Ghost of Christmas Past

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Ah, the classic Dickensian Ghosts of Christmas: Past, Present, and Future. For my purposes, they will be depicted in their incarnations from my favorite Christmas movie, Scrooged.

What do they have to do with what I’m about to blog? I don’t know yet, I’m working on it… I just came up with this as a theme to fit what I want to say. Forcing my words to fit that theme is part of what writing is all about, right?

“Your assignment: write X.”

“Roger that. X on the way…”

What I’m really trying to talk about is the past, present, and future of my writing plans, the rollover of the new year, and the exciting news that’s happening now and how it relates to what’s past, present, and coming up.

(Yeah, that’s it! I knew that, somewhere in here, I knew what I was talking about!)

Which makes this the post about Christmas Past. And for the past several months, this guy has been driving…

scrooged-ghost-of-christmas-past

That should pretty much tell you all you need to know! But I’ll elaborate a little…

Okay, very little. ‘Cuz it’s depressing, confusing, and more than you really care about.

Basically, got out of the Navy in February, in and out of the Navy Reserve since then (active to inactive, actually), started a job, quit by Naval decree, got another one, went inactive reserve (so Naval decree has way less weight), went back to first job. So December 10th was me starting over yet again! At least it was the job I started back in February, so I am at least familiar. But it’s still starting anew.

So unstable life. Moved from Japan to Ohio, family still settling in and finding their places. My son’s been in three different schools this year.

Every step forward is followed by two steps back. You know that dance, right?

Despite all these real-world setbacks, I’ve still managed some progress in my writing world. My yearly goal for words published (not written, but actually published into the world) is 80,000 words. A novel by definition is 40K, though a typical one put out by the Big Five New York publishing mafia is about 80K. I’m going to fall short of that mark this year, but that’s okay! I allow myself some leeway given all the seismic shocks of our lives this past year. I’m lucky to have gotten anything published at all.

Here’s what I did get out there. Most of these are short stories or novelettes that were written before 2018. One book I did write this year. (Crammed it in in only 2 short months, in fact.) Plus, I have a short story coming out still in Weirdbook Magazine #41, hopefully before the year is out.

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And even though I fell short of the 80K goal, I’ll more than make up for it in 2019. I already have Deus Ex Machina set up on pre-order, which is 85,000 words by itself. BAM! My 2019 goal is already in the bag! And Green-Eyed Monster will soon follow, which is a collection of all these short stories above, plus several more. BAM! Overkill! And those are all already written! So 2019 will be a productive year.

But that’s a different ghost…

We’re talking 2018 right now. The yearly wrap-up.

For a while there I had decided to stop tracking my written word counts. This was likely one of my new 2018 streamlining goals about this time last year. About mid-way through the year, though, I decided to start tracking them again. My monthly, active writing goal is a comfortable 10,000 words per month. Given my chaotic and over-taxed life, that’s not bad. And even without writing new words every month in 2018, I still managed about 86,000—and that’s probably underestimating April and May when I wasn’t quite keeping track. You can’t publish 80K next year if you don’t write some this year, right? Well, even with riding the whirlwind and all, I still cranked out enough to ensure my current and future publishing goals. Not too shabby.

What I did not get enough of in 2018 was business savvy. Marketing knowledge. Cybernetic infrastructure. The administrative and business side of the indie writing biz. I hope to make more time for that very soon.

For now, given the tumultuous real-world events of 2018, I’m pretty damn happy with the way my writing/publishing year turned out. Which I couldn’t really say until right this minute! Because I, like all indie writers, am too impatient and too hard on myself. Which is why doing little recaps like this are good for me (us). Looking back and seeing that, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. I mean, uh, Yes, Virginia, you did accomplish more than many aspiring writers this year, despite always cursing yourself as a failure. Therefore, No, Virginia, you’re not a piece of shit.

Good job.

Alrighty, that’s it for the Ghost of Christmas Past. Stay tuned. Expect the next ghost at the stroke of one… (This was the midnight ghost, ya know?)

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Daily Disaster

Photo on 12-9-18 at 2.21 PM

This sums up my life right now.

After going to A LOT of trouble to get myself a snow blower (including having to pay way too much to rent a van to go pick it up), I tried to start it up to move it to the shed and… broke the damn cord.

