Is This the Future?

This morning I was listening to a compilation I’d made back in January of 1994 called Nocturne.  At that time I’d originally planned on completely rewriting the Infamous War Novel, re-envisioning it as a far-future SF novel, less as a Cold War-inspired story and more as a Future War one.  For inspiration I latched onto a lot of familiar genre tropes at that time –revisiting Blade Runner, reading space operas, picking up a lot of interesting anime, and so on — while at the same time briefly returning to my music collection as well, just as I had with the original.  This little gem from Sigue Sigue Sputnik, found on the back end of their sophomore album Dress for Excess, seemed to fit the post-apocalyptic mood of my story perfectly.

Granted, this too was an unfinished draft, for various reasons.  One was that I’d had trouble fleshing out the idea.  I knew I could do something with it, but I couldn’t quite figure out what.  [The other was that I was not in the best of places emotionally at the time.  Being broke and alone just out of college and working at jobs that had nothing to do with my college studies was probably a worse time for me than high school was, come to think of it.  Writing came to me, but in frustrating fits and starts.  There are a lot of trunked ideas from that era.]  Nonetheless, it sowed the seeds of another story, True Faith, which I started later that summer, and a much more successful writing career was finally born.

The compilation is just shy of 45 minutes long, taking up one side of a cassette — the other side was my 1989 compilation for Belief in Fate, another writing project dating back to high school.  I’m fascinated by the mix, as it’s definitely heavy on the atmospherics.  Starting off with Curve (“Faît Accompli”) and Inspiral Carpets (“Two Worlds Collide”) and ending with the above track, it’s a dark and somber affair.  I think what I was aiming for was a feeling of frustration and uselessness within a larger, less tolerating society, which my characters would fight to transcend through the course of the story.  That theme continued into True Faith to a degree.  In retrospect, it’s probably for the best that I trunked that story as well, because I was emotionally and mentally too close to it at the time.  I would start fresh in 1997 with The Phoenix Effect, and the rest is history.

It’s kind of interesting, comparing the original ideas of the early 90s with the present version of the Mendaihu Universe.  There are a few bits and pieces that have survived throughout the entire process — the Vigil group, for one — but the pessimism of the original is nowhere to be seen.  I see now (and I knew even then) that I was not only teaching myself how to write a novel correctly, but I was also using it as a cathartic release.  I’ve given myself a bunch of different avenues for those sorts of things, leaving the personal out of it for the most part.

Did I know that twenty years later I’d be happily married and living in a much larger city on the opposite coast, self-releasing the first of three novels that came out of all that?  Hell, back in 1994 I had no idea if I was going to make next month’s rent, let alone what my future would be.  Sure, I had dreams and ideas and a hazy optimism that I’d get there one day.  I knew it would be tough, but I was willing to work for it, however long it took. That was where I first fostered that stubborn commitment to keep going, despite it all.

And that’s why I’m content with this future me, why my reaction to seeing my book listed on e-book shopping sites has been one of a deep relief and happiness.  That stubborn will took me to this point, and that made all the difference.

Visiting Schenectady

People ask me where I get my ideas. I always tell them, “Schenectady.” They look at me with confusion and I say, “Yeah, there’s this ‘idea service’ in Schenectady and every week like clockwork they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas for 25 bucks.” Every time I say that at a college lecture there’s always some schmuck who comes up to me and wants the address of the service.  – Harlan Ellison

Sometimes I’m so bogged down by long-term projects (such as the Mendaihu Universe completion and self-publication) that I end up wondering if I’m going to ever come up with another original idea again.  My focus is so strong on the task at hand that I fear I’m letting a bunch of future ideas pass me by.

This is yet another silly writer fear, of course.  And I fall for it every damn time.

In reality, have I come up with any new ideas?  Well, as a matter of fact I have!  There’s the MU-related storyline that takes place in current time rather than in the future; there’s the family band storyline idea I toyed around with earlier this year for my daily 750 Words.  And I still find myself waking up in the morning, remembering snippets of odd dreams and thinking ooh, that would make a good story!  And I have a “job jar” here in Spare Oom where I’ve dropped scraps of paper for passing snippets of ideas in case I’m hungry for something to write.  So it’s not as if the idea well is dry.  I’m just not paying attention to it at that moment.

