It Takes a Village

Writing is a lonely art form. Everything about it is so internal and solitary. It takes you away from everything and demands you give it your whole attention, sucking every bit of creative ichor your mind can possibly spare.

Then, of course, when the story has finally drawn forth the last of your vital juices and declared itself complete, you present it humbly to the public.

Who, not knowing how much of your soul is left open and bleeding on the page, spit on it. Not because it’s bad, well maybe it is, I don’t know how pleasant your soul and ichor are, but because it’s not what it could be, what it should be.

You see, because this wonderful beautiful thing you’ve created has only been inside your mind, it’s a bit stunted. It’s like whiskey aged in a glass jar. It’s not been allowed to breathe.

This is where community in writing becomes so damn important. You cannot, I repeat, cannot hope to bring out the best in your story without showing it to others. You cannot hope to make your story full, deep, and real unless you get outside of your own head and let others take a peek.

Join a writing group and let them see your precious little babies. Let them tell you every wrinkle and line on them that shouldn’t be where it is. Let them tell you how adorable and precious each one is as they, in the same breath, tell you that it will never grow up to be president, but it’s got a good shot at city council. Let them tell you all the bad things, but also let them show you the good. Revel in the feeling that these people are taking a thing you’ve created and are making it a part of themselves. Something you did caused all those synapses to fire that conjured that emotion, or that image, or those hopes. Your little keyboard babies are spreading a small amount of joy, and by allowing someone else to babysit them for a moment, you are enriching both their lives. These are the things you need to see; they are the things that keep you grounded. But they are also the things that force you to see your writing for what it is: something to be shared.

It takes a village to raise a story.

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Wow, It’s Been a While

So… yeah.

I just realized a little bit ago that it’s been something like 6 months since I’ve posted on this blog… In my defense, I’ve been extremely busy with work and family and such. I mean, we had a new baby recently(that makes 3 little ones running around, 1 with my ex, and 2 with my current, wonderful, beautiful wife) and with trying to write stories, read stories, prepare for writing group critiques, find time to try and be a reasonably good father, and having a full time job where I’ve been putting in overtime, I’ve let the blog slide to the back burner.

So… (I realize I do that a lot, so + ellipses. That’s probably a habit I should get out of at some point, but today won’t be that day) I’m going to use this as an opportunity to vent.

Topic 1)

New baby.

My wife’s pregnancy wasn’t “easy”. I mean, what pregnancy is easy (aside from those thrice-blessed women who never seem disheveled at all and never gain weight and hardly show and seem to have quick births. And even then, can you call those easy? I don’t think so.)? She was diagnosed with pre-Eclampsia with our first, and, it didn’t disappear in between babies. It actually got worse. So, after about 20 weeks, her OB was like “You’re not on bed rest yet, but don’t get up if you don’t have to.” Yeah, cuz that’s easy with 2 kids… Anyway, after 34 weeks, she ended up in the hospital with elevated blood pressure that wouldn’t come down. So now Mom is out of commission, leaving Dad to pick up the slack. This wasn’t a first for me (I was a single dad when my wife and I met), but it’s not easy.

Then they induced at 35 weeks. Surprise! You get a baby a month before you had planned to!

But, baby and Mommy are healthy, so it all worked out.

Topic 2)

My father-in-law.

In late 2013, my wife’s father started having numbness in his arm. Then it got worse and he started to lose control of it. Doctors found a tumor in his brain.

Good news: it’s easily operable. Bad news: it’s malignant.

Fucking brain cancer. You’ve gotta be shitting me.

After surgery, he goes straight into radiation and chemotherapy treatments. He makes it through the brain burning and attempted medicinal poisoning, but he’s been getting weaker and weaker, partially the meds and partially because his brain isn’t speaking to his limbs well enough for him to work the muscles. Initial MRI results are promising.

Second round of MRI results show new tumor growth. My wife found this out a couple of days ago, and life has been less than happy since.

Topic 3)

Work.

I recently got one of those “promotions” at work where your boss is like “Hey, so-and-so is quitting and you’re like the only person who isn’t on a mega-important task who can do the job, so take on all of his old responsibilities. Yeah, this isn’t going to pay you any more, but will require significantly more of your time.”

