Let’s Try That Again, Shall We?

high fidelity bruce

Best Laid Plans were once again thwarted, and I’m pretty sure it was because they weren’t Best Laid after all.  I seem to have forgotten to take into account vacation days off, busy Day Job days, and other events.  But that’s okay!  I’m back, we have nothing of import on the schedule for the next few weeks — in fact, I have today off and other than going around the corner to go see Napping Princess at the 4-Star, I have the entire day to get caught up on things.  Sounds good to me!

[Update: My movie plan was not so much thwarted but delayed today.  As you may have heard, there are currently some nasty wildfires burning north of us, and late last night much smoke drifted our way.  This caused me to barely get any sleep, so I wasn’t really up to seeing a film today.  Perhaps next weekend if it’s still there!]

One good thing that’s come out of this sort of thing is that I no longer feel like a failure.  Sure, the frustration of going past deadline and not hitting my goals as quickly as I’d like is still there, but Everything Is Not Ruined Forever.  Just gotta get up, brush myself off, and start again.

I’m nearing the end of the first draft of Meet the Lidwells and I hope to get it done by the end of this month, at which time I’ll start revisions.  I’m not sure how long that’ll be, but hopefully I can give it a quick turnaround (there won’t be nearly as much triage as I had with the trilogy) and get it out by the end of the year.  Here’s to hoping!

Onward and upward.  Only way to go!

On the Road

fall-leaves-autumn-gif-7

I’m writing this a few days in advance, but by the time you read this, I shall be on the other side of the country, back in my old stomping grounds of western Massachusetts, visiting friends and family.  And if we timed it right, I should be there just as the fall foliage is in full bloom.

I’ll be honest, I always lay down Best Laid Plans when it comes to writing while on vacation.  Sometimes I’ll get a goodly amount done, but other times I won’t even touch the notebook or the Word file except on the plane.  I don’t really mind, though.  Sometimes I gotta look up from the page and talk to real people instead of the characters in my head!

I guess it really depends on how much work I’m willing to dedicate to it, where I’m at in the project, and what platform I happen to be using.  I most likely won’t get any work done on the Lidwells project aside from maybe a bit of line reading.  I might do some plotting and note-making for the Next Project, as I’m still in the index card phase there.  And I most likely won’t do any work for Future Project, as that’s not even to the outline phase yet.

I can certainly write while on the road. I’ve always been able to do it.  Thing is, I’m not always at the right spot in the project where it’s feasible.  I can write on a laptop, but I don’t always bring it with.  I’ve done some editing on my tablet, but writing is quite awkward.  I do kind of miss the days of dragging a notebook around and winging it longhand…maybe I’ll start the first draft of the Next Project longhand, just for the fun of it.

That is, if I can find the time in between all the visiting and road tripping!

Schedule Shuffling

shuffling cards a
Just for the record, I have never been able to successfully shuffle a pack of cards like this.

For the first couple of days this week, I’ll be heading into the office across the Bay, as we’ll be rolling out a new platform that should (hopefully) make our work just that little bit easier.  I’m not exactly holding my breath, but we shall see.  And next week (the first week of October) we’ll be on the other side of the country visiting friends and family.

Which means that my writing schedule is going to be all kinds of wonky.

BUT FEAR NOT!  Because this time out I’m attempting something new and unexpected: I’m doing a bit of shuffling to prepare for this time when I’m afk.  One thing I’ve been doing is creating a backlog of blog entries so I won’t be posting fly-bys or skipping it altogether.  I’d like to keep y’all educated and entertained.

Anyway!  My point here is that lately I’ve been looking into how I can get more out of my writing time.  One of my worst habits when I was a teenager was doing my homework the night before it was due.  [And yes, this included writing term papers.  I was an epic procrastinator.]  The downside was that I knew I was a good writer, I just never let myself have enough time for it.  I’ve learned to get better at that in my adult years, but there are still moments when I feel like I’m squeezing out the last drops of creativity at the end of the day after doing a billion other things.

This is where the backlog come in.  I can get away with it because I’m not going out of my way to write blog posts that are up-to-the-minute.  So instead of writing the posts the night before like I’ve been doing, I’ll write them when I have a few spare minutes during the day, and especially when the inspiration hits.  And on top of all that, I can look at the calendar and see that a blog entry is due, and breathe easy knowing that it’s already been done.

