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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The Curious Case of A Mirror Untrue

Did you know that I once spent over six years on a novel? True story. The first draft of the first chapter was completed on July 31st, 1998. I was 22 years old and living in Blacksburg, Virginia. I can still remember the day that I birthed the concept – a hot sunny July afternoon, when this character just started pouring out of me Kerouac style (of course, some drugs might have been involved in this process). This story would be the one to put me on the map, a contemporary fiction work that combined showed a man’s slow descent from idealistic naivete to cold-blooded murder, with plenty of questions about the nature of art along the way. Hell, that’s the nature of the title, that what we see in the mirror rarely reflects what we feel on the inside, and it’s even more true in William’s case as he’s convinced himself that he’s still an idealistic outsider artist when in truth he degenerates into something of a scumbag who needs to redeem himself.

Part of the book is set in 1972 and is a rumination on idealism and the loss of innocence. A pack of 1972 baseball cards represents an idealized childhood that the protagonist never had in the first place.

Part of the book is set in 1972 and is a rumination on idealism and the loss of innocence. A pack of 1972 baseball cards represents an idealized childhood that the protagonist never had in the first place.

I abandoned the book at the end of 2003, which makes a whole lot of sense, as 2004 kind of marked the beginning of what I see as my “fallow period”. Words would come off-and-on for the next seven years, but the unbearable pain and confusion in my personal life overrode artistic concerns. I suspect there was also a great deal for mourning for Mirror Untrue, this fabled story that would never be told.

I made a few attempts over the year to punch it back into shape – my writing files show a trail of tears from revision to revision. The last major version to be completed was the second draft, though there are six more semi-complete versions of it floating around out there. The most recent attempt to revive it appears to have dated to July of 2011, and even then my notes make it look more like a half-hearted effort rather than any real reboot. I had Corridors and I had Room 3 and I really didn’t need a third book that didn’t fit into that sort of genre.

Well, that’s changed. I’ve recently made the discovery that critiquing and revising a few pages before writing a few pages and then repeating the cycle is an incredibly effective way to get the creative juices flowing. I started by critiquing the work of an Internet stranger, then rolled into my critique group, and then found myself with nothing to critique. Why not open up some old files and see what was hiding in there, maybe put some ideas in and see where they go?

I started yesterday by digging up the last version of Mirror Untrue and reading through the first chapter. I didn’t expect much.

It shocked me. The writing itself is a bit raw and needs work, and I obviously hadn’t learned a whole bag of tricks that I now carry around, but by God the concept itself – and the characters – are good, if I do say so myself. My final concept had been to layer the 1972 story in between the “modern” story, which I’m now going to leave in early 2001, as it was such a different world. But by God I think I’m going to breathe life into this old project and get it out the door. I’m not sure when or how, as this is a side-side project, but it might make it out there before the 20th anniversary of its inception. We’ll see.

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The Trail of Bread Crumbs

Hey everybody, just a few quick things that I wanted to write about this morning, some general thoughts that have been banging around inside my skull. The first is just how strange it is to go back and re-read something that you wrote two years ago. I think this is generally an issue, though a pleasant one, for every writer; each work should make you stretch and learn new things. That process makes you into a different writer, and going back to read earlier works can be like returning to a childhood home. It all feels familiar, but without the original context it leaves you feeling kind of weird and empty. Sometimes the words don’t feel like ones that I even wrote.

I’m talking about this because, as Pathways of the Dead draws to a close, I’m going back through and reading Corridors to ensure that Pathways answers the most important questions from that novel. So far I’m pleasantly surprised. The original plan covered the broadest questions, and those are all either answered or advanced in Pathways. Sure, there are a few “color” details that are missing from the first draft of Pathways, such as certain nicknames, but it’s actually pretty interesting to see how well my plan worked out, especially when it came to unforeseen eventualities like the death of a certain character.

And that brings me to the topic that’s really on my mind: the trail of bread crumbs. When you build a series like this, with so many intricate, interlocking parts, you have to go into the thing aware of how it plays out on a general scale – the largest A to B to C points. I’ve known the ending of the series from the beginning, and I had a vague idea of the large beats that got to that point. I also built a series bible of sorts that lays out the different groups involved, their motivations, and major players from those groups. During the creation of Corridors, I kept a running list of major questions that were posed and the answers to those questions. Not all had to be answered in that book (in fact, three major dangling questions are very important to the books that follow), but they needed to at least be acknowledged.

