Saturday, March 25, 2017

Loss, Strength and Ben Kenobi

I didn't blog in 2016. I didn't have the time. I didn't have the strength. 

First, my mother got cancer, then my father developed terminal cancer suddenly. Then I got cancer, and then my brother got cancer. All of this happened in a six-month span last year. The day I found out that my brother also had cancer, I started screaming and screaming and couldn't stop. I think I continued screaming in my mind for a long, long time. 

All four of us, my entire family of origin, were dealing with our own cancer treatments, appointments and surgeries. Mine is thankfully gone for now. Mom's is gone for now. The same is not true for my brother or father. My father died on Thanksgiving Day with me holding his hands and my brother and mother on the other side of him, watching those last breaths. 

After that, I ran out into the woods and sat alone for hours. I spent the next four days high on pain pills, sitting in the woods by myself. I knew what this was. I knew exactly what I had to do and what life would be like. My father had been the cornerstone of us all, the one who taught us all everything, who knew everything and took care of everything. Anything you wanted to learn and anything you really needed came from him. All of that was over. I was now the man of the family. 

Ben Kenobi had to die to make Luke continue on his own, to learn and grow and take care of his own sh*t. Gandalf had to die, for a while, to leave the hobbits on their own to discover their own destinies. Dumbledore had to die to make Harry Potter a man. That's what this was. I had to take care of everyone now. Unfortunately, I couldn't leave the woods. I couldn't comfort anyone. I didn't speak to anyone for about a month and didn't write a word. 

But, strength always resurfaces. If it's there, it doesn't go away. Despite three surgeries in less than a year, I'm coming back. I've written three stories this year, and I'm discovering what it really means to be the cornerstone of a family. It means sometimes not being liked, sometimes being rebelled against and taking a hard line when needed. I've had to tell the family, Rick Grimes style, that this is not a democracy. My kids, jokingly, asked whether this was a Ricktatorship. 

You're goddamn right it is. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Critiques, Complaints and a Sale

Since I last blogged, I've sold another short story and attended a meeting with my local critiquing group about literary magazines. The story I sold was a straight sci-fi piece, bringing my sold genres to: horror, sci-fi, fantasy, mainstream, YA fantasy and a weird sci-fi/fantasy mashup.


I've always sought out critiques from the people around me. In high school I made my friends tell me what they thought about stories I was working on. In college I made my roommate do it. In the past few years, I've made my kids and a friend do it. But earlier this year, I branched out into an actual critique group where you have to get dressed and do your hair and drive somewhere. 

The process of it was just like what they did on Girls; everyone sat around a big table and discussed each work in turn with each person talking about what could be improved and anything they liked about the work. It was actually the most fun I'd had in a while because I'm a giant nerd and talking about plot points, tones and character creation for hours was super fun.

But here's the thing, because isn't there always one? It occurred to me over the next couple of days that having my work picked apart and every little part of a line that didn't work and every little plot point that people didn't agree with kind of aggravated me. It wasn't that I wanted people to like the story more or that I didn't like it being critiqued. Quite the contrary- I know very well that not everyone can possibly like the same work (I actually know someone who hates Harry Potter and found the books to be awful.), and I do want to know what can be improved in any story. 

No, the problem was that it started occurring to me that this is the only branch of the arts where every little thing is picked apart and a work isn't considered a good one if there is any little thing that people don't like. Consider the world of music. Are there critique groups that pick apart songs and tell the singer that a note near the end wasn't very good or a line didn't sound sincere? Do directors solicit critiques about every scene they create and find out which shots aren't perfect? Do painters have their brushstrokes critiqued and have people tell them which parts of the painting didn't work? So, why then do writers do this?

I do like being critiqued. I  am actually going back this week to be picked apart again and this time with a story that isn't as good as the one they saw last month. I'm looking forward to telling them that I sold the story I submitted to them last time and hearing what they think of the latest weird offering. But I am annoyed by the idea that this is the only branch of the arts that is so savaged and so willing to have its minutia combed through. Sure, it may make your work better to hear what's wrong with it. Maybe. I'm not sure. I think any improvements that I've made over the years, though, have been because I read what I'd done and it didn't have the desired response from me. I rewrote items until they did. In the end, that may be the only real way to improve- write until you have something you enjoy reading. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I Literally Forgot I Had a Blog

I haven't blogged in a while, and the title tells you why. In addition to this being the roughest market for finding content work that I've ever seen, I've had the novel monkey on my back as well as trying to shop short stories.

