10/19/18

Maintaining Self-Care as a Writer

Yesterday I wrote about lessons learned from conventions.  I felt very comfortable covering that topic because of my level of experience and because I apply those lessons regularly.

Tonight is a different story.  Some of what I have to say about self-care is really only theoretical for me.  I think tonight’s subject was suggested to me because it’s something I personally need to work on.  Nevertheless, I have some things to say about self-care as a writer.  Whether or not I practice what I preach, this advice can help you.

Here are the main items:

  • Be Kind to Yourself
  • Set Reachable Goals
  • Have a Life
  • Seriously, Be Kind to Yourself

 

Be Kind to Yourself

For three nights in a row, I’ve mentioned perseverance.  You need to persevere, but getting to the other side of something difficult doesn’t mean you have to travel through a wood chipper to get there.  Forgive yourself your typos and passive voice and accept and celebrate the praise you receive.

If you’re a writer trying to put your stories in front of people, you’re going to face rejection.  The traditional publication route will offer direct rejection from agents, editors, and publishers.  Independently published writers will find rejection via poor book sales, or people walking past your table without making eye contact.  All writers are going to get one star reviews.  There will be be beta readers that don’t get what you were trying to say, critique partners that can’t get into your character’s head, and writer’s groups that fail to see the value of your contributions.

Be kind.  Forgive yourself.  Allow yourself to feel the pain, give yourself time to breathe and grow distant from the moment of rejection, then learn what you can learn from the incident so you can move on.  You’re a human and you’re a writer.  Sometimes those two conditions line up in such a way as to magnify the pain.

 

Set Reachable Goals

It might be tempting to say something like, “I’m going to work really hard and I’m going to be get this book published by the end of the year!”

The problem with this kind of goal is that there are too many factors outside of your control.  You can hope for a published-by date, but it’s not something you should measure yourself against.  Many fantastic writers have wonderful stories that they’ve worked very hard on, but they can’t get their work published because the market isn’t right for their story, or they’re having trouble getting it in front of the right people, or some similar story might have just been picked up or… you get the idea.  No one really knows how any of this works and they’re comfortable describing it as magic at conferences.  If you don’t have actual control over the outcome, it’s not something that you can use as a measurable, reachable goal.

Here are a few examples of achievable goals:

  • Write 1,500 words per day
  • Keep at least 2 queries submitted at all times
  • Write a blog post every day for the month of October
  • Finish a novelette before November 1st
  • Show up at the coffee shop every Wednesday and Sunday, ready to write

If you’ve been following me long, you might recognize that list as my personal goals.  The first one I only pay attention to through the month of November, and the second one I’ve never actually succeeded to meet.  But that whole list is achievable, measurable, and completely within my control.

 

Have a Life

Writers shouldn’t just be writers.  They should be parents, coworkers, siblings, gamers, bowlers… the list goes on and on.  There is a world outside the word processor.  There is more to life than just drafting the next novel, or writing the next query, or pushing the next promotion.

Take care of yourself as a writer by going out and doing things that have nothing to do with writing.  Crochet.  Golf.  Ride a bike.  Start a garden.  Watch a movie.  Bake a cake.  Clean your garage.  Call a gardener to clean up that failed project you started in the back yard.  Go to the beach.  Swim in the lake.  Drink chocolate rum from a boot-shaped shot glass.

Tell your wife that you love her and that she’s pretty.

When you return to the writing, you’ll feel better and you’ll find fresh inspiration.  You have one life.  Make it a well-rounded one.  Not only will you feel better, your writing will improve.

 

Seriously, Be Kind to Yourself

This is so important that it has to be mentioned twice.  The critics outside the writer’s brain do not compare to the evil editor in the writer’s head, constantly nitpicking and finding fault.  That evil editor can be your friend, but they’re often a bully that needs to be put in their place.

As much good advice as I’ve laid out in this post, this is the one piece I struggle with the most.  I’m mean to myself when I should be nice.  I doubt myself when I should act with confidence.  I tear myself down in the face of success, and I have a hard time accepting compliments because I spend so much time internally berating myself for not being good enough.

I had a therapist give me some practical advice once.  He said when I’m at my worst, ripping myself apart, stop and talk to that voice in my head.  Have a conversation.  Ask him what’s up.