So why talk about all this? Well, first, I firmly believe that this is all you really need to create a successful series, but I also think this is the best way to build a world with lasting appeal. Even as the author, I’m finding a lot of interesting little tidbits in Book 1 that foreshadow events in Book 2. One character, for example, causes signature events in the world whenever he appears. A reader who has finished the series and understands the whole thing could then go back and find the hints hidden in Book 1 regarding the nature of that character. They’re not necessary to understanding the story overall, but it adds a secondary layer to the story once the bigger picture is understood.

The early seasons of Lost did this very well, but I think they may have overreached by the end. It’s part of what built the sense of mystery and kept it going; even now the series is eminently rewatchable just to catch those little moments. That is the “trail of breadcrumbs” of which I speak – the little nods to the readers who know what’s going on, to show them a larger story on the second go-through. Fun stuff, and I hope that someone catches these one day.

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Fiction Wednesday: Announcements and New Cover Artist

I’ve decided to take a break from the usual Fiction Wednesday grind this week since the ongoing books are still…well, ongoing books (told you they were long) and I’ve hit an unexpected surge of creative energy. These surges usually don’t take hold until later in the Spring, around the end of April/beginning of May, so this one needs to go as long as it will possibly go.

This particular surge has pushed me well past the midway point on the current pass through City of the Dead and given me impetus to start another novel midstream. The City thing is weird, as it’s sort of a second draft, but I never finished the first draft completely due to a major change in the plot. I’ve never quite drafted a novel in this fashion, but it’s making the idea of discrete drafts something of a thing of the past. It’s nice because it allows me to react more quickly to ideas and issues that arise, rather than working in a straight line. The connections between story concepts become much more apparent, and themes arise more quickly. Look for a write-up on this process in the near-future.

Bottom line, however, is that the book is coming along well, and readers should enjoy it. It’s still a long way out, unfortunately, and will probably hit the same November timeframe that I seem to hit every single year. I hope to get some other work out there in the meantime.

Big news, however, is that I’ve engaged a very talented cover artist to do a refresh of the Among the Dead line – that means a new cover for Corridors of the Dead along with the upcoming City cover. I’ll miss having Ryan Bibby along for the ride, as he’s a great, super-talented guy, but his plate seems to be full at the moment. I absolutely want Ryan back for some other covers in the near future, but for now, Bulgarian artist Silviya “Morteque” Yordanova will be handling the art refresh.

I’ve admired Silviya’s work for more than a year now and I’m super-stoked to work with her. She seems to have a similar creative philosophy, and I think that her art perfectly compliments what I’m trying to do with my fiction. You can find her work at Deviant Art to get a taste of what’s to come. Drop in there and say hi, maybe give her a like on Facebook. I think she has a bright future in the business.

Wednesday Fiction returns next week with a review of Black Sun Rising and possibly The Knife of Never Letting Go. See you on Friday.

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So That Actually Happened…

I’d say good Monday morning, but is there really such a thing? I suppose if one won the lottery on a Sunday night, or maybe if, say, their football team won the Super Bowl last night (so close, but the Ravens are decidedly not the Redskins and never will be), then they might be inclined to call it a good Monday morning, but in general…

Where was I? Oh, yes. Something actually happened this weekend. Well, several somethings, really, but the most important had nothing to do with rediscovering my love for tea or picking up a few interesting items at thrift stores.

You see, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, I gave my first public reading on Saturday morning.

And I loved it.

Back things up just a little bit; I joined the Montgomery Writers Association back in September and have been attending meetings on-and-off ever since. I’ve participated in those events to which I was privy, such as the festival of lights sale in December, and have tried to make myself an active member of the community. I saw lots of folks giving readings of their own work and didn’t know exactly how the process worked – did the organizers hand pick people, or what?

Eventually I just decided to do the thing that has opened so many doors to this point: I simply asked, and learned that they accepted volunteers. Hey, I could use the experience and I enjoy public speaking (I’m a sicko, sue me), so why not? I offered my services and they accepted, tentatively slating me for April, something that I discussed not too long ago on this very site.

