Most of this, I do not actually enjoy

I keep getting super-wordy in places I’m only supposed to by succinct. For example, I just wrote the following on a Facebook status update, stopping myself as I began to write more:

90 minutes ago I came in here with the intention of recording a chapter or two of the new audiobook, but instead I spent all that time making ever more adjustments to my setup, trying to get the sound to sound “better” … and now I’m back to the point where I can’t hear a difference between one file and another (even though I know my mixer’s settings are all quite different). I give up (again) for now, but next time, I’m just going to record the next chapter with the settings I’m leaving it on now, rather than trying to be sure everything is “right” before starting.

I don’t think I actually like the nuts and bolts of recording the audiobook, and only the most perfectionist part of me gets anything out of editing it. What I like most is having created the audiobook, and next-most having had control over the performance/reading, followed closely by having other people enjoy listening to it. Actually *doing* the reading is tedious, second only in the process to editing it, and by the time I’m through with the audiobook I generally loathe the whole thing, if only for the massive repetition. I wouldn’t want to put out a book without both the text and the audio versions, but I don’t think I’ll ever think of myself as a “podcaster”—my only interest in podcasting is as a medium to disseminate my audiobooks.

What I was going to continue from there was: I suppose it’s similar to writing, in many ways. There are large parts of the process, even some of the actual writing, of which I am not fond.

Certainly 99% or more of the business side of writing and publishing my own work is not enjoyed; not intrinsically. While I appreciate having had the authority over every aspect of publishing a book, from conception through marketing, actually making those decisions is not really something I think I would do for someone else, or for some corporation; I wouldn’t want a job running a major publishing company, or a job as an editor (at any level) of someone else’s publishing company. What I like about it (and why I’m accepting submissions, both for complete books and now for short works for a periodical anthology) is being able to publish the things I want in the way I want on the schedule I want, without having to answer to someone (or something) else (see also: “the market”). What I don’t particularly enjoy about it is actually doing it. (What I dislike about it is having to try to make money doing it.)

As I’ve posted about before, thinking about and researching the “right” ways to write are … agonizing. Terrible. Reading writing advice, especially when it is couched as “rules”, can devastate me. Trying to outline according to someone else’s idea of “what works”, and trying to write according to the accepted formulae of popular fiction, has been literally painful.

Getting the initial ideas for stories, watching them coalesce inside my mind and/or on the page, is amazing. I don’t know whether I’ll ever get tired of getting new ideas. I have significantly more ideas than I have time/energy/motivation to implement them; I have little books filled with hand-written notes about all these beautiful little ideas I get for new stories to tell. Flashes of inspiration rock. Sometimes they’re sufficient to just start working on the story, which is great, and other times I need to research.

Depending on what I’m researching, research can become a painful cycle where the more I learn the more I realize I need to learn and the further away or more impossible the actual beginning of writing the book seems to become. If what I want to do is write a story, but what I think I need to do is ever-more research, it feels as though I were a terrible procrastinator, doing something unpleasant to put off something pleasant. Or with the sort of mainstream/genre research I did from 2009-2012, it can just mean month after month (after month) of reading books I don’t enjoy (or dislike, or loathe, or even hate), day in and day out, trying to steep myself in what “the market” and/or the critics declared successful, committing suicide by popular fiction.

Writing, itself, is frequently … well, awesome. Amazing. A real high. An adventure. A joy. If getting the ideas for stories is amazing, actually putting them on the page is doubly so.

Not always. Not by any means always. But mostly for normal sorts of reasons: Sometimes when I want to write I don’t have time (or space), and that can be frustrating. Sometimes when I set aside specific time (and especially frustrating when I’ve travelled to a specific place) to write I have trouble actually writing; I lose focus, or I get stuck because I haven’t sufficiently researched or planned first (or I’ve planned too much and can’t get myself to come up with any flesh for the too-detailed skeleton I’ve built), or I get sleepy at an inopportune time… Sometimes my stories self-destruct, or the characters fight against my plans for them at every turn. Sometimes getting the words out feels like pulling teeth. I think the worst is when I realize that I’m writing a story I don’t want to be writing. Like noticing halfway through Virtual Danger that it was part of a multi-year project to try to re-write Dragons’ Truth, but that I didn’t want to re-write Dragons’ Truth, really, or to write a mainstream/popular YA Adventure book at all, and that the whole thing had been part of a massive waste of time—and then there’s the idea that the only way to redeem some of that time from being a total waste is to actually finish at least the half-written book, which makes it awful to be writing the book and awful to not be writing it, too.

