Boy, Interrupted

I set ambitious writing goals for this year.

Goal 1: Finish the first draft of BENEATH A SUNDERED SKY (150,000 words)

Goal 2: Finish the first draft of WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? (15,000 words)

Goal 3: Finish the third (first final) draft of PRINCE OF CATS (50,000 words)

Goal 4: Rewrite BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE (150,000 words)

All in all, I set goals to deal with the largest word count I've ever attempted in a single year. (Granted, some of it had been touched before so maybe that should have a .75 modifier to the word count in terms of difficulty. I can't say for sure.) I didn't set these goals with a "let's see how much of this I can do" mindset. I set goals I expect to achieve. Thus I expected to achieve all four goals.

So why am I obviously leading up to the fact that I'm not going to achieve all four goals? Because it's March and I'm already sick FOR THE THIRD TIME THIS YEAR! I'm not one of those people that get sick every decade. I have a crappy immune system. January and I are not friends. I get sick in January almost every year. Then again at the end of autumn or around there when the weather is turning and my allergies are kicking my ass and everyone has forgotten how to cover their mouths for some reason.

The fact that I've already been sick three times this year is not a good sign. It certainly hasn't made writing easier. It took a bit to get back up to speed after the first time I got sick. Then, after the second time I got sick, I realized everything I had written between those illnesses was absolute shit and needed to be deleted. I not only wasted a month of writing time, I wasted the paltry 20,000 words I wrote in that month (which is half of what I usually write in a month, in case you're wondering).

Beginning the year with SUNDERED SKY and seeing how easily the setting fell onto the page, I didn't think it unrealistic at all to finish it in three months. Add a couple weeks to switch gears and finish CROOKED DOOR and I had thought to have points one and two scratched off by April. I thought maybe to add goals 1.1 and 2.1, revising a second draft over the summer for each of those stories.

It's March 8th and I'm at 50,000 words of goal one. At this pace, I'll finish the book by September! Horror! What a wasted year that would be. I don't expect that to be the issue, obviously. Once I'm well, the word count pace will increase, but damn it's hard to feel that way when I'm on illness number three and I can only manage enough mental capacity to realize I'm sucking it hard this year.

How's your progress coming? Hopefully better than mine.

That question is for everyone, but especially Nate. Everyone stare at Nate and remind him he should not be reading this journal entry. He should be writing his novel. Now. Go. Shoo. Be creative.

The Wrong Type of Crazy

If you haven't been following the story from the beginning, here's the summary. In 2009 I challenged myself: finish a novel or give up writing. I had way too many starts and way way way too few finishes. So this was it. I had a new job. I had a long commute with dedicated writing time. Get it done or give it up.

Happily, I did finish a novel (BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE), two in fact (WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING [which has since been renamed WITH A CROOKED CROWN]), and my pursuit of professional publication began in earnest. I wrote novels, queries, synopses, thank you letters, blog posts, twitter tweets, and so on and so forth. I took this seriously and knuckled down so I could endure rejection and enjoy success. Well, benchmarks I consider success as the professional publication part remains elusive. Still, full requests and the like are pretty thrilling. I've met some cool authors along the way and cool agents too. I've learned a hell of a lot and tried to teach a little, too.

One thing I've learned about the other people in this craft is that we share a lot of similarities in terms of emotional states, emotional stresses, emotional sensitivity in the like. While I will not limit this to authors but would go so far as to apply it to so many artists, creative types seem to have an increased level of empathy. You might hear this as soft-skinned or over-reacting or being a pussy. Whatever. We feel pain at 11 when the meter should only go up to 10. And not only our own, but others too. We empathize because we we explore how people work. It's how we create characters. We watch people. We measure what they do and how they act. We contrast what people say versus what they do and we find the inconsistencies. We explore motivations, watch lies (to themselves or to others), and let the drama play out because all of it is life's story that we want to twist and retell in our own way.

