On Progress, 1/9/15

Here we are; the first progress post of 2015. And you thought I’d already gone to bed.

Edits done this week: Finished “Date Night” second pass; did research for a short comics pitch, for which I am still waiting for a query response.

Words written this week on Secret Project X: No new words, but 5000 words edited, plus a half-hour of research.

My grade for myself: B. I would judge myself more harshly for the somewhat unproductive research day on Thursday, but part of that was due to me realizing that I had to query for an invite to pitch (yay for making sure you read your submission guidelines!), and part of that was due to me hitting a dead-end on my subject matter much faster than I anticipated. Still, next week I expect more serious work out of myself. With “Date Night” out for a beta-read, that’s going to mean a week of working on the new novel, which I’m pretty excited about, actually. (I plan to resume Eyes of Stone edits after I finish “Date Night”; one major editing project at a time, thank you.)

Good things about writing this week: I like “Date Night” even more the more I read it, which is an excellent feeling. Also, I have just generally begun this year feeling good about my writing. It may have to do with Not Our Kind and Beast Within 4 getting published so close together; it may also have to do with a general uptick in mood lately. (See “Real Life.”)

Bad things about writing this week: I was not nearly as productive this week as I would like to have been, and I am finding myself having a little bit of fear of getting involved in the Eyes of Stone process again. There’s nothing to do but face said process head-on, and I know I will be stronger for it, but I still feel the fear right now, y’know?

Writing life: Life in general is very good right now, and that includes writing life. Someone asked me yesterday what my current projects are, and I realized that I actually have about five of them in the works. Five! That’s a lot of writing work, plus I’m running an RPG campaign and holding down a full-time job. I’m actually very productive creatively, and early feedback says my work is actually pretty dang good. There is always room for improvement, but right now I feel good about trying to do it, and that is perhaps the most important thing. I’m just going to let this glide right into…

Real life: Real life is great. After a very rough Christmas, I decided to start this year by taking care of myself, and that means taking care of all aspects of myself, and of the people who are important to me and help me forge the life I want to lead. It’s just been little things so far — taking time for self-care, eating lighter, getting more sunlight, that sort of thing. I’ve started buying myself a new work wardrobe that actually fits me and flatters my shape and body type, and that looks professional, rather than the superhero Ts I’ve been wearing to work lately, and it’s changed my whole attitude about myself and the way I feel at work. (Rugby shirts and I were apparently made for each other.) I’ve stopped feeling guilt for my guilty pleasures while at the same time recognizing the need for moderation and diversity. And I’ve started making a point of trying to see the people I want to see and do the things I want to do and take care of the people and trying to be a bit more open and vocal about the positives in life. There is tons of pessimism out there, and tons to be pessimistic about; but I can also take time to appreciate how smart one of my friends is, or how amazing the pizza at my favorite place was. It’s important to challenge the bad things in life, and to oppose the bad things in life, but that does not mean I can’t share my smile when it comes up.

Of course, there will be periods of rage and upset and anxiety and all those other dark emotions that are part of the human brain-brew, and I cannot forget the need to take solid, long-term care of my body and brain with the help of medical professionals. And of course there will be days when I am low on spoons. But right now I feel pretty sanguine about dealing with that, and I look forward to channeling that enthusiasm into more thoughtful self-care, a better-lived life, and more optimistic writing as the year goes on.

Yeah, things are pretty great for me right now. Thank you for being a part of it.

Recommendation: This week, your recommendation is Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. It is likely you have heard of it, but really, it is worth a read. For those who do not have a synopsis, it is a look at the system used by the Oakland Athletics baseball club to build their rosters, and the much-maligned role of statistics and mathematics in the building of a baseball team; and along the way, it’s a fascinating look at the American struggle to deal with the war between data and intuition, and the ways in which institutions react to challenge and change, and also one of the most interesting and quirky looks at the sport of baseball I have ever had the pleasure to read. If you are looking for some non-fiction to spice up your reading life, check this one out.

And now, my words are spent, and I am ready to go wrap up the tail end of my Friday. Have a great weekend, everybody, and I hope we are all this full of smiles at the far end of next week.

 

 

On 2014

So, here we are. The precipice of 2014. The yawning chasm we need to leap across to get to 2015 and all the unsullied promises it offers. The big day. The annual liminal state. New Year’s Eve. Which means it’s time for one more annual tradition: the year in review.

