Not always on schedule, but at least consistent

fma running
credit where it’s due: Full Metal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

Oh hey!  I’d completely forgotten to write up a WtBt entry yesterday!  Sorry about that, folks.  Here you go.  Sometimes the weekend gets the best of me.

Or in this case, A. and I binged on the Star Wars movies this weekend, watching the original three and following it up with The Force Awakens (which we still hadn’t gotten around to watching).  We also bought Rogue One at the mall this weekend so we’re all good to go with that series for the moment.  [Not including the prequels — that’ll be for another time.]

I’ll be honest, I’m not used to taking days off from writing.  I get a nagging in the back of my brain that I shouldn’t be wasting time doing frivolous things when I should be working on a project.  It usually goes away with a good movie or television series (British TV is really good at that for me).  But it’s worth it, especially as I have to remind myself to watch and read new things that could give me insights on my own work.

In other news, I’ve been keeping busy with Meet the Lidwells, and I’m glad to report that the word count has been consistent.  I’ve been hitting between 500 and 1000 words a night, which is alright by me.  That’s my normal average on first drafts, so I’m happy with that.   And as first drafts go, this one’s going fine so far.  Room for improvement, but I’ll let myself worry about that on the first once-over later on.  To tie in with the music metaphors here, I’m laying down Take 1, where I’ll hit a few bum notes and flub a few of the verses, but at least I’ll know what to fix when it’s time for overdubs and mixing. 🙂

Meanwhile, it’s finally dawned on me that BayCon will be in a few weeks!!  It’s probably time for me to prepare myself for that considering.

Here’s my schedule for the con…if you happen to be there, stop by and say hi!

World building techniques and approaches
Saturday 11:30 – 13:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)
Specifically focused on pointers for attendees to attempt rather than history of what panelists did with X.
Panelists: Margaret McGaffey Fisk (M), Kevin Andrew Murphy, Ms. Jennifer L. Carson, Jon Chaisson, Katharine Kerr

Cover Me
Monday 10:00 – 11:30, Convene 1 (San Mateo Marriott)
How to put a good cover on your book.
Panelists: Ms. Jennifer L. Carson (M), Mr. Ezra Barany, Jon Chaisson, Daniel Dociu

You Want to Build Your Own Language?
Monday 13:00 – 14:30, Inspire 1 (San Mateo Marriott)
An intro course on how to build a language.
Panelists: Jon Chaisson, Kai MacTane (M), Juliette Wade

 

In the meantime, back to the mundy Day Job with the hopes that I can sneak in some Daily Words later on when things quiet down!

Fly-By: All’s Well So Far

normal_kakashi_read
Kakashi from Naruto, @Masashi Kishimoto

Hi all!

Just a fly-by today…nothing much to report other than that all is well.  I’ve been hitting an average of 500 to 1000 words a day for Meet the Lidwells (woohoo!), and it’s been running quite smoothly.  Funny how that happens when you outline beforehand, no?

Also: started the daily 750 Words back up again.  A lot of it is just riffing right now, but that’s just fine.  It’s practice words, and that’s what counts.

Other than that, going to have a much-needed relaxing weekend!

Repost Because It’s Needed: Brothers and Sisters

This was written and posted on 11 November of last year.  Given today’s appalling actions of the Republican party today regarding the healthcare repeal, I felt it necessary to repost. 

As it stands, I have absolutely no more fucks to give on that party, obviously. 

Thus, I find it imperative that if they’re so bent on the Federal government not being in charge, that they’d rather put lives at risk just to save someone else money, then we must find a way to help ourselves.  Especially where healthcare and insurance are concerned.

Never thought I’d sound like one of those telethons of yore, but please — do what you can.  If this keeps up, we’re really gonna fucking need it.

* * * *

Well.

Obviously you know how I feel about the Fuckwit winning.

But that’s not what I’m going to talk about.

Let’s talk about other writers, other artists, other musicians.  The creative people out there who inspire us, entertain us, move our spirits.