Most of what seems to make writing feel terrible is outside pressure. Other people’s deadlines. Other people’s “rules” and formulae for what to write and how to write it. Other people’s expectations for stories, characters, tone, content, et cetera. Most of what seems to make writing feel amazing is when there’s no meaningful outside pressure, just a story within me telling me it needs to be told, and the opportunity and ability to tell that story the best I can. I particularly enjoy being surprised by watching a story unfold beneath my fingertips, so even having much of an outline can feel like too much outside pressure.

Then there’s editing. Here’s what I like about editing: Reading my stories, and enjoying them. Here’s the biggest things I dislike about editing: Not being perfect; catching mistakes after I’d already thought I’d caught them all, especially after several passes and/or the book being in print. Except for that first pass at reading it after some time away, where reading the book itself is a joy, editing is really just drudge work, and I’m apathetic about it. I don’t mind it, though I wish I could be better at it. Mostly it’s time consuming. I like the result (a cleaner, if not perfect, story), but the work does little/nothing for me.

I like making decisions about the interior design of the book, but am not thrilled by actually implementing them. I don’t like making decisions about the cover image on a book (mostly because I hate Marketing and trying to think like someone in Marketing; when I just design a cover I like & think represents the book without worrying about what other books look like, that part is fine) but I do generally enjoy actually creating the artwork and doing the layout of a cover. There is nothing I enjoy about writing marketing copy, book descriptions, or any of what it takes to get a book reviewed (whether that means “read at all by Beta Readers” or actually “reviewed by book reviewers”). It’s easier than it once was, but the hoop-jumping required to sell/list my book through all the various eBook, audiobook, and paper-book outlets is frustrating and/or boring bureaucratic nonsense. I like having my books read by other people; I like that part a lot.

And there’s 1.4k words telling you what I’ve known most of my life: If I were going to be an author, I should be the mythical sort of author who only writes. The sort who writes their stories down, sends them off to a publisher who handles the rest, and gets paid for it—then begins writing the next story. Most of the rest of this business is, at the least, mind-numbingly dull and unfortunately-often proves to be awful, horrible, painful, and suicide-attempt-inducing.

Unfortunately, there’s another important aspect on the road to reaching that mythical point of becoming an author who is able simply to author books, and it is something I have even more trouble with than any of the things I do as a small press publisher: Submitting my work. Querying agents, submitting short fiction to anyplace that’ll take submissions, writing articles for magazines, sending off manuscripts to be lost in slush piles. Being judged. Being rejected. Worse than a one-star review (most traditionally-published books get their share of one-star reviews) is being rejected by publishers (almost no traditionally-published books were wholly rejected by publishers). Worse than being rejected by publishers is waiting. Waiting to hear back from agents. Waiting for agents to hear back from publishers. Waiting to hear back from publishers, magazines, anthologies, and journals. Weeks, months, years. Even with acceptance and a publishing contract, waiting months or years before the book (finished, edited, nearly publishable before you ever submitted it, or it wouldn’t have survived the submissions process) hits store shelves. Waiting half a year or more to see whether the book did well enough to actually earn any royalties; to learn whether you’ll ever be able to get a book published under your real name again, since one bad book on your name kills your chances in the submissions process in the future.

I’m well aware I’m not writing stories like anything else out there. I’m not writing anything even close to popular, commercial fiction—not even when I spend years of my life, killing myself, trying to. Plus there’s the low self-esteem. The fear of rejection. The paranoia that “I’m not good enough.” The idea that the work isn’t good enough.

