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.

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.