I don’t blame the guy who sold it to me—no way he could have known that would happen. He’s a mechanic and agreed to fix it for 20 bucks. So add 20 to the mounting cost of the damn thing.

We better get a lot of snow this year…

On top of that, tried to change the light bulbs on the front outdoor lights. They were both broken inside and have come apart rather than unscrewed. So I’m screwed.

Bought two different items to address the safety issue of our fireplace, neither one has worked out. One didn’t fit, the other was missing parts.

So I’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth and getting nowhere. I’ve also gone back and forth a jobs. Starting my old teaching job AGAIN tomorrow. Long story on that one. And back and forth on Navy stuff too. You thought I was out of the Navy? So did I…

Those are just some of the reasons why this blog has been seriously neglected. I’d LIKE to blog about more than when I have a book on sale or coming out, but who has the time???

One of my planned resolutions for the new year is to do just that. Blog once a week, and at least 3 a month NOT be just about my books. I don’t want to just ram sales shit down everyone’s throats. I just don’t have time for pleasantries.

Speaking of which, more new book announcements on the way soon…

In the meantime, I hope everyone is making more real life progress than I am right now.

Cheers.

 

Indie Writer Codewords: Resume

It’s been a while since I’ve put out one of these. Sorry, but I’ve been pretty busy.

I have decided, though, that I’d like to try and get these codewords organized and written into a book in time for NaNoWriMo. I’m also trying to finish up a short story in the next few days (!), and then the non-fiction writing advice/experience book will follow that. And, if I be so bold, I’d even like to start a Youtube channel and post this stuff on there! Along with other topics of interest.

So many projects, so little time. But in the meantime, here’s the next codeword. (Notice I’ve since discovered that “code word” doesn’t need to have a space in the middle of it?) I hope you enjoy this installment.

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Codeword: Resume

Resumes exist, basically, to get your foot in the door for a new job. It’s unlikely a resume alone will land you the job, but when prospective hirers are searching for folks to fill their much-needed workers’ ranks, how are they going to decide who to put in the maybe pile and who just plain isn’t qualified for the position?

They use a resume. Your resume.

If I were applying to become a writer, what might my resume say? How might I convince the boss (a reader) that they should read my stuff?

Wait a minute! Are you really saying I need to meet certain criteria to write?

Right now, I hope you’re reacting to this. You might be reacting by leaning forward, thinking, “Oh no, you mean I have to qualify to write fiction? Oh, crap! Will I make it? Tell me more!”

But I honestly hope you’re crinkling your nose and saying, “What the hell are you talking about? I don’t need to convince you that I’m allowed to write! You read my stuff and that says all you need to know!”

What makes me think I can or should write? Am I qualified? Do I need to have certain skills or training or experience? Does any of that matter at all?

I think these questions can have value, but mostly they just distract us from our goal. They undercut our confidence. And as we all know, writers are often at a point of crisis on confidence. So all this may be better skipped.

Or not.

Maybe asking these questions will actually help bolster your confidence when it gets low. Maybe you say, “Hell, yes, I can write this! I served three tours in Iraq, who else is going to write military science fiction?”

Or you might moan, “Who am I kidding? I learned all I know about the military from watching Star Trek! I can’t write this stuff!”

Stick with me for a minute here. I know this is a dangerous line of questioning, but I’m going somewhere, I promise.

Okay, if I were going to write up my resume to convince folks (or myself) that I am qualified to write, what might I include…?

Education:

  • I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. An actual college degree that says I’ve been trained by an institution of higher learning to be a writer. So obviously I must be good at it. After all, a college degree defines who we are in this country, right?
  • But you can drink your way to a C-average and graduate with any degree you want, does that make you great at whatever it was? Just because you have a four-year degree in psychology doesn’t mean you aren’t crazy yourself. I mean, have you ever met a psych major…?
  • If you were a psych major or are married to one: I’m just teasing.
  • If you were not a psych major or aren’t married to one: I’m not kidding, they’re crazy! (And maybe even if you’re married to one, I might not be kidding. You tell me, they’re your spouse…)

Upbringing:

  • I grew up in the 80s, the best time ever to be a kid. My young, creative brain was crafted by after school and Saturday morning cartoons, like Thundercats,I. Joe, He-Man, and Thundar the Barbarian.
  • Violence and adventure were served in heaping helpings at that time, even if The 700 Club was trying to protect our fragile minds and immortal souls from it. I read Stephen King and Clive Barker in junior high. I grew up on R-rated sci-fi and horror movies. It was great!
  • I saw the original Star Wars movies in the theatre when they first came out. (That’s got to prove my creative heritage, right? I mean, all these other Star Wars.. Just stop trying, you’re killing the magic.)
  • I grew up playing real, table-top roleplaying games with real, live friends, seated at the same physical table and rolling real, physical dice. And we all had a part in shaping the world and giving our characters life. (Playing videogames in other people’s fixed realities, with strangers miles away hiding behind avatars… not the same thing.)
  • All of these things kindled the flames of storytelling in our minds. The next generation, they got bubble-wrapped. And the one after that… For God’s sake, there’s no such thing as Saturday mornings cartoons anymore! It’s all gone hell!
  • It’s also made me a grouchy old curmudgeon, in case you can’t tell. (“Kids these days...!”)

Experience:

  • I’ve served over 13 years in the United States Navy. Four of that was in the intelligence field, two was living and traveling on a warship, and I spent more than five total living in Japan.
  • I’ve been a nurse for ten years, Navy and civilian, with a very wide variety of patients suffering from both physical and mental injuries.
  • I’ve lived all over the U.S. and visited several foreign countries. (Eight, I want to say? It’s been so long now, I’ve lost track…)
  • I’ve lived alone, traveled alone, lived on a ship on sea, and now have a family.
  • I’ve been a student several times and a teacher several times, in differing capacities and fields.
  • I’ve been alive for more than four decades. That’s got to be worth something, right?

So, do these things make me better qualified to be a writer?

I like to think that they help, but you don’t need a resume to be a writer!

The only bullets you need are these:

  • I have life experience. As in, I am alive and I remember and learn from my years of life.
  • I have interacted with other living beings.
  • I have an imagination (if writing fiction).
  • I have decent language and communication skills. (Actually, they should really be better than just decent but if you can get and/or hire some editing help, decent might get you started.)
  • I have the follow-through to get the work done. (Very important! Unfinished stories don’t do anything. Only finished ones matter.)

That’s about it. But these are all very important. If you don’t have the ability to string two sentences together, how can you write more than a paragraph? And yes, even in this age of lazy brained texting (especially in this age) you need language and communication skills.

Most important, I would argue, is life experience. Does that mean that a teenager can’t write an enjoyable story? Certainly not. But the more life you’ve lived, and the more mature you’ve become as a result, the more you can write about. If you’ve never loved and lost, it’s difficult to fake it in your writing. If you’re not a parent, real parents might be able to tell when they read about your characters who have kids.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t write about it. You don’t have to be a combat veteran to write military science fiction. In fact, I’d bet many successful writers of the stuff are not veterans at all. But the gritty details and genuine emotions that come out of the real thing can be recognized by readers with that shared experience. (This is part of the reason I enjoy Starship Troopers so much.)

So you may be thinking by now, “Gee, maybe I should hold off writing anything until I am older and have more worldly experience.”

Wrong.

To think that is to assume (1) you have nothing to write about now, and that (2) when you finally do decide to write your masterpiece, the words will flow from your pen (or fingers) like liquid gold, perfectly formed in every way the first time you finally deem to write them.

Write now, people. Just like everything else, your skills increase as you practice doing it.

I used to think that way. I’d come up with some ideas that were very important to me and think, “Okay, I’ll just sit on that until I’m a better writer.”

How the hell are we going to get to be better writers by not writing?

You also don’t necessarily become a better writer by taking writing classes. They won’t hurt (mostly), but they won’t make you a genus either. I do think I am a better, more conscientious writer because of my college program, but it can be poisonous too.

English classes about essays and grammar are certainly useful in that they teach you how to properly use the language. But in fiction, perfect grammar isn’t everything. Dialogue may not sound as genuine if it’s technically perfect. I mean, how many people actually talk like that? (See what I did there? I should probably have written, “How many people speak like that, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it?)