Gee, thanks Lumbergh.

No, I mean seriously, I’m grateful for the opportunity because it could mean promotion for me in the near future, but the timing sucks. See topics 1 and 2. Baby is born in mid-May, pseudo-promotion comes two weeks later, news with father-in-law comes three weeks after that… It never rains, but it certainly does pour.

Phew! It feels good to get all of that out. That doesn’t mean I’m going to magically get more time to work on actual writing projects in the near future (sorry writing group!), but maybe I’ll be in a better state of mind when I do manage to find the time.

Deep breaths. This too shall pass.

 

On Jumping to Conclusions

People, as a general rule, are really bad about jumping to conclusions. Whenever someone says something in a public venue (like the internet, for example), the general populace is very quick to assume they know what that person is trying to convey. They make inferences that may not have been intended, leaving the speaker completely dumbfounded as to how someone could have thought that’s what they meant. They then must embark on a PR campaign to try and clear their sullied name because some asshole decided they knew the speaker better than they really did.

I’m not going to mention any names, or point to any specific instance of this, but it happens all the freaking time. It’s orders of magnitude worse when the topic is something racy like gender stereotypes, sexuality, human rights, abortion rights, reproductive rights, First Amendment rights, Second Amendment rights, rape, pedophilia, animal cruelty, etc. The list of people’s hot-button topics goes on for a long, long way. And anytime anyone says anything that maybe kinda-sorta touches on one of those topics, people always assume the worst.

The speaker, then, must wade through a blizzard of negative tweets, retweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, Tumblr posts, and gossip columns bashing them for being anti-(insert groupthink topic here) when, in reality, they meant nothing of the kind. This very thing has ruined careers, friendships, and relationships that should not have been strained because people were in violent agreement and simply unwilling to listen.

So, here’s what I’m trying to say to you all: stop, think, and ask. When someone says something that you think can’t possibly be what they really meant to say, ASK THEM A QUESTION! Clarify. Don’t be a smart ass and make some sort of sarcastic retort that will only fuel a fire they probably never even meant to set. Be courteous, respectful, and understand that some people don’t have the exact same thought process that you do. They may relate things differently in their mind and when they said something that you thought was belittling an ideology, maybe they simply consider their analogous subject to be much more important than you do.

Not only that, but (this seems so obvious to me, but it’s been the center of many a political and social media scandal) make sure you understand the true definition and usage of all the words they used. I know I said I wasn’t going to use examples, so all I’ll say here is “niggardly”. It DOES NOT mean what many people think it means. Given the current socio-political climate, it’s probably a word best left out of your vocabulary, BUT, it’s a valid word that has a perfectly inoffensive meaning. Still, best left unused in a public arena because things can be misconstrued by people who love to jump to conclusions about someone’s beliefs and world views.

The next time someone makes a statement, or posts a comic, or tweets something that you think is so unbelievably insensitive or crass, do me a favor. Step back, breathe, formulate a response, and make sure that response goes something on the order of “What you said came across in a way I was not sure you intended. To clarify, your statement seemed to make insinuation XY. This insinuation could be incredibly offensive to people who YZ. Could you please make clear what you wished to convey here, as it relates to this group?”

If they come back and say that the ignorant bigotry you pointed out was exactly what they intended, then by all means skewer them in any forum you deem suitable, but remember, your words can be misconstrued as well. So don’t say anything you might regret later.

First World Writer Problems

So, I went to WorldCon back in September. While there I learned a ton about the industry, agents, editors, other authors, and all that writing stuff. I met a boat-load of writers, a few of whom have kept in touch, and we started a writing group that is pretty great. In short, I had a blast.

I also learned what agents are looking for, and got a better idea of how to make an agent want to read my book. So, of course, I got back home and sent out a half-dozen queries with my newly refined and sharply honed pitch. I included such information as ‘I heard about you through XYZ author you/your agency represents and they spoke highly of you’ and ‘I’m looking for an agent who can help me grow into a career writer’.

And it worked. I got several partial requests and waited for the glory.

But alas, it did not come.

So, back to the other writers I met and the group we started. We’ve had a few meetings now, and things are going really well. They’ve pointed out all many of the reasons my story was not hooking agents in the first chapter and I’ve fixed most of those. Good news, right? Well, yes and no.

