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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Blog's August Demands

Blog burst in on me in the bathroom this morning with one of its harebrained schemes.

Blog: So about August!

Me: Uh....Blog, I'm kind of in the middle of something.

Blog: Uncanny how frequently that happens isn't it?

Me: "Uncanny" was not the word I was thinking of.

Blog: Whatever, this can't wait.

Me: Okay, well then you might want to light that candle then.

Blog: So we didn't hit May's goal of 1000 hits a day....

Me: By only one day.

Blog: And I was really sweet to leave you alone while you were doing that summer school thing....

Me: Thanks...I guess.

Blog: And we just nailed 15,000 followers on your Facebook page yesterday.

Me: Yeah, that was cool.

Blog: But now that that's over, I've been thinking about August.

Me: Oh God.

Blog: Okay picture this... (pause)

Me: (pause)

Blog: (pause)

Me: (pause) Are you going to say something?

Blog: Fifty. Thousand. Hits.

Me: No.

Blog: Wait hear me out.

Me: No.

Blog: We can do this.

Me: No, I won't hear you out and we can't do this. We average 1000 hits a day. That's it. Some days it's more, but not a lot more. And we still sometimes have those lousy 850 days. You're talking about making 500 extra hits per day. You're talking about a day and a half worth of page views every single day. Your passion is compelling, Blog, but it's also useless.

Blog: Don't be such a chicken shit. Like what are you afraid of? Success?

Me: It's not possible. It can't be done. That's not fear. That's the cold ice water of lubeless anal reality.

Blog: That's your uncle talking....and mixing metaphors, apparently. Lily Sloane said the warp drive would never work. They told Han he'd never find Luke in that snowstorm OR successfully navigate an asteroid field. No one could possibly fight an agent until Neo did. No one could survive Voldemort's death spell until Harry Pott-

Me: Wh--? That's a bunch of sci-fi bullshit. It's not even real!

Blog: (Lawrence Fishburne voice) He's beginning to believe!

Me: Shut up.

Blog: Come on, Chris. If you had a bunch of sports metaphors stuffed into your brain, I'd use those. I work with what I've got. Now are you going to go to your room and cry that the target is only two meters wide and no one can hit that with proton torpedos, or are you going to pull up your big kid undies, get in your motherfucking X-wing and show that Bechdel hating, nuance-free, prehistoric douchenozzle galaxy how we do things downtown.

Me: I dunno....this seems overly ambitious. Even for you.

Blog: But you're back! You can write good shit. You don't have to teach twelve year olds how to manage their time and make flashcards. Whip out some good articles and let the hits flow.

Me: I go back to teaching at the end of the month.

Blog: Pfffft. Like one day a week. That doesn't even count as a job. That's like a cancer survivors meeting.  ....with grammar.

Me: That's kind of fucked up.

Blog: (Lawrence Fishburne voice) He's beginning to believe!

Me: Shut up! Burning Man. I won't even be here the whole month. There's no way I can do this when I'm out of it for that whole time. Days of inactivity--no social media promotion. You don't even understand how slow August usually is for this blog.

Blog: You mean like last August when you got 53,318 page views?

Me: That was because of Creepy Guy!

Blog: But you can do it. You already know that. Schedule the posts. You'll only be gone a few days. Better yet, nail it before you even leave. Write something viral. Ask a friend to promote the posts for those few days. You could totally do this. Don't be a negative Nelly Mr. Can'tdopants.

Me: It's very unlikely.

Blog: But possible.

Me: Theoretically, I guess, it's technically conceivable. Maybe.

Blog: Gee whiz, Chris, don't sound too fucking confident.

Me: I just don't want to get my hopes up.

Blog: (pause) Why on Earth not? Where else would you want them? Don't be that guy, Chris. Don't get comfortable. Don't tread fucking water making two dollars a day because you've convinced yourself you can't do any better. I'll go be someone else's blog if that's the limit of your ambition.

Me: I dunno....

Blog: Look....I'm not asking you to believe it will be easy. You're going to have a month that you will talk about for years. I just want you to believe it will be possible. Because shit, man, EVERY month should be like that. You only get one of these lives.

Me: Did you just use YOLO to try to sell me on this?

Blog: (clears throat) Maaaaaaybe. Did it work?

Me: (sighs) I'm going to regret this.

Blog: YES! FUCK YES!!! It is on like TRON!!! Look out world......or....like 50,000 of you anyway. We are going to do this thing. I didn't even have to sing Rent lyrics! There's only now...there's only this..... (Lawrence Fishburne voice) He IS beginning to believe.

Me: SHUT UP!!! God.

Blog: (pausing and sniffing) Jesus how much garlic did you eat yesterday.

A Quick Note

A quick note to all my breathtakingly generous patrons:

You are not forgotten. You are not ignored. I have been positively derelict in my duty to thank you all in a proper way. However, I have not, at any point, forgotten that I am being derelict.

I owe a number of people of spectacular generosity an e-mail of thanks for their often jaw dropping contributions. (And it seems as if the Patron Muses shall have at least one new inductee.)

My world got tons easier when I finished teaching summer school, but it is still pretty much wake up, be handed a kid, watch kid for six hours, write like the wind, clean the house, fall into bed, do it all again the next day. I do all my extra stuff on the weekends, and since last weekend I needed to recover from teaching, I didn't get to the small mountain of stuff that's been accumulating for the last two months.

I won't be promoting this post on social media, but I figure you all are following in a way that you'll see it somehow. I just wanted you to know in the meantime that each and every one of you is spectacular.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fortune Cookie Wisdom VIII


Even staler fortune cookies. 

The problem is that we live in a world where most people think ideas are worth money and work doesn't matter instead of realizing that everyone has ideas and it is the people who work to make them real that do matter.

Live a new schedule for a few days before figuring out where your writing is going to fit in. No schedule will ever really be quite how it looks on paper.  

No writer is immune to the effect of people not respecting their writing time. The trick is to pack a flamethrower and flash your best crazy eyes.

Creative writing programs are not a waste of time, but be ready to deal with a lot of things that aren't actually writing, and be ready to spend a lot of money for things you could have reproduced with self-motivation, 100 hours on Google, and some sincere fellow writers' feedback.

A generation of writers exists now who fetishize the physical book as the pinnacle of writing success. Despite the fact that physical book publishing is descends into greater obsolescence, market shares have shrunk, and it has become far more difficult to achieve success through traditional publishing, they still believe physical books, book deals, publishing contracts, agents and such are more "legitimate." I'm not here to judge their route but I am here to cheer that there is no longer just ONE route, and I will not stop pointing out that unless one is fabulously well established as a writer already, traditional publishing will lead to fewer readers, more logistics, less writing time, and less money. It is no longer the path.

Agents might be strange writer-hating creatures who live in caves with booby traps and acid pits, but if you're going through traditional publishing, you need one.

If you don't think a million page views and a semi-regular paycheck takes the curse off of people who insist I'm not a "real writer," you're wrong.

If you want to be an elitist, classist, ablist, (and often racist) anal sphincter, be a pedantic jerk about "proper" grammar and assume things about people's intelligence based upon the fact that their dialect doesn't match yours or their eduction wasn't as stellar as yours. On the other hand, if you want to be a widely-read writer, it's in your best interest to learn which rules the group in power favors and break them only with care and consideration.

Every writer you envy (and most you've never heard of) have sacrificed something for their writing. Family. A "real" job. A social life. Something. It's not that you'll never publish or never make money doing something casually for a few hours on the weekend, but the writers who fill our bookshelves have all had to put something on the altar of writing.

People will Google your name the minute you hit the public sphere. Make sure they don't find your Friendster account from ten years ago with the Emo Julia Moore™ poetry phase.

If the answer to "Why do you write?" is money, fame, groupies, really hot birthday threesomes, or basically any reason other than "Because I love the act of writing for its own sake," you might want to quit now. There are better and easier ways to get all that other stuff.

I need more fortune cookies!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Prepare Fingers for Massive Key Bombardment!


