Back On the Rails

Derailing

So, if I’m honest with myself, I derailed last January. ConFusion 2017 was a great big ball of fun, and I came home inspired by all the excellent people I got to hang out with for three whole days of Sci-Fi enriched shenanigans, but I also came home with a raging case of pneumonia. By early February it had consolidated in my right lung to such an extent that the doctor I ended up seeing seriously tried to get me to go to a hospital.

I didn’t go to the hospital. Instead, I completed the prescribed levofloxacin followed by self-congratulations because of “how great I felt” in the aftermath of my affliction with the reduced price tag for the cure. “Yeah me!”

The March rolled over me with a second bought of walking-pneumonia.

#Derp

So yeah, I lost my writing discipline. Round about April I found myself doing anything but writing. Instead of getting up in the morning and laying down words, I did the dishes I should have done the night before.

And so it went, me letting crappy little things get in the way of my desires. For a while there I even considered the possibility that rejection (and there has been plenty of it since January) was a sign that perhaps Sci-Fi really wasn’t my calling.

I derped once and then couldn’t help but derp again.

Derp.

Derp.

Derp.

This morning I woke up, compelled to evaluate my current situation and my future prospects. An existential crisis fueled by OCD. While standing on the ledge just outside the window of my metaphorical 13th-floor apartment, I was lucky enough to have an interested friend to talk me back inside to chair in front of my writing desk. Also, “Yeah me!”

Re-Railing

My writing group continues to send me reminders that they’re meeting every Sunday. Writing friends have asked if I’d like to get together or why I’m almost never seen at the coffee shop banging out words. I’ve even gotten polite queries about when the next episode in a space opera series might be released. Ok, so there are people out there who a) like what I write and b) want me to write more of it.

There’s even this overlooked gem of a review for The Big Red Buckle which has me thinking I should engage Melanie S. as a blurb writer for future projects. 

Much of my distress and worry regarding my writing of late is tied to the notion that I’m not actually making anything close to a living from it. Classic cart-before-the-horse thinking I know, but still, there it is. Add to this that I’ve sent out a literal butt load of submissions since the start of the year and all of them have come back negative for a variety of reasons.

I expressed this to another friend recently at a chance island encounter, and his response was both pragmatic and worthy of my attention. “If you find someone to work with, do it on your own.” He’s entirely correct, but again that damnable compulsive voice in my head, there are days when I can’t stop obsessing about the rejection.

So, the outstanding question right now is “How?” How do I get myself back on the rails, headed down the tracks toward some yet-undefined-life-goal? Make some money from my words? Write the best novel ever written? Write a story I’m happy with?

How about, “Just continue to write?”

Summer

Summer is *not* the best time of the year for a stay-at-home Dad and writer to reinvent himself, this is a fact of my life of which I am critically aware. That said, I know that I can write 300 words a day without taking much time or it devouring much effort.

So we’re back to this simple goal and will build from there. Three-hundred words a day and down the tracks.

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The Bad News

Yeah, so all has been quiet on this front for some time. The reason for this is pretty straightforward, I’ve been experiencing intermittent issues with the keyboard on my laptop which became catastrophically worse late last week. Look at yours right now. See all the letters between W and P? None of them on my laptop’s keyboard work any longer and most of them get used all the time to write simple sentences.

Today, after much hullabaloo on the phone with Apple, I drove to the mainland specifically to get it repaired. I’ve watched the surgery necessary on YouTube, and it’s pretty involved, so I sought help. Help, it turns out, cost considerably more than the laptop is worth.

“So there he is, banging away at this post,” you’d rightly point out. “How the hell is doing it?” Well, I bought a cheapo keyboard and turned my very expensive Macbook Pro into a desk potato. This may become my new mascot or something.

“What’s next?” you ask when informed of my clever and inexpensive workaround? Well, obviously a lot less portable computing. When I work away from my desk, I’ll necessarily be doing so on a tiny device like my phone. This is slower and considerably more prone to borkage, but possible.

Right now my big project is a Space Opera retelling of Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet which I’m very glad to be working on once again. If I do anything to improve my workspace, it will be to add a bigger monitor to this potato setup. However, unless and until I’m able to sell some stories, this is going to remain an aspiration since it lacks funds.

Depression Kills Me

So, in case you were wondering, the answer is “yes.” I’ve been depressed quite a bit lately. Just stuck down in deep, dark old funk.

Also, “yes” my depression has a lot to do with the weather we’ve been seeing here in Puget Sound. That and the stupid string of sicknesses I’ve experienced since the start of the year. Oh, and we’d be judged remiss if we forgot to top that pile-o-poo with the joke-of-a-government we’ve been bequeathed.

I’ve been caged by my mortality and my awareness of that unrelenting, unavoidable limiting factor. A real pickle.

Today, I managed to pull out exactly enough of the stops to transport my family from my island home to the bustling, urban paradise of Seattle. Here we shall spend the next few days living it up and in the process breaking a couple of bars.