I do love crafting a short stories, but there are a few problems with doing so. I am considering not creating as many of them to focus more on the two novels I've been working on for the last couple of years.

Here's the trouble with short stories:
  • They pay crap. It's unbelievable how little most publishers will pay for a short story. I generally won't submit to a market that pays like five bucks (yes, there are tons of those). There are actually a lot of them now that pay nothing at all- and they are still choosy and demand your best work. Nope, not subbing to them either. I always sub to the high payers first, get rejected by them and then start subbing to the mid-paying markets. Those markets, however, are still going to be low paying and not truly worth the time it took you to write the work and submit it out from a monetary standpoint. I have bills, man. Lots of bills.
  • The submissions process is grueling. Speciality magazines, ezines and fancy literary magazines are the markets that I have primarily been submitting to with short stories. They are so specialized in both topics and voice that it's tough to get on with most of them. This has made it necessary to submit most of my work to dozens of them, and that takes dozens of hours. This has further reduced writing income by keeping me from doing my paid, non-fiction work to spend hour after hour querying, signing up for every site's submission system and altering cover letters to suit each. Again, bills, man.
  • It's been a distraction from my novels. Since I've been writing and subbing out short stories, I've sold five or six and have another four or so that I've been subbing out. That is a significant amount of time that has been taken away from the novels that I need to finish. One of them is a strong edit away from being done, and the other is still just an adolescent learning to walk in high heels. They both need time and attention.
Once I get my remaining stories either sold or thrown in the trash and lit on fire, I think I may just retreat from short fiction for a while. At least, until all of the rights revert back to me and I can sub them all out again as reprints. :o

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I Sold Some Mother@#$#ing Fiction

One of my biggest goals in life has been to get some fiction published. As many writers quickly discover, non-fiction is what pays the bills. With a growing family, I've been highly dedicated to writing the non-fiction that buys shoes and calamari (seriously- I am all about calamari). But with a milestone birthday this year (no, I won't say which one) and still no fiction sold, I took it upon myself late last year to get into high gear with getting fiction out there.

I started submitting short stories to publishers in my late teens, and in those days you had to physically print the stuff out and mail it in. It was tough for me to afford as a student, and I didn't grab much interest from publishers. I gave up in pursuit of non-fiction, and I haven't submitted any fiction again until last last year. These days, it is so much easier with electronic submissions. I had two short stories that I shopped for months, and I kept getting rejections for them over and over again.

One of the stories I believed in with all of my heart. I just believed that it was worth my time and trouble and the dozens of rejections it was getting. I got comments from publishers that it was basically useless, and one publisher actually said "No one wants to read about vampires anymore." I got several rejections because my protagonist wasn't some kind of warrior woman. No, she was just a regular woman without any super powers or astonishing strength. Isn't there any room for that in fiction, I started to wonder? Do all female protagonists have to be warriors or superwomen? Really?

But I believed in that story because it was intricate and extremely detailed and full of truth. I believed in it because I felt it and because I saw something in it that was rich and full and engulfing. I submitted it to various publishers for 10 months and finally gave up. They weren't seeing what I saw. I wasn't going to submit it anymore.


Then, one day, after I had given up, a publisher sent me an email that made by throat catch. I was sitting down with my laptop when I saw what I thought was the third rejection I'd get that day. It wasn't. It was the most amazing email I've ever gotten. It was from a publisher who went on and on and on about how amazing the story was and how lucky they'd be if I sold it to them. I had to get up and walk around because I couldn't tell if I was breathing. Someone else saw what I saw, and they wanted to pay for it and put it in print.


Within a few days, the second story I wrote was accepted by another publisher. Then, two little flash stories that I had submitted were accepted by still another. All four acceptances happened within about a week.