Well, a few weeks ago some lack of volunteers led to some schedule shuffling and, long story short, the chapter organizers asked me to speak in February rather than April. It would mean something of a mental shift, but it’s very rare for me to turn down such an opportunity, especially if it’s asked of me by another, so I grabbed hold of it and decided I wouldn’t let go.

Practice, practice, practice, and I was ready for Saturday. Flash forward to then.

A good friend of mine, Cathy Wiley, was the “official” speaker, and she got something like an hour to speak on how she had sold 35,000 books. I hadn’t counted on actually being part of her presentation (she flashed Room 3 up as an example of a good cover), but I joined in and helped her explain some of the scarier aspects of online marketing to the group. She gave an engaging presentation and I think we worked well as a team together. It may be a presentation that we give together in the future, hard to say for certain, but I think it could work.

We took a break, and I got myself set up and geared up to read. I mixed, I mingled, and whatnot. Got to talk to some interesting folks and hear some interesting ideas for stories. I’m going to keep my eye out for a few of them – I think they have great potential.

After the break I received a great introduction from the Chapter President, Alix Moore, and dove right in.

I read, of course, from Room 3, and presented the first scene where we see the effects of Room 3 and the hallucinogenic drugs. My nerves were on edge as I began, and my practiced presentation of the characters’ voices became a bit inconsistent, so I adjusted some of the attribution on the fly. By the time I hit the halfway point, however, things started to pick up, and I could tell that I had gotten the group’s attention.  I find that confidence builds on confidence, so the longer I went without a major flub, the better I felt, and so the better the reading became. By the end I had built up a pretty good head of steam and felt ready to read as long as I possibly could.

Of course, in the end, I had to stop, as another writer, Thomas Foote, followed me. I felt good, though. The whole thing felt right, in a way that other public speaking hasn’t so far. I suspect it has to do with reading my own fiction and working on the fly rather than sticking to a script. Not sure, but it felt a lot better to stick in the moment rather than worrying about missing some planned beat here or there. That’s where you get the real give-and-take with your audience, in the unplanned.

Afterwards, I sold a copy or two, handed out some more, and really got to talk about my book with a few people. To me, that was worth whatever money I might have otherwise made. I’m not going to lie and say I wouldn’t like to get paid for my efforts, but right now this is truly a labor of love, and I will take any opportunity that I can get to share this work, even for free. Provided, of course, that I’m not being exploited. So far, so good.

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Finding an Audience

Happy Monday, readers. Hope you had a great weekend. We’re just starting to come out of a deep freeze here in the DC area; the roads are incredibly icy this morning, something of a last hurrah for winter before Spring pays us a temporary visit. It’s been a weird winter, with highs in the 60s one week and highs in the 20s the next and then right back up. My allergies have been in an uproar thanks to it, but what are you going to do?

I’m focused on these shifting phases because my own life is entering a new phase in the next three weeks. On Saturday, February 2nd, I’ll be giving a ten-minute reading of Room 3 for the Maryland Writers Association, Montgomery County, the first time that I’ve given a public reading of my work. I’m glad that it’s a relatively short reading, as I can ease into longer readings and QA sessions. Two weeks after, I’ll be appearing at FarPoint Convention in Timonium, Maryland. I’ll be selling Room 3, Corridors of the Dead, and the Station, but I’ll also be participating in a greet and sign on the night of the 15th, giving me the opportunity to meet some of the other authors at the show. You can check the schedule tab at the top of the page for more information.

For some writers I’m sure that this is old hat, but for me it represents a new commitment to my career and to bettering myself, all in one. Not too many years ago the very idea of speaking in front of groups about my writing – while a vague goal – seemed far too intimidating to even consider. Life had beaten me down, and surely I didn’t have much to say that would be of any interest to a potential reader. Why bother?

Well, because I do have things to say. They’re somewhat complicated things to say, perhaps a little too full of nuance for my own good, but they are things that I need to say. Look, I know that my work is not for everyone; I wish that it were, just as I wish that I could find happiness in writing more financially viable/marketable stuff. I just can’t. I envy writers whose true passion lies in mystery stories or romance stories. I don’t think any of us are better than the other, just different, and some genres are more accessible than others. That’s just the Way It Is, and I’m not going to let some dreams of acceptance sidetrack what I’m trying to do here artistically.

