Saturday, December 24, 2011

Write Christmas

It's the holiday break, and I'm three chapters into the eight chapter quota I set for myself. In the middle of the third, I happened upon a turn of phrase which made me rethink the naming conventions of the books involved with my little project. Which is not to say the name the books have were flippantly decided, nor is it to say that I haven't said the names over a hundred times to myself already, and even grown quite comfortable with them. What I'm saying is that the line that came out of me made so much sense, and tied things up so nicely, that I was happy I didn't get the first manuscript through, that I still have time to make it really, really good. A royalty report I got recently leads me to believe that there just might be a window for me to sneak through to make a market for myself. To that end, I'm pretty grateful, and am going to do my due diligence.

But I'm thankful for small things, too, this season. I unexpectedly found some soda in the back of the pantry and a new, tasty flavor of ramen, for instance.

I have totally botched the short story, though. I just remembered the other day that it was even on my list of things to do. I have no plans to make time for it during the break, as it turns out I've miscalculated how much off time I actually have off, so the eight chapters is going to be a bit of a hustle. I expressed to a co-worker my thoughts that I needed a new hobby, and she said "writing is your hobby." My immediate retort was "writing isn't a hobby, not for me." It felt like a comfortable thing to say, and I didn't have to snap it out either. It had the calm ring of truth.They say Stephen King writes everyday, even on his birthday, even on Christmas. I'm set to be like him tomorrow in that very specific way, and it feels kind of right.

May you be merry tomorrow, if for no other than to greet another day.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bitten by what couldn't be chewed

Work for the year is finally done. Well, the work I perform in an attempt to make a living, at least. I have eight chapters to write before I return on the 3rd and somehow, looking back over things, I thought I'd be farther along than I am. That includes progress on this blog, as well.

In other news, I finally have some sort of concept for what I'm doing with my twitter account. I call it the 140 Characters Project, that is to say, 140 tweets of 140 different characters, each no more than 140 characters.

An example:

Going without made her go within:red walls,kinky carpet,locked doors.Looked fine to her.She wrote wish lists,put to music,asking why not her 

I plan on celebrating my progress at each of the four quarters (at 35, 70, 105 and 140) , the first of which is a dozen or so tweets away. I realize even if I wrote one a week (which I'm not), it would still be a labor of some years. Somehow, though, I can't back off my initial statement. I think about conversations about goal setting. The reachable ones are laudable, granting one a feeling of accomplishment and what not, but the untenable ones create a more constant surge of energy, and on the off chance that one completes it... well, that's just magical.

I was north of the perimeter last night, and the acquaintance of a friend and I dueled with glances. I knew of him, and he of me, but we didn't really know each other. Eventually, he made his way over to where I had entrenched myself and asked if I was who I was. I replied in the affirmative. His next question stunned me a bit: "You wrote a book, right?" And it surprised me because the friend who linked us together didn't like the book. He's one of the few people I've spoken to who didn't, which I can live with, but I figured that sort of distaste would prevent him from telling people about my efforts. Nothing more was said, though; I was too busy with what I was doing and guffawing. Later that evening I called a different friend and he said, "Can I call you back, I'm on the other line with my brother. He's buying your book," and at that point, I began to maybe think I have some really good people behind me, willing me forward.

The weather outside is far from frightful, but it is Georgia. So it could turn for the worse any second. And that wouldn't necessarily be the most awful thing for me. My life has been unusually social of late. I want to blame that activity on my decreased writing pace. I want to blame someone. But whether or not things continue to proceed in this pattern, or if they taper off expectantly, the same work I've set for myself will still need doing. And so I will do it. At least, that's what we're going with today.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fail-yours too

I wonder if failure and success work in the same way that heat and cold do, the latter not being something in and of it self, but simply a lack of the former. For instance, failure can also create a place holder, make space for future success. I wasn't able to write the short story before December 1, but I did double up on the writing for the novel. Ultimately, I fell short of my goal, but I don't feel any worse off for it. An artist friend of mine spent the month creating many, many pieces, the goal being a number with three digits. When she was finished, she said, "I think in the future I need to set more unobtainable goals," a statement whose wisdom could only be observed through scrutiny. In any event, the writing this past weekend went well, and not so well. That is to say perfectly.

A business meeting of mine got cancelled, the first of any of its kind. A person I was introduced to wanted to discuss with me the topic of ghost writing. It took me a days to even agree, and weeks after that to wonder at what sort of things I should be bringing to that table. Some authors I knew had mixed opinions about the subject. A few even remarked their distaste for ghost writing, citing it as inherently dishonest. I had to admit that that had never occurred to me, but that it was easy to be disgusted about with some thought. I work at a school, and one of the things beaten into young minds at every level is that plagiarism is a capital offense (yet they say great artists steal). Either way it all stayed academic, because the meeting got cancelled. Or should I say rain-checked, so I guess the jury is still out on my feelings on the subject. I like that I've grown into someone who will try something, or at least listen to a reasonable presentation.

The outline is projecting forward into the new year, and I'm happy with what I'm set to accomplish. At the beginning of the year, it was a goal to complete four books. I'm done with three, and am a good bit into the fourth. It doesn't look like I'll be finished by the stroke of midnight, but I still come away satisfied. Then again, my blog numbers have also slipped considerably when compared to last year. I wonder what to think. I wonder what to think, and then I usually end up writing, which keeps me satisfied.

But I was speaking of dissatisfaction, of pushing for the sake of the brink, and at what point does one's frantic pace cease to be a good thing and became negative? And at what point does a dip in productivity become complacency?

All I know is that I don't know, a favorite quote of mine. I have a few others up on a wall at work, in a small room with a desk people are starting to call my office. One, recently thumb tacked, was a nugget mined from the essay of one of my students. Short, yet poignant: maybe we're not broken.

Maybe nothing's wrong at all. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I call it holiday inflation

First off: thanks. To everyone who reads this, reliably, or just the once. Even on accident. You make the list of things I'm thankful for this year. Other notables on the are the warm, fuzzy feeling I have concerning next year and looking back on the decisions I made this past one (see, I'm doing it, too, winding the year forward faster than the calendar).

So, I can talk about the writing that got done with a fresh mind for once because I wrote this very morning. Off work for Turkey Day, I felt that I owed it to myself to tend to an additional chapter this week. I think the secondary goal is to hit 20 before   the new year hits me. The chapter went well, even threw in a bit of extemporaneous plot that didn't seem too horrid (as I was writing it, that is; remember I said that for when I get around to editing it into the 3rd draft).

Also, this past weekend I had the occasion to do some legitimate research for that short story. And by legitimate I mean leaving the house, libraries, decimal system call numbers, the whole shebang. I took several books into a little corner of the four-story building, and read and scribbled and read and scribbled. The yellow notepad I have for such occasions is slowly filling up. The old man in me likes the idea that I'll be able to look back and flip through it and leap frog backwards in time between this project and that one. That is, if it isn't burned, stolen, dampened, or yellowed into intelligibility. Stupid technology and its efficiency.

So, all in all, it's been a good holiday. Reflecting on how things have gone thus far, you could say that I've received compensation for things I've bartered away, and I understand a little better about my satisfaction having less to do with the transactions being fair and more to do with my making full use of whatever I paid for.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Still use dark pastels

A couple years ago I wrecked my car, which sucked at the time. It turns out that without any transportation, that summer proved to be the most productive time in my writing life. I finished the draft of a 90,000 word novel in thirty days, my first completed book. Fast forwarding to now glosses over a lot of struggle with the manuscript, mostly over trying to convince publishers that it would, in fact, be an awesome story for readers to discover their way through. Clerical error stretched out its shelf life, in such time I became a much better and wiser author, and thankfully so, because I better see now what it's going to take to push that particular round peg through the square holes provided to me. And I think I'm mostly good with that.

So I think I've turned a corner, and will be able to look back on this time as a decisive fork in the long and winding road, and will smile at my decision. I'm not going to stop working on the series, but after the book I'm currently working on (the third and finale) I think I'm going to actively put the trio of books on the back burner. Going through the editing process got me some really good notes on what I put down and what readers are likely to pick up. I have a good idea of what I'll have to do to marry those two ideas in a way that I'm satisfied with that won't sour me.

More immediately, the writing continues. I even have a plan for how to squeeze in a little extra during the upcoming holiday breaks. I have a goal to be more than 2/3 of the way through before January 1, which means I ought to be able to wrap this up in February, certainly before March. I also find myself looking past even that, to the next release, the promotion opportunities I signed up for, even the possible collaboration projects I ought to have meetings for. Over the past week I've said "I'm really looking forward to what things look like for me this time next year" no less than three times. Picture me excited.

So, not a lot to report, or a little. I'm still holding myself to the deadline of December 1 to get that short story drafted. I haven't done any outlining or sketching on it, so it may very well come down to a scramble at the tail end of some November day numbered in the high 20s. The thing I try to focus on is that I'm still confident that it's going to get done, while ignoring the fact that in the end, what I intended to do will mean less than what I actually did.

Also. This blog needs more pictures. Gonna get on that, too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Alive and well, afraid

The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Love that quote, almost enough to look up who said it, then really figure out who said it.

I totally dropped the ball last week. In fact, it wasn't until Thursday that I realized that I hadn't blogged. I wouldn't describe the winter season as busy, either. It just slipped off my mind and didn't stick back on until much later.

