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The Dungeon Tile Project

I haven’t been writing much, lately, although I am deep in revisions on a number of stories from earlier in the year that you should see coming out soon. Instead, I’ve been working on 3D printing, casting, and painting a bunch of dungeon tiles for playing fantasy role-playing games. It’s been very good for me to spend less of my “leisure time” at a computer where I can encounter political news. So, below are a few photos rounding up what we’ve made so far. There are over 300 individual tiles, plus countless doors and other items/props. Only a few of these items have been things that I’ve designed myself — the big demon statue being one of them. Most of the models are items I’ve purchased from various companies — especially Hero’s Hoard. This project has had enormous help from my business partner Elwood Schaad and painter/artist Gabe Dorsey.

I opted to go with the partial wall style tile over the full-wall style you see from companies like Dwarven Forge because in my experience, they’re more playable. Walls much higher than this get in the way of players maneuvering their figures. I wanted something that looks good, and plays well. On Monday, we’ll be playing our first official game on the tiles. I’m really looking forward to seeing how people react to them.

This is all part of a side venture I’m working on with a partner called the Level Up Guild. LUG is a company that specializes in exactly what the name says – we aim to help people “level up” their gaming experiences. Stay tuned for more information about what that means in more specific terms…

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Return Of the Nebula Weekend Conference: Part Three, The Pittsburghening

For the past three years, I’ve been attending the Nebula Awards Conference in a semi-official capacity as SFWA webmaster. Last year, I even gave a talk on author website best practices. This year, I learned I was going a little to late to make it onto programming, but I still have a little official meetings business to attend to, and I had some thoughts that I wanted to note for myself while the memories are still fresh.

It was disconcerting to realize that I’m no longer one of the youngest people in the room at a science fiction-related gathering. A lot’s been said about the graying of fandom, and it’s something I’ve picked up on since my first convention in 2002. This may be true of fandom, but writers run the full gamut of ages. I met writers as young as 25, and as old as… well. I’ll omit the specifics. The future of the writing of science fiction appears to be handing down to younger generations just fine. I still wonder in my darker moments if there will be anyone left reading it who doesn’t also write it.

Each year that I’ve attended, the conference itself has been better and better executed. The team of Steven Silver, Terra LeMay, and Kate Baker really bust their asses to make this a premiere event of the year. Sean Wallace deserves special mention for his work to organize the book room where many attendees could sell their books on commission. Prior to discovering the Nebulas conference, my convention of choice was WorldCon, but thanks to this amazing events team, I’m content to mostly attend the Nebulas each year and not much else. It really is one of the best conventions for my interests and needs. I don’t get to see all my awesome friends there, but I do see many of them. Please, come hang out in 2018. I’m pretty sure I’ll be there.

While I enjoy the weekend’s general activities and hangouts, I don’t usually to attend the actual ceremony. I skip formal events with fancy attire. I’m not comfortable around the well-dressed, especially given my slovenly appearance most of the time. Also, by the end of the conference, my introvert energy reserves run dangerously low. Instead, as is my tradition, I sat in my hotel room and listened to the stream while tweeting with folks. It’s a good way for me to not go home completely drained by all the amazing conversations. In my younger days, I’d run into the red badly and become depressed during the convention, but I know how to watch myself for it now. When I start to feel like everyone hates me and I’m a big dumb nobody, then I retreat to my room. I may well be a big dumb nobody, but I’d rather not feel like one.

Every year, I meet amazing new people that leave me in awe of our community. My memory for names is terrible, to suffice to say, if we talked for more than thirty seconds, you impressed me with your wit and charm. I will say that I felt a bit of awe to spend the time I did, brief as it was, with Grandmaster Jane Yolen. And that was only one of a dozen or more conversations in which I learned something new or felt I shared some of my limited expertise or experience with others (I won’t bore you with poorly recounted details). Not being the youngest person in the room means I seem to have some opinions I like to share with those who are just starting out. I tell a lot of people that if they want to write more short fiction, they should read more short fiction.

There’s so much energy and joy at this thing, regardless, I mostly come home feeling pleasant and buzzed. I lately feel a bit jaded about my prospects as a writer, but meeting with fellow writers who still have the can-do spirit inspires me to work harder in the future. Sometimes, the best thing that you take away from a conference or con is the general feeling of good will towards your peers.