Problem is, this empathy isn't just a switch that turned on when we decided we wanted to write. It's been there forever and there was no explaining why the overly sensitive five year old was freaking out about something that seemed so minor to his parents because someday he was going to be a writer.

I think that's why so many artists are messed up emotionally. They've been running at 11 their entire lives and that is going to create neuroses. It is that damage that allows us to find pathos and tell an amazing story, to plumb the depths of broken life and show the heart one has to endure such hardship.

It also allows for a lot of self-doubt. What if I'm not broken correctly? I often write about a character that has to do the right thing at his own expense, or a person that puts duty before self. It applies order and logic to the chaos, but what if rather than painting with such amazing lines, I should be creating form from chaos. Paint outside the lines and make it amazing. What if how I endured years of being at 11 isn't what's necessary to be great at what I want to do? Don't be crisp and clean. Be loud and hectic. Put our guitar up to the speaker and hear all that feedback and find the music in it.

I'm broken wrong. I broke and taped it back together when I should have just enjoyed the two different pieces separately.

Oh my!

I've been sick, which has left me a lot of time not writing and a lot of time thinking of what I've done in the last three years. The feedback I've received. The success and the failures. The successes of friends who are going on to great things while I'm essentially still in the square I was three years ago. Maybe they're broken right and I'm broken wrong. Wouldn't that be a bitch.

On an up-note, I'm getting better, which means I've started writing again. When I write I have less time for self-doubt. But I also have a partial with an agent and that always ratchets my self-doubt up to about a 15. Especially since she didn't like the full I gave her (which I thought was a stronger novel). I've piled so much onto this accomplishment and every time it doesn't work out, I start finding all the different ways why I'm not good enough. Because I live life at 11. That's how I do.


What what? Two posts in a week? That's crazy! The Mayans were right! Run for your lives!

...wait, never mind, that last post was on Friday, so this is technically a new week. Move along. Nothing to see here.

I used to post much more frequently. Technically I'm supposed to be past my busy time of year and have more time for posting, but my editors turned over content two months late. Don't worry. In educational publishing, that's early. But it leaves me two weeks to do the work for which I should have seven. Huzzah!

I am typing this out, though, because I've been noticing a lot of blog-fading going on without much explanation as to why. I see a lot of apologies when they post, which I was doing as well. After awhile that gets tiring. I get it. You're sorry. But if you can't post five times a week like you used to, then post once a week and announce there is a change. Better that then apologizing every week when you only post once.


Anyway, I've been posting here less. It has nothing to do with you guys. You're great. I like having you here, and conversing with you in the comments. It's because I didn't make it where I wanted to make it in 2011. I'm getting tired of blogging about writing. We all start there, because that's what we have in common, but so much of the conversation on the industry has turned vitriolic, that I don't feel like participating in that any more.

And really, I wanted to talk about other things, exciting things, new things that you can't get on other blogs. I wanted to talk about my writing. Specifically that I had signed with an agent, that we had gone on submission, that I was going to have a book coming out, and so many of the other things that I deal with on a professional level as a project manager in educational publishing but not as a writer in trade publishing.

This isn't a writing blog. Hell, it's not a blog at all, as I so often say. It's a journal. I want to talk about things that are happening, but right now, the same things are happening that happened last year. I have an agent looking at my work. I'm waiting patiently. I'm writing new things. Washing, Rinse, Repeat. I feel like I'm just blowing hot air until I can deliver on what I say I'm going to do. I am going to sign with an agent. I am going to get a book deal. I am going to accomplish my goals. And when I start another new manuscript, it gets hard to come here and tell you how excited I am.

Incidentally, I'm really excited about my current works in progress. What's Behind the Crooked Door is unlike anything I've written before. Beneath a Sundered Sky is the story I've wanted to write since I was five. That really jazzes a person up. Things are awesome! They could be awesomer [ahem, unnamed agent reading my stuff right now]. I hope eventually they will be awesomest [I'm a winner! Really! Pick me!]. But until then, I'll make do with awesome.