See, now I’m in the middle of a rewrite after they pointed out some weak motivations in one of my primary characters. I know where I’m going with it, but it’s going to take time to fix. Which wouldn’t be an issue if I hadn’t just gotten a partial request last week from an agent.

This is a first world writer problem. I had a manuscript for an agent, sent the query, but by the time she decided she wanted to read more, I had already started fixing all much of the bad stuff in my manuscript. In essence, I’ve shot myself in the foot, because I can’t send in the partial without a completed full to back it up! I’m wishing I had found such a great writing group a long time ago.

The best I can do at this point is finish my revision as quickly as I can and get it sent out before she loses interest. Publishing is a slow business, though, right? I mean, I’ve got some time, don’t I?

Maybe I better go work on that revision…

Writing Group

So, next week is the inaugural meetup of the online writing group I and a couple other people have put together. The four of us met up at Worldcon in San Antonio and we kept in touch and decided we would start constructively criticizing each other’s writing.

The plan, as it exists now, is to send out links to our work on Google Drive and read it ahead of time. Then, when meeting time comes, we’ll all get on Google Hangouts and video chat about what we meant by all the harsh and painful comments we left on each other’s brilliant prose.

So, to get the ball rolling, I sent out my link to the other 3 and over the course of the last couple of days, they’ve responded with their own. Huzzah! First task complete!

Bonus: I’ve started reading their stuff, and it’s all good! That means I’m not stuck in a group with some people who can’t write, so hopefully they’ll be able to help me improve my writing and I’ll finally get this mind-vomit published!

Yea, I just referred to years of writing, editing, revising, rewriting, plotting, and self-cutting as mine-vomit. Deal with it.

Hopefully everything will go swimmingly and our first meeting will be a huge success with everyone logging off full of inspiration and new ways to make their projects shiny pieces of brilliance. More realistically, I just hope we all wrap up the night and don’t hate each other.

NaNoWriMo

Ahhhh, November. Best known for that holiday where friends and family gather to beat each other with serving spoons and turkey legs while children turn their noses up at casseroles and insist on eating nothing more than the scant leftover Halloween candy Mom and Dad have tried to squirrel away into the back of the pantry to save for themselves on a rainy day. Oh yeah, and it’s National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo rubs me two distinct ways: 1) Huzzah! People are getting into writing and for a month being an author who isn’t published yet is a little more normal and slightly less shameful! 2) Who the hell do these people think they are? They’ve been trying to write for less than a month! Come back in a few years with a stack of rejection letters and tell me how much you love the craft!

Most of the time, I’m more firmly in the former mindset. NaNoWriMo is a great way to get people interested in writing and to bring more people to it as an art form and a skill. It’s also a great way to develop the community, and get readers to understand the perils of writing and maybe cut some of us a little slack when we take too long getting that next book in the series out (yeah I’m talking to you, beta/gamma readers; you know who you are). So, in the spirit of NaNo, here is some advice from a guy who’s never tried to write a novel in a month:

1) Write. When you feel the ‘muse’, when you don’t feel the ‘muse’, and when the ‘muse’ has had WAY too many Jaegers and thinks that guy at the bar is a girl and keeps telling you to get her number. Sit your ass down and write. Write every day, even if you only stare at a blank page and write ‘what the hell?’ over and over again. Sit there and do it.

2) Don’t judge your work… yet. You can’t expect to have a shiny diamond of a novel after a month. In fact, similar to a diamond, after a geologically short period, it’s much more likely to look like a powdery mess of coal than anything sparkly and jewel-ish. Only after ages of heat and pressure (I’m not talking about cute squeezy pressure, I’m talking ass in a vice at the bottom of the ocean with the Titanic on your head pressure) will your pretty piece of stardust be morphed into that diamond you knew it could be. It will probably still disappoint you, but just like jewels, novels are judged by more than just their size and cut.

3) Join a writing group. Writing groups (good ones at least) are invaluable. They will give you feedback, help point out things you didn’t see, provide encouragement, tons of advice, and perhaps a few contacts. Writing Excuses has a great podcast about writing groups, you should check them out. In fact, there’s number four.

