My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Mailbox: Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel

My favorite snack food? Words that start with A and end in E. Writing every day (again). Special pens.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Thursday as long as I have enough to do.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.  If you send good questions, I don't have to answer as many of the um...less...awesome ones.]    

So this is what happens when people don't send me real questions.  I'm down to the last few questions from some random sources.  Please send me your questions.  (Actually I already have a good one for next week, but it landed too late to help me today.)

Claudia asks:

What is your favorite snack food?  I mean if you only had to eat one thing for all of time, what would it be?

My reply:

Am I immortal in this scenario?  Because I can't imagine any food I would want to eat for all of time.

Questions like this always make me think of how quickly I would die on a diet with zero variety. Like...if I ate nothing but Tim Tams or Somoas (even though I love them so), I'd probably die within a month from scurvy or something, but if I ate fruit salad with some kind of dairy whipped mix, I might hang on for a year or so.  So I'd go with that.  If I could pick some kind of "perfect food health bar" that had everything I needed, I would pick that, so that I could hang on a year or two before going mad.

And if the realities of health and fitness were not in effect, I think I would like to eat nothing but Double Western Bacon Cheeseburgers from Carl's Junior made (somehow) into a Zachary's pizza.  But that's only if I wouldn't gain weight or really even have to deal with digestion.  I gave these up years ago (except for very rare treats) for more pragmatic reasons.  These days my "favorite" snack foods acknowledge certain unpleasant realities without which I would probably eat other things.  Unfortunately, I'm past the age where my body is a garbage disposal, and each Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger that I thoroughly enjoy these days is then mirrored by an equal and opposite horrific experience a few hours later, the details of which I will leave up to your imagination.

Bo Calibra asks:  

I saw this on Facebook and I wondered: can you name a word that starts with an A and ends with E, but isn't ARE?  It's harder than you think.  How many can you think of?

My reply:

Yes I can.  And more to the point, so can anybody else.  It's NOT harder than you think.  It's stupid, ridiculous, easy.   THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF THESE WORDS.  Thousands.  I can think of hundreds of them without even slowing down, but I'm likely to get bored before I stop being able to think of more.

When I get bored, the cats end up regretting it.  They don't like the little hoop skirts I put them in or the tea parties I make them have.

These fucking memes are the latest in a long line of Facebook traffic scams designed to make a page look more active than it really is for the purpose of making money.  (It's the same thing as those memes that tell people they "won't have the guts to share" or that talk about culture war issues with "Like if you agree.  Comment if you disagree.  Share if you find this interesting"or whatever.)  Someone starts a page, generates a couple of these memes that challenge people's ego make people feel smart by saying that it is hard, even though practically any human being who has the intelligence of a gibbon could do the same thing.

Let me tell you, if it seems like it was written to get your goat, it probably was.

So then, when thousands of people have replied and shared and commented, they can point to the success of the page as an indicator of how much it's worth.  "Look.  My page has thousands of people talking about it!  It's the hoppingest joint in Hopville"  Then they sell it to someone who thinks "With this page, I will be the bell of the ball!  It must be mine."

It's worth noting just how valuable online attention can be.  Yesterday I made my bimonthly appeal, and someone asked me if sharing my posts could ever possibly be worth more money than five or ten dollars.  Well, obviously it could if you can make money on Facebook just by stirring up some bullshit, cajoling people into seeming to be interested in your bullshit, and then selling your bullshit to someone before it stops steaming.

Anonymous asks:

So you think that no one is a real writer unless they write every day?

My reply:

No, I just think they're going to have a hard time making writing into a career.   I don't mess with judging "real writers" and "not real writers."  If someone writes, they're a real writer.  I leave the label-others judgements to lesser people with more time on their hands for that sort of nonsense.  But just like you don't get a lot of powerhouse attorneys who work one day a week, major league baseball players who leave practice when it starts to "feel like work," or rich doctors who don't go to work during their residency or internships because working that much "sucked all the joy out of being a healer," you also probably aren't going to find too many successful writers who don't suit up and show up and work hard.  Lots of people write who don't write every day, some are even published, but not too many of them don't have a day job.

K Says: 

Lots of writers actually do have special pens and stuff.  It's really not bad advice to get one. 

My Reply:

Lots of writers also write twice a month and are depressed that a book deal hasn't fallen in their laps.  In fact, just statistically speaking, doing something because "lots of writers" do it will lead to making no money and never being published.   I tend to ignore the "masses" of writers and pay much more attention to the successful ones.  And when there is a trend like "the more successful a writer is, the more likely they are to think X" I pay REAL close attention.

That's why I warn new writers about NaNoWriMo, and that's why I say write every day.  I know "lots" of writers disagree with me, but pay close attention to which ones agree and which ones don't and my advice will make a lot more sense.

When it comes to writing, you can have any affectation you want, and if it helps you to write, you should engage in any kind of magic that helps you be a better writer--even if you know it's just a veneer.  The trouble comes when a writer doesn't write because they lack their special pen or chair or situation, or they postpone getting started on their work because everything isn't perfect.

Enjoy writing with this pen?  Bitchen.
Won't write without it?  You're a pretentious git.
(Photo by Ellenm1-Flickr)
I have a Macair, a special chair, a ritual, a time of the day I write the best, and you will pretty much always find me sucking down something with caffeine in it.  I am a walking writer cliche.  I don't think of myself as a pretentious n00b (okay that's a lie--I totally do--but let's pretend the imposter syndrome took a break for a day).  I don't think that because when I DIDN'T have a Macbook, I was still writing anyway.   When I couldn't write at that special time because my roommate, Thunderhoof, pretty much saw to it that I was up by eight AM, I kept writing anyway.  When my old laptop broke, I went into the computer lab of the library and kept writing anyway.  And when I couldn't access my old writing on Dropbox because the MS files on my PC couldn't read it, I started something new and KEPT. WRITING. ANYWAY.

Are you feeling the motif here?

Also...not to put too fine a point on it but I think the number of people who buy special chairs, special folders, special pens and then write two or three times is probably pretty comparable to people who buy special running shoes matching sweatsuits, and little wristbands that take their pulse and tell them how many calories they've burned and then end up jogging twice.  If someone who has gone the distance has a special pen, I'm a lot less "SNERK"y about it than those who feel like that's what's holding them back from getting going.

Rock on with your special pen. Just rock on without it too.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Serious for a Moment: A Humble Reminder About Supporting Artists

At the moment of this writing, recent rash of neon green Facebook icons has become a ubiquitous sight. These icons are intended to raise the awareness of the company, Rhythm and Hues, that did the visual effects for Life of Pi, which won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Rhythm and Hues just filed chapter eleven and laid off lots of workers due in large part to the business model of Hollywood. The fact that an FX company can win an academy award at the same time it's going out of business has rung out like a klaxon of warning to other artists. They know that it's a complicated subject and that unless movie goers want to pay $20.00 a ticket, there won't just be "raises all around," but they also know that when people are coming to see their art, but they are out of a job while the studios and theaters are doing better than ever, something has gone very, very wrong.

