Throw Those Curtains Wide

I’ve been thinking a lot about life changes lately.  A few personal and work-related events had conspired to unfold within the span of a few weeks to take me by surprise and upend a few long term plans I’d had in mind.

Without going into much detail, there may be a change in Day Job situation that, at first, bothered the hell out of me.  And rightfully so, considering I’m worried about the time lost when commuting or going to an office.  I treasure my writing time and fiercely defend it any way I can.  At the time of these personal events, I’d been thinking seriously about a long-term plan to make all that happen.

The personal events had upended all that.  Still…I never give up when it comes to my writing.  I’m fiercely protective of it.  It’s gotten me through a lot worse over the years.  It’s not just a lifeline but a spiritual release.  And it gives me clarity and drive.

But it wasn’t just about the writing; it was also about making important changes to my life and who I am.  After a day or so of flushing the resulting emotional freak-out from my system, I came to the conclusion: It’s time for me to do something about all of this. 

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working out how to make this happen.  First off: have a positive outlook.  I might not be able to work from home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of writing time.  It just means a shift in schedule.  It means perhaps heading to the gym later than usual.  It means sneaking in some writing time during breaks and lunch times and bus commutes.  And continuing with this longer-term plan of changing and improving my life, despite any distractions.

And most importantly, it means not giving up on my dreams and goals.  Ever.

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

More On Being a Healthy Writer

polar bear cafe exercise

I’ve said this before:  one of the biggest problems with being a writer, especially one with a Day Job, is that you’re sitting on your butt for long stretches of time.  I’m really horrible at this, to be honest.  I might get up and stretch now and again, but I don’t do it nearly enough.  I’m sitting for most of eight hours, perhaps head to the gym a few times a week, and then sit for another few hours in the evening writing.

There’s also the fact that I’ve long had a bad habit of snacking whilst working and writing.  I’d like to say I don’t have a Junk Food Stash anymore, but that’s not exactly true… it’s smaller, but it’s still junk food, and it’s in the kitchen.  A few boxes of Pocky, an almost empty bag of chocolates we bought at the Heathrow duty-free.  I’m trying to change that up; I’ll have a banana, or some cheese sticks, or hummus and crackers (Trader Joe’s sells a great snack pack of these that I love).  I’m not drinking nearly as much soda as previous.

But it’s not enough.  I’m not moving around as much to burn those calories.  What I need to do is figure out some regimen that I can sneak in at some point during the day.  A few reps of crunches and stretches.  More walks after work.  More frequent trips to the Y.  I need to MOVE more is what I’m saying here.

So why the health kick all of a sudden?  Well, short version is that I’ve found myself on a lifestyle-change kick right now.  A need to change things both inside and out that I’ve either ignored or put off for far too long.  It really doesn’t have much to do with my age, to be honest — I’m forty-seven and change — but to do with personal things; career, emotions, physical issues, and what not.  I’m reasonably healthy if a bit overweight with slightly high blood pressure.  I’m also thinking more seriously about my calling as a writer, and what I want — and need — to do with my craft as a professional.  Among other things.  I think about it this way: it’s not a midlife crisis so much as it’s a midlife clarity.  Time to shed the bad habits and the lifestyle I no longer want or need and get movin’.

This does in fact tie in with my writing.  Over the last few months, while working on the revision for In My Blue World as well as writing the Apartment Complex story — as well as a few smaller personal things I’ve been sneaking in when I can — I realized that my writing can’t truly evolve if I don’t evolve somehow.  I’ve mined as much as I can from what I’ve been working with for years, and I want and need to change it up.  The AC in particular has been helpful here; it’s the first story where I did not hold back for any reason, and the result so far has been eye-opening on many levels.  I’m immensely proud of what I’ve done with it so far, and I can’t wait to share it.

So yes — this is me saying that I need to keep moving, both physically and mentally, if I’m going to get anywhere.  I can’t be half-arsed about it anymore.