I hope my lack of posting does not reflect poorly on what I have to say.

Words to Delete

I used to be a podcaster. That's like public speaking except in private and with a record that people can reference years later. For that reason, there are certain words one needs to eliminate from one's vocabulary to improve at public speaking. The biggest culprit is "ummmm" and "uhhhh" which we tend to default to when we're thinking of the next thing to say. You can recognize who has public speaking experience (and was good at it) by the absence of these words even in their mundane conversations. Those are not the only words you should work to eliminate:

There is one more word I've eliminated from my vocabulary, though this has nothing to do with public speaking. It's one of those life lessons I came about the hard way and that, if I had a child of my own to pass it along to, would do so that he or she might escape that same hard lesson.

I do not use the word deserve. If I use it in my writing, it is a big red flare for the character of the person using it. I do not deserve a raise. I do not deserve a prize. I do not deserve your respect.

I earn those things. Or I do not. The only thing I am deserving of is an opportunity to earn.

Can I Do This?

If you were lucky enough to be Liz Poole, a hotel night auditor named LurkerWithout, or an agent with incredible literary sense, you would have had the opportunity to read my manuscript JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. This is a manuscript where I explain why just because the protagonist is 15 years old doesn't make it a young adult novel. The thing is anything but a young adult novel. ...depending on how you wish to raise your children. If you're okay with intense amounts of violence, profanity, nudity, sex, and drugs, then perhaps this is a YA book. Otherwise, we'll just assume it's not.

I've mentioned that before, so why am I saying it again? Because now I am writing a young adult novel. More specifically, I'm writing a middle grade novel (for a younger audience than YA, if you don't know the difference). Things are going swimmingly. I've only been at it for a week and I'm about to hit the 20,000-word mark. That's progress! Things are going great!

Well...yes, but I'm starting to run into something the euphoria of being so prolific has to date kept at bay. I've never written for this audience before! I write hard, cruel adult content. How am I supposed to write for 10 year olds?!?! Here I am cruising along and they have THE HOBBIT and A WRINKLE IN TIME and HARRY POTTER to read. What is this? PRINCE OF CATS? It's nothing. It's tiny. It's not my market!

*pulls out hair*

Who would have thought that the hardest thing for me to write would be content for kids. You wouldn't think so until you try it. But once you try it, you're all ooohhh, now I see.

Like if I were to write Sesame Street, this is what you'd get:

Anti-Social Socializing

I am not anti-social. In fact, I love being the center of attention. I have wanted to be the storyteller since I was five, lying about the size of the frog I caught1. The trick is, there are a lot of social situations where I cannot be the center of attention, and in those cases I find I would much rather be writing.

Most often, this is a barbershop party. My wife is in a competitive a capela barbershop chorus and quartet and those folks love to party. When they party, they sing. I can't sing2. So I hang out while they sing. They're good people and we converse at times, but really, it's a party where everyone else is singing. I would rather write, but I feel that's rude. I don't want to sit in the corner on my computer. So...I sit in the corner with my liquor. It's marginally more social.

Any more, it seems I measure all social engagements against writing time. Knowing that I've already had two hours to write that day, would the time spent socializing be more fun than more writing. If yes, then yay! If no, then...can I bring my computer just in case?

1 It was THIS big!

2 I'm told I could sing very well with proper training, but I consider that training writing time and would not sacrifice the one for the other.

The Destruction of the Cloud

I have been a long-time Twitter follower of GalleyCat (an arm of Media Bistro that focuses on publishing) until they posted this article on Monday. Now, as GalleyCat expands its number of contributors, I have found the quality has become more circumspect. This is always a risk with expansion. But said article pushed me over the edge. The stupidity of such a premise offends me to such a degree that I cannot stomach to see their name appear in my Twitter feed any more, so I unfollowed.

