Meanwhile…

I have about five more chapters’ worth of revision to go before I can call this second go-round of Diwa & Kaffi done. I’m still on schedule, hitting about one chapter per evening while we watch British gardening shows. [They’re quite soothing after a long day at work, and perfect background noise for my writing sessions…although I do get occasionally distracted!]

I know I’ve talked about what The Next Project will be, but right now I’m not thinking too much about it. All my focus has been on revision, and the next step will be submission research. Right now if feels right for me to dedicated as much time and attention on this project.

In the past this would have bothered me…the fears of running out of ideas and falling out of practice, mainly. Over the years, though, I’ve realized that these fears will only manifest if I let them. I’ve cleared the table of nearly every story I’d put in backburner status, holding onto maybe two or three. They’ll be there when I come back to them. And if they no longer hold my interest, well…I’ll come up with something else eventually. I’m not worried.

Part of this comes with having done a reread of My Work to Date. I’ve reread all three books in the Bridgetown Trilogy as well as Meet the Lidwells over the last few months. It does kind of blow my mind that I’ve already self-published five books and I’m about to submit my sixth to a publisher, all within the space of four years. That’s a hell of a lot more productivity than I ever thought I’d have, to be honest.

So if I have a bit of a dry spell after D&K is out and away, I’m not going to worry too much. As long as I practice.

Writing While Exhausted

I really should know better sometimes.

We just returned from an extremely busy weekend at Outside Lands and all that entails: multiple band performances, vague attempts at eating healthy, walking all over Golden Gate Park, braving the questionable porta-loos, and trying to ignore the more performative extroverts and drunk frat bros. And walking back home six long blocks away at the end of the night. It was a blast and I’m always excited that we have this incredibly cool music festival less than a mile from our apartment, but I am now tired and sore and a nap sounds like a great idea.

And yet somehow I’ve decided that doing my Daily Words, posting an entry here, and working on revision for Diwa & Kaffi later tonight is a good idea. Sometimes I just don’t know when to stop and take the day off.

I used to do this all the time down in the Belfry, back when I was writing the trilogy. I’ve spoken many a time about coming home from a ten-hour day during fourth quarter at the candle factory (when I used to have to go in for 4am in the winter, meaning I had to get up at 2am to get ready and brave the unplowed roads). And yet somehow I’d still decide to do my comic and cd run in Amherst, and spend an hour or so working on the novel. Granted, some days I’d get as far as playing a few hands of FreeCell, write a few hundred words, and call it done.

But other days I’d actually soldier through, fueled by snacks and Mountain Dew, and managed to hit my thousand-word goal for the day. Tired or not, sometimes these writing sessions were fruitful and enjoyable. As long as my brain wasn’t too loopy, I could pull it off.

I’m of course years older now, I eat healthier and go to bed at a decent hour, and thankfully my Day Job doesn’t demand ridiculous hours and overtime, but I don’t plan on pushing myself if I don’t have to.

But if I’m up for it, I’ll at lest give it a try.

Watching 90s Action Films

So A finally made me sit down and watch the original 1998 Blade film, and HOO BOY yeah that was certainly something. Definitely one of those “this is terrible” but in a fun popcorn flick kind of way if you’re into that sort of thing.

It reminded me of something that I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks or so: man, the 90s were fucked up. I’m not just talking about world events here, which goes without saying. I’m talking about some of the films, books, music, art, pretty much any medium. It’s almost as if us Gen-Xers, realizing that we were essentially the Generation Nobody Paid Attention To, decided to see how far we could push our creativity. And then push it just that little bit more. See what we could get away with. And it usually paid off, because the Gen-X audience loved it when the boundaries were pushed like that. It’s part of our DNA.

Blade in particular is a ridiculous vampire action film with all the bingo spots that makes up 90s action films: badass martial arts battles, quote-worthy dialogue, insane weaponry, a secret rave in a bizarre location, a ridiculous car chase, a few insane how-the-hell-did-they-shoot-that sequences, and all of it edited to fast-bpm techno dialed up to 11. It also features quite a few ‘let’s see how far we can push this’ moments, one especially squicky scene within the first five minutes of the film.

I watched a hell of a lot of these in the 90s and 00s, from the Matrix films to the Underworld films and yes, even the Mortal Kombat films. They were all good fun on a stupidly hot Saturday afternoon during the summer.