One day while I was driving to work, my inner editor was really working me over and I asked, “Why?”

To my surprise, I had an answer. “I want you to be the best, and I’m afraid.”

Fear is my biggest adversary.  I think it’s a problem for most writers.  It’s okay to be afraid.  Just don’t tear yourself apart over it.

Be kind to yourself, because you deserve it and you’re going to write something special.

10/18/18

Most Important Lessons Gained from Conventions

I’ve been to quite a few conventions now, so I feel I have quite a bit I can say on the subject of conventions in general.  There’s even been a couple of conventions where I’ve been a volunteer, giving me an interesting perspective on how that particular sausage is made.

Tonight I’m going to talk about some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.  I’m going to split this into two sections.

  • Attending: Lessons I’ve learned regarding attending a convention
  • Living: Lessons I’ve learned from conventions that I apply in my writing life

 

Attending

1. Pace Yourself

At the beginning of a convention, you get a schedule.  Sometimes it’s a little book, but most of the time these days it’s in an app on your phone.  It’s usually online via the convention’s web site.

If you try to do everything without giving yourself time to eat, breathe, and process, you’ll miss things that you don’t want to miss, and you won’t retain half the things you attend.

Pace yourself both during the day with the panels, and in the evening with the parties.  Be kind to yourself and to others, and don’t push beyond your limits.

2. Decide in Advance What You’re Going to Do

At the macro level, make some goals for this event you’re attending.  Are you looking to learn something?  Are you trying to meet an Agent?  Are you hoping to meet some writer or artist that you admire?  Decide on some goals in advance so you can get the most out of the convention.

With your goal in mind, look at the schedule.  I like to try and plan out my day the night before, but sometimes I’ll get up and figure out my plans over breakfast.

Don’t be afraid to change your plans.  You have to use your best judgement, but sometimes opportunities present themselves that are too rich to pass up.  Keep your goals in mind, but also keep your eyes open for these unexpected treasures.

3. Don’t Be Desperate

Whether you’re there to network, improve your craft, or rub elbows with your idols, desperation has a kind of social stink to it that acts as a natural repellent.  I’ve seen a lot of hungry writers get this predatory gleam in their eye.  It is not endearing.  Try to avoid it.

How do you avoid this? First, take a deep breath. Then put aside your story and live in the moment.  Focus on other things.  And when you find yourself talking to someone that might be interested in what you have to offer, try to listen more than you speak.  Ask questions.  Be a partner in the conversation rather than a bad actor hogging up the spotlight.

4. Stay at the Hotel

I learned this lesson the hard way.  When Westercon came to Sacramento, I had to attend.  From what I saw, it was a good convention!  However, I only attended half of it.  Since I went home every night, I had enough distance between myself and the con that I could easily talk myself out of the drive on one of the days when the schedule didn’t look stellar.

Since that Westercon, I try to stay at the hotel where the convention is taking place, or as close as I can get.  It forces me to come out of my shell and stay engaged.  Also, it frees me up to have a drink or two at the bar are the after parties because I don’t have as far to travel.

5. Attend Barcon and the After Parties

Usually there’s a bar at the hotel, and usually that’s where Barcon takes place.  It’s the informal con within the con, and it’s a great way to talk to people in a relaxed environment.

Unexpected things can happen at Barcon.  Jim Butcher found his agent at Barcon.  She’d turned him down before, but after meeting him in person in a relaxed environment, changed her mind and took him on.

Don’t go into Barcon or con parties with this story in mind.  It can happen, but it’s not going to happen if you go in desperate and hungry.  Just go and relax and have a good time.  Be a good listener.  Make friends.

That’s what conventions are really for, after all.  We say “networking” but really that’s just a fancy word for making friends.  The same skills apply.

 

Living

1. Be Professional

This is one of those lessons they teach you at conventions, which applies both at the convention and outside in the regular world.  Agents, editors, and publishers are looking for people that they can work with.  They want people that can follow directions and listen to instructions.  They also want people that can present themselves in a fashion that is suitable for doing business.

You don’t have to be a stick-in-the-mud.  You don’t have to pack your personality in a closet and hide it from the reset of the world.  Being professional doesn’t mean turning into an automaton.

