20 August 2014

Talent is Worthless if You Lack Motivation

I’ve spent much of my life jeal­ous of those around me who were nat­u­rally tal­ented at things. I’ve always wished I had some­thing resem­bling tal­ent in visual arts; I have never been able to draw, and it’s a tal­ent I greatly admire. And while I’ve had some minor suc­cess as a writer (in that I’ve pub­lished a few sto­ries), I don’t believe it comes from nat­ural tal­ent but rather per­se­ver­ance and repeated trial and error.

I always assumed that suc­cess in cre­ative endeav­ors would come more eas­ily if I had this thing called tal­ent. Only as I grow older and I have met more tal­ented peo­ple, I real­ize it’s not as big a part of the equa­tion as I once thought. The most impor­tant thing by far is motivation.

The way I see it, there are three fac­tors in cre­ative pur­suit; you’ve got what­ever skill you bring to the table, you’ve got your aspi­ra­tional goals, and you’ve got your moti­va­tion. Talent might advance you some on the skill track, and goals and dreams are easy; every­body has them.

Skills can be learned. Talent’s a head start, but it’s not every­thing. And basi­cally, it’s worth­less if you lack the drive and moti­va­tion to achieve that goal.

I see it a lot; peo­ple who have skill and goals, but they’re always mak­ing excuses for why they aren’t advanc­ing on them. Not enough time being the biggest one, but as Jay Lake always said, roughly para­phras­ing, if you have time to watch TV, you have time to make something.

It boils down most of the time to the fact that you’re just not moti­vated enough on the pur­suit of your goal. Which isn’t to say that real bar­ri­ers to suc­cess don’t exist; of course they do. But with­out drive, or ambi­tion, or some moti­vat­ing need, you’re going to find a rea­son not to cre­ate. I don’t care how tal­ented you are if you can’t be arsed to work.

Let’s face it; not mak­ing things is a lot eas­ier than mak­ing things. Get your ass moti­vated and work. Or don’t; the world doesn’t really care one way or another. It’s gotta come from you, in the end, or what’s the point?


01 July 2014

Couple Writing Items of Note

My story “For Entertainment Purposes Only” in the Kickstarter antho HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! is now avail­able for sale. It’s about address­ing hte most press­ing issue of our day: spoilers.

Also, my story “Wet Fur” is out in the August issue of Asimov’s. Really proud of that one. You can pick up a copy of Asimov’s online or even at your local news­stand. Do peo­ple even have news­stands any­more? I haven’t seen one in a long time. Anyway, it’s good, you should read it.

And now, back to baby stuff!

25 June 2014

Matthew Manley Tolbert

Matthew Manley Tolbert was born at 12:08 PM on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. He weighed 4 pounds 12 ounces and mea­sured 18 inches long. Both mother and baby are going fine.

Dad is still gobsmacked.


15 June 2014

The Father Mask

When you’re in your 20s, and even your 30s to some degree, you do a lot of try­ing on of iden­ti­ties like masks.

Am I a writer?” You put the mask on. See how it fits. Look at your­self in the mir­ror. Admire the shape.

Am I a designer?” You change the mask. Examine it closely. Does it bite the sides of your face? Is the strap too tight?

Am I a pho­tog­ra­pher?” Another mask. Another role.

I have tried on many masks in my life. Some I keep in draw­ers and take out and wear from time to time. Some are worn, molded to my real face, because I wear them so often that they’re prac­ti­cally a part of me now.

The unde­ni­able real­ity of all of these other masks is that they can be taken off and dis­carded if you no longer like them. Masks are meant to be worn for a while.

But on this father’s day, weeks away from join­ing the club myself, I have real­ized that the father mask (and the mother mask) is not a mask you can take off again once you’ve tried it on.

It doesn’t mat­ter if it fits.

It doesn’t mat­ter if you don’t like the way it looks.

You put this mask on under your skin. It will always be there now.

And it’s the per­ma­nence of it. The scale of the change, and the inabil­ity to reverse it that makes this the most fright­en­ing, excit­ing mask of all.

I won­der what the father mask looks like, in my imag­i­na­tion. Some of the other masks I have worn have been made of feath­ers and paste gems; gaudy, showy, noth­ing of substance.

