Friday, November 30, 2012

This Is What I'm Doing: The Looking Down The Barrel of December 2012 Edition

There are always slings and arrows. Sometimes they bounce off our armour, sometimes we get by with the nicks, bruises and superficial contusions of outrageous fortune, and sometimes they hit us in sensitive spots. All of which is to say: It’s been an interesting month.

It started on a high: Through the generosity of some dear friends to whom I’m very grateful (and my wonderful partner Sarah, who handled our kids solo while I was out of the picture all weekend), I was able to attend the 2012 World Fantasy Convention. I met amazing people, learned a lot, had funny, fascinating and/or profound conversations, enjoyed some damn good beer, and got firehosed with books. Oh, and I kind of broke a panel on diversity in YA fantasy. It was a good time.

I embarked on NaNoWriMo with high hopes considerable ambitions, and while I didn’t “win” (I didn’t write 50,000 words in thirty days, not even close), I did have my least-unsuccessful NaNoWriMo ever, which is something to be proud of. Going forward, though, I think I might need to accept that November is a really bad month for me, personally, to try to do Big Pushes on Big Projects.

I got another rejection. The short story I consider the best one I’ve ever written is now also the most-rejected, although to be fair that’s mostly because it’s the one I keep submitting to publications.

I continued to let my novel rest while my Beta Readers did their beta reading. I’ve heard back that two of them have finished it, and one sent me comments by email. I’m going to meet with the other, sometime next week I hope, to benefit from her insight. There are four more readers who I expect to hear from over the next couple of weeks. Then I’ll let the comments simmer while I finish some other projects, before returning to the novel some time in early 2013.

The big trouble, this month, the reason that I had to put some things on hold, was a family health problem. Everyone is fine now, and all I suffered myself was worry, sympathy and a bit of schedule disruption. I would of course rather not have had this problem at all, but I trust everyone reading this will agree that when it did happen, the only possible thing I could do was put some of my personal business on hold so I could pitch in and do my part to help. That’s why I lost some of the forward momentum on NaNoWriMo, and also on going to the gym. That’s nothing, on balance. It could have been so much worse, for so much longer. I’m glad things (and people!) are better, and I should be able to pick up and make quite a bit of progress before the further, more fun and happy disruptions of the holiday season are upon us.

That anticipated progress, over December will be all about finishing this year’s business. That’s the Next Novel and the script for the comic, as well as some advance planning for a big project coming up in early 2013, that I will not discuss now because it’s still in such a preliminary stage. When it is ready to share, you need not fear that I’ll be shy about announcing it. And announcing it, and announcing it, and then announcing it just to be on the safe side.

And after that, it’ll be time for my annual New Year’s Revolutions, and the challenges and adventures that 2013 will bring.

I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

This Is What I'm Doing: The October 2012 Edition

Lots of little updates this time out...

The Short Fiction
I have continued to take my short stories out to the market. One advantage of starting with the most prestigious and professional genre publications is that I know the bar is high, and my expectations are therefore low. So far, I've been getting rejections, which I am trying to frame as valuable experience in dealing with the realities of the short fiction markets. Currently, two stories are still out and I'm waiting on responses. If I get a sale, you'll hear about it. Believe me, everyone will hear about that.

The Novel
I have forward momentum on the novel again, at long long last. After letting the notes I got from my esteemed Alpha readers lie fallow for a while, I'm now going through the manuscript and making edits and revisions - if you follow me on Twitter, that's what the #RewriteMonth hashtag is all about.  I'm also making notes for broader, bigger revisions that need a little more thought than "That line's out, that line stays in" - things like fine-tuning character arcs and bringing themes into focus. It's going quickly, and most of the big-picture stuff is going to be a matter of adding touches at a few, key pinch-points across the whole story. Oh, plus one scene that needs to be entirely rewritten, but that should be relatively straightforward.

My goal is to have the new draft done, and out to my Beta readers, before the end of the month. Yes, this month, October. I know it sounds optimistic, but like I said, I have forward momentum at last, and I don't intend to squander it this time. 

The Next Novel
My timeline for the Novel (which I'm calling the Novel because I'm a between names for the darn thing) seems to be sufficiently realistic that I'm thinking about the next big writing project. It's one that's been waiting on the back burner for even longer, a collaboration with my dear friend, once and future partner in wordsmithery, the all-around awesome writer Nicole Winters. It's called Underground. This is going to be fun.

