Writing a Story Part 1: The Idea

I’m not sure how many parts there will be to this series. The outcome is uncertain. Maybe that’s the point at this stage. We’ll talk about that in a moment.

Personal News

Not much to report tonight. Tomorrow is Valentine’s and I don’t know what I’ll be doing with Melissa, but it’ll have to be something. Work is busy. I haven’t played a video game in what feels like weeks. I’m still very tired, but there’s no time to take a break.

Upcoming Events and Such

Let’s start with “and Such.” The Water Dragon square site was recently updated. If you’re haven’t ordered The Repossessed Ghost or One for the Road yet, and you’d like to do so and have them signed, you can find the titles at this link. One for the Road will be signed by both Melissa and me.

If you’re in the Sacramento area around March 9th or 10th, you can go to Sac Comic-Con at the Sacramento convention center and skip on the shipping. I’ll have both books available there all weekend, as well as a bunch of other cool stories from Water Dragon.

The Topic: Writing a Story: The Idea

It’s time for me to let some free indirect writing take the wheel, so that you can join me at the very beginning of my writing process. This is the blank page, as it were, and I’m coming to it without any preconceptions or plan. This is the writing process. We start with an idea.

I’m intimidated. I respect this, and I don’t take it for granted. There is nothing in front of me yet. I’m not coming at this with an epiphany like I did when I wrote Synthetic Dreams. I’m not bringing with me a character from an old roleplaying game, like I did with The Repossessed Ghost. I’ve done this kind of writing before, where I sit down with the keyboard in front of me and my imagination firing, but not yet coalescing into any sort of shape. The page is blank. I don’t know if I’ll find the words when I reach for them.

But that’s not too unlike the blog writing. With One for the Road, I had a few sentences of an idea that were not my own, and I was able to writing something very sweet and original.

The idea is not the important part of the writing process. It’s a starting place, but it’s not precious. When you have a story written and you go back and start editing, you might find that your original starting place doesn’t fit anymore. You might rewrite the beginning, or move the beginning forward and write a new starting place. It doesn’t matter. It’s all fluid. The true artistry happens in the edit. The first draft only has to exist.

Before you can launch into your first draft, you have to start somewhere. Where do we want to start this story? What idea do we want to develop? What’s on our mind?

I just finished watching Deadpool 2. Do I want to write a superhero story? Do I want to write about an unlikely hero? Do I want to write a story about a weird, fucked up family that somehow works, even though on paper it looks like it should fall apart?

What kind of characters do I want to spend a bunch of time with? What do I know? Is there some truth I’ve been grappling with lately?

Questions are good. When you ask a question, there is an impulse to try and provide an answer. When the question is coming from nothing and nowhere, then the answers you provide fill the void. It’s like starting a fire with flint and steel. The question draws an answer out of the air, which is the spark, ready to ignite the flames of your imagination.

I like that metaphor. Maybe this story will have something to do with fire, or firefighting. I don’t know much about firefighters, but I can look things up. A firefighter is a good profession to play around with. It’s one that involves bravery and responsibility. We could have a character that exemplifies those qualities, a hero from the start. Or maybe we can have someone that struggles with those, and their journey through the story is them overcoming fear and learning to lead. That’s some fertile ground.

I’m drawn towards some kind of firefighter for our story. Firefighter with horses, in a fantasy setting? Firefighter on a space ship, in a SciFi story? It would be nice to have some fun with this. Maybe this can be another urban fantasy story, like The Repossessed Ghost or One for the Road.

One for the Road doesn’t hit any of the urban fantasy tropes. This new story doesn’t have to, either. I might be tempted to attach this to one of those worlds, but let’s keep it separate, at least for now.

As an exercise for creating a story, on a blog where I’m frequently promoting my stories that are out in the wild, it makes sense that this story should be in a similar genre. So, let’s make this an urban fantasy that involves a firefighter.

We have fire already. Maybe we can have other elements involved. I feel an idea starting to form.

What if our hero has some elemental gift. It could be fire, air, or water, but it’s an undeveloped gift that they’ve used from time to time to help put out or control fires. They could stumble into the supernatural world, or be drawn into it when another elementalist witnesses our hero use their latent and untrained gift to put out a supernatural fire.