Whatever works, right?

shuffling cards b
Also for the record, this is what it looks like when I *do* attempt to shuffle them in that manner.

Is There Any Escape from Noise?

Lately my sinuses have been slightly congested (partly due to the heat and the pollen from that heatwave we had a short while ago, which was followed up by a few rain storms and ridiculous humidity), and my right ear has been blocked up a little bit.  I’m not sure if it’s due to that, or if there’s wax build-up, or if I have tinnitus.  I can still hear, just the some of the treble fine-tuning seems to be muffled ever so slightly, and there is a ringing.  I’m going to keep an eye (ear?) on it and if it doesn’t get better (or indeed gets worse), then I’ll head to the doctor’s.

In the meantime, I’ve been contemplating another stretch of internet detox.  At present I’m only half-heartedly popping into social media, but I’m thinking of maybe doing another temporary unplugging.  It feels like I’m starting to have trouble filtering out all the white noise* again, so it’s time to step away for a little bit.

As you’ve probably guessed, I tend to go through this phase maybe once or twice a year.  It’s usually brought on when I’m getting frustrated with my lack of significant writing progress.  It’s also brought on when opening Twitter starts to feel more like an addictive drug hit than a social connection.  And that’s never a good thing.

SO.  Starting this week I’ve backed away from social media for a little while, and will return most likely mid-October.  I’ve got a few busy weeks ahead of me (both Day Job and vacation back to MA) so I think it’s probably for the best that I get my head quieted down and focus on what needs focusing on.

This won’t bother the Daily Words or the blogs at all…those I’ll still work on.  We shall see what happens upon return.

 

* – This is not meant to have any racial or political connotations; it’s truly white noise I’m talking about. That is, the jumble of all the voices out there, talking about anything and everything.

On Writing ‘Regular’ (non-genre) Fiction

snoopy short and to the point

I’ve been writing genre fiction — that is, some kind of science fiction, fantasy, or one of its many mutations — so consistently and for so long that writing non-genre fiction (or as I’ve been calling it, “regular fiction”, no snarky meaning intended) feels a bit weird to me.

This is the issue I’ve been having with writing Meet the Lidwells over the last few months.  It’s still a made-up world that I’m writing about, but I’m trying not to confuse ‘bad writing’ with ‘a style I’m not used to’.  I don’t think MtL is a bad piece of work, even at this rough draft level.  It’s just that my creative brain keeps complaining that there’s no epicness or high drama going on.

But this is not a Michael Bay action film.  This isn’t the novel for that.  It’s a simple story about a family of musicians.  Their epic moments are about topping the charts, going on tour, and recording a new album.  Their high drama is having to deal with family to such a close extent both in private and public life.

To be honest, this is exactly one of the many reasons I chose to write this novel.  After finishing off the epic drama of the Bridgetown trilogy, I wanted — no, I needed to dial it back.  I wanted to make sure I could still write a story with a much lower volume, so to speak.  I needed to know I could write a story that resonated on a personal level rather than on a visceral one.  And lastly, I needed to know I could write something short and concise, perhaps closer to 70k words rather than the 100k-plus of the trilogy books.

So far I think I’ve pulled it off.  In fact, in the process I’ve figured out how I can write further non-genre novels, if I choose to.  My reading habits have definitely helped me figure most of it out, as has the daily practice words.  Will I write more non-genre in the future?  I’m pretty sure I will, given the subject and inclination.  It’s already affected my SFF writing style in positive ways, to be honest.  It’s the kind of ongoing metamorphosis that I believe is not only healthy but vital.

Once I’m finished with MtL, I’ll be jumping into the Secret Next Project (aka the Apartment Complex story), so it’ll be back to genre…and now I’m curious to see how MtL‘s style affects that one.  We shall see…!

Thank you, autosave

doctor who what
My initial reaction on Wednesday night.

So the other night while digging underneath the desk to lay down an ant trap (damn little buggers come out of nowhere when it’s overly warm out, even up here on the third floor), when I accidentally hit the switch to the power strip, turning everything off — my PC, my desk lamp, my work router, and a few other things.

Suffice it to say, I had not hit ‘save’ on that night’s work on Meet the Lidwells.

SO!  One small heart attack later, I rebooted everything, and I’m glad to say that MS Word did in fact hit a save point about ten minutes beforehand, and temporarily saved my work.  All in all I lost maybe only twenty words or so. I was able to pick right back up and finish (and SAVE) my words for the night.  [Mind you, ever since I lost those couple hundred words for unknown reasons a few months back, I’ve been logging into Dropbox just to make sure everything saved.]

