“Children of War: Zoah” by Junowski

I knew it was coming. Sometime early this morning the rain started to fall. My left foot hurt, radiating pain up my leg into my hip, which is why I never needed to look out the window to see the clouds moving. It’s also why, when I sat down this morning to start writing, the first thing I looked for was futuristic representations of prosthetic limbs.

Forgive me, I don’t blame anyone for this pain and I’m happy I got to keep my foot. When it starts acting up, after I choke down too much Ibuprophen, when I have to explain with the same tired old answer why I’m limping around like a gimp I wonder what the future might bring.


Back in the coffee shop. Getting ready for a productive morning of writing. I’ve got edits and more edits and an outline I need to finish, but I spent a little time getting caught up. Scalzi has this lovely piece about friends that I’d put up on my mental-nightstand; he posits that, despite the currents of mid-life, he’s made more and better friends than he would have otherwise. I appreciate his observations about conventions in this article, and to tell the truth, his words make me want to get back to Detroit and elsewhere. I think, “Hanging out in hotel bars, staying up late with deep (and not so deep) conversations about work and life” might actually be my favorite thing about this business. It’s not something I do too often and when it happens it’s usually memorable and a breath of fresh, adult air.

So I find myself drawn to a theme. Myke Cole makes the cogent observation; he writes “to not be alone.” This blog post feels a lot like a mirror, reflecting an image of my feelings back. Hell yes, most of the time I feel alone and so, despite being surrounded by people in a little coffee shop on a tiny island, I write lonely. But always, I’m writing because I wonder what you’ll think of what I’ve written.

It’s a strange business this. With the recent release of Immortality Chronicles I’ve been watching, with a touch of jealousy, as authors and readers post “in the wild” pictures of the anthology. The sense of accomplishment I feel when I send off a manuscript for publication feels somewhat incomplete because, in the back of my brain, I’m haunted by the simple question “Will they like it?”

The “wild” shots of a book, made possible only through the invention of social media, seem to be closure to that loop. Crazy, can you imagine life for authors before everyone had a camera in their pocket and an internet connection? In any event I know I’m looking forward to seeing more covers with my name on them showing up on Pinterest.

This reminds me of some really useful insight. Jane McGonigal has a new book out. SuperBetter is the pulp version of her excellent health game and its one of those things I can’t recommend enough. One of Jane’s key messages and possibly the one that I find the most helpful is a reminder that “You’re surrounded by potential allies.”

Writers this is important for you because you likely feel like a voice in the wilderness too. Here’s the catch, you can’t be the one to refuse the help.

Scalzi is right, this business is just jam-packed full of friend potential. If it is more difficult in mid-life — and I agree it is — to make and keep friends then at least in one respect science fiction writers and lovers have a huge advantage over the rest of the world. We’re most likely near our potential dearest.

It’s been three weekends that I’ve missed my writing group now. Guys, I’m kicking myself as much as you might be poking needles into voodoo dolls of me. I know that you deserve my full measure of attention, and I appreciate your patience. Things have just been crazy here. I will be there next Sunday. And Melissa, thanks for the kind words. They picked me up right when I needed them.

Same goes for the rest of you. Feeling a little isolated sitting in front of your keyboard? Start by reaching out to the people who will lift you up.

Mid-Life, New Career

I’m only a couple of days away from my 43rd birthday. At this point, I plan on marking the affair with a key lime pie. That’s if I can find the actual limes and still have enough energy to make the confection post search. I have very fond memories of a key lime tree that grew behind a trailer I lived in near Vilano Beach. A slice of this stuff is like a very pleasant recollection of balmy mangroves and days wasted riding the outside break.

Facebook and every other app on my phone are reminding me of this impending date. Sometimes they’ll encourage me to look back on some of the memories I’ve made (and shared), more often they’re inviting me go buy some stuff.

It’s not that I’m opposed to buying stuff, stuff is made and needs to be bought. That’s how the Great Circle of Stuff works. And who doesn’t look forward to individualized birthday discounts on stuff? But this year the frenzy of stuff has me feeling pretty low. The reason is that, despite my rational mind, I’ve lived 43 years in a society that inculcates its members in the notion that the path to happiness is via a road paved with stuff.

