Reading and Rereading (Not My Own Work This Time)

I’ve been going through a bit of a spell where I’m having trouble sticking with some of the books I’m reading. They haven’t been terrible or anything (although there have been a few that were enjoyable but glacial). Maybe I’m just going through a phase where nothing is all that inspiring to me lately. It could also be that I’ve been doing a TON of rereading my own stuff for revision/revisit purposes; I would not be surprised if that might indeed be the case.

So it occurred to me that, even though I have my TBR pile under reasonable control, perhaps it’s time for me to finally reread older favorites? It’s been ages since I’ve reread anything, actually…I honestly can’t remember the last time I did that. Maybe the Harry Potter books three or four years ago? Either way, maybe it’s time for me to return to the Spare Oom Library and pick out a few titles.

Which is what I did the other day…with the Jack McKinney Robotech series! Yes, I know, odd choice but why the hell not? The last time I read the first couple of books in that series was back in 1995, and I never got past the third book! I’m sure there’s going to be all kinds of bonkers things going on that I’ve forgotten about…and some I do, such as Minmei singing for human troop morale (and Zentraedi pain…?) during a massive space battle:

…yeah, that’s one of those moments you don’t forget. Absolutely brilliant plot twist and completely wuuuuuut at the same time.

ANYWAY! I figure, why not? Let’s have some fun reading some light entertainment and old favorites for a bit. I don’t need to read the latest and greatest right this second. (I’ll still buy them close to the release because that helps the author’s numbers, sure! They’ll just be added to the TBR pile.)

And besides, it’ll be kind of fun to revisit some of these titles and remember why I enjoyed them so much. Like the Robotech series being good pulpy SF fun. Like the Carlucci books by Richard Paul Russo being great hard-boiled cyberpunk. Like Akira being so visually amazing it made me rethink my own writing style. I’m sure some of it may not have aged well, but on the other hand, I’m not too worried about that…right now it’s just about reading for the fun of it.

I’m having an e-book sale all month long!

YOU WANT FREE BOOKS? I GOT FREE BOOKS!

For the entirety of July, I’m offering all of my ebooks FREE on Smashwords!!

In My Blue World
Meet the Lidwells! A Rock ‘n Roll Family Memoir
All three books in the Bridgetown Trilogy!

Click here to get them: https://bit.ly/2tqdWKU 

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.

Cleaning Up Spare Oom and Revisiting the Mendaihu Universe

Continuing the Great KonMari Tidy-Up of Spare Oom…

As of Thursday, one major chapter in my ongoing Spare Oom Cleanup Project has finally come to a close with the final sorting and filing of my writing! Everything’s in binders (or in some case, boxes) now and and in its own specific place.

Early, finished and trunked projects are over on the bottom shelf of the (Formerly) Forgotten Bookshelf, with journals and poetry notebooks on the top shelf with easy access from Fancy New Chair. All my artwork, maps and Murph doodles are finally in one place. Numerous dead pens have been given a proper sendoff along with disintegrating manila folders and Crap I Really Don’t Need to Save.

And of course I saved the best for last, and it took me a few days to go through it: The Mendaihu Universe Library! Heh. This is every scrap of paper, every story idea I scribbled down during a day job, every character reference, every outtake (longhand and typed), every chapter printout with revision notes, and One Clean Full Printout of every related project, from its humble 1993 beginnings all the way to the 2015 prep for self-publication. And let me tell you, there’s a lot less of it than there used to be! Many clean printouts have been sent to the shredder over the years, and I’ve finally managed to get them down to one single box full of them.

I really enjoyed going through all those folders and documents and getting them into chronological order. For a project that lasted 22 years (!!), it was quite interesting to see how it evolved from one version to the next. It started off as a science fictional re-imagining of my Infamous War Novel (which in 1993 was already nine years old!) but quickly took on a life of its own with all kinds of detours, rewrites and re-imaginings along the way.

I even managed to get some clarity on how it evolved from 1997-8 with The Phoenix Effect to 2001 with the start of A Division of Souls. I knew I’d tried submitting TPE, attempted to rewrite it, and also write a sequel to it, but I couldn’t quite remember the path all that clearly. Come to find out, a lot of it lines up with my day jobs shifting — leaving HMV in September 2000, starting second shift at Yankee Candle, and moving to first shift in April 2001. That last date pretty much coincides with the time I’d decided to nuke TPE and start from scratch with ADoS.

But the best part is that I was able to recalibrate my thoughts on the Mendaihu Universe and future plans for a Book Four. There will be a Book Four, no doubt about it…I’ve been planning to write one for ages, I just had to finish off all the other projects first.

And now I finally have the time and the inspiration for it!

Granted, I still need to finish off the final revision for Diwa and Kaffi and get that one submitted; that of course comes first. But this also means I can start playing around with story ideas, character development, and more. (And yes, there will be more Songs from the Eden Cycle mix tapes. Volume 5 was created last October, with more on the way.)

Yeah, I should know better than to announce my next project, as inevitably it crashes and burns, I ragequit it a few times, and put it on the back burner for a few more years. I’m not promising anything…so let’s just say that I’m willing to push this one pretty hard to keep it active this time out.

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.

More on going through old writings

I’m still going through a lot of my old writings here in Spare Oom when I can carve out an hour or so here and there. It’s much easier for me to go through a small collection of folders than it is to attempt sorting the entire thing; less of a chance for me to feel overwhelmed, and definitely less clutter.

My trick this time out is that I’ve put each project or creation in its own plastic sheet protector, and labeling them with Post-Its noting the assumed dates. That way if I find the occasional misfiled item, I can pull out that plastic and put them in their proper place. Many of these will eventually be bound into report binders once I’m done.

I’m also doing a lot of shredding. Why save school notes from 1991 when all I really want to save is the original artwork or poem I’d written in the margin? Why save printouts of documents I know I still have in .doc files? Why save rejection letters from 1998? I have absolutely no use for any of it, and looking at them only elicits the reaction ‘why do I still have this…?’ so out they go!

And all those spiral notebooks with seven or eight pages (or surprisingly, sixty or seventy) that I haven’t touched in years? Time to tear those pages out, bind them in the plastic folders, and find a new use for the notebooks — or alternately, throw them in recycling. I think I’ve finally shaken off that habit of buying them and rarely using them, thankfully!

Most of my writing has already been sorted sometime back, but there are folders of randomness, most likely created under the guise of ‘I’ll sort it later’ or ‘etc’. Which of course means I’d never remember where it was. This time out, I’m sorting at the micro level. A map that’s actually part of my Murph Universe or the Mendaihu Universe or whatever writing/artwork project will of course go into those writing project binders.

I already know this is going to take a long time, quite possibly a few more months. I’m not rushing it. Keeping each sorting session – and cleaning up after each one – makes it a lot easier to handle. One section, one pile at a time, that’s all I need to do.

All this while working on the revision of Diwa and Kaffi, you ask? Yes! I can still find a few minutes here and there to sort through things. After I log off for the day but before I head out to meet A at the gym. My afternoon break. Slow Sunday afternoons when all my other errands are done. And I’m not doing this out of a sense of wanting to relive the past, or even because I might be looking for old notes and outtakes for a revived project. This is just part of my Tidying Up project.

That said, if I do happen to find some old and useful notes, I’m not going to complain. Something new might come out of it!