I’ve never submitted anything I’ve written, anywhere. Okay, that’s not entirely true anymore. Last Fall I wrote a short interactive story specifically to submit to the Future Voices contest, and my story was selected. For the first 34 years of my life, I never submitted anything, anywhere. (Once, in high school, an essay I wrote was submitted by my teacher to a contest and won “Honorable Mention” and got published with the winners; that’s the only other thing of mine which has been submitted anywhere.) No query letters, no contests, no stories or books sent to publishers. They say “you can’t win if you don’t play”, and my common-sense response has always been “you can’t lose if you don’t play, either.”

Have I lost by having to do all the parts of publishing I don’t actually enjoy? Perhaps.

But after 2007, after I had a couple books on the market, through normal channels, where anyone with a Bookscan account could look up my name and see what my sales numbers were(n’t), I’ve known I’ll never be able to get a traditional publishing deal until my success at self-publishing exceeds the best deal I’m likely to be offered. So this is where I am. Most of this, I don’t actually enjoy. Theoretically, whether through time travel or sudden and unexpected financial success, there is a mythical sort of author life I might gain access to, where I only need do the parts I enjoy… but for now … This is my life.

I want to have written the books, I want to have recorded the audiobooks, and there’s no real alternative but to do all the rest. The ends justify the means. For now. Maybe someday I’ll give up on the whole endeavor, decide the result is no longer worth the effort, and you’ll never hear from me again.

That was nice

Last night, on the spur of the moment, I wrote a short story. An interactive short story. I wasn’t thinking about marketability, writing formulae, or anything other than expressing the little idea I had. I suppose it was a bit like following a writing prompt (something I’ve never really tried, though I know other authors (especially of the “must write every day” sort) are quite fond of such exercises) in that I saw something in the world which prompted me, and spent the next four and a half hours writing out my interpretation and expression of the ideas it gave me. (Here’s the story.)

It was quite nice to write that way. To simply chase a random idea. To go from nothing to finished, published story in just a few hours. To be writing for a platform (inklewriter) which doesn’t currently/really offer much hope for “monetization” and thus be freed from any concerns beyond writing something fun; fun for me to write, hopefully fun to read… No stress, no expectations, no rules, and the only deadline was “this should already be done; the conversation it’s a response to is already over,” so I couldn’t put it off at all, only get right to work or watch it fade into total meaninglessness before it even existed. No chance to over-think it or second-guess myself, only to write, write, write. It was nice.

It would be pleasant to have more of my writing go like that, in future.

I think that’s closer to the sort of writing experience which led me to ever believe I might enjoy writing. At all. Let alone full time. It seemed like a good first step on the road back to being the sort of creative I want to be. Creating what seems fun or interesting at the time, rather than what I think other people want from me, or what might translate into profits down the road.

I’ve no idea what I’ll create next, right now, which seems just as it should be, and I sincerely hope it’s as pleasant an experience as this was.

Thinking about Dragons’ Truth

Beginning with the nearest to break even, I thought I’d write something about my novel Dragons’ Truth, in hopes that you’ll consider buying/reading it. To reach “profitability”, Dragons’ Truth needs only $9 more in earnings, which could come from sales of: 1 signed paperback ($25), or 2 paperbacks ($7.99 each), or 3 copies of the eBook ($4.99), or some combination thereof (and/or via $12 or more in donations to Dragons’ Truth at Here’s the description from the back of the book, a simple enough starting point:

When two young boys decide to skip school and seek adventure one day, they end up finding much more than they ever bargained for. More than the dragon and the mountain of riches they see at first, one of the boys finds the entire course of his life changed.

That boy, Larry, finds himself at the center of an adventure bigger than anything he’d ever dreamed of. And when Larry’s continuing adventure begins to effect his schoolwork, and then his teachers and his entire school, Larry’s not sure what he’s gotten himself into. When the effects of that seemingly innocent day begin to spread throughout – and then to threaten – his entire nation, Larry is forced to take action or face the destruction of the entire human race as a result of a single day of hooky.