This is enough, for now. We don’t really have a plot or characters yet, but we have an idea. We have enough that we can start something.

Tomorrow, we’ll develop this idea a little bit more. Tomorrow, we start brainstorming.


Closing Thoughts on Boskone 2024

Post number 43 in a row! Keeping the dream alive.

Personal News

It’s good to be back and get to sleep in my own bed. We didn’t get home until around 1:30AM, and neither one of us really had enough vacation time to take a recovery day, so we both zombied our way through another work day. It was challenging. By the afternoon, I paused my work day to take a nap. Melissa is hourly and has to a punch a clock, so even though she needed a rest, too, she had to soldier on. I’m making up the lost work hours tonight.

Upcoming Events and Such

The next event is Sac Comic-Con. I believe Water Dragon will have one (1) table, and there will be 3 or 4 of us there, ready to sell books. Stephen Brewer will ship The Water Dragon inventory to me in the coming days. I will go to the convention center and be present, but I’m not sure how excited I am for the event itself. I’ll talk more about that later.

The Topic: Closing Thoughts on Boskone 2024

Did I have a good time? Yes, though as I told one of my coworkers today, this was not a vacation.

I spent almost the entire time in the dealer’s room, and I met some cool people. There was the person that told me they read an editor’s copy of Spin City, which I’m sure is impossible, and I’m not sure what their motivation would be for lying. It was an interesting conversation, though.

We had a great dinner with David Gerrold, and everyone had a really good time. That’s probably the highlight of the event, just as it was the highlight of Worldcon 2022 in Chicago. The conversations were great. Everyone felt like they received a real treat.

While trying to sign up for the Kaffeeklatsch which featured John Berlyne, I ran into John and had a chance to catch up with him for a little bit. I reminded him of who I am, which is partially necessary because all of the other times we met, I had short hair and weighted about 40 pounds less. I was able to tell him how highly I think of him without making it awkward, because the truth is, he is the agent I’d most like to work with. He introduced me to Stevie, an agent that works with him at Xeno, and I think the implication was that I should look up Stevie and send her a query letter. Maybe I’ll work on that this week, while the memories are still fresh. First I’ll have to see what kinds of stories Stevie likes.

As I talked with John Berlyne, the Kaffeeklatsch filled up. It might have filled up before then. I don’t know. It was one of the few con-hosted events I tried to join, and it fell through. So in the end, just like Arisia, I didn’t really participate in the con itself. I didn’t even make it up to the con suite.

I enjoyed interviewing people for the podcast. I enjoyed meeting people in the dealer’s room. There was a lot for me to enjoy, but it was all a different kind of work. In fact, the hours were longer than my regular work day. Only with this job, I had to do a lot of standing, so by the end of the weekend, I had sore legs and feet.

Boskone 2024 was a good time, but not a relaxing time. While talking with people, I have to be “on” and mindful not to say something stupid or off-putting. People generally enjoyed talking with me. I follow the advice Mary Robinette gave on the subject, in that I remember that the one I’m conversing with is the more interesting, so I try to get them to talk about themselves and the topics they enjoy. They wind up walking away feeling really good about the conversation. Sometimes before they go, they reward my conversation skills by buying One for the Road or The Repossessed Ghost.

Having two titles to choose from, they most often went for One for the Road because at $5, it’s the cheaper way to check out an unknown author. I believe that’s why I basically sold out of The Repossessed Ghost at Arisia, but only sold about 4 copies at Boskone. I also think it’s one of the reasons we sold about a dozen copies of One for the Road. It was a slow weekend for purchases, for everyone in the dealer’s room, but we sold more copies of One for the Road than any other single title on our tables. Steven Brewer sold more books with his name on the cover, but a lot of that is a single story serialized across 7 books, and the bundle has a good discount.

Steven also had a reading, participated on panels, and had two posters and a quarter of the total table space. I’m not saying this to say it’s a fault or a bad thing. I’m pointing out that if I had similar representation at the event, I might have done even better. As an unknown with virtually no presence at the convention, I’d say I did pretty well.

Does doing well matter?

