Yo, have a nice day

See, this is my problem sometimes.  Maybe it’s an empathy gene that I’m unable to turn off.  Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing where I automatically feel guilty for whatever is going on in the world, even if I had nothing to do with it.  Maybe it’s that I haven’t done enough to train myself to be proactive instead of reactive.  Empathy’s good, sure.  I’m glad I have the ability to utilize it.  But I’m really sick of getting caught in that Everything Is Horrible Nothing Is Fine reaction.  It’s not debilitating to me as I can manage how much media I take in, but it is distracting.

I say this here at WtBt, because this reactive part of me is not conducive to my creativity.  On the contrary, it usually stops it cold.  And I fucking hate that.  This is why this post is so late today.  I just could not find anything worth writing about last night, and I had to beg off so I could get my editing done.

So.  What to do about that.

I’m not going to be a blissed-out hippie or an e-head raver and avoid the world.  It’s kind of too late and I’m too old for that.  But what I can do is be healthier on the emotional/spiritual end of things.  [By now, you know by ‘spiritual’ I mean mind-and-body stuff and not religion.  Not dissing it, just that I’m not looking for that right now.]  Give myself a more positive outlook on life.  Be more proactive on how I process things in the Big Bad World rather than just being reactive about it.

And in the process, that just might open up more creative avenues for me.

 

Denouement

calvin-writing
I MUST WRITE ALL THE THINGS

Okay, so I’ve done my End of Year reviews, my Coming Year Expectations, and my mixtape listing.  I think I’ve covered all the typical year end benchmark posts.  Now what?

It’s been quite the busy year for me.  Most of my writing time was spent carving up The Balance of Light for publication.  And right now, I still don’t think it’s fully hit me that, once that book has been released, that this long project of the trilogy will finally be DONE, and that for the first time in ages, I will have absolutely nothing on my project list.

I mean, yeah, I’m looking forward to not having the trilogy hanging over my head.  But it’s been far too long since I’ve been able to start a new project without thinking, how can I juggle this with the trilogy?  Not just that, I’m also really looking forward to writing NEW stories in that universe that are not directly related to it.

Other than the two or three possible projects (and the possible Secret Long Term Project) I have to think of, what else can I add here?

Well, for starters I’d like to shake things up a little bit.  Perhaps try a new genre.  Write shorter fiction.  Hone my nonfic writing skills.  Expand my reading habits.  Focus a little less on social media (heh, yeah right) and more on self-promotion in multiple avenues.  Believe my gut instincts more instead of flailing in Reactive Mode.  Follow up on bursts of inspiration as soon as possible.  Staying positive despite the odds.  Get creative not just on the writing end of things, but artistically as well as commercially.

And most importantly, PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.

I’m a hell of a better guitarist than I was a few years ago, and that’s mainly because I’ve made it a point to practice more often, even if it’s just to pick up one of my axes and noodle around on it for ten minutes when I really should be focusing on my Day Job.  [Well, that, and making a concerted effort to expand my knowledge of chords past the plain major-minor ones.  Playing along with the Beatles has helped that considerably.]  If I make it a point to exercise my creative muscles every day and expand my knowledge at the same time, I can only get better at them.

That’s my plan, anyway.

See you in 2017, kids.  Stay safe, stay strong.

*

“Talk hard…I like that. It’s like a dirty thought in a nice clean mind.”
— Mark Hunter, Pump Up the Volume

Fly-by: the internets is broken

Hi folks,

Due to complete and utter incompetence of AT&T in failing to upgrade our internet to Uverse and then failing to reverse the request correctly, and THEN turning off our DSL connection TWICE in one week (because this is what happens when you go purely by work tickets and little to no contact between departments), there will be no post today.

At present I am hoping they get their shit together and make the needed fixes, at least until our new service with a different carrier kicks in later this month.

Hopefully we will be back to normal on Monday.

Keeping myself out of trouble

cb-spike-scratch-head
Yeah, I don’t know what I should do with myself either, Spike.