I think the father­hood mask is made of bone and sinew. It’s heavy, but the truth is, the bone and sinew it’s made of? Its our own.


I wrote about my own fathers ear­lier today on Facebook. You can read that here even if we’re not friends; I’ve made it public.

22 April 2014

There are no easy scores in Dungeonspace

There is no crea­ture on this Earth more giddy than a writer with a new toy.

My new toy is a set­ting that I think com­bines a healthy por­tion of the things I love into one great mess of a thing. It’s a new set­ting for a series of YA sto­ries that I’m fran­ti­cally work­ing on between spo­radic chunks of free­lance web design (if you’re read­ing this and need a web­site, email me, because I don’t have enough work right now). Pretty much every free moment right now is con­sumed with think­ing out the impli­ca­tions of my idea, build­ing up my soci­ety, my char­ac­ter ideas, my plot ideas (and pan­ick­ing about impend­ing father­hood). I could get a ten book series from this idea, eas­ily. I could work on this sin­gle set­ting indef­i­nitely. Or at least until it really bores me, but right now I don’t see that hap­pen­ing any time soon. It’s a daunt­ing prospect though.

I’ve got a lot of prac­tice think­ing in terms of sin­gle story worlds. Worlds that lend to char­ac­ters that solve them­selves neatly like lit­tle puz­zle boxes in a few thou­sand words. For the longest time, the idea of writ­ing a series didn’t occur to me. But I started to notice a trend in my fan mail (yes, shut up, I get fan mail some­times). I’d say about 75% of my fan let­ters were ask­ing me to write more in a par­tic­u­lar setting/​world. Very few read­ers seemed to be sat­is­fied with just the one story in the world.

So I’ve been try­ing to think in terms of series now. But there aren’t a lot of resources out there that I’ve come across that describe how to develop such things. And the mar­ketabil­ity of it seems much riskier. Devote a lot of energy into a series and nobody wants part of it, you’re kind of out a lot of time.

My tech­nique has to be dif­fer­ent. I need sto­ries that run longer arcs.. I need a world that isn’t irrev­o­ca­bly changed right off. I need a world that can breathe for a while, that I can change over a long period of time. So learn­ing how to do that is going to be my new expe­ri­ence I think. It’s not look­ing very easy so far.

But like the inhab­i­tants of my new world say, “there are no easy scores in Dungeonspace.” There are also no easy scores in the writ­ing world.

16 April 2014

WP Alchemy and wp_​editor fields in 3.9

If you’re read­ing this post, then you prob­a­bly have issues with your rich text edi­tor cus­tom fields in WordPress 3.9+. It turns out this is for a pretty sim­ple rea­son, described in this ticket here.

In essence, wp_​editor doesn’t work right if you have brack­ets in the ID. The ID can­not con­tain any­thing but lower case let­ters and num­bers. But the name of a WP Alchemy field usu­ally has brackets.

Turns out, you should use the ‘textarea_​name’ for your field name and set the ID on wp_​editor to some­thing dif­fer­ent. So an exam­ple might look like this:

$settings = array(
'textarea_name'=> $mb->get_the_name(),
$val = htmlspecialchars_decode($mb->get_the_value());
$id = $mb->get_the_name();
wp_editor($val, 'testeditor' , $settings );

I hope this entry helps some­one else fig­ure out the prob­lem. Now I just need to update all my exist­ing uses.

10 April 2014

Thoughts On Writing (This) Graphic Novel(s)

I can’t tell you much about the expe­ri­ence of writ­ing a graphic novel in gen­eral. I can only tell you specif­i­cally about my expe­ri­ence for this par­tic­u­lar graphic novel I’ve been writ­ing for the past six months. All told, NIGHTFELL will come in at about 120 pages as I wrap it up. I’m in the final stages, with only a dozen or so pages of panel descrip­tions to write before begin­ning a pol­ish pass.

I learned that hav­ing an out­line to work from for a long form project is super, super impor­tant. I wrote two out­lines for this project; one for the first half, and one for the sec­ond. The first was much more detailed, and the sec­ond was a bit limp, and hand-​​wavy here and there. Guess which part of the script was eas­ier to write?