And right now, as I attempt to reinvent myself as a writer, all that stuff is out of reach.

Today I will write a bunch more. I have edits in for Fire Weather too, so I need to dive back into that story line. I will call the tree guy again and hope to get his crew out to our place before the wind blows down that madrona. And as always, I have my little guy to keep me very, very busy. This morning, before school, we were walking around the house acting like villagers from Minecraft. “Hum.” The point is, I’ve got things to do. Plenty of ways to spend my time.

If I were a superstitious man I’d take this time to say that this birthday, above all others, feels something of an anticlimax. I peaked at 42 and have spent the last year slowly working my way down from the summit. This is a superstitious thought because it feels like I’m more than halfway through with it all, and we all know that I’m not in possession of a crystal ball. There’s no way to know the future, no way to figure out when my last day on Earth might be.

The thing is that, underneath all this age and the layers of key lime pie, I’m still that kid living in a single-wide trailer on Vilano beach. Which has me thinking about what it is I’m trying to do here. Why did I check out of a well-paying career job? Why did I burden my family with my aspirations? How come I gave up an ever growing pile of stuff? Why do I want to be a writer?

At conventions variations of this line of questioning get tossed around a lot. “What made you want to be a writer?” The answers that get tossed back are permutations on a theme; “I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Ever since I was a kid.” But this answer fails to tell the whole story.

I’ve spent decades of my life working for a living, doing the job before me, and not being a writer. As a kid I loved telling stories, I enjoyed reading them, and per the box of stuff my Mom just dropped off, apparently I loved writing them too. (Wow! I really could not spell. Not to save my life.)

Wanting has never been the problem. I’ve wanted to be a lot of things in my life and writer just ranked high among them. This question falls short because it doesn’t delve into the notion of what motived anyone, especially me, to pursue writing as métier. The truth that no one talks about is that there is a vast gap between I want and I am doing. Becoming a writer is a bowel-clenching jump from solid ground, over an endless void, to a balanced rock standing precariously in a sea of nothing.

I suspect that I made this leap because I didn’t know any better. Because I’m still that kid who loved to surf his kayak with sharks and jellyfish in rip tides. And despite the face I see looking back at me in the mirror, the image I cling to is that kid who picked limes from the tree out behind the trailer.

Incidentally, if you’d like to help me increase the size of my pile of stuff you should click on through to one of my books or short stories. I’m still an independent author so views are important to me. Buy something I’ve written and you’ve bought me part of a cup of coffee, important because I’ve mostly replaced my blood with bean juice. Leave me a review and you’ve given me a gift more precious than gold.

Don’t Forget to Dream

D.S.I Helium 3 Transport Vehicle by Adam Burn

I’m sitting in the coffee shop; A-bear is playing his heart over at preschool, and I’m just not getting into it this morning. Derp move number one, I’ve been tugging at my chin hairs while I read from the ever expanding athenaeum of “Advice Offered to Writers on Writing and Stuff.” The truth of the matter is that I’m not sure what I’m going to write next, and my Twitter feed has once again delivered up this highly distracting narrative in which I willingly participate. Hunched over and fuming, once more, it occurs to me that this is not a good way to live your life.

More importantly, it doesn’t seem like a very productive way to spend your precious writing time.

It’s probably not helping that the new baristas have changed up the music, and I’ve since had to plug my headphones in and crank up the subtle white noise of Coffitivity. Yeah, that’s right, I’m listening to “Morning Murmur” — a recording of a coffee shop while sitting in an actual cafe drinking coffee — how’s that for bathos?

“So what, precisely, is the problem Matt?” you ask.

Well, I started with this blog post from the esteemed and successful Chuck Wendig: Peaks and Valleys: The Financial Realities of a Writer’s Life. Realize, in no way is this me jumping onto his current cluster event. Rather, it’s me taking a critical look at why I seem to come away from his advice posts feeling defeated and ready to quit.