They also feature some great whoa! moments, and I’m not talking the Keanu Reeves kind or the car-jumping-a-moving-train kind. I’m talking about the kind that a writer like me would love: the little seemingly inconsequential shots that make me perk up. There’s a shot in Blade that did it for me, when our heroes are being chased down a subway tunnel with way-too-fast trains zipping by every couple of seconds. Dr Karen Jenson somehow loses her balance and lands on the tracks, but at the last second reaches her arm over at an odd angle, thus keeping her face from landing on the electrified third rail by mere inches. It’s a three second shot that didn’t need to be in there, but for me it was definitely an ooh, nice detail! moment. A lot of 90s films are filled with those kinds of shots, and they add charm and reality to the moment.

These often inspired my writing at the time. The original version of the Bridgetown Trilogy (The Phoenix Effect, written 1997-98) features the same level of detail alongside some of the classic tropes. Some of them even show up in the final books. I had a rule for writing them: if I wanted to add a ‘this would look really cool’ moment, I had to give it a reason for being there. I realized the best way to do this was similar to that Blade moment I mentioned above: it had to tie in with the character’s personality. Dr Jenson’s purposely avoiding the third rail underlines a major point of her character: she’s smart and always thinks ahead, especially on the fly. Whenever the Mendaihu gang had one of those similar Hollywood moments, I made sure it had consequences.

While a number of more recent action films have dialed back the over-the-top ridiculousness somewhat, that’s not to say they’ve completely disappeared. See the still-going Fast and Furious series for a prime example of that. It’s even there with more recent stories: the John Wick series is just one over the top fight scene after another. Even there we have a nice attention to character detail: Wick hardly ever speaks in any of the movies. And when he does, he does so for a reason, and his words are important.

My point here? Well, let’s just say that watching 90s action films might be a fun and enjoyable way to waste an afternoon…but even these films have moments that inspire a writer like me.

Decisions, Decisions…

It’s the question that nags at every writer at some point: what should I write next?

I’ve got two, maybe three projects idling in the background, and I’m not entirely sure which ones I want to start first. I’m not making a solid decision just yet, as I’m still heavily focused on this current revision phase of Diwa & Kaffi. If I’m going to do any prep work for any of these at this time, it’ll just be a few notes here and there or some practice words.

Each new project starts off a bit differently from the previous one, I’ve noticed. Meet the Lidwells started out as an enjoyable diversion while trudging through the massive prep work for the Bridgetown Trilogy releases. In My Blue World started out as a light adventure, and Diwa & Kaffi started as a serious approach at YA. I really have no idea how these two or three possibles are going to kick off.

And once I start them, who knows if they’ll see completion? Between the those three books and the Trilogy, there are at least three or four more projects that I’d started but eventually trunked. That’s always a frustrating decision, but sometimes it’s got to be done. [There are many red flags that will tell me when a story needs trunking, but the biggest one for me is when it truly feels like I’m wasting my time.]

The most I can do as a writer is just DO it, and hope for the best. I doubt I’ll ever truly run out of ideas. I might have a dry spell, sure — I had one of those about ten years ago — but something else will come along eventually. And when it does, I’ll do my best to see it through. And if that fails, well…onto the next project.

Do Writers Read Their Own Books?

It’s an honest question. Do we read our own books after they’re out there in the wild? After spending all those hours slaving away at it, pulling it apart and putting it back together, wondering if anyone else out there is ever going to read it…do we want to pick it up again after we call it complete?

We most definitely do, for various reasons. I can’t say if other writers read their own books for the fun of it, but I would not be surprised if some of us do. After all, a good portion of us write these things because these are the kinds of stories we like to read.

Over this past weekend, inspired by finishing off my cleaning and sorting of the Mendaihu Universe papers, I uploaded an epub copy of A Division of Souls to my Nook and started reading it during our relaxing weekend down in Monterey. I haven’t picked up that particular book since I self-published it back in 2015.

I’ve distanced myself from the Bridgetown Trilogy since then, by choice. The major reason being that I had a few unrelated stories I wanted to write and release first. I also wanted that distance so I could look at it with a fresh viewpoint, that way I could reconnect with certain parts of it for the potential Book Four.

I’m already picking up things I’d like to change with it, of course. Perhaps a bit more editing. A few formatting issues that might have gotten missed. Quicken the pacing a bit more, especially in those first few chapters. But other than that, I’m surprised at how solid it all is despite that. Spending so many years on a single project can sometimes become a desperate fall into a rabbit hole, but I can see I managed to avoid that. It’s very heavy immersion, I’ll grant that. This was my Epic Urban Fantasy project and written that way on purpose. Just like Meet the Lidwells! and In My Blue World were written fast and compact on purpose. Just like Diwa and Kaffi was written in a deliberately even and relaxed pace.