Professionals respond to emails in a timely fashion.  They’re polite.  They’re engaging.  They’re honest without being cruel, and they’re confident without being too cocky (most of the time).  They dress appropriately for the event they’re attending, though this can mean a lot of things and isn’t nearly as restrictive as a regular day job.  You can get away with weird color hair and most tattoos (probably want to avoid the face).

Receiving rejection as a professional means grieving in private and not responding emotionally.  Often it means you don’t respond at all, though you can probably get away with a simple thank you.  Don’t go to your blog or social media and start blasting the person that rejected you.  That is unprofessional behavior, and it will be a quick and easy sign to people that you’re not someone that they can work with.

2. Don’t Quit Your Day Job

In addition to being a shitty thing to say to an artist, it’s one of those truisms that you just have to accept.  I’ve completed two novels and a fist full of short stories, and even if I get all of it published, I’m not going to be able to quit my job.  That’s not practical.

It’s fine to dream it.  It’s fine to aim for it.  Just don’t be too disappointed when it doesn’t happen.  It’s better odds than playing the lottery, but it’s still a long shot.

I think this is the third night in a row where I’m going to mention perseverance.  That’s what this is all about.  Keep the day job, as it will act as a pillar supporting the rest of your life, enabling you to live while you write.  If you’re too stressed over figuring out how to pay your bills, you’re too stressed to write.

3. Rejection is Normal

Agents and editors are looking for stories they can sell.  But they’re receiving a wealth of stories from hopeful writers, and any excuse to let a story go will do.  Sometimes the story can be great, but they still can’t use it because it’s too close to something else that’s just been published, or they don’t see a market to sell the story to.

Rejection sucks.  It stings.  It works to confirm all those feelings of impostor syndrome.  Every time I get a rejection, I have to fight all my doubts and fears all over again.  It’s the hardest part of the job.

But it’s normal.  Everyone is rejected.  Stephen King’s wife had to fish out Carrie from the garbage after he’d given up on it from rejection.  Keep that in mind when the rejection makes you feel like giving up.

 

I think I could go on and on about the business of writing, pros and cons of self publishing, world building, themes, editing… I’ve attended a lot of panels over the years, and I’ve taken a lot of notes.  I think that’s too much for a Thursday night post, though.

Beginners at conventions will get a lot of out panels.  People trying to make the transition from undiscovered to published (like me) are going to get more from meeting people and making friends.  The pros at conventions get the benefits of networking as well as opportunities to promote their books.

Whatever you’re there for, have fun.  And after you leave and you get back into the real world?  Have some more fun.  Writing is work, but it’s also creation and escapism and expression.  When I’m feeling down about my writing, it helps sometimes to remind myself that this is something I enjoy.  Something that brings me peace and quiets my anxiousness.

10/17/18

Trauma that Becomes Writing Pearls

The last couple of nights have been pretty great! The blog posts have really boosted my mood as I’ve talked about the people closest to me and how much they inspire me to be the best writer I can be.

So tonight, let’s keep the positive vibe train going with–

Wait, THAT’S my topic tonight?

 

Okay.  Fine.  Let’s dive write in.

As I said yesterday, the most important skill a writer needs is perseverance.  I talked about how my family helps me persevere.  On the other side of that, some writers need to persevere difficult events in order to be able to write from a place of truth.

I think I’m coming at this backwards.  Let’s try again.  I’ll start with examples from my own life and go from there.

I started writing after my friend Douglas showed me something he wrote for a class assignment.  He wrote about a detective that was following a murder case.  The most distinctive thing I can remember about that particular story was that his fictional reporter called the case “The Peanut Butter Murderer” or something along those lines, because a jar of peanut butter had been left out near the body.

When I got home, I thought, “I bet I could write something like that.” And I did. I wrote something like that, only I went way bigger.  My guy was a private investigator, and he was super rich! And smart! And a master of disguise! And he lived on The Moon! And he knew martial arts! And…

I was 10 or 11, and I was having fun.  I did all this writing in Appleworks on my Apple IIc.  I mostly wrote when I was bored with the limited number of games I had for the computer.  The word processor itself became my game.  And it was fun!  I might even still have some of those old stories on floppies in my garage.

My stories started as pure wish fulfillment.  They changed after my Dad died.