One of my resolutions is to be willing to do the things that make me the most comfortable and happiest, where it does not detract from another’s comfort and happiness to do so; and to that end, this post is going to have a bit more structure to its format. (You may have noticed the same thing happening to the Progress Friday posts.) Hence this big bold title right here:

High Points

The two words I see reflected in this year are “Discovery” and “Refinement.” Discovery of truths about me and the things I like and dislike, and refinement of my experience as I explore those likes and dislikes further and attempt to both broaden my horizons and seek out that which I know will please me.

Let’s start with the obvious and the most important: this year I lucked out and got to marry the love of my life. Sonya is my favorite person to spend time with, and one of the most interesting, intelligent, and enjoyable people I have ever had in my life. Colors are brighter and tastes are stronger when she’s around, and I’m so glad to know her. The wedding itself was a hell of a celebration, and a reaffirmation that we know some of the most high-quality people in this world, that we are loved and supported from without as well as from within, and that we can give ourselves the kind of celebration we deserve. Also that we’re pretty awesome at this whole party-planning thing.

Writing was also fantastic this year. I got not one, but two stories published, one of them via crowd-funding, which makes me feel so wonderfully supported and cared for. I tried my hand at writing comics, and in doing so discovered both that I love writing comics and that there are vast unexplored territories of possibility within prose that it took turning away for me to discover. I’ve now twice been in the same anthology as my good friend and Best Man, Matt Marovich, along with now having appeared alongside both Jennifer Brozek, a favorite editor of mine to work with, and Ekaterina Sedia, whose long-form fiction has always made me hold my breath. I had another story rejected that had some truly revelatory commentary for me — both in terms of highlighting my weaknesses, and telling me that, yes, people really do like my writing, and not all of my little embellishments are appealing only to me.

Perhaps most important from a writing standpoint, this has been a year of discovering my voice and my writing comfort zones, and discovering the cool things I can do when working outside those comfort zones. I’m reaching deeper and stretching farther when I write, and it’s bearing some sweet and redolent fruit that I hope I get to keep sharing with all of you. I hope this is the year I get to publish something…longer.

On a hobby level, the year just kept getting cooler. I rediscovered my love of comics, and for the first time in my life have my own comic-book subscriptions. I rediscovered my love of professional wrestling, and have drunk deep of the entertainment that bizarre medium offers. I have read some heartbreakingly beautiful books, and some dryly funny ones, and some that go all over the place, and feel enriched for the journey. And of course I’ve gotten to do some great gaming.

“Deserve” is a word I use a lot in this post, and that’s a major aspect of my personal journey this year. I can’t pinpoint one single reason this was the year it really started to happen, but for a variety of reasons, this is the year I started to fully recognize that not only do I have my own particular needs and desires and quirks and pecadilloes, but that as long as I am not hurting anybody, there is no reason not to indulge them. Whether it’s little things like letting myself have a plant at my desk even though no-one else does, or big things like allowing myself to admit that sometimes I just don’t want to deal with people, I’ve found myself more willing to give those things to myself; and perhaps better yet, also willing to give that kind of space to others. It does mean I get fewer wry and cynical jokes about the nature of humanity flowing out of me, but I am also somewhat less angry than I used to be, so I figure this is a net gain for me as a human being.

Low Points

You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

“Refinement” is the big one in this category, too — specifically, the refinements I still need to make to myself. It starts with my stress management and my conscientiousness about my stress management. This year was far, far more stressful than it had any cause to be, and with that stress has come a truly Herculean level of exhaustion and anxiety that has made it very hard to enjoy the latter quarter of this year or so, culminating in some bad meltdowns in the middle of my honeymoon and twice around Christmastime.

Some of that is a failure on my part to self-soothe and manage properly, and some of it is about my improperly QAd brain chemistry, and some of it is because I was in the way of a lot of stressful stuff that I need to not put myself in the way of anymore. The wedding was absolutely worth it, though I consider it a primary culprit. Some of the ways I’ve been expending my social capital have been sub-optimal, though, and I need to focus myself away from involvement in those things. See my resolutions for more on that subject.

Really, that is the major low point of my year — just stuff I need to work on. Which brings me to my New Year’s Resolutions.

HIGH RESOLUTIONS:

Submit more stories

I really face-planted on this one this year; yes, there were two publications, but I didn’t submit more than three or four total, which speaks to a great percentage but a lackluster effort. In 2015, I want to get at least six stories submitted, plus at least 3 novel submissions to agents. My hope is to be more prolific than that, but I’ll start with something manageable so I don’t get myself in a tizzy right off the bat.

