Didn’t See That One Coming

Today I got the “soft layoff”, basically my position is being eliminated and I’m invited to compete for open positions in the new organization. And you know what? Nah. I think this is a message. Time to move on (and move West). I’ve had a good run in the DC area, but it’s felt increasingly cold and not like home. Time to move on to a new chapter, one that probably has less comfort but more adventure. I’m cool with that. More details to come as we prepare for our move.

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Books, Books, Writing, and Open Topics

Happy Thursday, regular readers. It’s time again for another edition of “Here’s a Bunch of Crap to Throw Against the Wall”. Consider these posts the Muse version of flypaper, hanging from a doorway to collect the buzzing ideas and events of the past week. Eliminates pests, cleans the house, and makes a nasty mess.  With no further preamble…

  • Work continues. Simple enough, right? Hoping to send the print version of Pathways to Createspace by the end of next week, which would put it in your hands by the end of the following week, weather and UPS permitting. As always, dates are flexible and may be  ambitious, as I’m knee-deep in an important work project at the moment. Broken Wing is coming along nicely. Fascinating to watch as a story that I nurtured from a rough outline transforming into a sleek machine with new pieces added  as its engine dictates. Revision typically follows this course, but Wing has taken on a life of its own in that regards and shown encouraging growth from its embryonic form.
  • In connection to that, and as a follow-up to last week’s request for more advanced writing books, I’m currently reading through Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. It’s a little winky in spots, with the usual overblown cruft about loving the sentence and the power of the written word and so on and so forth, but I’ve only reached Chapter Two and already found its advice useful in revising Wing. Worth the purchase, worth the time to read.
  • After taking some time off from reading (chalk it up to a series of sub-par books that sapped my passion), I’m digging into books again. Started with a few indie clunkers – good to see some things, like lack of an editor, don’t change – before settling into Detroit: an American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff. Admittedly, this one is non-fiction, but it provides a gripping narrative with strong, overarching themes. You may know LeDuff as the journalist who covered the epic of the poor homeless man found frozen in an abandoned elevator in Detroit and the difficulty of getting anyone to care. It’s a good shorthand for the problems he discovers when he moves back to his hometown and he uses it as a fulcrum around which the rest of the story revolves.
  • Next up is Silver Linings Playbook. Enjoyed the movie and am curious about the book. The subject matter relates to my current project, especially the recovery angle of things. May not mention it here again since everyone and their cat has read it by this point.
  • Started working out again the other day. Not a New Years resolution thing here, just a realization that I felt like crap and needed to do something about it. Now I feel like crap and am sore but at least I’m working toward something better.
  • The GIF on the rightShroomBear
  • You might have noticed that winter is here again. It made a subtle appearance in the last week in the eastern part of the country, maybe froze your fingertips off? Anyway, I bring it up because I’m quite stunned at my continuing writing output. The season has always been problematic for me, sapping energy and creativity and leaving a fog through which I trudge, hoping to find the more hospitable shores of March. This year, however, I struck back, arming myself with the mortars of sun lamps and mind-expanding powers of nootropics. I won’t lie and say that I’ve written as many words as I did in, say, September, but I’ve held my own and word counts look closer to normal than ever before. I may share my regimen in the near future for those who likewise struggle.
  • Finally, and this also relates to a recent post, Kristen Lamb recently wrote a great post about bullying, one that struck home after my experience last Summer. I won’t summarize the thing as you really should read it (seriously, do it), but she makes the point that we cannot allow these people to dictate what we do with our lives. When we hide, when we alter the way we live our lives, they win. This means that they certainly won a short-term victory over me, and while I’m tempted to feel a species of shame or guilt about it, I have to remember that I’m back out there, pushing into new spaces once again. Temporary setback, not permanent loss. I could write an entire post about bullying here, but will save it for the future.

Have anything interesting or exciting happen this week? Maybe finish a cool book? I’d be interested in hearing about it in the comments.  

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Busted: An Addendum

The culprit.

The culprit.

So one of our cats is one of the types who obeys the rules as long as we’re around. If she didn’t get caught, she did nothing wrong, right? I came home and went into the kitchen, putting away groceries etc.

