10/14/18

The Necessity of Continuous Reading as a Writer

It’s Sunday evening and time for me to write my 14th blog post in a row!  Let’s see what topic I set myself up for night.  Surely I planned ahead, realizing that fatigue would be settling in at this point.  I must have given myself something light and easy to write about, right?  Right?

[brief pause for laughter-crying]

Okay, fine.  Let’s talk about the necessity of continuous reading as a writer.  That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

First of all, is the underlying implication true?  Is it necessary for a writer to perpetually read the works of other writers?

Technically, a writer only needs an idea and some ability to form sentences using a written language.  As soon as we are able to put words on a page, we are capable of creating stories.

Those stories probably aren’t going to be very good.  At that point in our development, we simply don’t know enough about what we’re doing to create a good story.  If we want to be good in an artistic medium, we generally need to immerse ourselves in the work of others in order to even know what “good” means.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s assume that tonight’s topic is about transcending in skill as a writer.  Without that assumption… yeah, you don’t need to read anything.  Throw words on the page in ignorance.  Use crayons, if you want.  I don’t care.

Here are a few reasons why it is necessary to continuously read the work of other writers:

  • Entertainment
  • Learning what Works
  • Learning what Doesn’t Work
  • Community

 

Entertainment

This is where it starts for most of us.  Before we ever consider the possibility that we might be able to write a novel, we fall in love with a book.  We’re swept away on currents of metaphor and simile to a place of wonder in our imaginations.  Tales of noble heroes and wicked villains thrill us, epic romances and daring fights wow us, and the rich poetry of a well constructed world touches our soul.  The joy of a written story is what inspires us to start in the first place.  That same joy can keep us going.

Artists immerse themselves in art.  Musicians buy records and go to concerts.  Painters and sculptors visit museums.  Landscape artists… I don’t know.  Visit other people’s yards?  Actors go to the theater.  We were inspired before we set out to create work of our own, and we can be inspired again by the beautiful work of others.

It’s true that an artist’s enjoyment of the art is impacted once that person develops their own skill.  I’m rarely surprised by writing anymore.  I see the scaffolding beneath the painted scene, and I recognize the tricks the writer is using to guide the narrative.  I see right through the writer’s sleight of hand, and I’m not quite as entertained as I used to be.

On the other hand, the entertainment I derive from stories now is on a different level.  I can appreciate the craft.  Maybe I’m not surprised as often by the turning or the shape of a story.  Instead, I can appreciate a writer’s cunning as they create the setup and the delivery.  I’m even starting to read through the different lenses of literary theory, though I’m far from an expert on that subject.

 

Learn what Works

N. K. Jemisin won three Hugos in a row for best novel.  That’s remarkable.

How did she do it?  It was probably a combination of strong characters, intricate world building, unique voices, and an occasional use of 2nd person.

People weren’t really using 2nd person that much before Nora Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Now writers are experimenting with it and creating really interesting stories using 2nd person.

Writer’s read novels and discover what can work.  Sometimes when something works well enough, it expands an entire genre with imitators.  Do you think we’d have as much Young Adult fiction these days if it weren’t for J. K. Rowling?  Harry Potter inspired a generation to read, and a lot of those kids that grew up with dreams of going to Hogwarts became writers themselves.

[pauses to get Scotch]

What am I saying in this section that isn’t obvious?  A good writer doesn’t read another writer’s work in order to steal their ideas.  That’s not what this is about.  A good writer isn’t looking in someone else’s book to lift techniques, either.  A good writer reads to see how someone else might have experimented, and if the experiment paid off.  A good writer reads to be entertained and inspired.

We had a surge of urban fantasy for a while.  It was all written in the first person and it usually featured a talented main character in a role very similar to that of a private investigator.  Why did we get that surge?  Because that’s how Jim Butcher wrote The Dresden Files and other writers picked up the superficial details and tried applying those details to their own work.  What I think they failed to realize is that it’s not the setting that makes The Dresden Files so special, nor is it the format.  What makes The Dresden Files special is Butcher’s amazing ability to make all of his characters fully realized and interesting.

 

Learn what Doesn’t Work

After the previous section, this one should be obvious.

Sometimes, fiction makes it onto the shelves that includes less successful deviations from the norm.  There’s a lot buried in those pages for a writer to learn from.  They just have to be careful not to take away the wrong lesson.

Stephen King is an amazing writer and many of his stories have become ingrained in our culture.  Unfortunately, some of his endings suck.  That’s just how it goes.  What can writer’s learn to avoid when looking at Stephen King’s endings?  A big one… avoid the deus ex machina.  The Dark Half and The Stand have a bit of that going on.  Also, maybe don’t have an underage orgy scene like towards the end of It?  Some of these things are probably obvious even before reading Stephen King’s work.

Twilight is super popular.  Stephanie Meyer played with the mythos of vampires, and even if you hate their sparkle, what Stephanie Meyer did with changing the rules and subverting expectations is actually a good thing.  The real lesson writers can learn not to do in Twilight has more to do with her world building.  Also, maybe we don’t need some of the creepiness of having someone as old as Edward date a girl still in high school?  Or maybe avoid having a young adult man “imprint” on a newborn baby?  I’m just spit-balling here.

I’m not trying to bash popular books.  On the contrary, I have a great respect for any author that has persevered and reached the point in their career where I’m trying to go.  Maybe someday, I’ll have some books out that people can read, and also learn things that don’t work.  I humbly hope to reach that point.

 

Community

Writers go into their cave, hunker down over their computers or notebooks or concrete slabs, and they write alone.  They type/write/carve their words, extracting images from their head and making them take shape in a permanent form.  It’s a solitary act, but once you’ve started, you’ve joined a large and diverse community whether you realize it or not.

Writers are everywhere.  Writing wisdom can be found anywhere.  There are more people out there offering advice on how things can be done or should be done than there are writers publishing books.

[pauses to sip Scotch and let those words sink in]

Though writing is a solitary activity, you will want and need people to join you as you make progress on your books.  This could be writer’s groups, editors, agents, long-suffering spouses that are either thrilled or horrified by your books, friends wishing you success and jealous rivals poking voodoo dolls hoping you won’t get too far ahead of them.  There are online communities, offline communities, seasonal communities, regional communities, and communities that you only see occasionally when you go to conventions.

The writing world is big and if you want to be a good citizen in it, you should read the works of other people sharing that community with you.  It’s fair, because you’re going to ask them to read your work.  So just do it.

As has already been established, you’re going to be entertained and/or educated when you read someone else’s work.  It’s good for you in all of the other ways we’ve talked about.  That it makes you a good citizen of the larger writing community is just a side benefit.

At one point in your career (the point where I’m currently sitting, in fact) there will be more writers reading your work than non-writers.  So be a good sport and buy their work, too.  Promote it when you can.  Be gracious and lift them up.

 

Final Thoughts and Confessions

All of the things I’ve said in this post are ideals to work towards.  I have work to do in everything I’ve talked about.  I read for entertainment and to learn, but I don’t spend as much time reading as I should.

I mentioned The Fifth Season earlier.  The truth is, I didn’t finish that book.  I was listening to it on audio and the experience frustrated me to the point I couldn’t continue.  Eventually I’m going to get it written form and read it just so that I can talk about it more intelligently.

The necessity of continuous reading as a writer is an ideal.  It’s something to work on.  On this matter, maybe we all have a bit of work to do.

10/13/18

Writing Responsibly

Good evening, friends and family!  Let’s continue more subjects I’ve learned along my writer’s journey.  While the main target of this post is to other writers, I think you may find some application for these topics in other areas.  As always, please let me know what you think at the end about this topic, and what other topics you’d like me to expound on.

What do I mean about “writing responsibly?” A few things:

  • Don’t hurt people with your words
  • Be true
  • Own the impact of your words

 

Don’t Hurt People with your Words

Stories matter.  Stories are powerful creations that take on a life of their own and have the ability to change lives, for better or for worse.  Indigenous people will tell you how important stories are to their culture.  The truth is, stories are important in every culture.  The importance of some stories is more obvious than others.