But I have been writing, both this past weekend and the one before it. I even squeezed in some academic scribbling as well. My students had some opinions about a Jack London story that were different from my own, and I thought it was an excellent time to show them how arguments go down among literary types. Initially, I intended to comb through the story for quotes that proved my point, but what started as some light reading during a lunch break ended up being a few pages of rhetoric. It was the first time that I had taken to something like that seriously since graduating college. I wasn't really sure what that meant. The next week I was discussing Arthur Miller's idea of the modern tragic hero with a co-worker and relating the citizen Miller wrote about to the ones walking around today. I had to consider the idea that maybe going back to school wouldn't be so awful.

I came to some other difficult conclusions, too. The book I'm working on is the third of a series, and the finale, and I don't know how much that has to do with it, but I find myself doing things I wouldn't otherwise. The pertinent bits of story seem to be dragging; moreover, the various plot lines seem to be getting in the way of each other. I'm not sure if I'm writing just one book anymore. Talking it over with a friend, we discussed a very popular fantasy series where the author, by the sixth book or so, had spread things so thin that most of the novels were nigh on unreadable to some people (because of course they sold like hot cakes). Both I and my friend only picked up the later books for one or two specific characters. The rest had gotten too powerful to be interesting or had never been worthwhile to read about from the beginning. I felt good to think that I wouldn't have those problems because my books are much shorter, and there will be fewer of them.

Still, I worry.

Then again, I guess those kinds of thoughts will always be there. For instance the short story I'll be attempting this month I had the idea to write in the future tense. The whole thing. It calls back to that story I wrote in workshop back in college, all in 2nd person, just because my mentor said not to, because people said it was impossible. I'm much more comfortable with failure than I was then. If I try, and it doesn't work, that's fine, but I certainly will gain nothing if I don't even attempt it. So I guess a little trepidation is fine, even healthy, so long as it doesn't roll over into paralyzing fear.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Card #84, by matt cavotta

I'm in a productive place today. Sunday, I wrote after almost deliberately putting it off on Saturday, and coming up with a weak excuse on Friday. As the weekend progressed, the chapter in question occurred to me in the morning and in my still moments in the afternoon until I could almost recite it. Sitting down and putting it on paper was more therapeutic than it was strictly work-a-day. And I guess that makes me sound (more) crazy, but I stand firm on my position that this is a good thing.

The drafted chapter marks my fifteen thousandth approximate word for this project, which isn't a quarter of a way through, but it still feels like something to celebrate. I discovered that at least for this particular series, I always start with several, disparate plots, and then wind them together like a stiff braid as the story goes on. I think when it's all said and done I'll refer to this technique as "something I just came up with," though I'm sure any number of how-to books have this method named and detailed.

And it did occur to me that 15,000 words could be a quarter of a way through. I think on average my books so far hover around the 70k mark (and you thought I was really writing, pfft) and even back in college I was accused of possessing "an economy of words." That bared itself out in a recent review of the book, and I think the reviewer was spot on, both in what I was trying to do, and how I was trying to do it. And all of that is to say that maybe shorter is okay. Books are getting more brief, and not just books, but language. I asked a co-worker about a someday universal language of images projected directly into the eye that could stand for a message, a passage, a book, like a kaleidoscope for the mind. Recently I was asked what I enjoyed more, books or television, and of course the writer in me demanded I answer one way but the honesty in me made me think hard about my reply.

Months ago, maybe years, I remarked on the odd situation of Frank Miller condescending to the very popular movies his very popular graphic novels had become in the same way the literati condescends to Miller's own claims to fame. It struck me that all of this was simply the old resenting the new for being different.

I had a Shakespeare class once where a paper was due every week. The assignments had very specific guidelines: they were to be single-spaced and one page, no more and no less. The professor told us that if done correctly, no more words than could fit on a sheet of paper were needed to convey our ideas. More than that and we were wasting our breath. Less, and we clearly didn't understand what we were talking about. Perhaps that message touched me (at least, I'd prefer to blame my brevity on someone else).

The point is, the future isn't coming. It's here, and I think we can all admit that we'd much rather be on the train than standing on the tracks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A strange polling

A few weeks ago a co worker complimented me on the poetry I had up on my website. Suave and debonair as always, my reply was something mystifying like "Er... uh... yeah." Nothing like praise you don't anticipate, I guess. It made me want to put more stuff up on the site, or at least update it more regularly. Currently, I make changes a couple times a season, if that. Guess I'll have to get better at that, too, presenting myself I mean.

The writing progresses, if still sluggishly. I feel like the edits to the fantasy book are doable, but will also be extensive. Something I didn't much anticipate was how the editor's comments affect the writing I'm doing now. Part of me thinks, "Oh, well, if I just write differently now then I'll have to do less editing on the back end" or worse, "Oh wait, you're about to use passive voice, tsk tsk." The words at those points don't come as easily. I find myself actually thinking about the words instead of... well, instead of them just coming. As you might can tell, I'm slightly worried, but cannot exactly articulate about what.

Someone asked me about NaNoWriMo, and I blinked in realization that it was nearing that time of year again (this after finally figuring out what was up with horror movie after horror movie after horror movie after horror movie showing on tv and cheap candy being advertised in the paper). I was happy to say that while I had never participated in it, I had written a novel in a month. This year I doubt I'll be participating again, but the communal initiative is something I'll likely try to tap into. Maybe that month will prompt the quickening of the pace that I keep failing to adopt.

I also finally finished the judging on the last round of the eBook competition. The director was nice enough to send that reminder email (which was funny, because when she sent it in the first round my reaction was "Psh, like I'd forget," and this time I was like "Oh wait, crap") and I got it done. It was interesting how the judge's form changed for the final round. Instead of  "does this book deserve to move forward" the question was "is this the best book in category" which I found pretty interesting because really, I had no way of answering that. The round robin manner of judging (I did one category for the prelims, a different category for the first round, and yet another category for this final round) sort of made answering that particular question impossible. I thought about butting heads with people I'd never meet about what sort of qualities made an award-winning book. I figured what they meant was "is this the best book out of the ones we've showed you" and just went with that.

On accident, I happened upon a political debate, and was a bit aghast at some grown people's inability to have a conversation. I wasn't on the debate team in college, and it's a good thing too, because I'd suck at politics. Apparently, talking over another person, and attacking them rather than their argument are both winning strategies. It turns out that this morning I was reprimanding two of my students for acting like nominee competitors. I think I'm sadder now than I was then. But now, I will digress off of my soap box. Until next time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dangerous concessions

The desktop having definite issues is in its final stages, which is to say I haven't turned it on in weeks and I'm slowly weening myself off of using it. With that though, came the trappings of a very negative situation where I wouldn't be writing. I think like most people, I made plans to make myself feel better, but had little to no earnest commitment at following through: I'd stay after work and write, or go in early, reserve days just to hang about the library. Fate intervened though, and I ended up getting Word on my laptop so I could help a friend out with his academic work. At that point it was easy (easier). All I had to do was open the program and write. And then...

So I'm pretty happy to say that the writing got done. It was strange to feel the difference in the key strokes, the placement of my hands, the sounds in my ears as I pecked along, but I made it through. I sigh a bit though to think that for the next few months (at least) this will be the new routine. I never realized (but could've guessed) how stuck I was in sitting in a given chair, in a certain room, typing on a specific kind of keyboard and staring at a distinct screen. Now I can write anywhere (technically). My old man urges cause me to grumble at that. What's the saying, to live is to change...

I've started to have a good back and forth about my fantasy novel with an editor at the other publisher. It was a bit like pulling teeth, but things are coming out now that I can appreciate. The story is interesting enough, but I'm not making it as easy as I could for readers to receive all the detail I worked so hard at putting in. I've been assured that the changes won't muddle my voice and the story will be better for it, which are all things I can get behind. I suppose I can't complain too much that it took so much back and forth to get to this point. Reading over the notes, it's somewhat interesting to note how things are different from editor to editor. I have more than a few decisions to make, and as usual my feet are dragging.

I think also that the promotional momentum concerning the March release has gone properly dark. I haven't thought twice about even looking at any sort of review or interview in weeks, and I can't really be sure why. Consciously, I know that if I were to push at that particular boulder week in and week out there would be some progress, however small. I presume (read: hope) I'll get the hang of that particular situation one of these days. That and selling myself to others (which is a trend that keeps going into and out of vogue, imagine that).

I should also get on the last round of judging for the ebook competition I signed up for. Even though I'm not participating in the category I entered my book, the list of finalists was released and mine wasn't on it. And I'd be lying if I said that didn't take some of the wind out of my sails. I figured it wouldn't break through, though. The editing wasn't great, and the writing could've been better, but I guess even though I self deprecate, part of me was still holding out for a miracle. On the other hand, I also try to hold out for the kind of miracle that would make my decade rather than my day.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Technical-ology

My mentor told me a story once about an old transient author (redundant) writing poetry on napkins in a bar. The man would scribble his verses down and do nothing with his stories. He didn't talk to anyone while doing so, or socialize much at all. One day, an inquisitive type found one of his little balled up passages and praised the man, asking him how it was that he was able to write so clearly and with such truth. He was shocked to find out the old man had no family and no place, given his gift. The reply, my mentor told, was something to the effect of "I love the individual, but I hate people." As usual, my mentor didn't tell me much of what I was supposed to get out of the story; he was a good person to learn from, I think.