Please let this little PSA be a gentle reminder, my writer friends, to FREQUENTLY SAVE YOUR WORK.

Your sanity will thank you.

Secret Future Project Outtake: Ghosts

A little something I wrote on Friday that may or may not have something to do with the Secret Future Project, aka the College Story.  Enjoy!

[Note: the College Story is not a horror novel, nor is it only about the hedraac (my vampire-like characters that are also in the Secret Next Project universe, though the stories are not related).  This is most likely going to be a New Adult coming-of-age story, which happens to feature many human and non-human characters.]

*

When I cross the quad, there’s always a sense of stillness there, even if other students are mingling about. They could be shouting political slogans, or grunting and shuffling about playing touch football, or practicing their scales and harmonies, or simply scuffling along on their own, but all that tends to get drowned out by the stillness in the air. Even on a windy or rainy day.

I haven’t quite figured out why I feel that, and sometimes I even avoid crossing the quad some days, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Perhaps it’s the ghosts of the campus, forever traipsing along the four corners of the flat grass, forever hovering in front of the brick buldings with blank books and styli long emptied of ink in their arms.

I can sense those ghosts. Not many of us can. Mostly the hedraac, but there are others. The faculty tend to ignore the ghosts. They’ve gotten used to them by now. You know who the new professors are, because like me, they get skittish when they cross this area. They’re not scared, just wary. Like me, they’ll eventually learn to cross the quad without a single worry.

I met one of the ghosts during one of my shifts at the radio station. I’d just entered Davis Hall and headed down to the basement, and I was just about to pull the heavy door into the station, when I stopped short. Hovering in front of me, maybe less than six inches off the ground, a young ghost of a student waited for me. He didn’t look threatening. Maybe a little overtired with heavy eyes and stress lines on his forehead, but other than that he looked like any other student here on campus. A weathered jacket, an overfull book bag slung over his shoulder, worn jeans, and very worn sneakers. He and I locked eyes for a moment. He smiled in response, and slid out of the way.

“Pardon,” I said, well aware that others could have just seen me talk to myself. But I don’t mind that… a lot of students do that here.

My shift started in another twenty minutes, and I always got there early to slide through the music library to pick out the evening’s play list. Another hedraac was finishing up his own show, and was currently running down his own play list. He caught my eye through the studio window and waved. I wondered if he could see the station ghost as well.

This was my third semester at the radio station, and I was slowly making my way up towards the position of music director, something I’d been wanting since I’d discovered college radio when I was a teenager. Some deejays are there for the extracurricular activity or because they have nothing better to do, but me, I plan to stay in the radio field as long as I can. I’m one of those music fans who obsesses over records and bands, knows far too much about them. I’m also one who loves the night shift. It’s not that I’m a night hedraac… I just like the ambience and the fact that I’m alone for the most part.

My shift started as normal and I set the mood by throwing on some of my latest favorites, a wide range of styles that I know most of my fans like to hear. Now and again I’ll get a few calls from them, asking for obscurities or well-known classics, and I do what I can to provide. I may be a music geek, but I’m not a snob about it. I’ve been known to play a few major label tracks now and again.

It’s entering the second hour of my shift when I start hearing the voice.

It’s soft at first, a quiet humming that I mistake for an open feed that I forgot to tune down, and after a few flustered moments of checking and double checking the faders, I realize it’s not going out on the air at all. It’s in the speakers, alright, but it’s not anything I’m playing.

It’s the ghost, and he wants to talk to me.

“I hear you,” I say into the air. “I can’t make out what you’re saying, but I can hear you.”

I feel a tap on my hand, which makes me twitch. He’s trying to guide me to open one of the faders to a test channel. I shiver, but at the same time I’m intrigued.

I turn up the fader in the test channel. “You’re plugged in,” I say, and wait for a response.

Current Status: Almost There

sw almost there
TFW you’re writing Act III of your novel.

As I may have mentioned earlier, I’ve just started Act III of Meet the Lidwells.  This of course means that it’s that point of the story where I start bringing all the plot threads together, winding up the tale I’ve been telling, and wrapping everything up at the end.