Join Larry as he grows from a little boy into the last chance for survival that humanity may have, and find out just how complicated a happy ending can become…

Contains some violent content.

Dragons’ Truth was my second finished novel. I wrote it during NaNoWriMo in 2003, a little over nine years ago, and I consider it my least-accomplished published work – though certainly not without value; for most of the last nine years it was also my most popular single title. In fact, I believe it has enough potential and value that it’s also been top of my list for rebooting/rewriting for some time, now. I get a lot of requests for a sequel, but with the way it ended I find myself at a loss for how to continue the story. In trying to come up with a way to write a sequel, I’ve instead managed to come up with quite a lot of ways to write the whole thing differently (while allowing it to be part of a series (or at least a trilogy)), and with all the experience and skill I’ve developed over the last 9 years. I do not have any immediate plans to move forward with a reboot/rewrite at this time, but I’d like to share with you some further information about the book which might intrigue you if you haven’t read it, and might make you want to go back to it and take a closer look at it, if you have. Continue reading Thinking about Dragons’ Truth

End of the year lists, except I haven’t really got any proper lists…

It’s the time of year when a lot of people put together their end-of-the-year lists. Their favorite new books, movies, or music. The bests and the worsts of the year. I never know how they manage it. I’ve tried, and the only way I can figure it is if you work on the thing all year, every year, as you go. Even that, I lost track of before a year is out, usually.

The current world of constant, tiny, digital updates about everything I’m doing ought to help, but for most things there aren’t really any good filters. The best one I can think of, and I think I used it the last couple of years, too, is Goodreads, because I definitely “check in” every book I read, there, and I usually rate what I read, and frequently review them, too. So at the least, I can say things like “I read (finished) only 38 books in 2012.” I only gave one of them five stars, and then sadly gave its sequels 3, 2, and 2 stars each.

I did give 10 books four stars, though, so there were several good books, this year. Almost a quarter of what I read! The first 3 Circle of Magic books, the first 2 Young Wizards books (I haven’t read 3+, yet), The Diamond Age, The Search for Wondla, The Graveyard Book, The Eyes of the Dragon, and Dan Ariely‘s The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.

I also read all 13 books in the Series of Unfortunate Events and, sadly, couldn’t give a single one of them more than 3 stars. In fact, I gave almost half of the series 2 stars or less. It was a real disappointment.

So what about other stuff? Movies, TV, games, et cetera? I check in on GetGlue, but it doesn’t really break that down by year, and there’s no real rating/review mechanism there. I can scroll through my check-ins, my likes, et cetera, but most of those pages don’t have a time-stamp at all, and those that do are all relative & vague (2 days ago, 6 months ago, a year ago). I can say that I’ve been playing a lot of The Secret World, this year, not much Star Trek Online, and that I started playing a lot of (and burned out on) Star Wars: The Old Republic within the last 3 weeks. I played Mass Effect and enjoyed it, then tried going directly into Mass Effect 2 and hated the changes to the basic gameplay mechanics so much I stopped playing within a couple hours and haven’t touched it since.

I’m enjoying the final season of Fringe, though perhaps less than the middle years. The latest season of Misfits has been interesting, and Rudy has really grown on us (which he better, since not a single member of the original cast now remains on the show). I started watching Bones with Mandy a season or two ago, but I feel the current season has lost its way; the characters are acting out-of-character, some to the point of seeming schizophrenic not just episode-to-episode but within the course of a single hour. Castle is back to being light and fun this season, which is good – going too serious and dark was a major misstep.

