Cleaning House

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I very briefly mentioned a few weeks back that I’m feeling the need for Changing Things Up.  I get this way when I’m feeling a bit twitchy near the end of a Big Project, but I also get this way when I’m feeling a bit…well, bored, creatively.  When I feel that certain writing habits have worn thin.  Perhaps I’ve used them to the point where they no longer work for me.

When this happens, I’ll take stock and clean house.  What do I no longer need to do anymore?  What can I do without?  What can I put to the side and let go?  Why am I working on these projects/exercises/daily words that aren’t being used anywhere?  And if these words are online, is anyone actually reading them?

My Tumblr feed has pretty much become an aggregator for my WordPress posts, as I haven’t posted any photography there for some time.  Do I want to pick that back up?  Or is Tumblr really where I want to post such things?  I still visit the site, as I follow a lot of artists there, but I don’t post nearly as much as I have.  That may change, but for now it’s on the backburner.  My Live Journal is pretty much in the same status.  I only post there on the weekends, and I still follow a few writers and friends who are still there.

I’m even contemplating putting aside the 75o Words — not getting rid of the daily word practice, mind you, just taking it offline.  I’ve proven to myself that I can work to assignment and deadline, and with my personal journaling I’ve proven that I can make it a daily habit.  Taking the exercises offline will give me much more versatility, as I’ll be able to work on different things within one notebook:  poetry, artwork, and daily words.  And I can hit them at any time and not have to log in.

[Speaking of artwork:  this Saturday is the beginning of Inktober, and yes, I will be taking part!  I may even post them here for your enjoyment!]

On the one hand, it’s kind of a bummer when something you love doing so much comes to an end, but on the other, it’s healthier to move on when it’s clear that something’s not working as well as it used to.  And in the process, sometimes I even learn something new!

Won’t You Come Out to Play

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Just another day in Spare Oom.

These past few days have been uncharacteristically warm here in San Francisco.  On Sunday it hit 88° F, which is far higher than we here in the Richmond District are used to on any given day, even in the height of summer.

These are the days when I’m just as happy hiding in the cool of our apartment, working on whatever writing project I happen to be dealing with.  Back in my Belfry days, I’d hang out down there because my family’s basement was the coolest part of the house, considering it never got any sun except at the end of the day.  I loved hanging out down there during the summer, listening to tunes and writing away.

Warm days at Arkham West (aka our first apartment in North Beach) were another problem entirely.  Due to our bay windows we’d be getting sunlight all day long and it would get quite toasty if we didn’t close the blinds.  I’d make do with writing on the PC, but some days I’d move to the couch and write there.

Here in Spare Oom, though?  Perfect weather.  The one window faces north so we don’t get direct sun at all, just the breeze off the ocean.  And we’ll sometimes get some absolutely gorgeous sunsets as well.  It never gets hot or muggy in this room.  Sure, it’ll get cold in the winter, but not enough to drive me from getting work done.

I’m usually not one for writing sessions outside of the home, though.  I just feel kind of weird taking up space in a café or a bookstore for hours on end.  It’s not about other people watching me write…it’s more that I’d feel like I’m hogging a seat that one or more people could possibly use instead during the time I’m there.  [That, and I’m usually there for other things, like buying coffee or books.  I don’t feel as bad if I’m sitting somewhere going over the book pile and debating which ones I’ll buy.]

Still, I make sure I get out and enjoy the air now and again.  A. and I try to make a point of going out for a walk on the weekend, even if it’s up to the brewpub at the other end of Clement Street.  We’ll take a walk in Golden Gate Park or the Presidio, both a short walk from our apartment.  We’ll head over to the gym and work out for a bit (during which I’ll be listening to my mp3 player and working out plots in my head while on the treadmill).  We’ll head somewhere for brunch or a late lunch on the weekends as well.

As much as I’d like to be one of those writers hanging out in their workspace for hours on end, writing thousands of words and working on everything under the sun, I do need to exit the house now and again.  Just to remember there’s a world out there.