All in.

I’ll read to you here, save your eyes

 

doctor who matt smith reading

I’ve been working without my reading glasses lately, and strangely enough I seem to be doing better.  I have kind of weird eyesight in that I’m not entirely near or farsighted, but lately it feels like my sight is getting better for some reason.  I often wear glasses when driving or when reading, but I’m finding it harder to read with them than without them.  Especially when I’m reading text on my phone.

Yeah, I’m not sure either.

Anyway, I’ve chosen not to wear my reading glasses during Day Job hours or during writing, just as an ongoing experiment to see how my eyesight truly is.  I know there are certain things that get me dry-eyed (staring at a screen for hours, natch) and angles that give me issues (looking hard to my left, my eyes go slightly out of skew and I see double — but not to the hard right!), and I’ve been making sure I don’t ignore these issues.

Having decent vision is right up there alongside decent hearing for me.  I read and write about as much as I listen to music, and I do both FAR more than the usual person.  (I also do all the driving in this household, so I’d rather not drive like Mr Magoo, thankyewverymuch.)  I try not to overdo it, and if I do feel like I’m overdoing it, I’ll make sure I take some time to give the ol’ eyes and ears a rest for a bit.

This brought to you by a writer who needs to remind himself to keep to healthy habits more often!

All at once

avalanche.gif

Yeah, I’m having one of those months.

I won’t go into detail, but it’s one of those times where Best Laid Plans are thwarted by no other reason than Unexpected Events.  And this time out I have a few personal issues that have popped up that are causing stress and frustration.  All I can do is deal with them, and balance them alongside these same Best Laid Plans.

It can be incredibly frustrating when this happens when you’re a writer.  You don’t want to ignore the personal issues going on, but you’d rather not put your livelihood on hold, especially when you’ve worked so hard over the years to make them happen.

The most you can do is soldier on somehow, same as if your Best Laid Plans were thwarted by the Day Job, or whatever has come your way.  For me, the most I can do is continue to find the time to push through these projects the best I can, despite it all.

Fly-By: brb, going on vacation and Worldcon

spirited-away

My blogging schedule may be all kinds of screwy the next few weeks, as we’ll be:

  1. Heading out to the UK for a week and a half, starting tomorrow.  We’ll be visiting many friends, shopping at numerous stores, enjoying the free museums, and ogling the royal palaces.  And taking loads of pictures.  I may make the occasional short fly-by post just to keep things updated, but since we’ll be in a completely different time zone, don’t be surprised if they pop up at strange times.
  2. Heading to Worldcon 76 down in San Jose as soon as we get back.  I’m still looking forward to meeting up with many writer friends and chatting meeting even more for the first time.  I may not be on any panels, but I’ll still be networking and having a lot of fun.

I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to get much writing done.  I’ll most likely be doing revision work for In My Blue World and doing a read-what-I-have-so-far of the Apartment Complex story.

But I’m not complaining…we’ve been looking forward to this vacation for quite some time!  I’m looking forward to just having fun and seeing all the fun things!

We’ll be back to normal hopefully by the 20th or so!  Thanks for your patience!

Conventions and Meeting People

hb cocktail party
I don’t think the Green Room is usually this fancy or lively.

I’m not exactly an introvert, but I’m not one that can easily insert myself into conversations in public places.  I tend to be more of a listener in mixed company, patiently waiting for a subject I can latch onto.  Sometimes it works, other times I’ll only passively jump in.  [There’s also the fact that I sometimes have trouble filtering noise when there’s multiple loud conversations going on.  It’s not that I’m hard of hearing, it’s that I hear every local conversation and noise at the same level, and need to do the classic hand-to-ear gesture and point it in your direction.  But that’s another blog entry altogether.]