One of the more interesting things was the reactions that people had when I told them the news. When I first start telling people that I had sold some fiction, the first question every single person asked was, "For how much?" I wasn't selling a lamp on eBay. Selling fiction isn't really about the amount you get. To put it in perspective, the other day I wrote an article about how to write fiction, and that sold for more than any one fiction story that I've sold so far. Non-fiction may pay the bills, but it's amazing to know that publishers believe in your fiction so much that they will pay for it and foot the bill for publishing it.

The other question I kept getting when I announced subsequent sales is whether it was the same publisher who was buying it all. I don't know that people understood how insulting that was. No, family and friends, there are multiple publishers willing to pay- not just one guy somewhere who wants to buy it all. WTF?

Being able to sell some fiction has given me a serious boost of confidence for the two novels that I've been working on. It's shown me that believing in a work is a real force, and that if you have a strong piece that you really believe in, it's possible to find a good home for it even when that home seems unlikely.  It's possible to find a publisher who sees it for exactly what it is.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hoping I'm Not a Crazy Person

Ok, so I have a serious issue with self-promotion. Like, a serious issue. The thought of it makes my skin crawl. However, increasingly, I am having to skip over jobs, potential agents and even potential publishing houses because they demand a Web presence. They want you to whore yourself out like you're wearing 8" heels. Get out in the streets, writers, and tell every passing car how good you are.

I can't do it. I can't even tell people in person that I would be good for their projects. I have had two new projects locally in the past month, and both times I just gave them a couple of sentences about my experience and let them make up their minds. I can't bring myself to do more than that to promote myself. Sooooo, rather than be stopped by the discomfort and nausea that comes from self-promotion, I'm going to start promoting someone else.

I chose a kick-ass pen name that totally sounds like a real person, and I started building a Web presence for her this week. She has a Twitter account now, and she actually has a decent number of followers already. I will next get her a Facebook page, and then I can start shouting into passing cars. By the time I'm finished with the two novels that I am almost finished with, I will be able to point out "my" Web presence and show that I will be able to market the material. I don't know how I will feel yet about actively promoting her and telling my followers to read my stuff and all of that, but I think I can do it if I pretend that I am promoting someone else entirely. I've never had a problem promoting others through PR writing, press conferences, etc., so it should be a lot easier and less nauseating.

I hope this means that I'm not a crazy person. It seems a little schizophrenic to do things this way, but I don't really see an alternative at the moment. Plus, it seems like it will be kind of fun. And if I am a little crazy? Eh. Everyone interesting is.

UPDATE: It just occurred to me that she should have a blog! What should she blog about? How awesome she is? How much fun is to buy books and short stories? I think she'll have seven dogs and enjoy hiking or some other outdoor crap.

Monday, January 13, 2014

New Year, New Sensation of Death

I had a pretty good handle on my New Year's resolutions. I always take them pretty seriously. I put a lot of thought into them, make lists and sometimes even get them laminated. Seriously. This year's resolutions, other than to stop eating stale Cadbury Eggs and such for breakfast, were to keep my income more even and to sell some fiction this year without fail. I can't count how many nonfiction pieces I've sold over the years, but I've never actually sold any fiction. I've been paid for editing fiction. I've been paid for writing about fiction. However, I have very rarely put fiction out there, and so I've never actually sold any. I think that by working on my fiction slowly but steadily instead of binge writing it, I can keep my pay-the-bills writing going well, keep my income more steady and still finish some fiction pieces.

Then, just a few days into the new year, I got sick. This wasn't the cough and/or throw up kind of ill- it was an unexpected reoccurrence of a life-threatening infection that I've had twice before. I spent almost a week in the hospital, and now I'm out with some gross tubes in my arms. It's almost like the fiction gods were telling me to stop planning crap and to give up because I'm obviously never going to get anything done. Well, I spit in the face of the fiction gods!

Plants Vs. Characters

When I realized I'd be in the hospital for a few days, I quickly realized that I wouldn't be able to write a thing. For the first two days, I could barely lift my phone. However, I figured that if I couldn't write, and I had a few days to lay around and think, this would be a great time to just think about my characters. I could think about what they were doing, whether their dialogue was working, think about new adventures for them, etc. It would be a restful way to consider my work in-depth and to perhaps make some slow progress. The thing about that is that it's insane and wrong. After a day of IV drugs, the thing I was most thinking about was OMG, what if leaves could move around by themselves! That would be SO CREEPY!!!!11!

