Apr 27, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are?

I caught myself mentioning in a work meeting the other day that I "made my living writing fiction", and I mentally hit the pause button and told myself, no you don't, you fool. You only wish you made your living that way.

But that brief internal dialogue stuck with me. I'll make no secret about the fact that although my books do actually sell, I do have a "day job" that pays the larger part of my bills. And that doesn't make me unique - most authors - even bestselling ones - do have other jobs that allow them the option of spending their free time with their literary pursuits. But is that my living?

I still consider the first time I held a printed copy of one of my books in my hands as one of the great and individually triumphant moments of my life - up there (but not above) my wedding day, the birth of our daughter, my first real kiss, et cetera. Just above listening to my CD for the first time, or that time I was on stage with Douglas Spotted Eagle. Or being with my belly dance troupe "Parthenon" at the 1999 Kismet Bellydance festival. It's just a certain kind of creative triumph that sets itself apart from other moments in my life, and one that has only been replicated with each successive release of my other books.

It's become, for me, a strangely altered sense of success and joy. Like the proverbial game of "Poohsticks" (a reference that will only make sense if you're a fan of Milne or Hoff), it's not about who wins so much as the playing which makes it a joyful game. It's an unusual manner of self-consideration, reminiscent of a piece I recall from Robert Fulghum, speaking of what he did for a living. He summed it up by saying he breathed, slept, ate and wrote, among the many sundry activities which comprised his existence. I first read that some time back, and it kind of stuck with me like the summit of the mountain calls to the climber. "Here I am," the philosophy waved to me, "come on up and claim me for your own!"

It takes me back even further, to my days of reinvention back in high school. Did anyone else think of that as a specifically elective period of time, wherein we deliberately craft ourselves into the people we want to be. Granted, we're teenagers, so our perspective is often quite limited, but it can - if we really think about it - help us learn the valuable skills of self-guidance and self-determination. Or, in the words of that great classic Oingo Boingo song, who do you want to be today?

But I have to be honest. I have days where I'm more successful at that than others. I have a few tracks off my CD on my iPod and they pop up from time to time, and it often takes me several moments before I realize it's me. I glance at my books on their section of the bookshelf and smile at the thoughts of the many little miracles that happened to bring them to print. But at the same time, it doesn't always FEEL like a big deal. If I check the map, sure; the 'You Are Here" button has changed places, and when I really consider the last few years then I have no choice but to accept that things are in fact in a different sphere than they were back then. I'm a different person, too, with a whole assortment of new recognitions of experience waiting to be sorted out and offered up as material offerings to the gods of fiction (and when I say "gods of fiction", I'm talking about the metaphorical ones and not people like Neil Gaiman, Tom Clancy or the rest of you lot who really aren't actually reading this blog, even though I wrote this sentence as if you did).

I keep reading so many articles on line about "what it takes to be an author" or so forth - - lots of fantastic advice and suggestions for what it takes to be successful. But along with all of that, I can't help but think that the best advice I ever heard on how to be a writer was.... "Write."

I know, I know. That sounds oversimplified and trite. But doesn't every journey start with the first step? Doesn't being begin with believing?

So, I'll ask you: who do you think you are?

Apr 19, 2011

Author, Edit Thyself!

An old roommate of mine once engaged me in a conversation wherein he was very serious about wanting to go back to high school and live it again. Like, not in just a subjective "what if" scenario, but he actually literally, seriously, wanted a do-over. I initially entertained the notion; in a purely philosophical examination, how we review our own history is a fascinating conceptual revelation as to how we see ourselves and look at the world in the present.

It's like that old adage, that history is written by the victors. Well, I believe that can be applied to ourselves and our "remembered" pasts. Kind of a curiosity, isn't it? What does how we remember our own past say about who we are?

In the case of my roommate, he, as a then-twenty-something, looked back on his high school life as a bit of a failure, riddled with missed opportunities and "almost was" moments. Granted, I thought he took the concept a bit far in that he wanted to not so much turn back time as just go back to high school as a twenty-something and go a couple of years under the guise of being a high school-age student. The legal ramifications of potentially dating classmates far below the age of consent aside, I eventually saw a few layers of flawed logic to his arguments, dismissing the entire concept under the reality of living in the now and not allowing the past to govern the future, etc.