I stopped writing for a little while.  It was about 6 or 7 months before I even thought about it.  I still wasn’t doing great, but I was okay.  I sat down at the computer and even though I had games I could play, I went straight to the word processor.

Looking back at that early draft of The Arthur Kane stories, I can see that I was writing as a way of processing my grief.  I didn’t think of it in those terms.  I had this inspiration that I should make the main character flawed.  He was still a private investigator living on The Moon, but he was no longer super rich.  He still had a lot of wish fulfillment about him, but he became more real.  I projected too much of myself into him for him not to be real.

In that story, Arthur needed to save The Moon from a bad guy.  He deeply missed the man that loved him and raised him, and that loss and grief shaped his decisions.

There were some good ideas in that story.  More importantly, there were real emotions shining through the poor prose and the gimmicky writing.  It wasn’t a great piece of fiction, but in the process of dealing with a powerful grief, I created something real in the text.

A writer doesn’t need to experience trauma in order to write about it.  That’s not what I’m saying.  But if you’ve gone through some difficult experiences, you can use them.  There is emotion you can tap into and channel into the words.

Not all trauma has to be death.  I mentioned the break-up with Christine yesterday, and I guarantee you that had an impact on my writing.  The trauma from that experience came in the shape of a crisis of faith.  The next several stories I wrote involved characters desperately trying to deal with their hopes and dreams shattered.

To this day, the importance of love, faith, and hope are themes that I prefer to explore in my writing.  I’m not laying it all on that one event in my life, but that break-up traumatized me significantly.  Getting to the other side of it taught me quite a bit about myself and how to write about characters struggling with deep emotional loss.

Boot camp.  Marriage.  The birth of my children.  My Dad’s alcoholism.   Getting fired for bullshit reasons.  Not all of these things sound like “trauma” but they’re all significant events that have tested me.  They’re experiences I can draw from to make my characters more real.  The experiences are wells of emotion I can tap and transmit to my readers.

Not all traumatic events need to be personal in order to become writer fuel.  Anyone paying attention to the news in the US for the last couple of years has been experiencing trauma.  It doesn’t matter if you’re red leaning or blue leaning, the news has been stressful for everyone.  And frightening.  I think there’s going to be a lot of dystopian fiction coming out soon, and it’s going to be too realistic.

 

How do you take trauma and use it in your fiction?

First, you have to process it enough that you can put separation between yourself and the characters going through the reflection of your trauma.  Without the separation, you’ll get lost and lose track of the story you’re trying to tell.  Also, if you’re too close to the trauma in your story, you’re going to find the pain too much of a distraction to form good words.

Second, don’t try too hard. Ease into it.  Let it sit in the back of your mind while you focus on the characters and the nuts and bolts of writing.  In this way, the real emotion will flow naturally into the story and the reader will experience it in a way that is more satisfying than if you try to force it.

Third, make sure the traumatic event you’re drawing from is right for your story.  Make sure it’s something you want to tap into at all.  If you set out to write a light Urban Fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, you might want to wall yourself off from the experiences that will drag the story down.  If you can’t do that, consider writing a different story until you’re ready to move on.

Don’t use writing as your only therapy for trauma.  If you’re having difficulty eating or sleeping or functioning at school or work, if your emotional palette has been reduced to different shades of gray, if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, get help.  Writing can be a great way to deal with depression and trauma, but it shouldn’t be your only treatment.  It also shouldn’t be the first way you cope.

If for some strange reason you think that you need to hold on to your trauma in order to write, please reconsider.  I broke my pinky a long time ago.  I had to wear a cast.  I remember how much it hurt when I fractured the finger, and how much the skin itched as it healed.  It smelled funky after a week or two, and when the cast finally came off, the skin was pale and pink.  I don’t have to have a broken finger to write about the experience.  That memory is locked in my head and I can draw from it whenever I want.  So it is with depression and other trauma of that nature.  Heal yourself, then let the memory guide you when you include that kind of experience in your story.

You don’t have to have the exact identical trauma to write about it.  If your parents are still alive but you want your character to go through that kind of loss, just think of a family pet you probably lost when you were little.  I’m not saying that losing a pet is the same as losing a parent.  I’m saying that the pain of loss can be used to extrapolate and imagine another kind of pain.

I think that’s all I have to say on the subject.  Tomorrow, I promise the topic won’t be nearly as depressing.