So that said, we did manage to get outside and walk a bit before the heat and humidity got the better of us and we went back into hiding in the apartment to watch football.  To prove this, I took a panoramic shot from our nearby vista point, Land’s End Trail.  It was so clear we could just about make out Point Reyes in the far distance (it’s around 50 miles north of us, and just about barely visible in the far left horizon in this picture).

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View from the Eagles Point lookout on Land’s End Trail.  I love that this is in our neighborhood.

Perseverance

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It’s been a hell of a week.

Day Job system crashes.  Unending emails to work through.  Client fires to put out.  A drive across the Bay for an office visit.  I missed a few writing days.  I’m late in getting this post out.  I’m just about done, and it’s not even noon on Friday yet.

BUT.

I gotta do it.  No way around it.

I gotta write.  I can take a rest day every now and again, but I gotta pick it up again when I’m ready.

Perseverance.  A stubborn will to hit my deadlines.

Even if this post is a half-assed one with yet another anime picture as the header.  Heh.

Still.

Gotta get my work done.

Despite all the roadblocks.  Despite the raving case of the Don’t Wannas.  Despite really needing a beer right now because the Day Job’s been that much of a pain in the ass.

I gotta write.

Because no one else will do it for me.

It’s not a race

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One thing I always need to remind myself is that I’m not in a race with other writers to get my work out.  Sure, I had that feeling way back in the day, back when I as naive enough to think that my manuscripts were good enough to warrant attention.  I thought the turnaround was super-quick, that I’d have my byline and my comp copies in my palms within a few weeks.  [Reality hit me pretty quick and hard, then.]  And I still get that twitch of envy when I see writers I know personally or online, releasing new works while I’m still languishing.

Every writer gets that feeling.  You want to be in the same race as everyone else, wanting to keep up and be One of the Gang.  But everyone in that gang is already miles ahead of you, already known to readers, physical copies of books in hand, doing the signings and the readings at the conventions and book stores.  It’s enough to make you wonder if you’ll ever catch up.

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Well, here’s the thing:  it’s not a race.  Not unless you want it to be.  You might give yourself a hard deadline like I did, to get that book out and away by a specific date, to have that physical copy in your hand  (even if it is a galley or an ARC).  But you’re not racing the other writers.  Far from it.

They’re running just as hard as you are, tripping up at the same points you are, maybe even making it up as they go along like you are.  Their race is not about who gets there first across the finish line, or who gets there the fastest.  Their race is about finishing the race.  To them — and indeed, should be to you as well — this race is a marathon.  Running those twenty-six-point-two miles of hard work, revisions, edits, re-edits, re-revisions, meetings, sales plans, working on other projects in the interim, and aiming for that final goal of completion.

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In the end, the only race in writing and publishing that a writer should be concerned with is a deadline.  I had to remind myself of this for quite a long time, and once I finally got over that, I no longer felt frustrated that I was getting left behind, or annoyed that I was taking far too long to get my own work done.

One of the best ways I learned that is to take part in the writing community.  I’m still a solitary writer that hasn’t joined a local writer’s group (and I kind of feel more comfortable that way — that avenue is completely up to you whether you want to follow it or not)…but I talk with other writers online all the time, I’ve met up and become friends with writers both beginner and pro.  Once I came to the conclusion that we’re all in the same boat, that we’re all slightly frazzled and overworked but still loving what we’re doing, none of us are truly left behind.  A lot of us support each other at all levels, because we know just how hard the job can get.

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We’re all running, but we’re all running together.

 

[Images courtesy of Naruto, of course!]

Point of No Return

While doing the Big Edits and the galley edits of my trilogy, I noticed that with each book, I set the main plot’s Point of No Return in the exact middle of the story.  Not that it’s necessarily where the one Act ends and another starts; it’s merely a concrete point in the story where enough has happened and the only way out is forward.  It’s the point where one or many of the characters face the No Turning Back Now part of their arc.

I don’t even try to do it consciously.  I’m aware that it’s one spike of many in the story arc, just like they all are, but I don’t always plan it to be the most important one.  Most of the time, it just ends up that way.

The climax of the story is near the end where it should be, of course…but this isn’t the climax I’m talking about.  It’s the point where the characters may pause and finally get their bearings and finally truly see just how deeply they’ve embedded themselves.  [Out of amusement, I’ve sometimes called it the “oh shit we really are screwed aren’t we” moment.]