I’m looking pretty far ahead at the moment.  I dearly hope that I am 100% wrong in feeling this way, but I would not be the least bit surprised if over the next four years, life for creative people starts getting harder.  And that life for people who want to be creative — the students and the kids who dream about being writers, artists, knitters, sculptors, musicians and so on — gets harder as well.

You already know how I feel about this; it’s always aggravated and annoyed me that the arts field is always the last on the budget list and the first to get axed when the economy starts tanking.  You can get financial help if you’re a football or basketball player, but you’re not worth much if you sit around trying to create something (that is, of course, unless you create something that’ll make tons of cash for everyone).  Too many people I know are held back from doing what they do and love best because of the Real Life of having to get a secondary job to supplement their income.

I should know. I’m one of them.  Sure, my wife and I are reasonably okay financially, but if I could contribute as much to our combined income using just my writing, I’d drop my Day Job in a heartbeat.

This is precisely why I love this recent vibrant era of DIY creativity.  Self-publishing, pop-up galleries, personal online stores, webcomics, boutique startups, Bandcamp.  It’s more, a LOT more than saying to hell with the establishment, more than saying ‘wouldn’t it be fun to put on a show in the barn’.  It’s saying “I know exactly what I want to do with my life, and I’m going to make that a reality.”

It’s not saying ‘fuck the rules’, it’s completely rewriting them.

So.

I ask all of you now, do me a solid:

Look at your social media timelines.  Look at those webcomics you read every day.  Look at those bands whose music you download from Bandcamp.  Look at that necklace or pair of earrings you bought off Etsy.  Look at those artists whose painting you picked up from their tiny booth at the local pop-up gallery down the street.  Look at those creative people, and realize that this, their creative work is what they do best.  This is what makes them happy.  This is what lifts their spirits.  Your purchases and downloads and reviews are there to say “I love what you created.”

Do me a favor:  in the next four years, if any of them have a Patreon, are running a Kickstarter, or are doing some kind of of fundraising so they can stay in business doing what they do and love the most in their lives, please donate.  Even if it’s five dollars a month.

What you’re giving them is more than money.  You’re giving them a chance to live the life they’ve always wanted to live.  And that is one of the best things you can do for someone.

State of Independents

green-apple-books
Our local indie bookstore in the Richmond

This past Saturday was Independent Bookstore Day, and so of course we made our way over to our local indie bookstore, Green Apple Books, to spend some time and a bit more money than normal.  Sure, we go there at least once a month anyway, but it’s always fun to join in the celebration.  [And to be honest, I’ve kind of given up on Record Store Day, which was a few weeks previous, as it’s become more a Come Buy Our Overpriced RSD Collectibles Day for me, but I digress.]

A and I will always find a reason to head there to browse the shelves.  They have a stellar collection of all kinds of new and used titles, and if they don’t have it, they’re more than happy to order it for you.  A lot of the music bios I’ve read over the last six or seven years have come from that store, in fact, as has most of A’s history books.  And as I’ve mentioned before, they sell e-books on their website via Kobo, as well as ordering self-published books through CreateSpace…which means this store carries my trilogy!

Which brings me to a conversation A and I had earlier today when we were out for a walk around the neighborhood.  One of our internet friends had tweeted her concern about the state of e-books, having read an article somewhere online about how Kids These Days are leaning towards Good Old Fashioned Paper Books or something of the sort, and I replied saying that e-books really weren’t dying a horrible death at all.  It was just stabilizing.  Having followed Publishers Weekly on this very subject for a good couple of years now, I think I can say that with conviction.

We got to talking about how, just like the music business, the excitement and shininess of having a new platform in which to enjoy something has leveled off.  Just like CDs, just like mp3s, e-books have matured as they’ve become more prevalent.  Sidetracking ideas and not-quite-successful failsafes (like DRM) have slowly faded into the background.  You don’t need to buy a Nook when you can download an app (and on your tablet, PC, or phone at that) instead.  And for every person who swears by physical books and loves them like children, there’s another person who swears by e-books because they save a hell of a lot of space.  [And like music: I used to be a physical-copy purist and my collection took up a sizeable chunk of a room in my parents’ basement, but it’s now 99% digital and takes all of one external drive the size of an index card.]

