Behind the Scenes

Vienna Opera Backstage, Austria
Vienna Opera House pic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Every now and again I think of how fans see their favorite writers or musicians or performers when they’re not center stage with a new project.  I get to thinking, this band has finished their tour, they’ve already released all the singles from their latest album, and they’re out of the limelight.  So what are they doing at that point?

Well, the 80s told us that all the bands were hanging out on the Sunset Strip and getting completely shitfaced and taking an apothecary full of drugs and partying until it was time to start the whole album-tour rollercoaster again.  Or something other ridiculous, overblown stereotype of some sort.

The era of social media shows it differently.  Nowadays, we find that artists are working at their day job or completing freelance projects and selling their own wares at conventions.  Musicians are bringing up a family or helping out a friend at a recording session.  Writers are slogging away, trying to make deadlines and heading out on book tours and conventions.  Any one of them might be taking a breather so they can just be regular non-famous people.

I think about something Paul McCartney once said about the length of time it took for the Beatles to record Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: “Because we were done touring, people in the media were starting to sense that there was too much of a lull, which created a vacuum, so they could bitch about us now. They’d say, ‘Oh, they’ve dried up.'”

I sometimes also think about the time it takes from a writer saying ‘I’m working on a new project’, maybe giving out vague details about it, to the time they tweet ‘YAY!  It’s done!  Off to my agent/editor!’, to the time they announce that it’s being released.  Back in the internet age you were never sure how long it took, especially when some writers like Stephen King could have multiple books and stories out within the span of a year, while other writers might not see publication until a decade after their last release.  Nowadays you can follow your favorite author In Real Time.

I think this might be one of the reasons why some writers are always pleasantly surprised when their book gets a positive response.  They’ve lived with that book for anywhere from six months to a few years, and it’s all their own creation.  They wrote the score, they built the sets, they sang the arias endlessly to get them just right.  Perhaps maybe a few lucky backstage friends got to beta read.  They or their production crew (their agent and/or publisher) may have even done the artwork for the program.  They put it in the hands of their agent, in hopes that someone will be interested.  For all intents and purposes, it’s a one-person show almost all the way to the end.  And when they get there, they’re so immersed in their story that they’re really not entirely sure how the public will react.

It’s one of the most interesting paradoxes in the creative arts; you create something for the public to enjoy, and yet you’re never completely certain if you’ve done it right until they see it.  But if you’re lucky, you have, and all that work will have been worth it.

Despite the distractions

naruto determined
I know just how you feel, Naruto.

The Day Job has been kicking my ass these last few weeks.  The fallout from a new system roll-out that suffered a few growing pains, a ridiculously large workload, and everything in between.  On the one hand, it all makes the day go by ridiculously quickly, but on the other hand, it leaves me hardly any breathing room.  Last week’s vacation was a short respite from that, but alas, I’m still getting my butt handed to me at the end of the day.

Over the last few days I’ve been tempted to lighten the load: stop drawing my Inktober entries, take a hiatus from the blogs and the daily 750 Words, and focus only on finishing Meet the Lidwells.  Or maybe even take a break from that as well.

And then it occurred to me:  That’s how they win.

The last thing I ever want to do is give up my creativity for frustrating reasons.  Yes, I know, this is my Day Job, the one that brings in the money.  But really — do I want to put my lifelong career goals aside because of it?  Hell to the fucking NO.  It aggravates the hell out of me when that happens.

Even if it’s something insignificant like the blogs or the daily words or the Inktober drawings?  Yes, even those.  It’s part of who I am and what I want to do with my life.  They’re the practice that makes me better at what I do, and I can’t give that up.  I won’t give that up.