And we're back!

Yesterday was the last entry consumed by Project Sanity. I meant to write overdue thank you letters to patrons, fix a couple of menus, and update the Cast and Crew with it's latest character, OG. Instead, I ended up on the business end of one of those uber-naps that starts out innocently giving the cat some scritches and ends up with you waking up four hours later wondering what time zone you're in, and the cat is looking at you like The Emperor from Star Wars and meowing "Good! GOOD! Give in to your lethargic feelings. The sleep is swelling in you now."

No problem, right? Just get to it after the nap, right?

Wrongo.

Then everyone and their brother started crawling out from under the stairs and air vets and up through plumbing to try and get me to do things. Unsupportive Girlfriend scheduled a lunch with me but then got angry when I said I had work to do afterwards. Fortunately after a few bites of food she must have slipped off while I was looking away and Supportive Girlfriend showed up who was much more understanding and enjoyed my company but knew I had to get to work when we got home.

So I could just do that stuff when I got home, right?

Still wrongo.

People started crawling out of the woodwork to get my attention, since I finally had it to give. They came through the plumbing and out from under the stairs. They even started squeezing through the air vents.

I'm not immune to the effect of people not respecting my time as a writer. I just usually pack a flamethrower and flash my crazy eyes. Today I left Bessie (that's what I named my flamethrower) at home. But it doesn't matter. I have serviced the auto-tracking 50 cal dual machine guns (like in the Aliens movie) and set them up outside the junk room that doubles as some Macgyvered office space. Because if a writer doesn't respect their writing time, sure as shit no one else will. Today I write!

I want to thank everyone for sticking with me through the madness of these last six weeks. I don't like shirking my writing commitments, but with the kid and the housework and the lack of domestic ninja backup, it was just too much.

Writing About Writing will hit the ground running today. Back to five or six updates a week and "brunch posts" many days. We will get back onto the update schedule, and now that time management is combined with finding sea legs in the baby routine and the unimaginable time boon of not teaching summer school, I plan to get back to quality articles and even fiction.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

I Will Share My Experiences in Real Time

Part 2 of my Mission Statement

So I’m fresh out of a creative writing program and ready to set the world on fire! But once I’m out of prison for the arson charge, I will rock the party that rocks the party.

And while I'm at it, I'm going to find out what that even means.

And when I do, I’m going to post it right here.

Sometime around nine years prior to this writing, I hung up a sauce-stained tie, stopped managing The Old Spaghetti Factory in Concord, and gave up the USDA, public service announcement recipe for Happiness And The American Dream, and struck off on my own path. I had tried the "real" job, "real" life, "real" responsibilities, and even saved up for a "real" house and was talking about "real" kids with my "real" wife.

All that realness sucked balls. Sadly, not in the way that is vaguely tantalizing.  More like in the way that an overenthusiastic teen with braces does it.

So I dumped all that "real" crap (except the "real" wife; she did the dumping in that case) and I started writing. I got a flip over haircut and I told my mom I just really needed to focus on my art.

This was after I visited Esma's secret lab.
Why does she even HAVE that other lever.
Unfortunately, what I produced was little more than a steaming pile of crap. That is when I began my mission.

Well, really I began a quest.

Many years earlier I had become "A Writer"....Dorothea Brande style...but I needed help with the craft itself. My prose was rough around the edges. My grammar was pretty atrocious. I liked writing about farm boys fighting dark lords. I had to learn to do with quality what I loved to do with quantity.

And so I began my quest. I was told the location of an ancient, magical sword by this venerable dude who looked amazingly like Burgess Meredith. I had to kill a troll. (There was even witty banter.) I got the sword. I went back to the guy and asked him how this was supposed to make me a better writer, and he kind of stared at me blankly and blinked."

Writer?" he said. "Who the hell would ever want to be a writer? There's no money in that. What you need to do is lop the heads off of dragons. The bigger the dragon, the better. Lots of money. Pussy too. You'll be drowning in that shit. And not that second rate stuff either; I'm talking the ones with the legs that go all the way up! Chicks dig dragonslayers."

 Turned out I we’d gotten our wires crossed somewhere. And when I said “learn to write” he had heard “kill the hydra.” (Not sure where the hell that came from. They barely even rhyme.) I left him the sword, in case he found the right sort of hero, and headed off.

 Fucking sexist kook.

Without a wizened old mentor cliche, I didn’t see how I was ever going to learn to write. I kept putting on montage music and then sitting down to the keyboard, but by the end of the song, I was still looking at mediocre writing. (What do you expect, those songs are only like two minutes long.)

I tried to catch a chicken, but even when I did, my prose did not improve. I also had a horrible case of histioplasmosis from fungus in the droppings. That put me in the hospital for like a month.

So I decided to quest for the secret to craft myself. No mentor.

Perhaps I would assemble a rag tag group of misfits along the way--hopefully including a ninja who is looking for his father–a ninja who can pull fish right out of a river. We would hopefully be joined by a talking firedog, a gruff dude with a machine gun for an arm, and a giant stuffed animal ridden by a cat with a megaphone. And if I was very, very lucky, my team might also have a Mandroid.

Each of them would join me for their own purposes. But we would face the Dark Lord together.

The....um...."dark lord" of shitty writing.

Regardless, I was going to walk this road, mentor or no. Nothing was going to stop me. I even queued up "Break My Stride" I looked to the horizon, where the sun was setting, and dragged a blade across my palm (different blade—I gave the enchanted sword back to Burgess remember; try to keep up). As I did, with wind whipping my hair, I cried, “I swear by my blood, I will learn to write.”

And it was pretty dramatic except for fucking Matthew Wilder's voice.

  If we never ever again–as a culture–permit the combination of hippie mustaches and leather pants it will be too soon. 

To this day, if you go to that spot, where the wind tousled my hair, and my blood spilled to the ground, and you look where my life fluid touched the fecund soil beneath me, you will find.....nothing of any particular significance.

My quest led me to college....where some said mentors still lived. But where the demon to be defeated was college itself.

Thus I battled with college. For seven years we fought. College smashed me, beat me, slammed me into walls, threw me to the ground, chewed me up and spit me out, and once swallowed me and digested me. But every time it thought the fight was over, every time I looked well and truly dead, and it turned away, I would stand up, grab my Trapper Keeper and mechanical pencil, and say, “I’m not done. I’m going to be a writer. Is that the best you've got?"

College lays dead at my feet.  Yet the quest goes on.

I found that college (even a creative writing degree) had very little to do with being a writer, and a lot more to do with a firm basis in general education, literary analysis, and following directions. It had some to do with writing (though not as much as I'd have hoped), but almost nothing to do with being a writer. It also probably wrung out the desire to write from more writers than it ever taught the craft. Now I had to fuse the knowledge of how to write with the love of writing itself, and combine it with one serious fuckton of work.

That's where you tuned in. And even though most of this post is about the past, what I'm trying to get at is that you found me still gathering up my motley crew on my way The Black Fortress (even though neither they nor my sentient ninja star will be nearly as useful at defeating The Beast as the Flamethrower of LOVE™). I haven't even found the firemares yet.

Damn, Colwyn, you can really make your "love" shoot far...and hit faces with amazing accuracy.

Here is my pledge, however. Whatever I discover, I will share here. If I learn a trick, I’ll put it here.  If I discover a sure fire way to network, it’ll be up here by the next weekday. If I hit pay dirt along one avenue or hit nothing but walls along another, you will know it happened. If there's a wait involved in an acceptance process, I'll detail every agonizing day of it.

It will also show you the banal in excruciating real time. No overnight success stories. If I start to carve out something, you will see how it took me years of writing every day to get there. You will watch me improve from old articles to new. You will see my career as it happens. You will know what to expect.

The new leg of my journey begins, and I’m going to chronicle it here. And if any insight I glean helps you in your own quest--be it the weaknesses of trolls, the fact that kingsfoil stimulates creativity (because that shit is the best medicine ever, for anything, even though only one person seems to know it), or that publishers have a weakness for silver and cold steel--I will rejoice. And if any place I point out troll droppings, ogre sniper rifle laser sight dots, or vampric agents, because I went through it and was able to warn you off, I will also rejoice.