Financially… no. Even if I’d completely sold out of the books I authored, it would not be enough to pay for the food, travel, or lodging. Going to Arisia and Boskone cost me thousands of dollars, almost a week of vacation time, and required me to work extremely long hours in my day job for several weeks in a row. When I say I’m tired after this weekend, I’m falling short in describing the soul-numbing weariness that resonates through my being. I feel heavy and slow and a touch of melancholy, and recovery is going to take days.

I don’t look at this in financial terms. Not yet. What I did at Boskone was plant more seeds. I talked to people. I created memories. I’m practicing all of the skills I will require as my professional writing career advances. I can manage a table. I can sell books. I can conduct interviews. I can talk the talk and walk the walk.

Will I do this again next year? I don’t know. I have my doubts. Maybe by the time I need to make a decision on such things, I will have forgotten how much work I did these last two events. Or, maybe I’ll be more economical with my time and money. Time will tell.

Those are my closing thoughts on Boskone. Very soon, I’m going to start writing a story in this space, and invite you all along for the ride.


Boskone 2024: The Finale

I’m writing this from the airport. We weren’t sure how long it would take for us to flag down our Uber, or get through security, so we wound up getting to our gate way earlier than expected. Better to be early than late, right?

Whether we’re interested in the super bowl or the superb owl, it’s going to be finished before we land in San Francisco tonight. Just in case it becomes impossible for me to finish this post before midnight, I’ll post it now, before we get on the 7 hour flight.

This morning, I discovered one possible reason Melissa and I struggled to get rest this weekend. At 3AM, I woke up to what sounded like an alarm. The refrigerator kept buzzing, with no easy way to silence it. It went off again around 4AM and 5AM. When we finally got up a little after 7AM, the appliance was silent as a shadow. It could have been singing the song of its people every night for our entire stay. At least it wasn’t a cat in heat, right?

We ate greasy breakfast sandwiches from Starbucks to change things up, then went packed our bags down to the dealer’s room. While Melissa setup the tables, I went to the lobby and interviewed Colin Alexander for the SPBU podcast.

With the third recording in the can, I went back to the Water Dragon table right before the dealer’s room opened. We experienced no mad rush to buy our books, but some people I spoke to on previous days appeared to buy one or both of my books.

I did my best to sell other people’s books. I asked people what they liked to read and, based on their answers, directed them towards titles that best matched their desires. Many times, people enjoyed talking with me and would say, “No, show me your book.” Many times, that translated into a sale of One for the Road.

I think this was happening at Arisia, too, but since I only had The Repossessed Ghost on the table, it wasn’t as obvious that was what was going on. People enjoyed talking with me and based on that, they were ready to take a chance on one of my stories. Since the $5 option was available, they went with that.

We sold more One for the Road than any other book on the table. At one point today, a young woman was eyeing it and I said, “You should that book.” And she did. I felt like I hit her with a Jedi mind trick, the greatest “BUY MY BOOK” I will ever pull off.

At 1PM, it was time for me to interview David Gerrold for the Live from Boskone edition of the SPBU podcast. I was nervous about this one. He was doing me a favor, and we both knew it. But he was gracious and wise, and didn’t even give me a hard time when I got tongue-twisted. This was important for SPBU, and the words left me a couple times.

With the last interview completed and saved, I went back to the table and finished out the day. Melissa and I handled the final inventory and packing of the boxes, which took a little longer than we expected or wanted. We finished packing the boxes, but there were still table clothes and banners to contend with. We needed to board our plane a little after 5, so when the dealer’s room shutdown at 3PM, Melissa and I grabbed our stuff and ran, leaving the final bits for Steven Brewer and Daniel Fliederbaum to deal with.

That pretty much brings us to now. The plane just pulled up. Boarding will begin in about 5 minutes.

Wish us luck!


Boskone: Day 2

This may be a short report.

Today, we got up, used coupons provided by the convention to reduce the cost of our too-expensive breakfast (it wound up around $10,) after which we went to the dealer’s room and stayed all day. Inventory took a little bit longer than we wanted it to, and people were coming in while we were still putting tallies in the spreadsheet. Then it was just doing the business of the table, which mostly involved watching people walk by with visible disinterest.

Around 2PM, I went to an nearly empty hallway and interviewed Steven Wilk for the SPBU podcast. Two recordings secured. Two more interviews tomorrow, one of which is going to be pretty special.