Will design Oscar award winning FX for food.
[And no, the solution isn't to pirate the movie. Dill-holes claiming they are stealing to fight the power is a rationalization people make when they want to feel better about being thieves (and it's as old and unoriginal a justification as theft itself).  When you steal a dollar from a billionaire and a guy living from paycheck to paycheck at the same time, guess which is the one you actually screw over?]

Artists are well aware that they are taken advantage of and sometimes outright exploited by the industries that make money from their efforts. The problem is their irritating and persistent need to eat, have shelter and health care, and sometimes buy clothing means that they tend to have little choice. In the past it was these industries that provided a service to the artist in the way of distribution, publicity, and legal protection, but now it is viewed as the other way around--the artist is providing the service to an industry that really only serves itself. Movies, recording, and yes...even publishing have all had the same shift.  The internet has presented artists of all types with some options for exposure, but it turns out that making a living is still pretty tough.  So a lot of artists go get "real" jobs and a lot of consumers wonder why they can't find any art or entertainment that really takes a chance.

What does this have to do with me? What does this have to do with you?

Well, what happens to these artists is really up to you, the consumer of the art.

If you support the artist, (and that might actually mean something a little more than a few kind words) you not only keep someone working on their art instead of in a cubicle (and then you get to enjoy what they create), but you also give EVERY ARTIST leverage when dealing with the industries that would exploit them. If big industries like movie studios, recording labels, and publishing houses know that a disgruntled artist can make money without them, they'll have no choice but to treat them better. You can literally change the trends within the industry by supporting independent artists.

You don't have to boycott the big budget mainstream stuff (Lord Knows I'll probably dress up as Hawkeye for Avengers II), but just don't forget the struggling independent artists either. They're the ones that are less likely to charge you "at the door" to see their art, but you still have to support the artist if you want to go on seeing it.

Now I know I'm no Academy Award winner. The best I can hope for is that I'm not enraging some inter-dimensional aliens with how bad my writing is. But, because it's absolutely free to read, the future of Writing About Writing is entirely in your hands. The worst thing you have to endure is that every couple of months, I'll make a post like this one telling people how they can help.
Which of these things happens is up to the readers.

Writing About Writing is the product of hours and hours and hours of effort.  Four and six hours a day are completely normal for me and some days go as long as eight or more.  Even "light" days generally involve an hour or two. So right now W.A.W. is a 35-40 hour a week commitment--or basically a full time job.

However, I make almost no money, as you can see.  A few cents a day punctuated by the occasional good day or small PayPal donation is really as good as it gets. [ETA- A tiny handful of regular donors have upped this to a few dollars a day.] It breaks down to about 20 [$1] cents an hour right now.

"So...not making money right now, sir?"
"Not so much."

Online art in general (writing in particular, and W.A.W. specifically,) are labors of love, and many of us are going to keep doing them even if we never make a penny, but the question of whether it's a sideline hobby or my day job is influenced by the fans and followers of that artist.

Here are some ways you can affect the outcome:

  • Of course, you can directly donate a few dollars.  If W.A.W. (or any other website) has entertained you for hours and hours, I promise I won't complain if you want to slip me the price of a matinee or a paperback once or twice a year.  This is always super, super awesome.  The PayPal account is on the left.  And as you can see a little goes a long way.  The price of a couple of lattes, and I've made 100x a normal day.  
But I know the economy is crap, and not everyone has money to fling at arts and entertainment.  I don't even give the musician at BART my pocket change unless they are off the hook.  (The guy at 24th with the Casio keyboard....no way.) So here are some non-expense-incurring things you can do.
  • Like the blog. Not just an article, but the blog itself. A lot of programs and people judge whether or not they might want to advertise on a blog based on these bellwethers.  If you hit "Home" up in the upper left hand corner, and then gave the blog itself some love (not just this article or another article you like)--maybe a "+1" on Google or a "Like" on Stumbleupon--that stuff really helps. 
  • Of course you could subscribe.  Subscribing to a blog takes thirty seconds--tops.  After that you can hide the blog from your feed (or never read your feed) and go right back to only reading the articles that catch your eye.  But the support will be there.  And anyone trying to decide how cool my blog is will see the number of subscribers as an indicator.
  • Pimp one of your favorite older articles.  If I've written something that you liked in the past, you can't imagine how helpful it is if you give it a "like," a "+1," or especially if you share it on some social media. The Reliquary should be pretty easy to navigate if you're looking for one of my old articles.
  • Generally just sharing/spreading.  I already irritate my friends with how aggressively I self  promote on social media. Most of my friends who haven't "muted/unfollowed" me tune out most of my blog posts. It really helps for people to share a post they like. There's a bar at the bottom of EVERY article that makes sharing super easy. Even if I know you on a social media site, you know other people that I don't. Some of my most successful articles never got the traffic they did because of anything I did, but rather because someone else shared it.  If you see something you like, it's super supportive to its creator to spread and share it.  You don't have to mindlessly signal-boost every article, but just hitting "share" once in a while is one of the most supportive things you can possibly do.  
  • Generally Liking, +1ing, Thumb Uping, Etc....  Search engines have super complicated algorithms these days. The times of keyword rich text getting hits are already in the rear-view mirror.  One of the ways a search engine decides where to put something is by the number of social media badges through which it has been given positive feedback.  My Prometheus article shows up on the first page of a "Prometheus poorly written" search, and that has brought me hundreds of new readers. I have badges you can use to "Like" and "+1" my articles all over. Just go nuts!
  • Stumbleupon "Likes."  Stumbleupon is great because it puts my articles in front of complete strangers who have listed "writing" as an interest.  Every time I get a "Like" on Stumbleupon it shows that page to a few people.  If none of them like it, it falls off the queue.  If one of them gives it a "thumb up/like," Stumbleupon shows it to a few more people.  If one of THEM likes it, it keeps going.  It's absolutely great for exposure, so there's almost no social media that is more useful for you to use if you want to support W.A.W.  Every SINGLE post in my top ten, save one (Prometheus), is there because it took off on Stumbleupon.  A like on S.U. is uber.
  • Turn off your adblocker.  I make money through ads.  Which makes me a total commercial sellout, I guess, but I'll feel worse about that when a month's pay can buy me a meal that isn't from IHOP.   And as paltry as that money is, it's about three times the money I make from donations.  95% of the people who come to W.A.W. don't see the ads.  They get here from Stumbleupon (which blocks ads) or they have Firefox or Chrome (which have great adblocker plugins).  And you bet your ass that I don't even get the tiny trickle from pageviews when those pageviews come from places that can't see the ads.  So it can be amazingly helpful to my "trickle" income just to turn your adblocker off--JUST FOR THE "chrisbrecheen.blogspot" domain.  (It will still be on for the rest of the web.)  You don't even have to ever click an ad for this to help.  Further, it's all through Google, so the ads won't be invasive or pop ups or anything.  And who knows...maybe you see something you're interested in.  The ads are based on what I write, so generally they tend to be topical and interesting. 
  • But please do NOT just click the ads.  Caveat to the last point: please don't just click those ads. I'm really asking you JUST to turn off the adblock. Adsense keeps close tabs on my numbers and if someone is just blind clicking to "help" me, they can mess those numbers up enough that it hurts me. Click an ad if you see something you would click an ad for anywhere else on the net. Otherwise, please believe me that it's enough just that you turned off the blocker.
Any of these steps is hugely helpful, and will influence the future of Writing About Writing, and to a lesser degree the future of art and artists. Basically....