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On Art, Writing, and Storybundles

I have often enjoyed experimenting with small scale magazine ideas. Some of you may remember the Fortean Bureau, my first foray.

When Nick Mamatas came to me with an idea to do a noir crime magazine called the Big Click, I was immediately on board.  We ran for a solid few years and published some amazingly talented authors, but ultimately, the spark died as it sometimes does. Revenue was never there, and we poured a lot of our own time and money into it.  The quality was great, but it just didn’t find a sustaining audience in its life. Perhaps in the afterlife, it will? You can now read nearly everything we published in a single collected volume available as part of the Noir Storybundle that Nick has curated.  There are a ton of great writers in the bundle, multiplied again by our collection.  It’s an awful lot of gritty fun for fifteen bucks.  You can find it here!  I’m very proud of the work we accomplished there, and I think this is a good place to leave things.

With this Bundle wrapping up the Big Click, I’m moving away from publishing experiments for the foreseeable future.  When I first became interested in electronic magazine publishing, the field was relatively wide open, but today, there seems to be a surplus of online magazines. As a reader, I can’t read a small percentage of the fiction that’s published in any given month, stuff that I’m genuinely interested in.  If I’d succeeded in finding a niche that connected with audiences early on and had a project become self-sustaining financially, that would have been another story.  The market’s matured, and new entrants are going to find it difficult to compete for attention and dollars.  The hard truth that few want to admit is that in fiction publishing, supply far outstrips demand. The thing that keeps many of these smaller magazines afloat is passion and outside money, and that was certainly the case for me and my projects. Alas, my passion for publishing is waning across the board.

Lately, I feel hesitant to even write at all, and haven’t written a word since I completed a novella in March. I feel that with each story I may just be contributing to an ever-growing surplus of content that nobody has time to read.  To pass my time usually spent writing, I’ve taken up drawing and digital sculpture as hobbies (the sculpture part, being a return to something I did in college).  I’m spending my time trying to learn the basics, watching tutorials, and doing exercises. I’ve never been a very good artist, and only a competent designer, but I hope with time I can create things that satisfy me as much as writing a story.  The visual arts have always taunted me. I have even less natural talent there than I ever did as a writer (and that’s really saying something).  I figure with raw determination, I can perhaps become competent before old age sets in.

It may well be that it’s not the pursuits that actually hold my attention, but instead the act of learning them.  I may be a learning addict.  With writing stabilizing at a level of quality just above mediocre, I feel ready to move on, at least for a while.  I doubt I’ll ever give it up entirely, but lately, it holds no spark.  The rest of the way toward writing “success” looks like an enormous, unpleasant grind with little improvement to be found.  But who knows about any of the above?  Maybe some fresh new success will rekindle my energy. A story sale, or a wildly successful Storybundle?  Maybe what I’m really seeking is some sense of a win, any kind of win, to make it all feel worthwhile again. I guess we’ll find out in time.

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My Dad’s Books

We recently bought some nearly floor to ceiling IKEA bookshelves which has almost doubled our bookshelf space. This has allowed me to finally process my Dad’s books out of storage and figure out which I will keep and which I’ll try to sell or donate. For those who don’t know, my Dad died of lung cancer at the age of 46 a little more than a decade ago. I inherited my love of science fiction from him.

Lots of memories in these books. We don’t have a childhood home to go back to these days, but looking at these books, I can remember exactly where they used to be on shelves in the two different places we lived before I went to college. I can remember which ones he recommended (Saberhagen, McCaffrey) and which ones he said I shouldn’t bother with. (So many Gor books, and Stranger in a Strange Land, which he thought I wouldn’t understand until I was older. He was right.).

Dad was a bit of a pack rat and never got rid of books. Many of his books (but not as many as I remembered, oddly) were scrounged and missing covers, so I think someone had passed him remaindered books cheap. We bought a lot of stuff at garage sales. In the 90s, he became a SF Book Club subscriber, and there are tons of Anne McCaffrey hard covers; a love for her work was something we had in common. There’s also a surprising amount of Andre Norton and Ursula K. LeGuin (one for every Perry Rhodan and E.E. Smith paperback). A surprising variety of stuff across all subgenres really, even D&D and Shadowrun tie-ins. I think I got him hooked on the Shadowrun stuff when I was in high school.

