How Much For Just The Kidney?

6BA433B2-B88E-431E-8FF6-D167B7A87E8FOkay…so, most of the time, writing a “list” post happens because a blog writer — not me *cough, cough* no, never me *cough* — can’t come up with anything better.  A list is a “Get Out of Posting Free” card…

Other times, however, the lists come up because…well…there’s too much shit to talk about for any one post. Today is one of those…because, of course, I would never ever do a list for the first reason!

Shit, not even my mother bought that one.

Ahem.

Never mind.

So, anyway…a random list of squirrel-moments:

1) Why the hell do we get so worked up about Supreme Court appointments? I mean, honestly, no one gave a shit until the late 80’s(ish), so why get so freaking insane (for or against) now? Because Congress willingly gave up all but a tiny vestige of its power, influence and credibility decades ago, that’s why. They shifted the intended three-way separation of powers into a two-way one when they got on their knees and refused to take a stand on anything. When the Founders put together the Constitution, they envisaged the tension between the branches — and the loyalty elected officials had to their respective branches — outweighing factional or party interests. What, after all, did a popularly elected House member have in common with the “landed gentry” of the Senate? Sorry Jefferson and Adams, but y’all missed on that one. As much as those guys wanted to avoid the bullshit of Britain’s Parliamentary system, and the concomitant supremacy of party over everything else, we still ended up at a point where loyalty to team trumps loyalty to nation and people. And, in spite of how much we complain, we voters keep voting for the idiots (on both sides) who contribute to the general level of incompetence and bullshit. *sigh* Sometimes I wish I hadn’t studied the fall of the Roman Republic quite so closely…

62AF9E94-D55D-4A73-A611-3EEE37F19CAA2) Last Friday’s post got me to thinking that I should probably explain what I mean by “flash fiction”. Umm, well, I actually meant to add such an explanation to that post…but I forgot. Sorry ‘bout that. So, a bit of explanation: when I use the “flash fiction” tag on a story, it means I gave myself an hour to get it done. That’s it. An hour to come up with an idea, write the story, edit it, then import it into WordPress and post it to the blog. To use that particular post as an example: I sat down to start working at roughly 9:15 AM, with no idea at all as to what I wanted to write. At 10:00 AM, I hit the “Publish” button for The Dark. An extra hour or two — let alone an extra day! — would have made that little story much better…but then it wouldn’t have fit under my personal definition of Flash Fiction.

3) Why the hell are we as humans — and especially me, as a writer — so self-limiting? “Oh, I’ll do X when I have money…” is an excuse we all too often use. It is also one that all too easily becomes “Yeah, I can afford it, but I’ll wait and do X when I have the time…” as soon as circumstances change. Bah! Harrumph!! Just how much shit can I/we put off, anyway? I think I’m going for a World Record on that particular topic… Remember — all the way back to Wednesday! — when I talked about putting yourself into your writing? Hobbies and interests and the like? Yeah, maybe I should take my own stinkin’ advice from time to time: I’ve had this concept for a nonfiction book half-researched and outlined for…oh…three years or so, now. It’s an area that is a passion of mine, and one in which I actually am an expert (rather than my usual fake-it-‘til-you-make-it BS), but still the thing sits in Scrivener unattended and unwritten… *yet-another-sigh*

64AEF2C6-4026-4B25-8284-5FA441864A9A4) Another of those things I’m putting off is travel, and that itch is starting to strike…bad. Since I made the (semi-poor) decision to come back from Yellowstone, I haven’t really gone anywhere. Freaking Denver is the most exotic place I’ve been recently…and that ain’t particularly impressive for someone who lives all of an hour away from Denver. New countries are calling to me, places I’ve never seen: Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia… Old countries are calling, too, favorite places: Italy, Croatia, Czech, the Baltics… I feel almost like I did when I posted a rant a few weeks back: “…cannot get out…”

0F30B67B-CACC-4A28-AF2F-D6890D0AE4715) To go with #4 above — I had my photo gear stolen a while back.  $15,000 worth of camera and lenses, gone in a poof because I’m an idiot who can’t lock his truck.  The insurance payout was…err…not good, so I despaired of even trying to get back into pro-level gear.  I finally started shopping for cameras the other day, however.  I started shopping and stopped almost as quickly as I started.  Just to get to a decent starting baseline will run a minimum of $3,000.  THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS.  Anyone need a kidney?  I got one for sale: one owner, lots of miles…

There Go I…

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a hockey guy. I’m a hockey guy from, err, way back.*

*I’m pretty sure the definition of “way back” is when you see the sons of players you loved as a kid entering the league…

Now, most of the US sports-news outlets are garbage when it comes to hockey. I am, in fact, pretty sure that ESPN doesn’t even realize there is such a thing as a sport played on that mythical thing called “ice”.