Because, the truth is that you can't go back and change the choices you made, once upon a time, right?

Well, that's where I love editing.

Writing books - especially under the present technological opportunities afforded authors now - is so much more instantaneous and liberating than it once was; or, I suppose, for some, still is.

When I was recording "Obsidian Bridges", I was hampered by the constraints of affordable studio time and just the premise of analog recording. When you're laying down tracks and don't have your own studio or unlimited time to spend there, it seems like there inevitably comes a point at which you must make a sort of Sophie's Choice of takes where, combined within a surgically inalterable sequence of notes, both statistically impossible good and bad notes exist. And you have to ask yourself, "do I erase that and try to nail it all again, or do I live with the one bad note?"

I got to that point on one song - "All Along", a track which appears on the original CD print, but not on the newer MP3 download album offered on Amazon (woo hoo! Blatant plug!) and decided I could live with that. Well, turns out, ten years later, I can't. I don't even like LISTENING to that track anymore, because I can hear the bad notes. *sigh*

With publishing, that has ceased to be a concern.

I got book 5 - "Into the Blink" - back from Quiana, my editor, last week, and, giving myself one day to take a deep breath, jumped in and reviewed/corrected over the next three days. Finished up the edit on Sunday, and sent it back for another (final?) review. Made a few additional changes, such as chapter sequences, and I'm going to have to revisit the opening paragraph, which still isn't quite where I want it.

And I'm also working on the cover, which is "close but no cigar" level, and I may just dump it up and run a proof to help with the review process (I seem to catch my typos and work choice issues better on paper, don't know why that is), but, pending changes....I mean, the book could be available for purchase in a couple weeks, outside guess. And, thanks to the online submission process, if I find any errors after that, I can simply make the corrections and upload the new document, and voila - done!

The traditional publishing model sees books being announced - cover art, etc - months in advance of actual sales. I understand that much of that has to do with the release schedules of other books, the constraints of distribution, etc.... but honestly, I like the fact that I can get my books out there as soon as I can get them written and edited. I like being able to go back and make corrections - - - like, for example, the choice to redesign my trilogy into a six-book series. The whole process took me less than a month to break out 2 books into 4, covers and all.

But to be honest, I love the stressless mindset that comes from the peaceful knowledge that I can make the books look however I feel they need to look. I don't have to feel like some arbitrary requirement is being placed upon them or upon me, or that I, due to some larger body's marketing expectations, am forced to put up a sub-standard product just in time to make the Christmas present shopping season.

The fact is, I'm writing books. I'm telling stories. The process, though somewhat structured, is still relatively organic, and I can't help but wonder if the loss of that organic quality is where a lot of authors find themselves struggling. Dunno.

The honest truth is that I'm probably not as meshed into that scene to really make a judgment on it. And, strangely enough, I'm kind of okay with that.

I'm out. More to do. Chat later.

Tuesday Open Mike Blog! "Lost and Found"

Today's question option:

What's the strangest and most random item you've ever found? As in, "Found", as in stumbled upon, tripped over, seen by the side of the roadside, Found?


What's the one physical object from your childhood which has gone missing from your life and you would most wish to find again? (and as I said, physical objects - your youthful optimism doesn't count.)

Apr 12, 2011

Tuesday Open Mike Blog!

Screening a new feature here on the Steampunk and Synthesizers page: the open mike blog day.

Although this blog is mostly dedicated to my journey as a writer and my hobby of being human (when I have time), I wanted to open it up to the five or six people who show up here from time to time to chime in. I do tend to go on and on, as you know.

But rather than just drop the mike in your lap, I'll even give you a choice of topics:

1) if you were already a superhero, what would you want your secret identity to do for a living?


2) if you could take a train to ANYWHERE, where would you go? (and let's not allow silly things like time or space be a problem. Let's assume that your train is magic and could go ANYWHERE.)

Okay, then. Hit me. Gimme what you got, baby!

The calm before the ... calm?