There’s not much else to talk about, really. Comparing this experience with Arisia, the people of Boskone are a little older and a little more standoffish. The vibe is different. Boskonians have seen some shit, and their time in the trenches has darkened the light of their eyes. I’m only exaggerating a little bit.

Let’s talk about two people that came by the table, and offered me entirely different experiences.

The first was a battle-axe that climaxed our conversation with the notion that the only reason N. K. Jemison received her Hugos is because she’s black. So, an idiot and a racist. I found this out because I asked her what she likes to read, and she mentioned a series with “cormorant” in the title, which I’ve never heard of. Apparently this is an award winning series, and how dare I not know what she was referring to! While writing this, I went googling for a Hugo winning story with “cormorant” in the name and I’m coming up blank. So, I don’t know. Maybe “cormorant” was the author’s last name?

UPDATE: Melissa found the book she was talking about. The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. I’m not going to hold this lady’s behavior against the author or this story. I hope I never have fans like her, though.

Speculative fiction is big, and I personally think it’s fine if someone hasn’t read all of it. But she was somehow challenging me, so I said, “I’m not sure if I’ve chased any Hugo award winners since The Three Body Problem or The Fifth Season.” That’s when this angry woman showed me her racism card.

The conversation went on a few more minutes, but I didn’t really want to sell her any of our books, or provide her entertainment. She’s a definite outlier, as most of the people I talked with had the exact opposite notion with regards to SciFi and race.

The other person of note today was a young writer that’s nervous about seeking publication. They were uncertain they should identify as a writer, and I talked to them about the differences between being a writer and being a professional writer. They seemed to be enjoying the conversation, and they were eager for advise. They also seemed to be enjoying my stories and anecdotes around writing The Repossessed Ghost.

Eventually, they got me talking about Spin City, at which point their eyes went wide. They took a step back, looked at the cover of The Repossessed Ghost and said, “Oh! I thought I recognized your name.”

“What?” I said.

“I’ve read that book!”

Spin City? It hasn’t been released yet.”

“I picked up an editor’s copy from a store in New York. It said ‘Not For Resale’ but it had your name on it and it’s just what you were describing.”

That pretty much took away the rest of my words, because there’s really no reason Spin City should be out in the wild, at all. Our pleasant conversation wound down to its natural conclusion. I think they bought a copy of One for the Road and they still seemed genuinely happy to have talked to me.

Chances are, they fed me a line of bullshit about reading Spin City. I have submitted it a couple of times, but I can’t see any reason it would have been printed out, and it would be extremely unprofessional for my submissions to wind up in some random book store in New York. It seems extremely unlikely that my story would go that route, and even more unlikely that the person that picked it up in the book store would randomly run into me in Boston.

Don’t get me wrong. I want my story to be out in the world. But not like that.

Overall, it was a rather slow day in the dealer’s room. Many people grazed by, with very few willing to stop and take a bite. I joked with Stephen Brewer, “To get more sales, we need to plant the seed, bait the hook, load the gun, strike for the heart, then cut off the head just to be sure.”

“That’s going to cut into our return customers.”

“Maybe we can skip a few of those last steps, then.”

Here’s hoping tomorrow is good sales day. We’re going to close down at 2PM local time, and then somehow figure out how we’re going to get so many unsold books into our bags and through our flight. It’s going to be challenging.

When next I post, it will likely be from San Francisco, between flights.


Boskone: Day 1

It’s a little after 11PM local time, so I better write fast if I’m going to get this in on time.

Before I go into the blow-by-blow, here’s a quick list of the topics I’ll be covering:

  • The setup
  • Live from Boskone recording
  • A Happy Customer
  • Dinner with David Gerrold

Even though we went to bed at what our bodies should have considered 7PM, we woke up at 9AM local time, and it wasn’t easy to get up. We didn’t have a cat yowling in our room because she wants to get laid, and we didn’t have our son loudly moving through our hall on a quest to pee. We did, however, have blankets that wanted to cook us in our own juices. Melissa and I both woke up several times in the middle of the night, either shivering and teeth clattering, or sweating, melting into the sheets. Hopefully tonight we’ll find the right balance.

