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.

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!

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.

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…!

Questionable Writing Advice

nathan fillion nope
Me too, Nathan.  Me too.

In a recent issue of one of the few writing magazines I subscribe to, they provide a multi-page article (in garish school-bus yellow, I should add) of “what agents hate.”  I only briefly skimmed it, having had the sense that this was going to be little more than a list of personal irritations that may or may not be helpful to the writers reading it.  I found it more annoying and self-important than helpful to be honest, but that’s just me.

One that did kind of rub me the wrong way was one in which said, and I quote:  If you don’t know how to write a compelling pitch for yourself, you probably should not pursue being a writer.

I mean, I get the context:  this agent has a personal issue with writers who fail at trying to sell themselves.

On the other hand, I personally know a hell of a lot of writers and artists out there who can write phenomenal prose or brilliant dialogue or draw beautiful sequences…yet doing something so compact and microscopic as a one-page advertisement for yourself is a fucking nightmare.  Trying to distill a hundred-thousand-word story that you’ve worked on for lord knows how many months into twenty sentences is a hell of a lot harder than it looks.  It’s two completely different types of creative thinking, and it’s hard as hell to switch easily from one to the other.   Some writers/artists just aren’t as good at the elevator pitch as they are at telling the story.  [Speaking from experience, I should add.]

If anything, I’m thinking they should have maybe rephrased that to be a little less, I don’t know…snobbish?  Soul-crushing?  I’m not sure what word to use here, other than they’re an agent I will most likely not submit to, just on attitude alone.  You’re an agent, you’re supposed to help the writer, not chase them away with Fame platitudes about ‘only the best survive’ and turn them away before they even start.  Yeah, I know, it’s a small field with a crapton of wannabes.  I’m still not a fan of that kind of thinking.

Anyway.  There were also your usual bingo-card points of advice:  kill the adverbs, kill the non-‘said’ dialogue tags, don’t self-edit, farm it out to your writing group, submit only your best work, follow submission directions on the website, don’t hassle the agent/publisher, etc.  Be gracious.  Be patient.  A lot of it does make sense, of course.  YMMV, as they say.

And as I’ve mentioned plenty of times before, some of these are reasons why I’m a self-published author.  I want to be able to successfully edit my own work.  I want to go against the grain.  I’ve gotten better with the pitch.  I don’t think I’m at pro-level yet, but I’ll get there eventually.  I like working on my terms instead of shoehorning myself into everyone else’s.

 

So.  Anyone else come across some questionable writing advice lately?

 

Current Status: Almost There

sw almost there
TFW you’re writing Act III of your novel.

As I may have mentioned earlier, I’ve just started Act III of Meet the Lidwells.  This of course means that it’s that point of the story where I start bringing all the plot threads together, winding up the tale I’ve been telling, and wrapping everything up at the end.

Having either written novels piecemeal over the course of a long spread of time (thanks to homework, social life, or other priorities), or working on the same project for years on end (the trilogy), it feels quite strange to be completing a novel in roughly a half a year.  I’m not used to this speed.  There’s also the fact that this is a relatively short novel for me — I’m currently at 55k, and I’m expecting the finished project to be around 70k.

Still, there’s something to be said about reaching the home stretch. I felt this when I picked up The Balance of Light again in 2009-10 to finish it off.  It’s exciting to be wrapping up a story, my writer brain going at a hundred miles an hour as it tries to weave everything together into a coherent ending for me to write, and balancing that with the knowledge that I need to make that ending smooth and well-paced.  No rushing to the last page here, kids.  Even if I know exactly how to finish it, I have to make sure I don’t make a chaotic mad dash to get there.

My original deadline was going to be mid-September (I had a general deadline, not a specific one), and it looks like it might be more like late October, given that I still need to revise it, clean it up, and get it ready for uploading.  I’m fine with that; my ultimate goal here was to write something fast and light — a complete opposite to the trilogy, to be honest — to see if I could do it, and to see if it was something I could be proud of.

So far, so good.  I’m almost there.

On Writing: ‘Crunch’

naruto paperwork

Hoo boy.

This article about ‘worshiping crunch’ popped up on Twitter on Wednesday and it’s making the rounds of many of the webcomic and freelance artists I follow.  The reaction to the article is overwhelmingly, this is not only horseshit, it’s unhealthy.

The tl;dr to save you from the flashy prose of the article:  Some creative people thrive on working eighty hours a day plus overtime, working on things due in four minutes, eating microwave ramen and Cheetos and drinking up all those 5-hour boost drinks in one go.  Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but it’s not that far from the truth.  The article is an excerpt from the writer’s upcoming book about the cut-throat video game industry.

[EDIT: The writer has since come out stating that his excerpt has very much been taken out of context; he himself disdains the ‘crunch’ idea, which was lost in translation from the book to the online magazine.]