It’s weird; I can’t really say that my Dad had taste you could pin down. He was pretty damned omnivorous when it came to science fiction and fantasy. In the aughts, towards the end, he didn’t read SF/F anymore; he’d decided he was done with that stuff and had moved on to thrillers and mystery. I was sad that for the first time in my life post-college, I had time to read, but we could no longer recommend each other books because of his shifting tastes.  He read everything I wrote, though, and often provided me pretty good feedback on those early stories.  He lived to see my first couple of professional sales, although by that point, I don’t think he read them, so far gone he was.

Really, I think the only books I heard my Dad even slightly disparage were the Gor books, and even then, he thought they were pretty hilarious, just outside my age range at the time. He never outright forbid anything on his shelf from me, except maybe the book he was reading at the time. There were a few times where I tried to steal the latest book club books before he got to them, but never pulled it off.  I wish to this day I had his speed; I don’t know how he did it, but the man managed to read 5-6 books a week. He was also an avid library user for most of my childhood. There was no way we could afford to keep up with his habit, really.

At the bottom of one box, I found a near complete run of 1982 Asimov’s. I think those hit me the hardest. God damn, but I really wish he had lived to see me publish a story in there a few years back. I knew he was proud of me. In fact, the last words he ever said to me were to those effect. But sometimes you kind of feel like you haven’t earned that pride quite yet. Still working on living up to that, every single day.

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Dudes? Feminism is for you, too

First, a caveat. My language below may not be elegant or use the proper scholarly terminology because I’m not formally educated in these subjects, but I have some things to say and I hope I say them well enough to convey my message, which is a simple one. My message here is more specifically for my male peers: gamers, nerds, and geeks.

Over the past few years, I’ve witnessed a lot of guys my generation or younger who believe that feminism is something it isn’t, or have taken some extreme form of it to stand for the whole thing (much like people often confuse radical religion factions to stand for a broader religion). These men (not necessarily full-blown Men’s Rights Activists which I won’t even get into here) believe that feminism has nothing to offer them. Ignoring the fact that you’re kind of a jerk if you can’t support something that doesn’t directly support you, I find this really sad. Most of us don’t conform to the traditional notions of masculinity much at all!

Feminism, I’ve come to learn over the years (perhaps embarrassingly late), has its sights set not just the societal structures responsible for women’s so-called “gender norms” but also the ones responsible for toxic masculinity. When it comes to my male peers, not one of us has escaped harm by toxic masculinity.

Ask any of us to describe what a man should be, and I will bet we’d most often describe gruff, taciturn men who never cry and spend their days drinking beer and fixing cars. Real men don’t have much in the way of feelings you can hurt. They fix things. They certainly don’t play games because they’re too busy doing home repairs or replacing engines in cars. I still have this mental picture.

Me, I don’t conform to that notion in the slightest. I’m a geeky, sensitive nerd who would rather play board games than rebuild a car engine. I barely trust myself with a hammer as I’m more likely to break something with it than I am to fix it. And when I wrote “sensitive” earlier, I felt a strong urge to write “overly” in front of it. That is toxic masculinity in a nutshell.

And do you know why I don’t feel any less than a man? Because feminism has taught me that being a “man” doesn’t mean conforming to any of these things. In general, I don’t feel any need to police what makes a person a man or what doesn’t. Especially not myself. You feel manly? Great. Gender norms are bullshit and I believe you should be who you want and do what you want (provided you’re not hurting anyone). It’s a pretty basic rule that I think most people agree with generally. I don’t know why this particular issue trips people up.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a man for myself lately because it’s entangled with my notions of what it means to be a father. I find myself emulating my own Dad more often than I like. I struggle with how I react, in particular, to my son crying. My bone-deep instinct is to encourage him to stop crying at any cost, to tell him he’s not hurt, etc. But of course he is! When I catch myself doing that, I feel a lot more shame than I ever did for not being able to change the oil in my car or whatever.

I feel like none of my peers really like gender norms much. If you don’t like them, then I believe you need to acknowledge the role that feminism has in attacking all gender norms. You’re more free to be the person you want to be because of the hard work of feminists.  Feminists aren’t working to just make the lives of women better; they’re working to make all lives better, even yours.

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March Link Roundup

What follows is a list of links I’ve collected this month in regards to projects by friends that I think are interesting and worthy of your attention.

Haikasoru is giving away a copy of ORBITAL CLOUD, the second book by Taiyo Fujii.  I’ve got GENE MAPPER on my to read list, and this sounds another really fun book.  All you have to do to enter is leave a comment about your favorite hard SF novel on the link.  Haikasoru

My pal and sometimes co-worker at Clockpunk Orrin Grey has a novel coming out with Privateer Press.  Orrin’s a great writer, and even if you’re not a fan of Warmachine, this is worth checking out.