The tricks and the pitfalls: I will share them all. And we can take the next part of this fantastic quest together.

Best to imagine me as Madmartigan looking at Arik with an impish smile. "Wanna come with us?"

Or if your bent is a little more sinister and Sithy, you can imagine Darth Vader at the end of Empire: "Join me! Together we can rule the galaxy."

You know...whatever bakes your churro.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Multi-Author World: Last Chance to Vote

Mr. Crusher....we're in first place.
Don't say ANYTHING.
Less than a week remains in our Best Multi-Author World Poll. So rock the vote that rocks the vote......um....or something.  

Only a few days remain to get your vote on in our multi-author world poll. Our poll didn't provoke our resident Pratchett fan to tap British forums and release the Kraken of the rabid fan base, so it's been a much more mellow poll, but there are still some very close races. Plus, those of you who voted right away will probably find that your IP addresses are able to vote again.

So take a moment to scroll down to the long black poll on the lower left and give the world of your choice some love.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Mailbox: Traditional Publishing Questions

Must a writer have an agent? How do you write a good query letter?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  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 I will take a shot at questions about traditional publishing, but there are obviously better people to ask.]  

Steven asks:

I was wondering, to finalize a story to be sent out to a publisher, what things must I consider (rewrites, research, etc.) Please reply soon. Also, MUST a writer HAVE an agent? I heard agents are somewhat good to have but then they're demanding, needing a piece of work within a period of time.

My reply:

Both of today's questions came through my Facebook page from Steven.

First of all, I'm not the best person to ask about traditional publishing. There are lots of writers who haven't just declared (in their best Cartman voice): "Screw you guys in Traditional Publishing; I'm going home."

But I'll tell you what I know.

Any manuscript you submit (solicited or not) should be the best you can possibly make it. I don't mean "I checked it twice! I even found a missing comma." I mean the best fucking shit you are capable of producing.

For real real (not for play play).

You should have completely rewritten it at least once and revised it multiple times. These revisions may be major. They may involve cutting out whole scenes or entire characters you realize are doing the same thing. They may involve changing up the point of view. They may require completely reworking the entire story. You have to trust this part of the process.

I know what you're thinking. Not MY manuscript. Yes YOUR fucking manuscript! One of the biggest mistakes most young writers make is thinking that THEY will be the exception to this and that THEIR manuscript is ready after only one draft, a quick revision, and some grammar polishing.

This octopus has something to say about that:



You have to rewrite that puppy. Then revise. A lot. And you have to be ready to make some major changes. You can't fall in love with that first draft. You must kill your darlings. That doesn't always just mean those characters you are in love with. It also means the paragraphs you thought were so clever or that whole brilliant secondary plot that really just isn't working. Take a machete to that bastage.

When you're finally ready for editing it (which should happen only after several revisions), you should go through it with a fine tooth comb for every grammar mistake you can, and if you're not good at proofreading your own work (and I mean REALLY, REALLY good), consider hiring a copy editor.

Don't worry about grammar, young writer.
You will be assigned an editor because you are
JUST. SO.
FUCKING.
BRILLIANT!!
Me? A myth? Pfffffft.
The myth that the publisher will edit your book is delicious, but it is a myth.

They will assign a copy editor to go through your galley proofs with an eagle eye, but you will never ever ever ever ever ever EVER get to that point if you submit something with a lot of mistakes.  I've worked on the other end of this transaction. You might think your brilliance will get your grammar errors forgiven, but what actually happens is that the first person to encounter your manuscript will probably be the type of person who will notice you used the wrong they're/their/there long before they notice your brilliance.  Most have some rule like "Error on the first page?  ROUND FILE!" "More than one error a page? ROUND FILE!" "Stupid junior high error that shows me you didn't give this the professional courtesy of someone expecting the professional accolades that you are hoping I will give you? ROUND FILE!"

Round file is the trash, by the way.

As for agents....get one.

A writer doesn't HAVE to have an agent, Steven, but...if you're going to go the route of traditional publishing, I can't stress this enough: get an agent. I could go into the pros and cons of having an agent in the traditional publishing world, but everything I have ever read says get one. Those who publish unsolicited say they should have had one. Those who are famous writers still have one. Those who get one say it was the best thing they did. So even though agents are elusive motherfuckers who spend more of their time trying to build defensive structures and laser targeting auto-cannons that will keep writers at bay, you still need one.

Only a handful of publishers will take unsolicited material, and it usually goes into a slush pile.

Let me tell you a little about the slush pile.

Bottom section.
Left column.
Eight from the bottom.
That one's mine.
I'm sure they'll read it any day now.
It is this HUGE pile of manuscripts that they give either to interns or to very bored publishers to go through at a pace that makes snails look like fucking Speed Racer, and most of them are NaNoWriMo and/or first drafts. You don't want to be in there. Sometimes it can take eighteen months (or longer) before some bleary eyed intern, who just read 20 first drafts in a row that were obvious rip offs of Dresden, Star Wars, or Willow, finally hits your story.

An agent will represent you; they will pimp out your work; they will sell you; they will get you in front of the eyeballs that matter; they know what venues are most likely to find an interest in your work. And they will almost always get you more money than you would get without them–that's even after you take into account their percentage. They are trained negotiators and your gain is their gain. They know what a good deal and a shitty deal look like, and--unlike you--they won't be wetting themselves just at the prospect of publication and take a shitty deal without thinking it through.

Plus they can help you with your manuscript in a way that a publisher will not. If your book is close, but not quite ready for publication yet, or needs a few tweaks to be commercially viable, they can help you get it to that point.

Steven, your idea of agents being demanding comes later. Usually it is the PUBLISHER setting things like chapter deadlines when an author has something called an "advance" on a book. In today's market, you're not likely to get an advance until you've published a few books. If an agent is harping on a writer, it's probably because the writer has asked them to do so (because they need a little external motivation) and that is a part of their professional relationship. But the agent works for the writer and they've obviously negotiated that ahead of time. The writer can call off the agent at any time.

"You're fired" is remarkably effective as a safe word.


What advice do you have regarding query letters and is there an electronic version of the writer's market book on the net? One where you can fill in a search and it'll bring up a list of potential publishers?

My reply:

Again, there are probably better people to ask about traditional publishing than me, but here is what I know.

A query letter should be formal, concise, and impeccably professional. It should never be informal or familiar in tone ("Hi there! Lemmie tell you about your next blockbuster" ROUND FILE!), and it should never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever EVER be more than one page. (Please fucking trust me on this one. I have known agents who go through their stack of query letters and throw out everything with a staple. ROUND FILE!) Agents get dozens, sometimes hundreds of query letters every week. If you can't even follow the most basic directions, they're not going to want a professional relationship with you.

Before I talk about the query letter, I want to make one thing absolutely, crystal clear. Like mountain lake after a spring thaw crystal clear where there are fucking snow capped mountains in the distance, your face is about to freeze off, and the light sparkling off of everything is a razor blade across your pupil.

DO NOT SEND A QUERY LETTER BEFORE YOUR BOOK IS DONE.

Just don't.

In non-fiction there is something called a proposal which you can write before you're done if you query with a table of contents and sample chapters, but in fiction, you need to be sitting on a final project. Not a few chapters. Not a first draft. Not "still needs some cleaning up." Done. An agent who asks to see more and finds out you're not done will ROUND FILE your query and probably put your name in the "Do Not Reply" section of their rolodex for the future.

Paragraph one is the hook to your story. Describe your book like you would someone you met on a subway who was about to get off at the next stop. Or better yet someone who was about to do their first unassisted parachute jump. This isn't the place for plot points beyond the basic description. In storytelling terms, use one clause to describe "the mundane world" and one clause to describe the inciting event.  ("Chris couldn't hook up a groupie threesome to save his life until one day he met a pair of gothic lingerie models who loved blogs about writing.") Be careful of making it as formulaic as I have here, but that is the basic idea. This is also the place to mention setting, or any stylistic decisions you've made that you think are very unique. (They won't be–unique that is–which is why I used "very" in front of it, but if you think they are, include that.)

