Tag Archives: artist

Seven Favorite Sins

So, there are a lot of ways to go about building characters.  You can base them on people that you know, or exaggerated ideals.  You can make them to fit a special need in your writing, or you can imagine a crazy society and ask yourself what would come about because of that.

Sometimes, though, what I find myself with are too-perfect characters.  I make them, not into reflections of myself, but reflections of who I’d like to be.  I make them the ideal human, then wonder why nobody can relate to them.

Well, if you ever find yourself with a character that you think might be just a little bit too perfect, here’s something you can try: ask yourself what their favorite sin is.

There are seven deadly sins, let me see if I can list them all:

Lust

Greed

Wrath

Pride

Sloth

Gluttony

Envy

Now,as I understand it, there are people out there who have managed to completely rid themselves of one or maybe two of these, but let’s be honest here, for the rest of us, all seven are pretty big.  But the thing you have to keep in mind is that everyone has at least one of these that is there go-to sin.  Or, if you’re not a fan of the word ‘sin,’ let’s call it imbalance.  Whatever name you give it, it comes back to the same thing:  There’s something in you that drives you to behave foolishly.

Pick one, give it to your character, and whenever you write that character, remember that failing and make a point of bringing it out a bit.  It’s a fantastic way to make your characters be just a little more human, when you would otherwise be writing them as minor gods.

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Sometimes you have to go forward, to go backwards, to go forwards

So I’ve got an idea for a book.

Okay, I’ve got oodles of ideas for books… for those of you who have writer friends and you want to tell them an idea you had that they could write about?  They’ve got plenty of ideas.  Ideas are the easy part.  But we’ll set that aside for now.

So, the problem I have with the idea that I want to write about right now is that it isn’t a FULL idea.  I don’t have all of the pieces.  I have an idea that I think will work well to hook the audience in, and which will force me to be more creative in the way I address certain things.  I have ideas for characters that I like.  They’re complicated, three dimensional (well, most of them) and well flawed.

The story itself I’m still working on, but that isn’t the hard part…

The hard part is the world building.

Please… don’t give me any advice, I’ve built worlds before.  Plenty of them.  I know tricks and tropes and techniques and… and… stuff.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is that I’ve got a fairly vast world, to which I have made a number of deep changes.  The way time is measured is somewhat different than what we’re used to. The kinds of currency that are used is different.  Certain expressions are very different.

All of which would be fine if I were writing this more traditionally, but I’m doing something a little bit different with perspective I’m writing this from.  In order to introduce the narrator correctly, I sort of have to ask the reader to take a couple of leaps of faith with me.

But you can only ask for so many leaps of faith.  You have to give the reader a place to start, a foundation from which to understand the story.

In the end I realized that the only way I could figure out where to begin, was to start in the wrong spot, go as far as I could go, then look back and figure out where I should have started instead.

It’s kind of frustrating.  I’m going to write three or four chapters that will all be thrown out just as soon as I figure out what I need to figure out here.  But it’s exciting too.  I can really go for it, I don’t have to worry about making everything comprehensible, or getting the terms just right.  I just have to pick up the bat and swing for the fences.

Go forward, so I can go backwards, so I can go forwards.  Maybe I’m biting off more than I’m ready to chew, with this project.  Maybe if I waited a couple of years and tried again it would flow perfectly and easily.

Then again, you never make progress if you only do what’s easy.  The more you struggle with a project, the more you have to wrestle all the details into place, the more you learn and the better you are when you start something new.  Right?

Reflecting as I promote

So, one of the great conundrums in the world of promoting art is how you seek out your audience.

There are places, both real and virtual, where fans of particular kinds of art congregate.  For the sake of this blog, I’m going to focus on the fans of my kind of art.  Science fiction and fantasy books.

The problem is that the places, both real and virtual, which have the largest gatherings of potential readers are well aware of their potential value.  Places like comic book conventions, and io9, where my possible readers come together regularly and in droves, know that have created the perfect place for writers and the like to peddle their wares, so they charge for the privilege.  I don’t begrudge them that, after all they put a lot of time and energy into what they do.  It makes sense that people looking to take advantage of it should have to pay for it.