As of tonight, A. will be out of town for nearly the entire month on a business trip.  She’s gone on these trips before, usually going for a week or two at most, but this is the first time in quite a long time that she’s gone for over three weeks.  This includes Thanksgiving!  [Not to worry, folks…I can certainly make do with one of the many local restaurants or cook myself up a turkey breast with a few sides.  I’m not that helpless!]

So what am I to do when I’m the only one in the house for a few weeks?  Well, I’m too old to slide around the floor in my socks and underwear like Tom Cruise (and we don’t have the floors for it anyway).  I’m not about to play hooky around town like Ferris, either.  On the contrary, the worst thing I can do is be a Complete Lazy Ass and not do a damn thing at all, and order out every night.

Seriously, though…I do have plans.  I want to go out and get some exercise, whether it’s walking around the neighborhood or going to the YMCA a few times a week.  And after all that doughnut eating during our vacation, I definitely need to go on a diet, or at least a hell of a lot healthier.  There’s always laundry and housecleaning.  And writingwise, I’m very close to finishing the line edits for The Balance of Light (about 1/8 to go, I think), so that should keep me busy in the evenings.  Plus I’ve got my blogs to keep up.

It does feel a bit weird to be left to my own devices for nearly a full month, but I think I can keep myself from causing any mayhem. 🙂

Cleaning House

dusting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Publishing: One Year Later

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Two down, one to go

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

Let’s break that down:

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

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

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

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

STFU

not writing

I came up with a mantra in the spring of 1995 when I realized that if I was going to get any serious writing done, I was going to have to stop making excuses not to.  Or more to the point, I was going to have to stop procrastinating.  I had a lot on my mind that summer…a stagnating long-distance relationship; lots of overdue bills; a really horrible diet of cereal, ice cream, concession stand food, soda, and smokes; jobs that weren’t paying enough for me to actually live on.  It’s quite true that life stress is not conducive to the creative mind. At. All.

But I had the use of my girlfriend’s PC that summer, and a hell of a lot of time on my hands when I wasn’t at my theater job.  I had a few projects milling about in the back of my head.  And I had my radio and my music collection to keep me entertained.  All I needed to do was get myself into the groove somehow.  If I was going to finally jumpstart this writing gig with any seriousness, I was going to have to go all in.  I couldn’t do it half-assed.

Which meant that I had to come up with a daily reminder.  And this reminder was written on two index cards in very large letters — one was posted right above my desk, and the other was next to my bed.  That way I’d see them every single day, whether I wanted to or not.

This is what they said:

Just DO it.  Shut the f*** up and START WRITING ALREADY.

Terse?  Maybe.  But it did the trick.  The only reason for not writing at that time was so I could feel sorry for myself and my pathetic social life and post-college career.  I hated feeling that way, and I hated that I knew I was wasting time feeling that way.  I had to break the cycle somehow.

Even if that meant working on the small, inconsequential stuff like transcribing my writing from the past ten years.  Even if that meant making small notes on scrap pieces of paper while at my job.  The main aim here was to create a daily habit out of it.  I’d worry about results at a later time.  As long as I was doing it and not wishing I was.

*

I’ll be honest, that’s still my writing mantra, twenty-one years later in 2016.  It’s for different reasons, of course.  I say that to myself when I’m having a mean case of the Don’t Wannas, or severely distracting myself online, or whatever.  I still have my moments of self-doubt (what writer doesn’t?) and wonder if the current project I’m on is worth finishing.

Procrastination and self-doubt are still two of my bitterest enemies, and the only way I know how to defeat them is via the same mantra:  just shut the f*** up and DO it.

And you know what?  It still works.

Creating Covers

So tonight I decided to play around a bit with the cover for The Balance of Light, even though it’s still quite some time before it’s going to see ebook or print.  This one was tough, because I had an idea of what I wanted, but looking for the right picture was going to be a tough one.  I wanted something to balance out the blue/yellow night view of A Division of Souls, so I knew it would have to be yellow/blue and morning.  I had the color scheme down, but the picture was the tough part.