And I’ve reread those books as well! I read MtL for the fun of it because it was such an enjoyable and quick project. I reread IMBW because I wanted to make sure I did a good job on it, a few months after I released it. And I’ve been rereading D&K over and over again lately for revision purposes. A common piece of advice that many authors (and agents and publishers) give is that you’ve got to be able to reread your own work countless times and not get sick of it, and I totally get that.

I’m not planning on doing a New and Improved Edition of the Bridgetown Trilogy because of this current reread. At least not yet, anyway. (I might eventually do one to fix the few very minor issues that I catch, but that’s not going to happen right away. Right now, all I want to do is reread the trilogy and see how it sits with me, and what I can glean from it for later books in the Universe.

Still, it is kind of fun to read these things and get that occasional feeling of pleasant surprise and pride: I wrote this? Daaang! Heh.

On Submitting Instead of Self-Publishing

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been contemplating submitting Diwa and Kaffi to agents and/or publishers. I haven’t taken this route since probably 2013, when I submitted A Division of Souls out to a few publishers. I’ve self-published everything since then.

So why go the submission route this time out? Well, my first and most important reason is that I have high expectations for this particular novel. I’m quite proud of how it’s come out; it’s quite possibly my best work since I started self-releasing my work. And to be honest, I really don’t want this one to fall into a void like my other books have tended to do. [That’s partially my own fault, but that’s for another post.] I want Diwa and Kaffi to get the best cover, the best production, the best editing, the best everything. While I could find an artist to commission for a great cover, and while I could do my damnedest to get this book into the hands of as many people as possible, I also know that going the ‘pro’ route would provide me with better chances than I could ever give myself.

Which means I need to start researching for agents and publishers for the first time in ages. I’m aware that the process and the field has changed considerably over the last ten or so years since I last researched it, so I’m going in knowing full well that I may need to relearn it all. I’m totally down with that, considering I’ve been in this writing gig for pretty much my entire life. I’ve read all the Writer’s Digest articles. I’ve read the how-to books. I’ve talked to the panelists at conventions. I know where to look and who to ask.

So what’s different for me this time out? On a personal level, I’m going into the submission process with a bit of context and experience. I’m not mailing these printouts passively into the wind and hoping they graduate past the slush pile. I’m not looking at the process with rose-tinted glasses and getting my feelings hurt when I get rejection letters back. And most importantly: I understand why those past submissions failed as they did. I learned how to read my own work clinically so I could see why they were rejected. I was able to understand that changing my style or my process or whatever had no bearing on me personally; there’s going against the grain and then there’s just using that as an excuse for sloppy work.

Do I know who I want to submit to? I have a few ideas. I look at who’s published my favorite books in the last decade, who the editors were, who their agents are. I’ve met a few of them at cons, or know of them through some of my other writer friends (this is one of the reasons I do enjoy social media).

I know it’ll still be high-stakes. I know the turnaround will be significantly longer. I know it might still get published but not get any promotion whatsoever. I know it might still get rejected. I know it still depends on timing and luck. But I’m willing to try it anyway.

And if all else fails, I can still self-publish it.

Journals and poetry over the years

My notebook of choice for poetry and journaling for decades.

The Mead composition notebook hasn’t really changed much over the years. The stiff cardboard cover is bendable cardstock now, but the cover is still available in mottled black and white, still has 100 sheets bound by string and glue, and still fits perfectly in a backpack.

Back in early 1988, when Chris and Natan and I started up our band The Flying Bohemians, I’d tasked myself with writing song lyrics. Deeply inspired and influenced by the music we were listening to on college radio and as you can well imagine, most of it ended up being pastiches of songs by The Cure, The Smiths, and The Sisters of Mercy. There’s some decent stuff in there, given my age and experience, but for the most part it’s the kind of too-serious writing you’d expect from a seventeen-year-old stuck in a small town, waiting to escape.

Song lyrics and poetry became a perfect temporary escape for me then. During bouts of frustration and depression, I gave myself one rule: no boundaries. Let’s see how far we can take this. Mind you, that didn’t mean ‘let’s write the most vile/violent/gross/puerile shit just to get away with it’. I never wanted to go that route to begin with. No, it meant ‘let’s lay our heart and mind out and go deep, no matter how dark it gets.’ Sure, it’s a teenage cri de coeur and everyone’s done it, but I took my craft (if not the words) seriously. It was writing exercise to work on my frequency and consistency, and it was a mental exercise to purge my negative emotions. And they were a creative outlet when my fiction writing well had run dry.

