Looking Forward to 2018

bleach fireworks
Credit: Bleach

I’ve got a busy 2018 ahead of me, that’s for sure.

A good busy, though.  I’ve given myself a lot of goals to hit, and I’m sure I can hit most if not all of them.  A few will be harder than others.  Some will most likely roll into 2019.  A majority of them will take most of the year.  And I’ll be juggling it all with the Day Job, of course.  But I think I can pull it off.

The trick here is to have a long-term schedule going, which I’ve been playing around with over the last few days.  It’s a little like how I write novels: multiple threads going at the same time, fully aware of how to orchestrate them, put them in order, and make them flow.  It’s only taken me how long to figure out that I can (and should) do this with the non-writing part of my writing career?  Sheesh.

Anyway…I’ve got a novel to prep for self-publishing (Meet the Lidwells!), a new novel to start writing (untitled Apartment Complex story) and one, maybe two others to outline when I have the time.  I’ll be going to three conventions, with the plan of being on a few panels and possibly a few readings.  I’ll be resuming my photography for book cover and image library purposes.  I desperately need to do restart the document scanning (it’s something I’ve put off for far too long).  I’d like to record some more mp3 demos, maybe pull them together into full completed tracks.  And most importantly, I need to move forward with the Mendaihu Press entity, using it as an umbrella for both my self-published novels and cover artwork.

This is going to be a very complex symphony to orchestrate, and I’m quite sure I’ll hit all the typical obstacles along the way, but I’m in it for the long haul and I’m too stubborn to quit easily.

This coming year is going to be one hell of a challenge for me, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.

An overview of 2017

img_20171221_1548508657809012133565527.jpg
The Bridgetown Trilogy — finally DONE.

It’s been an interesting year, I’ll say that much.  Personally we’ve all had one hell of a bumpy ride.  I’ve certainly had my highs and lows.  And somehow I persevered.

Anyway, looking back over the past twelve months, I’m proud to say I went a hell of a lot further in my writing career than I ever thought I would.  A project that I started in all seriousness twenty years ago was finally signed off as complete.  I started not one but two completely new projects and sowed the seed for even more ideas.  I kept a solid blogging schedule.  I took part in panels on two different local science fiction conventions.  All while still holding a Day Job.

The Balance of Light e-book and trade release, and completing a long-term project.  That was the toughest of the three to revise, so it took me most of 2016 and early 2017 to finish.  Even the cover was a bear to get right.  But at the same time, overcoming the hurdles I faced on this one made me an even better writer; it taught me to take all the time I needed to get it right before I released it upon the world.  It was worth the wait, as that book went from the Troublemaker for a good few years to a novel I’m proud of.  And added to that, it truly did feel like a weight lifted off my shoulders when I realized I did not need to work on that project any longer.  I still miss it, of course, but I’m definitely glad it’s done.  Most importantly, I saw a very long-standing goal to its conclusion and I couldn’t be happier.

–Daily words at 750words.com.  I’ve been quite consistent with this as well, much more so than previous years.  I trained myself to use this site as a place for playing around with ideas instead of trying to force myself to use prompts (suggested or otherwise).  I just went with whatever popped into mind.  In 2015 and 2016 I used it to write an extremely rough and incomplete draft of Meet the Lidwells, and in 2017 I used it to plot out most of the project after that.  I’ve taken this month off from it for various reasons, but I’ll be picking it up again come January.

Meet the Lidwells!  This one surpassed all of my expectations, to be honest…so much so that I spent the first half of the project questioning whether or not I was doing it right!  This project hit a lot of goals: writing a complete outline ahead of time, writing a shorter novel, writing a story that had a personal connection (music), and writing in a minimal amount of time.  Because of this I have a minimal amount of post-writing work to do: some minor revision, shooting the cover picture, and prepping it for self-publication.  Quite possibly the shortest novel project I’ve had to date.

–Untitled ‘Apartment Complex’ story.  Having written out a few key scenes and plot ideas for this story using 750Words, I’m now working on the outline in the same manner that I did MtL.  That way when MtL drops, I can immediately focus on writing this one. This too has goals: to see if I can pull off ‘writing econo’ again.  I’m using the same process as the previous project, to the extent that I’ll play around with ideas on the project after this one for my daily words.

–Consistent blogging.  I wrote two different blogs twice a week for nearly the whole year, with very few lapses.  There were moments when it was tough, given that I always wanted to write something of interest and/or purpose, and did my best to avoid the fly-by entries as much as I could.  I also wanted to avoid repeating myself whenever possible; I’ll totally cop to writing the same damn nostalgia piece over and over, and I’m doing my best to break out of that rut.  And in the process, I’m learning how to expand my palette by expanding my interests.