We visited the Japanese Gardens today and that was a lot like jumping into a well organized Caribbean bay or warm, salty water. Dimsum and so many bao that my belly felt like it might split, the most comfortable-discomfort I think a person can endure. Other than the relentless exuberance of our six-year-old, today was a really good day.

Right now I’m counting the time I’ve spent writing by sipping scotch in a bar on 1st Street. While I feel Jack London’s judgemental gaze from a lofty spot on the wall, I’m once again producing words. Slowly, sometimes laboriously, but they’re coming. I’m surrounded by intimate human dramas.

At the bar is a couple interviewing their third for tonight’s intimate indulgences, I’m left to wonder how fast that rocket will go off. A rude dude just rode a wheelie down the street on his LED ignited Hayabusa. There’s a lonely man brooding in the glass, glare and reflected light of the front window. If he breaks out a deck and starts to type madly he’s going to be the star of a hacking short story. I’m almost ready to give him mine.

For the first time in what feels like forever, I’m writing. Re-writing! Good golly the floodgates are open!

On The Seance of Dead Writers

An interesting conversation occurred this morning between Tess and me. We were talking about the mechanics of voice, specifically Elmore Leonard’s ability to convey entire stories through little more than dialogue. She loves his style or writing, if I heard her correctly, because of the way that it lies.

Now I should explain.

All fiction is a lie. Author literally makes this stuff up, and the trick is we’re sometimes able to make our readers believe that lie as if it were fact. Leonard’s genius is that he lies in a way that makes you feel like you’re witnessing the story as it’s happening. It’s memory. A long conversation that you’ve listened instead of some words you read.

While I appreciate the technique, much of what I’ve written does not make use of this. Per my wife, I should probably think about channeling the voice of Leonard. This is, however, only one possible conclusion of the conversation.

I am now keenly aware of the authorial voices that influence me as I pound out manuscripts. In fact, I’ve noticed that as I’ve developed as a writer, I tend to read with a new found insight into these creative aspects within the domain of any story’s construction.

Right now I’m very much channeling the spirit of Dead Ed with a little Jack London tossed in. For the first time, I’m mindful of the influence these two authors exert on my writing, as I write. I often ask myself if what I’ve written is something they might like to read. Of course, I’ll never know, but the question is an important one for me to answer because the example of their work sets a new expectation that I’m shooting for.

Taking Responsibility

September, my birth month, has become sort of my Little New-Year. This year I’m starting a new fitness and nutrition program. Revitalizing my interest in endurance sports as well as training for those kinds of events. Renewing my commitment to my family, my friends and myself.

In short, I’m taking responsibility for all the things I influence. I’m taking ownership. This also means I’m going to take more ownership for my artistic vision.

Last night I re-read METAtropolis: Cascadia and this made me realized how far away I’ve gotten from the speculative-fiction vision I started with only a few years back. Yeah, in the last two years I’ve written almost nothing but space opera, a fact of which I’m keenly aware. I’ve been happy writing these stories, but this kind of fiction isn’t really what stokes my coals.

Consequently, even though I have many outstanding projects I’ll still be diligently working on, I’m going to add some more input to my vision. Writing for my perception of “what the market wants” often means abdicating responsibility for what I think it could become. I don’t need to repeat Ford’s Edsel failure to realize a Mustang is what most people would love to drive.

Advice

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Yesterday evening, while attending my local writing group, the advice started pouring. A perfect storm of what I needed to read, who I needed to follow, in order to write a breakout novel. What I needed to do in order to achieve my goals with DISTANCE. Everyone was well-intentioned, no doubt, but once I got home and started going over my notes, I felt randomized. Like a few wheels had slipped the track somewhere down the line, and my train was dragging to a halt on under the strain of the extra drag.

Later, I spent some time talking with a friend, mostly about the first couple of chapters. His advice was concrete, easy to understand, and given the arc and direction of the story made sense. It was specific, and it advanced DISTANCE further down the tracks because it was a simple matter to integrate it into the writing process.

I’ve concluded that writers need feedback during the development of a work. I certainly do. We write alone, but we refine in a public crucible. This is one of the few professions I can think of where other people’s early opinions prove critical to the development of the final product. I’m drawing an image in mind’s eyes’ of others so it is useful to know that my sketches cross the void that separates us from one another. Engineers, on the other hand, design something THEN test that thing. While they’re hunched over the draft board, however, they’re not interested or concerned about what anyone thinks of their process. In fact, it’s likely outside inputs may destroy their eventual effectiveness.

Given the above, I’ve become very discerning when I get outside inputs. Like most writers, I’ve developed a pretty good understanding of what I want to do. Even good, pertinent counsel can distract from my end goal.

So it goes, that last night, I came to another realization. Writing a “breakout novel” is not my goal. This sort of encouragement is nudging me off the rails. Knowing this, I can easily disregard well-intentioned advice which seeks to push my work in the wrong direction.

Yeah, having a breakout novel would be great. And, while I acknowledge that some people enter into the writing process with this as an end goal, it has nothing to do with the story I want to tell. Much like winning an award or holding a lottery ticket with all the right numbers the “breakout” is a potential end benefit.

I’m sticking to the plan.

 

Reaching

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.