November is of course National Novel Writing Month, so I'm strongly considering taking another stab at NaNoWriMo this year with Underground. Now, I haven't had much success with NaNoWriMo in the past, but I seem to have gotten better at making time in my schedule to write and I've done my own, effective, not-part-of-NaNo Big Pushes on various projects since then. I think it's worth another try, especially since with Underground I'll have a detailed outline and won't be starting cold.  Again, this is something that I'm sure you'll hear all about while it's happening. 

The Comic
I've also been doing some scripting! In September, I started in on really writing Book 2 of Cold Iron Badge, and I took the loose outline from where I left off and turned it into something rather more detailed - with page breakdowns, for instance, so there won't be any pagination surprises this time out - and then started scripting.

I got about a third of the script written before #RewriteMonth started eating all my writing time and energy. Right now, the script is paused, and waiting for me to get back to it. That's looking like it might be a December project. I'd like to finish the script by the end of 2012. 

The Other Comic
It's in the early stages, but Greg Beettam and I have been discussing plans for Xeno's Arrow - and we've got interesting ideas in the works. The question now isn't what we'll do, but when we'll do it

The Fitness
I haven't made a big deal about it, because I wanted to make sure that I was in a groove first, but I've been eating better and getting to the gym more regularly. How is it going? Slow and steady, but well.

Life, the Universe and Everything
There's lots more to talk about, but they're a little more substantive and deserve being discussed at length. I mentioned that I've been making more time to write, but not the whats and the hows. There have been some great developments at home. My children been amazing at transitioning into the new school year and all the changes it brought with it. The progess I've been making on the fronts I mentioned has put me into a positive frame of mind that I've carried through to all the rest of my life, and it feels good.

That's where I am, and how I am, in October 2012. How are you?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Short Update: Short Fiction

Since my last update, I submitted ‘Dragon’s Tail’ to the theme anthology it was written for, and received what I must say was a considerately prompt and very polite rejection. Rejection is no fun, of course, and it was a little surprising because I was and am proud of that story and thought it was a damn good one. But it’s all part of the game. There’s no way to know whether other authors explored the theme in a way that fit the editors’ tastes or their goals for the anthology – or, and let’s be honest here, whether I simply wasn’t one of the twelve, or twenty, or however many, best stories they got.

The good news is, because of the aforementioned prompt rejection, ‘Dragon’s Tail’ is now free for submission to other markets.

And I’ve written another short story, in response to another call for submissions from a different themed anthology, and I’m working on a third.

I have a few overlapping goals, here. It’s challenging and fun to look at something like a call for submissions for an anthology dealing with a particular theme or subject, and use that as inspiration to create a story that I might otherwise never have written. It’s good to stretch my muscles by pushing myself to work to a hard deadline and remind myself that I can write well and quickly when I need to. And you know, a sale would be nice. That would be good. I wouldn’t mind if it didn’t pay much – in fact, at first I was considering courting smaller, lower-paying markets as a deliberate strategy, because I thought it might increase my chances for success.

In the wake of the rejection by the themed anthology, I’m re-evaluating that strategy a bit. It’s a long-established principle among writers of science-fiction and fantasy short fiction that in trying to sell your work, you should start with the highest-paying markets first – because you shouldn’t sell yourself short. Why sell a story to a smaller, lower-profile, lower-paying venue before you at least try the bigger ones? That seems sensible to me, particularly since trying to play the low-hanging fruit angle doesn’t seem to be effective. That’s based on an admittedly limited sample size of one story submitted to one anthology, but it also just resonates with me. I’m the guy who’s drawn to BHAGs, after all, not Small Fleshy Unimpressive Goals.

Of course, there are drawbacks with starting at the top. Everyone else is trying to crack those markets too, which means besides the issue of rather intense competition, that stories can get stuck in the turnaround of the submission process for quite a while. But that, too, is part of the game.

Over time, despite my avowed fear of writing short fiction, I’ve managed to get several short stories done. Almost all of them have been waiting around for me to revise them. There’s ‘Necro Feel’, which I wrote years ago, and needs a fair bit of work, but which I still really like. There’s ‘Dead Chairs’, which is rather more recent and needs some tweaking. And there are this year’s crop of short stories, ‘A Knight Erring’ which needs some judicious trimming and some extra oomph, the just-completed ‘Hard Rain’ which only needs to have extra verbiage cut back, and ‘Dragon’s Tail’, which is ready to shop around. Plus the nearly-ready ‘Final Issue’ which is intended as a response to a particular call for submissions.