So, Google has reached out and sunk its teeth into social networking (finally finished with its meal of Mapquest). Before they made their little engine public, a friend was nice enough to invite me to join. I only made a profile today though, because that's just who I am. I did not indulge the widgets or gadgets in investigation, and over time, I imagine I will transport the various links from my facebook page to the new one. If anyone asks, I'm all over the social networking thing. A writer in the guild I belong to says she devotes no less than two hours a day to promoting herself and her work. Perhaps that is the me of tomorrow, but I can tell you the me of today is unenthused at the prospect.

The writing done this weekend is a different matter. The chapter drafted was "important" in that it introduced the bad guy, which is not something I typically do. I think in most situations I try to present round characters that have differences of opinion and ideology with the characters driving the action, however in this situation there were nefarious arrows and insidious pointers to the figure in question. I don't think it's going to be much of a chore to get readers to hate the guy; it might even be a little fun. I did come across a bit of a problem, though, which is that on the pace that I'm on, I won't be done with the book until next year. Mathematically, I think I'll have to ramp it up to two chapters a week rather than just the one (and that's just a guess, I only do actual math at work).

So, naturally, when it's time for me to write more, my primary instrument for such (my desktop; I'm new/old school) decides to slow down in fits and starts. The monitor today did something I've only seen CRT televisions do, which prompted me to launch into my diagnosing methods: first, waggle the various cords and connections, and second, when that doesn't work, turn the machine off and walk away from it. The last step of any process I enact is to ruminate and plot. Doubtful that I could afford a new machine, so perhaps all the blogging and surfing I've done on this laptop was in preparation to write an entire novel on this handy machine. Challenges are simply opportunities to prove oneself greater, or some such.

To date, I've attempted plays, and scripts, completed novels and poems, and short stories in both of those categories. Now I think I'll swing for the collection fence. In the past, I always imagined myself lumping all my shorter work together and publishing it, all the while thumbing my nose at all those places that told me no (perhaps sticking the majority of them here is the high road?). The stories in question all deal with projections into the future, so it would make some degree of sense, but with this new idea all the stories orbit around a central concept dealing with a futuristic speculation. I've talked it over with one person, and they said it sounded feasible, cool even. Maybe I'll be responsible and update this new project to my website.

No promises.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Me and myself

Monday was another fruitful meeting at the writer's guild. The group is expanding, and every event has a good energy to it. Because the venue changed recently, I got to see an old historic town not near at all to where I live, but I think in general I'm capable of staying on the bright side. We shared our writing with one another, and filled out little sheets with feedback and criticism. Most of what I got was useful, and everyone agreed that I read too fast. I come off as nervous, because I am, and it shows. So, step one to improve the public reading is to slow down.

Before Monday I had a pretty good weekend. A good friend is opening a store, and I got to learn all about the behind the scenes features of that experience (went ahead and tucked that away for use later). There is no small amount of activity that precedes a lonely little space in some random suite transforming into the kind of joint that looks like it couldn't be anything but filled with merchandise and customers. It's pretty amazing to me what sort of things can happen when one isn't paying attention (similar to the experience of taking a different route home and the entire trip being dotted with moments of "hey, where'd that come from?").

And of course I wrote. Chapter 1 went about as smoothly as the prologue, and since then I've had some good percolation on the little details in Chapter 2. Recently, another friend discovered how little details can breath life into a situation. The devil is in the details, but not just. So, I wouldn't say I have momentum yet, per se, but it's coming. I can feel it, and it's a nice sensation. Like always, I made a new folder for the new book and week by week, arduously, I will slowly fill it with file after file. In the beginning it looks pretty sad, but in the end it's something to feel positively about. I wonder if I'll ever get used to this process.

In other news, I just got my copy of the contract back after the publisher signed and mailed it. I don't know how much more real it makes things feel, but it certainly makes them more legally binding. I'm developing a bit of a split persona, part of me looking forward and part of me stuck in the present. I wonder which of them is happier, or more content, or which resents the other more.

And lastly, I got the third person to ask me, demand might even be a better word, for a look at an early draft of the next novel. It felt good, and even better to receive positive reviews (if anyone asks, these are beta readers I'm talking about) about something that will hopefully vastly improve over the next several months. A friend was taken aback somewhat when I actually outlined how much I had written, and how much I was still planning to. It strikes me as odd how often I have no idea what to say; maybe the words on the pages speak more quietly than I planned?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Onward, upward, jazz

This morning I wrote, and it felt pretty great. Usually, I don't make such a judgment until after I've gone back and  looked over whatever it was a second time, but it felt good to be back into the swing of things. I don't really have an idea of how much I plan on writing per week; honestly, it felt a lot like I was just doing it because I was getting more and more afraid that it was getting away from me. Likely, I'll spend this week making plans about at what speed to execute the outline I'm scribbling and scratching through.

I've also signed the next contract for the next book, which requires me to fill out an author information page. Or, to decide on excerpts, blurbs and begin brainstorming on what I'd like the cover to look like. I'm not sure if they changed the form since last time, or if I just didn't see it, but this time around there was even a space for professional blurbs, which are those really impressive-sounding quotes that are on the back of books at the store. "This book will change your life," and "This author is at the top of her/his game," and the like. I remember thinking back, years ago, about how nice it would be if that happened to me.

So there I was, staring at the blank space, thinking about what 1-2 sentence blurbs I had from "authors of the same genre field," and then I struck upon a novel idea: ask. I had, after all, over the last couple years met a handful of authors, some of whom even wrote things similar to my own. I sent out a couple queries, figuring the worst they could say was no, and ended up with some very nice things that ought to occur on my very next back cover. I might have even blushed a little.

Picking the excerpt went much less smoothly. In fact, I'm still working on it. With the last book it was easier because I took deliberate steps in the writing to tell the reader what the book was and what it wasn't, so the excerpt was an opportunity to tell potential buyers what the book was and what it wasn't. The novel is paranormal, and I wanted to be specific about tone and depth. In that same way, the second book is much less of an introduction to my interpretation of the genre, so I had to consider instead which elements would draw a reader to read (and hopefully buy) the novel. But it's been an interesting process; once again, I've learned a lot.

But to offset all this, I've recently had some difficulties over another manuscript. The situation has led me to wonder at the conundrum creative enterprise is always in, which is that editing types will criticize and discriminate based on things that have been done, yet will simultaneously demand that the efforts of the creative be new and different. It seems to me that these two things are mutually exclusive. That is to say if you want new and different, then you have to accept the new and different and judge it on its own merits, not the merits of things that have already been done and re-done to the point of being hackneyed. Or maybe that's what the sweet spot is: just far enough outside the lines to seem innovative but close enough to the center to be recognizable and appreciated.

But I won't digress, because I've started writing again. I'm moving forward.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

P(r)ep talk

It took me some time to realize that last week's post had no mention of what I was writing, or preparing to. I had the same revelation that I did last night to hear of another author's experience at Dragon Con, the meeting, the greeting, and the et cetera.

And things aren't getting much better. As I mentioned months back, the structure of my urban fantasy series is somewhat odd. The first book has three main characters, and the sequels, which occur at the same time, take place in different places. You could say the first book has three sequels (and each of those has its own sequel as well, preceding the grand finale where everyone is back together again, comprising a crystal structure to the series). I was finally able to explain this to someone at the publisher that put out the first novel, and they were very open about letting me publish the first sequels in rapid succession. I was a bit glad. That is, until I went to last night's meeting.

"Three books in one year is a lot of work" another, more knowledgeable writer told me. And she's right, I realized. If one does their due diligence, with the book signings and marketing and promoting, then with three books that's triple the work. Part of me wants to take a step back and try something else, but at the same time, the reason I'm in this mess in the first place is because I tried my best to tell the story the best way. I didn't write the characters into a happy reunion or contrive some way for the setting to stay the same. What happened is what I felt the story "needed" so now, for things to make the most sense, it would work best if they came out as closely together as possible. If that takes a lot of work then I guess I have a lot of work to give.

But I was talking of the actual activity of writing. I'm almost done reading the second fantasy novel so I will be in the proper mind to commit to the third. Distractions abound, of course, but ideas are percolating, too. It's taken a while to return to me, but slowly, slowly that feeling is returning. The one where ideas bubble up and brim over too fast for me to write them down. I'm excited and driven and all I really have to do is plan the outline, then make the effort to seclude myself and let the words come. Thinking back, I guess I assumed this would all happen faster. I wanted to finish the book by the new year, which would give me four books in twelve months. But I guess it doesn't so much matter when I cross the finish line, but that I cross it. To that end, I have another short story I want to work out, and some more submitting to do (never did get back on the "let's find an agent" train).

While clocking out today, my boss asked about the sequel, and I told her it was already written, among others. She asked me if this was what I really wanted to do, and encouraged me to do it with a genuine smile. What I am never able to  articulate is that it has nothing to do with want, and everything to do with will.

Yeah. That feels better.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Who was I again

Last night I had vivid dreams about missing all manner of important appointments. It didn't matter how quickly I dressed or how much I fretted, the rendezvous location was always too far away, or suddenly obscured. This morning I breath only a little easy as I reflect on Saturday, squinting at names I knew but now cannot fully recall.