And this moment can happen at any time, really.  And it can happen numerous times within the span of a book or a series.  But there’s usually one true Point of No Return moment.  And somehow I’ve figured out where to put it exactly in the middle of my stories!

 

Cover Story

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As I’ve said before…I may have a side job on my hands.

See, this started back in the mid 80s when I was in junior high.  I was more obsessed with music and band discographies than I was in sports.  Even then I could tell you what song what was on which album, if I knew the band well enough.

One summer afternoon, I’d made up a fake band and had a little bit of fun coming up with a fake discography to go along with it.  [I don’t remember the band’s name but the ersatz label I came up with was Plazmattack.  Don’t ask me where that came from.]  I went into detail, coming up with song titles, album names, all the way down to the multiple singles and EPs.

I never actually followed up with writing and recording the songs, as I was fifteen and didn’t have much musical ability.  But I was a true music geek, and I was willing to take this fanciful idea for a spin.  A few years later when a few friends and I started The Flying Bohemians, I actually made a detailed discography for our small but growing batch of songs.  I even did a few cassette covers, taking blurry pictures I and my sisters had taken and pasting them on the insert cards.

*

Thirty years later and I’m about to embark on another fake discography for a future writing project.

And more than that, I’m about to pretend I’m an artist as well.

The above is my first attempt at a book cover for a story that doesn’t exist.  It’s an experiment to see if I can actually pull it off.  If I can, then my Secret Side Project may actually have legs and be worth pursuing.

Background: The title McCleever Street Blues predates the Vigil and the Mendaihu Universe by a year or two but is in the same setting and timeframe.  It was to be a short story about a kid trying to get from one location to another in a sprawling city, and all the boundaries and distractions he had to deal with, as well as all the regular folk he’d see every day.  I’ve never actually written it.

The picture itself was taken by me on my cell phone on Rue des Petits Champs in Paris late in the afternoon a few months ago while on vacation, and filtered through the Prisma app.  I cropped it using Photoshop and added the title and byline using Pic Monkey.  It’s a very rough outtake, of course.  For starters, I’d do a much better job of the matte frames for the title and byline given more time and inclination.

So…what do you think?

Long Long Long

I’m going to state right here and now — I have absolutely no problem with doorstop-length novels, if they’re written well and keep my interest.  I know they’re not for everyone.  Back in the 70s and 80s, doorstoppers were all over the place (I’m looking at you, Robert Jordan and Stephen King), topping over 200,000 words or so.  But by the 90s, books got thinner and more compact — leading to more space on the store shelves for more titles.

Some say this was the publishers’ plan, asking for writers to produce shorter books so they could sell more varying titles.  Others say that it was a change in reader taste, that the doorstopper is passé these days and readers prefer their word count to hover around 120k at the most.  I’m not sure who’s right, but either way, it’s become tough to submit those things to the Big Pros nowadays.  Unless you’re GRRM or Alan Moore.

But now that books are available digitally in a format that takes only a sliver of memory from your reader, the space for All The Books has expanded significantly.  You can fit a surprising number of long tomes on a regular-sized reader, and some e-book providers will even let you store them on a cloud so you can create even more room on your reader.

But what does that mean about long books?  Does this free the writer up to work on their long dreamed-of epic tale they’ve always wanted to write?  Of course, at this time the only real avenue for that is probably the indie/self-pub route, but the question remains: does this mean the restriction for writing long books has loosened?  Does this give the writer more breathing room to experiment?

And the big question: will readers’ tastes for long books change once more?

 

Self-Publishing: One Year Later

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Two down, one to go

Has it already been one year since I self-released A Division of Souls into the world?  Yes!  And it’s been quite the trip.  I’m far, far from rolling in the dough, of course, but I don’t consider myself a failure.  In fact, I’d like to think that I’ve succeeded far more than I’d ever expected to, and I couldn’t be happier.