Looking at that list, I note that I have no fewer than six stories that, with not too much work collectively, would be ready to be released into the wild.

It’s not going to be my first, or only focus this summer, but it’s also something that I’d be foolish not to do.

So, again and as always: Onward!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

This Is Who I Am and What I'm Doing: The Almost June 2012 Edition

It’s the last day of May. I won’t be sorry to see June. This has been a challenging month.

My father died.

If you’ve lost a member of your immediate family, I don’t have to explain, and if you haven’t, I can’t. So I’ll just say, again: May was a challenging month.

I didn’t exercise as much as I wanted. I didn’t eat right as often as I would have liked.

I’m giving myself a pass on those.

I didn’t write as much as I wanted. I didn’t make as much headway on my projects – scripting the comic, revising the novel – as I would have liked.

I’m giving myself a pass on those, too.

It wasn’t all bad. I did finish and revise my new short story, ‘The Dragon’s Tail’ – which I created in response to an open call for submissions – and sent it to the market. I’m proud of that.

And my son turned seven. I couldn’t be prouder of him, and he couldn’t make me any happier.

A story submitted, a wonderful son’s birthday… those are good ways to end a month. That’s what I’m going to focus on, as May turns to June. The new month will no doubt bring new challenges. Here’s hoping that they’re the fun kind.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Not-So Weekly Not-So Wordcount

Last week was kind of frustrating. By the start of the week, I had more or less all the words for 'Dragon's Tail', although as I mentioned earlier many of them were horribly misspelled and a significant number were also in the wrong order.

Hammering the story into shape and sanding down the edges was not complicated or insurmountable, and I have made headway, but I wanted to be done by now. I've had a hard time bringing myself to bear. Besides being tired -- which should not, in itself, be enough to stop me because really, when am I not tired? -- I've been feeling very down about the state of my fitness and health.

Ironically, this tends to lead me to eat even worse. It's another aspect of my difficulty in accepting imperfection: When I can't be as fit and eat as well as I know I should, why fight temptation at all, when giving in will at least make me feel better?

Well, the answer to that is, duh, because giving in is a tiny flash of pleasure for long-term misery; it makes me unhappier and unhealthier, but that's a hard argument to win with my cravings when there are doughnuts in the world that remain uneaten.

Time for my mantra again: I forgive myself. I move on.

(Also: Good enough, push on. The perfect is the enemy of the good. If you meet the Buddha on the road, don't eat a frickin' doughnut.)

Today, lunch will be restrained, and I'm going to use that time to finish the first draft of the story. After work, I'm going to the gym for the first time in a long time.

These are good things. Onward.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How Do I Do It? Volume!

Operation Hat Trick is moving ahead. I haven't been multi-tasking as much as I thought I might, but I've been making good progress on 'Dragon's Tail'.

I've been experimenting, as I mentioned, with ways to be more productive, and I've hit on an approach that's been helpful, and that's also been forcing me to adhere to my attempts to accept imperfection.

As people who follow me on Twitter know, I do a lot of my writing with a program called Write Or Die. It's a simple program (or web application -- you can use it for free online as well) that more or less forces you to write -- you enter an amount of time and wordcount goal and start typing in a simple word processor. Based on your goals, Write Or Die will start punishing you for not meeting them, through a variety of means ranging from changing the screen to blood-red and making angry sounds to (at the more punitive settings) actually starting to delete what you've already written if you leave the screen idle too long. It's terrifying and  I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Another function it has is the option to disable the backspace key. I'd been curious about that function for a while, but hadn't used it. But in thinking about increasing my productivity, I found myself wondering how much time I was really losing going back and fixing typos. I deciced to find out.

The answer: I was losing a LOT of time to fixing typos. When I started disabling the backspace, I found my word count totals nearly doubling over comparable amounts of time. Stopping myself worrying about those typos, or about any kind of wordsmithing, let me put that time back into getting the words down.

Which is great, but obviously raises a new question - is it worth it? Is the typo-ful, unwordsmithed copy I get so messy that any time saving is a wash because of the extra clean-up required?

Well, see for yourself. Here's a sample of my un-edited, just-as-it-appeared-on-the-screen, no-fixes prose. I didn't do this in Write Or Die, but I did stop myself from editing it as a wrote, so the result is pretty much the same.