Saturday, before I went on stage, there was a meeting of the minds. People I knew from four different circles convened at a popular pub in downtown Decatur and met each other for the first time. I only had a few things jotted down on a note card, but I leaped to introduce everyone to everyone else. In the end I did a poor job of that and also of outlining what I would say. With every speaker that got up and sat down, my time crept closer and closer. I cannot remember a time when I was more terrified, and I educate teenagers these days. And my fear did not abate when the man called my name, and I did not run and hide. I stepped up behind the microphone and stared out at all those attentive faces and realized it is much worse when the audience is expecting something from you.

And I can't say that I did my best (that would've involved a nicely written, scribed in advance outline and practice) but I tried very hard not to sound ridiculous. I ended up by introducing my mother, and speaking a bit about my past, the characters in the book, and reading some. There were questions, but they're blurry now just like the rest of the afternoon's transcript is. As it was, I had to have faith in my friends: I asked each of them, repeatedly, how I did. All of their comments were positive, overly so actually, so I'll have to take them at their word. My mother said I was too loud.

A bunch of other things happened on Saturday, too, but really it was more of the same. I gained an understanding of how "it" probably happens. It being the elusive "break" or "making it." Networking, is what I'm trying to say. You meet a person, and you talk to them, and when the opportunity arises, you give them a reason to remember your name and face, (you did a reading, too; you're also published; you read their work and wanted to talk about it; you're a long-lost cousin) and you repeat this process until a persona of you is created, and you start to lose viscosity in people's minds. The point, I guess, is to become like peanut butter, gunking up the works until you're a bit of what they think about, and talk to others about, and those others speak with yet more others. Which is ironic because really, you're even more vaporous than you were previously. That is to say you're not doing anything more or different, moreover you actually have less time to do what got you into those conversations; other people just know who you are and what you're doing. I met an author getting his work optioned for a movie, another writer who is somewhat famous, and another who was just starting out. I had a picture with an important man, and was asked to start an email chain regarding a reading on campus. All, I guess, because I was there standing around awkwardly in the Fall heat and not typing away in a dark room somewhere.

But I can't really say, much less know. When it was all done, I felt like I had been given a stay of execution. I was so elated I even drove over to a friend's and walked with him to Dragon Con, in my fancy new shoes and ironed shirt no less, and stayed for several hours. When the high wore off, I realized my feet hurt terribly, and went home and fell unconscious.

The interesting thing I discovered, and this was before all the craziness even started, was that established writers do that sort of thing all the time. It has nothing to do with writing, but everything to do with being a major success at anything. I guess I hope it all gets easier with repetition, because I just may find myself under those crowded lights again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Swatting gadflies

Two days late. A new record, I think. I don't have excuses, only reasons, and I'm trying to get into the habit of not even using those to sanction my actions. Monday morning I woke up a bit refreshed. Sifting through my own book 2 in preparation for book 3 went well, but I decided to wait, because I had finally made up my mind to go and try to audit that creative writing class offered on campus. I went to the class, spaced off a lot, stared at the clock a bunch, and remembered why I hated school.

I came away a little contemplative, too, in regards to what was said, and what I took away from the introductory lecture. So much that I was stunned a bit into not writing yesterday. And that's not to say that I'm done mulling things over, but I committed myself to write in this space once a week, and that, more than anything, is why I'm sitting here, doing this right now.

Frankenstein. For some people, this conjures up a variety of modern interpretations of what was, originally, a creative investigation of what separated life from artifice, and what distance there existed between man and god. Speculatively. Because a student in the first lecture mentioned that as his favorite book, we discussed it briefly. The professor had lots of good things to say about it, his eyebrows interested and his posture invested. We did a round table type thing about what other sorts of things we were into reading. When it came to my turn, I cheated a little. Months ago I revealed to my mentor that I was interested in "genre fiction," the sort of stuff academics mock at their retreats. But I didn't plan on taking that back, even for a stranger, however I did try to mention the most impressive sci-fi author I'd ever read: Robert Zelazny, and his Lord of Light. I described the book as about a group of advanced people who happened upon a faraway planet with underdeveloped technology, and labeled themselves god-rulers, using the Indian pantheon as their guideline. Personally, I found the concept interesting because it introduced a blueprint for godhood, and featured the stresses inherent to applying the stamp of the divine to the flawed.

I guess he disagreed, or rather he didn't hear me. His expression soured and his eyebrows drooped. He waited though, to hear about this student's fantasy interest, and that student's Pottermania, and then addressed all of us at the same time, saying that he found it so intriguing that all these sci-fi and fantasy stories, this speculative fiction, had become so popular. When asked if he had read the books or seen the movies, he shook his head and dismissed the thought with a hand. Of course he hadn't seen them, or read them, or considered them laudable. I couldn't help but insist, quietly and to myself, that Mary Shelly's seminal achievement, written years later, would be scoffed into the slush piles of publishers everywhere.

Still, there were some good things he mentioned. He talked about how the students would commit to a writing journal (I thought of the blog and twitter account). He outlined how the students would work towards finished 18 double spaced pages before the end of the semester (I thought about my own novel, the critique group, and the contest I'll be judging). It all sounded good, but it also sounded like I was already doing all that. The MFA program popped into my head during the second hour, an idea of a place where I better belonged. A co-worker cautioned me against reading too much into the narrative of my life that I was writing myself.

And in the midst of all of this, the Decatur Book Festival is right around the corner. Just like my friend's wedding, I still have no idea what I'll say.

In other news, the semester finally started this week, so things are getting busy as things get busy. Thoughts are beginning to percolate daily. Maybe what I needed to rouse me from all the lethargy was a bit of discomfort. I neglected to pray this time, against messing up some student's future. Instead, I decided to just not mess up some student's future.

"His downfall? Hubris."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

[You will] write

I slacked off yesterday and did not blog, nor did I have a good reason. In fact, I went to work without even needing to; I got the dates mixed around. Fortunately, I got to see some people and even do some work that needed doing. That wasn't the only thing that worked out strangely in my favor, either. A writer friend of mine, whom the Fates have smiled on recently, was sharing with me his progress on one of his latest projects and I, being me, asked a question. In reply, he joked that asking the unexpected question wasn't like me at all. I was shocked out of a day dream in wonder over what he had said, and what it had meant.

After further investigation, it seems everyone else that knows me is in agreement. Up until that point, I had assumed that the questions I asked were simply ones people were too lazy or disengaged to voice. It turns out that at least in some cases that I don't share the thoughts of many others. I wasn't really sure how to feel about that, however I absolutely felt something.

In other news, yesterday prompted a one-month reminder for my book signing that will be at the Georgia Tech bookstore on the 15th of next month. I'm on the calendar and everything. Though, more exciting than being on the calendar was the thought of being on the other side. I went to Tech, at least for my first two years, a student in the wrong place in the wrong time trying to accomplish what, I still don't know. Back then, the bookstore was in a different location, and they didn't have any signings, at least not that I was aware of. But maybe, at least in passing, I'll see someone just like me, except I'll be on the other side of the table, seated, maybe not, smiling, maybe not. Some good advice to give, maybe not. Looking back, I'm still not sure what I would say to a younger self when he says, "So wait, you're from the future... well, tell me something important so we can be rich." Suffer yet more, and be an engineer, you dunce.

Also, a miracle happened on Sunday. I woke up, and decided to direct my voluminous creative energies on the next project. I decided to start reading the 2nd fantasy book so I could begin going over the notes I wrote down for the 3rd. And I was really happy with what I produced. Things felt crisp, and there weren't too many typos. Suddenly, I was involved again, invested to finish up the year with a 4th book written. Over the past few weeks I thought it would be really difficult to give up my vacation. I had watched so much television, complete show after complete show. The free time was off-putting at first, but after I had something to put it in, it went quickly. I thought I would dread coming back to writing consistently, and I might have had I not remembered why I wrote the stories down in the first place. I smiled and chuckled and nodded through six chapters and by the end of the day had a plan on how to proceed. Because of the critique group, I have a few stories to read, and I'm not done yet with the judging for the ebook competition, but all of these things together comprise reading different things, thinking about the use of words, and executing my own  craft, which results, I strongly believe, in a more keenly honed skill.

So overall, I don't know myself nearly as well as I hoped, as well as I thought my efforts would result in. And I suppose for the time being that will have to do. At least, I know what I will do and perhaps that's enough.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Quotable moments

It occurs to me that if anyone ever thinks they don't have anything to be doing, they're forgetting something. Yesterday started the second week of my vacation, and after some meditating (read: sitting around going over my mental lists) I realized I'm rather behind. The first round of the ebook judging has started and I still have three more books to read before the 7th. I have my own book to be looking into also so I can start writing its sequel. There's also notes needing to be prepared for the Decatur Book Festival, where I will hopefully not embarrass myself. And last night, I found myself joining a critique group, which means even more reading. Sometimes I wonder how I can be so careful and so surprised all the time.

But the bright side is that I'm working. Last night at the guild meeting, the group discussed impediments to writing, and what success is to each of us in regards to the process. I heard from people with families, businesses, and other distractions and I sympathized. If I had any of those things, it would probably be hard for me, too. A while back I realized that I might as well be prolific because I have no real excuse not to be. And while the critique group is more work, it's also more opportunity. So we'll try to make the best of it, come what may.