Thank God, then, for Canadian networks…

One of those networks — TSN, if you’re curious — just ran a story about a former NHL player named Joe Murphy. Now, Murphy was drafted very, very high in a star-rich draft in 1986. While he wasn’t a perennial All-Star during his NHL career, he most definitely was a legit player on any team in the league.

Then he disappeared.

No, really, he pretty much fell off the face of the planet.

A reporter from TSN recently took on the challenge of tracking Murphy down to see what had happened after his playing days. After much effort, that reporter finally did find him…found him drug-addicted, broke and homeless. After a fifteen year playing career, after earning millions, after having everything, Joe Murphy had become one of those guys holding a sign on the street-corner…

Now, the writer in me can make a hundred stories out of that situation; out of the why’s and how’s, out of the choices made, and out of the tragedies that resulted from those choices.

But I’m not just a writer…

I never knew Joe Murphy. I do, however, count more than a few current and former NHL players as friends. I know the pitfalls they face, and the prices they pay. Mental and emotional prices, as much as the physical ones.

I know the very fine line they walk, and how quickly it can all disappear. Especially after retirement, especially when — for the first time in their lives — no one knows their name. When no one is cheering, when every single aspect of the life they’ve led since they were three or four years old is different. When they no longer have a place or a purpose in the world.

It’s more complicated than just this, but that dislocation and desperation is one of the themes behind the fantasy story I’m currently developing, as well as being one of the reasons why it is (tentatively) titled Once Magnificent

Joe Murphy is not the first athlete to fall, just as he is not the first successful person to lose everything, but still his story resonates with me. Still, his story means something to me. As a guy who has lost everything more than once in my life, as a guy who battles my own private demon of depression, I can sympathize with Murphy.

No, that’s not quite right…

I don’t feel for Joe Murphy, I very well could be Joe Murphy.

Murphy, alongside a host of a nameless others, is one of those unspoken reasons why I write, why my stories and characters inevitably revolve around the flawed and the broken.

D21E96E2-4A53-405A-98D0-0E857B426261I’ve said a million times on this blog that I write for me. I’ve said that, but it’s not 100% true. I write for me, yes, but I write also for anyone and everyone who just might see a bit of themselves in my words. For anyone and everyone who might take even a grain of hope at burdens (and demons) shared. For those for whom that light at the end of the tunnel never seems to get any nearer…

Time Is Everything

IMG_0163IWSG Question o’ the Month: What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

Ahem.

This might take a while — you got a week or so?

Honestly, I’ve stepped in pretty much every pit there is on that writing journey. Every single one.

To keep this post somewhat reasonable and readable, rather than a long rant on all the shit I did wrong — and still do wrong, for that matter — I’m going to focus on the writing side and forget that such a thing as the “business side” actually exists.

Which is…err…one of those pitfalls. Okay strike that paragraph above, here is some business advice: do NOT neglect the business/financial side of things! There are very good reasons why more experienced (jaded? cynical?) writers tell new and aspiring entrants into the field “don’t quit your day job.” It’s not disparaging, it’s not paranoid or reflexive, it is legitimately earned knowledge. Day jobs come with nice little perks like insurance and regular paychecks. Writing comes with deadlines and slow paying clients and that wonderful feeling of being nickel-and-dimed to death pretty much every day.

Okay, enough of that. If you’re reading this as an aspiring writer, just do yourself a favor and Google the crap out of the freelance writing topic, and read those pieces that point out the reality of the business, as well as the traps ahead. If you’re getting into the longform writing game, spend an equal amount of time and effort learning how novelists actually make money — and trust me, it’s nothing even remotely close to what you see on TV (or even read in stories). There’s a lot of crap in the sausage-making behind the writing business that no one really likes to talk about…

Phew, now I can talk about the writing pitfalls.

Probably the biggest pitfall I can think of, and the best advice I can give in respect to it, is to not shortchange yourself on time. Don’t write to some artificial schedule, don’t put arbitrary limits on how long various tasks should take. Until you’re working on about your fifth novel (a number which does include those early “trunk” stories we all have), you have absolutely zero idea as to just how long things should take. If you write to some early, artificial schedule, you will inevitably cut corners, and your story will suffer for that. Yes, you need goals and some kind of timeline, but those are tools that should serve and help the story, not the other way around.

To start the process, take what time you need to prepare your story-ground first: conception, research, backstory, character depth & detail, plotting, planning, etc… For my current sci-fi series, that early prep time amounts to roughly three months per story. Now, I will admit to going in for a bit of overkill there, but the time and depth of that early prep really does help me to understand and explore the story in ways I otherwise wouldn’t.