Speaking of 750 Words, I recently chose to return to that site for daily practice words, as I’m finding myself with a bit of extra time to do so again.  As mentioned before, I’ve used that site as my mental playground for new ideas.  Some last for a couple hundred words, while others are ongoing.  Some are detailed ideas, while others are just wordplay (such as my exercise of writing a story only using dialogue and no tags or prose).  I have no idea what I’m going to write until I log in and start typing away, and for the next 750 words or so I just let myself riff on an idea.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but that doesn’t matter.

The fact that I’m writing, even if it’s just for mental exercise, is good enough for me.  The ideas are still there…they’re just tucked away, waiting for me to bring them front and center.

Feeling Twitchy

The problem with going through a major editing/revision/release process is that it eats up quite a lot of time I set aside for my writing.  It leaves precious little time for any new work unless I sneak some time in during the day.  [Which I’m doing right now…this post is being written in the slow moments of my Day Job.]

This makes me twitchy.  I want to write something new, but deadlines loom.  I don’t mind the editing/revising part of the job, but the longer it takes, the more I have that itch to pick up a notebook and start working on a new project.  Not out of avoiding the revision process, but that I start feeling rusty.  I feel the need to write new words somewhere, anywhere.  My personal journal entries (which I write during my midmorning break) are getting more verbose, and I’ve been blogging like a fiend lately.  My brain is clogged with Future Plans for When I’m Caught Up.  I’ve got ideas for the Inktober art meme.  I have a few stories simmering and a new MU story in stasis.

I believe it’s time for me to get creative with my writing time again.

So many words, so little time!

Physical Book Status: Almost There!

The trade edition flat, before a bit of back cover text tweaking
The CreateSpace trade edition flat, before a bit of back cover text tweaking.

[x-posted at GoodReads]

The physical book version of A Division of Souls is coming along, and let me tell you, formatting the text for physical consumption is a LOT different from ebook formatting.

Put it this way: With e-books, the text is a little more elastic. The book can be X number of pages long, but when the reader looks at it on their own hardware, that may change depending on a few things such as font style and size. While flipping pages, you may see “Page 3 of 500” three or four times before it finally ticks over to “Page 4.”

Physical books are different, and here’s why, especially if you plan on doing it DIY through something like CreateSpace: WYSIWYG. The text you format is the text you’re going to see on the printed page. It might be simplistic, in Times New Roman double-spaced and left-aligned with the page number in the top right corner, when you save the file, and that’s what will show up on the printed page.

Which is kinda not what you want in a print book.

You want the following:
–Page numbers on the outside of each page (left side for the left pages, right side for the right pages, natch), and starting at the right time
–Interesting and readable font and line spacing (I chose Garamond 12pt, 1.05-spaced and justified)
–Any text tweaking (size, shape, justification, etc) done correctly
–Any hyperlinks in the ebook taken out for the print version

…and so many more little fiddly things that can easily get forgotten.

This is why it’s taken me longer to get the physical book out. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve uploaded the file to the CreateSpace platform, only to find yet another formatting error that needs fixing.

So where am I now? Well, I’m currently awaiting a UPS box that should contain a few galley copies of the novel. Having that in my hands, aside from the excitement of it being MY FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK OMG, I’ll be red-penning it for any last minute fixes that I’ll need to make, if any. And only then will I finally hit that “Publish” button and it’ll be available to everyone.

So yeah, I’m getting there. Slowly but surely. 🙂

Writing Religion in Genre

Religion can be a very tricky thing to write about in Fantasy and Science Fiction.  It has to be done reasonably well and for good reason.  It also has to have at most a strong backbone for which to base part (or all) of the plot or a character’s makeup.  The writer should not want to overtly use the religion’s place in the story as a soapbox, either, because readers will pick up on that right away.  Nor do you want to pick and choose the ideas of well-known established religions and use them without understanding at least some of its already-established rules and tenets.