Thank you all so much for all your support so far.  I prefer to have a post like this once every couple of months, laying out how you can support me, than to repeat it like a broken record with every article in a way that fades into the background noise. I know it can be a little tiresome, so I thank you for your patience and any support you may give.

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's Really Okay Not to Write. Really. Part IV

A picture of a pencil?
Man, you know this guy knows what he's talking about!

Intro and Part 1- The Journey Begins

Part 2- Chesslectric Boogaloo

Part 3- The Search for Sporadic

Part IV 

Live Free or Write Hard


You Don't Have to Get "Good" at the Things That Bring You Pleasure 

Do you enjoy writing?  Does it bring pleasure, fulfillment, and possibly even meaning to your life?  Do you do it when you like it and not worry about it when you don't.  Does the act of writing cause a catharsis and the finished product create a sense of self worth?  Do dopamine and seratonin receptors light up like a Christmas tree when you bring pigment to paper (or pixel to screen)?

Great.  You can go home now and stop worrying about getting "good."

Full stop.  

Seriously, that's it; the article is over.

You're still here?  It's over.  Go home.  Go.

#eightiesmovies #beforepostcreditsestereggswerecool #ironichashtags   #isntitkindofironicthecharacterthatcharliesheenplayedinthatmovie

You haven't left yet...?

OH FINE!  Let's unpack it.....a little.

One of the biggest complaints that people who enjoy writing have about the advice of famous writers is that if they take it that seriously, it will start to take the enjoyment away from the writing.  Whenever I hear this complaint I always think the same thing: it's a little like that joke: "Doctor it hurts when I do this!" "Don't do that."

If you don't like turning something enjoyable into a commitment, the solution is very simple: don't do that.  It's not brain surgery.

Seriously.  Fuck.  Just don't do that.

Pictured: what you don't have to turn this into.
What those writers are most often responding to is people who want to be like them.  People who want to emulate their success.  People who want to be Writers (capital W), write for a living, or possibly even make a name for themselves.  They have been asked the recipe for "success."  If you dig through famous writers (not published authors, but actually household name type writers) you're going to find that the number of dilettantes is basically zero.  Fitzgerald nailed it without doing a lot of work (he was actually a pretty fly writer), but he's almost the only one.  Everyone else works their writerly little ass off.

Lots of people enjoy things that they don't work hard on.  They're called hobbies.  People play video games without becoming the national champion.  People read without trying to become a speed reading champion or getting a literature major.  People listen to Richard Dawkins and Neil DeGrass Tyson without getting degrees in science.  People play instruments without practicing enough to be in the London Philharmonic.  People play sports on the weekend without putting in the hours of a professional athlete.  People jog for fun and fitness without working hard to improve their time.  It's just plain possible to enjoy the fuck out of something without ever working hard to become great at it.

Get over it.

Seriously, if you don't want to put in the time and effort to get really good at writing that is absolutely okay.  Really.

If you enjoy writing at the level you're doing it, you win.  Have a trophy!  That's it.  Endgame.  That's all there is to it.  There isn't anything else.  Enjoy your spoils.

Fulfillment?  Meaning? Purpose?
You totally win at art!
If, however, you want to pull a paycheck, be well known for your skill, or make writing your job, you might have to do...you know...JOB-LIKE STUFF.  Just sayin.  You might have to learn to do the parts you don't like.  You might have to try to get better at things.  You might have to practice.  But if you just like writing in a casual way, it's okay to write in a casual way.  You'll get better over time.  But you will take a lot longer to log in your 10,000 hours than someone sitting down to four hours a day who makes an effort to practice what they're not already good at.  And if that's okay with you, then enjoy.


If you're writing to get rich or famous there are better ways.  (So so so many better ways.) If you're writing because you're obsessed with it like people all through history become obsessed with the perfection of craft and art, then do the parts that aren't rainbow unicorn orgasms and make yourself as fucking good you can possibly be.  If you're doing it to be happy (not happy in the sense of a job you love with some shitty parts to it but something that you only do when and because it feels good), then you can stop the second it stops making you happy.

And really....that's all there is to it.  If you don't like writing to feel like a chore, just do it for fun.  Of course, complaining that you're not a successful novelist is a deal breaker, so you have to knock that shit off.  But if you can handle that prerequisite, go ahead and only write when you enjoy it.



(Except for the next part which is here:  Part 5--The Expense Strikes Back)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Wetting Myself Over 100,000 Pageviews! Thank you. Yes...YOU!!!

So earlier today, just after my last post about the strange and troubling success of Xanth in the "Best Scifi/Fantasy Series" Poll.  I went over 100,000 pageviews for all time.  100,000 is the population of cities I don't have to look up to list.  Concord (when I arrived in the bay area--now it's 120,000).  Daly City.  Temecula.  Antioch.

It's like every single person in one of those cities stopped by my blog.

I know there's been a lot of work to get here, but mostly when I see milestone numbers, I want to thank all of you.  I couldn't have done it without people taking a chance on me, and putting up with my bad copy editing and grammar and generally just being awesome.  I want to hug every one of you.  Thank you all so much.  You guys are amazing!

You did that.

I know that human fascination with round numbers is completely arbitrary, and I might as well get equally excited about 102,133, but it's still an exciting day for me.  If you'd asked me a year ago how long I thought it might take me to reach six figures, I would have told you that two or three years was probably a good "reach/stretch" goal, and maybe not particularly realistic.

This isn't just a post about how much I'm wetting myself either, though I assure you that it's a lot.  I always promised myself to take things more seriously on the blog at certain bellwethers.   100,000 was always one of those bellwethers.  (Half a million is another.)  Your awesomeness deserves some equal awesome from me.  Hitting 100k, especially this quickly, is sort of the signal to me that maybe I'm doing something right.  Maybe not playing this game by someone else's rules is not a completely crack-induced delusion.

It's only MOSTLY a crack-induced delusion.  And I loves me some crack.  You folks who have kept reading me and crack, that's what I love.


Now...perspective time.  According to all my research, for a blog to make "actual 'day job' money," it has to make about 100,000 hits PER MONTH.  That means I need to make as many pageviews in 1/11th the time as I reached this 100k.  Even if you take my current average hits per month, I need to make 5 times the traffic.  So there's lots of room to grow and improve even just to reach "squeaking by."  I'm not going to run out of goals any time soon.

Okay, that's enough perspective.  A little of that shit goes a long way.  Back to complete overreaction celebrating!