By the way, for my pending fantasy stories, I expect the initial series research & prep to take about four months, and only then I will get into the planning and preparation for the first book…

I have similar advice for the second part, the actual writing/creation phase: write to your story, not your schedule. I’ve talked about it before, but I don’t agree with the concept of writing X words per day. I think, when you do that, you end up only with…X words written. Those words may be good, but they also may be bad. No, I think it’s better to set up your story in coherent scenes that are “writable” in one sitting/session. For me, a 125,000-word novel should have between 55 and 60 such scenes, of which I should be able to finish 3-4 per week to a realistic First Draft status (which entails not just the original writing, but also an initial editing/revision pass).*

*To save space, and brain cells, I won’t get into just how that scene-based writing lets you jump around and write whatever scene strikes your fancy at any particular. Over time, I’ve discovered just how strange I truly am in my complete unwillingness to write a story in a coherent, chronological, beginning-to-end fashion. I figure I probably shouldn’t try to inflict that particular vice in an “advice” post…

Now, the third and final “phase” of the writing process is where I (originally) wanted to focus the advice about giving yourself enough time. Hell, giving yourself more than enough time. But — and this is the big but — but, I’ve found that giving advice about editing and revision is dangerous ground. Instead, I’ll simply be honest and point out the pit I stepped in early on. As a new writer, I very much had the attitude that I just needed to get words on the page, and that I could fix any problems and shortcomings in the revision process. At that point, writing a scene was simply “word-vomit” to get the concepts on the page, and the editing process was the time to fix, well, everything.

I’ve changed my thinking on that.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean you should shortchange the editing and revision process. Quite the opposite, in fact. You need to give it more time and effort than you think you do, trust me! No, what I mean is that I find it better — both aesthetically, and in terms of results — to get the writing “right” during the First Draft process. A while back, I wrote another IWSG post about that, but damn if I can find the right one to link to…

The editing and revision process should not be there to “fix” the language or narrative itself. It should be used to finalize things like scene placement, plot timing and story structure/pacing. Only after all that should it be used to polish the language and delivery. Honestly, I plan about three months worth of revision and editing for every story…and then another month (at least) to assimilate and incorporate the feedback and suggestions from betas/editors.

All told, the whole process of writing a 125,000–word story takes me roughly 10-12 months. Could I do it quicker? Probably…but then I would be shortchanging myself. Worse, I would be shortchanging my story…and they do not like it when I do that!

So, in the end, this post about pitfalls is really about one big pitfall: time. Give yourself enough time — and flexibility — to write the story you want to write. Or, if you’re nuts like me, to write the story as it wants to be written The worst thing you can do, I think, is write to some artificial expectation of how long things should take. The corollary to that, however, is that everything will take longer than you expect, want, or plan for.

That, of course, is simply how I do it. Your mileage may vary.

…Cannot Get Out…

This has not been a good morning. Actually, this morning has pretty much sucked donkey balls.

Okay…look…I’m bitter and cynical, so if I add honest to that list, my bad morning means I’m pretty damned sure my entire day is already shot to hell, and I’m not even done with my coffee yet.

*sigh*

And my friends wonder why I titled my current story The Silence That Never Comes

E627885B-BCD9-494E-90FC-D3EFF940E24AAside from the metaphor involved, there is also the reality of mornings like this one. Mornings of distraction and annoyance and — worst of all — people…

The reality of people and activity and noise around the house.

I have to get out.

I try to head down the mountain, then, to a quiet little coffee shop. But, no…there’s construction and delays and noise on the road. More noise and chaos than home.

I have to get out.

I turn, I change…I try one of the lakes instead. A bit of hoped-for peace and quiet around the still waters to do some writing. But no, not today…of course not. Loud music and many, many people crowding the shores and the waters. Noise and chaos everywhere.

I have to get out.

09AE17E4-8CE3-4A69-87C9-D1A3F07CBB17Holy shit, I’m like the fucking Moria dwarves in Fellowship of the Ring: “…cannot get out…they are coming…”

Just how the hell can I explain this need for silence to people who actually enjoy noise and activity and bustle? People like, you know, all of my family, and most of my friends? People for whom the presence and noise of others is not just enjoyed, but preferred?

The constant presence of people — and all the noise and activity and bullshit that goes with that presence — is goddamned kryptonite to me. It builds and builds until it finally drives me nuts to the point where I can’t think, can’t function…and I sure as hell can’t write. Look, I spend most of my week around people, spend most of it being nice and friendly and “chatty”…

And I’m lying and scamming worse than my protagonist ever does. It’s all a lie, that false persona. Although it happens to be a lie I’m good at, that is not who I am.

I finally did get out, by the way…but it took over an hour of off-trail hiking to do so. At this very moment, I’m sitting on a goddamned rock, with my iPad perched precariously on another one, a couple of miles from the nearest trail (let alone the nearest day-use or camp site). I wish it was farther, to be honest, but I actually want to write, not hike all day.

Thankfully, all I now have around me are birds and squirrels and bears.

Bears…

Dammit, if I survived six months — and several close calls — dodging grizzlies in Yellowstone, only to get eaten by a lousy black bear here in Colorado, I’m gonna be well-and-truly pissed.

Hmmm…I wonder if a ghost can actually haunt a bear? If so, I’m coming for the bastard who finally does get me…