On the dark side, I read a rather disturbing email on one of the lists I subscribe to. The author had been publishing digitally for years, and went on to report that music had gone electronic far before books, and that musicians report regularly that they don't make enough money from album sales to make a living, from pirating and such. They, the artists say, make their money from concerts and appearances, which led the doomsaying author to predict an apocalypse of authorship, citing that piracy was killing books the same way, and that there would be no saving grace from public appearances because authors lacked the same appeal musicians could garner from things like concerts. As usual, I didn't have enough information to rebut then, and I still don't. I've heard some things to the contrary, but at the end of the day I have to believe that a laudable contribution to life has the potential for reasonable, fiscal rewards. And that good writing gets appreciated. That, I think, is what I never got to say during all the discussion last night: if you're going to be a writer, then write. Write until its good, until its acknowledged. Or don't.

And I have to admit that I've done that with less care than I previously planned. Editing is something that's been brought up more than once about my book. Universally, thus far it's been regarded as terrible, and while I had two editors, I also saw every copy passed to and fro from those workers, and was even presented with a final galley before it was printed. I have to take some of the blame, and that responsibility has helped me a great deal, but I do wonder when it will stop helping and start hurting. Months ago, I posited a curiosity over how some authors could agonize over their first publication to the point of regretting it. I understand it better now, because I think for anyone who treats it seriously, they cannot help but learn, and improve, as their career matures. So, compared to something published ten years later, that first, mistake-laden disaster will always be their maiden voyage.

Seems like the perfect place for a platitude, a bit of advice I was supposed to have taken to the meeting, and forgot to. "Write it all down before you realize it sucks." That's from my mentor, and it's served me well. "Write with fire and edit with ice." That got said during the meeting, which I remember for a variety of reasons.

"Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money." Jules Renard.

"Do what you love, but no one has to love you for it." Me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lending aims

The vacation officially started this week, but it feels like I haven't done anything in days. Or maybe it's that I haven't done anything I had planned on doing. In my mind, once the drafts of the novels were done, I'd have a pocket of time to take it easy, work on the short story, the play, get some submissions out to agents, and start moving towards the fall/winter project. And I did draft the short story; I even got around to pestering my friends about reading it, but aside from that I've been up to a whole bunch of nothing.

However that doesn't mean that things haven't been happening. The Decatur Book Festival got back to me and told me where the event would be (that I'll be participating in) and about how much time I'd have. It was interesting to hear specifics about what things to talk about, what audiences don't want to hear, and how much time to leave open for questions. I was pretty nervous at first, but the event being over a month away has helped. I rarely take the opportunity to talk about my work, but I do have to accept that at least in situations like this one, that's sort of the point.

I also had occasion to work on my elevator pitch. I attended a gathering for steam punk enthusiasts and met some interesting people, one of whom was another fellow artist. I was introduced as an author myself, and the first question was "So what's your book about?" and I did what I usually do, which is take into account the person asking the question, my mood at the time, sprinkle in a little personal embarrassment, pause for effect and then say something that sounds a lot like "Uh... well... hm." The other author smiled graciously, and knowingly at the woman who introduced us, and told me I'd have to work on that: the brief group of words that takes only a few seconds to say, but gets the ball rolling in any conversation with a potential investor (either in me, or my book, or whatever).

And at the risk of closing myself off from the possibility of ever securing a career, I'm going with "anti-twilight" for the time being. It has a lot of the same tropes, the story I have published, but removes the teeny, sappy romance and replaces it with a certain grave dignity things like monsters and murder lack in the current genre's era. And I want to hope that I'll come up with something better to say, but it seems like the elevator pitch concept is based on the ability to present one's work in a way that makes it recognizable, or at least comparable. There's a certain canon that exists among readers, agents, and publishers and it seems important for something new to be packaged as something old. That makes it manageable. That makes it safe. Of course, they also reserve the right to call whatever it is boring and derivative, too.

So I guess it's all about hitting the mark just right, now too far outside the lines, but far enough that it can be appreciated as fresh by someone standing within the boundary. Well, I guess I've gotten a good amount of thinking done so far. Work starts up again in two weeks from yesterday, and I'm already behind at making the most of this gift of free time. Guess I'll lace up my shoes and take a nap.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Another finish(ed) line

Sitting in front of me is the second draft of a story I wrote on Saturday. Within me there is a somewhat comfortable certainty in regards to the stack of white paper, printed on one side, with one inch margins and standard font, but such was not the case this past weekend.

This weekend I found myself looking around, pondering the great volume of free time I found myself gifted with as a result of having completed the drafts of the novels. There was no duress, or even a lukewarm need. I didn't have to do anything, at least anything that resulted from a rigorous regimen. I was free, finally free, to do whatever I pleased. It was more than a little terrifying. I knew that I wanted to start on the story, and had even driven somewhere and scribbled down presaging notes in a spiral notebook in preparation. I also decided that I would work on making the third book of the Where Shadows Lie series presentable enough for submission and send that off. But it was all so much like it was back in January with me sitting around waiting for it to all just magically happen. I was reminded of the sad truth that nothing would happen if I didn't do it myself.

So I did.

And it was a strange affair, writing the story that was so much shorter than the novels I had been pounding my way through. I imagined it was a bit like running a marathon and then sprinting. Marathons, or novels, occur in pieces for me. How the race is to be run, how fast in what stages, is decided upon ahead of time, planned out carefully and cautiously, and each part benefits from the experience of running. After that, it's just a matter of putting one leg in front of the other, not giving up, sticking to the plan with the confidence that when it's all done, it will be a good time. Short stories are more like sprints: there's much less track to work with, and it's all done in the same mode, the same voice, which for me requires it to be drafted in the same sitting. Changing gears in that way was a little disorienting. Halfway through I found myself a little put off and disgusted at how the story was dragging, continuing for much longer than one of my chapters. I had to write my way into a different rhythm.

But, and this seems to be normal, when I woke up this morning and read through it, the first draft wasn't nearly as bad as I thought while writing it.

And now the difficult part begins. Really, I suppose the best thing is always to print the work out, run over it with a pen, but I think it becomes more important the shorter the writing is. So this is me spending those hours, going over it line by line, page by page, step by lunging step. Race by race.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hi Mom

Late. With only a moment's notice, attending the first meeting of a local writer's guild, that was the best word I could think of as my response to "What's your favorite word?" It was on my mind, that topic, because I was over half an hour tardy. I had so much time to dwell on my slinking into the meeting well after it had started and even developed its own rhythm, I thought about all the platitudes about lateness that I had ever heard. Like the one from my alma mater: to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unacceptable. But I guess it just goes to show what nice people were there at the meeting. I was welcomed despite not having a name tag, nothing to write with or on, and with my Rambling Sickness enjoying a delightful flare up.

Despite Monday's rocky start to the week, however, this past weekend had a wonderful end to seven consecutive months of writing. At many points during the process, I chided myself for attempting something so ill-advised as writing three books at once. Yet it was rewarding, because even though it was a bad idea, I have the satisfaction now of seeing it through. Turning that weighty page has taken some doing, but now I can finally let the ideas of all those other stories wash over me. And at least until I start on something else, I can live in a dream world where I could commit the energy required to finish all of them. The screen play, the stage play, the poems, submitting to agents, getting other manuscripts ready for publishers, the fantasy novel, the sci-fi novel, the fantasy-sci-fi novel. Doing nothing does afford one the luxury of the fantasy that one could do anything, everything.

And on the topic of good feelings, on the topic of doing things in a tardy fashion, I would like to give a shout out to someone. I wouldn't have known that she read this blog had she not cornered me in regards to the specific date and time of my book signing in September. I was stunned for a moment, and my brain did the math on how she could have possibly known the information that only a precious few did. Then I cheated and peeked over her shoulder and saw that she, of all people, was reading my blog. But then, if not her, then who?

For some perspective, let me just say that my first story had more pages than I had years, and it was about a giant jellyfish. Don't know why, nor do I have any idea what level or brand of radiation caused such an abomination of the sea. "I'm so proud of you," is what she said. It would be an oft-repeated phrase, even after she stopped understanding what I was writing about, or even why I was writing. And I've thanked her for a lot over the years (let me tell it) but to my recollection not once did I ever just vocalize my thanks over her being supportive of my pursuing something that is, well, vastly exhaustive, time-consuming, and not accompanied by the guarantee of commensurate earnings. It is perhaps the best definition of a fool's errand that I'm aware of. Yet she always tried to smile, which is a might more commendable than actually being able to, in my book(s).

So, given the possibility that this works out, let me not be the guy who only smiles graciously, waves excitedly, and cheers boisterously after the confetti rains down and the trumpets blare. Let me simply own up to the fact that it's badly timed, and hope that its belatedness makes it no less genuine.

Thanks.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gree things

They say you never get a second chance at a first impression, but that's something I knew already. That premeditating how I will introduce myself isn't overly helpful is something I was not aware of. Good news is that I will likely get the chance to even screw it up, I guess. Locally, there's a yearly book fair with a "local prose stage," which I applied to be involved with, months back. I had to pen a crisp synopsis of 175 words, which proved difficult. I appreciated the challenge, though, and just the other day was accepted. At this point I have no idea what I'll be doing, and for how long, but a yes crowded in with all the no's feels pretty good.

Also, it seems like the book signing is a real possibility. I 'followed up' with the gentleman, which is an adult life skill I'm still trying to master, and it worked out. It was days after he said he would contact me, and he had already booked some of the dates in the month in question. I have the feeling that had I waited there would've been no room for me. He asked me about times in the evening versus afternoon, and gave me the available dates left on the calendar. I picked an evening toward the end of the week, so perhaps that's that. Between that and the book fair event, I just might have the opportunity to publicly embarrass myself and ruin good will. Or shine.

