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.