If you’re going to represent a culture, be responsible and represent it accurately and respectfully.  Do your research and find sensitivity readers to make sure you’re getting the details right.  Cultural appropriate is a real thing, and it’s an evil thing.  If you misrepresent a culture in your story, whether you intend to or not, you could be misshaping history in ways that will have lasting consequences.  The stories of a people belong to those people.  Respect them so that you don’t destroy them.

Going further, be respectful of subcultures that are not your own.  If you’re not gay but you want to have a gay character in your story, do some research.  Be careful not to simply regurgitate stereotypes are tired cliches.  Not only can it be hurtful to the people you’re misrepresenting, stereotypes and cliches will just makes your story sad and pathetic.

Be aware of the impact your plots will have on people that have suffered similar trauma.  You can have rape and violence and war and dismemberment in your stories.  If it’s important to your book, go for it.  Just be mindful of your audience.  Don’t cheapen the traumatic or downplay it in your narrative.  Go there if your story calls for it, but don’t go there if you’re doing so as a cheap tactic.

If you want to have characters that are monsters, that’s one thing.  We can all get behind hating a good villain or monster.  But be aware of your narrative and what you’re saying with your themes and content.  Is your narrative approving of neo-Nazi ideals?  Is that really the message you want to put out in the world?  How about misogyny or racial prejudice or homophobia or…

The list goes on.  Yes, at times it may seem like we’re living in a culture that’s trying to police tone and content.  It’s important to remember the bottom line.  You are responsible for the story you create, and your words matter.  Stories last, and words hurt.

 

Be True

Some of this part may seem contradictory to the previous section, but when you start telling a story, be true to it.  Go forth boldly and say what needs to be said, even if it makes you uncomfortable.  Sometimes, especially if it makes you uncomfortable.

If in the course of your story your characters are going to a dark place, don’t shy away.  Get to the other side.  Maybe you’re dealing with a violent outburst, or a sexual awakening, or a crisis of faith, or a vengeful execution.  Go there.  See it through.  Write the story.

It’s possible that in staying true to the story, you might cross into an area of conflict where the subject matter might be hurtful to a group of people.  Be true to the story as you’re writing it, then judge it after the fact.  Put it in front of some sensitivity readers and listen to what they have to say.  Maybe you wrote something that shouldn’t see the light of day, but maybe you worked through some difficult subject matter and got to the other side with a message that people need to read.  You can’t know for sure until you get to the end.

As long as you stay true to the story and respectful of the cultures and people represented in your story, you can say just about anything.  More than likely, there’s an audience waiting to hear your perspective.  But if you don’t stay true to the story, your message will be tepid or poisonous.  Either way, it won’t be something you can defend or stand on because lies and cowardice make for a weak foundation.

 

Own the Impact of Your Words

You might get to the other side of a story and put something hurtful out into the world without knowing it.  Maybe you accidentally (or intentionally!) put out a story with a strong anti-vax message.  It’s out in the world now, and people are reading and responding to your work with appropriate hostility.

Own your words.  You wrote it.  Take responsibility.

If you were an anti-vaxer when you wrote some screed and have since reached a level of enlightenment, you are still the owner of your little monster.  You need to take responsibility.  If you disagree with what you wrote, put that message out there.  If you agree with what you wrote, stand up for yourself and defend yourself with eloquence and grace.  Either way, own your words.  They’re yours, and if they landed on your audience like a punch to the face, that’s on you.

If you are respectful of the people you’re writing about, and if you are staying true in your writing, you probably won’t have to worry about this so much.  But accidents happen.  Weird Al wrote a song called Word Crimes and later found out that his use of the word “spastic” is offensive.  How did he react?

He owned it.  He didn’t blow it out of proportion.  Maybe he could have done more, but at the very least, he acknowledged his mistake.

 

I’ll say one more thing about writing responsibly.  Michael Gallowglas and I recently had a discussion related to this topic.  In the discussion, I mentioned how in my job, I write software that has a non-zero chance of seriously injuring or killing a person.  As I have told many people, if I ever find out that a piece of code I wrote is responsible for killing someone, I’ll be done as a programmer.  I won’t be able to write another line of code.

In fiction, I don’t want to write something that ever leads to someone taking their own life.  It’s not as clear as software development.  If I wrote a line of code, getting a bit wrong which closed a breaker instead of opening it, that’s a direct line of responsibility that goes straight to me.  If on the other hand I wrote some story that sets off an emotional reaction in someone culminating in them taking their own life, that’s not as clear cut.

I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I ever wrote something that played even a small part in someone ending their own life.  It would impact me in ways I can’t imagine.  I might not be able to write fiction after that.  I’d probably have take some break.  I’d need some counseling.

To avoid that, I’ll take my own advice through this post and write responsibly.  I’ll stay true to the stories, but I’ll also be respectful of the people represented in the stories I’m crafting.  This is one of the reasons I took such interest in Writing the Other and related classes during the cruise.  It’s one more way I can try and write truth with respect and responsibility.

10/12/18

The Firing of Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig, an exceptionally talented and witty writer, has written some great Star Wars books.  Just last week, Disney-LucasFilm released an announcement that Chuck would be writing more Star Wars books.  Today, Marvel Comics fired him for being vulgar on social media and inviting hostility.

For the full details, read this post.

I have some complicated thoughts on this turn of events.  Spoiler alert… some of them aren’t going to endear me to Chuck or some of my friends.  But I want to get them off my chest and speak to some of the larger issues surrounding the firing of Chuck’s firing.

[pauses to take a couple of shots of tequila]

I’d really rather be writing something funny like my post on time zones, but the reality we currently live in involves children being taken from their parents at the border and put into concentration camps.  That’s an actual thing that’s happening right now, and Stephen Miller wants to keep doing it.

We have a credibly accused sex offender in the White House and on the Supreme Court.  We have a gubernatorial candidate in PA threatening to stomp on someone’s face with golf cleats.  We’ve got Kanye West rolling in to the White House and spouting gibberish.

These are interesting times we’re living in.  So when Chuck Wendig said we shouldn’t be civil, I understood where he was coming from.  As I said before, I disagree with him on some particulars.  But I understand.

[takes another shot of tequila]

I’ll just come right out and say it.  I also understand why he was fired.  I can see the logic there.

Let me say up front, I didn’t want Chuck fired!  I don’t like that it happened!  But I think I understand it.  Let me explain.

We should know by now that the vocal parts of the media and the internet are not exactly representative of the population at large.  The most outspoken people on social media are the ones paying attention to what’s going on and making their opinions known.  I don’t believe they are representative of the majority, though.  I think the majority are just keeping their heads down, focusing on making sure they have a job and food on the table tomorrow.

What I’m saying is the ability to stay informed about the evil machinations of this administration is a luxury a lot of Americans aren’t putting their resources towards.  These are hard times!  The news is nightmarish, and garish, and most people are not making that much money.  They’re trying to get buy.  I don’t blame them for avoiding the bad news.

But even those living paycheck to paycheck are going to look for some escapism.  When they do, they’re going to turn to what’s cheap and reliable.  Comic books, novels, and movies once the shows go into the cheap theaters or video.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  I’m not saying that the majority approve of Trump or Bannon or Stephen Miller.  I’m not saying that the majority are in disagreement with any stance that Chuck takes on politics.  What I’m saying is that the majority are law abiding citizens that have neither the stomach nor the patience to look at the details of Trump’s administration.  They also aren’t going to be impressed by Chuck Wendig’s calls for uncivil language.

I disagreed before with the call to be uncivil, and I still disagree with it.  I think that if we’re going to win over the hearts and minds of those that aren’t paying attention, we have to do it with words and a tone that won’t make them write us off as unhinged or unsavory.  That doesn’t mean that we have to agree with Trump or his goons.  For the love of all that is good in this nation, we can’t let them continue to get away with this shit!  But at the same time, we must be aware of the larger audience and where they are coming from.

Also, we have to have some plan for an end game.  If both the left and the right continue raising the level of vitriol, in the end, that’s all we’ll have.  That will be the new normal.  Is that the world we want?