Time to drink a LOT more water, so I can get back to wetting myself.


Xanth? Seriously?

Talking their way out of life and death
situations since 1977.
I know most lovers of science fiction and fantasy deal with Xanth novels through the lens of rose colored nostalgia.  We remember the adventures of Bink and Dor from our days of youth.  It's also truth Xanth might be the ONLY series that some people have read, literally because clocking in at an insane THIRTY-EIGHT (38) books there are SO MANY Xanth novels that there is actually a 19.7% chance that any book in the world (ever) selected at random will actually be a Xanth novel.

But better than Dresden?  Seriously?  I don't know about that.  I knew Xanth was a funny series when I put it on the poll.  Everyone claims to hate Xanth and find it totally immature and sophist, but it mysteriously still does crazy well on poll after poll after poll.  Xanth is like the "Dukes of Hazard" of Fantasy series. It's the guilty pleasure of hundreds of geeks who want to look down at it, but are horrified when the heart wants what the heart wants.

But better than Dresden??

In the end, I'll go with the numbers, and I will post the results without passion or prejudice, but I gotta say that Anthony's proclivity to write...um....less than awesome themes creeps out most people who revisit his works as adults.  This development...troubles me.  When you're twelve, you share the obsession with prepubescent sexcapades and panties.  When you're pushing forty, it starts to be really weird, and when you realize the author is almost 80 and seems to really have a thing for this stuff well....


That's why it's important to vote.  If you don't vote, you might have to be satisfied with these results.  You may have to know you let the moment to do something pass you by. You may have to look your little grandchild in the eye one day when they ask "What did you do to stop Xanth from being the best," and you will have to say, "I did nothing.  I knew what was happening and I did nothing to stop it."

And then...you will see the love in your grandchild's eyes die.

And many years from now, when facing your disappointed grandchild, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that one for one chance--JUST ONE CHANCE--to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they will never take OUR FREEDOM!! probably haven't read much Scifi/Fantasy series as adults if they like Xanth so much.

The poll is down on the left, right above the About The Author.

EDIT TO ADD:  It was as if with this post, everyone around the world realized that for evil to succeed, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.  Currently Dresden has pulled ahead of Xanth, and the current numbers for Xanth mean that it won't be going on to the finals.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Six Things I Learned (As A Writer) From Dundracon 2013 Part 1

You will never find a more wretched hive
of geeks and nerdery.
And by wretched, I mean awesome.
So after I got the SciGuy to come back to Writing About Writing, I stopped over on the way home at a gaming convention called Dundracon to get my geek on and *L.A.R.P. like it's 1999.  It has been a slow month on the financial end here at W.A.W., and there's been some "What the hell am I doing with my life?" type thoughts, so there's nothing quite like a couple of thousand sub-culture gamers to remind me that I'm not alone in my non-mainstream proclivities.

Though last year I was still writing articles that were way too long for a blog, I wrote up last year's con as well.  I should probably think about re-writing.  The point is, I'm not going to rehash those ideas (any more than some of these are variations on a theme). It's worth a look for a serious writer, as it talks a lot about why character is so important, and how the lack of cool CGI special effects forces a writer to be awesome in actually awesome ways.

*L.A.R.P.= Live Action Role Playing- Think of it as a "How to Host a Murder" game except your friend wrote it, and there are rules for getting into a fight if you want to.

So here is my con report, thinly veiled as writing advice:


1- If you don't give your characters a reason to be together, it may get railroad-y if you force them to be.  (To Boldly Go)

Friday night is always a perfect night for fun and silly games.  Most people aren't quite in the groove yet and laughter gets the endorphins cranking up to eleven, so that you can go the whole 60 hours remaining with only one night's sleep and two actual meals. Lauren A (who has guest blogged here in the past) wrote a wonderful, and CRAZY funny LARP called To Boldly Go (a split infinitive, by the way, for those keeping score) that mashed together several seventies and eighties science fiction.  Dr. Who, crews from Star Trek (TOS and TNG) and even a Star Wars/X-files hybrid.

And we were all stuck in The Land of the Lost.

There's a trope in one-shot LARP's that is one of the most basic: you can't leave.  As the stakes of a game go up, or characters get into mortal conflicts with other characters, the simplest solution is often just to go away.  A game will get pretty boring if everyone walks out because another player is gunning for them.  So there's almost always a reason you can't walk away.  You're in a prison, there's an inexplicable bubble, the weather is terrible, you just can't no matter how hard you try.  Or in our case there were dinosaurs roaming around the exit and none of our weapons worked.

Since we didn't intend to be there, and had no reason to be there, pretty much the entire LARP was focused on the question of escape.

I played Special Agent Skulder next to my partner Special Agent Molly.  I was looking for aliens because the truth was out there.  Ironically, I was the alien.  In a room full of humans, Molly and I were sort of proto-Star Wars empire characters (we even had non-functioning light sabers).  We assumed they were like us.  Mores the pity.

I had a great time talking to various aliens, exposing The Doctor, trading meaningful touches with Barbara Ella, and vacillating between "I was right all along, Molly" and "My whole life is a lie, Molly" in true X-files style.  But Molly was much more interested in the two Star Trek crews and getting in with the Federation of Planets.  The problem with this is that we were all mysteriously transported to the same cave and trying to get out.  The Star Trek crews went into "Star Trek mode" which was meant work amongst ourselves with the complimentary skill sets we have to solve this problem, and be wary of everything else.  They ended up forming an insular group that basically dealt with escape mostly among themselves--and with a few hitchikers.  Molly's efforts to get in good with them kept hitting their Prime Directive and their general lack of need for anyone else to be a part of their escape plan.

Of course Molly and I ended up leaving in The T.A.R.D.I.S. with The Doctor and those two aliens from the halloween episodes of The Simpsons.  We all headed over to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, to grab some food before being taken home.  We weren't sure we were going to be able to keep the aliens from eating the red-shirt ensign from Star Trek on the way there though.  He seemed almost to have a death wish, and was down to one functional limb by game's end.

I did mention this LARP was silly, right?  Silly and fucking hilarious.

In fact, the other characters were so un-forthcoming with any meaningful interaction, that at one point I decided we were all in a mental institution.  It was the only way to explain all the convoluted reasons everyone around us had for not giving us any REAL information, help, or assistance--they had to be unable to do so and were weaving their lack of ability into their delusions as a lack of willingnes.  (Testing that theory was actually why I drank Barbra Ella's "magic water" and ended up....well, let's just say for "just my partner," Agent Molly became a bit jealous.)  The lack of reasons the other characters had to work with us on the real problems left us mostly having light social interactions and being edged out of the problem solving interactions.  ("Adults talking real shit here.  Out of the way, peck.")  This frustrated Molly (and I think the player playing her too) to no end.  We just couldn't catch a break because everyone thought we were back-world yokels with nothing to contribute.

And who ended up having the energy cell to charge the sonic screwdriver?  That's right bitches.  It was US.  Back-world yokel power FTW!!