And knowing what the hell a gerund isn’t as important as knowing how to use them. (I personally don’t know what the hell a gerund is, but I’m willing to bet I use them appropriately nonetheless, just because I know how to write and speak English well. There might even be some on this page, but I’d never know it!)

Speaking of education, I have to say this. Please excuse my soap box.

 A Degree in Writing

My first degree was a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

Really! I was one of those people!

Well, I didn’t start out as one of those people. I considered a lot of majors when I was seventeen and eighteen years old, generally among the hard and soft sciences. But after taking an interest survey for “undecided” college students, I turned away from science and embraced my love of the arts instead.

My mom would ask me what I was going to do with a degree in writing.

And I’d answer, “I don’t know, I’ll find something. I’m not worried about it.”

What I ended up doing with it was enlisting in the Navy, even though people were saying, “Shouldn’t you be an officer if you have a degree?”

The recruiter said that, no, I could go officer after boot camp. And he should know, right? I mean, military recruiters would never lie to young, impressionable morons just to meet their monthly quotas, right?

Obviously, I was idealistic and stupid.

Well, stupid in hindsight. Just a young, naive dreamer at the time, like most of us at that age.

And if you, Dear Reader, are considering a college career in creative writing or a similarly idealistic path in pure art, please let me extend a bit of advice:

If you’re going to go to college and accumulate decades of debt, you need to get a degree in something that pays. Major in a paycheck (that you will still enjoy), and minor in what you really love (that probably doesn’t pay squat).

I know that’s not what you want to hear, that I sound like your mom.

But guess what?

I’ve been there. And twenty years later, I’ve learned something: Mom was right.

I was proud of my arts degree, as anyone with an arts degree is. And should be. But remember this, my fellow aspiring writers: You have to eat. If you have a spouse and/or kids, they have to eat too. You have to have a roof to live under. You will someday get sick and need money for the doctor. (Unless, perhaps, you live in one of those utopias where healthcare comes with the territory. But even then, you still need a job!)

Most writers also have a “day job.” Very few writers can afford to write fulltime. If you want to make a go at it, then marry well. Or live somewhere where living is cheap. Or learn to type while balancing your laptop against the steering wheel and live in your car. You could be a suffering artist like that—it’s classic right?—or, you could have a stable, productive, semi-comfortable life that makes it easier to venture out and dip your toe in the writing pool.

I graduated with my BFA in 1999. And then, in 2008, I graduated with a Bachelors of Nursing Science. Why? ‘Cuz I needed a reliable job!

And now that I can feed my family and pay my bills with good stability, I can pursue my dreams of becoming a writer. And maybe, with a lot of work and sprinkle of lucky fairy dust, maybe I’ll be a full-time writer someday and won’t need the day job anymore. That’s the dream. But you have to dream with your feet on the ground, lest you trip and fall on your face.

I think you get the point. I know Mom’s a bit paranoid and nags about a lot of things and worries just a little too much about her sweet baby, but in this case, Mom’s right.

Writing, Job Search, and Podcasting

Some news in no particular order:

  • I’m continuing to work on Golden Age Heroes and hope to finish the first draft before September 1st. From there it’ll be 2nd draft revisions for both GAH and Deus Ex Machina, so I can sequence them together for release late this year or early next year. (Hoping to have them out by Thanksgiving. We’ll see how everything goes.
  • I’m currently unemployed (oh no!!!) but do have some interviews lined up for this week. I thought I’d be like, “Oh that’s okay, more time for writing!” But I’m not. I’m more like, “I’m a grown up with a family, I need a freakin’ job!!!” I always tell other people that in today’s world, only suckers work. It seems every punk with a cell phone camera is a self-made millionaire these days. If only I knew how to do that!
  • Which leads me to this: Anyone know of a video blog or podcast looking for semi-regular guests? I’d like to start in the audio-visual biz, but lack the technical skills. I also don’t know how much I would have to say on my own talking to an unblinking camera. But I’d like to get in with other folks who do know and like to talk about writing, sci-fi/fantasy, gaming, reading, whatever. If you have any leads, do let me know!
  • I’ll also continue to try to get a blog post up once or twice a week. I have more Indie Writer Code Words to discuss, just a lot on my plate with higher priority right now.
  • There’s also the new release of Warhammer 40K Kill Teams, which I’d like to get into (and blog/podcast about). The fun part for me is making the team and painting up them up, so I hope to find time for that soon too.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!