Tabby must have figured that I would be busy in there for awhile so she started clawing the back of the armchair. She didn’t count on two things:

1. Me forgetting something on the table and going back out into the dining room, where I could see the chair (and her)
2. Her claws getting stuck in the fabric upon this event.

Sheer and total panic. She even meowed at me, I’m guessing something like “this isn’t what it looks like.”

But I know. It’s EXACTLY what it looked like.

The Separation of Ego and Output

Happy Monday, all, if there is such a thing. Just a note that this post is a continuation of some of the thought processes that I’ve been playing out on this site over the past week-and-a-half. A way to mentally clear the gutters, so to speak, and wrap my brain around what I want to change in my career.

Last time I talked about writing versus “the writer” as a shorthand for a cluster of stereotypes. Also something about people clinging to the title as a means of defining themselves as part of a bigger purpose, something or other.

Deeper examination of these writer/person-who-writes issues revealed that they (mostly) stem from difficulties separating in one’s ego from one’s output. In some ways, in the early going, the “writer” or “author” persona created a suit of armor that could be deployed in connection to my work, and not the real me. I didn’t realize I did this because I had previously not thought this to be an issue for me. I come from the wilds of writing in Corporate America, where ego attachment to your work is a good way to find yourself jobless, and for good reason, tech writers need to be responsive and change quickly. It’s not in the job description, but it should be, and those who can’t hack that end up struggling for quite some time before deciding maybe the job isn’t for them. I’ve seen it time and again.

I believed it had toughened me up, and it had to some extent. I handle peer criticism well and am always looking to learn something new.  I won’t lie and say that a bad review here or there didn’t spin me into the pits of despair but that often reflected something that made me unhappy about my own work and insecurities about lessons that still needed to be learned. In the end, it made me a better – and harder – writer. All part of the growing process, or so I thought.

Unfortunately, we’re all familiar with the state of the Internet as a mirror of human nature. Sincere criticism of books can bleed over into attacks on an author’s person, the author retaliates, and the whole thing devolves into a microcosm of the high school environment. I’m referring, of course, to the author/reviewer wars that have been ongoing seemingly since time immemorial. They date back almost to the beginning of the relationship between the two, but it’s hard to deny that today’s flavor of the war has a nastier,  more personal nature  and an ability to hit someone where they live that would be unthinkable in the old confrontations between author and critic.

Even with these lowered barriers between author and critic, my own ego issue did not come down to Goodreads or a bad review . Mine came down to a handful of Internet trolls making personal attacks and acting like the grade-school bullies that they are. I didn’t rise to any of it, in fact, I’m quite sure they have no idea that I even saw their posts. Not that it matters. My ego might have been  toughened for attacks on my work, but I failed to prepare myself for that level of nastiness on a personal level.

This incident, combined with some of the other events that I witnessed and have referenced in previous posts, drove me out of the public eye as I struggled to come to terms with exactly what it means to put yourself out there. I mean, let’s face it, we live in a culture where anyone in the public eye is considered free game as a punching bag for someone else’s insecurities. Right or wrong, that’s how it is, and as much as I might wish that the world would act otherwise, it’s not going to change. At least, not during my lifetime.

All the lessons from Author 101 tell you how to handle the issue: be a professional, ignore it, carry on with what you’re doing. I did this, at least when it comes to writing novels. Put my head down and carried on. I know that well. On an emotional level, however, totally uncharted waters that needed to be processed behind the scenes. It has led to a different approach to public interaction, one that is hopefully wiser and more restrained.

I bring all this up because I feel that the indie publishing world on both sides, reviewer and author, are in a similar place in coming to terms with this dilemma: how to separate the ego from the content? How to co-exist when the old walls between the author and the reader have been demolished? I wish I knew. It would make this public outreach a lot easier. I can’t continue to ignore it, however, and have to get back on the horse if I intend to ride this thing out. We’ll see where it goes from here.

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Ponderings, New Scenes, and Other Quandaries

My apologies in advance, this post takes something of a shotgun-blast approach to gathering and sharing thoughts. Hey, it’s the new year, my brain is still in tatters.