Let’s break that down:

–The Bridgetown trilogy contains three books that I wrote early last decade and edited, revised, rewritten, and re-revised countless times since late 2009.  I’ve not only made the prose better, I’ve learned how to write better.  I’ve also learned how to be a ruthless editor with my own work.  I’m quite proud of the results.
–I researched to find the best self-publishing avenues; not only to choose what felt right to me but what felt right for the books.  It’s never been just about making all the money (though that might be nice eventually), it’s been mostly about sharing my stories with everyone.
–I learned how to format for e-book as well as for paper.  The two are mutually exclusive, come to find out, but thanks to a lot of online information, I was able to pull it off.
–I felt my way through various avenues of promotion: making the books available on NoiseTrade, taking part in a Smashwords month-long promotion, and so on.  Kept my eyes open for other avenues that I may take in the future, once Book 3 is out.
–Thought I’d try my hand at creating my own book covers, and to my complete surprise, not only am I pretty good at it, I happen to really enjoy it.
–The responses I’ve gotten, both from friends and readers, have been helpful and informative.  Many have commented quite positively on the unique storyline and are looking forward to more.  This was one of the best payoffs: it means I did it right.
–I’ve come to the conclusion that I also really enjoy self-publishing in general; not as a way to circumvent the Big Pro Publishing machine, but simply as an alternative.  [And you know how I like all things alternative.]  I can definitely see myself doing this as a long-term prospect.
–All this, while holding down a full time Day Job in banking, which has very little to do with my creative writing (unless you count my work emails, which can get quite lyrical in its business-speak sometimes).

Many times I’ve thought that I happened to drift into self-publishing at the perfect moment, when it’s starting to gain respect in the field as a viable and important avenue for writers.  I remember when self-pubbing first crossed my mind, back in 2008 or so, when I was inspired by John Scalzi having done the same thing early in his fiction career.  I knew it wasn’t something I’d jump into blindly; I didn’t want to make too many rookie mistakes and ruin my work and career.  I knew I wasn’t the best writer, that I could be even better if I set my mind to it and took the time to learn.

I also find myself incredibly lucky in that I’d noticed all the unique parallels between writing books to publication and recording music to public release.  The DIY structures of punk that I was familiar with served as a guide for DIY publication.  I also find myself incredibly lucky that there are more avenues than just vanity houses and small presses than there were even ten years ago.  It’s been quite the thrill ride, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot over the last decade or so.

Yeah, I think I’m gonna keep this gig.

I Write the Songs

I don’t think I’ve written more than a dozen or so songs since I moved out here to San Francisco in 2005.  Probably much less than that.  A few clips of melody, maybe a riff or two, but nothing concrete, not like my last songwriting wave in the early 00s when I was jamming with Bruce and Eric in jeb!.  The latest actual song milling about in my head is an instrumental I created using the sound of London’s District Line clacking down the tracks near Earls Court as percussion (which I recorded to my phone); I have not yet had time to lay it down as a demo, though I did get as far as making a very rough loop of the train as a trial run.

Why do I bring this up?  Well, it seems my next writing project involves songwriting.

What’s this, you say?  Has Jon gone off the deep end in a severely misguided attempt to write a multimedia book?  I mean, he’s a pretty decent writer and makes cool covers, but music?  What the hell is he thinking?

Well, I blame Wesley Stace for this.  Formerly known as John Wesley Harding for you 90s alternative rock people, he wrote a fun novel called Wonderkid about a quirky band that, against all odds, became a huge hit in the 90s, primarily due to having an extremely large preteen audience.  It’s a hell of a fun book and worth checking out.

Sometime later, I was chatting online with a friend about the Osmonds (I forget the context), when I came up with an idea of writing a music-based novel myself.  Thus the family band The Lidwells were born!

That said…

Now that I’m at the point of wanting to do some prep for the Lidwells project, I’m not just thinking about making character sheets and a working discography (yes, I’m going that deep), but may be writing a few of the songs mentioned in the text.  All told I’m hoping to write about a dozen or so songs during the course of writing this book.

Added to that, this story takes place in the 90s during the alt.rock boom, so I’m going to have to write music that sounds like it would have fit then.  Will I record them as demos and post them here?  Yeah, there’s a good chance of that happening.

This should be interesting…