Don't get me wrong...I had a blast!  I don't usually laugh that much even at other comedy games.  The characters were hilarious and many of them I had no trouble interacting with (I literally ran out of time before I'd talked to everyone I wanted), but the "big kids" could solve the LARP problems without us, they kept edging us out of the big kids table, so we were left mostly with comedic interactions.  And as hilarious as they were, eventually there was so much comedy relief that I started hoping for some serious relief.

Here's what a writer can learn from this: in a crisis, we pull inward.  We stick with what we know and can predict.  We can't afford to take chances when the stakes go up unless we have no choice.  Characterization should reflect this increased suspicion and wariness or it looses credulity.  The motley crew trope of eclectic characters joined for a myriad of different motivations to achieve a common tends to be seen as incredibly stupid because it IS incredibly stupid, and it tends to feel incredibly contrived.  Most of us think twice before getting a jump start from a stranger (and probably wouldn't if our friend lived close).  Imagine how we would react if the life of our loved ones were involved or the person giving us a jump revealed they had ulterior motives for wanting us back on the road.  And that's just a jump start of a car. As our wants and needs increase in urgency we are less and less likely to go with an unknown quantity to meet them.  We won't trust a stranger.  We won't look beyond what we know.

If people meet and interact before crisis, they might work together during crisis--especially if there's time to establish trust.  But when already within crisis we will only go with an unknown quantity when there is absolutely no other choice.  You might take that jump start from the stranger more readily if you had to get to an interview and were already running late.

So if the frame of your story is a crisis--especially one that is ramping up--give your characters a reason they absolutely need each other (or a shared background) or any cooperation they do just cause will come across as incredibly railroaded writing.  Yeah, you might have some leeway for a comedy, but you better make sure that your readers (like the people playing this LARP) are laughing so hard they can barely see through their tears.  Not every book is going to be as awesome as this game was.

PART 2--Redemption is REALLY Hard (Mutant Saga)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Leela Bruce Kung Fu Fights "Fake It Till You Make It"

Like cliché schoolyard bullies in the movies (and not so much the real ones according to recent studies), bad advice isn't evil for evil's sake--it just had a bad upbringing. It got lost along the way. It may have been important at some subdued interpersonal level (so people know there will be social sanctions on antisocial behavior and don't pull out their junk and check for scabs at the dinner table, for example) but in its modern extremes it falls to pieces. Bad advice is often the same way. It is a product of neglect and a shitty home life. It wants to be loved. It doesn't always know the long term damage it does or understand its social implications. It just wants to feel good. This advice might actually be complex, subtle, nuanced, even good advice when viewed holistically, but when it gets out into the world it is seen only as a stereotype.  And while there is some truly terribad advice out there hurting people just because it wants to watch the world burn, most of it goes home and cries at night that no one cares. A pithy, rhyming meme, that slams like a ham-hock fist into the heads of innocents all around it doesn't think it's really hurting anyone.

It might even think it's helping in a twisted sort of way.  It may even think it's right.

But good intentions and misunderstood implications do not mean that bad advice doesn't just need the crap kicked out of it once in a while.  And just like anyone (who hadn't played Command and Conquer: Red Alert) would try to kill Hitler if they somehow went back in time.....EVEN knowing his sad upbringing led to who he was, I will be kicking the crap out of this advice even though I know it's monstrous harm isn't really its fault.

And one such bit of advice is "Fake it till you make it."

A long time ago, in the fires of the great wisdom forge, this advice came to life.  It went forth helping people succeed by showing them how to have self confidence and faith in the fact that a professional was just an amateur who didn't quit.  But back then they knew that it was really about hard work leading to results in a situation where sometimes there was a frustrating delay between the work and the result.  Back then "fake it" meant you did the work without getting the rewards, not that you demanded the rewards without doing the work.

"Fake it" meant that even though you weren't making money (or lots of money) or fame or other accolades, you kept working hard at what you want to be doing until success happened.  If you were faking it in writing, you keep writing like you were a writer--a lot, regularly, with as much skill as you could muster. It was about having faith in a few artistic truths: that you will get better with (lots of) practice, that there would be (because there always are) people out there who will like what you are doing if they're exposed to you, and that pretending you have confidence in yourself as an artist will lead to a more genuine confidence in yourself as an artist.

And in this context, this advice is still good today.  A.A. uses it as a simplified slogan of Aristotle's idea that acting virtuous can make someone actually virtuous.

However, what you see today is actually an act of subterfuge and fraud.  Instead of working like a real artist even though there's no "lifestyle of success" people have begun to live the lifestyle of success even though there's no work.

Artists (and writers in particular), take the idea of "fake it till you make it" to mean, "Pretend you already are a success" and hope that you trick someone important. Its not about confidence, not about the idea that you just need exposure for those who like the sort of art you are doing to find you.  It's certainly not about practice.  No they treat it like a ruse or a con job--literally behaving as if success has already come and that people are foolish not to acknowledge it.  This idea may have worked in 80's mistaken identity comedies.  It's not so awesome in real life though.

In real life, this strategy works out to look more like
"Fake it till SWAT arrives to arrest you."
Thus enter the legions of the pretentious.  Most are only guilty of a conceit based in artifice, and maybe some light chicanery. But honestly, they never really do anything more harmful than spending hundreds of hours learning the intricate ins and outs of the publishing business before they've even submitted a single story, or worry about how they're networking and marketing is going, having drinks and rubbing elbows with industry names and making sure they have a "label image" before they've actually written anything more than a manuscript draft and a couple of short stories.  And for these people who are worried more about monetizing their product before they have an actual product to monetize, the worst society might think about them is that they are probably putting the cart before the horse and maybe need to get their heads out of the clouds.

But there is a darker manifestation of faking it that involves outright dishonesty.  People who simply lie about how far along their book deal is or which publishers have picked up their rights and talk about their success more like pathological liars.  You'd think Google would have slowed down the number of people who insist that they have written a book that "you just haven't heard of," but it just leads to more spectacular delusions.  Yep, I've met several of these people--usually JUST on the cusp of their book being published by a big six.

This isn't "faking it."  This is being a fraud.  And any advice that recommends fraud needs it's teeth kicked in a little.

Of course this level of pretentiousness has become a cliche in Hollywood and in the music industry as well.  The person who pretends to be friends with stars they've met once...in front of the back stage door.  The person who has met EVERYONE at some party.  The person who says their script is being read at top levels.  The actor who got passed over for a major role because "Vin Diesel broke up with his girlfriend and ended up being available after all..."  We've all seen and heard this shit enough that it's actually pretty funny.  Observe:

But in the writing/publishing world these folks aren't quite so transparent, or maybe it's just that writer world's bullshit detectors aren't as sensitive as Hollywood's, I'm not sure.  Either way, people who outright lie about how far along their publishing career is seem to be a little less easy to ferret out in the writing world.  Just remember that and keep your sham shields at maximum even if your bullshit sniffing torpedos and phasers of truth aren't even loaded.