  • Congratulations to good friend and critique buddy Gale Deitch, who had a short story published with literary journal The Writing Disorder. Her story is Pressing Matters, which I have not had the time to read just yet (it was only published this morning as far as I know), but am sure is excellent, as is all of Gale’s work. Give her some page views!
  • My strange penchant for talking around certain scenes has struck again when it comes to Broken Wing. I realized that in the first draft I mentioned the awkwardness of early sexual encounters between two sex addicts as they learn to truly relate in the act rather than being present-but-not-really, but I never showed it. This is akin to walking to the end of the diving board with the world watching and saying, “Nahhh, not today.” If you’re going to write about a sex addict it must encompass the whole experience, good and bad. There’s a lot of the bad and not much of the good as it stands. I decided to add the good as well, so we get some awkward – but sweet – sex in what is currently Chapter Ten.
  • Have been searching for the equivalent of an iPad when it comes to writing – something lightweight, flexible, easy to start up and use on a moment’s notice. Traditional laptops did not cut it for the interminable start-up, sheer bulk, and headache factor of Windows. Something of a holy grail for years now. Got one of these (hint: it’s a Chromebook) for Christmas and it’s fantastic. I keep the novels in Google Docs to write on the fly, but if I need a bigger set of tools, I can remote network with my desktop and get the more robust Word tool set. one of my favorite gifts of the year. If Google ever gets Docs to the same place as Office, Microsoft could be in trouble.
  • Desperately seeking books about writing that are written for someone who has gotten past the basics. I gave up on writing books last year, thinking I had outgrown them, but the truth is that I need something more tailored to where I am right now. When I comb through writing books, so many are written for beginners, which may contain tidbits that I haven’t considered/thought of, but don’t really hit some of the more advanced tricks and tools I’m looking to pick up. I’ve learned a lot of things through trial and error and critiquing and editing that belong in a book, but I can’t find one that hits that level. Any suggestions?
  • It seems the new publishing trend is here, and it’s one that I can get on board with. Psychological thrillers with lots of messy domestic implications? Anything beats the Fifty Shades stuff, but this has even more promise.
  • Post-Holiday Blues and insomnia are both the worst. Yesterday was the absolute nadir for both, but I think I’m on an upswing. At least, I hope so. Can’t take much more.
  • Being back in the office is both fantastic and terrible. Change of scenery is great, rough re-entry. I imagine that’s playing out across the country right now.
  • To the folks in the Northeast, stay safe and warm. That storm looks rough.

That’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the continuing navel-gazing episode soon.

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Writing Versus “The Writer”

Certain conceits waft around people who write. I see these a lot, and I’m sure you could name some, too: writers worship coffee. Writers are drunks. Writers are broken in some way. Writers see the world differently/have skewed points of view/are special snowflakes. These can be some of the more poisonous beliefs. Then you have the trappings that are shorthand for “writer”: the pen, ink, the typewriter, the bottle. They provide an easy set of symbols to reach for, and a temptation to use them as a quick sketch to define your personality. You know the ones. “Oh, I get all crazy about adverbs, that means I AM WRITER.” “Up until three AM editing, another sign I AM SURELY WRITER.”

And so on.

I need to start with these misconceptions because, as I wrote in my last post, I have very little interest in being “a writer”. Some folks questioned what that meant exactly, and that is your answer: a shorthand for a lifestyle that some people use to define themselves. I’m not interested in that lifestyle and I’m especially not interested in defining myself by it.

This all kind of came to a head last night when I watched the fantastic documentary Shut up and Play the Hits, about the band LCD Soundsystem’s farewell show at Madison Square Garden. For those unfamiliar with the film and/or the band, LCD Soundsystem had a rather large cult following, had done a few profitable tours, and basically stood on the cusp of breaking through as a major act when leader and founder James Murphy decided to call it quits. The movie examines his motives and what the repercussions would be for his life. It’s really fantastic as both a slice of life and a music movie, I highly recommend it, but one his biggest points is talking about the rock star lifestyle and while he never overtly states it, it sounds like his biggest struggle is separating who he is in his day-to-day life and this concept of “the rock star”.