This sis am aexample of me trying to type the words tt that I'm thinking of very quickly. Sometimes it goes fine and sometimes I make typos and sometimes I change my mind about what I was going to say, but i can't go back and change it. For sometone like lyme, who's neurotic about typos and really, really proud of my ability fo spell and use correct grammar, this is a bit isconcerting, but i find that overall,t he flow works, that I get what I teintended down on the screen. And anfter all, i was going to edit it later anyway, right? So ma what doe a vfew more typos matter? The point is to get the owords down.


So yeah. You can see why my word count is approximate: There's not only a lot of redundancy to be edited down, there are typos that read as words, throwing off the count.

Overall, though, it seems to work. It's messy, but it's readable. I know what I meant, at least enough that I can clean it up later. The point, after all, is to get the owords down, so ma what doe a vfew more typos matter?

But I am left wondering what it means that, when I'm pressed for time, I can spell 'neurotic', but not 'the'.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Weekly Wordcount, Plus Even More Meta!

The new approach I've been experimenting with makes wordcount a bit difficult to measure accurately, but it looks like I've written something in the nature of 4,000 words this week, all of them for the new short story, which now has the working title 'The Dragon's Tail', and which is not fantasy.

I think it's basically done, but I'm not totally sure, because I wrote it out of sequence, continuing to write more middle after I'd written the end. Since I don't really want this one to go more than 3,000 words, I should probably stop writing and start putting it into some kind of order.


Oh, and I added a widget to the sidebar of the blog that displays my most recent posts on Twitter; I held off on doing something like that for a while, because in the past I skewed a little more personal on Twitter -- I get political there, for instance, which I've only occasionally done here.

But you know what? This is part of who I am, too. I'm not going to hide it. Especially since it's not likely that anyone reads this blog who doesn't already see my more personal stuff via either Twitter or Facebook. And when, eventually, there are those other readers... well, I don't see how I can communicate directly, honestly, and openly about who I am and not include the personal and the political. Besides, I'm trying to work on that whole excessive-conflict-avoidance thing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Keeping the Plates Spinning, Or, Operation Triple Crown Is Go!

The good news is, I seem to have overcome my fear of short fiction, which was the last vestige of my anxieties around writing prose. I still don't feel like I'm all that good at short fiction, but that's just a matter of continuing to practice the form.

And there's the rube*.

I just finished one short story (it runs long for a short story at over 7,300 words; what can I say -- I'm prolix) and I've started another. I have a fun idea for a third in the back of my head, but I don't want to get ahead of myself: Short fiction isn't and shouldn't be my exclusive or even my main focus right now.

What is my main focus? Well, looking back over some of my earlier posts here, I remembered that I finished the first draft of my novel at the end of April last year.

In other words, almost a year ago. A #@%&ing year ago.

This lead to a predictable and unproductive spiral of frustration and anger at myself, yadda yadda why aren't I more productive blah blah.

But, you know, been there, was poster child for that. Enough already. The real question is, what am I going to do about it?

I'd like the next draft of the novel to be done - and out to my beta readers - before the one-year anniversary of the first draft rolls around. I'd also like to finish the new short story - it's something I thought up in response to a call for submissions, and there's a deadline attached. Finally, I need to get cracking on the script for the next arc of Cold Iron Badge so that Patrick can start drawing it after some of his other obligations wrap up at the end of April.

From today to the end of April is exactly six weeks. That's three major items on my creative to-do list (which of course doesn’t even touch on the other things I need to stay on top of).

Well, I have recently been experimenting with ways to increase my productivity as a writer (which I won't get into now, but may post about later if anyone's interested), and I'm starting to think that I just might be able to do it. It's going to require three things:

I need to write every day

Every day, for reals, no excuses.

I need to be able to switch from project to project at the drop of a hat

This isn't always easy for me; I tend to be in one project's headspace and need or at least want time to switch gears. It'll be interesting to see if I can push this and not have, for instance, voices or stylistic flourishes carry over inappropriately between different works.

I need to plan

The short story is the simplest of the three things I want to finish, and that one I can handle a little more organically. The rewrite of the novel, though, and the script for the comic, are going to require a plan. For the comic, I have a pretty solid outline to work with; my plan for the novel is currently a lot more nebulous, and I need to pin down exactly what I want to achieve, and how I want to do it. From both an artistic and time-management standpoints, I want to aim for efficiency - this is fine tuning, not a total overhaul.