Back in the before time of "fake it till you make it," no one ever meant "lie about your accomplishments" or "just act successful but don't actually do any work" or even "imagine your career is about two years (of hard work) beyond where it really is."  When they turned Aristotle's philosophy into a pithy rhyme they just thought they were making it easier to remember.  And thus "fake it till you make it" has slipped into the Bad Advice column not because it meant to be cruel, not even due to its own failings, but because it lost its way.

That means it's ass kicking time.

~fade to asskick montage~

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Mailbox- What Do I Want From Writing About Writing?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Thursday as long as I have enough to do.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.  And while I'm happy to answer any questions, if they weren't all about me or anonymous trolling, that would be really cool.]   

K Asks: 

I have a question...which maybe you have answered elsewhere in the blog, I don't know. But. Is this what you *want* to be doing? Is it all about numbers of eyes? What's your end goal? Just curious.

My reply: 

Before I answer this question, I just want to make it clear to all five of my regular readers (hi guys!) that I answer questions as I get them.  Sometimes I even kind of go around digging through comments or Facebook or something for questions.  I've even been known to stop a real life conversation to say "That's a really good question.  Do you mind if I use it on my blog?"  Until and unless I get a bazzillion readers inundating my e-mail inbox with questions about the best cheese to eat while writing, I'm sort of stuck with whatever I've got...which sometimes isn't much. This isn't to say that K hasn't asked a perfectly GOOD question, but if it ever seems like The Mailbox has turned into Chris's Narcissism Hour, it's probably because I don't have much else to work with, and is a good sign that if you've ever wanted to ask me a question, it's probably a great time to do so.

Which is the long, convoluted way of saying that unless you want me to talk about my favorite snack food (no, I'm not kidding) next week, you should send me questions.

Seriously.  I'm not sure I have that much to say about Somoas.

Back to K's question: whenever I discuss my HDA's (hopes, dreams, aspirations) it is important for me to compartmentalize and rank what I come up with.  There are dreams and there are dreams and there are motherfucking dreams, yo.  And a crack pipe dreams are not in the same category as the carrot-tied-to-a-stick aspirations that you realistically want to be achieving in the next shortish term.  A little over a year ago, if you'd asked me my dreams for today, I would have told you that writing in a blog at least three times a week and breaking five figures in total hits would be the most I could hope for.  Today I average a post a day and I'm probably going to clock over 100,000 some time this week.  I accomplished everything I set out to do by an order of magnitude.

So...I promptly proceeded to set new goals.

However, if last year you'd asked me what my pipe dream was, I would have said 1,000,000 hits a month, celebrity endorsements, and really hawt threesomes (like where the girls are really into each other, and no one is so monogamous that it is making them kind of uncomfortable or jealous).  I didn't reach that goal.  If you asked me today what my pipe dream was, I'd tell you the same thing.  I'll probably still be saying the same thing a year from NOW whether or not I hit the (realistic) aspirations I have for the Writing About Writing's second year.  And a year after that, I'm guessing I won't really be any closer.

Hello?  I'm a creative writer.
Unrealistic fantasies are sort of in the job description.
Why do I mention this?  I mean other than the shock value of sharing my chimerical sexual fantasies and making prudes a little uncomfortable?  Because when you think of your HDA's, it's okay to have the pie-in-the-sky pipe dream, but you need to have the equivalent of the rabbit on the stick goal that keeps the greyhounds running as well.

You need short term, realistic aspirations to keep you focused on just the next few steps...or else it's all just fantasy.  And if all you ever have is the pipe dream fantasy, you're actually doing yourself a huge disservice.

Is this what I want to be doing?

I'd like to write a little less blog and a little more fiction.  Right now though, the blog is still in its formative stage, and I lose a lot of traffic if I even skip a day or two.  If I were famous or established, and people hung on my every word, I could keep up traffic with a couple of posts a week, but I'm probably going to need to write regularly for another year before I can even cut back to four or five without noticing an immediate dip in my numbers.

I've enjoyed blogging a lot more than I thought I might when I started.  (This is one of the reasons I really pimp that cliche shit about journeys and destinations--you never know what you're going to try and love.  I fell for teaching in the same way.)  Blogging is creative, it's fun, it's fulfilling.  But if you're asking me if I'm building an audience for future books, that is also true.  Starting a blog was a very calculated move for me based on really listening to a lot of modern writers talk about changes in the industry.

"Writing for a living" wouldn't be enough for me.  It's enough for a lot of writers and they lead happy and fulfilled writing lives.  But for me, I've seen freelancers and tech writers flame out on the desire to do any creative writing to know that the word-smithing alone would not be enough.  I like writing creatively.  Now W.A.W. isn't exactly the five-book fantasy saga I have in my head, but I write what I want (generally), there are characters and it is creative.  It's scratching the itch but also leaving me wanting for more--which is a good thing all in all.

So I answer the question with pipe dreams and right now dreams.  Is this the pipe dream?  Not exactly, but it's more enjoyable than I thought it would be.  Is this okay for what I'm doing right now?  Totally.  I really, really like it (more than I even thought I would) and I'm watching my skill and exposure grow.

More eyes! Bring me more eyes!
Sweet, wonderful....with a delicate pop--
Om nom nom nom!
Is it all about number of eyes? 

People ask me this a lot.  If it were all about number of eyes, I would just post porn with highly incendiary political captions.  That would jack my traffic rates like Tigger on crystal meth. Obviously I'm towing some kind of line between integrity and sellout—the question is just where that line is.

I do some things pretty much just to get traffic. Totes....yo.  I certainly have my inner pageview slut. The first posts I wrote on this blog are dreadfully long megablocks of text with boring titles and no pictures. Many of them have like 11 pageviews, and I'm pretty sure ten of those people took one look at the text and left. I've learned to adapt for the sake of pageviews.  I changed to get more viewers.  My articles are shorter, they have pictures, and I drop the f-bomb more often. I don't lose any sleep at night about "selling out" though because I haven't really changed my writing. I'm learning to do the writing I love within the brave new world. Having an audience isn't necessarily betraying one's artistic vision.

Or at least that's what I tell myself while I'm gritting my teeth and looking at the ceiling, or while I'm in a fetal position in the shower, weeping gently.

What is my end goal?

You probably mean other than the threesome, right? This is why it's important to consider the "layers" of goals and their realism. My end pipe dream might be to be a famous millionaire novelist loved by all (except Jerry Fallwell--he can hate the shit out of me) with a big house, fifteen novels (six of which are major motion pictures), and a class on me at most colleges where I go to do Q&A's about myself and meet adoring coeds. I'm going to be pretty okay if I die and never reach that goal. My realistic goal is to continue to write every day in a way that fulfills me, making effort each day to improve my craft and widen my audience. The space between is a vast expanse of possibility and gradation.