Networking at conventions as a writer can be a daunting task, especially when you’re just starting out.  I certainly hate to come off as pushy or annoying.  And I’m certainly not a born salesman, so I feel like an idiot going up to complete strangers and foisting my books upon them.  I mean, sure, I can do the elevator pitch if I have to, and I don’t mind talking about writing at all, but that’s not how I am 24/7.  I’d rather talk about music, or the latest book I read or movie I watched, or any other mundane subject like we’re friends that met up at the bar.

On the other hand, there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years:  the convention is also full of pros who’ve been in the field quite a long time who feel the exact same way.  Many are already self-conscious and nervous in this kind of public situation.  We’d all rather just wave a quick hello and go back to hiding in our offices so we can write our novels!

In the end, the best way for all of us to break that feeling of mortification is to just jump in and go for it.  It takes practice, but you’ll get it after a while.  It took me a few cons before I finally steeled myself to talk to the pros.  Some of them are even my online friends now!  And as I’ve said, the best way for me to do so is to treat the connection like we were friends at a typical gathering.  I understand that the social link might not actually reach that far, but it helps for me to think of the conversations that way so I don’t feel as nervous.

[Mind you, I also understand there are those with certain anxieties that make this sort thing hard to achieve.  To that, I say: I gladly welcome you into the conversation, and I will try to understand what’s needed for you to feel comfortable while we hang out.]

For years I twitched at the word ‘networking’ because for me it drags up images of businessmen gathering at a fancy overpriced bar in the city center where they all talk about things that I have absolutely no interest in.  After years of social media and the occasional convention, however, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be that.  It can be the simple act of meeting a writer and getting to know them, they introduce you to their writer friends, and so on, until you find yourself knowing a surprisingly wide assortment of people, either as friends, associates, or acquaintances.  Social media has definitely helped this become easier for many, including myself.

 

 

On Worldcon 76

doctor who that can't be good

Well.  Nothing like waking up to a hot mess on Twitter.

I’ll start off by saying I have a very small pony in this horse race.   There are other writers out there, specifically writers of color, marginalized people, pro writers just starting out, and so on, that have a much bigger horse running right now.  I’m not trying to lump myself in with them or their issues regarding this convention, nor am I looking for sympathy.  I’m not saying my issues are more important than theirs; quite the opposite. This particular post is just about me.

First of all, I understand that there are more Worldcon attendees than there are panels and rooms to hold said panels.  Most of us are there as fans anyway.  I get that.  But a considerable segment of us are also writers, struggling to make a name for ourselves with minimal or no help from promotion departments.  We sign up for these conventions because it’s one of the few ways we writers know how to get our name out there.

The programming decision to leave out so many writers and professionals of all levels ‘because they’re not known’, on the other hand, is elitist, rude, and unprofessional.

I’m a self-published author and proud of it, but this decision sent a message that to me felt like I was destined to stay at the community access channel level of SFF conventions.  (Not that that’s a bad thing — BayCon and FOGcon have done me extremely well the last few years and I can’t thank them enough.)  It felt as though I hit a glass ceiling.

And imagine how that feels to others — the women, the people of color, the LGBTQ writers and fans — who get hit with this bullshit every single fucking time.

Us early career writers (and career self-publishers for that matter) rely heavily on conventions to get our names out quickly and easily, and also to network.  We especially rely on a Big-Name convention like Worldcon as a major boost to our career because of the sheer number of attendees.  We hope to be on panels and readings, because this method of exposure works for us.

Furthermore, many writers, both self-published and professional, happen to self-publish because they’re not getting any help from the regular commercial avenues.  Or that they aren’t getting the proper (or any) promotion.  Cons are a HUGE help to combat that.  And leaving them off the panels is NOT the answer.

Especially if they’ve been nominated for a Hugo this year.

I’ve also seen tweets from a few authors stating that they saw their own panel suggestions on the programming but they are not part of the panel at all.*  That might be an oversight (and a gross one at that), but it also sends a similar message: it might be your idea, but someone else more popular is going to benefit from it instead. We writers create these panels because a) we think it’s interesting and want to share it, b) it’s something relevant to our own career, and c) again, it helps put our name out there.  Keeping us off our own panels essentially closes a door in our face.