It's in the BHAG

This plan falls solidly within the scope of “It’s so crazy it just might work”. Of course, I'm a proponent of the BHAG - the Big Hairy Audacious Goal - as a motivator, and this tripartite goal I've just set for myself is certainly big, hairy and audacious. But a goal as a motivator only works with accountability. That's where you come in. I'll be posting updates here as I launch myself into Operation Triple Crown (or whatever; I expect the name to change regularly).

In other words, more news as it happens!



* Me. I am a bit of a rube.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

This Is Who I Am: The March 2012 Edition

As I more-than-half-expected, the prospect of skewing a little more personal made me more-than-half-apprehensive.

I've started and abandoned a couple of previous versions of this post. Being glib is easy; it's when I start actually trying to communicate something that matters to me that I start over-thinking and second-guessing.  But you know, enough is enough. I'm just going to push through and get this done. So let's begin.

Hello, I'm Stephen, and this is my blog. It's called Back From Erstwhile because when I started it, some years ago now, I thought of myself as an "erstwhile writer", and I wanted to begin - and document - the process of moving from being someone who used to write to being someone who writes. 

Now it's 2012, and you can't really dispute that I've managed to become a writer again. With the help and support of a great many people, I've seen books in print collecting the two comics I co-created, Xeno's Arrow and my new project, Cold Iron Badge (although neither, to be honest, is currently widely available). I've written the first draft of a novel. I just finished a short story (one of several I’ve written over the past few years) and I have other projects in my head, warring for attention with one another and the rest of my life. 

Those other things – the ones I usually gloss over as “the rest of my life” -- are really what I wanted to talk about today. Let's stipulate that I'm a writer, and that one of my big goals is to become a professional writer (which is a process that I hope to move forward and share with you over the course of this year).

So leaving that aside, who else am I?

I am a parent

This is a big one. I have two children; my daughter is eight and my son is six. They're both beautiful, happy, healthy, smart and loving kids. They're also both autistic. 

Special needs change the experience of parenthood in ways that it's hard to describe -- especially for me, since I don't have an experience of parenting typically-developing children to compare it to. My partner Sarah describes it as having to work ten times as hard to make one tenth the progress, and that's a big part of it; things that come naturally to most kids are a constant struggle for us. 

And the rewards are different, just as the challenges are; sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller, always different. We take our joys where we can find them, and there are joys, joys that, on balance, are much more than worth it. But it's often frustrating, usually tiring and always takes up my focus and energy in a way that not all parents have to deal with; it's one reason that as I have mentioned more than once, my time is at a premium and that I call my lunch time at work "The Writing Hour".

I am a guy with a day job

I work, as I've mentioned here occasionally, at the University of Toronto. I have a very good job, working with good people, doing interesting stuff. Given that, and given how essential to my and my family's life my benefits package is, I expect that I'll continue to be a guy with a day job for a long time to come. I know that a lot of aspiring writers are counting the days until they quit the proverbial day job; that is not me.

I am a partner

My children did not burst full-formed from my brow like Athena from the head of Zeus (unless there's something that someone hasn't been telling me). My co-habiting co-parent Sarah is the other side of that equation, and in addition to being a generally awesome co-parent, does a huge amount of the planning and logistical heavy lifting that being a family with special needs requires - coordinating and being on the front line for all the appointments and therapies for our kids. I am not the greatest time manager in the world, and her sooper-geenius level skills in that capacity continue to impress me, after our being together for about a decade.

The shared experience of parenthood changes any relationship, and when special needs are involved, the change is even more profound. It can be hard to maintain the other aspects of a relationship in the face of those stresses, and it's kind of impressive that Sarah and I work together and get along as well as we do under the circumstances.

I am sick

I'm mostly better now. But I caught whatever the bug that's been going around is, and that, along with the kids being sick too, was pretty much the exclusive focus of the last two weeks. Most of my time not spent working and caring for the children was devoted to coughing, blowing my nose and sleeping. Well, not all at the same time...

I am a guy who needs to get back in shape

This is another area where I've been erstwhile. My weight is something I've struggled with for much of my life. There was a period when I managed to get not just into shape, but really good shape -- but that was before kids. I have a lot less free time to spend at the gym, now, and it shows. Not to mention that I'm a stress eater with a weakness for carbs. I was starting to get on track towards the end of last year, getting into a groove with the exercise room in our building, but that kind of fell by the wayside when 2012 hit and brought a big old mess of stress and sickness that ate a lot of my time and energy. I will be getting back to the gym, and I'll probably start documenting that process here too; I just want to be done with this damned coughing first.