–Participating in Convention Panels.  This was another big one for me.  I’ve gone to a number of cons over the years but always as an audience member, but never as a participant.  After releasing my books I knew that this would be a great way for me to get connected to the non-writing part of the business.  [Mind you, my very first panel was a reading, which went over well but I think could have been better.  Once I got past that first one, the jitters were no longer there.]  In 2018 I’ll be attending three more cons, and I’ve signed up as a participant at all three.

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All told, I’m ecstatic with what I achieved as a writer in 2017.  It was an extremely productive and fruitful beginning to my career as a professional self-publisher.  There are some goals I wish I’d have hit, but I’m not going to let that bother me.  I’m definitely looking forward to reaching those plus many new ones.

The Power of Words

fahrenheit 451 graphic novel
From Tim Hamilton’s graphic novel of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

I have to say, my initial response to the Fuckwit administration’s seriously misguided attempt at Newspeak this past week by ‘forbidding’ certain words being used in reports coming from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention was not one of shock and horror, but disbelief.  Really?  You’re going to go there?

My second response of course, was a tweet:

Dear GOP: I’m a writer. You’re never going to take my words away from me. Just so you know. Signed, Me

As I said with my previous post, this administration has directly targeted my parents (screwing with Medicaid/Medicare); my family (screwing with women’s health), my friends (screwing with LGBT rights, affordable healthcare, Planned Parenthood, voting, wages, the list is pretty fucking long here), and my neighbors (screwing with immigration, sanctuary cities, hatred for SF and coastal cities in general, and let us not forget their hatred of Muslims).

And of course, they’re targeting me now.  First by voting down net neutrality, and now by forbidding the use of words.  So yeah, I have a legitimate reason to get a bit cheesed off when an entire political party is trying to fuck with my life.

You’re not going to take away my words and music, hoss.  I hope you know that.  Y’all might want to be all patriotic about your gun freedoms, so fair’s fair that I get in your face about my freedoms.  Especially when they hit that close to home.

Yeah, I know, I know…they’re talking about the CDC here, but the bullshit stinks just the same.  I’ve worked in certain client-facing jobs where I was trained to avoid certain words for ‘customer comfort’ or whatever you want to call it.  Can’t use the word ‘unfortunately’ when you can’t do something for them, even if what they’re asking for is nigh on impossible for purely logical, technological, maybe even legal reasons.  You want to avoid giving the client a reason to ragequit our business agreement.  I get that.

But come on: when a science-based federal department is being told not to use the phrase ‘science-based’?  You’re making it painfully obvious that you’re fucking around with the rules, and you’re doing a piss-poor job of it.  It’s like watching your four year old toddler cheat brazenly at a game he’s playing with you,  with him fully believing you’re not paying attention.  It’s like watching a con gamer failing catastrophically at pulling a three-card monte.  It’s like…

It’s a little bit like this scene from The Dover Boys of Pimento University, come to think of it:

Seriously, though. Really?  Forbidding words?  Do you think that works in this day and age in this country?  Especially now, when you’ve got a lot of us pissed off enough that we’re starting to vote in Democrats to key places just to get you guys to fucking stop the stupid shit already?

I mean, I could just let this pass just like every other dumbass thing you’ve been doing this past year in the misguided attempt that you even understand how to run an administration, let alone a government or a country.  I could just wait and listen for the inevitable death rattle of your party until it self-combusts.  I’m less pissed off about your fuckery and more pissed off that you’re just wasting all of our goddamn time and money.  So many things could get done if you would just stop trying to kick your long-dead horse back to life.

In the meantime, we’ll be here, still making a noise.  Still being who we are.  Still looking out for each other.  Waiting for the rest of you to come to your fucking senses.

We’ll be here making that noise for as long as it’s needed.  As Happy Harry Hard-On said way back in 1990, we’ll talk hard.

Without people you’re nothing

joe strummer quote

So.

It looks like Patreon turned itself around and said ‘we done fucked up’, and decided not to follow through with the fee changes.  Which is a good thing.

Doug Jones barely eked by with a win in Alabama, and won it fair and square with just enough that an automatic recount won’t happen…and Roy Moore refuses to concede.

Now we have the FCC voting among party lines yesterday to kill Net Neutrality.

It’s been that sort of week.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the Republicans have been voting in lockstep for nearly all the least wanted, horribly written, barely thought out bills and resolutions.  I start wondering if they have an endgame here, if there’s some Big Reveal that’s going to happen in Act III that’s going to explain just what the flying fuck they’re attempting to do.  Or is it just going to stop mid-sentence with no resolution?  Have they even made an outline to this book of theirs?

[Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I hate the party.  If they want to have an intelligent conversation and work in tandem with (if not alongside) the Democrats, then I have no problem with that.  But this past year has been one incompetent shitshow after another from them, and they’re really not selling me on their brand of governing.  Especially when they’re literally targeting my parents, my family, my neighbors, and my friends with their unabashed hatefulness and ignorance.  And me, with the Net Neutrality repeal bullshit.  And being pretty fucking brazen about it at that.]