It really did get me thinking about my own work life, nonetheless.

I get it; some people thrive on the high-speed, high-maintenance atmosphere of certain industries, where most of your waking life (and probably most of your sleeping part of it as well) is spent ‘crunching’, getting a week or a month’s worth of regular-speed work into a short amount of time.

The last time I did the ‘crunch’ thing was at Yankee Candle, over ten years ago.  Five years’ worth of working ‘mandatory overtime’ hours in the shipping department during fourth quarter.  Q4 is of course holiday sales season, so our candle output shot up exponentially during that season.  In 2002 it also included a few outside vendors who would buy in bulk.  [Our team won the MVP award that year for Bravery In the Face of Insurmountable Odds and Success Despite Incredibly Unrealistic Sales Goals.]

Mind you, my hours were already pretty early: 6am to 2pm, five days a week.  When it came to Q4, however, that ended up changing to 4am to 3pm, six days a week, Monday through Saturday.  I didn’t complain, because a) I was getting pretty good pay, and the OT pay gave me a good padding in the bank for my bills, b) I got along with pretty much everyone in my department, so it wasn’t a completely hellish atmosphere, and c) I could still dedicate the early evening hours to my writing the trilogy.

Yes, even after ten hour days on the floor, I still went ahead and hit my 1000-word goal almost every night.

The downsides were plentiful as well.  I was getting up at 2am and driving thirty miles through midwestern Massachusetts before any of the snow plows or sanding trucks were even out of the DPW barns.  I had a half-pack a day smoking habit.  I drank a huge cup of coffee (extra cream and sugar) in the morning and multiple giant bottles of Mountain Dew at work (and usually a can or two during my writing sessions), and ate a lot of really unhealthy convenience store food and snacks.  I was lifting 30-40 pound boxes and lugging heavy pallets all day long.

Suffice it to say, every damn year I’d miss about a week’s worth of work close to Christmas, because I’d either get something like the flu brought on by exhaustion, or I’d tweak my sciatic nerve, or both.  I always felt like shit at the end of the year.

By the end of 2004, I’d pretty much had enough.  I was seeing A and driving down to New Jersey on a regular basis.  I bailed in the spring of 2005 and moved down with her a week later.

*

Anyway, about this ‘crunch’ thing.

I just can’t see myself dedicating that much of my life and health for an industry.  Especially when I’m already fiercely dedicated to my writing career.  Every job I’ve held since then, I’ve told managers that I’m fine with the forty hour workweek with the occasional OT if it’s absolutely necessary.  But I have endeavors outside of work.  I’m quite protective of my writing time, not to mention I do my best to come up for air and be social with friends and family.  Thankfully, all my employers have accepted that without question.

Hell, I don’t even try to crunch a ridiculous amount of writing work into a single day.  Sure, I give myself a busy creative schedule on purpose, but it’s a schedule I can handle and can adjust if and when necessary.  It’s a daily schedule I enjoy and look forward to.  I give myself reasonable writing deadlines.  I might complain that I spend too much time futzing around on Twitter, but really…in the long run, it’s not as if I’m trying to write ten thousand words a day consistently.  My count is more like five to seven hundred lately, and that’s just on the Lidwells project.  Add these blogs and the 750 and it’s more like two thousand or so.  And at the end of the day I’m happy with that, and not absolutely knackered afterwards.

I just can’t see myself risking health and sanity for it.  Life is too short for that.

Thoughts On the Long Game

book page turn

There’s one part of publishing no one likes to talk about: when the book sales dry up.  Let’s be honest: a lot of us writers go to bookstores and we see all the perennials on the shelves that we can always trust to be there: the books by Gabaldon, King, Tolkien, and Martin (not to mention the 9,485,682nd book by Patterson, Robb or Grisham…how the hell do they keep cranking those out every couple of weeks, anyway?).  We’d like to think we could get in on some of that as well.

The grim, sad truth is that it rarely happens.  We’ll show up on a few shelves for a few months and then disappear.  And we’ll fall so far short of our dream numbers.  Even grimmer that the title stops getting printed due to lack of demand.  Not to mention suffering the indignity of having fans wondering where they can find Book 1 in your trilogy and having to tell them to look in a used bookstore, because your publisher isn’t making it available.

It almost makes one wonder just how antiquated and out of date the publishing business might be, how many of these rules and guidelines no longer work in this day and age.

But that’s another blog post for another day.  Me, I want to talk a little about how I look at this conundrum as a self-published author.  [Mind you, I’m not dissing the publishing business as a whole; I know many authors who do just fine with it, frustrations and all.]