I am a guy who blathers about who he is on his blog

So that’s who I am. It’s not a complete list; it couldn’t be. It’s not everything I've ever been, or everything I'll ever be. It's obviously not even, really, everything that I am at this moment in time; there’s a lot more I could have included if I wanted to drill down beyond the substantive (I am… A Man Who Enjoys Cheese; A Guy Who Over-uses Semicolons!) .

But it's what's important, and top of mind. It's where my focus, energy and time are going. It's who I am right now, March 2012.

And who are you?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Everybody's blogging, blogging

A number of my friends with blogs seem to be emerging from their own quiescent blog-hiatuses of late, which is a wonderful thing to see, especially when one's friends are as entertaining and incisive as mine tend to be.

My dear friend Gilgamesh -- terror to gods and man alike -- has begun blogging again at Gilgamesh In The Land Of The Dead after several years of down time. (To be fair, he really did have several years worth of stuff to get through).

My dear friend Psyche -- terror to gods, man, and several other categories of being -- never really stopped blogging at Psyche's Acorn, but her blogging certainly seems to be more frequent of late. (She had several years worth of stuff to get through, too, but managed to blog anyway. I've long since gotten used to being an underachiever in comparison; I simply accept her awesomesauciness and encourage you to do the same).

They are exceptionally good writers, thoughtful and reflective, with interesting and valuable things to say. As such, I recommend them both to your attention.

But that isn't why I'm thinking about them. No, on the contrary, the real reason I mention them is, as usual, all about me, me, me.

When I started Back From Erstwhile, I thought of it as a process blog. Over time, as my updates became less frequent, I fell away from that; it's hard to focus on a process you only check in with people about a handful of times a year.

(Six posts apiece in 2009 and 2010. Two in 2011.)

But seeing how Gilgamesh and Psyche -- and what it is with my friends and mythologically-derived online pseudonyms? -- use their blogs has me thinking about what I've been doing with this thing, and what I want to do with it.

I'd really like to talk more about my process, about my efforts to professionalize (or re-professionalize) myself as a writer. About what's happening with my various projects, and when things are going well versus when they aren't. Gilgamesh and Psyche are both remarkably direct and honest about what goes on in their lives, which is something that I with my tendencies towards a narrow focus on my writing, and towards understating and deprecating my own feelings, greatly admire.

The problem for me comes when things aren't going well. I'm very much a "good news" person. If I can't report a success, I don't like to say much of anything. I like being thought well of. I don't much like conflict or confrontation.

This has gotten me in trouble at different times in my life, in different roles, because when things go wrong, I've been known to flounder trying to fix them on my own -- or worse, ignore them and hope they'll go away -- when telling people that there was a problem would have been the simplest and best way forward.

In the case of blogging, it means that my desire to post the positive and my reticence about either baseless hype or going off-topic with random bloviating* leads to reluctance, even a sense of shame, about posting my not-good-news here. That was evident in the way the "haven't been able to write this week" posts in the first couple of years trailed off into my later extended blog silences.

I'm tired of extended blog silences.

Now, anyone who follows more than one blog knows that the resolution to post more frequently is the inevitable precursor to a blog that is never updated again, so I'm not going to resolve to post more frequently.

What I am going to try to do, is to post more of a variety of things again. And I'm going to try to get more personal, more open, in at least some of what I post. This goes against the grain, and it's a bit scary for me. I've described my approach to blogging in the past as Business Casual, and it's taken a lot of thinking to shift what I think is appropriate for me to share online.

What I seem to have landed on, is that I can't both always and only be the bearer of good tidings, and also tell you the truth about myself, and what I do, and what I care about. Because there is too much that 's important to me that isn't good news, and that does involve me taking a stand and risk causing a conflict or confrontation.

As for what all this means in terms of content here... I don't really know yet, to be honest. I have a great many ideas, but most of them are pretty nebulous at the moment, and it all boils down to "post more and different stuff". If you have thoughts on what sort of topics you'd like to see me touching on, by all means drop me a comment and share them. (I checked out the Blogger analytics today, and it turns out I have readers; I had no idea).

Until then, thank you to my friends, Alias Gilgamesh and The One They Call Psyche, for sharing so much of yourselves, and for inspiring me to more that's better, and truer.


* Not that I've never bloviated here; far from it. But I never feel entirely good about it, afterwards.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

This Is What I'm Doing: February 2012 Edition

So, as it turns out, this February isn’t going to see a big push on a side project. There are a couple of reasons for that, one negative, and one positive. I’m a give-me-the-bad-news-first person, so we’re going to start with that.