A friend from high school is a photographer, a not too shabby one at that. One of the things the book fair required I submit was a picture of myself. I went with something interesting in lieu of trying to send something that actually looked good (I chanced into a photo of myself grinding a rod iron fixture, goggles on, sparks flying). But it did remind me that I lack a head shot. You know the one, back of the book, or perhaps in the jacket, a black and white photograph of a woman or man looking thoughtful or dignified, composed or hilarious. I've never felt very photogenic, but I've learned that a major component of looking confident (and attractive) is acting confident. Still, at the mention of wardrobe changes and venue selections, I found myself quickly closing the window.

In other news, on more confident matters, the weekend's writing went well, as did the editing. I wasn't completely happy with the drafts, but I realized also that I rarely am. I am also looking forward to finally being done this weekend. It was a thorough undertaking, and I can't really say that I'm glad it's over, but it will be good to be under less stress. The idea I had on a new story has been bombarding my thoughts, and only this morning did I realize how much research and outlining it's going to take just to start it. It was a bit of a horrifying revelation at how these things grow inside of my mind, and how much energy they consume. I also signed up to judge the e-book competition for the organization I joined a few months ago, and got the first group of books I'm supposed to inspect. Naturally, I'm not allowed to talk about them, but all of that is to say I'll be keeping busy, a different kind of busy, after all these months of writing is finally done. I should also have the mental space to gird myself for more rejection as I try again to find and secure an agent.

Stand up straight; don't slouch. Shake hands firmly; speak with a full voice. Smile; don't show them your teeth.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A knowing nose

I guess it would be difficult to say that I'm back on track with a late blog. But in my country, yesterday was a holiday? Yeah... that seems like a weak excuse to me, too, especially since I didn't really do anything yesterday afternoon. Although, I did edit the three chapters written during the weekend and felt really good about them. Saturday and Sunday had the same kind of rhythm as yesterday and I deliberately took my time because I had it to take. I think strong finishes to novels are just as important as strong starts (not for getting published, but for the sake of the story being thoroughly good). So, while I can look forward to just two more weeks of writing, I'm going to press myself to take it slow, and make these first drafts read like seconds, or even thirds.

I had other reasons to feel good, too. A friend from years back whom I studied at a writing conference with got in touch with me (she was actually the only person whose contact information I went away with; if anything I've said makes me seem bad at networking now, you ought to have seen me several years ago). She had asked about including me in a journal she was doing a year or two ago, and that was the topic of conversation again. I can't remember what happened to the previous efforts, but sometimes life can knock us flat on our back, and for some of us that is a galvanizing experience. I responded to her staunch motivation with my own and sent her some things for consideration. We talked about the intervening years and where we were. I thanked her for thinking of me and she said "no, it was my pleasure. I knew you had things to say when we met, I just wasn't ready to hear all of them," which was really touching on account of her being a genius (you know the kind of person you delight in the respect of, and you try your hardest not to say anything stupid around them for fear of losing it). So that was that. It felt good to tell her about my work up on Fictionaut and how much I had gotten done since we'd last talked. I even forgot to mention the stuff I did for Bleacher Report.

Another comment I received was something to the effect of "you're always creating. It's like a faucet you can't turn off," which came after I told a friend about the latest story idea. This was the second person I'd told about the blended science fiction fantasy concept I had going (whoever is reading this would be the third). It brings to mind a conversation about convention I had with another friend. He had studied film, and mentioned to me that certain types of movies have things they're supposed to do. I, of course, had little to no idea of what he was talking about (I just figured a movie's only jobs were to be compelling and captivating), but it did make me wonder if I'm violating convention the way I write about the things I write about, and whether or not that's a productive habit. I got a similar comment from yet another friend about what I've decided to do with my twitter account, which is to say poetry. This friend seemed to imply that I had chosen my forum poorly. It seemed to me that that's what made it appropriate. The through line of all these comments seems to be that I'm some kind of crazy. Of course, my own comments about my friends might also imply that I have a lot of them. Sometimes, what one says isn't nearly as important as how one says it.

So that was this weekend. I'm happy with it, and appreciative for the extra day off. I'm looking forward to Fall vacation, which is to say the span of time between these books I'm writing and the next I will write. I actually want to take a break, and not just because I know the next project would suffer if I started it immediately. I wonder about the components of creative execution. One needs a faucet, a font of energy to be sure, but wouldn't one also need some agency to direct that flow, too, and a willing one at that? Not unlike the trunk of an elephant: motivated, it could spray all sorts of things in a variety of patterns, but fettered, it would just drip wastefully about the wise feet. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

That damned asterisk

Well, I guess it had to end some time. And no, I'm not referring to whatever important event that's going on in the extroverted world. I'm talking about my weekly writing streak. Yesterday, I wrote, and it was the only time I worked at that all weekend and I only completed two chapters of the three. I didn't even make up for it this morning; I didn't even try.

On the one hand, it feels appropriate to list all the different things that led to the breaking of the streak of six months, the friends in hospitals, the power outages, the quasi family crises, but on the other hand, I wonder at the difference between an excuse and a reason. That's the line from the movie: it's not an excuse, it's a reason. And I can't say whether I have either or both, and ultimately those sorts of things are tools to get a given person to forgive us our mistake. And the only person I need to placate on this matter is me. Simply complicated.

Despite being late, and pressed though, I came away confident about the writing I did do. There's scripted to be two chapters left of each book, and an epilogue, which is roughly three more weeks of work. I ought to be able to fulfill my goal of being done before August, even with this setback. I'm getting a little better at not rushing, too. I realized I was getting ahead of myself when I was thinking about writing before I thought about what I'd be creating, and taking a quick step back, I noticed that I was leaving some important bits out. No point in coming all this way to screw it up at the end, I figure.

And on that note I came across an interesting conundrum of character. In the middle of a scene, I had a character freaking out over a situation, and had to stop myself, had to force myself to think "would this character freak out over this?" and to answer yes or no had to give a few moments to the character's cumulative experience, and personality, and mindset. I was a little dissappointed to come away with the realization that I didn't actually know her all that well. Still, those sorts of things can be notated and worked through in future edits (that is, if one is conscious about those notes and committed to those edits).

But all in all, I had a lot of pratfalls this weekend. I was paid a compliment by a writer friend who told me to 'take a break' because I was 'working too hard.' At least, I took it as a compliment. I imagine that when people say that, it means one's hard work has been noticed, and I would much rather be chided for working too hard than derided for not working hard enough.

I'm also finally on twitter. I have no idea how to use it, or what I'm supposed to be tweeting. I had the idea to put some poetry on there. Though, nothing I think of feels even an inch short of pretentious.


Monday, June 20, 2011

See what had happened

On Friday I was humbled. I was working in a friend's scene shop at his theater and saw something I was hard pressed to put into words. It was right then that I realized that I'm doing that all the time, every day: looking at things, thinking about things, and how I would describe them, in words to someone who hadn't been there to witness it. I guess to a certain extent that's what writing is, conveying something through words that only the writer can see, though, even that sounds wrong.

'Wood birthing steel' is what I came up with for the description of a spinning saw blade whirring up through a waiting block of wood, the stimulus only audible at first, and then, like a thin, steel head cresting out of its wooden mother, the experience became visual as I watched the biting metal create a burrowed slit. It was pretty cool, I must also add. I told my friend about the experience of looking at something I had no words, at the time, to give to someone else so they could experience it, too. It was an exciting challenge, one I wracked my brain over until I came up with the garbled gibberish I just gave to you. Likewise, the weekend was one of new challenges.

Because I didn't write that Friday. I was out very late (for me) on Thursday night, and woke up too drowsy and disoriented to write confidently. I'd been told that a person only needs about six hours of sleep to operate, but to function creatively the number rises to about nine. I believe it. Despite this faith, however, even with writing on Saturday morning in mind, I repeated my nighttime activity again Friday evening. I woke Saturday too early from too little sleep with a decision to make: man up and write with half a brain or risk trying to write three chapters Sunday morning. And I tried that once before already; it worked out about as well as I'm making it sound. So, I attempted to write, and made yet another discovery. The outlines called for three chapters to be written with different tones, some emotional, others dramatic. The one I tended to was mostly action-oriented, which, for me, has little to no discernable tone at all. There are loud noises and strange smells and bright lights but no real feelings, for the most part. Having committed to the edits on those this morning, I came away confident that I had made the right decision.

Sunday morning I finished up the writing, realizing that putting myself in a mindset where I could imagine a character crying, or wanting to but not, much more easily. I had a bigger resvoir of empathy and a better grip on my imagination. Also on Sunday I finished up my submission to a local book fair. It required a 100 word or less bio and a 175 word or less synopsis. The former wasn't so difficult; I spent most of the time finding the best adjectives and strongest metaphors. The latter created a problem of space. It just didn't feel like I had enough words. Without even trying, I overshot by a hundred and I was aiming at brevity. Getting that down to 175, and getting those 175 the best I felt they could be proved difficult. I didn't start that on Sunday, but I finally finished it, and sent it off this morning.