Once we were up and moving, we ate omelets in the too expensive hotel restaurant, then went to see if we could get our badges from registration. The escalator leading up to the registration tables was out of order, which I could have taken as a sign of things to come, but chose not to. Instead, we met up with Steven Brewer and Daniel Fliederbaum, with the intention of unloading Steven’s car and getting the table ready to open in the afternoon.

With Arisia, I was able to steal acquire a large cart, and we pulled all of the boxes in one go. It was brilliant. This time, the carts weren’t where I found them, so all we had was Steven Brewer’s handcart. We used that, and I hauled some of the boxes and content by hand. It took 3 trips and, while it wasn’t terrible, it put me in a bit of a sour mood.

Next came setting up the tables, inventorying all of the books, and laying everything out in such a way that it would make sense to customers. At Arisia, we were short a box or two, so filling out the tables was somewhat trivial. Today, we had too many books. SO many books. I described it as 10 pounds of fish in a 5 pound net, but it was really more like 5 tables worth of books to put on 2 tables.

We did the work and made some hard compromises. A couple of the books we had were not really SciFi or Fantasy, so we left those in the boxes. A couple of the books belonged to a series, but we didn’t have #1 in the series, so we left those in the boxes. When we had complete series, we’d stack the whole series on the table, then put #1 on top. We were always going to be putting duplicate books in boxes under the table, to be pulled out on demand, but we were particularly sharp, keeping the number of copies relatively low so the stacks wouldn’t get out of hand.

Melissa was a huge help. She did a lot of it, honestly. We sorted and arranged and rearranged until finally, we had everything on the table. We were still putting price tags on the books at 4PM when the dealer’s room opened.

Just before 5, I met up with another named Richard Williams. I interviewed him for the first portion of the Live from Boskone episode of the Small Publishing in a Big Universe podcast. As I mentioned yesterday, Live from Arisia will be up and available after Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure when Live from Boskone will be up, but I imagine it won’t be too long from now.

Back in the dealer’s room, I went and found David Gerrold’s table. Steven Radecki asked me to get him a signed copy of Hella, and after Michael Gallowglas’s book club celebrated the story recently, I wanted a copy for myself. David wasn’t selling copies of that book himself, but he knew the space next to him had at least one copy. They did, and it was an ARC. I picked it up, had David sign it, and then sent pictures to Steven Radecki to let him know I got him what he asked for. I also posted it to Michael Gallowglas’s discord, mostly in the hopes of making a couple of people there jealous.

If getting a signed copy of David Gerrold’s book wasn’t enough to make a member of the Gallowglas Army jealous, my evening activity should have been enough. Melissa and I were joined for dinner by David Gerrold and Stephen Wilk, one of the authors on the Small Publishing in a Big Universe table. It was a fantastic dinner! Everyone had a good time. David had some great stories, and the way he talks about his son and his grandson is heartwarming. He also had some valuable advice for me with regards to writing sequels.

It’s late, now. I had a couple of hard ciders tonight, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.

I’m so tired, in fact, that I failed to mention how I got to talk for a few minutes with John Berlyne, the agent with Xeno that I still consider my first choice. We had a good chat. Maybe I’ll see him some more this weekend.

Okay. That’s enough. Time to go to sleep. Tomorrow, I suspect, will be a long day.


Boskone: Day 0

Melissa and I are in our hotel in Boston, and we’re ready to go. Before I get into it, here’s a quick correction.

The Live From Arisia podcast will be available after February 14th! Check this link in a week and you should be able to find it and listen to it.

Today started off with a blunder on my part. I packed almost everything last night before going to bed. I remembered everything except the microphone. I didn’t realize I left it out until we arrived at the airport this morning, around 4AM. How were we going to do Live from Boskone recordings if we didn’t have a decent quality microphone?

I put that off as a problem for later. We flew United today, as opposed to American last month. Our flight left Sacramento a little after 6AM, landing in Chicago around noon, and then we left Chicago at 2PM and landed in Boston a little after 5PM. The more direct route improved our flying experience, though for some reason, we hit more turbulence. I’m not a calm and relaxed passenger even when the flight is smooth. Today, my palms were sweating and my knees were shaking, and I kept reaching for something to hold onto. Since Melissa gets the window, I always have the middle seat, so there was nothing for me to grab. I panicked quietly in my seat and got through it.