Paragraph two is a brief synopsis. Let me say this again with the proper emphasis. Paragraph two is a MOTHER-FUCKING BRIEF synopsis. Brief. Hear me on this. Brief. If your whole query letter is over a page (which will get it ROUND FILED) it will probably be because you are trying to introduce too much detail into your synopsis. You don't need to tell the agent the whole story, just get them interested. This may actually be some of the most difficult writing you've ever done, because this is what the agent is going to focus on.

Tell the picture finding intern that she can't just Google the big word in the paragraph and pick any picture!
She has to actually read it and know what it's about.

Paragraph three is about you as a writer. Degrees you hold. Places you've published. If you don't have a lot of that, increase the length of your synopsis (paragraph two) but don't bullshit your way through this. You're dealing with professional bullshit sniffers who have epic reading skills. Don't even bother. An agent doesn't care about your job (unless you're writing a story about that job). An agent doesn't care about your education (beyond the fact that you have a degree). If you have a lot of writing accolades, keep it to a few that you're most proud of, and keep it short. Journalism publications, awards or contests you've won, or literary publications.

Lastly, don't forget to thank them for their time and attention and to tell them the full manuscript is available on request. (And make sure that is true.)

As for the Writer's Market, I'm afraid it's not available online--but just about everything in it is. It's one of those books that is valuable because it takes a gillion bits of information that anyone could find out without any trouble and puts them all in the same place. Nothing in The Writer's Market isn't researchable, but when it's all in one place it's damned convenient. If you're looking for particular venues to submit I suggest Googling "Publishing Venues for XXXXXX" where XXXXX is the genre you are writing in.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

So You Want to Start Your Own Blog? My Best--AAAAAAAAAAAHHH!

OM NOM NOM NOM!!
We apologize for the inconvenience, but this entry has been consumed by Project Sanity and it revolving days off. Please join us in one week to find out the best advice for starting your own blog.

Only two days of teaching 4th-9th graders about study skills in a thrice weekly recreation of the battle of Leipzig. (I play Napoleon, of course.) Tomorrow at approximately 4:10 and two seconds, I will cry out "FREEEEEEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOM!" in my best Mel Gibson impression.

On Friday we will be tackling some questions folks have written in about the traditional publishing industry. I have some plans for this weekend, but it sort of depends on how quickly I get back into the groove.

On Monday the 28th, Project Sanity will consume its last entry as I violently eschew pants and take a well-needed day completely off from the last six weeks of 80+ hours. Then I will hit the ground running on Tuesday and self-loathe with renewed vigor if I should happen to miss a post.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Opting Out: My Dubious Future in Traditional Publishing

I may never see one of my books on a stranger's shelf. Not because I'm not read by strangers, though.

I figured I would stop my weekly whine sessions about teaching summer school to young, budding psychopaths (even though this is my last week ~squee~) and talk about something a little different.

Two years ago, if you'd asked me about my die happy moment, I probably would have told you about "The Dream of a Stranger's Bookshelf™" (I mean besides the other die happy moment involving the Swedish Bikini team being REALLY into blogs about writing.) That is the dream that one day, somehow, either because I'm in a stranger's house for some reason, or I just met someone, or I see it in the background of a selfie or something, I would see a book I wrote sitting on the bookshelf of a complete stranger. That would be....the moment.

That dream is gone. Or at least deferred for a significant hiatus.

A few people who either heard me talk about opting out when I did the Ace of Geeks Podcast or when I answered my hate mail about picking non-traditional publishing, have asked me if I really meant it. And a LOT of people have wondered (some playfully and some in a way that is like sucking lemons) when I'm going to be putting out my first novel.

The answer to the latter is that there is no book coming out because the answer to the former is a big affirmative.

I really meant it.

Really.

I'm currently all in with non-traditional publishing.

If there is a book deal out there it will happen because a publisher will come to me....preferably by sending Michelle Rodriguez to my house with a duffle bag full of hundred dollar bill stacks.

But despite how many novel ideas are clacking around in my brain like loose marbles in a bathtub, I'm going to be electronic publishing or serial posting all of my longer fiction works. There may be physical copies through self-publishing if demand is high enough one day, but that is more like a pipe dream than something I am working directly toward right this minute. I also hope mayflies lay their eggs in Glen Beck's eye, but...you know.

There are two reasons why. One is more important to me, but it would be dishonest of me to completely leave out the other.

First the lesser reason: there is something to embracing the internet/free content culture. Knowing pirates are out there and that the industry is changing, one can cling to the old ways or embrace the new. I don't condone pirating or the entitled snots who've convinced themselves they're doing artists a great favor by ripping them off or those who can't even be bothered to turn off an adblocker as they gorge on free content, but it's equally ridiculous to pretend it doesn't happen or that there is really anything to be done about it.

A generation of writers exists now who fetishize the physical book as the pinnacle of writing success. They are competing with growing numbers for a shrinking market share of traditional publishing opportunities because physical books, book deals, publishing contracts, agents and such feel more "legitimate" to them. Their route is the traditional route even though it will likely lead to fewer readers, more logistics, less writing time, and less money.

I may have to deal with people who don't think a blogger is a "real" writer, but I've written more, been read by lots more, and at this point made a shit ton more money than many of those with the street cred to look down their noses at me.

What is happening more and more is that artists are striking gold--artists who recognize how the internet is changing the way in which they make money instead of trading away their control for the legitimacy of an increasingly obsolete "middle man" industry. As I write this, Weird Al Yankovic is wrapping up his eight videos in eight days. He released all those videos for free to the internet and let the websites that covered their production costs get all the web traffic revenue. They scrambled to promote themselves as hosting sites including all over social media and basically became a non-stop, EIGHT DAY commercial to buy his latest album. Now he's number one on the charts–that's record SALES if you didn't know.

Genius.

The more artists that are willing to step outside the control of these huge production and distribution centers and the paradigm that they are somehow more legitimate, the more the artist has the power and control and rewards from their art. And that leads me to my real point....

However this is the main reason: The traditional publishing industry is a broken system. It is horribly classist, sexist, racist and still often heteronormative. Gatekeepers are almost always upper middle class white men, and even when they are not, they often carry those "dead white guy" aesthetics and values. Most of the western canon is little else. Even though a few cracks have shown in this hegemony, traditional publishing still has a reprehensible track record with publishing other voices (be they women's voices, people of color, and even a rainbow of sexuality beyond just the L and the G in LGBTQIA).

Their marginalization isn't intentional bigotry, but based on the hidden value judgements about literature that haven't been unlearned yet. It is pervasive and based on who is getting published even today in 2014, it's a huge problem.

I'm white. I'm male. I'm middle class. My most non-hetro thought involves high-fiving another dude after we just rocked a woman in an MMF threesome. I benefit from this system of systematic prejudice.

I don't have to give a crap, and in fact, it would be better for my career if I didn't. I have the opportunity to blow it off or mansplain it away or to care only in a beard-stroking way like I'm some fucking Berkeley soccer parent with one kid, driving around in a passenger van that gets 14 miles to the gallon on my way to a global warming rally.

The "problem" is that my concern doesn't end as soon as it actually affects me, and my activism goes beyond arguing with friends of friends on Facebook. I don't just do that lips pressed half smile and say "But what can we do?"  I've listened to the people who have told me what we can do.

An ally's most powerful action of genuine support is to opt out of those systems which advantage them because of the unearned circumstances of their birth.

Essentially if you are accepting the status quo and the advantages that it provides, you are part of the problem, not the solution. No matter how many links you share from The Social Justice Warriors website. I don't besmirch any white males who got themselves a book deal, and please don't think I do. I don't think anyone is less of a person for not torpedoing themselves out of spite. But I see this system as broken, and if I can work around it, I'm going to.