This is partly why I don’t take sales too seriously.  Sales teams are there to push the latest toy into your hands…as well as push the latest version of the toy you already have.  They’re there to say This Version Is Better.

Which is all well and good, when the thing your selling is constantly evolving.  Back in the 90s, with computers getting smaller and stronger, CDs being more durable and travelworthy, and so on, Sales had their work cut out for them.

Nowadays, I think the reading public is at a point where they’re just as happy reading a book as they are reading something on their tablet.  The product excitement wore off some time ago; they just want to enjoy the actual text at this point.  Which means that if you look at the sales graphs just for e-books alone, they’ve sort of leveled off, maybe gone down a bit.  But if you take book sales as a whole — books, e-books, audiobooks, and everything in between — it’s still a pretty stable and vibrant business.  It might not be skyrocketing the way Sales wants it to, but it’s moving at a damn healthy walking pace.

When we lost Borders Books & Music a few years back, and now that we’ve also lost a number of Barnes & Noble storefronts, there’s a justified worry that there’s no available bookstores in a lot of towns and cities.  Some of them had gotten run out of town by those two chains, others had simply given up.  Or didn’t bother.

But I’m starting to see a return to that, really.  The ‘big box’ stores are indeed becoming a thing of the past, for multiple reasons:  internet shopping, unrealistic sales forecasts, and even a small resurgence of small stores.  Some companies aren’t quite sure how to handle that, but others are finding new ways to make it work; some are even flourishing.  The Bay Area is blessed to have a high number of independent book stores and small local chains (such as Copperfield’s and Books Inc), so this area is more of an exception than the norm, but I’ve heard tell — again, via Publishers Weekly — that that’s slowly turning around.

Viva independents! 🙂

Budgeting for Self-Publishing

Lupin III
In a perfect world, us writers would be like Lupin III here.

When I was on a FOGCon panel about self-publishing a while back, one of the things I felt I had to point out — something that everyone else was skirting around but not really touching upon — was one of the most important parts of being a self-published author.

If you’re going to be serious about self-publishing, you’re going to have to be willing to fund it to some degree, out of your own pocket.

It’s a tough thing to admit, I know, but it’s true.  You’ll need to budget to some degree.

I knew and understood this going in when I decided to self-publish the trilogy.  It’s part of the reason I wanted to try my hand at doing as much of it myself as I knew I could: the editing, the cover art, even the various promotional avenues.  [I should state now that some people aren’t interested, willing or able to do any or all of that — and that’s just fine.  This is part of what I mean: you need to budget for those things.]

As it happens, the uploading of documents to Smashwords and Createspace is free if you’re doing most all of the work yourself.  For the production, the only costs I had were the Shutterstock picture package (five for $40), and trade galleys from CS (~$60 for five).  The cost of course will go up if you need to outsource your art and/or editing and formatting.*

*There are many legit sources out there for these things…caveat emptor, of course, but a lot of fellow writers and editors online can steer you in the right direction.

The big part of the cost for me was after that — I had to be willing to budget for promotional things over the last few years such as flyers ($60 for 100 half-page cardstock flyers from MOO.com, which I created and mocked up myself), short-term advertising on a website ($100 at NoiseTrade.com to feature on the landing page and a mailout for a week), and cut the cost of the book for a site promotion (books 1 and 2 free for a month on Smashwords).  Recently I’ve spent some money signing up for a few local science fiction conventions (FOGcon and BayCon over the last few months), where I will be using that time to plug my trilogy as well as talk about the writing biz.  I also paid a graphic artist friend of mine to create my Mendaihu Press logo (see my blog site header, courtesy of MeaganHealy.com) that I will be using in the future.