See, I have three books out that I’ve self-released as POD trade paperback (through CreateSpace) and ebook (through Smashwords), and at present they’re just sort of…sitting there, not doing much.  I did sell a few as they were released, of course.  Not that many, more than I’d expected.  And they’re still up there, available and ready for whoever wants to buy them.  I don’t plan on pulling them from availability any time soon.  I might revisit the books and do some cosmetic editing sometime down the road, but they’ll always be out there for anyone to read.

The Balance of Light has been out for what, a good couple of months now?  The e-book was released in February, and the trade a month or so later.  I think it’s fair to say I got as much as I could get out of the three for the time being.  It would be kind of silly to keep flogging these books to virtually the same audience over and over again.

So what do I do with them, then?  One of the things I’ve thought about, in particular is how to let potential readers know that they’re still out there.  I mean, aside from the occasional tweet or blog post or shameless plug?  That’s the rub.  No one’s really been able to figure out how to do that for self-published books.  I’ll put out some of my self-made flyers when I’m at conventions.  There are some websites and platforms I could advertise on if I so desired.  But is it the right time to do that at the moment?

At this point, I’ve been thinking less about the Short Game — flogging the books while they’re still fresh — and more about the Long Game.  And by Long Game, I mean coming up with ways to push the trilogy on new readers in the future.  Plugging the trilogy as an Added Value when I release my next book.  Continuing to join in on the various sales that come up on Smashwords and elsewhere.  Using them as props when I’m on convention panels.

Meanwhile, this also gives me more time and brainspace to focus on writing my current projects and planning future ones.  [Current status: writing one, prepping another, and two, possibly three on the back burner.]

Do I feel let down a bit that the trilogy didn’t do as amazingly as I’d hoped?  Well, sure.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me a bit, and that I feel that I’ve failed myself for not following up on publicity as much as I should have.  But what’s past is past.  I also know that the themes of the trilogy are rather dense and they’re not for everyone.  I’ve made my peace with all of that.

My thoughts on this are:  always look forward. Always find the positive.  Always find a way to make all of this work for me.  And above all, learn from my own mistakes and missteps.  The trilogy isn’t dead, far from it.  It’s just in stasis.  I can certainly bring it back to life if I so choose.

I’ve said it before…I’m in this writing gig for the long term.  It’s more than just writing a large body of work, though.  It’s about knowing what to do with it all over time.

 

Coming back to the grind and other notes

your name comet taki
One of many spectacular shots from your name.

It’s Sunday mid-morning as I write this and both A. and I have been up for a few hours now.  I think we’ve both somewhat adjusted to Pacific Time again, having spent the last few days in a jet lag haze.  We’re both going over our work inboxes to clean them up at the moment, and I’m streaming some new music releases over the last few days.  [Best find so far: Moscow-based Life on Venus with their album Encounters, which I would describe as Slowdive if they had MBV’s volume.  So yeah, right in my wheelhouse there.]

Our two-week vacation in London was quite enjoyable if a little exhausting — thanks to my phone’s pedometer app, I figured out we walked just a little over eighty miles.  Lots of places seen, friends seen, cats petted, and lagers or tea ordered.  And somehow within all of that, I was also able to work a little on some of the index card notes for Secret Next Project!

And if you’re wondering why I chose the above gif from the anime your name., it’s because I watched it on the plane twice (once each way).  It’s become one of my favorite movies on many levels.  This makes three times I’ve watched it — so far — and I’m sure it’ll be one that will get even more views in the future.  And yes, I’ve already decided I’ll be writing a blog post about it here soon enough, as I find it an excellent example of detailed, layered storytelling and how to successfully unfold each subplot and hint of characterization so it all fits together perfectly.

Speaking of writing, I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things as soon as possible.  I’m still feeling exhausted, but only physically, so I think I should be able to get back on the horse with little issue.  I’m particularly excited that I’m about to start the last act of Meet the Lidwells (and working on the cover!), which means I can start up the revision quite soon!  I’m also hoping to get started on further work with Secret Next Project as well.

As for non-writing creative stuff, I finally got the drawing models that I ordered online a short time ago (half off, so basically two-for-one!) that are made by Bandai.  They’re small but they’re detailed and pretty versatile, so I think I’ll be able to use these for future drawings.  Check ’em out:

Taki Mitsuha
I’ve named them Taki and Mitsuha, of course.

They come with some nifty accessories like different gesturing hands, katanas and handguns (because why the hell not), cell phones and tablets, and so on.  The directions are entirely in Japanese of course, but they’re super easy to use anyway.  I’m sure I’ll get more work out of these than out of Wilhelmina, the simple articulated model I got from Ikea for like six dollars. 🙂

So yes…we’re back from vacation, autumn is nearly among us, and I’m eager to get back to Doing All the Creative Things.  Hell, I may even record a few more Drunken Owl demos if time permits!

Now, if I can just shake the remnants of this jet lag…