But what I’ve also been thinking about, a lot, has been community.

I’ve already tweeted and blogged about that Jane Jacobs book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, but more to the point I’ve been thinking a lot about community in general.  I used to think of community service (I’m talking here about donating your time and services because you want to, not the court-assigned version) as a good thing to do, though for years I thought it really wasn’t my bag.  Let’s face it, at the time I was either lazy or selfish, both, felt it was expected of me or that I was guilted into it; it was rarely of my own volition.

The idea of community ties in with my new novel project; in fact, the idea of community service is a subplot for a few of the characters.  Not to worry, I’m not planning on doing any soapboxing here.  It’s just part of the overall story.  In fact, it’s more about embracing the fact that there are other people out there in one’s immediate vicinity than your family or significant other.  Acknowledging that they’re there, that they may be different from you in some ways, but just the same in others.

Community can’t happen if you choose to ignore or exclude people.  Sure, you can paint it in patriotic colors and all, but those colors are going to fade if all you want in your community is People Just Like You, and leave out the Other.  Even and especially if you try to paint it as ‘personal freedom’.  Community doesn’t work that way.

So what does this have to do with writing, anyway?  Why am I bloviating about this here?  Well, a) because it’s my blog and I can do so if I want (neener neener pthththbbt!), and b) the public’s reaction to these hateful shenanigans has been absolutely amazing.  The overwhelming response has been one of true community — bringing all kinds of people together, often in breathtakingly high numbers, to counteract the hate and the ignorance.  I see amazing numbers fighting back.  And even winning.  I join in when I can and how I can, and in the process I realize I’ve not been reacting as with feelings of doom and sorrow as much as I used to.  It’s more irritation and annoyance now, and I can work better with those.  Because that feeling of community.

And in the process it’s given me a clearer way to get through my day, to get through my creative endeavors without feeling useless.  And it’s inspired me to think more about how I create my characters; who I base them on, where they come from, who they are, what they do.  A vibrant community of all different kinds opens up not just different cultural ideas but different points of view.  And that’s what a good novel always needs.

 

Getting it right and completing the work

your name taki erasing

As much as I would LOVE to release Meet the Lidwells! right now at this very moment, I’m still not entirely happy with a few things related to it.

The cover, for instance.  I’m still not happy with it. I’ve thought through a few layouts, played with a few in Photoshop, and I’m still not happy with it.  To be brutally honest, at the moment it looks like the original cover of Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, which I so mercilessly tore apart upon its release.  And the last thing I want to do is make it look like I’m saying …but hey, if *I* make a cover like that, it’s art!  Come on, Jonc. Face the facts.  That ain’t how it’ll work out.

Thankfully, during one of those nights where I’m lying in bed after lights out, thinking about my writing when I really should be trying to get to sleep, I realized where I was going wrong, and came up with an excellent alternative that I’m quite certain I can pull off.  Which means that sometime within the next week or so, I can start working on the improvements.

As you can see in this outtake I did a few months ago, my original idea had some merit, but it also looked like I threw it together in about five minutes.  It looked too sparse, too unfinished.  I need to do more with it, but I wasn’t sure what.  The piece that needed to stay was the image of the six silhouettes; it’s an important plot point in the first third of the book, as it’s the cover of their debut album.

The error I made was that someone looking at the cover without looking at the book wouldn’t know that.  I realized this was the same exact issue the original Purity cover had — I learned much later that the woman’s image is in reference to a passport photo.  Having never read the book, I would not have known that if someone hadn’t told me.

This meant that I had to figure out how to get the point across that these silhouettes are something important.  And that late evening, I realized that it didn’t have to be an album cover, per se.  In the book, that ‘iconic’ image of the Lidwell kids didn’t originate as their album cover, but as a flyer for their first shows.

Which gave me an altogether different canvas to work with.

SO!  This means that I have some more work to do in creating this cover, but I know exactly what I can do with it, and how.  And even better, I can once again pull it off on my own!  Self-publishing FTW!

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I’m telling you all this, because this is how a writer, especially a self-publishing one, should think about their product.  There will definitely be times where you get stuck on certain parts of your project, where you can’t quite figure out how to fix it.  You’ll waste time trying all sorts of things that won’t work.  The temptation to say ‘screw it’ and call it done can be quite high sometimes.  Or worse, you’ll talk yourself into believing that your half-assed attempt will be understood by everyone else as a brilliant move.  You’ll be getting close to your self-imposed deadline, or even fly past it, and want to kludge something just to get it out there.  I’ve hit these roadblocks plenty of times.