This was an avenue that got me through a hell of a lot over the years. The frustrations of high school, the worse frustrations of college, and especially the dismal post-college years. I may not have always been consistent with it, and would sometimes go years between writing in these notebooks, but I never gave it up completely.

My history with personal journaling, on the other hand, had been spotty for years. For a brief time I used these same Mead notebooks for personal journals, starting in 1991. Most of it was voicing personal frustrations with school, friends, relationships, roommates, and lack of money. Later on, I’d write personal entries in regular notebooks here and there (I’ve been finding quite a few of them during my KonMari Tidy-Up of Spare Oom Project), but they never lasted more than a few pages. And once I joined Live Journal back in 2004, all that writing ended up online.

It wasn’t until New Year’s Day 2014 (after a brief false start a few months earlier) that I bought a 3-pack of Moleskine’s large cahier journal from our local bookstore that I made it a point to redirect that public display back into something personal again. Since that day I’ve been writing in those particular notebooks five days a week with very few exceptions; it’s what I do during my 9:30am break during the Day Job. I’m glad I took that step, as it made me refocus my creative output. My online writing morphed into the two blogs you’re now following. My personal issues now stay personal, just like they were all those years ago.

But what about the poetry? I’ll certainly have highly productive waves every now and again, but those are often few and far between. Those remain an exercise in emotional and mental purging, but they’re also done for the pleasure when the inspiration strikes. I’m working on trying to make this outlet more consistent, however.

Every now and again I’ll pull out one of these journals and poetry notebooks and read a few pages, just for the fun of it. Sometimes I’ll cringe, but more often I’ll let myself revisit the memories and emotions tied to these writings. It’s a way for me to remember what I’ve learned, reminders of where I was and where I’m going. Sometimes it’ll even inspire something new.

Do I really need to save this? Probably not.

In my ongoing process of cleaning up my files and getting them in order, I’ve come across quite a few printed copies of the same stories. Which surprises me, because I though I’d thinned out that particular collection of papers back in 2006 when I got rid of all those three ring binders. Apparently not…?

And these copies of stories that I mailed off to publishers? Yeah, I definitely don’t need them. Hell, I don’t really need the rejection letters either, to be honest…most of those date back to over fifteen years ago and I’d like to think I’ve learned from my writing mistakes by now. I’m in 100% agreement with them for rejecting that short story from the mid-90s — it’s kind of embarrassing to read now, and I’m embarrassed to admit I even submitted such a piece of half-baked trash.

Which leaves me with…what? Oh, I still have some of the printouts saved. These are the ones I actually used for revision purposes, writing detailed notes in the margins. Those were helpful and I’m okay with those cluttering up my bookcase. And I’m definitely saving those scraps of paper where I’d originally come up with the idea during a slow moment at the Day Job. Those are always fun to look at and remember how it all started.

I found myself doing the same exact thing when I cleaned out my old collection of 3″ floppies. I’d saved a lot of my work on multiple disks over the course of a decade, and making duplicates seemed like a great idea, given how easily they’d get corrupted over time. Especially when I reused older disks. Some documents I had only one surviving copy, while others I’d had maybe three or four. (I narrowed these down by way of moving them to folders on my shared drive and deleting the duplicates via matching the timestamps. I may still have some duplicates, but it’s a hell of a lot more organized now.) Once that particular project is done, I’ll save it to my cloud account for security.

But with the paper versions…I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important things I want to save is the longhand notes and outtakes, the original sketches, the partial outlines…the work behind the finished product. Anything else can go either way.

Thankfully, I’ve kind of grown out of being a pack rat. I used to be a horrible one, both with my writing and pretty much everything I collected. Marriage and moving across the country made me rethink that. Hell, I’ve even cut down on my books! Seriously, though…I’ve still got my digital writings in their various versions (I save each new revision version under a different name so you can still see the work in progress.)

I no longer feel bad getting rid of that fifth print-out of chapter 3 of a book I’ve trunked over a decade ago…as long as I have it saved digitally, that’s good enough.

On Life Adjustments and Finding Time to Write

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’d adjust my creative output with possible life and work changes coming in the future. I’m sure every writer, artist and musician has to go through this at some point in their life; it’s rare when they can stay with a creative regimen for years at a time.

I’ve been working from home full time since…2014, I think? That’s five years. That’s a pretty damn impressive run, and I’ve made the best of it any way I could. I revised and self-published the trilogy and wrote three additional novels, hand-wrote a bazillion personal journal entries, and created an impressive blog schedule. And on top of that, I also managed to hit the gym a few times a week as well!