I’ve said before that I really love this part of the self-publishing process; I mean, really love it.  Like, to the point that I may possibly do this as a side-job in the future.  I love looking for that perfect shot.  Trying to get the perfect crop balance.  Figuring out whether to adjust the color or give it a bit of an effect.  Playing around with fonts and text placement.

I’ll be honest, it’s like I’m making fake album covers.  It’s something I used to do as a teenager with my mixtapes and the Flying Bohemians tapes.

Let’s take a quick look at the three covers I’ve made so far:

ados 100615 nt cover

The cover for A Division of Souls was meant to invoke a few things:  the setting (a metropolis, teeming with people), the time (at night), and mood (tense and mysterious).  It’s also to serve as a tie-in to the very first scene.  In short, my aim was to say: this is what the book’s going to make you feel.

The cover was also supposed to tie in with the other two books, which means that I also had to think ahead:  what were the other two going to look like?  I knew I’d have to keep a few visual motifs going…a city would have to be involved in all three, somehow; the images would need to evolve, just like the story itself.  In this case, I created multiple ‘lightboxes’ in my Shutterstock account and started looking for pictures that would do exactly what I needed them to do.

The time it took to throw this one together was surprisingly quick, to be honest.  Looking at it now, I can see a few things I should fix, but for the most part it went smoothly, once I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

tpom 032316 take 2

The cover for The Persistence of Memories was a bit trickier, and I think it looks better as an e-book cover than it does as a trade paperback cover, but I do like how it came out.  The same rules applied here…in this case the setting was twofold: it takes place both on Earth and on Trisanda, so I chose to do a ‘satellite’ point of view that shows both the city below and the stars above.  Time seems to be fluid in this shot.  It seems to be late night in the city below, blanketed by the similar blue (not exactly the same but close) of the first book, but in the heavens, time is irrelevant; it’s all light and dark at the same time.  It also creates a dreamlike mood, where you’re not entirely sure what’s reality and what isn’t.

The placement of the title was purely serendipity, to be honest; I did not expect the top two words to be in space and the bottom two to be in the planet’s atmosphere.  It just turned out that way and worked out quite nicely.  Funnily enough, once I’d noticed that, I was torn on exactly where I should place it…the other outtake had the title dropped a tiny bit lower, so the “of” is resting right on top of the gray cloud line instead of hovering over it like it is.

 

I haven’t made a solid decision yet on what the Book 3 cover will look like but this is what I came up with tonight:

tbol outtake 3b

 

I’m still playing around with the font color for the title, as well as the placement of the text.  The picture hints at the metropolis of ADoS, but the mood and the time is different: we’ve gotten through the late night of Book 1 and the witching hours of Book 2, and now we’ve come to the morning after of Book 3.  The yellow of the sunlight is supposed to hint at the yellow font of Book 1, and I’m still trying to figure out which bluish hue would be good for the title (to hint at the blue cityscape of ADoS).

True, it does kind of hint at new-agey books, but that’s kind of the point…the characters and the planet itself has gone through a spiritual awakening of sorts.  And like Book 2, it serves a dual purpose: the physical awakening from that dreamlike state, and the spiritual awakening.

*

One thing I learned early during this process was that I shouldn’t merely look for something that ‘looks cool’, no matter how tempting it may be.  The last thing I needed was to look for something shiny, because I didn’t want the casual viewer to say ‘wow, what a flashy cover’ but not completely connect with it or remember it.  I wanted something unique.  Something that stood out from other covers, not because it was the flashiest, but because it was different. Something to catch their attention because it stood out just enough.

These first three are my first attempts at doing book covers, and as you’ve probably noticed, there are no actual people on the cover.  This was a conscious choice; not only is it because of the large cast, but because I also wanted to invoke the idea that it wasn’t just my characters being affected by the story, but planet itself.

