Before Halloween

So, I’ve talked to a couple of people and I’m very excited to announce that my first book, Awfully Appetizing, should become available in print sometime in October.

When in October?  Not sure.  But I do now know what the holdup is!  Apparently the books from Winlock need to be appropriately formatted before they are sent to the printers, and the gentleman who is doing the formatting is dealing with the backlog of books that were not put out during whatever nonsense was originally going on with the printer.  So, now he’s got about thirty books he needs to format and send off.

So, anyway, those of you who have been impatiently waiting for my book to become available in print, have no fear, sometime in the next thirty five days or so, my word-child will be birthed into the physical world.

Hurrah!  Hurrah!

Advertisements

Becoming a good writer

I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends recently that all went kind of similarly.  Basically, when I start talking to them about writing they’ll tell me that they would love to write, and they have some great ideas that they really want to get down, but they just don’t have any talent for it.

It brought to mind a quote on writing that I’ve seen a couple of times over the years.  I can’t remember how it went exactly or who said it, but it was something along the lines of ‘the first few years of writing there’s a disparity between your tastes and your output.  You know what good writing is, but you can’t seem to produce it.’

I think it’s important for people who start out writing, or who start out doing any kind of artistic endeavor, to keep this in mind.  A lot of people, in my experience, allow themselves to become discouraged early on and quit something that they enjoy doing just because they aren’t good at it.  But the things, nobody is really ‘good’ when they start.  some may be better than others, but nobody is actually good.

If you want to become a good writer, or a good painter, or a good musician, you have to be willing to be a bad writer, or painter, or musician first.  Whatever your goal, you have to be willing to be awful for a while, until your skill catches up with your taste.

That is not to say that if you do anything long enough you’ll become amazing at it, I can’t guarantee amazing, and god only knows what it takes to become successful, but I do know that it takes time to get good, and you have to be willing to invest that.

Gutter Magic

Been playing around with an idea lately:

My name is Neville Stevens, and I am a wizard.

Barely.

There are standards you see, if you want to call yourself a wizard.  You have to be able to manipulate the five elemental magics, that’s one.  You have to be able to demonstrate mastery of all seven of the mental disciplines, that’s number two.  You need to be able to travel to all twenty-six of the neighboring planes in astral form, and all six of the overlapping planes, physically, which makes number three.  And last, but by no means least, you absolutely must be able to use your third eye.

The mage who scored me and confirmed my status as a wizard told me afterwards that I had the absolute lowest score a person could possibly get and still make the staff.  Making the staff is what it’s called when you join the order, and please, don’t make any jokes about it, I’ve heard them all and, after a few pints, made up a few more.

In the order, they call me the gutter mage.  At first they just said it behind m back, but eventually it become something of an open joke, and now I can’t get them to stop calling me it.  That’s alright though, being a mage is like being a doctor, once you have the diploma up on your wall, it doesn’t really matter what your actual grades were.

Okay, fine, it matters to all the other doctors, but when someone comes in needing a heart transplant, they don’t ask you how you did on your midterms.

Unfortunately that does mean that I find myself getting hired for jobs that I really nave no business getting involved in.

Percolating

I try to write every day.  I’ve mentioned that before, I’m sure.  I try to make myself sit down in front of the computer and pound out a few hundred words every single day, whether I feel like it or not, and I think that this practice is making me a better writer.  But while it’s important to write as much as I can, I think it’s also important to put off specific projects until I’m ready for them.

I’m working on a project with a friend.  It’s a dystopian cyberpunk piece which,, I feel, has a great deal of potential.  But I’m having trouble working on it. It isn’t that I sit down and can’t think of what comes next, it’s that I don’t think i”m where I need to be for the story.

There are, I believe, pieces still missing.  Something isn’t in place, and if I write it before everything coalesces, the story I produce won’t be the one that I’ve been working on.  It will be… derivative?

I believe in letting the important ideas percolate. I let them sit in the back of my head and float around, bumping into other ideas.  I leave it to grow and connect, until the story is ready for me.

Or maybe I’m just being a lazy bastard and avoiding a project I don’t want to work on right now.

Curdled Cuisine ready to go!

I just mapped out book three of the Corpse-Eater saga, and I have to say, this book feels like it’s going to be pretty damned full!  I’ve got plots, sub-plots, scenes for overarching plots… I’m introducing a character or two who will be pretty damned important down the road.

I’ve got to admit, I’m excited about this one!  Quite a range of emotions are going to play out over the course of this book, and a few things I’ve invested in throughout the first two books are going to pay off here.

I also had something of an epiphany recently.  I figured out how I want to series to end.  Originally I just wanted to run through my contract with Winlock and see how I felt, but I figured out a couple of things today.  I think I may have to go to twelve or fifteen books to get to where I want to be, but I know where I want the story to end, and I really think I can make it all the way to that moment.