In fact, part of my end goal is still very much in the "To Be Determined" column. If I can start to make a little bit of actual real money through the blog, I may consider tech savvy ways of freely publishing my longer fiction (online PDF's or serial posts), or go the e-publishing publish-on-demand route, or possibly use the exposure I make here as an accolade on a cover letter when I go the traditional route and try to find an agent.  I'm still sort of watching to see if the encouraging trends here continue or plateau.

Mostly though my "end goal" is just to keep writing until I die or my hands shrivel into arthritic stumps (hopefully by then we will have voice recognition software that can handle complicated words like "the"), or my Alzheimer's prevents me from remembering how to string sentences together.  I'd love to make enough money to pay the bills so I could write more.  And I wouldn't mind some day being able to see one of my books on a stranger's bookshelf--I think that would be a very exciting moment.  Sure, I'm always going to have the wild, unrealistic fantasies of fame and fortune and having the unenviable decision of which end of an Asian cheerleader/Scandinavian nurse sixty-nine I'll should start on, but I also know that wallowing only in those fantasies doesn't get the work done.  I make sure keep the more modest aspirations in mind and never lose sight of the fact that it is the writing itself--not where it's going--that brings me meaning in life.

If you're enjoying this blog, and would like to see more articles like this one, the writer is a guy with a rent and insurance to pay who would love to spend more time writing. Please consider contributing to My Patreon. As little as $12 a year (only one single less-than-a-cup-of-coffee dollar a month) will get you in on backchannel conversations, patron-only polls, and my special ear when I ask for advice about future projects or blog changes.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Not-So-Triumphant Return

[Writing today "because I've GOT TO, Mister!" rather than because I want to or feel it in any way. I'm still vaped from con and unsupportive girlfriend's 36 hour "joke" of dropping off a one year old and then leaving to get a full day spa treatment. But...the reason I haven't had writers block in nearly two decades is because I write SOMETHING even when I don't feel like it/it feels like a chore/I'm not inspired/it's work/etc....]

I'm back from my trip to find the SciGuy (there may have been a gaming convention in there somewhere that I'll write about soon).  That meeting went surprisingly well.

Me: I need you back.

SciGuy: No.

Me: I want you to head up our R&D department.

SG: (long pause)  Okay.

Me: Okay?

SG: Yeah, okay.  

Me: That's it?

SG: Did you want me to say no?

Me: You did say no.

SG: Until your compelling offer.

Me: Oh god, you're thinking of secret experiments with the time/space continuum to go back in time and save The Lieutenant aren't you?

SG: Maaaaaybe.

Me: You know our budget is point zero zero zero zero zero zero zero one three percent of what it used to be, and destruction of all notes and equipment was a condition of the Octorian's cessation of hostilities. 

SG: Then you don't have much to worry about do you?

Me: Right, like I've never seen an episode of any science fiction show.  Ever.  

SG: Then back to Jack Daniels and hotel porn for me.

Me: Okay, fine.

SG: Okay?

Me: I really need your help.  I'm sure this is going to come back to bite us in a couple of seasons, but I have a hacker giving out bad advice on W.A.W. in my name.

SG: And you're worried that this hacker will impugn the pristine reputation of W.A.W.?

Me: When you say it like that, it sounds stupid.

SG: I'm pretty sure there's no other way to say it.

Me: Yeah, well.  Do you want this promotion or not.

SG: I do.  And you want me to have it.  But it doesn't mean I'm not going to be sardonic and make fun of your ridiculous sense of fashion.

Me: Well, wear your name tag then, because I'll need to be able to tell you apart from everybody else on the damned staff.

SG: No need.  I'll be the one in the lab coat.

And so I came home with the SciGuy--after a brief stop over in San Ramon to hang out at a gaming convention, which I will be writing about soon!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Best Scifi/Fantasy Series Semifinals--Round 2

Or perhaps Xanth is more your speed....
Two weeks ago we finished the last round of the quarterfinals and found out who would be advancing to the semifinals.

And today we tallied up the winners for the first round of semifinals.  These are the five series that will be going on to the final poll in March.  They are:

The Song of Ice and Fire--Martin
Harry Potter--Rowling

But, who will they be up against?  Will it be Xanth, Pern, Dune, Vorkosigan, The Dresden Files, The Vampire Chronicles, or even Lord of the Rings?  Which series are awesome enough to face down Jhereg and Harry Potter come March?  The results of the second semifinal round will determine that.

The poll will be open for two weeks, so don't delay.  As usual, you will get three votes, but if you use all three, you will dilute the effectiveness of each more than if you used a single vote, so it's really best to use all three if you really can't decide which is best.

The poll itself is on the left hand menu.  Just above the bio of the pretentious writer.

The Best SciFi/Fantasy Series Poll--1st Semifinal Results

So here are the results of the first round semifinal poll.

The winners that will be going on to the final round are:

The Song of Ice and Fire--Martin
Harry Potter--Rowling
Foundation-Asimov (Squeaking out three mystery votes in the last 36 hours to give it JUST enough to move on.)

Zelanzy, Cook, King, and Clarke, thank you so much for coming on the blog.  We have some parting gifts for you along with a lovely copy of our home game.

The second round semifinal poll should be up in the next couple of hours.  It will run only until the end of February, so don't wait to get your vote on.

And then....on March first....the surviving series will square off against each other in the final round to determine which is the best SciFi/Fantasy series...

(that has been written so far  ...as decided only by Writing About Writing Readers...who care enough to participate, your milage may vary, tax and licensing not included, void where prohibited).

Friday, February 15, 2013

Guy Goodman St.White Reviews a Bottle of Scotch

This is my pissed off face.
Cedric here:

Apologies to the readers of writing about writing.  With Chris still out looking for  The SciGuy, apparently discipline has slipped around the Writing About Writing compound.  I walked in on Guy Goodman St.White passed out next to a bottle of scotch.

He mumbled something about not signing on for a job with a body count and fish smelling admins when I tried to wake him up.  I slapped him with four tentacles while shaking him with four others.  I'll try to pretend it was totally professional and that I got no pleasure from it in light of the fish-smelling comment.  I smell like LAVENDER, thank you.  That's what my body wash is made of.

I may have smacked him a few extra times even though it was clear he was dead to the world.  Maybe.

Guy was passed out in a sea of notes on Christopher Marlowe and The Tragical Tale of Doctor Faustus so I assume that we can count on an entry once he's back up and running.  Apparently, he just needs to type it up, print it out, and he's good to go.

So please excuse the inconvenience of today's entry being late, or perhaps even delayed until tomorrow.  Our little diva seems to be developing a bit of a problem.  We're working at top speed to bring you this month's entry of Speculative Fiction Sucks Balls: And Not in the Good Way.

-Cedric (who does not smell like fish)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Mailbox: 3 Oddly Specific Questions (Why I Hate Harry Potter, The Hours I Put In, and That Write Everyday Chart)

Why do I Hate Harry Potter? What are my "three jobs" and what are the hours I put in? Where can I find that chart about writers who write every day vs. those who don't?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Thursday as long as I have enough to do.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.  Any question covered even obliquely by the subjects in the sub-title of this journal is fair game (prose, linguistics, craft, art, etc...).]  