Form a writing group

I need a writing group, bad. Conducting it online is fine, even just via email; but I need an outlet for creative exchange and feedback that isn’t dependent on going hat-in-hand to my friends on a case-by-case basis. I made a deal with myself that I would handle this after the wedding, and dad-gummit I am going to handle it in 2015.

Take care of my body

This is a three-part process. The first is starting to get more regular exercise; I need to get my body moving. The second is to get new glasses; I’ve had this set for a couple years, and even if the prescription doesn’t need to change, the frames are beat to hell and back (we’re going to pretend the damage is ninja-related). And when those are both handled, I want to find a new doctor who takes my shiny new (married!) insurance, and get back to getting yearly physicals. I’ve been bad about that, and I’m approaching the age range where I need to stop being bad about it. Not getting perfunctory treatment from a secondary Kaiser facility will help, too.

Take care of my mind

This is going to be a little self-indulgent, so bear with me.

Number one: I need to get back into therapy. It felt good while I was in it, though that particular setup was not sustainable, and I have insurance that will help me do it again; no reason not to take advantage of that. If meds are suggested as an option, I have my own permission to get a second opinion before I start them, and to ask to be weaned back off them if it really does impact my ability to enjoy life.

On a less medical level, I need to be more honest about what I want out of my social time and more willing to duck out of non-obligatory social stuff without feeling guilty. I passed up a lot of things because of the overwhelming stress of getting the wedding handled, and I do not want to do that this year, even if that means having to pick and choose my engagements with scheduled play a bit more. I need more time for unstructured play and cooking and date nights and adventures and conversation with my amazing friends, and when I see I am trending toward not enjoying something that is taking over a chunk of my schedule I need to be honest with myself and just not do that thing anymore, which looks easy on (digital) paper but is really, really rough in real life. I was not brought up to really put myself first, and trying to find the balance between being cordial and being selfish is rough.

I also need to be much more aware of the little things that affect my mood — both making it good and making it much, much worse. This means more reading time, a little more careful planning of my diet to include things that help boost my mood like fresh fruits and high-quality coffee and Cuban food, and also more taking time for self-care. This also means preparing better for autumn and winter and the stress they bring. Lack of sunlight really kills, and next year I need to be better prepared for the winter — some winter clothes I feel comfy in would be a good start, along with arranging more time outside in the sun during my work day and increasing my self-care time to account for the heightened anxiety and lowered energy.

LOW RESOLUTIONS

Stand up more for your boundaries

Outside of work functions or going to events that are important to friends (weddings, birthdays, etc.), I do not have to spend time around people who push my buttons. If I dislike someone, that is both my prerogative and my business, and I get to not do that when I don’t have to.

Cook more

I’m going to try to cook a big meal at least twice a month; this may require having people over more to incentivize it, but hey, that means more of that unstructured socialization time!

And some self-explanatory items: Eat less fast food; read more books this year than last year; read more literary magazines; keep a better grip on new and best-selling speculative fiction.

So, yeah. That’s my year in review, and my plans for the year to come. Overall, despite the darkness of winter, it has been an incredible year, and I look forward to spending another one with my wonderful wife and incredible friends. May yours be a year of growth and awesomeness and something, at least one thing, absolutely worth laughing yourself to tears over.

Talk to you on the other side.

~Tyler Hayes

Standing Over the Corpse of 2014

On Progress, 12/19/14

Edits done this week: Finished “Date Night” first pass; finished two rounds of PDF, mobi, and epub proofs of “Hero Town.”

Words written this week on Secret Project X: 640 (<1% of maximum word count, <1% of estimated final word count)

My grade for myself: A. I could probably have done the full 1000 words on Thursday, but I am now over a week ahead of schedule on “Date Night,” and I managed to get some solid proofreading done for the soon-to-be-published story. It’s really not been a bad week.

Good things about writing this week: I am really loving this new novel I am working on. The character and the setting are coming to me very naturally, and it has a voice that is not quite Randall Chatham or Raven or anyone else who I’ve written before. More than that, I feel a lot of affection for this story and setting, in a way that has only happened a few magical times before. I’m so grateful to be here and alive and working on this project.