The Pacific Northwest gave us a rare gift this past weekend - and by gift, I mean that it was sunny for about 24 hours and forced us to put everything else we'd planned to do on hold long enough to shuffle around outside like cockroaches under the cover of shadow and get all those "have tos" out of the way. In our case, it was the idea of mowing our lawns so that we weren't "those people".

It was the first mow of the year, so naturally the lawn mower tried to roll back over and tell us to leave off, but after a couple near misses, the poor beast finally started up. But I was struck by a strange sensation of excited anticipation as I pulled the cord - "oooh, is it starting? Maybe this time? What about this one?" It was a silly sort of holding of one's breath for something that really shouldn't be all that exciting, but maybe due to being in writer mode, I was just open to analogies.

Nevertheless, the engine engaged, sputtered to life, spat out the most incredibly funky puff of smoke, and then ran like a champion. The grass didn't stand a chance.

How this is seeping into my consciousness now is the idea of feeling like I'm doing that exact same thing with publishing. I've got the four Chronicles of Aesirium books on line now, I've got #5 with my editors, and I'm chomping at the bit to begin working on book 6. I'm doing a few side projects with Jen, also, and have been doing as much research as I can manage into my next series so that I can as much as possible hit the ground running as the Aesirium books wrap up. I've got that whole series, plus a few other standalone books knocking on my cerebellum, so it's really now turning into a situation of trying to focus on whichever of the voices in my head scream at me the loudest. So this is what crazy feels like, hmm?

My good friends Heather, Garth and Quiana and I are laying out the groundwork for our tiny coalition of writers, including an anthology (or two), and it turns out that we'll be having a booth at next year's Emerald City ComiCon, so that's one more big thing to start prepping for.

Jen has been an amazing help to me the past few months. I can't say the process of fully efforting a shift into a writing career has been overwhelming, but it's definitely been whelming. It's exciting, like putting in a day at a theme park - you just know in your soul that you're unlikely to hit every ride before they close the park, but, by God, you're going to give it the best shot. But in addition to her advice and reassurance, it's just been wonderful to become friends with someone who's actually successful in this line of work. She doesn't feed me false expectations of the challenges, but she lays out the whole process of it, and has been fantastic and helping me learn a lot of the lessons she's found out the hard way. Simply an awesome person, and I'm very proud to have come to know her. Everyone should have a friend like that, seriously. But you'll have to go find your own "Jen", so don't get any ideas.

Seriously, though, it finally sunk in yesterday that things are proceeding well. I think I needed a moment to look back and see how far things have gone in only a couple of years. And if things have gone so well so far, what will happen next? Yes, I know - - the future is vast and filled with alternatives - I accept that things will only succeed insomuch as I am diligent and remain positive. But I am Zen with a Purpose, baby. I am Tao with a Motor. Life is good, the towels are oh-so fluffy, and the sky smells like Root Beer. Not an altogether bad place to be, and the further things go into publishing, the more and more wonderful people I've been meeting.

For example, those of you who come here from my comments on Twitter? Please say hey, would you? I'm curious to see how much actual traffic I get to this blog from Twitter.  Or, if you came here from Facebook, please let me know. Feel free to pimp your own site on your comment as you like, I'm all about cross-marketing.

And... let's see, what media bits have crept beneath my eyelids? Duran Duran has a new album (quite wonderful), trying to finish a season of any show at all (not even halfway through with season 1 of Fringe, but keeping current on Castle), haven't seen anything in the theater since... god, I can't even remember. Maybe Tron? But very excited for Doctor Who this month, and the Green Lantern movie this summer. (and speaking of GL, why hasn't "Ring Capacity" been put onto that movie's soundtrack? Seriously, people, that's just gotta happen.) Beyond that, the most consistent schedule of media I've maintained has been listening to Kevin Smith podcasts - er, sorry, Smodcasts.

But really, Doctor Who. I can't wait to see the Neil Gaiman episode or hear the new Murray Gold soundtrack. Ah, such wondrous delights! Thank the universe for putting such talented souls upon this world, in whose works I so shamelessly soak my creative noggin.

And thank you, too, for dropping by. You're quite awesome. Have a day, man!