In creating the ‘spirituality’ of the Mendaihu Universe — I call it such because it’s not so much an established religion as it is a spiritual state of being — I had to create a belief system that had to follow specific rules.  The First Rule, as it were, was balance.  I had to work within the confines of a yin-yang system, where the Mendaihu and the Shenaihu were not so much mortal enemies as they were parts of a whole.  When one takes action, the other one must respond in kind.  This alone propels the action in A Division of Souls and drives the plot of all three books in the trilogy; when Nehalé Usarai performs the Awakening ritual in the first chapter, the Shenaihu must respond, and do so fivefold.  This will set off even more responding actions from the Mendaihu again, and so on.

This is often where the savior comes in; the character whose life is lived outside of this cycle, who must put a stop to it before both sides utterly destroy each other.  In the trilogy, this is the One of All Sacred.  He or she is not exactly an established deity (in the Mendaihu Universe, that is the Goddess of All That Is), but an outside player of a religious stature who is tasked with returning everything back into a peaceful balance.   The savior often has a somewhat clearer mind than many of the other characters; they’re not wound up in some kind of emotional tailspin or blinded by distraction.  [This can often be their own distraction — their distance from the situation sometimes causes them not to fully understand it.]  The savior’s own story arc is thus not only to Make Things Right Again, but to spiritually ascend in their own way.

What kind of religions have you seen in genre fiction that fascinate you?  If you’ve created your own, how have you worked out the rules?


All Kinds of Time

[One of the best songs about football, hands down.]

The problem with Football Season is that it gives me one more reason to be distracted from my writerly duties. Not that I need more distractions…I already have the music, the social media, the Day Job, and everything else! Still, it’s a pleasurable distraction; as with music, I have it on in the background while I’m working on something else, glancing up at the screen every now and again when someone scores or executes a brilliant play.

Time can be tricky, especially when you’re attempting to balance the finite amount we’re allotted with the infinite number of things you want to use it for.  I dedicate eight hours a day to my Day Job (I try to avoid overtime, and for the most part it’s never needed anyway), but during my breaks, I will sneak a few writing things in.  During my 9:30am break, I’ll sit on the loveseat across the room and write an entry in my daily personal journal.  During lunch I’ll read my writing magazines.  During the afternoon break I’ll catch up on emails and whatnot.  And on the rare occasion that I have a slow day, I may even work on a blog post.  After we both log off, we head to the YMCA and work out on the treadmills for a bit, and have dinner soon after.  This gives me a few hours at the end of each day, purely dedicated to my writing.

As said, the tricky part is what I should be working on, and when.

The thing about being a writer is that you most likely have about three or four different projects going on at the same time, each at various levels of completion.  My current status involves the following:  A Division of Souls is out in the world (yes, even at Amazon now — the physical copies are coming soon!), I’m currently working on the final edit of The Persistence of Memories, I’m writing the new Mendaihu Universe novel longhand, I’m carving out weekend time to pick Walk in Silence up again, and I have a few other fiction and non-fiction projects simmering on low heat in the back of my brain.  And that doesn’t include my daily personal journal, weekly blog posting, popping up on social media now and again, and other non-writing things such as guitar noodling and songwriting.  And there are things that keep getting put on hold, such as doing the daily 750 Words, my artwork and the Drunken Owl music recording project.  So much to do, so little time.

See, this is why I have the whiteboard schedule.  I haven’t been following it as of late due to the massive editing sessions for the Bridgetown Trilogy, and I think that’s a fair enough reason for putting everything on hold as of late.  I don’t mind, because releasing the trilogy myself demands a lot of time and dedication, and I’m not about to do any of it half-assed.  But now that the Big Release date has come and gone and that I’m letting it slow-simmer a bit while I figure out different ways to have fun with its promotion, I find myself with a bit more time on my hands.  Which means my week or so of relaxation and mucking about online must come to a close.  It’s time to refocus and dedicate the time that I have to what I want to get done.