If you don't feel like subjecting yourself to the article (and I don't blame you if you do), betting that new technological concepts can be easily exploited by a fear-inducing headline, GalleyCat published an article about Apple's announcement about cloud storage. (Not necessarily a shocker given their pre-announcements and that Amazon and Google are doing the same thing.) GallyCat's statement: Keep your novel on hardcopy because an EMP could destroy the cloud.

Now for you non-science fiction readers, an EMP is an electromagnetic pulse. Did you see the first Clooney Oceans Eleven movie? Don Cheedle sets off a device in a van that blacks out Las Vegas? That's an EMP. They have them in the Matrix too. They're concept.

In reality you create an EMP as part of the effect of a nuclear detonation. I'll write that again: nuclear detonation. In addition to the actual blast and a wave of radiation, there's also a pulse that fries electronic gizmos, power grids, and the like. Blackouts, hard drives wiped, etc. A study shows that an EMP could destroy the cloud!

No shit. An EMP could destroy most anything electronic. That's like saying a nuclear bomb might destroy your house. Telling people to keep a copy of their manuscript on hardcopy because of the risk of EMP is Chicken Littling new technology and not worth my bandwidth. There are two really important facts to keep in mind about this whole premise:

1) Major companies like Apple and Google do not have only one tier of servers and multiple tiers are not kept in the same location. If the servers should fail (a much more likely event than an EMP), back-up servers at a different location take over. So even if someone detonates a nuclear bomb in the atmosphere and EMPs the cloud servers, other cloud servers spin up and you continue doing what you do.

2) A FUCKING NUCLEAR BOMB WAS JUST DETONATED IN THE ATMOSPHERE! I don't know about you, but I have more important things to worry about than my manuscript. Like armageddon.

The Bill of Rights c.1791

The general rule is that no sign exists until after someone does what the sign instructs not to do (thus my favorite sign is "Do not lick the C-4"). You should consider the Bill of Rights to the American Constitution much like a sign. The reason why those 10 items were enumerated? Because they happened.

I bring this up because one of the most frequent mistakes I see by fantasy authors is applying modern freedoms (and specifically American freedoms) on their fantasy medieval settings. The guard comes and arrests the main character and the main character insists he cannot be arrested unless the guard tells them what he's being arrested for. Oh no, my friends, they absolutely could come and arrest you and not tell you what you were being arrested for. That's why we have an amendment that says you can't do that. Because you could do that. But now you can't.

I think the one that gets me the most is when a main character or a friend screams, "We have a right to [x]!" Son, you don't have a right to shit. You only get the rights the king provides to you and those can and will be changed when the king feels like it because he is appointed by god and/or is god and thus his will is not only a matter of rule but a matter of mandate from heaven, so you should really stop complaining that you can only hunt squirrels now.

Such mistakes are most frequently made by American writers. We're so accustomed to our freedoms being the "right" freedoms that it can be a shock when you find out that modern countries don't necessarily share such rights. (And I'm not talking about communist China, I'm talking about the United Kingdom not having the same provisions of free speech as the US. The right to free speech that we enjoy isn't enjoyed by every G-8 country in the West.)

So read over the bill of rights. Hell, read over all 27 amendments. You may not have to worry about limiting your president to two terms or prohibition, but read them for the signs they are. Until those signs were written, people did them. Soldiers lived in your home whether you wanted them to or not. Your punishment was cruel and unusual (or at least cruel, given its frequency I would assume it became usual). You don't have a right not to incriminate yourself or worship what religion you wish or assembly or a free press.

You only have the right to the law that is dictated by a single man and can be changed just as quickly (unless you've created some kind of parliamentary legal body in which case it comes from a collection of men and can be even harder to change).

Oh, and do not lick the C-4.

Like Edinburgh, England

Let's begin here:

If you're writing in a contemporary setting, referring to certain foreign nations can rip a reader out of your story if you incorrectly describe that location because you're an American and you don't really understand how X country works. Example: United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. It is not a republic or a democracy. While parliament forms the laws of the nation, it still has a king or queen. Bodies of the public do not automatically equal republic/democracy.