10/16/18

My Family and Writing

Let’s start tonight’s essay with a simple question: What is the most important skill or quality a writer must acquire?

A lot of people give an answer that has to do with language.  A strong vocabulary, a knowledge of punctuation.  Something along those lines.

They’re all wrong. The most important skill a writer must learn to be successful is perseverance.

New writers suck at writing, and that means that people trying to read that early work are going to be critical.  A writer has to get through that.  They have to be tough enough to keep going and at the same time, open enough to learn what they need to improve.  Writers start with a vision of what they can do, but without the writing strength to get there.  Even when they’ve started writing stories that are truly good, great even, they will still receive rejections.

A lot of times, rejection isn’t about the quality of the writing.  That’s why perseverance is so important.

Q: But Brian! Weren’t you going to write about your family?

I’m getting there.

A key part of perseverance is having a support system.  As tough as you may be, as much as you might prepare yourself to defend yourself against the slings and arrows of rejection, no armor is complete.  Rejection hurts.  It’s important to have people in your life that can prop you up when others seem to be tearing you down.

That’s where my family comes in.  They’re on my team.  They’re my first fans.  They’ve been with me every step of the way, supporting me, encouraging me.  Sometimes, they even feed me.  My family helps me persevere, and they are amazing.

Let’s start with Melissa. She’s a superhero. There have been times over the last 10 to 15 years where I’ve thought about giving up.  Melissa has been there to put her arm around me, listen to my whining, and then either tell me to get back to writing or take a break.  She’s really good at telling the difference between which I need the most.  She’s my constant companion at conventions.  She takes better notes than I do at the panels these days.  And she reads what I write, and she tries to provide honest feedback.  She’s usually biased, but she’s been able to tell me a few times when what I wrote didn’t actually work.

Then there’s Bryanna.  She’s a quiet writer that’s participated in NaNoWriMo with me a couple of times.  The first year we tried it together, she did way better than I did.  She’s very talented, an all around artist, and a constant, quiet support.

The last of my immediate family is Christopher.  He checks up on me and tries to make me laugh.  Apparently, when I’m in the zone, fingers blazing on the keyboard and words flowing like water, I look like I’m getting ready to murder someone.  He brings his sense of humor to bear and tries to make sure I’m doing okay.  Sometimes he even barbecues burgers and brings them to me while I’m working in the garage.

My family is the core of my support system.  There are other people that support me, too, but my family is always there, present, and interested in what I’m writing.  That means a lot.

They help me persevere.

10/15/18

The Incredible Michael Todd Gallowglas

Let’s see… what did I schedule myself to write about tonight?  Another challenging topic on writing where I have to dig deep into my writer’s brain?

Oh goodness.  I’m talking about Michael tonight?  I’m going to need Scotch for this one.

[pauses to get a 21 year old single-malt that tastes like a campfire and dreams conjured beneath a forest sky]

I’m going to refer to my friend as Michael throughout this post.  Some of his fans know him as Todd.  Some of his fan-friends may even know him as “Mmm. Todd.” He’s an independently published author that recently completed his first Masters of Fine Art at Sierra College, and you can find him most Wednesday evenings in a Starbucks sitting across from me, either writing or talking to me about writing, or both.

That’s a super quick, superficial bio.  But if you’ve traveled this far with me, you’re not here for the surface level stuff.  You want the deep dive.  You might even want a list of topics I’m going to cover as I write this 1500 to 2000 word essay on my best friend.  Well, I aim to please, so let’s get right to it.

  • The Early Days
  • The Complexities
  • The Writer

 

The Early Days

In order to appreciate what kind of miracle it is that Michael and I are friends at all, I have to dial back the time machine to the early ’90s.  I’m also going to have to talk about where I was in my life, some of the things that were going on that affected me, and how Michael fit in.

My first journey to Sacramento was the summer of ’91.  I stayed with my Mom in her apartment in Citrus Heights near Birdcage, and I only planned to be there for that one summer.  By the Fall, I knew I’d be moving back to S. Oregon and going to college in Ashland.  My girlfriend at the time, Christine, lived in Medford.  I hated being away from her, but I tried to make the most of my time away from what I considered my “real home.” While in Sacramento, I looked for some people to game with.