The problem is that for writers who don’t have an established fan base and can’t count on a certain number of sales, or cannot easily come up with the money required to rent a table, each purchase is a calculated risk.

So instead, when you don’t have the cash flow to buy a spot at one of the big places, you have to look for the little places.  Like blogs.  A few days back I found a list of blogs where people reviewed urban fantasy stories.  I went through them, checked each one out, and whenever I found an active site that looked like they were interested in my kind of story, I sent them an e-mail asking if they’d like to review my book.

The thing that interested me was just how many of the sites were defunct.  You had to keep your eyes open, check out how long ago the last post had been put up.  There were places that looked perfect for my kind of book, it just happened that the last time they’d done anything on their site was 2011.  Funny.  And kind of sad.  A bunch more just weren’t taking reviews at the moment, so, all told, of the hundred and fifty blog sites that I looked into, I think I sent off just a little under twenty five requests.

But man, there were a lot of dead sites.  In a way, looking at all of the review sites reminded me a lot of writers.  There are a lot of writers and would-be writers out in the world, trying to make a go of it, desperate to be seen, desperate to be heard.  We tell ourselves that this is our calling, that this is what we want to do with our life.  But somehow, the longer you go, the more ‘bodies’ you start seeing on the side of the proverbial road.  Eventually most people quit.  And I can’t fault them for it. Pursuing your dreams is a rough road to travel.  You take a look around you and you see the people who’ve made it, you see the io9s and the comicons, and you know where you want to end up, what you want to be.  But at a certain point you just sort of realize that you’re not going to end up there.  You can do well for yourself, potentially you can become  a great niche artist, but your name will never reach the acclaim of, say Stephen King or Jim Butcher.  It’s a bit troubling, when you have to readjust your aim, shoot a little lower.

Those little gems

One of my favorite feelings, as a writer, is when I’m reading something I wrote a while back and I come across a section that I don’t remember, but love.  I’m working on book two of the corpse-eater saga, which I wrote a month or two back, and then set down for a bit.  I’m actually kind of stoked to find large swaths of text that I think are pretty danged okay.

I’m not saying that it’s the best writing I’ve ever read, but there are bits here and there that I just don’t remember writing, or thinking, and which do their job perfectly.

Sometimes it’s just a little bit of narration that uses an unusual, but appropriate analogy.  Sometimes it’s a section of dialogue that seems to fit the characters just perfectly.

I know that, as a writer, I still have work to do.  I need to try to improve my writing each and every time.  I need to learn to be open to new things.  I need to read more and write harder.  But it’s nice to see that the work I’ve done has led me somewhere.  I’ve made progress.  I am better today than I was yesterday, and I hope to be better tomorrow than I am today.

Just wanted to share that.

Message in a Bottle

So, once a writer gets a book out there, however they got their book out there, they are much like a seaman thrown onto a strange shore, who, having journeyed over the mountains that lay beyond their beach find, to their horror, that instead of being on some foreign continent, they are trapped on a deserted island.

Instead of reaching the end of their trial, they are, in fact, only just beginning it.  Once the book is out and about, the writer must begin to promote it.  There was a time when this was the job of the publisher, and some of the kinder publishers will help you with this step in your journey, but as a rule, the person who is going to do the most work in getting word of your book out into the world is you.

Unfortunately, when it comes to promotion, nobody is really entirely sure how the whole thing works.  Or if they are sure, they’re keeping it to themselves, which is probably a wise thing as nothing seems to work as well once everyone is doing it.

For most of us, promoting our books is a bit like sending a message in a bottle.  Oh, sure, there are certain things you can do that are certain to get SOME kind of response.  For example, you have to tell your friends and family.  They’re basically obliged to buy a copy and tell you that they love it.  But unless one of the people who has to buy your book and sing its praises is Brad Pitt, that isn’t going to be enough to get the response that you want.