We need to be better.  We need to be more intelligent.  Wittier.  Sexier.

I love Chuck Wendig.  I got him a drink in New York City, and I wish I could have hung out with him more.  I’ve read Damn Fine Story twice.  He had some great things to say in that book.  I follow Chuck on Twitter and I admire his amazing wit.

I don’t think Chuck should have been fired, but I understand why it happened.  It sucks.

As for the rest of us… those that are trying to find representation and sell our first book?  Where does this turn of events leave us?  What message should we take away from this?

The message is that the big fish are watching and judging what we say on social media.  Another part of the message is that the outcries of us that believe in Chuck Wendig and James Gunn aren’t having a noticeable impact.  It’s not a welcome message, and what we do with it is up to us.  Some people are going to double down.  Some people are going to take a more cowardly way out.

Myself, I’m going to continue to express my opinions just as I always have.  I’m going to continue to try and appeal to others while keeping an open mind.  I’m going to listen twice as much as I speak, and when I speak, I’m going to do so as truthfully as I can.  I may use some course language from time to time.  I really don’t think the issue is swear words.  People that blush at an F-bomb are probably not people I need speak to, anyway.

I encourage everyone reading this to find books by Chuck Wendig.  Buy them, read them, enjoy them.  He’s a great writer and a good man.  The bad guys won this battle, but we can still win the war.  We just have to be smarter and persist.

10/11/18

Pitching and Querying

Melissa left her bottle of Exotic Dark Chocolate rum out here in the garage next to my computer.  That’s practically an invitation for me to have a sip before I get into tonight’s topic, right?

[pauses to take a shot]

Ah, that’s better!  Let’s talk about pitching and querying, a topic that makes many writers want to drink.

 

 

Once again, I’m going to lean on some of the words of the wise and powerful Dongwan Song.  He lead a class during the Writing Excuses Retreat specifically on pitching.  I’m not going to spend too much time here though, because I have a lot of thoughts on this subject that have nothing to do with the class.  So let’s break this into sections.

  • Dongwan’s Class on Pitching
  • What I’ve Learned about Pitching and Querying
  • Pitching and Querying Fears
  • Simba

 

Dongwan’s Class on Pitching

I took a ton of notes during this session.  Some of the notes involve a lot of lines and hastily drawn Venn diagrams.  I’m just going to plop the notes right here without much comment.

Pitching will sustain you throughout your career.

Author vs Writer
  • Anyone can be a writer
  • Professional author is:
  • -- Career Management workflow
  • -- Deadline / Time Management
  • -- Networking
  • -- Marketing & Promotion
Always Be Pitching

A good pitch is key to all of this:
  • Career goals
  • Build a readership
  • Network with peers
  • Connect with Booksellers
Practice on friends, but don't be a monster.  Ask before you pitch.

Don't just pitch your stuff
  • Convince your friend to read a book you like
  • Read ads and watch trailers
  • Pay attention. What excited you?  What was boring?  Why?
Marketing
  • Publishing is marketing
  • How do you stand out?
  • How do you reach readers?
  • Agents / Editors / Sales forces are proxies for readers
  • It's always about the audience
Pattern Recognition
  • Humans are wired for pattern recognition
  • Storytelling is about pattern matching
  • We form order out of chaos to understand complex systems
  • Fiction is a way of exploring potential failure states
  • Fiction is about the human condition because our brains are wired to help us not die
  • You can leverage that to sell books
  • The familiar vs. the novel
A + B = Awesome
  • Publishers think in comp titles
  • We're always / already thinking of comps.  Why would you let us make that choice on our own?
  • Control the field of play so we match to the pattern you want us to
A + B is not enough
  • Context matters
  • The A + B defines the territory
  • You need to explain how your book fits that territory
Star with comp titles

Hooks
  • A pitch is a glimpse through the keyhole
  • Your hook is the thing that sets you apart
  • Don't start at the beginning, start at the awesome

That’s a big block of notes.  Most of it makes sense on its own, I think.  I had more notes, but a lot of it involved drawings and didn’t make much sense out of context.

 

What I’ve Learned about Pitching and Querying

I’ve learned tons, and it’s hard for me to tell if anything I’ve learned is actually useful.

Dongwan’s advice about starting with comps contradicts advice I’ve been given other places.  I think his reasoning is sound, but I don’t know if it is universally applicable.  I know it’s definitely applicable to him, but I’m not planning to pitch or query to him.

During the session, many of us were able to get up and test our pitch on him.  He gave us feedback in real-time, telling us what he liked and what he didn’t.  Honestly, it was an incredible opportunity and I was all too glad to get up in front of the microphone and give it a go.

It felt terrible.

First of all, I think I tried too hard.  I paid attention throughout the session and I thought I got it, but my pitch was a disaster.  My comps were too complicated and I didn’t paint the story with precision.  It sounded like a muddled mess.

Is my story a muddled mess?  No.  My story is awesome.  But it doesn’t matter how awesome my story is if I can’t get people to read it.  That’s what this is all about.

Here are the main things I learned:

  • Use comp titles when I can, but keep it simple.
  • Focus on the awesome, but don’t just throw everything into the pitch like it’s a stew.  Choose my ingredients more carefully.
  • Key in on what’s important.
  • Don’t overthink it.

What else have I learned?  Agents are all different and they all expect different things.  The only thing that is going to be consistent in the equation is the writer that’s making the pitch, so don’t lose sight of that.  Create your pitch using your own voice.  If the agent doesn’t like your voice, they’re probably not the agent for you.

 

Pitching and Querying Fears

I’m talking big game tonight but when it comes right down to it, fear still drives me away from querying.

There are two people that asked for my Urban Fantasy in New York City, and I STILL haven’t sent them the query.  It still terrifies me.

I thought that it would help to make a spreadsheet and keep track of my queries.  I thought that maybe once I created a little bit of infrastructure around the task, it would give me some inertia.  That has not panned out.

I’m absolutely terrified because I don’t want to feed my doubts.  I realize that as long as my fear is controlling me on this subject, I’m not doing myself any favors.  Some part of me knows that a rejection would be better than never knowing.  And yet, it feels like running into a burning building.  Not to save anyone, either.  Just running into the inferno in order to say I’ve done it.

I really don’t want to be burned.

Melissa is extremely supportive.  I have a few friends that have provided significant encouragement.  In the end, though, I don’t know if what I’ve written is good enough.  Emotionally, that translates into feeling like I’m not good enough.  The main fear with querying is that if I send it out and get a rejected, I’ll know that I’m not good enough.

 

Simba

At the top of this post, I have a picture of Simba.  This is a #WriteFightGIFClub thing.  I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but we were talking about how in theater, you say “break a leg” instead of good luck.  For a while, when someone in the group said they were querying, we’d say, “I hope you die” when what we actually meant was “I hope you get it and that all your dreams come true!”

The picture of Simba went along with that.

Why am I mentioning any of this hear?  It’s important because that little inside joke is a reminder of how we all feel that same terror when we’re trying to put something we love out into the world.  It’s also a reminder that there are other people that really care, and that are in my corner.  I have to send the query out on my own, but I don’t have to feel alone as I do it.

Community is important.  As a writer, it helps me push on to the next level in my career, even when the next step frightens me to death.

10/10/18

Write What You Know: Time Zones and Daylight Savings

Tonight I’m going to talk about time zones and daylight savings.  Before I dive into it, I want to take a quick moment to check in with you guys.

 

Hey there.  You doin’ okay?  Haven’t seen you around that much.  I get worried.

 

We’re about a third of the way through Blogtober and I think some of my posts this month are really good.  It’s a little bit stressful getting a blog entry posted each night, but it gets me in the frame of mind to write something daily.  That’s perfect preparation for next month.

I am a little weary writing all these blog posts, and it looks like you guys are a little tired of seeing one every night, too.  That’s okay!  They’ll still be here for later.  I have to remember that much of this Blogtober exercise is just to get me ready for next month.  You know what happens next month, right?  Bunches of us try to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Do you know what else happens next month?  The time changes (for most of us) on November 4th!