I went to the gaming store at Birdcage and put my name up on the bullet board.  I think what I wrote was something along the lines of, “Experienced gamer, interested in most systems.  No D&D.” That last part caught the attention of David Mullin.  When he read that little note, he imagined that I must be a gamer of exquisite tastes and disposition, much like himself.  Thus he invited me to join him in a game he was running in Rancho Cordova.  I accepted his invitation and soon after, we became good friends.  When the summer ended and I was getting ready to head back to Oregon, David said, “Don’t worry.  You’ll be back.”

How prescient of him.

After a somewhat abysmal year of college, after the money ran out and the car-less commute between Medford and Ashland became too big a pain in the ass, I moved back in with my Mom.  I hated it.  My Mom and I didn’t get along that well.  I hated being separated from Christine again, and if I wanted to get around the suburban sprawl, I had to walk.  But I still had gaming with my friend David, which helped me get through the loneliness.

This is 1992 we’re talking about, before the internet was really a thing.  David introduced me to a gaming discussion group called Techno-Gnomes.  The group consisted of 20 to 30 regular members.  I’m not sure how most of them found the group in the first place.  Some might have found it through Usenet or BBS’s.  Maybe it was simple word of mouth or through the gaming stores.  My avenue into this illustrious group, which met at the Roundtable Pizza in Roseville once a month, was through David, who was kind enough to pick me up and drive me there those Saturday evenings.

And that’s where I first met Michael.  That’s also where I met Richard and Jason, a couple of other wonderful folks that will feature in this story in just a moment.

At the end of Techno-Gnomes meetings, we’d break off and head to someone’s house and engage in a huge, usually terrible one-shot game.  Michael ran a couple of these.  And as much as I love Michael today and would hate to say bad things about him, his games back then were horrible.  Not all of them, but the one-shots were particularly bad because he was a cruel, adversarial GM, and even back then, I wasn’t into that kind of conflict.

Adversarial is a good adjective to describe our early relationship.  We were opposites.  I was a bit high strung, wound up tight in jeans and a T-shirt most days.  He was relaxed, a frequenter of Ren Faires and dressed in garb all the time.  I was a conservative Christian boy, a virgin waiting to marry my long distance girlfriend.  He… like I said, he was the opposite of me.  He was a flamboyant charmer with confidence oozing from his pours, and he had no problem meeting women interested in the same things he was looking for.

I didn’t know at the time that we were both writers.  He didn’t talk about any writing hobby with me back then.  I remember showing him one of my short stories.  I don’t remember if he was particularly impressed or not.  I don’t think we exchanged much in the way of compliments to each other back then.

He was present the night Christine and I broke up.  Jason had an apartment in the same complex as my Mom, and Michael, Richard, and I were at Jason’s house playing Car Wars.  I had just gotten off the phone with Christine, not really able to move or grasp what happened.  The game kept going in the other room.  Jason’s cat sat on my chest, keeping me company until I had the strength to get up and rejoin the game.  I don’t remember much else that night, other than I blew everyone’s mind when I rolled a 1 on a 6 sided die four times in a row.  That was a pretty rough night.

I remember another night about a month later at that same apartment complex.  My departure time for the Air Force was rapidly approaching.  Michael Gallowglas, someone I’d gamed with several times but still felt guarded around, asked me to step out into the night so we could talk away from the others.

“Dude, I think you’re making a mistake,” he said.

After everything I’d gone through that Spring, Michael was the only one of my friends that took the time to take me aside and try to talk some sense into me.  He tried to warn me off of going into the Air Force.  He wasn’t trying to make me feel bad about it.  He wasn’t trying change my mind for his own selfish reasons.  He thought I’d be damaged or changed by this decision I was making, and he was looking out for me.

Even though I disagreed with him, it touched me that he was looking out for me.  He didn’t know, couldn’t know, what I was capable of.  The kind of friendship we had at that time didn’t give him any insight into the wells of untapped strength I possessed.  But he still tried to look out for me, and I still remember it 25 years later.

 

The Complexities

I think that’s as nice a way as I can put it.  It hasn’t always been easy to be Michael’s friend.