Every writer knows, in their heart, that somewhere out in the world, his or her readership is waiting, desperately wanting to find out about their book.  They might not realize that this is what they’re waiting for, but it is.  All we have to do is put the message into the right person’s hands at the right time and it will spread like wildfire.

The problem is that we have no idea who the right person is, when the right time is, and where all of this will take place.  Even when we know that certain things have worked before, like setting up a cooking blog, or selling books at track meets, or sending a copy of the book to a celebrity, we also know that those things worked because of very specific circumstances.  The book tied in with this, or it represented that, or the celebrity in question had just taken their medication… whatever the reason.  The point is, we cannot possibly expect for something that worked yesterday to work today.  It won’t.  Instead we take pot shots.  We pay attention to the big things, the trends going on, and we try to find a way to make our book stand out just a little bit, and we throw our message in a bottle out into the tide here or there and cross our fingers and hope really REALLY hard.

Sometimes I think that there must be a better way to do this, some way to help the cream rise to the top, instead of just advancing the people who are good at promoting themselves.  I don’t have anything against those people, but I think that good writers and good storytellers often get the short end of the stick in the publishing world.

Or maybe I’m just not creative enough or not dedicated enough.  I will admit, I often find myself getting frustrated and walking away from the computer too quickly.  I really am drawing a blank on how to promote myself.

Well, almost a blank, there is that one idea…. and it might be crazy enough to work….

Writing as a Job

I don’t actually remember the exact moment when I decided that I wanted to be a professional writer.  I was know that I was young enough at the time that I wasn’t particularly concerned with considerations like money.  I was still in that sweet spot in life where I knew that when I grew up I would have to pick something to do that defined who I was, and I knew that the something I wanted to do was tell stories.

It was perfect, beautiful even.  I loved stories, loved to read them, loved to watch them, loved to close my eyes and let them dance around in my brain; all I had to do was learn to take the stories inside my head, put them down on paper, and I would get to BE a writer.

As I grew up, I came to realize that there was a bit more to it than that.  You have to learn to use the right words in the right place so that your reader will be able to pick up on the subtleties of the story.  You have to plan ahead, make sure that what you’re telling is cohesive and meaningful, a single story, instead of a series of unrelated tales that simply happen to somebody.  You have to figure out how to make sure that your reader will relate to the characters so that they are invested in them.

Lots of subtle little details.

But those are skills you pick up along the way.  They are tools that you add to your toolbox, and while you might struggle with them, wrestle with them, sometimes even hate and despise them, once you’ve figured out how they work, the writing itself is still the same glorious adventure that you loved before.

It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I began to discover where the real work began.

I remember, very specifically, having finished my second or third novel, I looked it over and thought to myself, ‘finally, something worth publishing.’

Looking back I realize how terribly, terribly wrong I was, but at the time, having just forced the last big of this giant brain-baby onto the page, I was convinced that I had delivered unto the world the first book of my burgeoning career.  All I needed to do was send it off to get published.

So I got on my parents’ computer, headed to whatever search engine it was we were using at the time, and typed in something along the lines of ‘publishing novels,’ which got me a long list of book publishers.  Of course, there homepages were filled with advertisements for the books and authors they already had, but I did a little bit of digging, and at long last found a link entitled ‘submissions.’

And this was where my journey hit its first snag.  I had expected them to give me an e-mail address or a physical address where I could send my book.  Instead, they had about a page and a half describing, in detail, what they were looking for, and what they were not looking for, and how everything was to be organized.

The first hurdle listed was something called a ‘query letter.’  I was bewildered.  I knew both of the words: query meant ‘question’ and letter… well, that was just a letter, duh.  So a letter of question.  What was the question?  After looking over the submission requirements for ten or fifteen minutes, then googling ‘query letter’ and scanning through examples I came to the inescapable conclusion that they wanted me to send them a letter asking them if they wanted to see my novel.

What. The . Hell?