Bad things about writing this week: The proofing of “Hero Town” was a rough, rough process for me. It needed to be done and I am glad it is being done and that I am getting to partake in the process, but the galley proofs are always kind of a challenge for me, because I keep seeing all these minutiae that I want to fix and fix and fix. I keep reminding myself, as already said on Twitter, that Aldous Huxley wanted to completely revise the ending to Brave New World, and that there is still disagreement over whether A Clockwork Orange should have twenty chapters or twenty-one. This is a part of the writing life, like it or not, and all I can do is do the work and hope it gets easier and easier with time.

Writing life: I had one of those good-and-bad moments in writing this week. The novel I am reading right now (you’ll see it named in the recommendations) is a fantastic bit of urban fantasy — and it also reminds me so much of one of my own works that it hurts a little. It’s a bad thing, because my ego is sort of fragile right now and I could stand to not get tempest-tossed by the winds of self-criticism until I have somewhat fewer holiday stressors leaning on me. It’s a good thing, because seeing someone else tackle similar subjects, but do it in a different way that met with success, is really showing me what weaknesses in my writing I have already overcome, and what weaknesses I have before me to overcome. It’s daunting, at times, but it’s also really good for me. (Note: I am not suggesting I should write exactly like Seanan McGuire. I am suggesting that she addressed some things that I now see are lacunae in my own writing, and that I need to find a way to fill them that is consistent with my goals and my voice and my story. This is why writers need to read.)

Real life: Real life is a mix of decent and stressful. This Christmas season is really brutalizing me; I’ve spent more time stressed about the season — Do I have all the presents? Will it be raining on the days we’re supposed to travel? Will this be the year I don’t get sick right before New Year’s? — than I have actually celebrating it. Sonya valiantly helped me stay out of the doldrums by mailing a miniature cypress (complete with tiny ornaments!) to my workplace, and now we have our full-size(ish) Christmas tree in the house and it keeps randomly brushing my nostrils with the sent of pine, so things are starting to come together. If nothing else, this time next week I will have given and received presents, and sipped a few holiday tipples, and will probably feel much more sanguine about the holidays.

Recommendation: This week, your recommendation is Rosemary & Rue, by Seanan McGuire. This is exactly what urban fantasy should be — interesting main character, solid world-building, artful use of tropes, and a take on the base layer of mythology that doesn’t run into the same problems so many fairy-based stories seem to fall into. The biggest sell for me is the narrative voice; McGuire/Daye use a smart, breezy, sardonic style that really anchors you in the emotions behind the story and helps make the entire ride smooth even when it’s bumpy. Go read it.

Have a good weekend, everybody — see you again after the holidays!

 

On Progress, 12/5/14

Words written this week on Secret Project X: 1100 (1% of maximum word count, 1.2% of estimated final word count)

Words written this week on Eyes of Stone: 3800 (rough draft complete, no percentages necessary)

Total word count this week: 4900

My grade for myself: A. I could probably have squeezed a little more out of myself on one or two of those days, but that puts me only 100 words shy of my bonus word count every day this week, and I had a very busy week marred with some serious stressors and anxiety issues, so I’m giving myself the win.

Good things about writing this week: My writing just keeps getting looser, easier, and more relaxed; and as I suspected might happen, moving back to reading prose after a long break for all the comics friends have loaned me has woken my brain up and left me more able to write boldly and honestly. I’m not saying I’m suddenly bestseller material, but I feel and see and taste the growth in my writing, and that above all is what I want to see.

Bad things about writing this week: I got myself badly stuck in Eyes of Stone. I had a note to myself about a new scene I need to insert into the draft, and my note was clearly written with the idea that I was going to be struck with a blinding bolt of inspiration before I got there and would just, you know, write it. I wasn’t inspired, and I didn’t write it, and now I need to figure out how to make this chunk of dialogue natural. Luckily, it’s time for me to switch back to work on “Date Night,” so I can let this ferment for a bit longer.

Writing life: As I mentioned on my Facebook page (which you should totally follow!), this week I had another “this is happening” moment in the form of getting edits back from the editor for my next published piece. I’ve done this part before, and I’ll do this part again; but every time I do it, I’m reminded that someone decided my writing was good enough to pay me money. And heck, this time, I have officially made a professional sale! All aboard the party train!

Real life: Real life is decent, though this week has been a bit rough in the brain-spider department. Something — I know not what — has kicked off my anxiety very badly, culminating in me getting triggered by essentially nothing yesterday morning. The good news is, my new insurance has kicked in, and there are shrinks in my area who are in my network, so hopefully some good will come of that in the New Year. (I’m going to start trying now, of course, but Christmas and New Year’s have a way of causing gaps in my coverage.)