Let’s carve out some facts.  Michael taught dance for a while until a car accident messed up his back.  He made himself a name and a career telling stories at Ren Faires, a long chapter of his life that’s only recently come to a close.  He has a son that’s a Marine, a son in High School, and a precocious daughter that’s about 5 or 6 that has him wrapped around her little finger.  He’s bearing the weight of some trauma from early childhood, the details of which I’m not completely familiar.  This trauma has led to PTSD, borderline personality issues, depression, suicidal thoughts, and difficulties with his marriage.  All of his relationships, including his friendship with me, have experienced severe rough patches.  Some of those rough patches have been so severe that reconciliation became impossible.  He loves whiskey, especially Scotch, but because he’s working on getting his life together, getting his career off the ground, and most importantly, getting his mental health in order, he doesn’t drink nearly as much as he used to.

Those are facts.  Now I’m going to give you some opinions based on those facts.

He has a deep appreciation and respect for the truth.  I’m starting with this because some of what I’m about to say about him might seem unkind.  But since I’m holding to the truth, and since I’m approaching these subjects with respect, I know that he’ll forgive me for some of my less flattering statements.

Harlan Ellison was his hero for the longest time, and Michael styled himself after the man in many ways.  That means that like Harlan, Michael could sometimes be a complete asshole.  He’d pummel someone with the truth, shaping his words like a blunt instrument and driving them home with strength and eloquence.  He was an unrepentant, self-describing asshole with a chip on his shoulder and a need to prove something.

That’s who he was.  He’s changed over the last decade or so.  He’s grown a bit more wise, a bit more caring, and he makes an honest effort to be a better man.

He still prefers the truth, but he isn’t trying to hurt people with it as much as he used to.  He’s taken on the role of a teacher and a mentor, and that’s changed him at a profound level.

I’m proud of him for who he’s become.  He’s more generous than he used to be.  He doesn’t look at things through the selfish lens of youth anymore.

I can honestly say he’s a good man.  I’m not sure I could have said that 15, 20, or 25 years ago.  I’m interested to see how he continues to grow.

 

The Writer

I read First Chosen during Worldcon in Reno.  I bought it through the Kindle app on my phone and read it between panels.  It had some interesting ideas, but honestly, I saw too much of Michael in all of the characters.  I also didn’t like some of the choices he made with changing tense and perspective briefly at the start of one of the chapters.  It felt artificial, like he was trying to do something clever that didn’t really serve the story.

I remember trying to talk to him about some of those choices he made, but he didn’t really give me much of an opening.  He didn’t want to hear it, and I didn’t press him on it.  I also didn’t go and buy the other stories in the series.  Not at that time.

Renovention was August, 2011.  In the grand scheme of things, that’s not really that long ago.

And yet, for Michael, that could have been a lifetime ago.  He’s grown as a writer.  I listened to Jaludin’s Road in 2015, and found that story to be much more accessible than First Chosen.

I’ve read other work by him, and his growth as a writer is clear.  He’s constantly looking for ways to improve and his craft is getting better and better.

This is the year 2018 and he can talk with eloquence, passion, and logic about the qualities and pitfalls of Pulitzer prize winning stories.  He’s constantly reading craft books by people like James Wood and Donald Maass.  He studies.  He questions.  He experiments.  And he passes on what he’s learned.

I’ve had to learn a little bit about lit theory in order to hold up my end of some of our conversations on Wednesday nights.  I think his true passion for writing really caught fire after he’d already put out a couple of books.  I think his best work isn’t out there yet, and I can’t wait to see it when it arrives.

He’s started an online community If you’re interested in growing as a writer, you should check it out.  Some very talented and passionate people have already joined, and Michael is looking to pass on what he’s learned through that community.

 

Why Am I Writing This?

The short answer is: When I asked him and Melissa for topic suggestions this month, he threw out “M. Todd Gallowglas is Awesome” as a joke.

The longer answer is that he’s my friend and I think he deserves this kind of attention.  I want to point the spotlight on him for a moment and talk about how much he’s grown.

He and I have both come a long way, in every way.  We’re different people than we used to be, we’re better writers than we’ve ever been, and I think we’re both better people in general.

In 2007, during my birthday party, he and I got into an argument that ended with me yelling, “Get the fuck out of my house!” It took us a couple of years to reconcile.

Now I’m featuring him on my blog.  And he deserves it.

Thanks for being my friend, Michael.  I’m proud of you.

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!