Once in Boston, we went to baggage claim. Now, with your permission (and perhaps to your amusement), I will rant.

What is the point of getting right up on the belt if your bag isn’t there? Why do you people INSIST on crowding the front? People! Idiots! Take two steps back, and then EVERYONE will have a better view of the belt. When you see your bag, you can then take a couple steps forward, grab it, then get the hell out of the way. This doesn’t have to be hard. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Follow these steps and we ALL win. Oh, and to all you assholes that look at me standing back at a reasonable distance and then choose to step in front of me? There’s a special place in hell for you. It’s baggage claim. You’re going to be stuck in baggage claim in hell, because most of the people headed to the hottest afterlife arrive with extra personal baggage.

Where was I?

Oh yes. Boston.

It’s still relatively early here. When we flew in for Arisia, we didn’t get in until after midnight and we were zonked out. Now it’s not quite 9:30PM. We explored and found our tables in the dealer’s room. I introduced myself to the people running the dealer’s room, and we had a very pleasant conversation. We don’t have our badges yet, but that shouldn’t be a problem tomorrow.

Once we were checked in, nested, and we completed our initial inspection of the con itself, we took an Uber to a shopping center not far away that has both a Target and a Best Buy. Target had a new Yeti microphone, very similar to the snowball I was supposed to bring, and it wasn’t too expensive. That will now be my travel microphone. I will test it tonight and make sure it’s of sufficient quality.

With the microphone secured, we wandered over to Applebee’s, ate food that wasn’t terrible, then Uber’d back to the hotel. In the lobby, we ran into David Gerrold. If all goes well, we’ll take him (and maybe others) to dinner tomorrow night.

That’s Boskone Day 0! Tomorrow will be a lot of setup and diving in. We still have to find a place where we can record, but I imagine that will work itself out.


Boskone: Day -1

Tomorrow will be Day 0, so mathematically, today’s title checks out.

There really isn’t room for anything now except preparation for travel. I still need to pack, but I finished all the things I needed to finish for work.

The cat is in heat again, so we didn’t sleep well and woke up rough. I trudged through work, which was mostly meetings and administrivia. Tomorrow is Sprint Planning, and since I’ll miss it, I had to arrange all of my tasks for the next two weeks, flesh them out, document them in our Sprint Planning Wiki, setup the meetings, and basically do everything I would normally do tomorrow, but in a much shorter time. I finished my work day around 8PM.

During this time, I gathered information from my bank so we could send off our taxes. That’s sent off. Thanks to The Repossessed Ghost, taxes are much more interesting this year.

Once I’m done with this post — #38 in a row — I need to shower, pack, make sure all of the books and computer equipment and stuff is ready to go, and then angle for bed early since we have to board our plane at around 6:15AM.

Am I nervous? A little, only because it sounds like a few people I really would like to talk to will be at Boskone, and I didn’t find out until recently. I hope I get the opportunity!

We were missing a box or two at Arisia. We’ll have that missing content and then some, so organizing the table will be a bigger challenge than last time. Melissa and I are up for it.

We’ll have fewer days to sell more books, to a conference that is theoretically smaller than the one we attended 2 weeks ago. At least, that’s what some Arisia attendees told me. Arisia broke off from Boskone and then became the larger conference. Steven Radecki told me that we sell more at Boskone, though. Boskone one fewer day than Arisia. I’ll do my best to make some connections and make some sales.

At the main table, in addition to all of the other Water Dragon books, we will have bunches of copies of The Repossessed Ghost available. For the first time, we’ll have copies of One for the Road. I really hope we do well.

This is a slice of the writer’s life. There’s more to being a professional writer than writing. You have to sell your books. Going to conferences like Boskone and putting your face and your books in front of people is a part of it. I don’t enjoy this as much as I enjoy writing, but I don’t hate this, either.

In April, the Live From Arisia recording will be available on Small Publishing in a Big Universe. I’ll be taking the microphone again so hopefully, we’ll have a Live from Boskone episode in the near future, too. It sure would be neat to interview David Gerold or Joshua Bilmes. I’m not holding my breath on that, but it might happen!