Cloud Atlas and Life of Pie were amazing attempts to film difficult texts. Looper and Prometheus were fun to watch. The Master was an interesting experience. The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, Resident Evil: Retribution, Underworld Awakening, Cabin in the Woods, The Amazing Spiderman, Men In Black 3, Dark Shadows, Total Recall, The Hunger Games*, Moonrise Kingdom, and even The Devil’s Carnival were … neither better or worse than was to be expected; I didn’t love or hate any of them, I wasn’t surprised by them or really engaged by them, they were just … the next one either in the series you know or from the team you know, and if you’re familiar with the old ones, you knew what to expect with the new ones. (*I included The Hunger Games, because it felt like it was just executing what we were already expecting & familiar with, and the rest of what I said was true.) Brave felt like yet another step down for Pixar; the 7 films from Monsters Inc. through UP were amazing, then Toy Story 3, Cars 2, and Brave have been incrementally steps away from their former creativity, depth, character, and meaningful storytelling. I don’t have high hopes for Monsters University. Safety Not Guaranteed was fun and quirky and better than expected, considering Duplass. Oh, and my standout favorite from the Phoenix Film Festival (which I should have done a post about right afterward, considering I saw close to 50 films that week) was How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song, which doesn’t have distribution (yet).

Oh, and then there’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It’s the first new film from Fincher I have little/no interest in owning. Not because of the filmmaking, which was amazing and beautiful and I’m sure painstakingly executed, but because the story was dull and predictable and needlessly violent – though not as violent or shocking as many viewers had led me to believe. I know it came out in 2011, I’m not sure, I think I waited until January to see it, but … sigh. The score/soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross though, I have been listening to a lot since its release. It’s excellent to write to, for example.

The new version of iTunes seems designed around emphasizing how badly previous versions of iTunes have screwed up my music collection, especially re: cover art. I’m thinking of maybe taking a few dozen hours to go through and clean everything up. The art is frequently wrong, it thinks a lot of files are missing but when I hit ‘Locate’ they’re right where they ought to be in the iTunes folder, and because of various changes to how compilations are handled over the years, those tracks are shotgun-scattered across my library. With the new interface, these problems make iTunes practically unusable.

Oh, and then there’s me. I finished writing, and published, two new novels in the first half of 2012: Sophia and Emily. I did a lot of research toward writing YA adventure books, and still have quite a bit of research left to do. I spent some time trying to develop a tabletop / deck-building game, and look forward to completing that project in the future. I wrote a book in the Death Noodle Glitterfairy Robot Saga, which I need to edit and will probably publish in the first half of 2013. I attempted to write a book about people who accidentally discover the cure for aging and death, but it fought me at every turn, and crashed and burned, and took my sanity with it – I’ve spent most of the last three weeks trying to get back to a moderate level of functionality, after that painful ordeal. I will probably attempt to re-write that book from scratch, some day, but not until I have more distance. My business has had more revenue and realized more profit this year than ever before, though it’s still small potatoes. I ran another unsuccessful Kickstarter, and have so far failed to sell out a tiny 50-copy limited edition of my latest book. Mandy and I have been happily married for a little over 5 years now, and will be celebrating Christmas (and, belatedly, our 5-year anniversary) at Walt Disney World next week.

Next year, I think I’ll start by not working on books for a while – I want to just focus on creating new artwork, at least at first. I’m planning on getting the DNGR book published in time to sell at PHXCC’13, but do not otherwise have plans to write/edit/publish anything else next year… though realistically, I don’t really have any plans, at all. I’ve been tossing around an idea about putting together a sort of anthology/periodical full of “short” works by myself and (primarily) other authors, so maybe I’ll work on that over 2013. After 5 years of doing this full time, I think I’m finally beginning to accept that I can just work on whatever I want to work on, without really paying too much attention to what people want, or what will sell; doing more-commercial work doesn’t actually result in more sales, but it does result in more stress and anguish for me. If I end up doing nothing but sketching and doodling and drawing all year -without producing any art to even try to sell- I’ll still probably profit, the way I have my business set up, and I’ll be that much better at drawing, for when I come up with something I actually want to create.

I think what I’m saying is: I’m giving up on the constant-release schedule I’d set for myself. I’m no longer aiming for 2-4 new books a year, every year, or to have 35-40 titles “under my belt” by 2020. (Which, you may not realize, has been part of my over-arching goals for the last several years.) If I have books to write, I’ll write them. If I don’t, I won’t. If I’m ready to write when November comes around, great, and if not – no NaNoWriMo for me, and that’s okay.

Stressing myself out to the point where I’m losing my ability to function day-to-day, that’s not okay.