And that leads perfectly into tonight’s subject, and is not a forced segue at all.

 

To write tonight’s post, I’m going to try something different.  I’m going to build this up as if it were a Q & A.

 

Q: Why are we discussing time zones tonight?  No one cares about time zones.

Okay, first of all?  Why all the attitude in the first question?  Second, lots of people care about time zones.  They’re called programmers, and they’re fantastic.

This was actually the first topic I came up with for this month.  I thought of it because at work, I seem to be the only person that seems to understand how time zones work.  Since I’m a writer, and we’re always told to write what we know, I thought I’d bring some of my expertise on the subject to you.

Also, it’s Wednesday night and I want a topic which won’t become a 2,000 word essay.  I want to have time to write something real tonight.

 

Q: I already know what time zones are.  There isn’t anything to discuss.

Dude, that wasn’t even a question.  You’d be terrible at Jeopardy.

But you’re right in that conceptually, they’re not that complicated.  Depending on where you live, your clock is going to be some number of hours or minutes off from someone that lives far enough east or west of where you are.  There isn’t that much to discuss.

Nevertheless, as the world has become smaller and smaller thanks to the internet, time zones affect our daily lives more and more.  Do you live on the West Coast and want to talk to your friend on the East Coast?  If you’re a good friend, you’re doing some math in your head when you look at the clock to make sure you’re not calling in the middle of the night.

More and more, I find that I have friends in New Zealand or the UK or other places far enough away that our hours of wakefulness barely overlap.

 

Q: Okay, so what’s your point?

My point is that as a programmer that deals with time sensitive information, it’s interesting.  Also, this is a subject that isn’t well represented in a lot of fiction.  If you’re going to put your stories in space, you might want to have an idea how time zones work.  I’m here to help you with some of the math, and to show you the kind of stuff I have to explain to my coworkers every damn day.

 

Q: I didn’t come here to learn math…

Let’s look at some examples of textual representations of time.

6:40

I looked at the clock on my computer, and that’s what I saw at a glance.  That’s what a lot of people see when they look at their watches or phones.  The problem is that it isn’t specific enough to be useful.  This example doesn’t even give AM or PM.  It’s non-information.

6:40 PM

Okay, that’s better.  But really, that’s still not enough to work with.  If you ask your bank when they plan to post a check to your account and they give you that information… well, there’s an implication they mean TODAY at 6:40PM.  But the implication itself is enough to show you that you need more than the hours on the clock to get exact time.  You need the date.

Oct 10, 6:40 PM

See, that’s still not enough…

Oct 10, 2018, 6:40 PM

You’d THINK that would be enough information.  Hell, some of the vendors we deal with which feed us time-stamped information think that’s enough.  But just like the hypothetical call to the bank, the only way for that information to be useful is to assume the time zone is the same as yours.  And you know what happens when you go assuming?  You make an ass out of you and some guy named Ming.

In Sacramento, the full time stamp would be:

Oct 10, 2018, 6:40 PM -07:00

That “-07:00” represents Pacific Daylight Time (PDT).  It means that during daylight savings, Sacramento is 7 hours less than Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

 

Q: Why do we base our time zones around GMT?

Here, click this link.

I’m not really getting into the history of GMT and time zones as much as the functionality.  But basically, Greenwich was considered longitude 0, and things go from there.

Where it gets interesting is when you add daylight savings.

 

Q: I already know about daylight savings.  It’s Spring forward, Fall back.

Right.  And this year, “Fall back” occurs on November 4th at 2 AM.

Imagine that you have a spreadsheet and you’re tracking the mating habits of the rare crimson cricket, a nocturnal animal.  You have your low light cameras equipped and you’re making notes in a spreadsheet.  You’re dressed for a night op mission, but you’re watching insects fornicate like some kind of Jiminy Cricket voyeur.

In the first column of your spreadsheet, you’re keeping track of time.  I don’t know what you’re putting in the other columns.  Position?  Technique?  This is your weird science experiment, not mine.

Let’s say you’re doing this experiment on November 4th, 2018.  What does your spreadsheet look like as you cross into 3 AM?  Probably something like this:

 

02:15 AM Heavy chirping
02:35 AM More chirping, some slow dancing
02:45 AM Mild preening
02:55 AM Heavy preening
02:05 AM Significant wing action
02:15 AM Cuddle time

See what happened?  You’ve got two entries for 2:15 AM.  You can’t go straight from chirping to cuddle time!

Whatever the subject you’re recording, if it’s time sensitive data, and if it’s going into a database or spreadsheet, it’s very important that the time column is clear and doesn’t overlap.  In the Spring, you might be able to get away with the gap as you go straight from 1:59 AM to 3:00 AM.  But in the Fall?  It’s madness!

 

Q: Madness?  THIS. IS. SPARTA!!

Sparta, by the way, is in Central Daylight Time.  That’s 2 hours ahead of California, or -05:00 as of the time of this writing.  I’m talking about Sparta, Tennessee.

If you’re in California and you head east, the time on your clock is going to go up for every time zone you cross.  You’re also getting closer to GMT, which means the difference is going down.  California in October is -7 hours.  Utah is -6 hours.  Tennessee is -5 hours.

All of the following times are equivalent, referencing the exact same moment in time:

Oct 10, 2018, 6:40 PM -07:00
Oct 10, 2018, 7:40 PM -06:00
Oct 10, 2018, 8:40 PM -05:00
Oct 11, 2018, 1:40 AM +00:00

If you’re a programmer, you have to get used to this kind of thinking when it comes to dealing with time.  When you store the data in a database or spreadsheet, you either need to convert everything to GMT first, or you need to include the time zone with the data.  In SQL Server, the data type that does this for you is a DateTimeOffset.

 

Q: But I’m a writer, not a programmer.  I don’t care about databases or the fornicating habits of crickets.

That’s cool!  I’m a writer, too.  If you write sci-fi like me, you may want to consider time zones in your world building.

Look at it like this.  On Earth, we have a lot of languages [citation needed].

What do they speak on Klingon?  On Vulcan?  on Corellia?

 

Q: They speak Klingon, Vulcan, and Corellian.

That was a trick question because in practice, they mostly speak English.  But you get the idea.  If we want rich worlds that are believable, worlds so well drawn that it seems like we should be able to open the book and step right into them, shouldn’t we include details like different dialects?

Maybe we should consider the idea that even though it’s 6:40 PM on the ship orbiting the planet, it’s only 5:30 AM where the away team has landed.  If the away team isn’t thinking of it, I know damn well that the programmers on the ship are having to keep track of that information.  We have to.  It’s part of the job.

 

And that’s it!  You’re armed now!  Go forth and write a post about space programmers!

10/9/18

Writing Excuses Cruise – Writing the Other – Pt 1

Like yesterday, I’m going to rely on my notes from the cruise to put this post together.  K. Tempest Bradford taught this course and she did a fantastic job.  I’m going to weave my thoughts in with the notes, and I’m going to make a couple of admissions.

The first admission: I was afraid to meet Tempest in person.

I knew her name from this article she wrote a few years ago.  In it, she talked about how she was having difficulty reading short stories until she excluded one demographic: straight white men.  Once she did that, she found that she really enjoyed what she was reading.  Her challenge to her readers: stop reading fiction by straight white men for one year.

Begin a straight white man that really wants other people to read what he writes, I had a difficult time with this message.  From the article, it looks like she asserted that fiction written by straight white men is terrible.  That isn’t an assertion I can agree with.

I only read the article one time several years ago, but it stayed in my mind and I remembered her name because of it.  I was afraid meeting her would be uncomfortable.

As it turns out, I really liked meeting Tempest and I thought she had a lot of great things to say and teach on the subject of writing about characters that aren’t straight and white.  The crux of her article wasn’t so much that straight white males are bad writers.  The problem with the stories she was reading was that there was a lack of representation and diversity.  Or, when straight white male writers did try to include non-white characters in their stories, many of them relied on stereotypes or cliches.