Reason #1: January Kind of Kicked my Butt

Things were busier than ever at home, work went crazy at the same time, which for some reason made it harder for me to sleep, and I had a low-grade cold for a while. I managed to keep writing, but not to the degree I was hoping for. So I’m a bit behind where I wanted to be. I had planned to finish the short story I’ve been working on, then see what the status was with the alpha readers critiquing my novel, and determine if I had the time to do that side project. As it turns out, I’m still working on the short story. I really want to finish it before I turn my attention to the next, bigger thing. Because if I set this aside for something even more involved, FSM only knows when I’m going to get back to it. Heinlein’s Second Rule of Writing is “You Must Finish What You Start”, and I’m in complete agreement. So, work on the short story continues, albeit slowly.

But after that…? Well, that takes us to the good reason.

Reason #2: The Alphas Have Spoken

I’ve now heard from and, when it was possible, met with my alpha readers. The feedback I received was in every case really detailed and thoughtful, and it’s already been incredibly valuable to me. What that means, though, is that I’m now burning to get back to the novel. I have plot holes to fix, characters to buff, and a world to embroider in more detail. I know where the problems are, and – importantly – I know they’re fixable.

So, when I finish this short story, and that should be soon, I plan to turn my attention back to the novel and do the second draft. Ironically, with the insight my readers have provided, it will probably go a lot more quickly than what was supposed to be the polish did. Be that as it may, the upshot is that I don’t have a hole in the middle of February to fit in a new project. I am rich in projects. I’m projected-up. Burgeoning with projects, that’s me.

Indeed, since Patrick, the artist on Cold Iron Badge, has suggested that it’s time to start getting a script down for Book 2 of our comic, I might be a little too rich in projects. But that’s just a time-management problem. And a getting-my-butt-in-the-chair-and-actually-writing problem.

It may not be My Own Private NaNoWriMo, what with it not being something new or taking place over a month, but it’ll involve lots of Wri, that’s for certain. There’ll be more updates as I move forward with this crazy process and its inevitable frustrations, I’m sure. Talk to you then, probably while pulling my hair out.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ebooks: How the #*%& do they work?!

I was going through some files the other day, and I came across a flyer that got dropped off at our table at last fall’s Word On The Street, where Greg Beettam and I were (in our inimitable fashion), working to get copies of the Xeno’s Arrow and Cold Iron Badge books into the hands of passers-by. In exchange for, you know, money.


This happens from time to time, especially at free shows like Word On The Street, which by design is a big public event that anyone and everyone can attend; people come by the table where we’re trying to sell things, and try to sell US something. It’s sometimes distracting, and sometimes annoying – we, after all, paid for our table, unlike random passer-by-guy with a flyer – but sometimes it leads to interesting and potentially valuable connections and leads.


I’m still not sure what category this guy with this flyer fall into, and so I’m taking my question to you.


This flyer was for a company that offers services in creating ebooks for clients. The actual work, that is, of creating files and setting up accounts with the various providers of ebooks to sell them. I’m not entirely clear whether this outfit was also offering to manage said accounts – I don’t have the flyer in front of me. They were, I remember, also offering to set up and manage social media accounts for clients, which set off some of my alarm bells, because while a large company might need to contract with someone else to manage their social media profile due to their size and the volume of work involved, the sort of small entrepreneurial business this guy and this flyer were obviously targeting didn’t really need someone else to set up their Facebook page, or to be them on Twitter.


But here’s the thing: When it comes to ebooks, Greg and I don’t know what we don’t know. We’ve tried many different ways to get our work out and into the hands of readers over the years, with what to spare my own ego I’m going to call mixed degrees of success. We haven’t tried ebooks yet; for some time, there didn’t seem to be much of a need. But over the past year or so, everything has changed. Self-publishing via ebooks is now more than a sideline for many creators. Ebooks of one sort or another are very clearly now a huge and growing part of the market, and for independent creators like us, they represent a potentially huge pool of readers who’ve never been exposed to our work before. And we don’t need to put a whole lot of labour into making the work ready for that audience – that part is done, we did it years ago. So we have years-old sweat equity (and financial equity) invested. Nothing is going to bring back that sweat or money, but we have the work. Now, it can either do nothing, or make us back some money.