Send a communication asking if I could send a communication?  How was that not a waste of time?  They published books, clearly they needed to look at potential manuscripts to decide if they wanted to publish it.  How could they possibly look at a letter… a half page letter at that, and decide, based on that, whether they wanted to see my manuscript?  But the real kicker was the little comment at the end of the paragraph where they informed me that it would take several months for them to get back to me.

Months?!  It had taken months to write my book, they couldn’t possibly, not seriously, be expecting me to wait for the same length of time it had taken me to write my book just to hear them say ‘sure, send it to us and we’ll take a look.’

But they did!  And more than that, when they did ask for it (at this point it hadn’t even occurred to me that they might not want to see the manuscript itself), it would take them even longer to decide if they were willing to publish it!

Absurdity!

Well, my google search had given me a list of publishers, surely they weren’t all so demanding!

Except that they were.  Every single one.  Not only that, but it turned out that not a single one of them was willing to even consider my book if I had anyone else thinking about considering to look at it!  Which meant that if I sent my first query letter out that day, got a reply to send the book, sent it, and then found out that somehow they had decided NOT to publish my book, I’d have to start the entire process over again!  From scratch!

I had spent months and months lovingly and carefully sculpting a story from nothing.  Some days I worked for hours at a stretch creating characters and backstories, building a world… it had been a labor of love.  Then, just when I thought my work was complete, when all I had to do was send something off and wait for someone else to finish working on it, it turned out that my trials had just begun.

The secret about taking up a job in the arts, the thing that most people don’t realize when they start, is that the art is not the work at all.  You assume that it is, after all, it’s hard.  Everyone can make art, but very few people learn to make it WELL, and you assume that the long hours of work, and the research and study that you put in are what make an artist.  But if you are looking for any level of commercial success as an artist you need to realize that what separates the successful from the rest of the pack is largely bullheaded determination.

Skill is good and important, but trying to be a successful artist is a lot like trying to be a violinist in a machine shop.  Whether you are the best in the world at what you do, or a novice, most people can’t even hear you over the cacophony that surrounds you.  There are moments of silence, brief periods when you can be heard, but those moments are unpredictable and fleeting.  You have to be fortunate enough to be playing at those moments, and to be heard by somebody who can appreciate what you’re doing before the scream of steel and the grinding of metal overwhelms you once again.

It is possible, of course, to be an artist in a vacuum.  You can spend your entire life writing beautiful works, then piling them up on the edge of your desk, unconcerned with whether or not anybody ever reads them, but most artists need their creations to be seen, to be heard, to be read.

And the only way to do that is to fight for them, tooth and nail, climbing up the side of a cliff, against the wind, in snow six feet thick, without shoes…. Well, I think you get the idea.

Rate me! Judge me! AHHHHH!

So… my book has been out for a couple of days now.  Not too terribly long, but a little while.  Three days, basically.  It’s available for kindle on Amazon, and hopefully will be available in print before too terribly long, fingers crossed.  And it’s up on goodreads now, which is nice.  Unfortunately the only rating it has, which is on goodreads, is the one I gave it.  I keep on reminding myself, it takes most people a couple of days to get through a book.  Maybe even a week.

But the knot in my stomach refuses to listen to reason.  He’s curled himself into a ball so tight that I’m surprised any food is making it to my lower intestines.

It’s hard, twiddling your thumbs while you wait for strangers to judge you.  You know that it’s coming, and you fear it, but you need it, too.

Because if they judge me that means that they see me, and the only thing worse than being judged is being invisible.

I remember that feeling from high school.

Strange, isn’t it?  How high school scars us all.  It’s been a decade and a half since I went to high school, and I still have nightmares that take place in it.

I keep on expecting the day to come that I shift from childhood dreams to ‘adult’ dreams, whatever that means.  But I found out recently that my father, who’s in his sixties now, still has those same nightmares.  late to a class you haven’t been going to all year.  Test coming up.  All that jazz.

An introduction

I guess I have to start somewhere with this, and the place that makes the most sense, I think is with me.