She’s not wrong and I’m glad I didn’t let my fear keep me from being open to what she has to say.

 

Second admission: I still have a lot of work to do on the subject of writing inclusive fiction.

I don’t have any other perspective other than my own.  I can try to imagine the point of view of others, and I try to be loving and open and listen with empathy.  The truth is, I have never had to experience the racial profiling that so many men and women have had to suffer.  I don’t have to be afraid to walk across a dark parking lot at night.  I’ve never been forced to feel ashamed of my sexuality or gender, and I’ve never felt compelled to try and hide my sexual orientation.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t write characters that live with those experiences.  It just means that when I go there, I need to be respectful and authentic, and I may need to rely on the input of my friends with marginalized backgrounds to make sure that I’m not turning what they’ve gone through into something offensive or stereotypical.

I have two novels finished and a complete draft for a third.  The first novel is about a young man from southern Louisiana.  He’s had frequent trouble with the law, and he starts off the story living at or below the poverty line.  He goes by Mel, but his first name is actually Melchizedek.  Statistically speaking, he could be a young black man, and I wanted to keep that as a possibility.  On top of this, there isn’t a single descriptor in the entire novel describing the color of his skin.

Much to the chagrin of my friend Tim, I wrote him that way intentionally.  The main reason is that I want anyone that picks up the story to be able to project themselves into Mel’s story.  Imagine for a moment a bathroom sign.  The little man depicted there has no race, and being as plain as he is, he’s able to be representative of all men.  I gave Mel some strong personality traits, but I was very spare with his physical descriptions so that he could to be anyone, just like the bathroom sign man.

A secondary reason, and perhaps this is my third admission: I’ve always been a little bit afraid of writing a main character that isn’t white.  I don’t want to do the literary version of running around in black face.

 

That’s probably enough for initial thoughts and admissions.  Let’s get to my notes.  The first class was titled: Description, Language, and Writing Inclusive Fiction

 

Describing the "other"

State what is there for everyone.

Don't reach for what's easy.

Resource: Writing with Colour

Watch out for:
  • Received language
  • Cliches ex: almond eyes
Does your viewpoint character think their appearance is the default?

How would they describe themselves?

How do they think about and describe how other people look?

Do your other characters remind them of someone?

What does your character notice?


Hammer it home

 

Much of these notes are fairly straight forward.  A lot of this has to do with being fair in your treatment of race.  If you’re going to describe a black character as black, why wouldn’t you also describe a white character in the same scene as being white?

The latter part of the notes deal with thinking from the perspective of your characters and really getting into their head.  We have a tendency to mark out the ways in which other people are different from us as well as the ways we are the same.  This goes for age, gender, skin color, hair style, clothing style, social status, distinguishing physical features, health and physical able-ness, and any other obvious ways mark people as different or the same.  If I’m going to write a character that is different from me, then I need to think in the ways that they are different from me.  I need to look at the world they’re living in through their eyes.

Something I remember that I failed to capture in my notes: avoid food comparisons when describing characters.

Another one of the points in this session: don’t be lazy.

The last note, “Hammer it home,” is about being brave and forthright.  Describe characters fully and honestly.  If you’re respectful and avoiding food metaphors and cliches, you can describe any character, regardless of race.  And if you’re like me and you want to write about and read about a world full of diversity, you have to describe the characters fully so that the reader can see what makes them diverse.

 

I have many more notes from the second class so I’m going to stop here and mark this as part 1.  I didn’t expect to split this topic into two parts, so if you find this topic as interesting as I do, please let me know so I can move part 2 up in the schedule.

10/8/18

Writing Excuses Cruise – Branding

Let’s get back to lessons learned from the Writing Excuses Cruise.  Let’s talk about branding.

I mentioned it in my recent VLOG post.  As I stated before, a lot of writers hear the word and have an emotional reaction.  We would all rather be writing and creating stories rather than think about our public persona.  However, given what I’ve seen from meeting so many writers online and offline, I am starting to see the value, especially after Dongwan Song gave us a presentation on the subject.  For this post, I’m going to go through the notes I took during that course and lace them together intermittently with my own thoughts.

Let me preface this with some context.  This particular course took place on Saturday September 29th at 7AM PDT, or 9AM boat time.  We’d been at sea for a week.  I scribbled at the top of my notes before we began, “I am a little sad the trip is almost over, and a little glad because I’m exhausted.”

Also, this was part 3 (more like 4) of Dongwan Song’s presentations during the cruise.  The opening slide that morning said “Branding and Managing Online Presence.”

You are a brand
  • Brand is not a bad word
  • It is inescapable
  • You need to control it
  • Branding is not artificial.  It is presenting a curated part of you
  • Focus on what feels natural and consistent and easy to maintain
  • Fully constructed brands are hard for a single writer to maintain

 

All of this is fairly straight forward.  An author’s brand is like public armor.  It’s something the writer can hide behind, and if it’s something consistent and iconic, it becomes something that an author can take off to become invisible.  Examples given were George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfus.  George is always seen in his hat, and Patrick always wears a long scraggly beard.  If George wants to go to a restaurant in peace, he can take off his hat and blend in.  If Patrick shaves off his beard, no one will recognize him.  Their brand is effective enough that people can (and do) cosplay them.

Brand isn’t a bad word.  It’s just a part of the life that an author accepts as part of this career, just like they accept that they’ll spend lots of time writing and editing and pitching their stories.  When it comes to branding, the author is pitching themselves, which can be vital when trying to get an agent for representation.

If you as a writer don’t get in front of your online persona and control it, choices will be made for you.  Your personal life will become your brand, for better or for worse.  That might work for some people.  A lot of us are introverts though, or we are generally private people.  By controlling how you are viewed as an author, you can direct the narrative of how people are talking about you, similar to how you control the narrative in your stories.

Your public image is a persona, and it’s based on the perception of who you are.  It helps to keep it simple and true.  Daniel Handler created the persona of Lemony Snicket, and that worked for him for a while.  When he wanted to do something else, he wound up having to reinvent his public image.  When you do that, you lose some of your audience along the way.

How to be online
  • It is important to branding
  • It is easiest and cheapest way to start [illegible]
  • Do what feels natural.  Don't obsess over it.  Find a way to fit it into your workflow
  • Be positive - overall tone should be positive

I have another note at the bottom of this section which is “online can help, but it is not a requirement.”

There’s not much I can say about this section, as it is pretty straight forward.  I will note that it might seem like I’m obsessing at the moment over branding simply because I’ve mentioned it in a couple of blog posts and a 5 minute video.  I’m not really harping on it, though.  This is one of the topics during the cruise that surprised me simply because I hadn’t been thinking about it.  Because of that, I want to get my thoughts on the subject onto my blog.  I figure that if I wasn’t thinking about it, maybe some of the other writers in my community have also been neglecting that part of their career.

The “be positive” idea has been something that’s been told to me before regarding online presence.  I think I do an okay job of keeping my blog positive.  When I’m feeling particular maudlin, I avoid putting too much online.  From time to time, I think it’s okay to express rage or sadness, especially when that seems to be the general mood of the community around you.  But for the most part, people don’t want to be bummed out.  It’s better to lift up than to burden.

 

The next few sections are breakdowns of different social media platforms.

Twitter
  • Primary use: networking
  • Twitter is where the industry lives online
  • It's a Barcon that never ends
Not a good place to constantly blast your book, but you should make people aware of what you're doing.

10AM Tuesday morning (regardless of timezone) is apparently a magical time to post things to Twitter

 

I really liked what he had to say about Twitter because it matches my own experience with that platform.  I’ve engaged with tons of people in the writing industry since I’ve started spending more time there.  I’ve also blocked or muted people that seemed to use the platform only to advertise their books.

 

Facebook
  • Where you sell ads
  • Maybe talk to family?
Groups are a thing, but usually Facebook isn't awesome

I think this note is verbatim what the slide said.  I also think it fits with my experience.  I haven’t enjoyed Facebook lately.  There’s a few people I still enjoy talking with on that platform, but I’m not really having fun there anymore.  I think Facebook did a little bit too much evil, and I haven’t ever really forgiven them.