I was greatly tempted to put up a ‘fly-by’ post a few times over the last few days and say ‘I’ll be back when things quiet down’, but the more I thought about it, the more it made me angry.  I did not want to do that.  It felt like I’d be slacking off, or worse, not taking my writing career seriously.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes it’s hard as hell to balance my Day Job life with my writing life.  I get that.  A hell of a lot of creative people have to contend with that.  We all take time off to recharge, or to regain sanity, or finish a Day Job project, or whatever.  I’ve done it myself plenty of times.  [Hell, I did nothing during my vacation last week except take pictures and do the Inktober entries.]  But I don’t really think I’ve hit that point just yet.

I don’t want to call it.  Not just yet.

Let’s Try That Again, Shall We?

high fidelity bruce

Best Laid Plans were once again thwarted, and I’m pretty sure it was because they weren’t Best Laid after all.  I seem to have forgotten to take into account vacation days off, busy Day Job days, and other events.  But that’s okay!  I’m back, we have nothing of import on the schedule for the next few weeks — in fact, I have today off and other than going around the corner to go see Napping Princess at the 4-Star, I have the entire day to get caught up on things.  Sounds good to me!

[Update: My movie plan was not so much thwarted but delayed today.  As you may have heard, there are currently some nasty wildfires burning north of us, and late last night much smoke drifted our way.  This caused me to barely get any sleep, so I wasn’t really up to seeing a film today.  Perhaps next weekend if it’s still there!]

One good thing that’s come out of this sort of thing is that I no longer feel like a failure.  Sure, the frustration of going past deadline and not hitting my goals as quickly as I’d like is still there, but Everything Is Not Ruined Forever.  Just gotta get up, brush myself off, and start again.

I’m nearing the end of the first draft of Meet the Lidwells and I hope to get it done by the end of this month, at which time I’ll start revisions.  I’m not sure how long that’ll be, but hopefully I can give it a quick turnaround (there won’t be nearly as much triage as I had with the trilogy) and get it out by the end of the year.  Here’s to hoping!

Onward and upward.  Only way to go!

On the Road

fall-leaves-autumn-gif-7

I’m writing this a few days in advance, but by the time you read this, I shall be on the other side of the country, back in my old stomping grounds of western Massachusetts, visiting friends and family.  And if we timed it right, I should be there just as the fall foliage is in full bloom.

I’ll be honest, I always lay down Best Laid Plans when it comes to writing while on vacation.  Sometimes I’ll get a goodly amount done, but other times I won’t even touch the notebook or the Word file except on the plane.  I don’t really mind, though.  Sometimes I gotta look up from the page and talk to real people instead of the characters in my head!

I guess it really depends on how much work I’m willing to dedicate to it, where I’m at in the project, and what platform I happen to be using.  I most likely won’t get any work done on the Lidwells project aside from maybe a bit of line reading.  I might do some plotting and note-making for the Next Project, as I’m still in the index card phase there.  And I most likely won’t do any work for Future Project, as that’s not even to the outline phase yet.

I can certainly write while on the road. I’ve always been able to do it.  Thing is, I’m not always at the right spot in the project where it’s feasible.  I can write on a laptop, but I don’t always bring it with.  I’ve done some editing on my tablet, but writing is quite awkward.  I do kind of miss the days of dragging a notebook around and winging it longhand…maybe I’ll start the first draft of the Next Project longhand, just for the fun of it.

That is, if I can find the time in between all the visiting and road tripping!

Inktober Again

your name taki drawing
Yes, I know that’s a pencil.  Shush.

It’s nearly October already, and my thoughts surprisingly aren’t in the realm of hokey smokes where did the time go I’m still not done with the Lidwells project!   I kind of knew I’d be running a little late.  I’m still on track and roughly at the point I’d thought I’d be at, so all told I’m cool with its schedule.

No, my thoughts are with the fact that after a few years, I can FINALLY take part in Inktober again!  I’ve been busy with more pressing projects and Day Job stuff, but this month I find I have the time to grab my art supplies and do a bit of doodling.  Which is a good thing, considering I’ve been itching to do that for a long while now.  I’ve even saved the Official Inktober 2017 Prompt List to get me going.