I'll admit that I did not always think this way. I started in non-traditional publishing because it looked like that might be the quicker, easier, more seductive route to building up an audience that could then be yoked for marketing in traditional publishing contexts. ("Hey blog readers! Check it out, I have a book out!!!")

But my position evolved over the last couple of years.

As I've gotten further involved in researching the publishing industry, read lots of writers who wouldn't be viable candidates for traditional publishing, seen the kinds of ideas that can only prosper on the internet, encountered the deep seated prejudices and value judgements of traditional publishing, and witnessed how damaging this system is for talented voices outside their schema, I have begun to realize that FOR ME, for MY moral compass, publishing a book through the traditional route would be like buying shares in Hobby Lobby, taking an executive job at at Chick Fil A, or making a fortune selling Duck Dynasty merchandise.

If the publishing industry can get its shit together in my lifetime, maybe I can revisit this question, but they suffer pretty badly from being blind to it right now–to say nothing of addressing it.

I know I'll do other things with inadvertently problematic outcomes, and I know some advantages I have for being white and male (and het and cisgender and able bodied and neurotypical) are not systems I can opt out of, but letting my career flourish within such an unequal system is one place I can surely can.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Myriad As a Noun?

We also require all our authors write only "missives"
instead of letters, and ask everyone how the 
"day/afternoon/evening finds them"
instead of just saying hi.
It's a small price to pay to have a
"Simply The Best"/"You're The Best" mashup
play over the P.A. system whenever one of
our writers walks into the clubhouse.
Yes, Virginia, you CAN use myriad as a noun! (And not just like that.)  

I love The New Yorker. I do. Though I especially their weekly offering of short fiction, TNY helps me look like I eruditely understand the nuance and complexity of news in a world where most people's current events awareness comes from Facebook macros (posted by an insular bubble of their friends...who haven't blocked or been blocked by them....as part of an algorithm that shows you more of what you "like.") The New Yorker offers smart writing and good journalism.

However, sometimes The New Yorker is on the "chic" side of linguistic kerfuffles lest their reputation for being the biggest ponces in periodic literature be endangered. The apparently react to the accusation that linguistic elitism is classist (and often racist) by hopping into their Audis and driving off to play tennis. Their recent very noticeable scourge of any forms of myriad as a noun is a pretty good example. Every issue has myriad incidences of the word only ever as an adjective, even though as Merriam-Webster attests, there are a myriad of precedents for its use as either noun or adjective:

"Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase 'a myriad of,' seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective.... however, the noun is in fact the older form, dating to the 16th century. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English."

Maybe they're all too busy sipping brandy in the cloakroom to bother investigating the actual origins of their snobbery. Or maybe they know that they are just SO. FUCKING. GOOD! at print journalism (in a world where it is very nearly dead) that we just won't be able to quit them, no matter how eccentric and anachronistic they become.

My myriad proclivities are redeemed. (See what I did there?)

Or as I say when I'm NOT reading The New Yorker: "Neener neener!"

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Word Crimes?

Morans are the worst!
Weird Al Yankovic has included a song about grammar in his latest album. 

The reason I know this is that last Tuesday, no less than half the posts on my Facebook wall were people sharing this video. Seriously, it was cat meme, Word Crimes, passive aggressive message to an ex, word crimes, what level someone unlocked on Zombiepirates, Word Crimes, a rant about progressive social justice*, Word Crimes, a post from someone I don't even know that keeps showing up in my feed because someone I do know keeps commenting on it, Word Crimes, an inspirational quote (maybe on a macro of a picture of someone who didn't say it), Word Crimes.  Then another cat meme.

You get the idea.

*There is a no less than 71% chance that the rant was actually me.

Also, my friends know I'm a word nerd, so I got a lot of private messages too. "Hey, I totally thought of you." "Hey did you see this?" "Hey this seems up your alley." I don't want them to stop thinking of me when they see these sorts of things, and I promised to stop self-immolating (no matter how frustrating Facebook became), so I spent part of the day twirling a tiny Phillips head screwdriver between my thumb and forefinger and contemplating the logistics of self-lobotomization. 

Of course, Word Crimes isn't the brilliant manifesto on language that some of the more pedantically oriented are hailing it as. Many of these "crimes" aren't even wrong in formal usage anymore, much less in colloquial settings and the lyrics belie a tenuous grasp of linguistics at best. What made me wince was far less the song itself (which I will get to) and more the people lauding it as a genius grammar lesson.

Most rules like these, from fish forks to fashion to grammar, are "proper" primarily to create an artificial social barrier between classes and "other" cultures, and the "proper" making fun of the "improper" for doing it wrong is a long and illustrious tradition in our society.
That burrito you microwaved in a paper towel yesterday might as well be a split infinitive, peasant.

When I teach English to my college students, especially when I get native speakers who use dialects like AAVE, I tell them that I am not teaching them the "correct" or "proper" English. As a country without a national language academy, that doesn't even mean anything. Most pedants in this regard have appointed themselves lords of language (even though they can't seem to agree with each other) and who spend their days tilting at the windmills of linguistic drift and being elitist about their dialect without realizing how classist (and often racist) that makes them seem. (Especially when they do their pedantry thing without regard to context like informal settings or colloquial usage.)

What I tell them is that I am going to teach them the rules that a very narrow group of people in power have determined is proper and who insist that if you can't follow THEIR rules of communication (even if they knew what you meant) that you will not be listened to and/or taken seriously. The powerful have a proclivity to demand THEIR rules be followed in order to parlay (anyone from social justice will instantly recognize as a derailing technique known as the tone argument) and what I am teaching them isn't "right" so much as it is the version that powerful people demand.

The reason I like Word Crimes is the same reason I like Nabokov or Frost even though they portray a pedophile and a self-deluding hypocrite respectively. I consider their work to be reflective, not didactic, and through the lens of a character. I mean I don't REALLY think Weird Al committed incest when he parodied Avril Lavine, stalked people like in Melanie, has a zillion guns like in Trigger Happy, or was ever a surgeon. I'm not even sure he likes rocky road or bologna or has spent significant amounts of time in a drive through. He is singing through a persona.

And frankly, there's reason to suspect that he's singing through a satirical persona. Weird Al does this A LOT. His lyrics are cute and funny and usually hilariously clever, but there is almost always a second level of irony going on as well. The characters who sing Weird Al songs are often more caricatures of some dubious belief or philosophy (from coupon clippers to TV zombies to belief in the paranormal to crusty old parents who had it worse when they were your age). In fact, one of the reasons Weird Al stands out among so many who do song parodies is because it's generally harder to find a song where he doesn't have a layering of additional irony, humor, and social commentary. And even though Yankovic has definitely punched down during his career, I don't think that's what's going on here.

Some of the rules he insists upon in Word Crimes are so anachronistic by today's standards (prepositions at the end of sentences) as to be absurd. The fact that he calls them "crimes" and demands people go back to pre-school or were raised in a sewer, as well as the entire raging tone, hints at the fact that Weird Al doesn't believe this is a legitimate position so much as the persona of the character singing the song is mocking the red-faced, frothing mouthed pedants who are (extra ironically) calling this song genius.

ETA: He even admits to putting "improper" grammar in the song intentionally to cheese off the grammar wanks. (It's in the first few seconds of this clip if you're interested.)


To put it bluntly, I'm pretty sure the pedants declaring this the most educational song ever--and lauding it as brilliance incarnate--aren't actually getting the joke. Weird Al trolled them. Hard.

What's not to love about a near perfect reverse ironic pedant trolling in a fricken hilarious song that explains the difference between "its" and "it's"? Plus nothing is funnier to an English nerd than a good dangling participle joke.

Oh, and if you haven't seen it yet.......



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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Take THAT Productivity

My hair was singing to me, so I cut it off.
That's bad hair! Bad!
Today's entry has been devoured by Project Sanity.

OM NOM NOM NOM NOM!!!