Wish me luck. When next I post here, it will be from Boston. Hopefully the travel will be easy and fun.


The Dream of Becoming a Writer

Here is #37!

I had a killer headache today. Bad enough that it made me nauseous, and I had to take some time off from work. I’m feeling a bit better now, and I’m going to try and get my work done tonight. Before that, I want to talk about this post I saw on Bluesky.

Here is the direct link, since I wasn’t able to embed it.

I didn’t respond to Mr. Cargill or any of the other people in that thread. It is some sweet encouragement that people need to hear, and I’m not a monster.

But maybe I’m a little bit monstrous, because I have opinions on every sentence in the message. Let’s break them down one at a time.

“Your dream of becoming a writer isn’t stupid.”

Agreed. It is not stupid. If you’re thinking that you can write a book and throw it online, and money will suddenly fill your bank account, you’re being overly optimistic. But writing is all it takes to be a writer, and writing is not stupid. Writing is awesome. Writing is life.

“It isn’t unreachable. It isn’t a pipe dream. And it isn’t a waste of time.”

It’s relatively easy to become an author. The bar to entry is low. And, it isn’t a pipe dream or a waste of time to hope for the ability to sustain yourself on your writing. There are lots and lots of people that are doing exactly that, and between you, me, and the monitors between us, you’re a more talented writer than a lot of people that are making it.

Pursuing a career as a writer isn’t as outlandish as pursuing a career as an astronaut. It doesn’t take the same kind of investment as becoming a doctor or a lawyer. You won’t be gated by any physical limitation.

Let’s take a moment and separate writing from making money as a writer. As I’ve been witness to for a while now, these are different skillsets. Writing is about crafting a story. It’s pulling something from your imagination, shaping it with words and phrases externally, and refining it over and over until the fully realized narrative from your mind is translatable into the hearts and minds of another reader. That’s writing, and it’s wonderful. I will always encourage everyone — including you — to write.

Making a career out of writing is different. You have to be willing and able to talk with other people, starting with your agent or editor. Those are the first people you have to sell your book to, and if you succeed, you’ll have to find readers and sell to them, too. Along those lines, you have to advocate for yourself, knowing and protecting your rights as you bind the product of your work into a contract for print, production, and distribution. You have to manage your online presence and your brand, whether you have a dozen readers or a hundred thousand.

I encourage everyone to write, but I don’t necessarily encourage everyone to become a full-time writer. When I look at my effectiveness as a professional writer, I question whether or not I have a future in this field. I’ll always write, but there is no guarantee that I’ll ever be able to sustain myself with this thing that I love.

“Don’t believe anyone that tells you that it is. They’re drawing from their failed dreams, not yours.”

You should protect your heart and maintain hope. And, you should look at the motivation of those that might discourage you.

On the other hand, for those people like me that are offering a warning, not all of us are doing so from a place of despair or jealousy. As far as I’m concerned, my dream isn’t failed. I’m still working on it, and I’m many, many years into this effort. And I think it is a kindness to prepare young writers for the long journey ahead.

If you’re dream is to put out one book and be an overnight success, with enough money to quit your job and work full time as a writer, then you’re probably being a little unrealistic and you might want to prepare for some disappointment. If, on the other hand, you’re ready to write the next book when the first one doesn’t catch, and then write the next one, and then the next, you might make it.

It takes a great deal of luck to hit it big. The numbers are not in your favor, and it has very little to do with the quality of your writing. Sometimes the timing is all wrong. Sometimes things take off. Sometimes it’s a mystery when they do. Hugh Howie talked about Wool becoming an unexpected hit, because he had a lot of different efforts books out at the time, and Wool wasn’t the one he was promoting the hardest.

It doesn’t take as much luck to hit it medium. I know several romance writers that make a living by just consistently and frequently putting out stories. Some of them are making more than I am. They don’t have names as recognizable as Stephen King, Danielle Steele, or Bandon Sanderson, but they have a core group of fans and they’re selling a lot of books.