Having either written novels piecemeal over the course of a long spread of time (thanks to homework, social life, or other priorities), or working on the same project for years on end (the trilogy), it feels quite strange to be completing a novel in roughly a half a year.  I’m not used to this speed.  There’s also the fact that this is a relatively short novel for me — I’m currently at 55k, and I’m expecting the finished project to be around 70k.

Still, there’s something to be said about reaching the home stretch. I felt this when I picked up The Balance of Light again in 2009-10 to finish it off.  It’s exciting to be wrapping up a story, my writer brain going at a hundred miles an hour as it tries to weave everything together into a coherent ending for me to write, and balancing that with the knowledge that I need to make that ending smooth and well-paced.  No rushing to the last page here, kids.  Even if I know exactly how to finish it, I have to make sure I don’t make a chaotic mad dash to get there.

My original deadline was going to be mid-September (I had a general deadline, not a specific one), and it looks like it might be more like late October, given that I still need to revise it, clean it up, and get it ready for uploading.  I’m fine with that; my ultimate goal here was to write something fast and light — a complete opposite to the trilogy, to be honest — to see if I could do it, and to see if it was something I could be proud of.

So far, so good.  I’m almost there.

On Writing: ‘Crunch’

naruto paperwork

Hoo boy.

This article about ‘worshiping crunch’ popped up on Twitter on Wednesday and it’s making the rounds of many of the webcomic and freelance artists I follow.  The reaction to the article is overwhelmingly, this is not only horseshit, it’s unhealthy.

The tl;dr to save you from the flashy prose of the article:  Some creative people thrive on working eighty hours a day plus overtime, working on things due in four minutes, eating microwave ramen and Cheetos and drinking up all those 5-hour boost drinks in one go.  Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but it’s not that far from the truth.  The article is an excerpt from the writer’s upcoming book about the cut-throat video game industry.

[EDIT: The writer has since come out stating that his excerpt has very much been taken out of context; he himself disdains the ‘crunch’ idea, which was lost in translation from the book to the online magazine.]

It really did get me thinking about my own work life, nonetheless.

I get it; some people thrive on the high-speed, high-maintenance atmosphere of certain industries, where most of your waking life (and probably most of your sleeping part of it as well) is spent ‘crunching’, getting a week or a month’s worth of regular-speed work into a short amount of time.

The last time I did the ‘crunch’ thing was at Yankee Candle, over ten years ago.  Five years’ worth of working ‘mandatory overtime’ hours in the shipping department during fourth quarter.  Q4 is of course holiday sales season, so our candle output shot up exponentially during that season.  In 2002 it also included a few outside vendors who would buy in bulk.  [Our team won the MVP award that year for Bravery In the Face of Insurmountable Odds and Success Despite Incredibly Unrealistic Sales Goals.]

Mind you, my hours were already pretty early: 6am to 2pm, five days a week.  When it came to Q4, however, that ended up changing to 4am to 3pm, six days a week, Monday through Saturday.  I didn’t complain, because a) I was getting pretty good pay, and the OT pay gave me a good padding in the bank for my bills, b) I got along with pretty much everyone in my department, so it wasn’t a completely hellish atmosphere, and c) I could still dedicate the early evening hours to my writing the trilogy.

Yes, even after ten hour days on the floor, I still went ahead and hit my 1000-word goal almost every night.

The downsides were plentiful as well.  I was getting up at 2am and driving thirty miles through midwestern Massachusetts before any of the snow plows or sanding trucks were even out of the DPW barns.  I had a half-pack a day smoking habit.  I drank a huge cup of coffee (extra cream and sugar) in the morning and multiple giant bottles of Mountain Dew at work (and usually a can or two during my writing sessions), and ate a lot of really unhealthy convenience store food and snacks.  I was lifting 30-40 pound boxes and lugging heavy pallets all day long.

Suffice it to say, every damn year I’d miss about a week’s worth of work close to Christmas, because I’d either get something like the flu brought on by exhaustion, or I’d tweak my sciatic nerve, or both.  I always felt like shit at the end of the year.

By the end of 2004, I’d pretty much had enough.  I was seeing A and driving down to New Jersey on a regular basis.  I bailed in the spring of 2005 and moved down with her a week later.

*

Anyway, about this ‘crunch’ thing.

I just can’t see myself dedicating that much of my life and health for an industry.  Especially when I’m already fiercely dedicated to my writing career.  Every job I’ve held since then, I’ve told managers that I’m fine with the forty hour workweek with the occasional OT if it’s absolutely necessary.  But I have endeavors outside of work.  I’m quite protective of my writing time, not to mention I do my best to come up for air and be social with friends and family.  Thankfully, all my employers have accepted that without question.