This post and the advice it references are just one member of a distinguished lineage of columns I’d like to label “The Stark Reality Collection.” I’m starting to wonder if it’s even possible for authors, especially those in the SFF community, first to begin making a living from their work and later not tell the world how hard it’s going to be. Often I come away from reading this stuff convinced I’ve done everything wrong. I live in the wrong place, I know all the wrong people, I didn’t go to the right school, or workshop, I write the wrong things, and I put my pants on the wrong way — that’s how wrong I feel.

Defeated before I begin, my options seem limited. Maybe I should just take Wendig’s intimation and “move on to more stable ground.”

Here’s the thing. Fiction moves me. Let me say that again. FICTION MOVES ME. I love a good story. Terry Pratchett’s farewell piece The Sheperd’s Crown recently reduced me to a blubbering mess more than once. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from my recent readings of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Wild Shore Triptych.

I know that I’ve discovered my earthworm. I know that my stories are good enough, and my writing is compelling and entertaining. And yes, I love doing this, even when it’s fucking difficult.

Standing up to assert these strong feelings of self-determination and conviction I rip the headphone out of my computer and nearly dump hot coffee all over my lap. “But really,” I say to myself taking a calming breath. “I don’t need anyone to tell me how hard it’s going to be.”

Want to help successful-author-making-a-living-from-your-words? Stop telling everyone about the big pile of shit we can look forward to wading. That’s the thing about piles of crap; they’re apparent. Everyone knows that they’re there, usually because, much like yourselves, we’re busy trying to clean it off our shoes.

Better, tell us what moves you. Why did you stick with writing even when you weren’t sure when your next meal was coming? What do you do in the morning to warm up for writing? What inspired some piece of fiction we can’t put down. How do you deal with criticism fro your readers or even your editor? Writer’s, especially the good ones, I’ve realized have developed strategies to exceed the piles of crap life leaves on our paths.

I write a lot, I don’t sell a lot (yet). I know that I’ve yet to develop a “real” audience. The numbers necessary to lift me out of this valley just aren’t there yet. This is the sole reason I keep looking into the Library of Stark Reality. I’m looking for feasible ways to grow my audience as I get ready for near term release dates. Want to help? Tell me about the concrete things you did to expand your audience.

And while I acknowledge that it won’t always be easy, this morning I’m resolved that as I build my author platform and find more readers, I will endeavor to imagine with audacity. The boundaries that limit me aren’t worth talking about except when exceeded.


Off to the Editor

Oh, that’s a good feeling. No, strike that, it’s a great feeling! I just submitted a 7,500-word short story for an upcoming Future Chronicles anthology. Doomsday Chronicles isn’t due out until February 2016, but my story is very done. I’m very satisfied with the work as well.

This piece should cement my SFWA membership, if not this year, then early next year. Added to this In Goat I’ve managed to turn out an entertaining, compelling, topical tale I’m certain will make readers think. So, yeah, I’m congratulating myself just a little bit. I think this may be an overlooked part of writing for a living that more authors need to take in hand. Celebrate your accomplishments people.

“What’s next?” you ask. I’m contributing to another anthology — this time steampunk’s Drifting Isles — and I’ve already begun this one. It’s due in November so I’ve got time and since this tale is outlined and just needs words I’m going to have more time to work on other things concurrently. So I’m left wondering where I should focus.

The top contenders are two novel-length projects and a novella length speculative fiction piece. Counterfeit Horizon is something like 70,000 words (currently) of very rough work. Part of my reluctance in finishing this story — that I began back in 2013 — is the sheer volume of editing that it’s going to take. Counterfeit was my first attempt at a novel length anything, and consequently it’s just riddled with mistakes and plot holes. One strategy I’ve been contemplating is to junk the old manuscript and just re-write the story using the characters, settings and plot I’ve already developed. I wrote the bulk of Counterfeit Horizon during NaNoWriMo, so I know I could knock this out comfortably in a short space of time.

Second is the novella project. Fire Weather is almost there now; a short sprint could have this piece ready for publication by late winter. With the incredible fire season, we’ve seen this summer the story is topical. Right now my big problem is that the tension in the tale tends to fall off. There are interpersonal battles, health issues, and of course, the fireline fight, but when I read my work I’m left wanting more. This story needs some Spike, and my feeling is that I don’t know how much to add. I suppose I can add spice in small amounts, reworking by chapter and scene, until I think it’s got the right flavor. Now that I write this out, this begins to appeal to me.