While the impact of Project Sanity to actually prevent me from going stressravingly mad might be questionable, I am still clinging to some vestiges of coherent thought, so that is good. I may have just enough neurons firing to get through next week and still have the ability to form sentences with both subjects and verbs.

I cut my hair and shaved as you can see. This has the effect of making me look like I'm not in my late thirties, but rather closer to twelve years old like my students. Stockholm syndrome is starting to make me identify with them.

At least the guy in the mirror tells me that's what's going on. I'm not sure I trust him.

(He looks shady. But he also reads over my shoulder, so I can't go into much detail.)

Next week Project Sanity will devour Wednesdays entry, and the week after that, it will do Monday's. Next week is my last week of teaching so Monday is going to be one big day I like to call the perennial celebration of no pants.

I'll see you tomorrow. But in the mean time, please understand that I really did cut my hair off for my own good. Look what it was making me do before I did what had to be done.

I mean...duck lips? ~shudder~

It wasn't THAT my hair was singing that was troublesome,
so much as the fact that it was nothing but Taylor Swift.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

July Poll: Best Multi-Author World

Space.
We hope there's not a lot of it between us and first place.
What is the best multi-author world?

Our July poll is live.

Using the write in nominations from all of you, we have nine names that have made it to the poll.  A few others were nominated but they didn't get anyone to second them, so they didn't make the poll. Don't forget to come back and second worthy nominations!

We don't have quite the fury (and tapped fanbases) of our last couple of polls, so everyone will only get three (3) votes.

The poll itself is long and black and at the bottom left of the side widgets.

Also please don't forget that the program I use for polling will forget your IP address after one week. You can get in multiple votes, and since I can't stop it, I might as well fold it into the logistics. Vote early! Vote often!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Poll Tomorrow

The Contrarian disapproves of my blaming him, but is
mostly sad because he wanted to vote for Thieves' World.
For those of you keeping track, I was going to put the poll up today, but even such a small entry eluded me. Wednesdays are just....horrific for me right now. I don't have the car so my commute makes my teaching day an hour longer on each end (at least I get to read on the BART) and when I get home I have to do the catboxes and put the trash on the curb. (About an hour long process here at The Hall of Rectitude.)

I had an impromptu baby-watching session this morning, and The Contrarian is not very good about patiently letting me do my writing.

"You're going to let Uncle Chris get this one, quick, easy entry posted right Bub?" I asked.

"I AM NOT!!!" he psychically blasted.

So....the poll will be going up tomorrow. In the meantime, you have an extra day to write in nominations or second the ones that are already there.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On The Altar of Writing

I'm not sure I'm going to teach next summer.

I got a donation from one of the Patron Muses a couple of days ago, and I realized there are like six thank you notes I'm overdue to write. Even though I had a reasonably relaxing weekend filled with some Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas, the guilt came crashing down on me as soon as the OHCRAPTHAT'SADEATHCLAW(BUT I DIDN"T DIE) adrenaline wore off. I am so behind that even CB the Red Caboose from Starlight Express has stopped singing songs about how he'll be there if I turn around.

I like teaching (though I like teaching college students who want to be there more than tweens who would rather be anywhere else) and I even enjoy my little budding reprobates who drive me to sniff glue. The money is great, but I don't really need it.

And that's the rub. And not the good kind of rub that you're excited to get in an empty BART train from that special someone.

When I compare the several hundred dollars I'll end up with by the end of the summer with the damage that has been done to my writing schedule, my sleep schedule, my posting schedule, and my general peace of mind and stress levels, the ledgers are just not equal.  Before The Contrarian I could do six weeks of barely getting by, firing up my S.W.O.M. Engines (Second Wind/Oil of Midnight), but now–even with S.W.O.M. engines running at full power–I just can't keep up. I am constantly behind on writing, chores, everything.

I mentioned this to The Brain and she flickered the lights disapprovingly (she was plugged into the AI of The Hall of Rectitude at the time, and please don't ask me to explain what disapprovingly flickering lights look like). She told me over the intercom that it was too much money to give up on.

"But what about your retirement?" she said.

"What about my writing?" I countered. "I mean I'm sort of hoping that writing and retirement will dovetail a little, and my Hall of Rectitude cleaning stipend is mostly in sexual favors, iStuff, and Tim Tams, but I do get some cash. You're talking about tanking my writing utterly for six weeks a year so that I can make about six hundred dollars."

"That money could fund The Hall of Rectitude. We need a new holo-emitter since Wrecking Ball trashed the one in the training room."

(Ever since that fucking Miley Cyrus song came out, I swear to fuck! We get it, okay? You came in like a Wrecking Ball. You're very fucking clever. FUCK!)

We could always use more money, of course. The Hall of Rectitude is fairly swank but I just live here, and Writing About Writing has only just cleared $1000/year. Plus, as comfortable as we are, we're only the North Oakland chapter of Heroes for Rectitude, so we lack a playboy billionaire trope to fund us. There's always a holo-emitter on the fritz, body armor that needs an upgrade, a crackly P.A. speaker in one of the storage rooms, or some Krav Maga class we should be taking. And the sidekick 401k plan is a joke. I mean the superheroes get full on pension plans, but I'm treated worse than adjunct faculty in the Humanities.

Crime fighting is a labor of love, lemmie tell ya.

At what point, though, do I draw that line. All the reasons I don't manage restaurants, teach more than one class a semester, or get a "real" teaching job are all still there even during these six weeks out of the summer, and if I'm going to have to write in breathless catch-as-catch-can spurts for those entire six weeks, I'm not altogether sure that the dollar amount is worth it.

James Barrie wrote, (in Peter Pan): "You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it." It's a poignant quote when you're dealing with the non-Disney version of a story about a boy who won't grow up and forever retains the selfishness and self-centeredness of childhood. (Incidentally, if you really want to delve into poignant, the "boy who won't grow up" is also about Barrie's brother who died in an ice skating accident and would forever remain a boy in his mother's memory. How's that for fucking up your jocular Bobby Driscoll images.) The quote's context is literally making wishes magically come true, but given the themes of Peter Pan, its subtext is undeniable.

While I have my problems with white men saying "you can have anything" in general, I do know that all writers talk about the trade offs they have made–the things they gave up to be a writer. Like most careers, no one made a fortune being a weekend warrior with it. No writer seems to believe that they can do anything, but all have sacrificed something (family, social life, money, something) onto the altar of writing.

With most time sinks, the writer's question isn't "Is this conceivably useful?" or "Could this ever possibly be beneficial" but "Does this match up with my priorities?" and "Could this time be better spent?"

As I consider the implications of next year: a toddler in the house creating catastrophic levels of entropy and needing more active engagement (and ~gulp~ fewer naps) than the baby, plus the fact that I'd like to be stepping up my writing schedule to the next level, I am honestly not sure if I'm going to want to keep teaching.

But in the meantime, two more weeks.  TWO MORE WEEKS. Twomoreweekstwomoreweeks!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Control What People See When They Google You

Ironically, I found this image on Bing.
People will do web searches on your name as soon as you are in the public sphere.  Make sure they find something worth finding.  

It was my second to last semester when I heard the best advice of my entire writing program.

Normally, I wouldn’t be caught dead paying attention in class, but for some reason my iPad was taking forever to update the Phantasy Star II app, so I happened to hear it. But I also noticed that the woman who was saying it was a working writer who had broken into e-pub through blogging and was making enough in only five years to work very part time as a teacher and devote herself to writing.

And it wasn't the first time I'd heard such a thing either.

See, there’s a real changing of the guard going on in the business of creative writing right now. Publishing houses—even some small presses—have their heads buried in the sand--the sand that looks suspiciously like their own asses. They don't seem to know what's going on with computers.

The old guard and the new guard shift RIGHT about at people my age (maybe a little younger). This isn’t a small change either. This is a huge, nothing-will-ever-be-the-same, "It's a cookbook" change that is rocking the publishing world more than Lady Gaga and Beyonce rocked Telephone. It is roughly analogous to the same change that hit the record industry in the early 2000's and they still don't know exactly which way is up. Technology making new things possible, plausible, possibly even superior to prior versions of "The Way Things Are Simply Done™," yet some of these fossils are still insisting that fax machines are the antichrist and that e-mail will be the downfall of civilization.