Recommendation: This week, your recommendation is to go and look at this list of nearly-perfect films, and watch every single one of them. All the ones I have seen are among my favorites, ever, and I think completing this list could enrich us all, as storytellers and story-listeners.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

 

On Rat Queens

Today, I have things to say that are relevant. Trigger warning: domestic abuse; all the links in this article will also be triggery, more so than this post itself.

Let’s get the facts straight:

So, there is a comic called Rat Queens. It is an excellent comic with a great feminist bent, superb writing and characterization, fantastic (in both senses) art, and great basically everything else. You should go read it. You should give the creators lots of money. I’ve recommended it before, and I’m recommending it again.

Yesterday, it came out that the artist and co-creator of the comic, Roc Upchurch, has been arrested for domestic abuse.

Upchurch alleges to Bleeding Cool that it is a situation where she attacked him and he lost his temper; Upchurch’s ex-wife (whose name I have not been able to find) acknowledges in a now-deleted blog post (Google Cache here) that she has been the aggressor before, that their situation was bad, and that they had separated because of it, but that in this incident specifically she was not the aggressor. The details she provides suggest that physical altercations were not unusual, but that Upchurch’s behavior has tended to be much more extreme than her own — as she puts it, “a smack across the face” from her triggers an “hour-long beatdown” from Upchurch.

Kurtis J. Wiebe, the writer of Rat Queens and Upchurch’s creative partner, released a statement today indicating that he is aware of the situation, and that Upchurch will no longer be working on Rat Queens as a result of the allegations.

So, there are the facts as we have them. Now, to get political: I completely support the ex-wife in this situation, though I do not condone her bad behavior; and I believe Wiebe has done the right and just thing in booting Upchurch off the project.

I believe this because I believe proactively divorcing abusers and similar criminals from their professional lives is not just a good PR move, it is exactly the way people should be reacting to claims of domestic abuse or sexual assault or other such heinous behavior. The reaction should be exactly as Wiebe’s has been: to believe the victim, and to revoke or check the privilege of the perpetrator while the situation is investigated.

Now, I know there is already an argument against this brewing in the bottom half of the Internet, and I want to address those points right now.

1. Upchurch has not been convicted, and we should not convict him in the court of public opinion first. No-one rational is saying Upchurch should not have a fair trial. What I’m saying is, it is absolutely fair of Wiebe to distance himself from Upchurch after these allegations have come out especially in light of the body of evidence and testimony from his ex-wife, and that this is a much better alternative than the victim-blaming that usually occurs in these situations. Upchurch should get a trial, and if he is found innocent, it is within Wiebe’s rights to begin working with him again if he feels that is the case. The damage to the good name of his victim is liable to be much worse than the damage to his name over this. I mean, people are trying to claim that all of the women accusing Bill Cosby of rape are lying, and he has a much higher expected level of wholesomeness than a guy who illustrates a comic where the main characters are mushroom-dropping professional murderers.
2. Losing his job over an allegation is not fair to Upchurch. Wiebe is not a labor union; he doesn’t have legally binding reasons to keep working with Upchurch, and if he feels Upchurch’s behavior conflicts with the project they were working on together and has the executive power to remove Upchurch, he can damn well do so.3. These accusations will permanently damage Upchurch’s career even if he is found innocent. First of all, yeah, sure, this one guy’s career is worth someone staying silent about being thrown down stairs; I think not. Second of all, no, it is unlikely that this will permanently damage Upchurch’s career prospects. Men’s versions of these kinds of events are pretty uniformly believed over those of women, so even if he is convicted, there will be people who either want to give the ex-con a second chance or who will not see this as a big deal, or even those who will want to hire him to spite his detractors. This is doubly true in the creative world, where it’s unfortunately kind of acceptable to be a terrible person so long as your art is good (says the guy who once, to his embarrassment, tried to defend Roman Polanski). This is not going to hurt Upchurch that badly.4. His ex-wife hit him! If the words of his ex-wife are true, yes, she did, and she cops to that; but “she hit me first” is not a valid excuse for hitting her back, even if it flies legally, and again, everything we know suggests that Upchurch’s reactions were much, much worse than what she did to him. The bottom line is this: When abusive behavior comes to light, it is valid, even for the best, for the assumption to be that the victim is telling the truth and for there to be an investigation, and for the accused to be removed from positions of power, influence, or privilege during that investigation; that is doubly so when the person’s behavior is at odds with the message they claim to be trying to send via the work they are now divorced from, as is the case with Upchurch. It sends a message that the victims’ stories are to be believed, which reinforces the idea that coming forward is a valid, safe thing to do; and it sends the message that abusive behavior will not be defended and will result in loss of privilege and power. What Wiebe did was brave, and right, and heroic, regardless of the results of any investigations or trials regarding Upchurch’s behavior. I sincerely hope Upchurch gets his fair trial, and if he is guilty, that he is found to be so and receives counseling, therapy, medication, whatever he needs to become a more functional adult human being; and that his ex-wife receives the support and, yes, counseling or therapy or medication she needs to move past this relationship and the damage she and Upchurch did to each other. In the meantime, I am glad to know I am supporting a person who chose to believe the victim, and who chose to stay true to the message of the art that he makes. So seriously, read Rat Queens. The pages smell like justice.