Please allow me to introduce myself.  I’m a man without wealth or taste.  I hope some day to have wealth, but as for taste, I could do without it, I think.

The most important thing that I can tell you about myself is that I am mentally ill.  Specifically, I’ve got depression and anxiety.  I strongly suspect that there’s more to it than just that, but those are the ones I’ve been diagnosed with.  Well, sort of.  Diagnoses related to mental problems are a bit different than diagnoses related to physical problems.  Basically I just told a shrink that I spend a lot of time depressed for no discernible reason, but I don’t have any periods where I partake in excessive risks or think I’m immortal and she goes ‘yeah, that’s depression.’  I don’t know exactly what I expected, to have to pee on a stick or get some blood drawn or something.  Honestly, I think it’s the word ‘diagnosed’ that through me off.  I spent years thinking ‘hey, I’m anxious a lot.  maybe I have an anxiety disorder?  But I shouldn’t say that for sure until I’ve talked to a doctor.’  Then when I do they just go, ‘oh, yeah, anxiety for no reason?  Okay, I can give you something for that.’

Sorry, that’s a bit of a tangent.  Just something that always felt weird to me.

Anyhow, I’m currently medicated for the depression, and sort of medicated for the anxiety, which has helped me more than I can express.  I mean, it has literally been years since I’ve laid in bed, crying, praying that I’d die before I woke up.  That sucked.

The funny thing, looking back, was the little voice in the back of my head doubting everything for me.  I remember, very specifically, thinking ‘this is it, it can’t get worse than this, I have to see a shrink and get something to help me deal with this.’  And then this little voice in my head goes, ‘but what if there’s nothing wrong with you.  What if this is how everybody feels, and you’re just such a giant pussy that you can’t deal with it like everyone else does.’

I don’t know if there’s a name for that little voice, but there should be.  And he should get his ass kicked.

Well, that was another tangent.  Let’s see, what was it I wanted to talk about?  Oh, right.  So, one of the interesting patterns I’ve seen is that a lot of people with mental illnesses end up working in the arts in one form or another.  A lot of painters, a lot of authors, a lot of sculptors, when you look into them, they were pretty screwed up.  They would maim themselves, kill themselves, go bat-crap crazy.  I’ve felt for a long time that the reason for this is because those of us with mental illnesses find the standard means of communication to be insufficient to encompass what we feel.  People use words like happy and sad, frustrating and invigorating, and we know what those words mean, so when we feel something that seems to press beyond the stifling borders which normal speech allows, we feel that we need to find some way of expressing it.  I remember somebody asking me once what I thought the job of a writer was, and I said, after much consideration, that I thought our job was to help readers experience the full range of human emotion.  Because so many of us don’t experience it.

Perhaps we need to create bizarre scenarios to allow those feelings out, but in the end, I believe that what all of us are trying to do is connect with others, to communicate those things that standard words and pictures don’t seem to quite accomplish.  So we have to reexamine language.  Sometimes that means making up new words, sometimes it means building an entire universe.

That’s what’s on my mind at the moment.  Hope somebody got something out of this.

Absurdly fast!

Things are happening now faster than I ever would have expected!  Usually when someone I know gets a writing contract, things afterwards proceed at a snail’s pace.  The editor looks over their work, makes some suggestions, sends it back to them.  They do a round of edits, send it back to the publisher.  I’m given to understand that this is often repeated over the course of months.  Then there is the cover art and the dedication, this and that and the other.

I’ve been told that between the time that a book is accepted and put out, it’s not uncommon for a year to pass.

I signed my contract about three months ago, and my manuscript will be a book within a few days.

How crazy is that?

To answer my own question, not half as crazy as I am.  As soon as I received the final FINAL draft of the book, I started questioning everything.  Is the book really ready?  Did I correct all of the mistakes?  Did I set up everything I needed to for the future books?

And, of course, most important of all:  Will anyone read this?

I mean, obviously somebody will.  I have friends who owe me favors.  I have relatives.  They have to read it.  They also have to love it, no matter what.  But will anyone else?