Inspiration Comes From Macabre Places

Ok, so no character development, no new characters, no in-depth inspection of major plot points. But what I did come out with was something unexpected. The point when I absolutely knew that the infection was back and it was what was causing my fever and chills was when I noticed that there was an ever-so-slight veil between me and the rest of the world. I'd noticed that the two other times this sickness came on, and I noticed it getting much worse as the illness progressed. I was a part of the world but not fully in it. I imagine that if I hadn't made it that first time (and it was actually kind of close), that sensation would have continued until I was simply no longer a part of the world. I think this will actually come in pretty handy when I eventually work on a novel I have planned that will feature an outbreak of a creepy, well-known disease as a major plot point. Thinking about that feeling of being removed and separated from the world is actually kind of inspiring. It gets me inside a character in a much more intimate way than before. Inspiration can come from absolutely anywhere, so never stop looking for it no matter how unappealing or weird the situation may be.

Monday, September 9, 2013

DragonCon, DragonCon!

For the past few years I've been hitting DragonCon, a hard-to-describe con that is broken up into about 20 tracks that allow anyone who isn't boring to find stuff that fascinates them. The writer's track is full of panels that include writers, editors and agents. Some of the writers are pretty well known, others are low-level novelists who are still pretty interesting to hear from. I got to see Mercedes Lackey and other assorted writers who were fascinating to hear from and to grab little bits of advice from. Adding to the fun of DragonCon is that a large percentage of people dress up in costumes of every possible description from Spock to dinosaurs.

The Problem
Of course there was a problem. It's me. Usually when I go out of town, I worry about getting sick. Something about leaving town always makes me sick with sinus infections, colds and other assorted crap, but that wasn't even on the radar this year. I was just hoping that I'd be able to walk and stand well enough to get through the con. Waiting in line, walking from panel to panel and just standing around looking at costumes seemed like insurmountable obstacles after spending months unable to walk and then more than a month in physical therapy.
I told my physical therapist that I'd need to walk around for several hours a day, stand in line and make a long trek down an uneven street just to get my con badge and OH MY GOD I WILL HAVE TO WALK ALL DAY AND MY MUSCLES DON'T EVEN WORK!!1!!!1!! He thought it would be difficult, but he started me on various machines and recommended walking down the street every day to try to get used to it. I trained daily for more than a month and even went to the mall to ride the escalators to get ready for the multiple escalators at the con. The escalators are always crammed with people and if you can't jump off in time, OMG, the carnage!
So, I get there, trying not to limp and walking like a cartoon character, and was all set to take my walk down an uneven street in a crowd and then stand in line on an ankle that was still slightly broken. I told a friend that I had been training for this for a while and that I was confident that I could make it. She looked at me like, well, like I'd just said I'd been training for a month to walk down the street. The line was more than an hour, but all of that training helped me to do it. And all the vodka.

Mercedes Lackey Gives Me the Eye
Two Days
Once that obstacle was over, I had a lot of confidence that I could get through the con, listen to the writers I wanted to learn from and not look like too much of a freak doing so. I lurched around the con dressed like Edina Monsoon and saw amazing writers, a startlingly realistic Spock, two inexplicably naked women dressed in body paint, about 45 Khaleesis, some Tenenbaums(!), more superheroes than I ever care to see again, one of the Ghostbusters and a guy dressed like Sharknado.

I met Julian Sands and impulsively said, "I liked you! Like, a lot!" to the seventh Doctor as he rolled past me on a Hoveround.

Then I got sick.
I got two and a half good days in before I was hit by bronchitis and had to severely medicate myself in order to function. Then I got to hear "Why do you look sad?" every four minutes because apparently I looked as spacey as I felt. If you've ever had to suffer through bronchitis while being woken up all night by drunken roommates who thought they were whispering as they philosophized about life and then get told about all the fun you're missing downstairs, and who hasn't, you might understand why I was ready to leave when the day came. Usually I hate to leave and get back into the normal world where absolutely everyone is wearing clothes and no one is dressed up as anything, but this year I was pretty fine with it.