What I’m hoping is that this will get me back into the drawing habit.  I’m not forcing myself into it.  It’s just like my writing and music; I just need to shut the hell up and do it already.  Drawing something every day for a month, even if it’s a map or a Murph doodle or something else, should in turn remind me to make time for it.

I’ll be posting them over at my Twitter feed, but I may post some of them here as well.

Looking forward to it!

Schedule Shuffling

shuffling cards a
Just for the record, I have never been able to successfully shuffle a pack of cards like this.

For the first couple of days this week, I’ll be heading into the office across the Bay, as we’ll be rolling out a new platform that should (hopefully) make our work just that little bit easier.  I’m not exactly holding my breath, but we shall see.  And next week (the first week of October) we’ll be on the other side of the country visiting friends and family.

Which means that my writing schedule is going to be all kinds of wonky.

BUT FEAR NOT!  Because this time out I’m attempting something new and unexpected: I’m doing a bit of shuffling to prepare for this time when I’m afk.  One thing I’ve been doing is creating a backlog of blog entries so I won’t be posting fly-bys or skipping it altogether.  I’d like to keep y’all educated and entertained.

Anyway!  My point here is that lately I’ve been looking into how I can get more out of my writing time.  One of my worst habits when I was a teenager was doing my homework the night before it was due.  [And yes, this included writing term papers.  I was an epic procrastinator.]  The downside was that I knew I was a good writer, I just never let myself have enough time for it.  I’ve learned to get better at that in my adult years, but there are still moments when I feel like I’m squeezing out the last drops of creativity at the end of the day after doing a billion other things.

This is where the backlog come in.  I can get away with it because I’m not going out of my way to write blog posts that are up-to-the-minute.  So instead of writing the posts the night before like I’ve been doing, I’ll write them when I have a few spare minutes during the day, and especially when the inspiration hits.  And on top of all that, I can look at the calendar and see that a blog entry is due, and breathe easy knowing that it’s already been done.

Whatever works, right?

shuffling cards b
Also for the record, this is what it looks like when I *do* attempt to shuffle them in that manner.

Is There Any Escape from Noise?

Lately my sinuses have been slightly congested (partly due to the heat and the pollen from that heatwave we had a short while ago, which was followed up by a few rain storms and ridiculous humidity), and my right ear has been blocked up a little bit.  I’m not sure if it’s due to that, or if there’s wax build-up, or if I have tinnitus.  I can still hear, just the some of the treble fine-tuning seems to be muffled ever so slightly, and there is a ringing.  I’m going to keep an eye (ear?) on it and if it doesn’t get better (or indeed gets worse), then I’ll head to the doctor’s.

In the meantime, I’ve been contemplating another stretch of internet detox.  At present I’m only half-heartedly popping into social media, but I’m thinking of maybe doing another temporary unplugging.  It feels like I’m starting to have trouble filtering out all the white noise* again, so it’s time to step away for a little bit.

As you’ve probably guessed, I tend to go through this phase maybe once or twice a year.  It’s usually brought on when I’m getting frustrated with my lack of significant writing progress.  It’s also brought on when opening Twitter starts to feel more like an addictive drug hit than a social connection.  And that’s never a good thing.

SO.  Starting this week I’ve backed away from social media for a little while, and will return most likely mid-October.  I’ve got a few busy weeks ahead of me (both Day Job and vacation back to MA) so I think it’s probably for the best that I get my head quieted down and focus on what needs focusing on.

This won’t bother the Daily Words or the blogs at all…those I’ll still work on.  We shall see what happens upon return.

 

* – This is not meant to have any racial or political connotations; it’s truly white noise I’m talking about. That is, the jumble of all the voices out there, talking about anything and everything.

On Writing ‘Regular’ (non-genre) Fiction

snoopy short and to the point

I’ve been writing genre fiction — that is, some kind of science fiction, fantasy, or one of its many mutations — so consistently and for so long that writing non-genre fiction (or as I’ve been calling it, “regular fiction”, no snarky meaning intended) feels a bit weird to me.