* – I was unaware the programming had gone live on the website this weekend, and it has since been taken back down, so I do not know if any of my panel suggestions have been accepted or not.

I would have loved to have been on a few panels, especially those dealing with self-publishing so I could Pay It Forward.  And to be honest, I’d also would have liked to at least gotten a form rejection letter saying I wasn’t going to be on any panels.  To not get any response at all — not even a simple ‘check our website on (date) to see if we’ve accepted you as a panelist’ — sent the message that I wasn’t worth it in the first place.

That I was still labeled a fan and not a writer, despite having multiple books out.

[Yes, I do know how rejection works in the publishing biz.  Some houses don’t even respond back because they just don’t have enough people to do it.  But this is a convention, not a publishing house.  There’s room for creativity and covering bases here.]

We’re still going, of course.  Even though I won’t be on any panels, we’re still going.  We have friends we’d like to see.  There are writers we’d like to meet.  I have freebie cards to give out, and other writers to network with.  Despite the annual wave of ‘Worldcon done fucked up again’ tweetstorms, we still have a lot of fun in general.  It’s not a complete shitshow.  Not like some cons I’ve heard about.

I’m not asking Worldcon to be perfect, flawless and infallible.  We all fuck up now and again.  All I’m asking is that they be professional and have a better awareness of the variables.  It’s a big project with a lot of moving parts that need monitoring.  And this really felt like there were a lot of people sleeping at the switch, or worse, weren’t aware of it in the first place.

EDIT:  Earlier this afternoon the Worldcon 76 committee agreed to the numerous complaints that had been placed about this issue, and have decided to “[tear] the program apart and start over.”  Good on them.  Their Twitter message can be found here.

On Writing a Positive Voice

Don’t get me wrong.  There are things going on in this world that rile me up, get me pissed off, want to dick-punch anyone who’s fucking it up for the rest of us.  It’s aggravating and it’s exhausting.

Back in my high school and college years, I’d write protests — poetry, lyrics, comics, stories — most of which hovered between rose-tinted self-righteousness and vague finger-pointing.  I kept most of it to myself, though; I didn’t share most of it with others for various reasons.  The biggest reason being that I always felt the end result was crap.

Sure, you say.  Everyone’s early writing is in fact crap, because you’re still learning. The only way out of that sludge is to keep working at it until you figure it out.  Thing is, I knew my vitriolic writing was misguided and not fully informed.  It was merely a release of all the pent-up anger and aggravation.  That’s why I rarely shared it with the outside world.

I forcibly shed my Angry Young Male Writer facade when I moved back home in 1995.  I knew that was a dangerous road for me, and would lead me nowhere.  It wasn’t where I wanted or needed to go.  Which is why, when I started writing The Phoenix Effect in 1997, I made sure the book never veered too far into dystopian doom.  I needed to write something with a positive edge to it.  I’m not talking about Shiny Happy People here… I’m merely talking about writing stories that have an uplifting theme somewhere in there.

I’ve been tempted to write dark and gloomy fiction now and again over the ensuing years, especially when world events intervene in my personal life.  But each time I’ll let the mood pass.  Again: it’s not the direction I want to go.

Writing both In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex story is partly a response to that.  The AC project, as I’ve said before, is my attempt at writing in the style of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki; something meaningful and emotional without being overwrought.  In My Blue World takes a slightly similar Ghibli road…there are moments of improbability in there, but that’s just the way that universe is, and the characters accept that as part of life.

Is this in response to the emotions and frustrations of Current Real Life for me?  Maybe, but I’m not making it a key component to the stories.  If anything, I think of it this way:  I’m writing positive stories because they’re needed right now, both for the reader and for myself.  The worst thing I can do right now is go back to my doomcrier days; those did nothing for me except make me miserable.  And if my writing is miserable, I’m making my reader feel the same.  And I definitely don’t want that.