So I keep on saying what I have to say. It’s your call to determine whether those things are worth reading. A lot of folks seem to have decided that they are not worth reading, but then I also don’t think I’ve found my audience just yet. Some days I’m quite tempted to  throw up my hands, to say that either you folks aren’t out there, or that I’m deluding myself in believing that my writing is worthwhile, but I know that’s the easy path to truly having nothing worth saying. You only truly fail when you give up, and I’m not there yet.

Thus, these appearances, in the hopes that I can connect with you folks who might find value in my works. I have faith that sooner or later we will connect, but for now I have to throw my work out to the universe and cross my fingers. Maybe we’ll see each other soon.

Fiction Wednesday: Land of the Thief, Home of the Divergent

Welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday! Well, and as we’ll learn this week, sometimes also non-fiction Wednesday. I hope you don’t mind me speaking about the occasional non-fiction work, but I don’t think it serves a reader to only read one or the other, for a number of reasons (and let’s be honest, some non-fiction contains pure fiction and vice-versa).

This week I’m offering a review of Veronica Roth’s Divergent and my current thoughts on Cindy Young-Turner’s Thief of Hope, as well as the baseball book Bottom of the 33rd. My reading slowed a bit last week due to the holiday and some ongoing side work, but I’m hoping to pick up steam again this week.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

Divergent Divergent by Veronica Roth. I finished Divergent not long after last week’s post, allowing me some much-needed time to ruminate on the title and its context.

Let’s start by saying that the characters of Divergent are not really where the story shines. Some, such as Peter, are paint-by-numbers, “he-bad” caricatures that serve as little more than a stumbling block for the protagonist, Tris. Others are somewhat one-dimensional; the leader of the “Dauntless”, Eric, falls into this category. I had to look up Eric’s name in writing this review, a true testament to his memorable nature. The rest of the characters, with one or two notable exceptions, come across as players on a stage.

Tris starts out just as hollow, but eventually becomes more compelling as she discovers the truth of the world around her and begins to realize that she might have more behavioral choices other than those that have been handed to her. This, in particular, is poignant and a big reason why the novel works, but I’ll get to that shortly.  We are warned up front that Tris is self-centered, and this is borne out in the manner by which certain characters only take center-stage when they sacrifice themselves for Tris. For better or worse, those sacrifices mean very little outside of the context of Tris’s life, as we have barely gotten to know them and have no real reason to care for them. It annoyed me, but I suspect that may have been intentional.

Let’s also get one more gripe out of the way, as there’s no way around it: the writing is clunky. I’ve read worse, but I cringed in a few spots. I will say, however, that it’s not irredeemably clunky – Roth just makes some of the same rookie mistakes that most of us make, and I could see her prose becoming quite a force in the future. There’s nothing here that can’t be fixed without a little attention to the craft, and I see every indication that she’ll continue to dedicate herself to improvement.

I hate having to say all that about the book, because otherwise I really enjoyed it. The premise is interesting and, while Tris is a cipher at the beginning of the book, Roth plays this fairly well. The transformation works…well, okay, but the message behind the transformation is really what grabs the reader; essentially, Tris lives in a giant high school. In this world, appearance is pretty much everything and everyone has compartmentalized their emotions to one extent or another. Some, like the tribe she’s born into, abhor the self and anything to do with taking care of or wanting things for yourself; others, like the Dauntless, abhor fear and weakness. The law dictates that everyone is defined by their cliques and stay only within the narrow, prescribed social lanes. One’s greatest fear is not death, but of being without a clique altogether – “factionless”. Sound familiar? Continue reading

400: This is not my beautiful house!

400

Welcome to post #400! While it’s great to reach a milestone, I also have to keep my wits about me. Shaggin the Muse is, surprisingly, not the longest-lived blog that I’ve ever created. It’s certainly getting up there, but I’ve had a few that lasted a year or so longer. That said, I didn’t have any doubt that it would reach this point; what, was I just going to give up on my writing? Hardly. Still, I can recognize my own happiness at having enough ideas to get this far. Ideas are always the toughest part of writing a blog, and so far I’ve had a few slow downs but no major roadblocks.