      
This or be told speculative fiction isn't "real art."
Tough choice.                                     
The old guard are still running enough to call the shots in traditional publishing houses, but their power falters every year. If you’ve ever, I don’t know, looked around a Barnes and Noble, you know there are still a couple of books being published.

Sure, your local bookshop starting to be more Shakespeare-bust electric pencil sharpeners (where you stick the pencil into his left nostril) and Moleskine journals that lure in white people by the truckload, but there are still one or two shelves of books behind the coffee shop, the CD rack, and the Jane Austin tote bags.

The old guard’s world is a world of gatekeepers and status quo. It is a world where few have the power and they lord it over the rest.  A world where the only course to endgame is short story credits--->cover letter--->agent--->publisher--->book deal, and at every step someone is judging whether or not the work is of enough appeal to move up the chain.

This person is almost always white, male, heterosexual, and middle class. Even in today's world where that is only statistically very likely (rather than universally true) they still maintain the aesthetics and values of those cultures.

The old guard tend to love books as physical objects. They talk a lot about the smell of books—so much so, in fact, that you’d think they need to grind wood into a powder, mix it with glue and ink and rub that shit on their gums to test its quality. They channel fuddy-duddy Giles from first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and talk about computers as newfangled infernal contraptions. They seem confused, and I have to say maybe even a little befuddled, by the impact of e-readers and blogs on reader's market.

The old guard claim that the future of publication is "totally up in the air," but they have no way to know where the wind is blowing, and with every innovation and technology, they seem caught with their pants down, clinging to the vestiges of the old ways as if they were ice cubes in their clenched fists. They disagree on the impact that e-readers and computers will have in the next decade, and some even insist their impact is nominal now—even though every single speaker not in publishing basically unanimously agrees that they have officially changed the game. The old guard claim they have absolutely no way to know where the industry is going.

And they are losing their jobs in droves.

They even (my hand to God) had not noticed by 2009 when I was in the Business of Writing class that their 15% drop in book sales exactly matched the reports that e-readers now accounted for 15% of the market share.  They just thought people were "reading less these days." Again--I'm not making that up.

With speakers and guests right around my age something strange happened.

The new guard aren’t “unsure” of what is going on within the publishing industry.  They are unanimous, loud, and very confident of their predictions. They don’t disagree with each other but rather have a spooky sort of consensus that you really don't see very often in writers. They can see the impact of e-readers, the trends, and the way the wind is blowing:

Paper books are on their way out, and computers are going to devastate the power of the gatekeeper model.

Not all paper books. Not completely. Never.  We love them too much for that.

Not beloved copies or masterpieces. Not “vanity copies” that hipsters will insist on mail ordering to match their seventies-style Puma sneakers and will tuck conspicuously into their skull covered tote bags. Not the mega-bestsellers who will always be financially viable to publish physically.

No, it will probably be a little like Star Trek where they read everything on their little pads, but still give each other real books as gifts and had a few titles in paper form in their quarters.  But the books you gather up by the truckload and consume like jelly beans. The books that my roommate, Uberdude, has wall-to-wall causing a fire hazard in one entire room of our house. The ones that can’t hit an increasingly high circulation number to make their publication "worth it."  They're gone. Twenty years...maybe thirty--tops.

The low-risk alternatives of print on demand and e-publishing are just making the old system not worth it anymore unless you're Rowling, King, or Brown.

But the thing is that the developments in these technologies are not just changing the publishing industry. They are also changing how a writer deals with that industry. Writers don’t even need agents anymore. Writers don’t need publishers anymore. They can take their work straight to the presses themselves. Fuck, they can hit a button and be published the same day electronically. It’s a major major game changer when the gate keepers are being port rounded, and the artists can say “Screw you guys; I’m going home,” in their very best Cartman voice. Suddenly, the artists have power again, and don't have to conform to a vision of either "what sells" or what a very narrow demographic of gatekeepers think has the literary worth to justify taking a loss on.

The old guard writers we met through my CW program were almost always professors, editors, publishers as well, or had some other day job. They made virtually no money off their writing.
(Small presses can't really pay, and if they can it's a pittance.)  The biggest royalty checks those writers got was when a class (usually a creative writing class) picked up one of their books to study, and it became a required text for the course—and if that kind of strikes you as a bit of a ponzi scheme, you’re not alone.

By contrast, MOST of the younger writers were able to be working writers after a few years at it. They cobbled together ten different income streams from web content to freelance work, to erotica to be translated into Taiwanese , and some punched a part-time clock to shore up their defenses, but they were doing it. They were writing for a living, and not getting caught in 9-5 writing gigs that left them sapped and exhausted when facing their own fiction. They were getting their creative work out there with computers and technology. And a lot of them didn’t see agents and big publishing houses as the goal. A lot of them thought that was one way among a dozen to reach endgame, but the real money was in extremely cheap e-reader only versions of their work where they would pocket MOST of the retail price, marketed online.

And the most common advice the young guard gave us was this: “Control what people are going to see when they Google your name.”

We live in a world where some people sneer at online publication. They think it is beneath them. They think it isn't "real." They have nothing published online, or if they do it is their second or third tier work.

Guess what comes up when you Google their name?

That's right. The crap they didn’t think was good enough to submit to a “real” venue.

What’s even more dangerous is stuff you don’t even know is out there. The drunk text manifestos on how Nazi Germany wasn't so bad because at least the trains ran on time that you put on Friendster back in 2002. You want to push that stuff onto page 23 by replacing it if you possibly can. If you don't, the first thing someone sees of you, when they look you up, is some poetry you tweeted during your “EE Cummings Punctuation Phase” about how hard it is to be a white, het, male in today’s world.

So part of my mission for this blog is to have fairly tight control of what someone is going to see when they Google my name–lest I end up with people knowing about the Great Spumoni Incident of Aught Two, and I don't need anybody knowing about that.

~shudder~

Saturday, July 12, 2014

June's Best (and some other crap)

The best articles from June

Though I have been skipping days and doing lots of jazz hands while I try to keep sane (due to teaching summer school at College for Kids) the three most viewed (non-poll) entries will still be going on to the Best of Writing About Writing where they will hobnob amongst the elite articles of the past.


The Mailbox: Is Dead Poets Society a Shitty Movie or What? 
In response to some articles having a go at this movie on its 25th anniversary, I weigh in.

My Life Just Got a Little More Complicated 
In which I apparently have a nemesis and a flirtatious interest who drives my crime fighting to distraction. Being a superhero isn't always awesome.

Introducing OG 
She came from a temple in a faraway place to inspire me. And boy did she!


June was a good month, despite kicking off six weeks of summer school. Even though I blew off a couple of days of writing, I didn't really lose noticeable traffic.



Of course, the really big June record breaking was financial. I made more money from donations even after giving 1/3 of it to Reading Rainbow than I have ever made in any other month here at Writing About Writing. Thank you so much!

July will be mostly over before I finish up with summer school, so unfortunately there will be articles as I can throw them up and a whole lot of jazz hands in between. Once I'm finally through that forest, I can try to plan a few of the heavy hitter articles that are half written or bouncing around my brain like numbered balls in a lotto mixer.


Friday, July 11, 2014

The Mailbox: Self Doubt

What should I do about self-doubt?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  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. Please wait a couple of weeks before you ask me to take on another academic though.] 

Today's mailbox is a bit different than the usual format because I actually have one answer for a few different questions. Because a little three on one is totally awesome....if you know what I mean.  (I got a birthday coming up, you know....) Sometimes it's not enough to just know that self doubt needs to be lured into a back ally with the promise of five dollars worth of oral ecstasy and then beaten up by a gaggle of Malcolm Reynolds wannabes with SCA boffer swords that have been coated in glue and dipped in glass shards. Sometimes you have to look at the whole thing from a different angle.