This is the issue I’ve been having with writing Meet the Lidwells over the last few months.  It’s still a made-up world that I’m writing about, but I’m trying not to confuse ‘bad writing’ with ‘a style I’m not used to’.  I don’t think MtL is a bad piece of work, even at this rough draft level.  It’s just that my creative brain keeps complaining that there’s no epicness or high drama going on.

But this is not a Michael Bay action film.  This isn’t the novel for that.  It’s a simple story about a family of musicians.  Their epic moments are about topping the charts, going on tour, and recording a new album.  Their high drama is having to deal with family to such a close extent both in private and public life.

To be honest, this is exactly one of the many reasons I chose to write this novel.  After finishing off the epic drama of the Bridgetown trilogy, I wanted — no, I needed to dial it back.  I wanted to make sure I could still write a story with a much lower volume, so to speak.  I needed to know I could write a story that resonated on a personal level rather than on a visceral one.  And lastly, I needed to know I could write something short and concise, perhaps closer to 70k words rather than the 100k-plus of the trilogy books.

So far I think I’ve pulled it off.  In fact, in the process I’ve figured out how I can write further non-genre novels, if I choose to.  My reading habits have definitely helped me figure most of it out, as has the daily practice words.  Will I write more non-genre in the future?  I’m pretty sure I will, given the subject and inclination.  It’s already affected my SFF writing style in positive ways, to be honest.  It’s the kind of ongoing metamorphosis that I believe is not only healthy but vital.

Once I’m finished with MtL, I’ll be jumping into the Secret Next Project (aka the Apartment Complex story), so it’ll be back to genre…and now I’m curious to see how MtL‘s style affects that one.  We shall see…!

On Self-Publishing: Quality and Perseverance

jim carrey typing
IMMA BE A BESTSELLING AUTHOR

Okay, I’ll grant you that.  There are some self-published books out there that aren’t really all that high on the quality.  There are some books out there that are little more than web scrapes of sites and blogs with horrible cover slapped on it and sold as supercheap Kindle ebooks.  There are others that are a bit better in quality that mean well, but…well…

But I’m not really going to talk about those.

I’m going to talk a little about the Little Novels That Could.  The ones passed over by agents and editors because it didn’t catch them on the first couple of pages.

I always feel a little bit of a twitch when I read about writers who’ve plugged along, wrote multiple books but never received a bite from agents or publishers for years.  I always think, but what if those books were actually good, but the author gave up on it because of rejections?  There’s always that little bit of me that can’t stand that publication bottleneck.  That gets irritated by reading articles by agents and editors who dismiss a submission after two pages.  [To be honest, I think it partly stems from my deep irritation with faulty teaching methods, in this case the ‘I want you to do X but I’m not going to show you how to do it or give you any context’ method that I’ve encountered many times in my life.  Again, that’s just me.]  I always feel bad for writers who go their whole life trying to get published only to fail time and time again.  I can’t help but think it’s not because they’re bad at it, just that their work doesn’t fit into the pre-cut shapes and expectations that mainstream publishing wants.

I know part of this twitch is also the indie nonconformist in me waiting to scream out oh yeah, well we’ll show them!  I know it’s a lot more than that.  It’s showing them by way of writing the best damn thing you can and putting it out yourself.  It’s the payoff when you get new readers and fellow writers telling you they enjoyed your work.  It may be a much smaller readership, maybe a few hundred readers instead of a few thousand, but it’s still worth it.  Your story is out there, and someone, or several someones, have deemed it enjoyable.

Why do I keep harping on about how awesome self-publishing is?  Well, one of the reasons is that I’m trying to help get rid of the stigma that’s been placed on it.  Another is that — yes, I’ll say it yet again — it’s become a more respected outlet, especially over the last few years.  And most importantly, I’m trying to tell other authors out there that it really is worth a try.  That story that the pros weren’t all that into might be the same story that avid readers love.  It may be a bit more expensive, it may require a lot more work, but the end result is more your vision, and something to be proud of.