This has certainly been a strange journey, though, one that’s encompassed two novels (both of which received total rewrites), more than a dozen short stories, an anthology appearance, and even a novelette.  I’m saving some of the navel-gazing for post #500, assuming I get that far, but 400 is still a nice round number to look back and take stock.

Shaggin the Muse opened its doors on February 25, 2011, right around the time that I wrapped up the fourth draft of what would eventually become The Corridors of the Dead. At that time, I referred to it as the Torat series rather than Among the Dead, and the first book would be Torat: Initiation. The series still consisted of three books and had a similar game plan, but featured some key differences, which I’ll talk about in a bit.

This blog exists simply because I felt it had to, as a means of publicity and not much else. My rather unfortunate first post reflects my feelings on the process at the time:

Intend to turn this into an official blog for my works, however, I am currently head-down in trying to get this novel ready for submission to a contest. Will eventually update on progress and thoughts.

dat sum

That’s it. The entire substance of the post. The damned thing is that I had plenty of blog experience at that point. By my count, I’d had something like seven blogs prior to this site and have been blogging in one form or another since early 2005, so it’s not like my reticence had been borne of fear. Truth is, I had few ideas on what I wanted from this site  other than including updates on my works-in-progress, and even then I felt something of a grudging “requirement” to offer those updates.

You see, it’s always been easy  to talk about other people and their ideas, but not so easy to focus on myself and my ideas, especially when it came to writing. Oh, sure, I could blog about emotional issues in my life with very little trouble (at a base level fiction is already pretty much this), but writing about my actual works? Just way too personal, and running too much of a risk that no one cares. I know, I know. It makes little sense to me now, too. I can only surmise that the process of creating fiction showed even more of my soft underbelly than some of those deeply personal things that I talked about over the years.

Today I’m the exact opposite. I’ve gotten so used to sharing my fiction and baring that part of myself that it seems odd that it ever worried me. At the same time I’ve gone back and removed a good portion of those older blogs because they cut too close to the bone. My fiction is still highly personal and incorporates much of my emotional landscape (I think good fiction should do this), but it’s different now – overt talk about emotional issues just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Two years in the trenches of the publishing wars will do that to a person, that’s for sure. I certainly know that public appearances with my fiction felt unthinkable back then and here I am gearing up for public readings and sales with some anticipation.

Now, to talk about my relevant work on February 25th, 2011. Torat: Initiation would turn out to be a very different book from Corridors of the Dead. Oh, both books shared a majority of characters, save for an angel named Mora (AKA Uriel, the angel of death), a down-on-her-luck diner owner in Vegas. I miss her, but some of her lives on in the character of Omarosa, introduced in The Station and taking a much larger role in City of the Dead.

For comparison’s sake, here is the original opening of Torat: Initiation:

Working as the night porter for the motel really was the best and worst of both worlds. Matty loved having the extended alone time; the quiet time, the time when she could just sit with her charcoals and inks and do whatever came to mind. She hated that stretch between 3 and 6, when the entire world came to a dead stop and the spectre of sleep hung on her bones like a shroud, fended off with regular shots of Red Bull and Mountain Dew.

She dreaded it, but it also produced some of her more surreal works of art, and so she tried to be ready to seize that dragon and ride it all the way to some great art. This night she was working on a charcoal drawing of her lover, transforming her from a pretty blonde with curved, nordic features to a sneering warrior.

She looked up when the door chimed and sat Kristy aside, stepping through the doorway to find a small, hunched old woman who greeted her with kind eyes. “Good to see someone’s still awake.”

Matty rubbed her eyes and smiled. “Yeah, kinda my job.”

“Still admirable. Could just as easily sleep back there, you know.”

Matty lifted an empty Red Bull can from beside the register and shook it. “The magic of caffeine.”

It’s a testament to my growth that I can read that and immediately see why the book struggled to place with an agent; I hadn’t done much real work done to build a connection with Matty. I don’t blame myself, though, as I had very little idea of how to do such a thing. Thankfully, that’s changed over the last two years, and I know that I could do a fairly effective job of connecting the reader with that incarnation. Continue reading

State of the City: January 2013

Lazy

Hi Readers. It’s Friday yet again – the second Friday of 2013, of course, and I think it might be time for a status update. You know, I occupy a funny place as an indie writer. I consider this a job, and I take it very seriously, but there are times when I become tempted to think “well, I report to only myself (and possibly my wife), so who cares if I don’t do this or that?”