This might change at some future point, and at first it bothered me severely. I’ll readily admit to being extremely fond of habit and schedule — and I’ve mentioned many times that it’s mainly because it keeps me from otherwise wasting my time being unproductive.

But now that I’ve had more time to think about it, I realize that just like any other Day Job, it’s really just a matter of knowing how to rearrange and reorganize.

The one hard and fast rule for me has always been to be extremely protective of my writing time. I won’t budge on that. I can make concessions and figure out how to fit it into any Day Job schedule of course, but I won’t sacrifice it completely. My writing is my long-term career to balance with the Day Job. And I’m always open with managers about that, and thankfully they’ve all be extremely understanding. (In fact, many of them are usually quite impressed when they hear I have multiple books out! Heh.) If the Day Job requires my undivided attention, I’m down with that. But I need to ensure that I have time outside of that job to dedicate to my writing.

So what does this mean, with the future possibility of having to go into the office after five years of my commute being a ten second walk into the other room? Well, this just means that I could use that travel time to read. It means that I could revive the old HMV habit of going in early and spending that time in the break room or the cafeteria doing some longhand work. It means that I can still use my post-dinner time to work on the novels. I’ll certainly miss listening to my music all day long, but I’m sure I can come up with an alternative for that as well.

All I need to do is remember that I’m not giving up any personal time for my writing. I’m just shifting a few things around, is all.

Revisiting old ideas: Two Thousand

Two Thousand was an idea I’d come up with sometime in 1991 while working in the Media Center of the Emerson College Library, back when it was at 150 Beacon. (I still miss that place.) I’d been puttering through our multimedia collection of 16mm films and videotapes in the back office when I stumbled up on our copy of Howard Hawks’ pre-code screwball comedy Twentieth Century. Though the title comes from the train in the film, I kind of liked the idea of a story title evoking a second meaning: the coming of a new era. I thought: in just a few short years we would be sliding into not just a new century but a new millennia. What about a story about a group of people of different ages coming to terms with 2000 being just around the corner? (Yes, yes, I know technically they both start with the year 2001. But I refuse to be a pedantic doofus.)

Originally the idea was to write a handful of intertwined short stories about Gen-Xers of different stripes making their first tentative steps into the real world and moving towards their own personal and career goals. It was a lofty idea and I wrote quite a few short snippets, notes and story arc maps, and though I was never quite able to make any of them work at the time (mainly due to inexperience of writing in particular and life in general), I always thought it was a great basis for a project.

One particular story thread from this project was about a young man with dreams of fame with his band Billow, and what it would take to achieve more than just local success. I was continually drawn to this idea (I had a secret desire to be a busker to make extra change, but I never had the time or the emotional stability then, and felt my guitar work was far from decent) and revived it in 1994 as a new writing project unrelated to any of my much older trunked ideas. I made some rather significant headway with this one, writing perhaps a dozen or so chapters and mapping out nearly the entire story. And yes, I even created a two-cassette mix tape soundtrack for it.

As you may have already guessed, this too fell by the wayside due to the Great Fail of ’95 when I moved back to my hometown, broke and broken. I was not in the best of mindsets to work on the project, and besides; I’d already started working on True Faith with my ex-gf by then, which set me on the very long road of writing science fiction and learning how to actually write.

Neither version of Two Thousand ever really disappeared. Every now and again I’d revive it, if only for a short time, then file it away when a more important project came along. Thankfully, at some point in the late 90s I’d made extremely detailed index cards of the short story ideas, character names, places, quotes, and even soundtracks.

Recently I tried reviving the story about four or five years ago that I trunked almost immediately, as it wasn’t anywhere near what I was trying to achieve with the idea. I did, however, give Billow some page time as guest stars in Meet the Lidwells! as the Lidwells’ favorite Boston band to tour with, and the climactic scene of Thomas performing “Listening” live was borrowed from a similar idea that was to be part of Billow’s story.

Thirty years on, and I still think of this project now and again, especially when I think about my college days in Boston. (And yes, listening to a lot of music from 1991-94, especially early Britpop, brings back the memories as well.) Will I ever revive it? Should I? Some stories should of course stay trunked, but it doesn’t hurt to dust off some of these ideas, especially if I can use them elsewhere or in new ways. Lately I’ve been thinking of playing around with these short stories for my Daily Words, just to keep the writing muscles active. I don’t plan on being too serious about it, but if it ends up being something worth expanding on, then it’s worth a shot, right?