Looking back on what I was able to accomplish made me pleased. Only a few weeks left and I'll be ready to relax and start on something else (which is good because yet another story idea recently afflicted me, and has been growing in my brain). I do wonder if it was the presence of the challenges or the perceived triumph over them that makes me smile though. What the reason is, and what the reason should be.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Entertaija-vu

A few minutes ago, a sports story I wrote on Bleacher Report got 1000 reads. I know this because the site sent me an email saying so. The number even earned me a bronze medal. I don't know if it indicates anything about my writing skill as much as it apparently pays to write about polarizing figures and provocative subjects. It isn't my first story on the B/R, but it's the first one that garnered that much attention (which means I've never come close to even third place with my stories up to this point).

I segue from that thought to hearing recently about rumors about a new trend in 'rebooting' with movies. Stick with what works, is the central premise, beyond the basic idea that unless whatever idea continues to be used, rights revert back to the original owner of whatever intellectual property (translation: studios will lose the ability to print money). Combining that situation with the financial gamble making movies nowadays is creates a likelihood wherein people will very soon have occasion to wonder "haven't I seen this before?"

And I jump from that valid question to my own work. I was looking at reviews written about my book and noticed a common theme. At its least flattering, my style is referred to as 'strange' and 'weird' and 'odd,' and at the most complimentary descriptors of it have been 'fresh' and 'new' and 'interesting.' Of course, either negative or positive, all of these are hay needles and I don't have anything amounting to a readership yet to have any sort of way to know if the effort was a success or not. Recently, I spoke with a writer friend who had just finished the book that morning, and among other things we discussed what sorts of things those popular authors do that helps them sell. The techniques involved have a lot less to do with dynamic language and vivid metaphor than one might think.

Looks like it'll be another week of wondering if I'm doing things in a way that will ever turn a meaningful profit.  I take solace in the writing over the weekend having gone well. I haven't gotten to the edits quite yet, but thankfully I'm far enough along in the process that these pockets of time where the pace falters might as well not matter. I'm almost done, close enough to the end that for one of the books I have the last few chapters all ordered and outlined. When I talk about the stories now, I can discuss them beginning to end, I can look back on the out lines and nod. I can look at the folders filled with files that back in January seemed so terribly empty. It's a nice feeling.

Medals are nice, too, even fake ones made from only virtual, semi-precious metal. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

The prison of E

Yesterday, while on a date no less, a friend of mine noticed something that was both pretty cool and related to me. He even went so far as to send the picture mail to my phone. The image was of my book sitting on a shelf in a bookstore. I smiled, and replied, thanking him for carrying my book around and having the creativity audacity to sit his copy on the shelf and take a picture of it. He called me not five minutes later, still on the date, to clarify that the image was not of his book. The picture was of a stack of yet to be purchased volumes, legitimately for sale. I stick my foot in my mouth a lot; I've even used my own foot to wipe egg from my face. That conversation will stand out as one of the more positive occasions.

But perhaps I should also digress and explain. Firstly, I don't self-condemn that much anymore. The reason I jumped to my initial conclusion is because I had seen a picture of another author doing the same thing. I was almost inspired enough to do it myself, and my thought when I got the text was "oh, I must have told him about it at some point, and he went and did it." Small press authors like me and most authors I know don't benefit from corporate machines that put our books in check out lines and on television commercials and in newspapers. You won't meet a lot of people that have heard of the place that published me, or the sorts of places that would likely give me a second look at this point in my career.

And because of the small staffs and small budgets, the tendency to lean on technology is great. Ebooks is what I'm talking about. And for all the sales we might enjoy, all the congratulations we read on computer screens, seeing ones book on a shelf in a store is something I haven't heard much of. A month ago, to get my book without personal internet access, a body had to go to the store and order it through the clerks there, then wait until whatever process happened and the item was delivered and waiting to be picked up. Today, at least in one store I know of, that same body can walk in, perhaps on a lunch break, see the book on the shelf, and pay for it right then. The times are changing, to be sure, but there are still a lot of readers that don't browse the internet the way they browse book shelves. Certainly, of the people I know that have bought my book, only two picked up the digital version (and that was only because they couldn't figure out how to get the paperback).

And perhaps that's the reason for my own lack of initiative in regards to jumping into the future. Networking for the past few months has paid off, but more than one person has told me I need to be on Twitter. And more than once I've put in the url and stared at the log in page, hovering over the sign up link. I'm not sure if my defiance has waned or if my acceptance that it has to be done has grown to eclipse it. I had just gotten used to doing this blog, too, writing my thoughts down as if I was talking to more than ten people. But I guess that's part of the point; technology leaps forward, and keeping up isn't by nature a comfortable affair.

But at least I'll always have my stories. The chapters this past weekend went swimmingly, as did the editing this morning. I even did some outlining, too, and the ends are in sight. The ritual is all very nice and familiar. I also worked a bit on a submission for a local book fair. A co worker came in and asked me about whether or not I had talked to the people at the library on campus. I said no, of course, but we did make arrangements to make that awkward conversation happen on Wednesday. Maybe the trick is a little bit of old and a little bit of new. I was never one that went in from the deep end.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Downhill summer

Well, the blog is two days late, but the drafting I spent my brief vacation committing to worked out right on time. I'll take that trade. Two weeks, twelve chapters. And aside from the seasonal heat, I'm fairly ecstatic to be back to work. It was surprisingly stressful to be worried about failing to make the deadlines I set for myself, but on Memorial Day at 12:02 I finished the last edits on the last chapters I wrote, and didn't even pass out. I did exhale heavily, though. Also, I learned some things, possibly invaluable things.

I call the concept virtual distance. When a writer writes something, it's not perfect. Usually, it isn't even close to as good as it can be, hence the need for editors. And it's a fair question to wonder about why a writer, who supposedly puts words together so well, cannot edit their own work. A popular answer, and one that further expands on the concept, is that "the writer is too close to it." To a certain degree, all of us who do this sort of thing, when we look at at work, or talk about it, can remember massive amounts of it with high specificity. We know what we meant, in almost every case, and in a lot of cases, too, we also can easily recall how we put those sentences down. So much so, that when we go back and look at it, we will oftentimes fill in blanks, smooth over mistakes, and alter things in our mind as we go. We have a more difficult time being objective, so that other person, that editor, is needed to give neutral perspective.

With a lack of editor, time is a viable substitute. Virtual distance can be created by more or less forgetting what we wrote or how we wrote it, so when we look at it, we've become a stranger to our own words, an editor, as it were, and we can then hack and slash whatever it is into fit submission. The writing I did over the break, specifically, didn't take a week, but I also wanted to go back and look at each chapter I wrote, and with foreign eyes as well. That required space. That required time. Time I did not really have.

Which is how I happened upon my discovery, because along with all that writing I did, I also pragmaticaly went about trying to see friends during my free time as well. I might have even overachieved in that regard, too. Some days I would see two different groups of people, some days three. Hours of diverse stimulation and taxing distraction which helped me forget what I had been doing that morning. Those occassions, and another day or so, a night of rest, all culminated in my ability to go back and look at my chapters and frown, really frown at the confusing parts and be impressed by the impressive parts, congratulatory as if I was reading someone else's words. It was very effective overall, for the process, but also very tiring. And there wasn't even any alcohol involved (well, not much).

Of course, it's hard to really know whether or not something is really effective. Either way, I'm currently working through the outlines, denoting this month as the home stretch. All three of the stories are in their final acts, and the goal of finishing before August is well within reach. Things worked out a bit marvelously. Ever since starting at the beginning of the year, I had been outlining ahead of my chapters, but at the doubled pace, I did much more writing than planning, and caught up with myself. Now, I have some time to breathe and work through how it all shakes down.  

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rescue from free-time island

Monday is back again, and so is the summer heat. Last week this time it was pleasantly cool, albeit strangely. Personally, I wasn't complaining.Likewise, I was happy for the time off from work as well, though it hit me equally oddly.Two years ago in the month of June, following totaling my car in mid-May, I wrote a whole book in a month. I am not sure from where the energy came. All I know is that it is no longer with me.

I called for writing doubling the pace for these two weeks. Normally I do three chapters a week, so roughly six to seven thousand words, leaving the rest for mental recuperation and work, so doubling that would be mean six chapters, and roughly thirteen thousand words. I realized later that this was basically the same pace I had going when my mind was in better shape. Before that though, I realized that I would be more than happy to have the excuse to slow down when I returned to the job for the summer semester.

Just recently I finished edits on the three chapters written most recently, and right on the heels of that is staring at the outlines and thinking about what to do next in what order, when normally I would have a different kind of labor at hand. Educating is no less involved, but it is different. What I'm looking ahead to now and is more writing, and the pressure associated with wanting to do it well. Likely, I'll take tomorrow off and begin Wednesday with a mind to finish up by Friday, which will lead to one, last desperate push before I go back to work on Tuesday, like shoving at the wet sand of a beach, fighting to keep my head above the lapping waves before passing out.

This added pressure I mentioned comes from the reviews of my book I'm finally getting, I think. I'm writing sequels now which will likely not be published for several years, but even more than that I'm seeing where the story is going and how it is benefiting from my constantly improving skill. The book that people are reading now was drafted years ago when I didn't exercise my talent as well. The fear creeping up within me is that the first book isn't good enough to make people want to stay to read the next, and the next, and so forth. A friend of mine pointed out, very sensibly, that this is counterintuitive. It only makes sense that a series would get better as time goes on as the author gets more practice. I believed his words, but remembered several series I've read that decrease substantially in quality as the volumes trudge on.