First, an out­line is great because when your con­fi­dence in your­self wanes, you can lean on the out­line. “The out­line says this must hap­pen, and that writer was bet­ter than I am today right now.” If you can trust your orig­i­nal ideas, then you can lean on them when you’re not par­tic­u­larly inspired. Conversely, when inspi­ra­tion strikes and you think of a bet­ter way to han­dle some­thing, you do it the bet­ter way. Provided it doesn’t, you know, destroy every­thing you’ve writ­ten already because:

In my case, the artist is draw­ing pages as I write. This severely lim­its my abil­ity to go back and re-​​write pages of script. On most any project, I can do a com­plete edit­ing pass after fin­ish­ing some­thing to strengthen the nar­ra­tive — add allu­sions and call­backs and what-​​not. Luckily, with an out­line, I know what I need to fore­shadow bet­ter than if I was just writ­ing it on the fly. Still, I found myself putting in fore­shad­ow­ing “hooks” even when I wasn’t sure what was cast­ing my shadow at the end of the book. These hooks were super use­ful, but made wrap­ping things up harder.

Luckily, because adding the let­ter­ing to the comic comes even later, I can still tweak dia­logue. So most of the words you will actu­ally read, those I can edit a lot. And boy do I intend to revisit every sin­gle line of dia­logue when I fin­ish the main story pass on the script.

Working like this has been an adven­ture, full of weird con­straints that force me to think dif­fer­ently. I have hopes that the prod­uct will be some­thing worth read­ing. Thankfully, that result is not based just on me, but on the work of my fine, fine artists who will be draw­ing and col­or­ing the book.

We should start shar­ing more infor­ma­tion and art from NIGHTFELL this sum­mer. What I can tell you right now is that NIGHTFELL is a dusty world full of old gods and cults, bar­bar­ian raiders, strange pow­ers; a world where the dead rise to pro­tect the liv­ing dur­ing the ten years of dark­ness known as Nightfell, a time when mon­sters boil up from below the sur­face to destroy civ­i­liza­tion. The story focuses on a brother and sis­ter who find them­selves as the last believ­ers in Nightfell, the last of a line of priests pro­tect­ing their city from destruc­tion as the Long Day winds down.

I’ve loved writ­ing it, but now that I’m get­ting close to fin­ish­ing, I’m look­ing for­ward to get­ting back to writ­ing some short sto­ries, and then, even­tu­ally, really get­ting into the Stranger Creek novel I’ve been noodling on all year.

13 March 2014

On Kansas State Income Taxes

Our tax bill has come back this year. We’re pay­ing a shock­ing amount-​​by-​​dollar-​​figure in fed­eral income taxes (but no so shock­ing as a per­cent­age of income), but I was sur­prised to learn that we’re receiv­ing a refund from the state. My tax per­son in Wyoming com­mented on this seem­ing odd to her.

So I guess I’m a direct ben­e­fi­ciary of Brownback’s plan to make busi­ness own­ers in Kansas happy. Only I’m not. I know; most small busi­ness own­ers would be pleased to learn that they’re pay­ing very lit­tle in state income taxes. Not me, for very per­sonal reasons.

The Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled that the leg­is­la­ture is ille­gally under fund­ing our schools. My wife, with a mas­ters in edu­ca­tion, has thus far been unable to find a full time teach­ing job since being laid off from the one that brought us back to Kansas in the first place. She now works a barely above min­i­mum wage para job that pays barely more than her stu­dent loan bills each month. Certainly not a liv­able wage, if we weren’t mar­ried, mak­ing us DINKs (soon drop­ping the NK I guess!)

I would hap­pily pay a few hun­dred dol­lars a year if it meant my wife could do what she was meant to do; teach. Our school is falling behind due to this under-​​funding. I will hap­pily do my part to see that my son gets a great edu­ca­tion, and my wife gets a job. That’s a no brainer for me.

I want Kansas to be one of the best places to live. I know that this is unlikely to hap­pen. But it def­i­nitely won’t hap­pen when we don’t carry for­ward our com­mit­ment to edu­ca­tion that made good minds like myself pos­si­ble. I have my Kansas edu­ca­tion to par­tially thank for my suc­cess as an adult. I want future gen­er­a­tions to have the same advan­tage I did.