Tobias Buckell, author of many fine SF novels, has a Patreon now.  He’s close to reaching the threshold where he’ll write a story a month.  I love most everything I’ve ever read by Tobias, so if you’re a fan, this is a way to directly support him writing more fiction.

Excellent designer and also sometimes co-worker at Clockpunk Jenn Reese as set up a shop on TeePublic selling her designs.  Jenn’s work is simply lovely, and has a strong feminist bent. If you’re looking for an awesome design with which to hide the shame of your meat form, you could do a lot worse than her shirts.

That wraps it up for now! If you ever want to suggest a link for me to share, you know how to reach me.

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Links

Miscellaneous Life Updates for March 2017

Spring has arrived and life is good. I feel a lot more relaxed with social media’s reduced stature in my life. Facebook’s basically gone, and I might be tweeting too much to compensate, but overall, I’m not spending a ton of time reading social media which was the real time suck. I’m reading books and writing. The first draft of “Dragon of Dread Peak”, the second Dungeonspace story, came in this week at 19,000 words. I’m working on revisions, and expect by the time I’m done it will be a solid 20,000. If all goes well there and it turns out great, I hope you’ll be reading it this year or early next.

Back in February, I got a preliminary diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. It hit me pretty hard. I’ve watched diabetes work its way through my mother’s side of the family for more than twenty years, and if there is a disease that scares me as much as cancer, it’s this one. My aunt died from diabetes complications, and possibly my grandfather’s heart failure was related. My mother and many of my aunts take insulin. I scored a 6.9 on my A1C, and anything above 6.5 receives a diagnosis. It figures that my three month blood sugar over the holidays would be high, but no, I’ve been pre-diabetic for years. I didn’t take it seriously enough. So I’ve found myself in the same boat as the rest of my family. I did quite a bit of self-flagellating over it. I’ve also been determined to reverse the trend, and I’ve been radically altering my diet and upping my exercise.

It’s been working, at least as far as one metric is concerned. In early December, I weighed 264 pounds according to my tracking, and as of today, I’m a little under 250. This is still way too heavy, but I’m trending in the right direction. Most of that weight, I’ve lost since February. Additionally, I take my glucose levels every other day, and I haven’t had a single result outside of the range for a non-diabetic (although that might be due to the medication they have me on).

This diagnosis has been a wake-up call for me to take better care of myself in general. I’ve cut 75% of the carbs out of my life, which isn’t easy when pizza is my favorite food. I’m eating more vegetables and fruit, which really can only be a good thing. In general, I eat a lot less processed crap. And I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time. My stomach problems have mostly gone into remission. Really, the only complaint I have is that I’ve strained my ankle and I’m keeping up the exercise so much that I’m not giving it time enough to heal.

Of course, getting a diabetes diagnosis right at the time when Republicans have announced their plan to bankrupt and kill everyone who isn’t rich has been stressful. I’ve read many articles about “Trumpcare” or “Republicare” and there is not a single measure in which it is better for my family. I think there is a very good chance, if it passes, that it will result in a much lower quality of life for us. We have two asthmatics and a diabetic in the house. Chronic condition is the name of the game, unfortunately. I don’t know what we’ll do if we end up losing our ACA coverage. We don’t even collect subsidies; I pay full price for a market plan. But that price is set to climb astronomically and offer far worse levels of coverage under this plan. All so the wealthy base of the Republican Party can receive a tax cut they don’t even need. To be blunt: I will never vote for a Republican as long as I live. They have proven themselves unfit to govern. They have demonstrated that they would much rather people like me die off than receive care at some cost of  minor wealth redistribution.

But enough about politics. I’ve gotten a couple of stories written this year– a cybernetic eagles vs. drones story called “We Mete Justice by Beak and Talon” that I think is a lot of fun, and the aforementioned Dungeonspace story. I’ve finished reading dozens of short stories and a couple of novels, including The Great Wash by Gerald Kersh and I am Providence by Nick Mamatas. Both of which I enjoyed very much. Currently, I’m about half-way done with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. It remains to be seen if it will stick the landing, but her writing has some great, warm characterization. She doesn’t seem to do characters you can’t like, which I suppose is part of why it has garnered so many comparisons to Firefly. Regardless of how I end up feeling about the book in the end, she makes me want to write deeper, more interesting characters that readers can really come to love.