Thankfully, my stubborn will kept me from taking that route.  As long as I kept telling myself there was a better way to do this and that I just had to figure it out, I was fine with releasing it a little later than usual.  All I had to do was work through this roadblock.  And I’m happy I finally did!

A time for being a pain in the ass

OK, I don’t often talk about questionable business practices here at Welcome to Bridgetown, but a hell of a lot of webcomic artists and writers I follow are *NOT* happy with Patreon right now, and neither am I.

In short: They’ve rearranged their payment fee policy so that instead of taking a percentage cut out of the creators’ payout [I should add that the creators are OK with that part. Think of it as the publisher taking their usual cut from your just-released book.], they are now taking it out of the donors’ payment.

And I quote, from their recent email to creators and donors:
“Starting December 18th, we will apply a new service fee of 2.9% + $0.35 that patrons will pay for each individual pledge. This service fee helps keep Patreon up and running.”

This is under the guise that it’ll standardize payouts for the creator. Which is NOT a thing any creator actually asked for.  They state they ran a poll recently about it, but to my knowledge, I have not heard of any creator actually taking part in it.

So.

This means that for those of you barely scraping by but still wanting to give money to your favorite artist or writer, Your $1 donation per month is now $1.37 per month.

Per donation.

As you can imagine, this adds up. Already we’re seeing $1 donors saying “fuck this” and deleting their payments. We’re already seeing artists and writers think about moving to new donation sites. [Kickstarter currently has one in beta, I believe called Drip, that may start next year that many may be flocking to.]

So what’s my part in this?

Well. I’m okay funds-wise so I’m willing to have the payments go up slightly. The artists and writers I donate to are worth it. So I’m not going to say ‘boycott’ because that won’t work.

No, I want y’all to do something else.

I want you all to be the biggest pains in the ass and email Patreon, @ them on Twitter and on FB, whatever, and make a lot of noise to have them turn this Really Bad Idea around and come up with something else.

Look, I get that Patreon needs to make money too. But this ain’t the way to go about it.

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And for the record, here’s the email that creators and donors received recently,l, minus the ‘we’re a nifty company’ spiel at the end.

“Dear patron,

Your support is truly changing the lives of creators around the world. You give creators a reliable paycheck that enables them to do their best work. Thank you thank you thank you.

In order to continue our mission of funding the creative class, we’re always looking for ways to do what’s best for our creators. With that, we’re writing to tell you of a change we’re making so that all Patreon creators take home exactly 95% of every pledge, with no additional fees.

Aside from Patreon’s existing 5% fee, a creator’s income on Patreon varies because of processing fees every month. They can lose anywhere from 7-15% of their earnings to these fees. This means creators actually take home a lower percentage of your pledge than you may realize. Our goal is to make creators’ paychecks as predictable as possible, so we’re restructuring how these fees are paid.

Starting December 18th, we will apply a new service fee of 2.9% + $0.35 that patrons will pay for each individual pledge. This service fee helps keep Patreon up and running.”

On Writing: Unexpected Ideas

puella magica homura
Homura Akemi from Madoka Magica

I’ll say this: pay attention when ideas pop up, even if they’re weird and unexpected.  Especially when they’re unexpected.

A few weeks back I was listening to the new live album from Jeff Lynne’s ELO (Wembley Or Bust — it’s quite excellent and contains a lot of ELO classics old and new) when their take on “Xanadu” came on.  I remember being a big fan of that movie as a nine-year-old kid.  It wasn’t just the music that captivated me — I was a fan of the band even then — but I was intrigued by its fantasy elements, of muses come alive.

Amusingly, it occurred to me that it would be quite fascinating to see an update/rewrite of Xanadu as a Magical Girl story.  And then I riffed on that a little: ELO’s next album after that was the cult classic Time, a time-travel concept album which also happens to contain the track “Twilight” (known in anime circles as the track used in the DAICON IV film).  Somehow that album would tie in as well.  I shared that as a tweet and didn’t think too much about it after that.

A few weeks later, and the idea is still stuck in my head, and I think I might be able to do something with it.

I thought about it some: a magical girl sent back in time (Time) to save the world somehow, or at least change someone’s fate (Xanadu).  She realizes she’s stuck in that time stream and can’t escape (Time) and has to come to terms with her own fate (Xanadu).  She changes the lives of a few certain people by teaming up with them (Xanadu) though she’s afraid she can’t completely connect with them (Xanadu, Time).  In the end she’s changed the world, or at least someone’s fate (Xanadu) and is finally able to transcend the time stream to return temporarily (Time).

Of course, I’m omitting the rollerskating and the musical interludes, but still…I’m a bit surprised at how easily this came together.  I’m still not sure if I’m going to follow through with it, but the temptation sure is great.

So yeah…pay attention to those ideas when they come up unexpectedly.  You just might have your next story!