The same is true of the Netherlands. And like the video above, the Netherlands are not just Holland any more than the United Kingdom is just England. Yes Amsterdam and Rotterdam are both in Holland, but that does not dismiss the existence of the rest of the country.

Someone the other day mentioned selling his/her book to Holland and my first thought was, "It's a pity you didn't sell the foreign language rights to the rest of the country too." Imagine if that had been in a story. Boom, right out of the page. I stop emoting with your characters and start thinking about you the author and why you don't properly understand the subject you're writing about.

Know what you write, even if you just read it on Wikipedia. :)

Oh, Hubris, you so crazy

So 85% of my site migration is complete. I finally visualized how I want to display my writing. I've arranged the menu. Now I just need to handle the code and create the necessary files for that code to work. Bouncing back and forth between JavaScript and an iframe. I had been leaning to the latter, but it doesn't look the best in Blogger.

ANYWAY, that's not really what this post is about. This post is about the 15% of my site that's still missing. Why is it still missing? Answer: because I don't know if it belongs.

Now, context: When I first built my site in 2008, I was wrapping up a very successful run as a contributor to the RPGA's Living Greyhawk campaign (and before that, Living Kalamar). Some people thought listing instructions for convention requests sounded cocky of an unpublished author, but that wasn't there for my novels. That was there for D&D. I got invited to a lot of conventions. Free passes, shared rooms, etc. I toured the convention circuit hard for a few years and had a great time doing it. Let me tell you that I couldn't keep that pace today. I'm too old and busted.

So when I built my website, I was beginning the road toward professional writing. I would begin my first manuscript, BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE, a few months later and would start querying in just over a year. So, I put everything up. All the writing I had done from my last college-era play to samples of my D&D adventures to a couple of short stories, and some Living Greyhawk-themed flash fiction.

Three years later, and a lot of that feels like clutter. I haven't written a short story since I finished "Galileo Rocks the Baby" (a story I like but that needs revision to reach its full potential). LG is long gone and I don't get invited to conventions any more. I did not follow the transition to D&D 4e and have left the RPGA (and WotC's freelance staff) all together.

What's important now is my novels. But that's the rub. I don't have novels. I have manuscripts. I was okay putting up a faux cover fro BM&BBQ. I made a few of my own (crap) designs for the mss that followed. I put up blurbs from query letters. Yes, they were that crappy. None of this seemed like a bad thing because, somewhere in that arrogant little brain of mine, I figured that this next ms was the one to get me published.

You see, once I had a book to sell, all that would come down. I'd have the professionally designed cover, the back cover copy, links to Amazon, BN, and that awesome local place in Portsmouth. I'd make it super-awesome-professional. And so what if it had a few other manuscripts. I would revise them and make them super awesome ready to publish and they'd all end up there in an official capacity eventually. (And to be honest, I never thought there would be more than three up there before I had an agent. I know you shouldn't think that way, but it was a secret pride of mine that I thought I'd be different. Fool I!)

Ah naive youth. I am now working on my fifth manuscript (the sequel to my third manuscript--which means I can't even query it when I'm finished). The next ms I can query will be my sixth manuscript and by that point the page starts to look like that kid that kept trying out for sports even though he wasn't good enough to make the team.

So the missing 15% of my website is my writing. I don't know what I should and should not post. What looks like an aspiring author ready for success and what looks like an amateur author not capable of reaching a professional level?

For the moment, I'm just leaving it empty. It's a little disconcerting, but no more so than a bunch of covers and blurbs for novels that don't exist beyond my own computer.

Oh, you're a writer?

I stopped telling people I write fantasy unless they directly ask what I write. Even then, they get that masked look on their face like they're trying their damndest to hide their disdain. That or they had a sudden bout of diarrhea they were fending off.

Any more, really, I don't like telling people I'm a writer at all. Unless I'm around other writers (and even then the dick measuring can be tiresome). The first thing people ask is whether you've written something they've read. No, because it hasn't been published yet. Then how are you a writer? Well, sir, that is an oft discussed topic and one I do not care to repeat with someone who doesn't really care but is only making small talk.