My kiddo Matty continues to grow and develop from a baby into a tiny little person.  Yesterday, we spent a lot of time together while Sarah celebrated International Women’s Day.  We walked to a local game store, and I giggled as he introduced himself to the store owner and asked how he was doing. He’s this exceedingly polite little thing, very gregarious unlike his parents, and full of boundless amounts of joy for the simplest things. My life is made immeasurably better by his presence. We play a lot of computer pinball together, we watch cartoons, and we go on walks.  And oh blessings of blessings, he’s pretty much potty-trained! Life as a Dad continues to be the best thing ever.

Lastly, some notes on web work. I’ve got two projects running this month, which is great, but I have nothing booked beyond what I’m currently working on, which worries me. Things seem to be coming in fits and starts this year, and while typically things pick up after everyone gets their taxes in the mail, I would really love it if people would start dropping me a line to inquire about my services. If you’re interested at all in having a site built or redesigned by me, please let me know. Between this and healthcare concerns, my professional life is feeling a bit precarious. I really don’t want to go back to a corporate gig if I can avoid it. I love working with my author and publisher clients. [/end sales spiel]

So, what’s been new with you? Any big announcements you want to share with me? Email me or post a comment, and let’s catch up. Until then, keep on being the best you that you can be.

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Personal Life

On the Innate Values of My Fiction

I have been corresponding with my good friend (and astonishingly great writer) Gord Sellar lately about writing in general and my writing specifically. I’m still working through that mid-life crisis moment, although with the help of close friends and some thought, I’ve been developing a plan of attack. I hope that the end result will be much more of my work to read in professional venues, and less uncertainty as to my purpose in life.

In our conversations, which are long and winding and go on for pages and pages of emails, Gord hit on something that really stopped me in my tracks.  He has this idea that I write fiction that seemed to be based in a belief in human decency. My initial reaction to this was one of surprise, but I suppose I can happily own this descriptor if it’s true. I do believe, and have believed, in the basic decent-ness of people. I do believe that together we are capable of great things. Gord calls this quality “American.” I think perhaps not American as a whole, but maybe Midwestern? I think perhaps it is only modern politics that makes me flinch away from the description of “American” writer. I will never consider myself truly a part of Trump’s America. That is an America rooted in fear, and one that stands for values I stand against. I honestly hope that my writing never, ever reflects that vision of my country. I hope it will continue to stand for a belief that people do more good than harm, and that fearing the other harms us all.

So, yes; I do believe that most people are fundamentally good and kind on a base level, but I didn’t realize it appeared in my fiction. And that something of my deep values does show up in my work made me pleased; reading his comment made me feel more pride in my work than I have in a long time. I write about fun, joyous things mostly, and often I worry that there’s nothing deeper to take from my work beyond a little entertainment. But if by accident I am conveying some deeply held beliefs about the nature of humanity, well, then… gosh. That’s a whole new reason to go on writing, I think.

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Why I am Quitting Facebook (Or Attempting to)

If I were to describe my Facebook habits to pre-Facebook me, he would be intrigued and more than a little horrified.  I suppose this makes me a bit of a Luddite these days, to question the value of something that has become so omnipresent, but I have serious beefs with the role that social media has started to take in my life.  I’ve spent over a month tinkering with things, trying new filters, and ultimately I’ve decided that Facebook has to go.

First– I’m not here to convince you to quit Facebook.  If you’re getting more out of it than you put in, and you’re happy with the volume of energy that you’re dedicating to the platform, then please don’t let me change that.  However, if you suspect that Facebook might be bad for your mental health or eating too much time, then perhaps read on and see what I have to say here.

Facebook, when it comes down to it, is too easy.  Prior to this week, I had it on my phone, my iPad, my work computer, and my writing laptop.  Whenever I was using any of these devices, my awareness that Facebook exists was there in my head. There is an endless stream of links, opinions, and general “water cooler talk” available over on the platform, merely a touch or click away.  You want to see aww-cute animals?  Facebook’s got it.  You want to feel outrage? Oh boy, do they have that too.  Do you want to feel soul-crushing jealousy at acquaintances living far more exciting lives than you?  Yep.  Facebook has you covered.