4) Find some good podcasts and blogs. I will give one example of each here: Writing Excuses and Terrible Minds. Writing Excuses is a long-running pod with such unheard of characters as Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, and Mary Robinette Kowal. If you didn’t catch it, that ‘unheard of’ bit was sarcasm. If you don’t know those people, Google them and realize what you’re missing. I’ll be here when you get back and begin contemplating how you could have thought your life was complete before being acquainted with those people. The pod covers a huge range of topics, all related to writing, generally talking about genre and speculative types of fiction. Brandon comes from a background of writing MEGA epic series in the fantasy genre, while Howard has a ridiculously long running web comic of a sci-fi comedy bent, Dan writes mostly horror and sci-fi, and Mary is a puppeteer who also writes beautiful books and recently out-Rothfussed Pat Rothfuss in his #RealRothfuss twitter campaign for charities. Terrible Minds is Chuck Wendig’s blog and is as full of awesome as Writing Excuses. I met the ‘Dig at WorldCon 2013 and he is a genuinely wonderful person, and an extremely talented writer. Read what he says, or else… No but seriously, these two sites are treasure troves of writerly goodness that you NEED to be tuned into. These are by no means the only ones, but they’re my two favorites.

5) Go ahead and feel inadequate, but keep writing anyway. As writers, we all get days/weeks/months where we don’t feel good enough. We feel like what we’re writing sucks, nobody will like it, and in fact they will not like it so badly that they’ll ridicule us publicly for it. As a bit of insight: every good writer feels that way. That feeling is what makes people who are mediocre writers strive to improve their craft to the level that it’s outstanding. People who don’t feel that way from time-to-time won’t push themselves the same way and their so-so work will stay so-so and people won’t care enough about it to take notice. The overwhelming conviction that you’re an impostor and you shouldn’t be trying to tread where giants have walked before is a real emotion and should be treated appropriately: with coffee and chocolate. The thing that no one thinks about is that those giants whose footsteps dwarf your own on the path to publication started out just like yours, you were just too busy being lost in the woods to notice them until they were freakishly huge. Your feet will grow, you just have to keep walking.

6) Don’t stop come December. I’ll repeat my last phrase from number 5: keep walking. If you liked NaNo, make every month NaNoWriMo. Keep the story going and when you’ve finished that first draft, let it sit, write something new, and come back to it for a second pass.

Writing is a beautiful release that I think everyone should try at least once in their life. So sit down at the computer, start up Spotify, and jam out to Two Steps from Hell while you crank out that epic. I look forward to seeing your name on a cover some day.

More Things I’ve Read Lately

For another installment in things I read lately: Fierce as the Grave by John Hornor Jacobs. I was supposed to include the Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett in this, but I’ve been swamped at work and haven’t been able to listen to my audiobook as much as I’d like, so that one will be pushed to later.

Fierce as the Grave is a collection of four short stories, all dealing with death/undeath, which you may have gathered from the title.  They go quickly, but that’s sort of the point of short fiction. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and creepy; just the way good horror writing should be.

Verrata: Futuristic sci-fi horror short about a guy with a slug that connects him to the internet. His slug starts to go haywire and he starts seeing visual errata (verrata, if you will). It’s better than I make it sound. Neat premise, fast read, A little dark. Liked it a lot.

Heaven of Animals: In short: zombie wranglers. John takes the problem of a shit-ton of zombies and comes up with a solution. He then writes a short story about it. There’s a horse named Dharma.

Bone China: I’m not going to tell you exactly what this one is about because I think trying to figure out exactly who the old lady is is part of the fun. Basically, old woman in Arkansas has way the hell too much money and decides to throw a party with some interesting guests.

Sneaking In: This one might have been my favorite, simply for the ending. It’s the classic boy meets girl and they have sex in a graveyard type story. So overdone, if you ask me. In case you missed it and aren’t living inside my head, that was sarcasm.

So, there you go. 4 stories for a buck. A quarter each, and you have some entertaining dark stories to read on the shitter, or in bed. Hopefully those are two different places. I’m generally not a fan of short stories, preferring something meatier to really dive into and swim around in for a while, but I enjoyed these.

You can find Fierce as the Grave on Amazon here for $0.99 on your Kindle.