That’s the kind of threatening inertia that can take down a career before it even begins; I know, I’ve seen it happen with a few folks already. I want to avoid this kind of thinking, but it’s such a strange space to occupy that motivation beyond motivation “for its own sake” becomes a nebulous concept. At least, until I think about readers. That’s why I address so many of my updates to you readers directly. You’re the ones that (theoretically) pay my bills, and the ones who might possibly enjoy anything that I bring to market. In some respects, that makes you the ones to whom I report. And you know what? I’m pretty okay with that concept. Customers are king in my other business, and so customers must be king here. Thinking this way also helps when it comes to things that enrich my career, such as writers conferences or convention appearances.

Anyway, enough with the navel-gazing. It’s something that has been on my mind lately, and I just wanted to say something about it.

Now then, the good stuff: what’s going on? The answer is, a lot. Shadow Boxes, the short story collection, is still on the table. I had previously hoped for a February release, but a combination of factors (including aforementioned convention appearances) makes that highly unlikely. May might be a little more realistic, but we’ll see on that front. As I’ll explain in a bit, I’m currently very invested in City of the Dead and want to make that the highest priority. Still, Shadow Boxes is on my radar and will see the light of day in 2013, barring any major issues.

That brings me to the Among the Dead trilogy and, specifically, City of the Dead. I’m pleased to report that the first draft is at 64,000 words and counting. Forward progress is currently halted just short of the opening of Book 3 (which means I’m roughly 2/3rds of the way through) in order to return to the scene of the crime, as it were. I’ve gone back to page 1 and am revising from there forward. Continue reading

Fiction Wednesday: The Reading List

Hey readers! While Fiction Wednesday in its current form is in hiatus until I can get my short story collection out, I thought I’d stay true to the theme and continue fiction talk on Wednesdays; specifically, other people’s fiction. You see, I actually quite enjoy writing fiction critiques (I’m not sure you could call what I do reviewing), but when there’s a choice between writing about someone else’s story or writing something of my own, my own work will always win. This means that a good percentage of the books that I read on GoodReads only get a rating without a corresponding review. I’m not crazy about that, as I’d like to go back and remember just why I felt that way about a certain book, as well as giving other readers something to go by. Hence, this series. I have no idea if it’s a full-time thing or not. Let’s just see where it goes, shall we? It could be a lot of fun to just be a “book blogger” for a day each week and maybe take a look at what does and doesn’t work within certain novels. It’s worth a shot, I figure. This means that I’ll be giving some thoughts on the books that I’m currently reading while trying to remain somewhat above spoilers for newer works. I’d also like to take this opportunity to introduce you to new authors in the future without taking up an entire day worth of posts. With that rambling preamble out of the way, let’s take a look at this week’s offerings…

Devices

Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter For those few people not familiar with the steampunk genre, K.W. Jeter is the guy who originally coined the term in something of a joking fashion. Jeter is a friend of personal favorite Tim Powers and knew Phillip K. Dick through Powers, so he definitely has the pedigree. I’ve always wanted to dig through his bibliography but only just decided to get around to it. This book seemed like a natural choice, given that it was one of the earlier steampunk works. Note that I’m reading the Angry Robot re-release from a few years ago, but I prefer the cover to the left with all its Dungeons and Dragons echoes, so I used that one.

Now about the novel itself…I so want to like this book, but I find it thwarting me at every turn. I realize that it hasn’t received great reviews, but the same is true for the Difference Engine and I feel that’s a criminally under-appreciated and misunderstood book, so I hoped the same would be true here. Alas…it starts out really slow – so slow that I thought about bailing more than once – and only starts to pick up at about the 20% mark. At that point, the book looked like it might be something truly special, an original blend of steampunk and H.P. Lovecraft. I’m now 72% in and I have a feeling it’s not going to live up to that promise. Things have already begun to go off the rails and some of it has strained even my credulity thanks to inconsistencies within the story itself and some good ideas that don’t go anywhere useful. Continue reading