Regeneration

doctor who regeneration
If it were only that easy, Doctor…

My original plan to take the week off from blogging was simple: I had a lot on my plate, my energy was tapped, and I’d run out of things to blog about.  I’d earned it, considering I’ve had a solid updating schedule over the last five months.  Just a week off to focus on Day Job and personal deadlines, and not feel guilty about it.

It seems I chose to get all philosophical instead.

The week before, I’d been using my daily 750 Words to type up a sort of 90s version of my Walk in Silence riff — just writing about the various things that had gone on in a rollercoaster of a decade for me personally.  As with the 80s riff I’d posted over at the WiS blog, this was partly about the music but mostly about me purging things out of my system once and for all.  By purging, I mean this:  writing it out for the final time, coming to peace with it, learning from it.  And then moving forward.

I finished up that riff on Monday and briefly thought: what am I going to write about for my daily 750 Words now?  I thought about it some and realized that the overall lesson I had to learn from my life in the 90s was this: stop trying to fit in where you so obviously can’t and don’t want to belong.

It’s a general statement to be sure, but the reasoning behind it makes sense.  It started way back in my senior year in high school, actually; there’s a reason I half-joked to one of my friends with the following:  “It’s hard to be a nonconformist when there’s no one else to be nonconformist with.”

I said that knowing full well how oxymoronic (and moronic) that sounded.  The reason I’d said it was because my closest friends at the time, who were all a year ahead of me, had all left for college.  They’d all been on my wavelength, something I hadn’t been able to find with anyone else, to such a degree.

I started riffing on that with my Daily Words.  It reminded me of something one of that group had written sometime in 1989 along the same lines.  He’d talked about being a nonconformist — not so much in a political sense but as a personal decision — and what it took for that kind of mindset to thrive.  Like me, he grew up in a somewhat conservative small town where rebelling against the mainstream didn’t take all that much effort: listening to college radio, liking weird things, wearing odd clothes, and giving up all intentions at trying to fit in with everyone else.  No mohawk, piercing or tattoo necessary, unless you wanted to go that far.  [To my knowledge, none of us did at the time.]

One of his points kind of resonated with me after all these years: it’s kind of hard to be a nonconformist in a vacuum, because the energy behind that mindset tends to dissipate.  Why rebel against the mainstream when the mainstream doesn’t care about you either way?  And on the other end of the spectrum: if the only reason you’re rebelling is to be among your own kind — other nonconformists — you’re kind of missing the point.

My mistake in the 90s was that I was trying so hard to achieve the latter.  I was looking for a surrogate crowd to take place of my old circle of friends.  [Remember, this is well before the Age of Social Media, so the only way we could remain in contact was by phone (too expensive), by weekends off (too iffy due to different schedules), or by letter writing (too much of a pain in the arse and a super slow turnaround).]  That itself was a dismal failure, and while I did end up finding a great group of friends a short time later, it wasn’t exactly the same.  I always felt a bit out of place.  And would continue to feel this way throughout the rest of the 90s.

So.  What’s the point of this current riff?  What’s with the sudden resurgence in fascination with nonconformity?  Well, I would be lying if I didn’t say it might have a little to do with the current presidential administration.  In an odd way, too me, he and his cronies are a shocking parallel to the jocks and the popular kids at school.  They weren’t always causing harm, but they certainly knew how to fuck with people’s heads, and they could not deal with the square peg.  Or they’re the eager followers, willingly ignoring reality and/or other people while desperately trying to claim their role as part of The Gang.

Part of it is also me revisiting my fascination with nonconformity, but on a more stable, creative and positive level.  It’s no longer about rebellion just for the sake of it (“What are you rebelling against?” “Whadda ya got?”); nor is it about achieving a reactive response.  As I’ve said before, I’m trying to avoid falling into the reactionary trap; I’ve wasted far too much time and energy playing that game.

The nonconformity I started riffing on, and what I’ve been contemplating lately, is really about relearning how to ignore outside influence that I don’t need or want. This is more about shedding all the extraneous bullshit in my life, the distractions and the irritations that derail me from what and who I am, and who I want and need to be.  I’ve already figured out who I am at this point; I just need to make a more concerted effort to be that person.

This is why I’m the kind of writer that I am, writing stories in the way that makes sense to me creatively, publishing them in the way that makes sense to me creatively.  I’m the kind of writer who will hear certain ‘don’t do this’ writing advice and immediately think, well, why not?  And then follow up with an attempt at proving it wrong.  I go with what my soul sings to me.

In the end, with this bit of recent insight and clarity, my long-game plan is to regenerate a bit (to borrow a Whovian term) and return to that True Self I’d had in my head for years but hadn’t been able to achieve.

 

“When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” – Doctor Who (11th Doctor, Matt Smith)

Not always on schedule, but at least consistent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

State of Independents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viva independents! 🙂

Budgeting for Self-Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Outlining: The Discography…?

anime piano

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

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

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

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

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

Creating a Writing Regimen

exercise panda

Now that I have a new project to work on, I’ve been thinking seriously about revisiting and revising my writing habits.  I’ve already talked about my writing regimen during the Belfry years, which was probably the most solid and consistent I’d ever had.  [The Arkham West years, not so much.  I spent most of those years just trying to adjust to married life and living on the opposite coast.]  The Spare Oom years have been stable and evolving at a stable rate.