Indie Writer Code Words: Sequencing and Rain Check

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Continuing my series of posts here, I’m talking about top secret code words used by me as a writer. Some may be used by other writers, too, in which case I picked them up from elsewhere. Some are the terms I am using for my own creative process. And I figured, if they’re worth me churning in my brain, they might be worth sharing online with other indie writers as well.

Today’s top secret word is for a concept I’ve gotten elsewhere, but I don’t think they call it what I call it: SEQUENCING.

The idea is that you have better luck selling a series than a standalone book, and even better if that whole series—or at least a trilogy worth or two or three at a time—come out all at once. Or at least in short order, say, each a month apart.

Much like your favorite Netflix or on-demand series, readers these days are impatient. They want to get the whole thing NOW. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) So the idea is, if you have 3, 4, 5, 6, or more books all ready and out there RIGHT NOW, you could have a runaway hit on your hands! If they read the first and say, “Yup, I’m in,” you might have just sold a whole series all in one blow. Something like that builds speed quickly, too, spreading by algorithms and by word of mouth.

However, posting just one book and promising it’s the first of a long series, and then not getting that next book out for a few years (like I just did—or am doing, I guess, since Deus Ex Machina isn’t out quite yet) is generally not helpful to gaining a readership.

Therefore, SEQUENCING is a good idea. That is, launching books in a sequence, right?

The trouble with this is, if you’re a working stiff like me, who has to have at least one (if not two or more) day jobs in order to support the family, it’s hard to do that! Writing just one book takes time, much more time than we would like. So finishing that arduous journey and then just sitting on it until you can do it all again (which takes a long time again) requires a mighty portion of patience and will power.

And that leads to my next codeword: RAIN CHECK. The relativity of this word seems obvious, but it is also derived from the codewords STORMWATCH and WEATHERSTATION. These both refer to my scheduling and tracking spreadsheets. “Stormwatch” was an older version, “Weatherstation” is the newer one.

RAIN CHECK is scheduling a sequence of books or stories for the future. It has two parts:

(1) Having the will to schedule things in a sequence and fighting to urge to publish as soon as a book or story is ready to go.

(2) Staying focused enough on one series or universe to make that happen.

The word RAIN CHECK is a reminder to me to stay focused and follow through with the plan to SEQUENCE.

And these concepts have been proven by many an indie author more successful than myself. Writing and waiting is well worth it.

After all, if your first book gets everyone all excited, but there’s no more for those excited readers to move on to… They move on to someone else. And by the time your next book does come out, they may have forgotten all about you.

And that sucks.

For me, in my most immediate future , the plan for sequencing is to finish up everything on Deus Ex Machina (Identity Crisis series: Book 2, thus the sequel to Hungry Gods) and to pair it up with The Golden Age (Secret Origins series: Book 3). (Working title, still needs to be written!) Both of these series take place in my Identity Crisis Universe, a genre-bending realm of superheroes, sci-fi, humor, and gritty mystery.

As I posted recently, I have finished the first draft of Deus Ex Machina. So, step one complete!

Now I have to write The Golden Age—planning to keep that one to about 30,000 words or so, what I consider a short novel. Then go over both works again to make their 2nd drafts. Then send them to my copy editor for a once over to get my 3rd (final) drafts. Then I just need to cover them (both in progress now), format them, and get them out there!

Right now I’m shooting for November-ish as a publishing date, give or take. Still working out the details, and it depends on how long everything takes to get done. I want to allow some time to promote and offer deals on previous books in both series, thus building some awareness and excitement again for both series.

And then…

We’ll see what happens after that. Do these superhero books take off into the stratosphere? Or do they trip over their capes and fall flat on their faces? Those results would help determine my next sequence of books: more of the same, or hop to another genre.

Those considerations will also involve more codewords, like RAIN CHECK and DONUT HOLE. (Stay tuned for those posts in the near future…)

Indie Writer Code Words: Fear

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In this series of posts, I’ll be talking about top secret code words used by me as a writer. Some may be used by other writers, too, in which case I picked them up from elsewhere. Some are the terms I am using for my own creative process. And I figured, if they’re worth me churning in my brain, they might be worth sharing online with other indie writers as well. (It’s also good therapy for me, and it’s free.)