J Writes:

I'm looking for a chart that I remember seeing where you compared people who say to write every day with people who say it's not important, but I don't remember where it was. Help?

My reply:

Sure! The entry was another Mailbox called Writing Every Day. It's probably worth me retooling into its own entry. It kind of seems buried there in the mailbox and it is actually something I think is pretty important. Just don't forget that this chart is not at all scientific or even particularly well-researched.

You should  write every day (First 50)
You don’t need to write every day  (First 50)

Their writing seems competent.  (Grammatically sound.  Decent prose.)

Published (I was not including blogs, or self publishing, but was including short stories.)

Finished a novel.  (This may only mean a draft. I  have two novels myself.)                         

Published a novel (not self-published).

Published multiple novels. 

At least one novel published by big press.

I have heard of them before my search.

Major “household name” (among readers)

*F. Scott Fitzgerald (who was kind of a jerk and probably not a good writer to emulate)

Danielle Asks:

What are your three jobs? I know one is writing, but what are the other two? And how much time do you spend on each--especially on writing?

My reply:

I have the charming benefit of working three jobs--none of which society truly acknowledges or validates as "real." So even when I put in seventy hours a week or more without having a day off, I can look forward to people assuming I'm able to drop everything to deal with their crap, or saying things like "yeah, but you basically don't work, right?"

I work ten hours a week teaching second language and developmental English--technically I run an hour of study group each week and am a glorified T.A. during the class, but it's fun, scratches an itch, and gives me a reason to put on pants. In theory, this job includes commute time, but I actually enjoy stretching my legs to walk to the BART station, and the time BART and bus give me to read and meditate on life, the infinity of the cosmos.

I am also a househusband. My roommates and my family are the same people. They hate cleaning--I don't mind it, and I love the flexibility of schedule and the killer commute of "down the stairs." Also it affords me an opportunity to not put on pants. That job is much more fluid, usually taking between 25 and 40 hours in a given week (and on rare occasions a little more or less). Yes, I get to put on the TV while I work but if anyone thinks it's happy fun time, they're welcome to come oil my banister.

And of course, I write. I write six or seven days a week, depending on whether it's Supportive or Unsupportive Girlfriend who will be claiming Tuesday's date that week. (These days I write at least SOMETHING every day.) Writing is sometimes three horrific hours of angst, rage, and flinging myself down stairwells just because the flaring white-hot sheet of pain that I experience when bones crack sometimes accompanies a small flash of inspiration and months of traction and physical therapy is totally worth pushing through rough patches. Sometimes it is ten or twelve hours of smooth fluid rapture that I only end when the stabbing hunger pains actually cause me to waver in and out of consciousness. On average though, it seems to work out to about 30-45 hours a week, very loosely in the neighborhood of five hours a day.

So all in all I actually probably work more than the average Joe. My low end weeks get pretty close to 65 or 70 hours. Which is probably why I really, truly, completely enjoy people asking me what I'm going to be doing with my life once the gravy train pulls out of the station, and I don't in any way want to take something I can barely lift with my own strength and jam it into their eye socket.

Anonymous asks:

Why do you hate Harry Potter?

My reply:

I don't hate Harry Potter at all. Rowling is a good world builder and has fun characters. And even though I think there was a little bit of Stockholme syndrome by the end of the series--that is to say we never would have put up with the writing quality long chunks of boring camping, and stupid shoehorned romantic resolutions if we hadn't been DYING to know what happens to the people we'd grown to love--the overall story arc was enjoyable and had several satisfying crunches.

J.K. Rowling, joins other authors like Stephen King, Stephanie Meyers, or Dan Brown in being so hugely successful that they become the focus of a lot of scrutiny. When authors of such scrutiny write well, there is less to be said about them. (People aren't nearly as harsh about Phillip Pullman because there's much, much less to be harsh about.) But if you want to make a point about bad writing, an example most people have read and a writer that everyone knows good way to do it. And if you do take a shot at a popular artist, you will get a lot of attention for doing so. So when very popular artists like Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling have a prose quality that is non-Shakespearian, there will be a lot of criticism about it. They don't hear a lot about it because they're especially bad. They hear a lot about it because no one can believe they made a gagillion dollars. Dennis McKiernan also has a problematic prose and spent the entirety of an omnibus published sixteen years after the original with his characters STILL running around having their interest "peaked"[sic] by everything. The reason there isn't a www.dennismckiernancantwrite.com is related to the fact that I've only met one other person who has ever read the Iron Tower Trilogy.

I put down Harry Potter in the fifth book because of the writing. Rowling wasn't being edited as harshly by then, and more and more troublesome writing was creeping in.  I remember the exact line that made me stop reading. Rowling was describing a dementor being tossed and used "The thing flipped over...." (or something like that), which is a pretty goofball mistake in describing action (you shouldn't use words like "stuff" and "thing" and "junk" and unclear words unless it's unclear what something is to the focalizer character; once you've established what something is, you should use concrete imagery). It was on the heels of several other mistakes like it, and I just wasn't interested in reading anymore. But I didn't hate it. I just thought it wasn't well written. By then they had made the sixth movie, and I knew that the parts of the Harry Potter universe that I found compelling (the characters, the world, and the overall arc) I would be able to enjoy simply by watching the films instead of reading the books. But I love the writing style back in the earlier books (I've read the Philosopher's Stone [or Sorcerers in the US] four or five times)--and the movies are brilliant.

I will always regard the quintessential story about Rowling's prose to be the moments leading up to the release of Deathly Hallows. A PDF was leaked onto on the internet, and people did NOT know if it was actually Deathly Hallows or some fairly mediocre fanfic. (It turned out to be the real deal.) The fact that even Rowling's fans couldn't tell the difference between fanfic and Rowling was very telling to me.  Somewhere between her wanting to be done with Hogwarts, the publisher's haste to get their next cash cow to print, and her editors' not wanting to censor her, the quality of writing dropped with each book after the third.

Being a critic is easy though. The tougher job is actually creating something.

Rowling wrote a seven book arc that (rightly) is credited as bringing back reading to a generation of late 90's kids and she sold more copies in ONE SECOND from 12:00:00 to 12:00:01 of any of her last four Harry Potter books than most published authors will in their ENTIRE LIVES. She has made more money than the QUEEN OF ENGLAND from Harry Potter (and gives just unbelievable gobs of it away to charity, as if just making it weren't awesome enough). To say she can't write or isn't a writer or is a shitty writer or something is just the pinnacle of hubris, condescension, and (frankly) absurdity on the part of some serious fucking snobs. Perfect, she ain't, but that woman can fucking WRITE.

It just goes to show you that there are many skills that go into writing, and success doesn't come from developing the ones some crusty professors in an ivory tower tell you are the most important. Storytelling, large arcs, world building, and goofy, overdone characters have sold something like 350,000,000 books whereas most of those professors are pretty hotdamned excited if they get picked up by a literary review with 2,500 circulation.