06 March 2014

When Blogging is Failing

I’m grow­ing increas­ingly dis­con­tent with my uti­liza­tion of this blog as a crutch in my efforts to write every day. Since January 1, I have only missed a sin­gle day, the day I checked myself into the urgent care for some ongo­ing health issues. My streak was 61 days at that point.

Only… I’m not really doing what I set out to do, which is write fic­tion a lit­tle every day. Early on, I added words each day to a story, or at least wrote out­lines for sto­ries in my ideas file. Lately, all I’ve used my daily words for is blogging.

Some blog posts, like yesterday’s, feel like real labor wor­thy of the effort, but if I am hon­est with myself, sev­eral of my recent blog entries read like tread­ing water. The whole point of this exer­cise has been to build a sort of mus­cle mem­ory for the act of writ­ing, to remind myself of its impor­tance in my daily life.

Moving for­ward, I’m going to limit myself to no more than three blog posts per week. The other four days need to be on new or exist­ing fic­tion projects.

That’s the nice thing about mak­ing rules for your­self; you can change them when they’re no longer suit­ing your pur­poses. The rules I set up for myself are intended to mod­ify my behav­ior in cer­tain ways, and my behav­ior, while mod­i­fied, wasn’t mod­i­fied enough. Sometimes you adjust course; it’s no big deal.

I do feel a lit­tle guilty about it, call­ing myself out for cheat­ing at my own game. Who does that?

Oh, right. Adults do that. Somewhat sadly, I find myself grow­ing up a lit­tle more each day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play Pokemon until the cold med­i­cine kicks in.

05 March 2014

More Doses of Future Fatherhood Reality

The other night, right as I was going to sleep, I had a vivid wak­ing dream of car­ry­ing my son. He was a lit­tle older than a tod­dler, and he was sleep­ing, and I was car­ry­ing him inside the house from the car. I think this must have been based on mem­o­ries of being car­ried by my Dad as a kid. It seemed remark­ably real, so real I woke up and just sat in the dark­ness as the enor­mity of it set­tled on me like a heavy quilt. The inten­sity of it makes me think I’m under­go­ing some sub­tle chem­i­cal changes of my own.

Sarah’s start­ing to show quite a bit, as today she is at twenty weeks. We’ve been receiv­ing oodles of mater­nity clothes from friends and fam­ily, which is a mas­sive boon and a relief. One thing I never real­ized was how much every­one around you starts to pitch in to get you ready for par­ent­ing. It makes me a lit­tle teary-​​eyed some­times, the ran­dom acts of kind­ness we keep being the recip­i­ents of, and I look for­ward to repay­ing the kind­ness to oth­ers down the road. I guess it’s such a shared expe­ri­ence that it really brings peo­ple together from all walks of life.

I’ve always kind of resented the weird idol­iz­ing we do of chil­dren, of the idea of rais­ing them, but they really do bring us together in ways that shared polit­i­cal or reli­gious beliefs can’t. For years, I thought I wouldn’t be expe­ri­enc­ing this, and so far I don’t regret us tak­ing the plunge into par­ent­ing. I’m sure there will be plenty of time for that dur­ing sleep­less nights.

The real­ity of the labor process kind of hit me the other day when we met with some doulas here in town. Listening to them talk about how long labor is, how much work goes into it, and so on, was a real eye opener. I made a joke about how I still thought this whole process would involve storks in some man­ner, but truth­fully, the real­ity of the pain and dis­tress my wife’s going to be in hadn’t hit me until they started talk­ing about how they work with women in labor in shifts. That means she’s going to spend more than eight hours labor­ing? Academically, I under­stood that, but when we start talk­ing about my wife, my under­stand­ing deep­ens, as does my horror.

I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’m sure the vet­eran par­ents read­ing this right now are shak­ing their heads and grin­ning. They have their bat­tle scars and me, I’m just one of those lads on a boat writ­ing a let­ter back home about the beach land­ing he hears they’ll be mak­ing in the morn­ing, but he’s sure he’ll be home by Christmas, those Nazis are all washed up. Although I peg my odds of short-​​term sur­vival at slightly higher than that…