Secret (and not so secret) words coming up are Sequencing and Donut Hole, and maybe even BFF.

But today’s not-so-secret code word is: FEAR.

FEAR is the primary reason I’m sitting here typing this instead of the next scene or chapter in my novel. Because, like most of you (if not all of you) fellow writers, I’m afraid of it.

I’m afraid to sit down and write it, because it might suck. Or I’m not sure where to go with it, not sure what happens next. Or I do know what happens next and it’s challenging or I’m not confident I can handle what has to be done, so I am avoiding it.

Or I’m afraid of failure: What if I write it and publish it and either no one reads/buys it? Or they do, and I get only bad feedback and negative reviews? And everyone tells me it sucks? And I suck?

Or maybe even I’m actually afraid of success: What if I finish this novel and somehow, suddenly, this big tsunami of sales happens and I’m thrust unprepared into the possible realization of my dreams—that I can actually quit working and write fulltime? Holy shit, wouldn’t that be horrible? Then what the hell do I do??!!

Or a hundred other reasons, all of which boil down to one thing: Fear.

The last couple chapters I wrote, I had exactly that problem. One of them was a scene I’ve known was coming for years! I have been looking forward to it, both because it meant I was nearing the end of the book and because it was just going to be a damn fun scene.

And yet, when I finally got there, I paused. I groped for my confidence and came up empty handed.

So, what did I do?

I sat down and wrote the damn scene.

And it was fun. Some of you may eventually find it fun, too.  🙂

Actually, it wasn’t quite that easy. I knew what would happen in the action part, the middle part, but wasn’t sure how to get that started. How to broach the chapter in order to reach the meaty part of the scene?

Sitting and thinking about it didn’t get me there. So I just started writing. I rambled a little bit, wandered more than expected, but I eventually wandered right into the place I needed to be. Perfect!

The next chapter was similar. Right after that chapter, I knew the book was breaking into the next act. (I generally support the three-act structure in my longer work.) I did a page break, typed in PART THREE: SHIVA THE DESTROYER, and then… Paused again. Now what?

Well, I knew it was going to be dialogue heavy, so I just let the characters get me through it. I let them go into the natural discussion that was coming and they hashed it out for me. Easy peasy.

As I’ll get into with the next code word entries, I’m also deathly afraid of deciding, What comes next? Which of the 30+ books in my head to start once I finish this one? There are arguments for several of them. And even though I know what the best answer is, I’m still afraid of it. Because I don’t know what’ll happen. (I usually don’t, until I write it!) I don’t know if continuing the superhero course is for the best when I have these other, easier, probably more accessible sci-fi series I could get moving onto.

But all that is a discussion for another time. (Or, in my case, about three times a day in my own head, or when I’m on a walk outside.)

Fear is ever-present. No way around it. One or all of these scenarios will continue to pop up. And all you can do is trust in the process and proceed as normal. I imagine having a routine helps. Like you get up every day at this time and churn out this many words. Sounds solid. (Too bad my schedule constantly changes—in ten years, I’ve never been able to get a routine like that!) But if you have a good routine, I bet it’s easier to just say, “Fuck the fear, this is my writing time and now I’m wasting it. Time to get to work.”

Ooohh, that sounds nice!

I’m very likely about to be job hunting again, so I still won’t be able to get a routine down. (Long story, mostly still involving the Navy and expectations for me and the Reserves. I don’t want to think about it right now. Because I’m afraid of that whole mess, too!) But damn if having that kind of daily, set-aside ritual doesn’t sound wonderful!

And there we go. Almost 900 words in like 20 minutes. If only I could focus those powers toward a book. It’s no harder to write. It’s still just pounding keys with my fingers! And once I get going, it flows just as fast as a raging river. Sometimes I even have to skip ahead to get the good part down, then come back to fill in how to get there. My brain goes that fast on the good stuff. And yet…! Here I sit, afraid to switch over and do just that.

You know, I have so many other things I should be doing too. Still have boxes to unpack, books to filter through to get rid of, go to the post office, get some exercise… Maybe I’ll save the writing thing for now. It’s just too scary…