Of course, I’m not saying that one shouldn’t write dark stories or angry songs.  In fact, I feel the exact opposite:  those are also needed right now!  It’s simply that there are many writers, musicians, etc, that can do it so much better than I ever could.  I’m leaving them up to the professionals.

I’m just better at Ac-Cent-U-Ating the Positive than I am at Fighting the Power, is all.

You go with your strengths.  That’s how you win the game.

When Distraction Is a GOOD Thing…?

anime-pull-yourself-together

The downside to having a full schedule, especially when multiple social events are added to it, is that physical and mental exhaustion (and maybe illness) can sometimes kick in, screwing things up even worse.  Right now I’m trying to fight off a sore throat and exhaustion from too many things going on over the last few week.

That’s probably the best time for me to remind myself: It’s okay to take a day or two off from writing, you know.   Or even more importantly:  It’s also okay to call in sick to the Day Job now and again…that’s what your sick days are for.  Between my stubborn will to keep to my writing schedule and my Catholic guilt for not letting my coworkers down, I can be my own worst enemy sometimes.

Sometimes all I want to do is play an entire afternoon of PC card games, watch silly cat videos, and noodle around with my mp3 collection.  Is that too much to ask?

Well, no, not really.  I’m not on a strict writing deadline.  I can afford a day off from the Day Job now and again.  As long as I don’t make it a habit.  I can — and should — take a day or two off from reality now and again.  I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m jealous of those people who spend the entire afternoon binge-watching TV series or playing video games.  Why shouldn’t I be able to take a day off as well?

As long as I get back on track once I’m recharged, right?

anime sleeping
COME ON LAZYBUTT, WAKE UP YOU’VE GOT WRITING TO DO

It’s just fine if your book has a message.

dr who books

Lately there’s been a bit of a dust-up on Twitter (no big surprise) about whether or not books should have an ulterior motive.  More to the point, there are a few complaints out there stating that there’s been an uptick of them, and they bemoan that they’d rather have stories that aren’t all messagey or ‘political’.

Well, recent politics (and politicians) aside, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that kind of thing actually happens with alarming regularity.   During wartime, during peacetime, during revolution and during calm, these sorts of stories pop up all the time.  Either these people are oversensitive to this kind of story, or the supposed ‘agenda’ is right out front and impossible to ignore or pass over.  Sometimes these agendas are there to make you feel uncomfortable.

If anything, I’m sure I have agendas in my novels.  The trick to writing them is not to make them overtly obvious or overbearing.  Novels with Very Obvious Metaphors or Thinly Veiled Critiques are hard to accept for some readers; it’s better to work with nuance instead.  The trilogy’s agenda was all about Doing the Right Thing for Everyone, Not Just Yourself.  I even came out and said that numerous times.  Meet the Lidwells‘ agenda (if there was one) could be Don’t Be an Asshole to Everyone.

I’m well aware of those who see any kind of inclusion as political.  So what if it is, though?  The agenda there is simple, then: I’m Here, So Deal With It.  I’m talking about novels that contain a minority main character or someone with some kind of disability; I’m talking about stories featuring these characters, doing what characters are supposed to do in the context of the story, nothing more.

Agendas are part and parcel of who people are.  They make for good characters, and they make for good stories.  And sometimes they’re fun to write, especially when you need to use it for story conflict.  In the trilogy, the conflicts between Denni and Saisshalé were always a blast to write, because they pushed the limits.  I kept pushing their agendas until it finally got to the point where they both had to stop and say ‘okay, this is getting seriously fucked up, we need to stop this.’  That’s when they both realized that their universe was bigger than just the two of them.

So yes!  Don’t be worried that your novel might have a political underpinning to it.  Chances are good it’s supposed to be there, and that’s a good thing.