On Progress, 11/21/14

Words written this week on “Date Night”: 6000, for a total of 10,914 (72% of maximum word count, 90% of estimated final word count)

My grade for myself: A+. That total represents hitting more than my bonus word count every day.

Good things about writing this week: Again, it is reinforced that I have the capacity to balance Day Job and Real Life and Recreation and Writing, always Writing. This isn’t NaNoWriMo levels of output, but it is solid, healthy output for someone who is not a full-time writer (or at least who is constrained by the travails of a full-time job with a set schedule).

Bad things about writing this week: I need to carve out more time in my schedule that is just writing time, straight up with no chaser. I was busy this week, so it’s forgivable, but I need more writing to happen at a relaxed pace, in my writing chair, at my writing desk, and less of it to happen in my office chair at work. Even if the feeling rushed does not deeply affect my writing quality, I feel bad about having it be something I get done in between other things. Next week will both be a chance to remedy this, thanks to the Thanksgiving break, and also be a challenge to work around — thanks to the Thanksgiving break. The only thing left to do is dive in with both fists swinging.

Real life: This week has defined “mediocre.” Nothing bad has happened, but nothing great, either, and the weather continues to erode my energy levels and my mood in equal amounts. On top of that, I am dealing with some low-grade social drama and it’s got my anxiety kicked into high gear. But, at the same time, I’ve mostly done a good job fighting the brain-spiders and keeping myself focused on writing and work and merriment, and Sonya has been very sweet and supportive when the brain-spiders have gotten too large and Shelobesque for me to fight on my own. Plus it’s Friday, so, that’s probably got me feeling a bit more sanguine.

Recommendation: This week, your recommendation is a comic book. Check out Superman for All Seasons, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. It’s an older Superman story (which is to its advantage; I’m looking at you, New 52), and it is another retelling of Kal-El’s early days in the tights; but it has an emotional aspect to it, along with an affection and appreciation of the Superman mythos, that really makes it stand out from the pack. If you love Superman, you’ll love this; and if you don’t love Superman, this might help you understand the people who do.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

 

On Progress, 11/14/14

Words written this week on “Date Night”: 4914 (33% of maximum word count, 41% of estimated final word count)

My grade for myself: A. That total represents hitting bonus word count every day but one, and going over my base word count on every day.

Good things about writing this week: I remember now that I can churn out word count with the best of them when I have a deadline; I’ve definitely found my voice in places, even if I might pare out some of the bits I like best as per standard editing procedure; I might finally get to write a story with an emotional tone I’ve been wanting to use for years.

Bad things about writing this week: Yesterday’s writing was a trip to the dentist (as in, it felt like pulling teeth, he said, explaining the metaphor). I really struggled through the first 500 words, and the last 800 only happened after one of my not-so-favorite cycles of complaining about not having anything to write and then exploding into inspiration. While I will not discount the magic of inspiration and the creator’s need to travel whatever road they must (as long they aren’t hurting anyone), I will say that I really don’t like carping on Twitter. At least the descent into difficulty occurred on the last writing day before my writing weekend, I guess?

Writing life update: What a week! You can now read more of my work on real dead-tree pages, via this link to order The Beast Within 4: Gears & Growls.