Another thing I've come face to face with recently is how differently readers read. Of my principle characters, there have been readers  that like some of them, and hate some of them.What is confusing to one person is clear to another. I've yet to get much feedback that sounds similar from two different people. Somehow, I feel like if I crammed all my readers together, I'd have one giant mutant that got more or less everything I wrote down. However, I'm happy to report that they all gave the book varying degrees of passing grades, though (a D is still passing, right?). Sometimes, I guess when they say you can't please everyone, they literally mean it.

In other news, I've moved forward with a couple reviewers in regards to getting them to look at the book, and I've also moved backwards with a few agents in that they've rejected me. Which is to say, things otherwise are continuing as per normal. A few advancements, a few setbacks, but at the end of the day I feel confident that I'm still facing the right way. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Planning to plan to pray

Yesterday, I had day one of my vacation and took a break... from blogging. Sunday was a bit hectic; I attended the second to last wedding on the horizon and spent the rest of the day seeing other friends before I sped home and commenced to the Sunday night editing I still haven't completely meshed with my weekly routine. Yesterday morning, with fresher eyes, I finished that up, along with more careful drafting of the chapters I squeezed into this past weekend. A bit sleepy and somewhat worn down, I put doing this off until today. It seems hardly the time or place to congratulate someone publicly (I also only have seven readers I'm aware of), but it was a very nice ceremony at a local park, followed by excellent barbecue and a prayer circle to ward off rain.So congrats to Daniel and Kandis.

Today has been much more relaxing. I committed to doubling the writing pace, using this week to do three chapters, and this weekend to do the three that I'd be doing anyway, and applying that regimen to this week and next. I was very pleased that this first week had training wheels on it, though, because I wasn't sure how comfortable I was to just declare I would do something, and then do it. Last year, finishing up the previous three books in the series (also at the same time; no I did not learn my lesson) I penned an epilogue which I mistimed. Fortunately, a friend helped me realize that that was not the time to tell that part of the story. I saved it, and kept it in mind, because I felt strongly that it belonged in the telling somewhere, and low and behold it's time has come. At least I think it has. Either way, I stuck it into the story and looked at it from multiple angles, tightened and sharpened it and let it be until I look at it again, hopefully on Thursday. That was an interesting experience, because I work very hard on telling things in a prescribed order. I think about the story in great detail, then I try to pick the most exciting part, and I try to tell it in a way that makes sense. If that makes sense.

Before a writer friend left town for job training, I cornered him in his apartment and forced him to read my query letter for my sci-fi novel. He avoided using hackneyed and trite, but synonyms did come out of his mouth. I wasn't taken aback, though I was a bit surprised. We talked about it, and I got some good feedback about why he thought that way. I gave him the low down on the story in an effort to get his opinion on how I could present the book in a better way to an agent, and he gave me a lot of confidence regarding his opinion that the story wasn't typical or predictable at all, which made me feel good. I did not, however, get around to changing much of the letter before sending it off to a handful of agents. So I guess I'll be crossing my fingers when it doesn't inconvenience me. About those queries, and about the latest round of short stories I submitted. And I guess about the requests my publisher told me they received from a few review sites.

Also, I am formerly announcing my goal this year to finally attend Dragon Con, with a plan in mind to attend the convention next year and actually have an author table. A friend sent me a link to a page where authors can register for Gen Con, and using the super power of laziness I applied that idea to the convention that wouldn't require plane tickets or tanks of gas. Hopefully the double-edgedness of my amazing ability will not come back to bite me come this and next August. I guess that's the price of power. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Backwards, into the future

It was a long weekend, but also a good one. Writing got done, friends got seen, and I even had time to visit an antique store and blow through a dresser full of old postcards to gift something unique for the holiday. I also possibly had my last outsourcing experience at the theater where one of my friends works. It's something I do from time to time, initially as a volunteer and later earning actual compensation. I sort of fell into it, really, wanting to learn how it all worked. But it became very rewarding. I work so much with abstract things that I found the flip side of the coin a nice, occasional, change of pace. I even got a cool picture of myself grinding a steel balcony set piece to make it smooth and actor friendly.

But before I had my last day there, I edited the chapters affected in tight spots between seeing old friends and working. Objectively speaking, I think the chapters came out fairly well. Sometimes a chapter is enjoyable to write; it has interesting plot points and does the work of advancing the story from a certain character's perspective. Sometimes a chapter is less enjoyable to write, though, because sometimes things need to be told not because they're cool or awesome but for the sake of those cool and awesome things. A complete basketball game, even one for the ages, has its boring spots, even for the players. I have to admit that I did somewhat rush the editing. I had limited time because of a previous obligation along with other editing I recently agreed to do and I realized that it takes more time to chew through those chapters than I thought.

So I guess I'll hope my editing chops are up to the task. And I say editing chops because I recently had a friend ask me to look at his work for him. He's a classmate from college and is far more famous than I, yet he thought enough of me to get me to comb over his words on a weekly basis. What's more he called to express his appreciation. I was surprised, pleasantly. It's been a while since someone has complimented me on something like that, or at all, come to think of it. But I guess with the critiquing I've been doing for years, and working with my other writing friends on their stuff, it isn't so strange.

In other writing updates, I believe this week I'm going to try to start sending out queries, after I look over my letter again. I didn't get as many eyes on it as I would've liked, but sometimes I feel like if you want to get something done, the best way is not to wait on other people. And speaking of getting things done (or not) I never did start that outline for the next novel. However, I checked the handy dandy calendar on my phone, and it seems that after this last week of work for the spring semester, I ought to have at least a couple weeks of nothing so I can commit to things like that. I'm also going to try to double the pace of the current works in progress with a goal in mind to finish by August. I feel the need to say again that this three books simultaneously idea was really stupid. And if there's anyone anywhere reading these words (even in the far off alien wasteland future) heed my words: don't do it. However, if I can pull this off, and stay on track, by 2012 I'll have four books done this year, which overall is not a fantastic pace, but I would count it a productive 2011. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tidy bows of fallacious colors

Another good weekend is wrapping up. Despite working on a Saturday, which was a strangely disorienting phenomenon, my planning early in the semester paid off and I still managed to get two chapters done on Friday, and the third yesterday. That marks twelve consecutive weeks of writing, sticking to a pace I set for myself. I feel like it's very important or at least is habit forming, because once getting things done is a routine most everything because a shade easier. I think a lot of people sit around at the end of the way wondering where all the time went mostly because they're used to thinking about doing things rather than doing them.

Then again, I was proved wrong in a really huge way this weekend also, so I might not know what I'm talking about after all. And it didn't concern directions or the year something happened or even the price of a food item. It was writing-related. From looking at my posts here and there, listening to the comments I make and how I make them, you might have gathered that I'm a nerd. And not the good kind either. My areas of over-specificity have to do with the hobby and the collectible, the types of things that require one to crowd around tables and hardly ever date.And what I learned this weekend was my particular brand of nerd has a certain skewed understanding of entertainment. Or should I say fallacious.

Because the theory passed along to me by a good friend was simply called the Nerd Fallacy. This fallacy is the reason why for certain movies and shows like Star Trek or Stargate have vast, fact-obsessed followings that compile living knowledge hubs for their obsessions, or wikis: pages upon pages of documented material where people not unlike myself painstakingly post things that can be construed as facts for those settings and worlds. The facts each have documentation, a certain episode, a certain line, which is used much like an academic uses canon. Superman's costume is never destroyed because of said in this issue published on that date. The Millenium Falcon goes this fast, which is why it can outrun Imperial cruisers, which were mentioned to travel at this speed. And I can admit that there is a certain security in facts. Academia has a similar characteristic. A scholar cannot make unqualified statements. Their own ideas must be backed up by reputable sources that are even more credible than them. I suppose that's why the two major sides of me interface so easily.

However the theory is called a fallacy because most people (the teeming masses, the buying public, the receivers) don't care about that level of specificity. Or, I should say, it does not affect their level of enjoyment such that the popularity of the work itself is hurt. All of this connected for me because I was watching some popular media with a friend, some very, very popular media. And my face was twisted up the entire time; I was cringing at every scene, every new development in a story that seemed slapped together and ill-conceived. I was frustrated by its popularity because I didn't think the creators tried hard enough, believing in compensation being commensurate with a combination of craft and effort. What I realized, after being told the Nerd Fallacy, is that it wasn't put together poorly, it was put together well enough to sell.

Months ago, before I started these novels I'm working on now, I had a conversation with a friend about another very popular author who stated an indifference about things carrying forward from book to book in his series. I had a bad reaction to that, and out of some obsessed impulse went back and read over everything I'd written before writing just so that I wouldn't leave anything out. I was concerned with the through lines; I wanted things to be consistent. I realize now what I was doing back then, and why. Now, I think I've resigned myself to just being that writer, however I won't, even secretly, criticize others for something that makes no difference. What matters, ultimately, is whether or not it makes sense for the reader. And if that's achieved, it's possible that any additional effort is wasted.

But I don't know, and for the time being I think I'm fine with that. In other news, I got my first official review. That is to say, from someone who doesn't know me and who has a name, or who writes for a group that has a name. There wasn't a whole lot to it, however my book did garner 4 out of 5 stars. It was described as "not your typical supernatural tale" and "had [her] guessing throughout." which I was told are both good things.

I'll take it.