In the end, I’m not disagreeing with C. Robert Cargill. This is more of a footnote to his necessary and correct encouragement. If I were to rephrase his advise, I would say something like:

Be audacious in your dreams of becoming a writer, because you can make it, and it is a worthwhile journey. But as you turn that dream into a goal, remember that the road is not always smooth, and the end is not always in sight. Keep going. And also remember that the only way to fail is to never take a step down the road in the first place.


I Love a Good Story/Con

It’s Monday, and here is #36.

I love a good story.

Whether it’s on the page or on the screen, I can’t get enough. Similarly, I’m fascinated with cons.

Tonight, Melissa and I watched The Sting, starring Robert Redford and Paul Neuman. The movie is literally as old as I am, and it holds up. It’s so, so good.

It’s like a magic trick. There is the setup, the push into action, the surprising twists and turns in the presentation, and then the final payoff at the end. Am I talking about the plot of the movie or the way a story is laid out? Yes. Yes, I am.

Stories come in different shapes and sizes, much like con jobs. The reader and the mark both need to be drawn in and sold on what is happening. If the reader isn’t buying it, they’ll put the book down. If the mark doesn’t believe the con artist, they’ll walk away.

In both cases, the author and the artists must show the stakes. Why should the mark go along with the con if they don’t believe there’s something in it for them? Why should the reader care about the story if they’re not invested in the characters?

And then there’s the twists and turns. All of the misdirection and theater. If the plot of the story is too straight-forward, the reader can grow bored no matter how fantastic the characters are. And if the mark doesn’t get fooled by the misdirection, the game is up, and they walk away, or worse.

The payoff is a little bit different, because it’s the artist that comes away ahead in the end, if everything goes according to their plan. If the writer does a good job bringing their story to a satisfying conclusion, everybody wins. The reader doesn’t lose anything, except possibly some tears, depending on the story.

If you haven’t watched The String in a while, it’s on Netflix, and it’s very good. It’s 2 hours well spent.


Lost Power

It’s Sunday evening, and the server is back up. More on that in a moment.

Upcoming Events and Such

Boskone rapidly approaches. There’s more stuff in March, but I’m not going to think about those things until after the Boston trip.

The main thing I’ll be doing at Boskone is managing two tables in the dealer’s room. The first is the Paper Angel Press table, of which Water Dragon Publishing is an imprint. The other table is the Small Publishing in a Big Universe, where we provide an opportunity for authors to sell their books when they don’t have a table of their own.

Steven Radecki won’t be able to make it to Boston, so I’m the point of contact. I’ve already heard from two of the authors. If you’re looking for books by Stephen R. Wilk or Colin Alexander, I will have their books at Boskone.

The Topic: Lost Power

The power is restored and I’m on my work laptop, in the dining room. It occurred to me that I could still get my work done tonight through my hotspot, and I was about 20 minutes into it when the lights came on behind me.

I have some herbal mint tea with honey steeping beside me. I’m using one the custom keyboards I built to type. The heater is blowing warm air down the back of my sweater. The glow of my screen is likely reflected in my glasses. I’m alive and comfortable in my home.

For a little while, we sat in the dark, listening to the wind whip through the trees. Occasionally, the metal gate along the side of the house would get picked up in the dance and clang against a fence post. Chris’s cat does not care for the stormy weather, and to be honest, I didn’t care for it much myself.

You appreciate the little things when you no longer have them. We haven’t been running the heater hard this winter, but we have been keeping the house from getting too cold. With the power out and no estimate for when it would be restored, the chill felt profound.

With the trip coming up this week, there are a number of things I need to do to prepare so that Day Job will be happy. It’s really hard to do those things without a working computer and internet. Even when I pulled the laptop from its docking station and setup on the kitchen table, I still have a screen a little larger than a postage stamp to operate on, and as a software engineer, I can tell you that isn’t a large enough workspace.

Then there’s all of the entertainment options. I rely on Spotify for music. Streaming services provide videos. I chat with my friends on Discord. I could do some of that on my phone, but with no estimate for the return of power, it did not seem wise to run the battery down.

Finally, there is this blog. I was already a couple of hours late with yesterday’s post. How would I feel if the lack of power kept me from writing this one? I could write something in Notepad or Word using one of my laptops, but the server itself runs in my garage, so it was down, too.

The power is back, and all is well. I still have a bunch to finish for work, but that can proceed, now.

Wish me luck!