Still, that’s not to say I’m not about to miss out on watching some football this season!  I may be busy, but I’m not about to let that get in the way of having fun as well!

On Self-Publishing: Doing the Backstage Work – Self-Publicity in Social Media

This may or may not be how I enter Spare Oom.
This may or may not be what happens when I enter Spare Oom.

I’ve said it before, I suck at sales.  Or more to the point, I suck at it if I’m to sell something I don’t have much interest in. Furniture? A new car? Real estate? Monster truck rallies? Yeah, they’re fine and all, but if I’m not truly excited about them, I doubt I could talk you into into them.  On the other hand, I will shamlessly foist upon you the latest album I think is absolutely brilliant [This week: Tamaryn’s Cranekiss is pretty high up there], or a book I’d recently read and want everyone else to read as well [Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, which totally did deserve that Hugo].

But what about my own work?  Well, I’ll be honest, this is the first time I’m doing this at a professional level.  I’ve proudly shown off artwork and photography on my Tumblr and elsewhere, but my writing?  Totally new to me.  I don’t even have a solid and mapped-out ‘business model’ — in fact, I twitch whenever I hear business-speak like that.  Like my writing, I’m definitely a pantser.  I go with what works for me.

And lately, that’s taken all kinds of odd and unexpected avenues.  I’ll see other writers taking steps in social media and elsewhere, and I’ll think about whether it would work for me.  More to the point, I think of it this way:  if this particular kind of self-promotion got me to take a look at the product, even if for just a few moments, then maybe it’s a style I could try out myself.

Promoting yourself using social media is tricky, because there’s an extremely thin line between promoting yourself and just spamming your friends’ feeds. You don’t want to oversaturate yourself; the more annoyingly prevalent the advertisement, the more people are just going to skim over it, or worse, muting or unfollowing you.

Yeah, this might be overdoing it a bit.
Yeah, this might be overdoing it a bit.

On Twitter, there are a few ways you can circumvent that.  One is to mention it in your profile.  Another is to use a Pinned tweet.  You can create your own little mini-ad in just 140 characters.  Mine says the following:

A Division of Souls, coming 9/3/15!
All formats available at Smashwords!
[Smashwords link, plus embedded cover]

A blipvert of sorts, one you’ll see immediately if you happen to visit my personal Twitter page because it’s pinned up at the top.  I’ve only had it up for 3 days, but I’ve already made 156 impressions as of today.  That’s not too bad for starters. Nowhere near the thousands of hits some writers get, but hey, it’s pretty good for someone brand spanking new to this gig.  And note that I made sure to mention that all formats are available at Smashwords.  This will ensure that anyone, regardless of which e-reader they use, can come on over and download it.

You’d probably want to follow suit on other social media channels as well.  It’s visible, but it’s not obtrusive, and that’s the balance you want to strive for.  I’ve seen others do daily tweet ads, which is fine, because they only do it once a day.

Another Twitter idea, one I just saw someone else use this morning, is kind of a neat twist on the “shop local” idea.  There are many brick-and-mortar bookstores out there who work alongside Kobo to sell ebooks at their website, and this writer had come up with a brilliant idea:  publicize the book and the local store at the same time!  She aimed the tweet at the San Francisco area, mentioned her book was available at this store (complete with link), and made sure to mention the store using their Twitter handle, including the “@”.  That last part was genius: you’re not only getting others to check out the store’s twitter feed, you’re getting whoever is manning that store’s feed will see it as well, and may end up retweeting you.  I followed suit sometime after, mentioning Books Inc and Green Apple Books, two of my favorite local book shops.  I was duly retweeted!  Wins all around!

If anything, I’ve heard all kinds of responses to the question of how to self-promote on social media.  Some swear by tweetstorms, others by following anyone and everyone who uses the #amwriting hashtag, others still by picking and choosing when and where to insinuate your promotion.  Overall, though, the most common response I’ve heard is, go with what works for you.  Be creative and have fun with it!  But most importantly, remember to keep it balanced!