As I implied at the top of this post, neither Greg nor I has any objections to money, and this seems like it might be a great way to get some, and finally reach the audience we always wanted too.


The problem – well, the major problem – is that neither of us knows much about ebooks, and we especially don’t know about creating them or getting them onto the various online sellers (Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc.)


So we don’t know how much work is involved, or how much technical acumen is required to do the job right. We don’t know about the added complications that might result from the fact that our work is comics, which involves graphics that take up more memory and require higher resolutions. We don’t know if the company this flyer advertised is providing a service we as neophytes will absolutely need, or if they’re just taking advantage of people who don’t know how easily they could make ebooks themselves.


That’s my question for you: Do we need to contract a service provider to take our work, and turn it into ebooks? Or can we do it ourselves? How much knowledge, time and expense are involved? And is it different for graphic novels and prose?


Enlighten me, please!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In which I Emerge from an Overused Metaphor into the Light of Some Other Cliche

Sweet FSM, have I really not updated this since last April? Over eight months of silent running? Seriously?

Yeah, that’s about the size of it. I kind of had a rough second half of 2011 from a creative standpoint. When I last wrote here, my plan was to let the novel rest for a month or so, then do a quick polish and get the resulting draft out to my alpha readers. I figured that I’d get their feedback over the summer, have the rewrite finished by the end of October, send it out to my beta readers, get their feedback, and have a finished draft ready to release into the wild by the end of the year. I figured I’d provide updates on all the steps here, as they happened.

But they didn’t happen. They really, really didn’t happen.

What was supposed to be a quick polish, fixing formatting and typos and patching plot holes and obvious mistakes, turned into a slog and a half. I ran into technical problems in trying to fix those formatting errors than made the whole job seem futile – namely, trying to carry on the project moving between our desktop at home and my netbook, which have different operating systems and word processing software, which meant that the same formatting errors kept re-appearing when I went from system to system. Mostly, it was the indentation of paragraphs disappearing and needing to be re-done, which sounds trivial, but have you ever tried indenting every single paragraph in a 95,000-word document? Yeah, okay, First World Problem for sure, but unquestionably time-consuming.

But it was the creative side that was the real bugbear. All I could see were problems, and the problems seemed insurmountably large. When all you can see are the holes, you can lose sight of the road ahead, and that’s what happened to me.

But finally – finally, in late December – I’d had enough. I buckled down, filled in the holes that were blocking my progress, and decided to worry about the formatting later. More importantly, I realized that I couldn’t fix everything at once. What I needed was the draft to be in good enough shape for other people to look at, so they can help me prioritize what to fix. Maybe some of the things I think are problems aren’t. Maybe I’m not seeing other problems that are much more important. Maybe fixing one will obviate the need to fix another, for whatever reason.

It was the perfect being the enemy of the good again. I recognized that I was not going to be perfect, and I forgave myself for it, and I moved the heck on.

I’m going to move the heck on from not having posted here in so long too. I was embarrassed at not having any progress to report. That was probably silly, but it’s part of the larger issue I was grappling with, of not being able to be okay with imperfection.

So, here’s where things are at: The draft of the novel, which is now called Cold Iron Summer, by the way, went out to my alpha readers just before Christmas. It’s with most of them now. I’m going to take advantage of the break and try to cleanse my creative palate – I’m working on a short story that I want to finish by the end of January, something with a very different feel and flavour.

After that, I’ll check in with my beloved and, by that point, long-suffering alpha readers, and see when they expect to be ready to provide feedback.

Then I’ll do a lot of listening.

Then comes the rewrite.

Oh, depending on the turnaround time for feedback from the alphas, I may try to fit in another project in February, but that’s very up in the air.

As for what’s next for this blog? Hmm. I feel unstuck at last, and I think it will do me good (and you no harm) for me to keep writing here about my process as I keep working on this project. I’m going to try not to fall into the same trap again, try not to get stuck. And I’m going to try not to let the internet equivalent of a geological age pass before my next update.

It’ll be hard; the post-holiday doldrums really hit me over January and while I’m feeling unstuck creatively, I’m feeling sick, tired and up to my knees in the mire in a few other key respects. But those times are going to happen, in life. I have to remind myself that nothing is ever going to be perfect, and that waiting for things to be perfect is just a recipe for inaction.  

I take a deep breath. I forgive myself and resolve to do better. I survey the road ahead. I can see a path, despite obstacles, roadblocks, pothole and plotholes. I take a step, and then another.

And I move ahead. Onward.