 

Instagram
  • Primary use: Branding
  • Fan engagement
  • Visual medium - post covers, get good at using a camera
  • Stories / IGTV are key
Broadcast platform

I don’t really have any experience with Instagram.  I clicked a link from Facebook a year or two ago and somehow wound up with an account.  Since then, there’s been about 20 or 30 people that have added me on Instagram, but I’ve never posted anything.  I took a photography class in high school so I know a little bit about picture composition.  I’m not afraid to use my camera.  I just don’t have a use for Instagram yet.  I don’t have any covers to share, and as my hair has gotten thinner and grayer, I haven’t felt completely awesome posting pictures of myself.

A few friends from #WriteFightGIFClub use Instagram quite a bit, and the way they use it intrigues me.  Maybe I’ll give it a shot at some point.  I’ll definitely consider it more when I’m starting to get traction putting my books out.

 

Newsletters
  • Primary use: Sales funnel
  • How you "own your customer"
  • Solicit for: pre-order, buy, solicit ratings
  • Every newsletter [sent] is an opportunity for someone to unsubscribe
  • Powerful, because it goes directly in the inbox
Have a personal website.  Put your picture up, if you're comfortable with it.  Your website should have a link for signing up to [the] newsletter.

Obviously, I already have a personal website.  You’re probably looking at it right now.

There’s no reason for me to have a newsletter yet.  I’ve created, hosted, and managed them in the past for various organizations.  They can be really great when they’re done well.  I’ve seen (and unsubscribed from) plenty that were done poorly.  I think Mary Robinette Kowal’s is one of the best I’ve seen because it arrives about once a month and it has actual, useful information in it.  While Mary Robinette’s newsletter has a little bit of “buy my book,” it isn’t just that.

That reminds me.  I need to update my bio page on this blog, as it has fallen out of date.  Maybe I’ll include a picture of me and Melissa when I update it.  Maybe.

 

Patreon / Drip
  • Primary use: Revenue
  • Works best when you already have a large audience
  • Fan engagement at higher levels
  • Develops and reinforces your core base
Wait until you have some visibility.

I know about Patreon, and there’s several people I keep intending to subscribe to.  For example, my best friend Michael Gallowglas has a Patreon.  One of the perks to subscribing to Michael is that he writes stories specifically for his patrons.  You might want to check it out.

Dongwan Song said he doesn’t care for Patreon’s business model.  I’ve heard other artists voice similar complaints.  I don’t know that much about Drip yet, other than it’s the next thing to compete with Patreon.  Is it still invite only?  I’m not going to set myself up on either platform at this point because I don’t have a large audience or visibility.

 

Non-Fiction
  • Primary Use: Visibility / Promotion
  • [This category covers] Essays, reviews, [guest blogs] - Personal narrative can be good for increasing visibility
  • Works on a parallel promotion cycle to your fiction
  • Also, you can often get paid for it

There’s not much I have to say on this subject.  I was invited to write a post on someone else’s blog once, and it was a lot of fun!  I’ve never had anyone ask to be featured on my blog.  You’re all missing out.  I have literally tens of viewers.

 

Meatspace
  • Branding your physical presence
  • Cons vs. ComicCons vs. Conferences
  • Bookstore / school visits
Look a certain way.  Be cosplay-able.  It's like a uniform, which can flag that you are working or not. [These are all the notes/examples I gave before about George Martin and Pat Rothfus]
  • Cons are primarily for networking
  • -- Meet people and make friends
  • -- You don't have to drink at Barcon
  • ComicCons are for selling books
  • Conferences are for presenting to other business professionals

This all seems very straight forward.  I’ve always treated conventions as work-time, so I’ve always gone dressed like I’m going to work.  That means I wear slacks and button up shirts more often than not while I’m at conventions, rarely wearing jeans or t-shirts.  I think that I’ve instinctively been doing my “meatspace branding” the whole time.  It might be something I can refine later, but again, it feels pretentious to be thinking about this too much while my writing career is at such an early stage.

In general, I want to be considered a professional that’s easy to work with.  I’m already dressing the part.  There’s not much else I can do in this area, yet.

I also really appreciated the distinction that Dongwan Song made between the different types of events I’ve attended.  It lines up perfectly with my experiences.

 

Networking is important.  It's just about making friends.  Don't treat it like you're trying to extract stuff.  That just makes you a mosquito, and people will know.

Don't start with "I'm a fan." That doesn't put you in a good place to be a peer.

 

I don’t think Dongwan Song said anything about mosquitoes, but that’s the idea that came to mind as I took notes.

 

As I said before, I really enjoyed the cruise and I learned quite a bit from the classes.  These are notes I took from just one of the sessions.  From just one of Dongwan Song’s sessions, in fact.  Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, Piper J. Drake, Amal El-Mohtar, Maurice Broadddus, and others also taught classes.  Tomorrow I’ll be sharing notes from K. Tempest Bradford‘s classes on Writing the Other.

I’m already looking forward to the cruise next year!

10/7/18

The Unfortunate Appointment of Brett Kavanaugh

I want to get this off my chest and out of my system.  I don’t expect my thoughts on Brett Kavanaugh to change the world.  I’m probably going to say the same things other people have already said.  However, I need to write this because it’s on my mind so much that it’s blocking me from writing other things here.

The topics surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment are complicated so I’m going to separate them into their own sections.  I’m doing to dive in as far as I dare, then try to wrap this up in the end.  Here’s what I’m going to try and cover:

  • Listening to the victims of sexual assault and the #MeToo movement
  • Brett Kavanaugh as a nominee
  • The Republican party and the current political climate
  • Dissent and Tone

That shouldn’t be too daunting, should it?

 

Listening to the Victims of Sexual Assault

I’m a cis white male that’s quickly approaching the age where I can be called an old white man.  I’m starting with this declaration so that you know what perspective I’m bringing to the discussion.  I’ve seen plenty of people on social media say that we don’t need any more opinions from straight white males on this.  That’s the only viewpoint I have to offer.  I hope what I have to say surprises or reassures you.

First of all, we should ALWAYS listen to the victims.  Statistically speaking, they’re not lying.  The cases where a woman has stepped forward and placed wrongful accusations are few and far between.  If someone says that they’ve been the victim of assault, listen to them with respect.  They’ve been through some shit.  Don’t put them through more.

Trump went in front of a rally and in front of the press and said that it’s a terrible time to be a man, because all these lying women are coming forward and destroying them.  This is bullshit, and not the kind that fertilizes.  He is an idiot, credibly accused of assaulting women, and caught on tape talking about perpetrating sexual assault.

Don’t listen to Trump.  Treat women with respect.  Practice consent.  Teach consent to our children.  Don’t support people that are unwilling to do these things.  Don’t be friends with those people.  Don’t turn a blind eye when they try to do something you know is wrong.  These things are not difficult.

Trump, a credibly accused sexual predator, would have men believe that they should be afraid of the #MeToo movement.  The truth is that if you’re not raping women, you don’t have anything to be afraid of.

You know, a lot of women like having sex.  It’s true!  All you have to do is ask them.  If you’re not man enough to ask then you’re not man enough to be having sex in the first place.

 

Brett Kavanaugh Himself

I believe Dr. Ford when she said that Brett Kavanaugh tried to sexually assault her.  She spoke clearly, without evasion, and some of the evidence Brett presented himself corroborated details of Dr. Ford’s testimony.  I believe her.  I think Brett Kavanaugh got drunk and tried to force himself on a girl when he was in high school.

I believe Dr. Ford, but let’s pretend for some reason that doesn’t automatically disqualify Kavanaugh from being assigned to one of the seats of the highest court in the land.  Maybe we’ll seat Kavanaugh next to Clarence Thomas, since they have so much in common they can talk about.

Kavanaugh demonstrated in front of the committee that he was not fit to be on the Supreme Court.  He doesn’t have the temperament.  He doesn’t honor the oath to tell the truth.  He’s a belligerent asshole that really, really likes beer.  This man should not be a judge at all, let alone on the Supreme Court.