I’m quite sure I’ll be spending more funds in the future — the occasional advertising, more flyers, and so on — but so far I’ve been keeping it reined in pretty well.  I know well enough that I shouldn’t be creating thousands of flyers or having hundreds of copies of my books printed.  I’m notoriously cheapass when it comes to the creative part of it; if I can pull it off well with minimum cost, then I’m happy.

Point being: if you’re going to do it DIY, do it responsibly, and be aware that you’re going to have to prime the pump a bit in order to start making any money out of your endeavor.  Whether that’s hiring an accountant or learning how to do it yourself, as long as you do it well and do it right, the end result is almost always worth it.

Characters and Their Stories

calvin-writing
When I’m pantsing my writing…which I’m trying not to do this time out.

I supposed you could call my preferred style of prose ‘character-driven’.  The way I often create stories is to put characters in a scene and try to figure out how they react — to the situation, as well as to those around them.  This reaction often drives where I’ll go with the plot next.

Noted: it’s not as if I let them run rampant in the scene to the point where I have no idea what comes next until I get there.  I just have them going from Plot Point A to Plot Point B and I pay attention to their movements and emotions.  There’s a few reasons I do it this way:

–The character is always evolving.  One of my worst errors in a lot of my early attempts at writing was that the characters had style, but they were static; they never changed.  And when they did, it felt forced.  I don’t always expect each one to change completely and irrevocably…more that I just want them to evolve in some way.

–I pay attention to how they interact with other characters and use that as part of their evolution.  A good example is Christine Gorecki from my trilogy: originally she was a one-off character, but her initial single walk-on part with Sheila and Nick worked so well that I had to expand her role considerably.  She was obviously well-loved by all the main characters that she needed an important role as well as her own personal story.

–Quite often, the interaction between the various characters gives me more background, more grist for the mill.  One character’s personality will irritate the hell out of his brother after a while, which in turn gives me a subplot dealing with the two brothers not talking to each other for a year, which in turn gives me a scene where they have to sit in the same room and talk to each other and behave.

In a way, my writing process is a mash-up of half-pantsing and half-outlining.  I have a solid (if vague) idea of where the story is supposed to head.  Lately I’ve been calling that the backbone or the spine of the story.  But I keep the movement of the story fluid, keeping it open for change and unexpected inspiration.

In the process, any major arcs in the story feel less action-driven and more personal.  The action moments end up being there for a reason; it’s less about playing plot point bingo or trying to Save the Cat and more about how life puts unexpected hurdles in our path, and how we respond to that.  Personally, I find that a MUCH more fulfilling story.

Old habits die hard, but…

python anfscd

…new habits are even harder to keep, especially when you’re trying to reorganize your life.  It’s terribly easy to slip back into the old ones when you’re trying your damnedest to get rid of them because they don’t work for you anymore.

Still, I can’t expect them to change overnight.

I’ve been doing my best to reorganize my life so I’m not wasting so much time passively surfing the internets.  There are a few goals here, of course: I can still get easily caught up in the latest imbroglio on social media, fall down the rabbit hole of You Tube (I wasted a good ten minutes right now looking for other Monty Python gifs and then finding the Spectrum skit, one of my favorites), or staring at the screen trying to think of what the hell I’m going to blog about for tomorrow’s entry.

On the other hand, I have great days when I fall into a groove and I get all sorts of things done.  I’ll close down the browsers and only have my mp3 software running (or a single browser playing a radio station or one of the Sirius XM channels).

So what to do about it?

I’ve tried all kinds of things.  Closing down the browsers.  Knowing the difference between enjoying an unencumbered weekend afternoon and just wasting time.  Obsessive cleaning and reorganizing.  Facing down the Don’t Wannas by doing the damn thing regardless.  Putting my current writing project front and center on my screen (or in this case, on my desk) so I can’t avoid it.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Regardless, it’s a matter of actively working on changing those habits.

It’s a slow evolution, but it’s getting there.

my neighbor seki
SEKI YOU’RE NOT HELPING

Germination

fullmetal idea
Never a good sign when Edward gets an idea.