This is highly relevant and for whatever reason, something that I struggle to do myself. In my previous life, for lack of a better term, I embraced the concept of the writer/author as a handful of those things above. In retrospect I never felt 100% comfortable with the idea, but it became easy to hand wave away as a price of trying to make it. I could throw on the cloak and be something that I might not necessarily be if it meant reaching a larger audience. I could easily discard some misgivings here or there.

It could not last, though. In the last few months of my “writer” persona, I found myself increasingly irritated with the stereotypes, in addition to some of the things that I saw indie writers justifying in the name of making it big. Underhanded dealings, review puffing, and a lack of commitment to quality. Nothing spoke more to my increasing alienation to the indie community than when I witnessed a successful indie romance writer counseling a new writer to simply release his rough draft in an effort to increase his volume and visibility, then release the proper draft to the readers later.

Perhaps I’m flawed here, but to me that’s nothing more than fraud that goes beyond a lack of dedication to your craft.

Pull Quote

I stopped visiting that writing forum shortly thereafter out of disgust and found myself and my values farther and farther away from how I saw the authors around me defining “writer”. Perhaps, I thought, the problem was mine. Maybe I didn’t have “what it takes” to get ahead in the industry. Time to reassess my position and figure out what I wanted from my career.

I’m well aware that part of this speaks to my own personality flaws. Not every indie author does these things, probably not even the majority. I’ve met some fantastic people in the community, people who stand up and do the right thing every single time. I admit I jumped to some poor conclusions about indie authors and no longer feel these things – you might sense some of that in my hesitation and difficult with even defining these terms. People will be people in any walk of life and my withdrawal had more to do with the fact that I had jumped in without really thinking about or planning out what I wanted from my career.

Call it a failure of imagination.

I still reject the term “writer” and the stereotypes, but am comfortable with saying that I am someone who writes, and that I want those stories to be bought, read, and yes, maybe even be eligible for some awards. The latter not for the cause of ego but my belief in the stories that come to me. They deserve better than what they’ve had so far. This all comes down to marketing, ultimately, and ways to do it and life with myself.

You can see how this somewhat relates to my indie-versus-traditional decision, which I’ll speak about in the near future. In the meantime, I’m happy to redefine my public persona as something more in line with my personal values. That’s still in flux, but evolving. More to come.

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Caffeine: An Illustrated Love Story

Being the adventures of a not-so-young man whose interests are writing, caffeine, and Beethoven. Actually, it’s somewhat difficult to recall where my love affair with caffeine began. I mean, I certainly remember being enamored of the glass-bottled Mountain Dews. I’m talking about these bad boys, not your modern stuff:

And I know my parents introduced me to caffeine at a relatively young age; hell, I couldn’t have been any older than eight years old when I had my first cup. I felt decadent and grown-up, but most importantly, I felt human, for lack of a better word. What I didn’t understand then is that I had (and have) ADHD, and while the drug helped me to focus better, as it does for most people, it did so in a quite different way. Sure, my alertness improved, but the resulting focus came because it quieted my brain.

At any given moment, I may have five or six different tracks of ideas running concurrently, and it makes any single-focused task incredibly difficult to achieve. Most days I write these blog entries in fits and starts, in between other projects or at the same time as other projects. Unless I have caffeine right before starting. When I do that, I can shoot right through and ignore the distracting thoughts that pop up at regular intervals. Okay, well not as much as when the doctor had me on stronger stimulants, but I didn’t care for the side effects there. Continue reading

Look Ma, I’m Versatile!

Friend and writer extraordinaire Paul Dail passed the torch of the Versatile Blogger Award (a great honor, by the way – you the man). When I first heard about the Versatile Blogger Award, I wasn’t entirely sure what the “versatile” meant. Maybe it meant that I could sing AND dance? …Some people would argue that.

But no, I read up on the award and learned that the “versatile” descriptor applied to the award itself, in that it was meant to be passed from one blog to another, serving as something of a self-selecting spider to highlight blogs that people find interesting and worthy. Just search for the award on Google and you’ll be rewarded with many quality blogs, some of which I would not have found otherwise.

The Rules

As with any award, of course, there are rules.

1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post (done!).
2. Share 7 things about yourself (incoming!).
3. Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading (uhhh…15 might be a bit much, but I’m going to do my best this week).
4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award (yep, that I can do).

Continue reading