What I don't mind telling them is that I work for a publisher. I do and have been in the industry for 8+ years now. I know my craft well. BUT the first thing I have to stipulate is that I'm not in acquisitions because the first thing people say when you tell them you work for a publisher is that they have a book idea.

It's always an idea too, never a book. "I have this book I've been trying to get published." If only. "I have this idea. Maybe I could give it to you and someone could write it." Yeah, you've read plenty of other posts that properly enumerates our disdain for such comments. I won't repeat them here.

BUT, last week, I got the comments to beat all comments. There is a crazy guy that comes into Jackie's that they've dubbed El Grosso. Once he leaves, they put on rubber gloves and clean his spot at the counter, his chair, and everything near where he sat. He doesn't look crazy when he first comes in, but once he sits for a bit, he starts...leaking. Dirty tissues every, a pool of syrup on the plate the ducks could swim on, and so many other nasties that I won't bother telling you about because really, his name tells you all you need to know.

Well he asks me a question the other day. It's a closed question. Question. Answer. I know it. I tell it to him. I don't extrapolate but return to my book. Speaking to him, however, turns out to be the only invitation he needed. And now we're off to the races! Oh I work in publishing? Yes but not in acquisitions. I have a book idea. Of course you do. I work in educational publishing. We do textbooks. Oh, it could be a textbook. You'll certainly learn something if you read it. You'll learn about life!

They have that class in college? I don't think it was offered at my school.

So I have this book idea, but I'm just too lazy to write it. (At least he's honest.) You could publish it (the idea or the book? I don't think anyone will buy a printed idea). You work in Boston. I'd like to go to Boston. It would be a lot better than here. I thought about going to Oxford and giving them my book. They're smart over there. But you're here, so I'll let you publish it if you want.

I don't publish. I build the media that goes along with the textbooks. Websites, ebooks, that kind of thing.

But you know someone. Not really. You gotta know someone. I should just go over to Oxford. I could study there. Learn a lot of stuff.

Listen. You're a writer. Do you know any good universities in Las Vegas?

And I swear, not a thing of that is made up.

Sweet, Sweet Crazy

I don't hop on the bandwagon too often, but this was just too much fun not to share. I've seen it a couple places, but Pat at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist convinced me to click and read the comments.

It's best if you read the review (which I think is incredibly fair), but then you have to read the comments. My favorite is the 8th comment. That is the epitome of professionalism. Epitome.

(And if Jacqueline Howett should find my blog, your sentence structure is atrocious.)

Comments, Questions, Criticisms

We've all seen the blog posts and Tweets by agents of the horrible responses some queriers send them a rejection. It can be fun to rubberneck such responses, watching the car wreck that is that person's nonsexistent career and wonder What were you thinking?

That's a no brainer, though. I assume none of you would think such a reply appropriate, but there's a more subtle trapping that more authors (well-intentioned authors) fall into. Having recently received beta comments for JEHOVAH'S HITLIST, I had to mentaly prepare myself for criticism. It's like running a marathon. You gotta be in shape!. You have to be ready for someone to criticize your work and then thank them for it.

Here is a general rule of thumb: YOU WILL NOT BE PRESENT TO EXPLAIN THINGS TO THE READER. Occasionally a detail might be missed, but for the most part, if your beta reader points out something that didn't make sense, this is not the time to explain it. You missed that chance. Now is the time to fix YOUR mistake.

If your writing cannot communicate what you want it to without further input from you, then it's wrong.

Now, that's easy to accept when reading a blog, but just as easy to forget when receiving criticism. When someone offers constructive feedback, your first response is THANK YOU. They may not be right. They may be. But yours is not to defend your novel but to revise it to be the best that it can be.

So to train for feedback, go through mental exercises. Remind yourself that the goal is to get good feedback not for the beta reader to love your book. You want the world to love your book and an important step toward that is fully accepting and implementing feedback.