The final candidate is Winter City Above the Clouds. The first two chapters have been written, and I’ve spent some time this summer working on the outline for this science fiction epic. This project is daunting. And what I mean by that is that right now, I’m looking at what I want to do with it, and I’m not entirely sure I have the skills necessary to reach that lofty goal. I’ll be making everything up, and this tale requires a rich, expansive cultural backdrop just to make the stage believable.

Of these projects, Winter City is where I’d like to be spending my time, it’s where I go to get lost in my own imagination right now. I based my first Future Chronicles contribution Ser Pan Comido in the universe I’ve been developing for Winter City. So it has that element of guilty pleasure about it. I just don’t want that to interfere with the final quality of the piece. Better, I don’t want to find myself back in the same situation I’m in with Counterfeit Horizon.

Conclusion, it’s sometimes very easy to be your own boss and other times it approaches impossible to be at the helm. Option paralysis is real.

Wake Up

The sun was just breaking the eastern horizon, climbing through the narrow slit of clear space between the Cascades and the cloud cover, when the dream woke me. I was breathing heavily, sweating despite the open window, and crying. I was grateful to be awake all the same.

A nightmare? Yes, but not the usual sort. Tess and I have been investigating fostering children and, as a result, the flavor of my anxiety and consequently my dreams has changed.

Five years ago the dreams were similar. In these, I would have misplaced my then soon to be born second son on a shopping trip or dropped him accidentally down the kitchen sink drain. Clearly, my anxiety concerning childbirth is significant. I’ve played the part of expectant father twice now and both times, as the day got closer and closer, my dreams fixated on all the things I might fuck up with this new little life.

This morning’s dream wasn’t about birth or even me making a complete mess of child rearing. Nonetheless, it’s been clinging to me like a stinky t-shirt on a hot day. For some reason, Tess and I owned something like a timeshare at a condo. The place was small, and we were, if I recall correctly, visiting this place. We walked into the room and quickly realized that someone was living there. Tess was upset that the timeshare wasn’t cleaned before we came, and I discovered a man named Doug emerging from the bathroom.

My memory is a little hazy at this point of the dream, but stuff happens between me and Doug. It becomes crystal clear, however, when Doug lifts his baby girl and puts her in a plastic bag like an article of luggage. He intended to carry her out to his waiting work truck (don’t ask, it was a dream), but I jumped into this situation and took the girl from him. I couldn’t stand there, even for a moment, and watch her struggling in the plastic.

As soon as I had her in my arms I realized that she needed a change. I laid out a towel on the bed and had to cut off the diaper. Doug dropped some nappies next to me, which looked kind of like medical gauze, and I threw them from the bed. When I got the diaper off the girl, I was so angry. She had a horrible rash, clearly this guy’s neglect had lead to this situation. Fortunately, my imagination had expelled him from the dream; I’m not certain what I might have done to him given the freedom of that dreamscape, if he wasn’t instantly missing. I cleaned the baby girl off in the sink, taking care not to hurt her fragile skin, and spent what seemed like hours holding her and trying to calm her.

She screamed and raged until I woke up from it.

Now, I know that the orientation we attended had an effect on me. They played a number of videos and I cried during one of them. I wasn’t the only one crying, and I know that those that weren’t were employing big voodoo to distract themselves from that horror show.

I’m still processing the information we gathered at the fostering orientation. I know that some of that information has plunged part of my mood into a low place and I’ve yet been unable to overcome this funk or the anger that seems to follow it around. Some part of me just repeats the words “How could you? How could you?” A mantra, equal parts indignation and pity.

I have a good friend that has been working for the office of the State’s Attorney General for about ten years. His job is to argue for the safety of these kids, he takes children away from the “Doug” of my dreams. Before this nightmare, I wondered at the mechanisms he has in place to deal with that trauma. I now envy him, his ability to detach from these horribly unfortunate situations while remaining compassionate and capable of dealing with all these children. I’m not certain I can do this.

“How could you? How could you?”