It’s not all bad.  It can make you feel more connected. It helps us keep informed on the lives of people that we would probably not stay in touch with as well without it. It definitely plays a role in informing people and sharing knowledge.  But as a “social” tool, I think its flawed, at least for me.  “Wow,” sometimes I would think. “I have so many amazing and cool friends all over the world.”  But I really examined this, and I realized that I didn’t really know how most of these people felt about me.  I don’t talk one-on-one with most of them, and I don’t really have a relationship to them. I have a relationship to a platform that mediates all of my interactions with those people.  Facebook chooses what you see, and no amount of tinkering can strip away that algorithm, I found.

It got to the point where I would be around friends in the actual physical world but I would spend part of our time together reading social media.  We’ve all been at meals where everyone stares at their phones, and this is the great damage that Facebok has done to me.  Because of that endless scroll, you almost feel obligated to keep up.  Afraid that you might miss something that will deliver a good little dopamine hit in any of those categories above.  I don’t want to make any weak drug analogies, but I definitely began to use Facebook in an addictive way. Wake up, check Facebook.  Check Facebook all day.  Read Facebook one more time in bed.  Repeat.  And the longer I went without checking it, the more uncomfortable I felt.  I was missing out! The world was moving without me if I wasn’t there, reading and reacting.

Being wired in to the action helps paper over feelings that my own life isn’t going places as much as I would like.  As a Dad, I get out and interact with the real world a lot less often than before, and working from home all day doesn’t help. Ultimately, instead of easing feelings of loneliness, Facebook seemed to be exacerbating them.  Or, to be more accurate, the way I was using it was.

I want deeper, more personal connections in my life.  I don’t need a large number of them, but I also don’t want a third party involved in those connections, shaping them in invisible ways.  I want to get to know you, not the you that you project to the public on Facebook. What I’ve come to realize is, my truest friends are the ones that I communicate with regularly outside the mediation of social media.  The rest just began to feel artificial, a cheap facade, and I was spending ever-increasing amounts of time on wishing it to be more solid than it was.  Far too much time.

It has not been uncommon for me to spend three hours a day reading social media and responding to it.  That’s time that could be better spent playing with my kid, reading, or writing. And reading, that’s really what has suffered.  I used to read endlessly, but it began to feel like a chore in comparison to the easy quick fixes of social media.  I read most often on my iPad, and there was always that siren call of “what’s going on in the world? What am I missing while I’m reading this book?”

My habits around social media developed with no thought to the consequences–no thought about the opportunity costs.  For every activity you devote time toward, there are dozens more that you don’t. That’s opportunity cost, and I’m not comfortable with them right now, especially not comfortable making them without careful consideration. I don’t like it when habits form unintentionally.

So here I am, trying to break the habits and form new ones. It’s not made easier by the fact that I’m unable to delete my profile due to some developer apps I have set up for clients. I’m allowing myself to continue to use messenger because that’s one-on-one interaction that I want to foster. This means that I do open Facebook still.  And if I’m not careful, I start scrolling and clicking reaction buttons like I never quit. (This explains why you may have seen likes appear and disappear from me lately.  Quitting is a process.)

One immediate impact from trying to remove Facebook from my life has been an increase in blogging.  Remember blogging? That think we all did before Facebook and Twitter came along to chop up our thoughts into even tinier increments?  Even that seems like it was a fad, as everyone makes 20+ long tweet threads that are a pain in the ass to read on a micro-blogging platform.  Even I do it, for the simple reason that probably 12 people read this blog, but several hundred (at a minimum) see my tweets.  There’s always that dopamine hit of people liking and retweeting.

I like blogging, too–I like taking more space and time to think and share my thoughts. Most importantly, this is a choice I’m making.  Less Facebook.  More books.  More blogging.  Deliberate choices instead of accidental habits is the theme of my life right now as I attempt to develop a much healthier lifestyle.  I’m choosing what I eat more carefully, and carving out at least 30 minutes a day for exercise.

I want my head space back. I want to spend my time in the real world, being more intimate with it and the people that matter most. I want to live in the now and in my immediate space. I want to get to know my own thoughts better.  Doing so can only make me a better writer, and hopefully a better person.

So that’s why I’m quitting Facebook and why I’m limiting how much time I spend reading on Twitter.  It’s possible that one day I’ll let myself use the service for a few minutes every few days to keep up better with extended social circles (I do care about you all, honest). If you think of me as a close friend, or would like me to become one, I hope you’ll get in touch with me via email or text or phone–any direct method of communication is alright by me. I’ll be reaching out to some of you myself as time allows. If all goes well, I should have more of it on my hands very soon.