He’s a heavy drinker with gambling debts.  He doesn’t demonstrate good judgement in his own life.  Why would anyone think he’d demonstrate good judgement in court?

I sincerely hope the Democrats take congress and impeach both him and Trump.  They’re both embarrassments, and neither of them should be in the positions they’ve been placed.

 

The Republican Party

I’ve already written a pretty decent post about Jeff Flake and how the Republican Party has been usurped by people that aren’t actual Republicans.  I don’t want to rehash too much of it, but the main point is this: a true Republican wouldn’t put party over country.

Maybe true Republicans don’t exist anymore.  We can tick off the things that Republicans are supposed to stand for and see that whatever we have now, they aren’t this:

  • Fiscally conservative — They approved a trillion dollar budget for military spending, ballooning the national debt beyond anything we’ve seen before, ever.
  • Lower taxes — It looks like they’ve done something here, except that the new tax plan actually eliminates a lot of exemptions.  People with lower incomes are paying more in the long run.  Meanwhile, the super rich got tax breaks, because of course they did.
  • Family Values — Your President cheated on his pregnant wife.  He fucked a porn star and tried to pay her off with campaign funds.
  • Christian — See also Family Values

Republicans are in the minority.  Their loudest members are racist, misogynist, antisemitic neo-Nazis that show up in the deep south from time to time with Tiki torches and flags with swastikas on them.  When David Duke is one of your vocal supporters, that ought to clue you in that you’re on the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of human decency.

Party over country.  Red versus blue.  Blind faith in a political party, conflating it with a higher power, confusing partisanship with religion.  That’s the Republican party I see right now.

And unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to get any better.

 

Dissent and Tone

I’m upset, and I’ve used some salty language in this post.

You know what?  We have a sexual predator in the White House that just appointed a sexual predator to the Supreme Court.  Dropping an F-bomb is a succinct way to express exactly how I feel about this situation.

There are many people on Twitter that say that we need to drop civility at this point.  The Republicans are not being civil.  Why should we treat them with respect?

That’s a place where I have to take a step back and disagree.  I believe that we should all try to treat each other with respect.  Be the change in the world that you want to see.  I want to see civil discourse, and I want to see people put country before party.  When I’m talking with an individual, I’ll be respectful, I’ll listen with an open mind, but I’ll maintain my integrity and defend freedom and equality.

I think if we’re going to get on the right course again, we need to be civil with one another.

Unless I’ve completely pissed them off, I still have conservative friends in Oregon that might even be reading this post.  I hope I’ve been fair in stating my opinions.  I hope we can still be friends.  But if you think that Mitch McConnell represents you, you’re mistaken.  He’s a hypocrite that blocked a Supreme Court nominee for 10 months, then rushed through an appointee that is an unhinged lying drunk with gambling debts at best, a credibly accused sexual predator at worst.  My conservative friends are not well represented right now.  Their party has been stolen by opportunists that are stealing from American coffers while doing lasting damage to our way of life.

If one of my conservative friends wanted to have a civil conversation with me, I would welcome it.  Maybe I’d learn something of their perspective that will help me be more fair in my views of the political world.  And maybe, just maybe, I might help them see some of the injustice I see.

Without civility, we couldn’t have a conversation at all.  I like Pat Tomlinson quite a bit, but I would never encourage the kind of engagement he enjoys on Twitter.  Then there’s Chuck Wendig’s recent post:

I obviously disagree with Chuck on this.  Civility is the thing that allows us to communicate with the people that are not being well represented.  Civility is the way we’re going to be able to reach the people that truly haven’t been paying attention to the news, who have no idea who Brett Kavanaugh is, or what their representatives are doing.  There are lots and lots of people that have their head down, just trying to get through the days the best they can.  They might identify as Republican, and if we walk up to them and start shouting at them that they’re rapist Nazis, they’re going to write us off as assholes and then go to the polls and continue to vote for people that they think represent them.

I call for civility, but I do not call for complacency.  Yesterday, after I found out the bad news about Kavanaugh, I had a talk with my son.  He’s 20 years old.  We were able to have a mature conversation about what it used to mean to be a conservative, and how what the Republicans are doing these days is not that.  I think he would have been able to handle the conversation 2 years ago, maybe even 4 years ago.  He’s a smart kid.

It is possible and necessary to express opinions of dissent without throwing away civility.  If you become a shouting monster, if you let the faux Republicans change your behavior for the worst, then they will have won.  Because even if you have good things to say, no one is going to want to listen to you.

10/6/18

VLOG #2 – Goals and Branding

I created another VLOG!


Yesterday, I said I was going to write about specific topics from the cruise, or I was going to write about Brett Kavanaugh. It turns out I was mistaken.  I hope you’re not too disappointed.

In this video, I talk about writing goals, motivations, branding, and how those topics are related.  For me, it comes down to the central questions: What makes me so special, and why should anyone want to read what I have to write?

As I state in the video, I don’t actually have answers to these questions.  I need to come up with some answers, though, as I believe it will inform what I’m doing with my querying and with my goals on social media.

I used some different software to record and edit the video this time.  Once I figured out how to use it, I was able to produce something in a fraction of the time it took me to do the first one.  It also helped that I knew going into the recording that I could make mistakes, and that I just needed to give myself comfortable pauses for editing.  I still have huge respect for people that do this regularly.

Let me know what you think of the video.  What milestone should I use to trigger the third installment?  What other things would you like me to talk about in video format as opposed to text?

Thanks for checking this out!  Tomorrow, I’m either going to write a full entry on Branding based on the notes I took during the cruise, or I’m going to write about Brett Kavanaugh.  My mood will determine which I cover.  I have a feeling that when I start digging into my thoughts about Kavanaugh, I’m going to need to follow up the post with a good stiff drink.

10/5/18

Writing Excuses Cruise 2018 – Overview

I’ve talked about Worldcon and the Writer’s Digest conference.  Now it’s time to talk about the event I was looking forward to more than any other this year.  Let’s get into the Writing Excuses Cruise.

Tonight, I’m going to talk about the cruise in general and a basic overview of the writing retreat and how I felt about it.  Tomorrow and the next day, I’m going to two specific topics that were covered during the retreat.  The first post will be Writing the Other, the second post will be about Branding.

Actually, let me rephrase that.  My plan is to write about those topics.  Given the current events, I might push one or more of those out a day so that I can write about Brett Kavanaugh while that topic is still timely.  I already have him on my list of subjects to talk about this month.  I had hoped to his interview process would go a little longer, but it seems that some people are in a rush.

Real life looms and threatens to push in, but I’m not going to dwell on politics tonight.  I’m not going to think about supreme court nominees or how I feel about what’s been going on in current events.  Tonight, let’s talk about really pleasant things like a writing retreat that takes place on a cruise ship.

Neither Melissa nor I had ever been on a cruise before and we were looking forward to that as much as I was looking forward to hanging out with the cast of the Writing Excuses podcast and meeting other writers.  We paid for the whole thing almost a year in advance.  Everything was set up.  We just had to get there.

I already wrote about the slashed tires.  We discovered those the morning we were to fly to Houston.  We got up that Friday, prepared to go to work, and then discovered that I was going to need to work from home for a while.  Not a very auspicious start to our vacation.

It got worse.  Bad weather in Texas began to impact flights.  We were supposed to take off just before midnight, transferring at Dallas before going on to Houston.  As I watched the Discord channels and other attendees talking about their travel problems, I kept seeing people report how their flights were getting canceled and they were getting rerouted and delayed.  I had the American Airlines page open and I kept refreshing to check the flight status.

The bad news came in the late afternoon.  They’d canceled our flight into Dallas and American Airlines decided to reschedule us to fly out of Sacramento around 11:15AM on Saturday, putting us in Houston in the early evening.  I contacted them and told them that Melissa and I were supposed to go to NASA Saturday morning.  American Airlines surprised me.  They booked us with Delta when they couldn’t get us to Houston on time themselves.  The change in flights meant that we needed to go through Atlanta, and we needed to head to the airport as soon as I was off the phone.

