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.

 

My daily writing process, told in anime gifs

Trying to think through the scene I’m about to write:

anime-thinking-sasuke

What the inside of my head looks like at that very moment:

naruto screaming

What I probably look like at the same time when A. walks into Spare Oom to see what I’m up to:

anime blank eyes

When I suddenly decide maybe I need some brain food if I’m going to get anywhere:

spike spiegel eating

Post-snack, back to thinking about what I should be writing:

anime thinking smoke ears

SUDDENLY: An idea emerges!

fullmetal idea

And now I write.

umaru-kawaii

That moment when A. decides to come in and check up on me again:

anime blink blink

Kicking ass and banging that scene into shape:

anime ergo proxy

Getting into the groove and hitting a damn fine word count:

naruto killer bee

Almost forgetting to save my work. ALMOST.:

anime shocked

Realizing I’ve been working for an hour and a half straight with no break:

tired panda

Calling it a day, heading to bed:
anime-tired

On the Run

anime music listening

Oops!  I seem to have forgotten to prepare a post for today!  Sorry about that, and thanks for waiting!

We’ll be on vacation next week, and I’ve been hemming and hawing over whether I should write posts or fly-bys.  I could easily write them tomorrow if need be, but at the same time I shouldn’t feel guilty if I post a fly-by instead.  Except that I do.  Writing can be like that.

As always, I spend a bit of vacation prep debating what writing-related things to bring with me.  Sometimes, like our recent Disney trip, I won’t touch it at all.  Other times, like our previous London trip, I’ll actually get work done.  So it’s a toss-up.  I’ve learned not to overpack like I used to.  I never bring my laptop anymore, though I might bring my tablet, especially when I want to do a bit of revision or reading of what I have so far.  For this trip, that’ll most likely be it, aside from the notebook and a few printouts for the Apartment Complex story.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to this break.  It’s been an unexpectedly busy first quarter so far at the Day Job, which means continual and very annoying interruptions from my work by the client reps, asking when my work will be done.  Eesh.  I just want a week to not think about much of anything at all except the next time we head over to Rainbow for more loco moco or kalua pork.

Is it 4pm yet?

 

On Longevity and Starting Late

 

traveling wilburys
Edited picture courtesy of @nealbrennan on Twitter

Some of you may have seen the above picture courtesy of a tweet from comedian Neal Brennan that came with the accompanying text:

Was talking with friend about how impossibly old the Traveling Wilburys seemed when they released their music in 1988. I’ve listed their ages at the time. For some perspective, three of them are no longer alive. Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

While his last comment does make a good point, I thought instead about where those artists were in their career at that point in 1988.

Bob Dylan, at 47: 25 studio albums, 4 live albums.
Jeff Lynne, at 41: 11 studio albums, half a soundtrack, and 1 live album under the ELO moniker
Tom Petty, at 37: 7 studio albums with the Heartbreakers
Roy Orbison, at 52: 23 studio albums and countless singles
George Harrison, at 45: 12 studio albums and numerous singles with the Beatles, 11 studio albums and 1 live album

At the time their “Handle with Care” single came out, all five had had careers since the 70s, a few since the 60s.  This was a sort of older-generation supergroup brought together for the fun of it, all five having worked with at least one other member in the past on solo work.

Now that I’ve hit Dylan’s listed age this year, the fact that my own output is limited to three self-published novels and an anthology entry probably should make me feel like I’ve been wasting all my time to get to this point.  But interestingly, I’m not.  I’ve already made peace with having started my professional writing career late.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of, really.  To be honest, it’s hard as fuck to write a novel, a good novel, a professional-level novel, all while dealing with Real Life, Day Jobs, Families, and Other Responsibilities.  Pretty much all five Wilburys started out their musical careers at a young age and went pro in their early twenties.  Not all of us are able to dedicate all that time.

At 47, I’m happy where I am.  I worked my ass off over the last three decades to learn the craft, make all the mistakes and be the best writer I can be.  I’m glad I took that route using a minimal number of projects rather than trying to write hundreds of stories that may not see the light of day.  It made me the kind of writer I am, and it helped me develop my personal style.

And now that I’m at this point, I can see a much clearer future, where I can face future projects and not feel as though I’m stabbing in the dark.  I know what I’m working towards.  And because of that, I’ve cut down on my turnaround time considerably.  I could conceivably release a book a year if I wanted.  [I’m quite sure I’ll have those seasons of writing an epic similar to the trilogy that’ll eat up a good couple of years, but I’m thinking those are going to be exception and not the rule.]

So yeah…I’m fine with being 47 and being right at the beginning of my career instead of somewhere in the middle of it.  It means I’ve got a lot more to look forward to.

Day One, 2018

img_20180101_1026515540760573426316438.jpg
The Spare Oom Whiteboard, 2018 Edition

As expected, I’ve spent the morning switching things over.   Calendars to put up (Hokusai prints), whiteboard schedule to lay out (see above), plans to put into motion (ditto).  I said I was going to have a busy 2018, and I wasn’t planning on spending Day One being a lazy ass.  Wouldn’t make a good precedent.

There’s not too much different on the whiteboard, as you can see.  The blog update schedule will remain as is.  I decided to put the Dreamwidth blog (DW) up there on Sundays and Wednesdays, as I consider that my personal (non-writing or music) site and I really should be a bit more social there.  It’s also time to reinstate the daily words (750) to get me back up to creative speed.  Lastly, I reinstated the Art, Poetry and Music beats to the schedule, more as a ‘get back into the habit’ than an assignment prompt or deadline.  The only two things I don’t have listed are my personal longhand journal — which I always write during my morning break on weekdays anyway — and whatever Main Project(s) I happen to be working on, which don’t need reminding.

[Out of shot to the left, which you may have seen from my Christmas picture, is the clipboard that has a more detailed, long-term To-Do list that I will be working on over the course of the year.  And yes, it takes up a few pages.]

I’ve also decided this morning that I’m going to change up my morning routine as well.  I’m not entirely sure what this will entail, but we’ll see where it goes.  My normal routine at present isn’t anything I have to do right then — email, Twitter, webcomics, usually in that order — and it’s not as if I’m really wasting time, but I’m curious to see if I can utilize that time better with other things.  Maybe a bit of longhand work?  Or stretches/exercise?  This is less about me being economical with my time and more about mixing it up to keep from getting bored or stuck in a rut.  This sort of thing tends to change every couple of years for me, and it’s about that time now.

This isn’t to say 2018 is going to be All Creativity All the Time.  I’ll take nights off to watch movies and anime with A.  I want to expand my reading list, and maybe check out more audio books and podcasts.  I’d really like to get back into shape so a few days a week at the Y will do me good, as will cutting down on snacks and junk food.  And just getting out more, being more social, getting some air and sun.  I spent a lot of 2017 in self-imposed hiding for one reason or another, and I’d like to change that.

Bring it on, 2018.  I’m ready to go!