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On the Importance (or Lack Thereof) of Revision

I have always valued the clean draft; perhaps because I am innately lazy, or perhaps because my step-father always drilled me on the importance of measuring twice, and cutting once, I began writing by avoiding revision. Some of my favorite writers were one-draft writers, as well, and at least one of my models and mentors, Jay Lake, was notorious about limiting his revision attempts.

I know another possible root cause. I have an odd quirk of intellect, where most of what I know comes to mind very quickly. In school, I was almost always the first person to finish test-taking, sometimes by half an hour or more. I definitely was not the highest scoring test taker always, but upon seeing a question, I always know in a blink whether I can summon the answer or not. And when I definitely do not know the answer, no amount of pondering or torturing myself will reveal it, so it is quite easy to move on take the loss. I call this a quirk because it was neither a help nor a hindrance in life–ultimately, a wash.

Early on in writing, I found it easy to pen first drafts because I didn’t spend a lot of time questioning my decisions in a similar way. The first idea always seemed adequate, and so it was not impossible for me to turn out 2500 words an hour or more. With time, I learned that my first decisions were often inadequate or cliched. This led not to revision, which I still abhorred, but instead to copious pre-writing and outlining. I could prepare a road map for a story that would limit the amount of decision-making on the fly. It kept me with roughly the same pace, but only moderate to limited success in publication.

It wasn’t until I took the James Gunn Workshop at Kansas University led by Chris McKitterick and Andy Duncan that the value of a well-polished and revised manuscript became apparent to me. I brought three adequate stories to the workshop, and received many useful thoughts and suggestions. I’ve always been a big user of critique and first readers, and I’ve often incorporated their suggestions. However, through participating in the workshop, I really had to sit down and revise, reworking entire sections, rethinking my goals, as well as the usual tweaking and polish. I sold two of those three stories, and it’s probably no mistake that the one I revised the least from feedback ended up being the one that didn’t sell. (Incidentally, it was the most comic of stories, and I find comic feedback very hard to come by and to sell. I like writing humor, but finding readers who can critique it isn’t easy, especially given how much humor is subjective.)

These days, I’ve settled into three to five revision passes before I submit work for publication. The last one is usually a line-edit polish pass, but the others often involve structural changes, bigger picture stuff. The difficulty I have with letting the revision process go on too long is that I can start to question perfectly valid decisions. If you were to boil down what writing is, once you get the basics down, it’s making creative and interesting decisions over and over again. Perhaps this is why some writers find it easier to write under the influence — freeing up inhibitions makes decision-making even easier.

You have to have a little bit of confidence that the decisions you are making go somewhere interesting. That’s the trick. Spend too long staring at something and you go blind to both its faults and its strengths. So it’s important to know when to move on. You can work on a piece over a longer period of time, I find, only by taking long breaks from it, to remove yourself a bit. Sometimes, the best drafts and revisions come years later when I’m so far removed from the words that they hardly seem like something I wrote at all. This would definitely be a bad practice to institute across all your work if you value alacrity of career. Sometimes, the thing a story needs most is time. But too much time, and they rot.

With longer work, I find my revision process has shifted. Rather than taking multiple passes on a work after it’s complete, I have the habit of re-reading the entire work and revising as I go each new session. This results in a manuscript that has had the first half revised endlessly, and a very rough ending. I haven’t quite figured out a way to improve on this method, but for writing that takes me weeks or months to complete, I find it necessary to review the previous session’s work just to remember what in the hell I was doing. Often, I feel like the proverbial goldfish in the bowl. What was I saying?

I’ve often heard it said that you don’t learn to write books. You learn to write this book. With short fiction, each project might not be so dissimilar, and my novel-writing experience is thus far fairly limited, but I think there’s a lot to that statement. Primarily, as writers, we have an enormous toolbox available to us of methods. As we develop as writers, we experiment with many of these tools. Some we take to, and some we don’t. Would you listen to anyone who told you that the Phillips screw driver was superior to all others in all cases? Why would you do the same about writing tools and techniques?

Get the work done. Make it the best you can, regardless of how. Show it to the world if possible. At the end of the day, it’s not so complicated. And yet somehow, it is also the most complicated thing you’ll ever do.

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