But I just feel that I’m not doing enough.

This is my current weekday schedule:
Eat breakfast, catch up on webcomics
Focus on Day Job stuff during Day Job hours (sneaking in a blog post or Daily Words if time permits during slow time)
Longhand personal journal entry during first break
Catching up on social media or writing magazines during lunch
Breather during second break
Dinner and maybe an episode of whatever A. happens to be streaming that night
An hour or so working in Spare Oom at the end of the night
Getting into bed and reading until lights-out

Weekends include e-mail catch-up, chatting with family on the phone, shopping and errands, outside activities, blog writing, and so on.  End the day continuing work on whatever project I’m focusing on.

Mundane stuff, yeah, but I can’t help but think that I’m really not doing my best at time management here.

BUT!  Since I no longer have a Giant Book Project weighing me down, I realize it’s time for me to give that all a rethink.  It’s too scattered, too disjointed.  I find myself wasting time when I shouldn’t be.  Sure, maybe I’m already using these few hours whenever I can, and just like every other writer, I feel it isn’t enough.  The question becomes: how to get the maximum work out of a limited time frame?

Or perhaps that’s the wrong question.  Besides, that way lies madness.  I’ll never have enough time, even if I decide to drop every other minor exercise to make it happen.

No, the better question is:  how do I organize my time better?

Well, the problem is that I’m dithering.  I’m in the very early stages of Meet the Lidwells! and I’m chomping at the bit to get writin’.  I’m trying a new approach this time: preplanning by way of index cards and an outline instead of making it up as I go along.  [Noted: the reason I’m doing this is that the trilogy project took so damn long and needed so much clean-up afterwards that I figured being more organized might save me a hell of a lot of time.]  All this precision is driving me batty, because I’m so used to being a pantser writer.  I still have this excess energy with nowhere to put it, so it ends up getting wasted on skimming social media or futzing around with my music collection.

And to be honest, I had the same problem in the Belfry years.  I’ve talked about my time wasted playing multiple rounds of FreeCell (or worse, wasting twenty minutes pondering over my cd collection trying to decide what I was going to listen to that night).  And I definitely had the same problem during the Arkham West years.

So what do I do?

Well, the best thing for me to do is to expand on that daily assignment regimen.

One of the steps I take is following my whiteboard schedule.  As you may have noticed, I’ve been reasonably consistent with my blog schedule here and at Walk in Silence.  I’ve also been good at writing the personal journal five days a week during Day Job hours.  I can expand on that, then.  I’ve already given myself a deadline of getting the indexing and outlining done for MtL! by the end of April, and to get the major writing started by the first of May.  I can certainly add more assignments with other projects if need be.

Mind you, I’m not trying to Write All the Things.  I’m just trying to be more productive.  It’s also a long and evolving process, so I can’t expect a complete change right off.  It takes time and practice.  And dedication.

It’ll take time, but I’d like to think it’s worth it.

Starting fresh

20170326_134449 (2)

In contrast to the previous post, where you got to see all the paperwork and whatnot that I accumulated during the writing of the trilogy, the above is pretty much everything I have for my new project, Meet the Lidwells!   A print out of the very rough draft I wrote two years ago using 750 Words, and a pile of index cards that I’ll be using to outline the next draft.

That’s it.  Well, okay, there’s a few MS Word files of an incomplete outline and a rewrite I wasn’t happy with, and an mp3 playlist I’m slowly building, but other than that…that’s all I have.

I’ve got a nifty idea for a cover in my head (which I’m hoping I can pull off, as I’m not sure if I’m able to do it in Photoshop).  I already know what the format’s going to be.  And if all works out, this will be one of my fastest project turnarounds ever.

But yeah.  Starting fresh.

I’m looking forward to it.

March 2017: a platinum celebration

platinum-record-12

Hi all!  It’s March 2017 and it’s a platinum anniversary.  Of what, you ask?  Well, it’s been twenty years since I started writing The Phoenix Effect out in the food court at Solomon Pond Mall before my day’s shift at the record store. It’s the anniversary of the Bridgetown Trilogy, after so many failed starts and misguided attempts to a solid story that evolved through multiple revisions and rewriting into the self-published e-books that are now available to the world.

It’s been twenty years since I went from okay, I’ll write something when I have the time or I’m in the mood to a much more productive outlook of I’m gonna write something every damn day even if it kills me, and made the decision to become a serious professional writer.

So!  What do I have planned for this auspicious occasion?  Well!  Glad you asked!  I’m going to have a bit of fun this month and provide you with fun behind-the-scenes stuff related to the Mendaihu Universe that I’ve accumulated over the years — outtakes, trivia, origin stories, pictures, music, drawings, and more.  I may even write and post the ‘director’s cut’ ending of A Division of Souls, which has existed only in my head for at least three years!

And to top it off, I’ll also be releasing the trade paperback of Book 3, The Balance of Light!  W00T!

Hope you enjoy the festivities!