In fairness, I’m saying this as I start work on book three.  By the time I get to, let’s say, book seven, I’ll probably be groaning and whining constantly as I beg for the end of the series to come.  That’s not based on anything I know about the series, just the fact that I’ve never gotten to the end of book three in any series I’ve started writing yet.  Then again, I never had a publisher want to print anything I wrote before, so we’re in a whole new ballpark here!

Stuff I think would be cool

So, it occurred to me today,and I posted this on facebook, that it would be very telling if you could get people to answer the question, ‘what do you warn your other friends about me before you introduce us.’  the problem, of course, is that nobody on facebook is going to answer with something like, ‘oh, he’s an asshole.  A good guy, but a real asshole,’ which is, in fact, what I warn some of my friends before I introduce them to other friends.  As for why I have friends who are assholes… it isn’t as though being an asshole is an entirely bad thing…. but back on point, very few people have the nerve to actually tell you your flaws to your face.  but many of us really want to know.  So I thought it would be cool if you could post something on facebook but categorize it in such a way that, a) only people on your friends list could answer but b) the posts were all kept anonymous.

The other thing that I really wish you could do for facebook relates to those stupid ‘which hogwarts house would you be in,’ or ‘which character from firefly are you,’ quizzes.  the thing that bugs me about that is that I already know how I see myself.  What would interest me is if I could set one up so that my friends could take the quiz about me and I could see how they perceived me.

Anyhow, just some stuff I think would be cool.

Waxing and Waning

Sometimes, as a writer, the words just flow.  Sometimes you can sit down, start typing, and the hardest thing you have to deal with all day long is trying to keep up with the inspiration.

And sometimes the words don’t flow.

Right now, the words aren’t coming.  I’ve been at this long enough that I don’t panic about it anymore.  I know that there are ebbs and flows to all of this and that in due course I’ll find myself neck deep in stories again.

But right here, right now, I’m a dry well.

And it kind of sucks.  I’ve got responsibilities as a writer.  I’ve got books I’m working on for people and with people.  I’ve got deadlines and whatnot.  Hell I’ve got a blog and I can’t think of a single thing worth saying.

One thing I have learned over the years, after going through more than a couple of dry spells, is that you fight it.  You make yourself put the words down, even if they don’t feel quite right.  You make yourself get through it now, because if you can write through the lows, the highs will last that much longer.

Deep breath, and plow forward, one step at a time.

All across the wall

I’m working on book three of the Corpse-Eater Saga, and I have to say, there is a lot of stuff to remember.  There are characters of varying importance who may or may not come back into another story later.  There are descriptions of people and places, which, though not important enough for me to remember all the time, would be embarrassing to get wrong.  There is the description of distances and drive times.  There are endless details.  And, let’s face it, I am not good with details.

Because of that, my walls are becoming increasingly crowded.  I started by drawing a map of the my imaginary city, Collinswood Colorado.  Then I wrote out very brief sketches for each of the nine books that I’ve agreed to write in the series.  Then I drew blueprints for a couple of buildings, so I wouldn’t find myself describing a place that can’t exist in three dimensions.    Now I have a couple more buildings to draw, and several character arcs that I’m going to be sketching out.  I’m also about to start a list of events that exist to foreshadow upcoming plots and stories.  I should’ve done that at the very beginning.

Dammit, I’m running out of wall space!

I’m a racist and so are you (probably).

Back when Obama was first running for office I remember watching t.v. one night, and inevitably someone had gone around asking people their thoughts on the upcoming election.  This one guy, he looked like a college kid, replied “I don’t want to sound racist but I don’t think I’m ready for a black president.”

This took me aback. Not because it was racist.  Come on, I live in Texas, you think I haven’t heard some s#!% before?  No, what surprised me was that he began the sentence with ‘I don’t want to sound racist.’  It was obviously racist.  Racism was judging a person by their race.  He looked at Obama, said, ‘he’s black, I don’t want him to be president,’ so… what the hell else was it supposed to be.

This actually haunted me for a long time.  Not constantly, but it stuck around in the back of my mind, bumping around, occasionally jumping to the forefront of my brain.  I’d be sitting in an airport, waiting for a flight, and all the sudden find myself thinking ‘I don’t want to sound racist, but …. I’m not ready for a black president.  I don’t want to sound racist…. not ready for a black president.’  Trying desperately to figure out how someone could say those two things in order and not see them as being obviously contradictory in nature.

And then, one day, it clicked.

The problem, I came to realize, was that people looked at racism, and, for that matter, sexism, homophobia, etc etc etc, as binary.

Either you are racist, or you are not racist.  Either you are homophobic, or you are not homophobic.

This, I realized, was a problem.  A very real and important problem.  Why?  Because, when people look at these things as binary, all they need to do to prove that they are NOT racist or sexist or homophobic, or whatever, is find someone who is worse.