My next couple of projects do involve a much smaller cast, so there’s a very good chance I may use people (or silhouettes) on their covers.  I did a brief Shutterstock search for those and found a few ideas to work with, and I’m looking forward to these when I get to that point.  The main drafts of these stories haven’t even been written yet, or at least not completely, so again this was a bit like creating fake album covers!  In the process it’s giving me something fun to look forward to.

 

 

Ownership

I was contemplating posting this on Walk in Silence instead, as it originally pertained to music, but I think it works a little better here, as it’s more about the creativity side than the sounds.

A few weeks back the Republican National Convention took place in Cleveland, and aside from the various dumpster fires that went on before, during and after it, I was once again struck by that party’s consistent borrowing of music without requesting permission.

Now, before I go into any potentially divisive politics here, this is purely from the standpoint of the creator.  I’m a big proponent of ownership, and at least giving the creator their due when necessary.

All too often I see examples of creative works being borrowed for entertainment or financial or even social gain, often without mentioning the creator’s name.  This is especially rampant in the art world, where a creator posts their artwork on Tumblr or DeviantArt or Instagram (or any of the other art-themed social media platforms), and on occasion has had corporations such as Hot Topic ‘borrowing’ said art to print on their own branded clothing, without ever contacting the artist.  [And yes, sometimes they will even go so far as to have an in-house artist ‘draw’ the same exact image with minimal changes just to flirt with any legal loopholes.]  Or even on the public level, where their work will be reposted hither and yon without any note of its origin (sometimes it’s even edited out of the picture), thus it becoming lost in the wild and misconstrued as public domain.  This is why many of the artists have gone so far as to put watermarks across their work.  They’ll have a clean version if you want it–you just need to ask permission and perhaps give them payment for it.  Fair is fair.

Music is another field where this happens all too often.  In regards to the RNC, they were using numerous well-known songs as entrance music — sometimes to the point that it was a little too close to pro-wrestling at times.  They almost never ask permission, even though music publishers always have some kind of Terms of Use rules in their publishing contracts.  [There is also the simple fact that, yes, the creator may not agree with your political message and not want to be associated with it in any way.]

The thing that always gets me is how often these conventions will choose a song without ever actually listening to what the song may be about.  They’ll just go with whatever sounds cool.  Ronald Reagan famously wanted to use Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” — an angry anti-war song.  Not that long ago, Sarah Palin used Heart’s “Barracuda” due to it being an old nickname in her past…even though the song is essentially an angry rant about sexism.   And recently: Ivanka Trump came onstage to The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” — a song inspired by taking the day off from work to enjoy nature.  And both David Bowie’s “Station to Station” and The Who’s “Eminence Front” were played by the house band at this year’s RNC; both are songs referencing heavy drug use.

Each time I hear things like this, I immediately think: you do know what this song’s about…right?  And soon after, the musician will publicly denounce its use.  It reminds me of that boat cruise commercial that used Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” (a drug-fueled track inspired by a William Burroughs novel) or a game unit commercial using Sublime’s “Santeria” (a song about a violent and jealous ex-boyfriend) as a happy singalong.  They’re focusing completely on the music’s sound and ignoring the context.  It’s all style and no substance.

[Yes, I know someone out there will argue that ‘both sides do it’, but I’m pretty sure that ‘the other side’ usually makes an attempt to clear the permission beforehand.  When Bill Clinton used Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”, at least the context made sense (it’s a song about determination during the most trying times), and they invited the band to play it live as well.  The DNC more often than not pays attention to what songs they use and how they use them.]

In this internet age, it’s no longer a time of getting away with this kind of thing and saying ‘oops, my bad’ afterwards.  Creators – and fans – can now respond instantly.  My point being: if you’re going to use someone’s creation for public use, the least you should do is ask permission, whether it’s an artwork or a song or a segment of a book.  And there’s a lot of creative work out there, not just the popular works: you may just find the perfect entrance song out there on Bandcamp instead of on Tidal.

Be courteous to the creators, and they may just be accommodating to whatever project you need them for.