Martin writes: 

Perhaps you can assist me. I've been perusing your blog for many moons, and I love that you answer questions from your readers each Friday. I just got a devastating response to a tale I thought was of reasonable literary quality. I didn't think it was perhaps ready for publication or the grand world at large, but I thought it was definitely passable and that a trained eye would be able to detect its intrinsic merit. 

I solicited one of those services where a professional author looks over one's manuscript and proffers their professional criticism. The feedback was awful, just awful, by which I mean that it was difficult to bare, not that it was of low quality. I was basically told not to try to publish until I had spent another several years reading and writing. 

Now I face what is undoubtedly my most severe existential crisis since I began writing in earnest. Clearly, it seems that I am no good at writing and deceiving myself to think that I perhaps ever was. The prospect of writing for years is more than a little daunting. What should I do?


Tracy writes:

I'm having one of those moments of horrible self doubt. I like writing different things, and they don't fit easily into a set genre. I'm not sure there's going to be an audience for it. There are so many authors out there who are better than I am. I just...I don't know why I even try.


Nadeem asks:

I've been writing for a couple of years now, and I have a few things published in the kind of places that send you two free copies as the only kind of payment. But I'm not making any money. I'm getting really frustrated, and it hurts to want it so bad but get nowhere, and I'm not sure that I should stick with it. I know you probably think two years is no big deal, but it feels like forever. 


My reply to all three:

My reply to all three of these questions is the same. And it's also not an answer; it's a question. Perhaps it is the question. Or perhaps it's pretentious tripe, but either way, it's probably important to know the answer if for no other reason than to have something to say to that weird guy who you always end up next to when you ride the bus.

This one isn't going to be like the movies where all the Lost Boys say "I believe in you Peter!" and then you become awesome again. Truth is, belief and self doubt are irrelevant when it comes to the real question. THE question.

Why do you write?

I know how hard and frustrating it can be to have these ambitions about your writing. I've been writing for thirty years without being rich or famous, so believe me that I know. You want love, acceptance, money, an audience, groupies, and groupie threesomes (birthday coming up...don't forget). When we write we can feel what we really want to say gurgling under the surface and that feels profound and huge inside us. It bubbles and froths in our emotions and spills out across the page in words that are inadequate perhaps but are the best we can do.

We hope that someone who's really good will see that spark in our writing. They will notice something under the surface of our sometimes clumsy use of language–something special. We want people who "know" writing to see that je nais sais qua that our friends just don't seem to notice.

We want own personal Wilford Brimley to be amazed at what we're capable of. Like...so amazed he even stops talking about oatmeal for a damned second.


It's a pleasant fantasy, and it persists because it is fun to imagine–no matter how many professional writers extoll the virtues of persistence and hard work (or how many athletes giggle at how inaccurate The Natural is and also extoll...well, actually those exact same virtues strangely enough). We want to just be good at something and not have to work and not have to put in some 10,000 Hours or more. We want to show up and have someone notice our talent.

The idea of talent fucking rocks. That without really trying we will be innately good at something. Show up. Blow a professional away with the untapped potential we have. Cue the montage.

The truth about "talent" in the arts is that it is, in almost every situation, a synonym for hard work.

And while there are some people out there, lounging around on Zabutons and drinking Coke Slurpies all day while they dream of Jimmy Fallon gushing about their novel, most aspiring writers are actually willing to work pretty hard. There's a catch, though. See, there's a pretty sizable gulf between working hard for big paychecks and fame vs. working hard for five to ten years without anything to show for it. Writers have to write for years before it is realistic to hope for any kind of accolades. They have to write for years just to figure out if there's any hope that they might be able to write for money or fame.

Wanting to do that for its own sake....that's kick-ambassadors-down-deep-holes-in-the-middle-of-the-town-square caliber madness.

Money is the same way. It's not that writers envision swimming in Mr. Burns pools of money or lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills. But getting enough money to go to dinner and a movie wouldn't be terrible, and paying the bills on small apartment that isn't next to a crack den would be even better. However working for hundreds of hours on something (and working for thousands of hours to have the skill to produce that), and having it make no money gets kind of tough.

That's why the journey has to be its own reward.

I know it sounds trite. It's cliché. If I hear it, I look around for where the Hallmark card salesperson is hiding. It makes me think of my middle school band director who spoke chiefly in platitudes. "Life isn't fair. Your safety is my main concern. The only place success comes before work is the dictionary. The only thing you'll get better at without practice is not getting to march in the parade with the rest of us. For the love of God and all that his holy, stop talking Chris."

(Wait, that last one isn't a platitude? But everyone always said it? Ah well.....)

As I read each one of these letters, one question dominated my mind:

Is that why you're doing this?

If you write for publication, money, or fame, you may as well put down your pen or laptop, and start running Nigerian finance scams because you're going to have more and faster success with that than you ever will with writing.
Oh this? I got this from selling liver lobes on the black market.
Thank goodness I gave up that writing thing.
If you aren't enjoying the very act of writing itself, there are just too many pitfalls along the way. Objectively, creative writing is one of the worst ways to predictably make money or fame. The road is too long. It's too fraught with failure. It's too covered in mines and peppered with pits that are stuffed with flying snakes. It's patrolled by bear zombies that projectile vomit Chuck Norris clones as a breath weapon. And if you pass all that, you still have to face Hogger.

It can be frustrating to want things to come of your writing and not get them, (just like it will be frustrating when my birthday groupie threesome involves a couple of no shows) but as long as writing itself is the comfort food of your soul, it doesn't matter. Those things will happen or they won't but it is the writing that matters.

Nadeem: To be published (at all) in a couple of years is good progress, especially these days in traditional publishing. Most of the writers you've ever heard of worked about ten years before they started making day job money with creative writing. You're on track and on schedule for a hard working writer who has what it takes. Keep adding your publishing accolades to your cover letter when you submit new things, and the editors will pay more and more attention to you. You will continue to publish in better and better places, and eventually get a paid gig. It takes a little longer these years in traditional publishing because of all the no pay/low pay competition, but you're doing exactly what you're supposed to, and you can expect to get some kind of paying something in the next year or two. And I promise... I PROMISE you, Nadeem, when you're holding that check for the first creative writing you ever got paid to write–even if it's for two cents a word–even if it's barely going to cover dinner for two at a place where you don't have to carry your own tray....

....I promise it's not gonna hurt anymore.

Tracy: Have faith in what you're writing. Readers, as a culture, are genre bending these days. We like new and delightful and hard-to-classify. Remember Toni Morrison: write the book you want to read. And if you have ten readers or ten million, it won't matter because you didn't sell out and you wrote something your heart and soul burned to write.

Martin: Everything about your letter and your story tells me that you're holding back.

Don't.

Writing isn't a trick of high vocabulary or language draped in ostentation. That's just smoke and mirrors. I don't see YOU in your writing, I see how clever your turns of phrase are. Let your reader see you. Rip open your flesh and show them your exposed soul.

Further, if you give something to someone to edit for you, don't give them something you think isn't ready for publication, but might be passible. That's holding back in a different way. Give them them the very best you can. If you hold back, you never have to face the fact that your best wasn't good enough. You always have that out, so rejection doesn't hurt so much.

We live in a world of people who don't try. They don't really try because they don't want to risk failure. If they fail, they can just imagine they wouldn't have failed if they tried harder, and that's a pleasant fiction (just like Wilford Brimley).

The people we notice are the ones who take chances and fail, or sometimes who don't fail. Put it all out there. Give it everything and if that means that something you really worked on and tried your best on gets shot down, suck it up, Cupcake. Failure is awesome in its own way. It defines you, shapes you, and maybe galvanizes you. Once you realize you won't die from the angst of a bad review, you stand up, dust yourself off and keep writing.

Gattica quotes are always topical and useful to–
What the fuck do you mean this was almost twenty years ago????
Besides Martin, you weren't writing for them anyway.

(Right?)