Coming up with ideas really isn’t all that hard.  It’s the latching onto one, getting it to germinate, that’s the hard part.  I’ve got to have some connection to it, otherwise it’s just a single scene that doesn’t belong anywhere.  And I’ve got an old trunk full of those already.

Sometimes those ideas take a hell of a long time to germinate, and that can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.  Meet the Lidwells! came to me nearly two years ago, and I’m only working on it now.  That was primarily due to the trilogy project taking precedence, but I also wanted to give it a good planning-in-my-head before moving forward with it.

I’ve got a few backburner projects as well, ones that have been simmering for quite a few years.  Those are ideas with merit but I wasn’t ready to work on them just yet for one reason or another.  I’ve got a few new and fresh ideas as well, ones that I may play around with via 750 Words (like I did with Lidwells) until something concrete comes about.

Is it frustrating, having these stories in various points of stasis?  Well, yeah, of course it is!  But I’d like to think I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer feel like I MUST WRITE ALL THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW. Once I cleared the table of the Trilogy Project, I found it…actually pretty empty.  I’d trunked numerous story ideas over the past fifteen years; ideas that didn’t work, that I’d lost interest in, or just led nowhere.  Others I’d turned into blog series.  I had maybe three or four Possible Next Projects, tops.

Which also meant that I could afford to come up with a few new possible seeds of ideas that I could nurture down the road.  I could let myself play around with the tiniest inklings that passed by.  I have to relish when that happens now, because I haven’t had that feeling in a long time.  Writers love coming up with scraps and seeing where they go.

It feels great to be fully creating again after years of editing and revision work.  It feels even better to let my brain come up with these seeds of ideas and know that I won’t have to wait for ages to get to them.

wile e coyote idea
Granted, it’s never good when Wile E Coyote gets an idea, either.

On Outlining: The Discography…?

anime piano

I’ve complained about outlining before, both here and elsewhere…even in high school I disliked outlining, if only because I knew even then that I was a pantser writer and that whatever outline I created would be thrown out within the first couple of pages.  It always felt like a waste of time.  So previously here, I talked about swallowing my pride and stubbornness (and working against my long-ingrained pantsing style) and giving Meet the Lidwells! a solid outline.  It’s working out well so far, I think.

Especially since I came to the conclusion that in order for me to have a solid story, I needed to give it a solid backbone.  And considering this story is about a band, what would be more solid a backbone than said band’s discography?

If you think about it, a band’s discography does tell an interesting story.  Take the Beatles, for instance.  From the prologue-worthy “Love Me Do” to the first peak point at “She Loves You” to the end of Act I with A Hard Day’s Night; the conflict of fame versus creative evolution in Act II (with plot peaks of Rubber Soul and Revolver) and climaxing at Sgt Pepper; the conflict of creative outlet versus personal evolution with The Beatles and the recording of Let It Be, climaxing with the creative peak of Abbey Road.  And finishing the story with a bittersweet denouement; the band breaking up but their legacy lasting far into the future.  [Hell, they even have a song called “The End” that works as a closing epigraph.]  It’s no wonder they have so many books written about them.

Read any music biography and you’ll see similar backbones.  Each band or performer has their own life story with climaxes and low points, successes and failures.  These are actually great books to read if you want to learn this sort of storytelling.  [Off the top of my head and looking at my nearby bookshelf, I would definitely suggest reading Johnny Marr’s Set the Boy Free, Bob Mould’s See a Little Light, or Carter Alan’s Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN for a taste of a rock bio with a lot of plot peaks and valleys.  Those are but three of the numerous books out there; next time you’re at the local bookstore, take a peek at their music section and take your pick.]

These are also good books for how to tell a story in a format other than straight prose.  The current popular style of rock bio seems to be in the form of an ‘in their own words’ text; most if not all the dialogue is from recorded interviews, but without the interviewer’s words or point of view.  The flow of the story is usually chronological, from the band’s creation to their demise (or alternately to their present iteration); it behaves almost exactly like fiction does.  The only difference is how the story is presented.