The kids dropped us off.  We got our bags checked.  We endured the usual travel traumas (I’m not comfortable flying, though I’m getting better at it).  Neither one of us slept very well on the plane, but we made it!  We even landed in the airport that was closest to the hotel, making that leg of the trip that much easier.

Once we reached the hotel, we were in good hands.  The Writing Excuses staff made the rest of the trip easy for us.  We got signed in, got some swag along with an instruction pamphlet, and before we knew it, we were enjoying the retreat.

I’m going to intentionally skip over some details.  For example, we made it in time to enjoy the NASA tour, and though we’d been up all night and traveling, we learned quite a bit during the tour, and we had a good time.  There’s quite a bit I could say about the NASA, but I’ll just give a couple of details which had more to do with the experience than the tour itself.

First, we got rained on.  The tour involved riding on what I can best describe as the illegitimate love child between a train and a golf cart.  While going between the various stops at NASA, rained dumped on us, soaking me in particular because of where I was sitting.  It was okay, though, because I had a jacket.  I thought it was kind of funny.

The second detail about the NASA trip was Mary Robinette’s vast NASA knowledge.  We had a trained tour guide giving us information as we went, and Mary Robinette was able to gracefully take the microphone and add extra value as we went.  It was impressive.  Not only did Mary Robinette demonstrate a broad and deep knoweldge of NASA, she was able to deliver the information naturally, and without stepping on the tour guide.  The tour guide appreciated Mary Robinette’s contributions, and said that she learned things that she’d be adding to her future presentations.

That’s the retreat in a nutshell.  Knowledgeable people taught with skill and grace throughout the trip.  I learned tons from the lessons, both from material presented and from the way the teachers and staff conducted themselves.

Even before we got on the boat, we had a full schedule.  The night before we were to board the ship, Brandon Sanderson taught a class on characterization.  It was good stuff, and I took plenty of notes.

Once on the boat, we had classes in the conference room most of the days we were at sea.

I’m going to talk about the schedule now, and I don’t want to give the impression that we didn’t have time to play or to enjoy the cruise itself.  We had plenty of time.  Melissa and I quickly discovered that we could go to deck 4 and walk outside, enjoying the breeze and the view of the ocean.  It was also the straightest path to take us from one end of the ship to the other, a trip we had to make frequently.  Our stateroom and the conference room were both on deck 2, but the conference room as at the front of the ship while our room was almost as far aft as you could go.

A typical day at sea involved getting up around dawn and then heading up to the buffet on deck 11 called the Windjammer.  Some of us lovingly called it the Windcrammer, for that’s where we most often went during breakfast and lunch to cram food into our faces.  The first class started at 9AM and went for about an hour and a half.  There’d be a brief break, then another class leading up to lunch time.  As I said before, Melissa and I took all of our lunches at the buffet.  From 1PM to 3PM there’d be another class, then another break, then usually another class.  Most nights there’d be some kind of activity or class from 7PM to just before 8PM.  Every night at 8PM, we’d go to the main dining room for dinner.  It was assigned seating that put us with different classmates and potentially an instructor every night.  After dinner, starting at 10PM, there were games in the conference room that ran into the wee hours of the morning.

That’s a pretty full schedule.  It’s deceptive, though, because there are plenty of gaps in there to do other things.  Also, if you wanted to skip a class, you could.

Along with the classes, there were daily challenges.  In any given 24 hour period, if you wrote pi (3,412 words), you could put your name on the Pi Board.  If your name was already there, you’d put a check next to your name.  Whoever wrote pi the most at the end of the cruise would win a prize.

There was also a board for keeping track of your total word count.  Like the Pi Challenge, whoever wrote the most words during the cruise won a prize.  For the record, I wrote around 7500 words that week.  The winner wrote more than 30,000 words.

In addition to those challenges, there was another that changed every day.  If you succeeded at that posted challenge, you put your name on the page beneath it and collected a pirate coin.  I enjoyed these challenges because they appealed to my competitive nature.  At the end of the cruise, I was in a three way tie for the most pirate coins.  I won an eye patch and a signed book by Dan Wells.

I think I’ve given a pretty good description of how the retreat worked, but I haven’t really talked about how I felt going through it.  Now that I’ve been home for most of a week, I think I can talk about it.

The retreat challenged me more than any other convention I’ve been to.  Some of it had to do with the schedule, but there were some factors that had nothing to do with the cruise or the retreat.  For example, Melissa and I got sick half way through our vacation.  We didn’t suffer from seasickness, though we did feel the sway of the boat from time to time.  We caught a cold, either from my coworker that came in when she shouldn’t have, or from the plane on the way to Texas.  We weren’t so sick that we had to miss out on anything, but the sore throat, sneezing, runny nose, and congestion sapped my energy, and it made it difficult for me to engage with other people as much as I wanted to.

Being sick made it difficult to get enough rest.  We needed to get up early each day, and I wanted to stay out and play or write as much as I could each night.  But then there were other factors that robbed us of chances to get a full night’s sleep.  The first night, the TV in our room turned itself on and started blasting.  The remote would not turn it off.   Fumbling around in the dark at 2AM, I could not find a power button on the TV itself.  After a few minutes, I wound up unplugging it and collapsing back in bed.

The second night, again around 2AM, there was a “Bravo Bravo” announcement over the loudspeaker.  I don’t think they meant to issue the announcement to us.  Lots of people on the boat slept through it, but it startled Melissa and I awake.  We found out later that the alarm had to do with a fire in one of the engines.  That sounds scarier than it is, because there’s 6 or 8 engines on the boat, and they never need more than 3 at any given time.

With the sickness and lack of sleep, and surrounded by all of these really talented individuals, my mind decided that what I really needed was a huge dollop of self-doubt.  I began to feel more awkward than usual while trying to interact with people.  I felt like I didn’t have anything to contribute.  Why would these people want to be my friend?  What was so special about me or what I write?  What did I have to offer?

I think I managed to contain the ugly feelings, but it was hard.  It was the hardest part of the whole experience.

On the days where we were in port, we didn’t have very many classes, if any.  Those days, people could stay on the boat if they wanted to, or they could go to shore like Melissa and I did.  The first stop was Roatan, the second Belize, and the third stop Cozumel.  At all three destinations, Melissa and I went on excursions.

We had a really great time.  Just like with the NASA excursion, I’m going to skip over most of the details, and just give the highlights.

In Roatan, we got to learn about chocolate making, and we got to taste some locally made rum.  We liked it so much, we bought a bottle.  We had a good time in Roatan.

In Belize, we were taken on a bus about 45 minutes away from city.  Then we transferred to a speed boat which took us 20 or 30 minutes up a river.  After that, we walked briefly through the jungle to see the Lamanai Mayan ruins.  It kept threatening to rain, and we almost didn’t get to climb the high temple.  That is to say, we did get to climb it, and the heights and slick rock terrified me.  We took bunches of pictures.  We had a good time on this excursion.

In Cozumel, it was hot and humid.  We went on a tour which and at first, I didn’t care for it.  Then we went to where tequila is made and not only were we given an education on the process of how it’s made and how to select and drink tequila, we were given 7 or 8 shots.  Regarding a brown tequila, aged twenty years, the tour guide said, “At home, I only share this one with three people: me, myself, and I.” It was one of the ones we got to taste, and it was amazing.  We bought two bottles of the Me-Myself-And-I.  Needless to say, we had a good time in Cozumel.

I’m not sure I can say enough good things about the Writing Excuses Retreat.  As stated by the hosts, one of their goals is to create and foster a writing community.  On that front, they succeeded.  I met some wonderful people and I hope to stay in touch with them.  I’m looking forward to seeing them next year.

Melissa and I had such a good time that we’ve already signed up to go again.  They haven’t officially opened it for purchase, but we were able to put down a deposit.

If you are a writer, I recommend you go.  It’s a remarkable experience.  I’m still processing the things I learned.  I’ll probably be processing for quite a while longer.