It’s simple.  You start with the question, am I racist?  Then you look for examples of racism.  The KKK is racist.  They burn crosses on people’s yard.  They shout racial slurs.  They kill people.  I do not kill people.  I do not shout racial slurs.  I do not burn crosses on people’s yard.  Clearly, I am not racist.

The net result of that is that I don’t need to examine myself further.  I don’t need to ask myself whether I think that those guys over there are up to no good because they are black.  That’s what a racist person would do.  Me, I’m just aware of my surroundings and following my instincts.  I don’t need to ask why it is that I hire so few women at this job.  I’m not sexist, I just hire the most qualified person.  I mean, I don’t have a mathematical formula for it, but I know I’m not sexist, so my gut must be reliable on these things.

The truth is, none of these things are binary.  They are each a spectrum, and we all lie somewhere on it.  Hey, maybe there are people whose racism lies at the zero mark, I don’t know, I’m no expert on the subject, what I do know is that mine does not.  Not yet.  Maybe it will someday, but right now, I have to admit, when I see a group of black men hanging out up ahead of me, chatting and laughing, I get nervous.  More nervous than I would if they were white.  I’ve made choices based on the color of people’s skin.  I’m not proud of that, but it’s the truth.

It would be easy enough for me to claim that I am not racist.  I could look at the guy who said he didn’t want Obama to be president because he was black and say, ‘I don’t think that way, I’m not like him, clearly I’m not racist,” but to do so would be a mistake.  Not just because it would be inaccurate, but because it would make it too easy for me to stop questioning myself, which in turn would mean that I wouldn’t be inclined to improve as a person.

That, I think, is what all of this is about. The thing that we rarely talk about is that people are not, as a rule, entirely at fault for where on the spectrum they begin.  We’re not entirely innocent, either, but a lot of our views and beliefs come from where we are born and raised, and who bore us and raised us.  At a certain point, yes, we have to take responsibility for our beliefs and actions, but it is, I think, important to acknowledge where we start.

I have a friend who is somewhat more racist than myself.  I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say, from time to time I find myself thinking, “Oh John Doe, I can’t believe you just said that.”

Some people might wonder why I’m still friends with him.

Here’s the thing.  There is a town in Texas where, until the nineties, as I understand it, they had a billboard on the edge of town that essentially said, if you are black, don’t be here after sunset.

My friend lived about ten minutes away from that town.  He grew up in the midst of a great deal of racism and bigotry.  He has, over the course of his life, worked long and hard, thought deeply, and focused on his behavior and words, and is now only mildly racist.

He isn’t perfect, obviously, but neither am I.  And I have to admit, my friend has come a long, long way in his beliefs.

I like to think that I’ve made some progress as well.

And to be honest, I think that progress is the more important measure of a person.  The easy path, for all of us, is to declare that this person over here is the problem, not us.  All we need to do is condemn them and continue being the good person we know ourselves to be.  In order to effect change in the world, however, I think that it’s important that we start with ourselves.

I remember asking a writing friend once if he thought that the novel of mine that he’d read had misogynistic undertones.  He informed me that it wasn’t misogynistic because I wasn’t misogynistic.  At the time I took great comfort in that.  Now, though, I believe that he was wrong.  I may not be as sexist as some, but the sexism is there.  My responsibility, however, is not to be perfect.  My responsibility is to be aware of my failings, realize that they are my problem, not everyone else’s, and try to be better today than i was yesterday.

Anyhow, that’s my view on it.  It isn’t perfect, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a little while, and I thought I’d share.

Bloody Banquet

Bloody Banquet is currently in the hands of my editor, which means that it shouldn’t be too awful long before it winds up on bookshelves… well, on virtual bookshelves everywhere.  I’d like to think that it won’t be too awful long before it ends up on physical bookshelves, but let’s be honest here, they’ll probably put out book one first, and since I still don’t have an ETA on that… I guess I’ll just focus on my end of things.

Anyway, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m trying to pull off in book three, but I still need to organize a few of the major events and decide what foreshadowing I need for future books, and which lines of foreshadowing I need to make sure continue through this one.  I’m going to have to get a lot more organized, I think.  I’m also going to have to reread my books which I’m not looking forward to… hey, don’t look at me like that, I’ve already read both of them, like, half a dozen times while I was writing them!  There’s a limit to how many times you can read your own work before it starts to make you a little crazy.  Of course, I’m already pretty deep into crazytown, so maybe I just need to quit my bitching and get back to work.

Well, wish me luck, Book three, tentatively entitled ‘curdled cuisine,’ is going to be my focus for the next couple of months.

That being said, if you enjoyed book one, and if you like book two, please make a point of mentioning it to your friends.  As I understand it, I’ve currently sold about twenty-odd copies of Awfully Appetizing, which is somewhat on the disappointing side.

Anyhow, hope you’re all doing well, talk to you soonish.