Hell, I don’t even try to crunch a ridiculous amount of writing work into a single day.  Sure, I give myself a busy creative schedule on purpose, but it’s a schedule I can handle and can adjust if and when necessary.  It’s a daily schedule I enjoy and look forward to.  I give myself reasonable writing deadlines.  I might complain that I spend too much time futzing around on Twitter, but really…in the long run, it’s not as if I’m trying to write ten thousand words a day consistently.  My count is more like five to seven hundred lately, and that’s just on the Lidwells project.  Add these blogs and the 750 and it’s more like two thousand or so.  And at the end of the day I’m happy with that, and not absolutely knackered afterwards.

I just can’t see myself risking health and sanity for it.  Life is too short for that.

Thoughts On the Long Game

book page turn

There’s one part of publishing no one likes to talk about: when the book sales dry up.  Let’s be honest: a lot of us writers go to bookstores and we see all the perennials on the shelves that we can always trust to be there: the books by Gabaldon, King, Tolkien, and Martin (not to mention the 9,485,682nd book by Patterson, Robb or Grisham…how the hell do they keep cranking those out every couple of weeks, anyway?).  We’d like to think we could get in on some of that as well.

The grim, sad truth is that it rarely happens.  We’ll show up on a few shelves for a few months and then disappear.  And we’ll fall so far short of our dream numbers.  Even grimmer that the title stops getting printed due to lack of demand.  Not to mention suffering the indignity of having fans wondering where they can find Book 1 in your trilogy and having to tell them to look in a used bookstore, because your publisher isn’t making it available.

It almost makes one wonder just how antiquated and out of date the publishing business might be, how many of these rules and guidelines no longer work in this day and age.

But that’s another blog post for another day.  Me, I want to talk a little about how I look at this conundrum as a self-published author.  [Mind you, I’m not dissing the publishing business as a whole; I know many authors who do just fine with it, frustrations and all.]

See, I have three books out that I’ve self-released as POD trade paperback (through CreateSpace) and ebook (through Smashwords), and at present they’re just sort of…sitting there, not doing much.  I did sell a few as they were released, of course.  Not that many, more than I’d expected.  And they’re still up there, available and ready for whoever wants to buy them.  I don’t plan on pulling them from availability any time soon.  I might revisit the books and do some cosmetic editing sometime down the road, but they’ll always be out there for anyone to read.

The Balance of Light has been out for what, a good couple of months now?  The e-book was released in February, and the trade a month or so later.  I think it’s fair to say I got as much as I could get out of the three for the time being.  It would be kind of silly to keep flogging these books to virtually the same audience over and over again.

So what do I do with them, then?  One of the things I’ve thought about, in particular is how to let potential readers know that they’re still out there.  I mean, aside from the occasional tweet or blog post or shameless plug?  That’s the rub.  No one’s really been able to figure out how to do that for self-published books.  I’ll put out some of my self-made flyers when I’m at conventions.  There are some websites and platforms I could advertise on if I so desired.  But is it the right time to do that at the moment?

At this point, I’ve been thinking less about the Short Game — flogging the books while they’re still fresh — and more about the Long Game.  And by Long Game, I mean coming up with ways to push the trilogy on new readers in the future.  Plugging the trilogy as an Added Value when I release my next book.  Continuing to join in on the various sales that come up on Smashwords and elsewhere.  Using them as props when I’m on convention panels.

Meanwhile, this also gives me more time and brainspace to focus on writing my current projects and planning future ones.  [Current status: writing one, prepping another, and two, possibly three on the back burner.]

Do I feel let down a bit that the trilogy didn’t do as amazingly as I’d hoped?  Well, sure.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me a bit, and that I feel that I’ve failed myself for not following up on publicity as much as I should have.  But what’s past is past.  I also know that the themes of the trilogy are rather dense and they’re not for everyone.  I’ve made my peace with all of that.

My thoughts on this are:  always look forward. Always find the positive.  Always find a way to make all of this work for me.  And above all, learn from my own mistakes and missteps.  The trilogy isn’t dead, far from it.  It’s just in stasis.  I can certainly bring it back to life if I so choose.

I’ve said it before…I’m in this writing gig for the long term.  It’s more than just writing a large body of work, though.  It’s about knowing what to do with it all over time.