done. But the beginning is like the first night in a strange setting: I spend restless hours rolling around with not a lot getting accomplished. And during the next day, I gripe about it all being a waste of time. 


In other news, I have shameless self-promotion in the form of a link. I belong to 'groups' which allow for 'networking' which have produced 'opportunities.' Guest blogging is what it's called, and I embraced embracing new experiences and tried it. I wanted to know what the details were, why people did it, and how it worked. As you might imagine, there's somewhat of a demand of staying within the lines. I've done it twice, and in the second instance when I asked what sort of stuff the person was looking for, I was cautioned to stay away from provocative things like race, politics and religion. If I have a haughty tone, it is purely hypocritical. When I myself had words that touched on such things, I passed the words onto a friend for his blog, in an effort not to offend others.


But, overall, the message I take away from this is perseverance. Talking with another writing friend, I asked him how he gets from idea to a draft he's happy with. He gave me a really eloquent and metaphorical description that wasn't really helpful. I told him my method was to beat my face against it until it looked right. Which of course could either be my improving it, or using the resulting delirium to reconsider the genius of my words. When considering a whimsical title for this latest entry, I thought to conflate snowballing and a snowball's chance in hell, but instead (since I'm growing) I thought to go with something more optimistic. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ricardo Montalban will beat you up

Two weeks ago, I was given a DVD to watch at the behest of my writer's group. I say it that way because it was less of an assignment, and more of a social obligation in that it was put into my hands along with the burden of their expectation that I would watch it then we could discuss it. So of course I didn't. When it came back around, an up and coming screen writer in the group somewhat excitedly said "I think one of us had a movie to watch," and I was given the terrible duty of disappointing all of them. However, that sick feeling in my stomach was just enough to get me to pop it into the player and view Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.

There was only the one down side, where something like a scratch made the DVD slow, stop, and skip, forcing me to work my techno-craft and fix the problem. With only a ten-minute break in activities, I managed to watch the entire film. I say film because it was good. Shatner didn't sound (to me) like the Priceline guy; he sounded like someone who had become so famous in his earlier career that he could be the Priceline guy, be ridiculous, and it would work. Because he earned it. I came to understand why Spock is Spock and Scotty is Scotty and all the rest of them were as such. And I came away liking it more than the franchise's newest renovation. A friend I was talking about all this with pointed out the necessity that existed back then in regards to strong story and writing. Everything else had better be spot on. I even got a little weepy when Spock died.

I took a similar trip back in time musically (I've yet to get that CD player for my car). I found a box in the garage filled with tapes from my youth (rather, tapes adults played in my presence when I was much younger) and carried several of them, almost reverently, to my car and took a drive. I shuddered at the musical tools they had during the era a decade before the 90s and several years after people stopped using real instruments (you know the little black machine that spit it out robot noises and weird distortions). Then I listened, and I hit the button labeled FF and held it down (because you have to). Every tape I listened to was about 10-12 songs. On each, one or two tracks were religious in nature, one was a remixed version of a radio hit, and the rest were romantic. Either the girl had left, or come back, or died, or cheated on the singer(s), or they hadn't met yet and he was trying to get her number (or get her to dance, go home with him, stay the night, etc.).

And undoubtedly, these singers' predecessors are considered among the greats, classics even, your elemental Earth, Wind, and Fire, your heart-tugging Temptations, your Spinners (one of my favorites so it makes the list). But these were also the crooners, the love singers, that sweat behind lights and made women scream.

So why do romantic books get slammed so hard? I reference a comment a co-worker made about my writing during one of my depressed times: "You write really well. You're thoughtful and elegant. Who cares if it doesn't really seem to fit anywhere? What I'm saying is, you're not writing romance." And I understood what she meant. There is a stigma associated with romantic books that they're a waste of time, uselessly derivative, and a misuse of printing resources. The obvious argument reminds me of what went down during the Harlem Renaissance, the schism that occurred between people who thought art was just art and the people who thought that art should be used as a political vehicle. And to the former arguers' point, if art is just art, if writing is just writing, then to what extent can one work of fiction be toted higher than another?

But that's not really the quandary I was putting forth (there are still things such as craft). The question I wanted to ask is a little simpler, and a little more complex: what's the difference between music and literature? Are not they both instruments to make a receiver feel? Can not they both be used to implore a mind to think? Searching my memories, I want to say that they have different standards, but no, there's a lot of smut produced in both mediums (for every profession or hobby, there are people who are proficient and people who aren't). So I come away a little stumped.

Sometimes, I wish I was a genetically engineered super genius.