Also, thanks to you incredible people, you will soon be able to read me in Not Our Kind, which contains a story I am so very excited to get to share with the world. I got to write about superheroes, you guys! I got to make superheroes say things! It’s not quite Neil Gaiman summoning Batman and making him do his bidding, but it still feels so great to work in a genre (or a subversion/deconstruction of it, at least) that has captivated me for basically my entire adult life. I’ll have a link for those of you who are not getting backer copies as soon as it is available; and again and forever, thank you to everyone who chipped in, or shared a link, or told someone. I owe this success to you people, and I will never forget that.

Real life: I do not have a lot to say about real life this week, my dears. It’s been good, though I am still fighting off the horrible face-planting of my energy levels every afternoon. I finished reading Hell House, putting me at 60 books this year. Reading graphic novels really bolstered my count, since I just plain process them faster than novels; next year I think my deal needs to include the book being no less than 60% prose or something, just to avoid that workaround. Not that I don’t think comics count as reading, but I want to keep things balanced. To that end I think my next book will be non-fiction…as soon as I finish reading everything my friend loaned me in the graphic novel department…

This weekend is one of our first weekends in months where we have had nothing scheduled, and we plan to spend it getting a couple things done, but mostly a whole lot of nothing. My hope is to tackle our thank-you notes from the wedding and maybe deal with a box or two of junk in the garage; but my other hope is to sleep in late and play some of the new games from the October Humble Bundle. Adulthood, yo.

Recommendation: Big Hero 6. No, seriously, Big Hero 6. It’s a great superhero movie, it’s a great CG animated movie, but it’s also a great movie. It’s sweet, and it’s funny, and it’ll break your heart and make you laugh and do a little bit of everything in-between. The characters are well-realized, the story is both simple and complex, and it’s great, great, great. Go and give it a gander and then see if you change the way you fistbump forever.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

 

On Progress, 11/7/14

So, let’s see here…

Today’s updates may be a tiny bit disjointed, because of the first item I want to cover in this update. The time change is discombobulating me in a way I don’t remember it doing ever before. I always find the November time shift a little difficult, but this year the challenge is prodigious. In the morning I inevitably wake up to fear, the crystal-clear quality of the light telling me that there is no way I am getting to my train on time. In the afternoon my energy level slides downward with the sun, leaving me first a little sluggish, then unfocused, then gray-on-gray languid, unable to do anything but grit through and try to do the best I can until I get to the train and nap. At home, the idea of doing anything feels like a punishment from up above. I find myself unable to do more than clean a little bit, eat some dinner, and watch TV until the exhaustion is bad enough that I finally slide into bed*.

The lack of focus and drive is especially troubling to me; every time I find myself struggling with intellectual pursuits or floundering for vocabulary, I always flash back to the experiences with Alzheimer’s disease in my family background. In short, it’s rough right now. The good news is, it is not always rough right now, and the bright spot has been this week’s writing.

Sonya, ever-supportive, found me a new open call for submissions to play around with, and I dedicated this week to doing research and writing my outline for the new story. The anthology in question is dystopian fiction with a twist, so I’ve been going over genre conventions, watching movies, reading up on theories about what could cause us to slouch the rest of the way to Bethlehem and our violent, hunter-gatherer future. I’ve had an idea since I first read the submission, which I’ve been calling “Date Night” after the core motive force behind the plot. It started out with just those few bones in the skeleton, but thanks to a week of really letting myself read and watch whatever I needed to, I’ve got a full skeleton and even some meat and muscle, enough to know that I need to start writing before I can fill in the gaps. I had been struggling with exactly how my world got to where it is at the start of the story, but last night, we were sitting down to watch Snowpiercer, and for reasons I do not pretend to wholly understand, I was hit full-force with the exact nature of the end in my story  “Date Night,” and exactly why we were are in the straits we are in as a species, and exactly how being who they are makes the main characters both unique and imperiled, about ten minutes into the movie. To celebrate, we agreed to watch the movie tonight and just watch some garbage TV last night while I wrote down notes and let my aching brain try to reform itself into a shape that can actually think properly.

Also on the writing front, I managed to do some work on another outline — the one for Novel 4. It’s not fully together yet, and I know that there are even some bits I’ve scribbled down that will get snipped before all is said and done. But the process is the part that is really tickling me right now. Yesterday, with my “Date Night” outline done (barring the final jolts of inspiration to come while Snowpiercer ), I decided to try to work on other projects, and with the tools available and time allotted that meant outlining Novel 4. So I got some lunch, and sat down, and tried to make outlining happen. At first it was a bit cumbersome and slow, with not much happening at all; but right as the first sparks of despair hit, a couple gears clicked together in just the right way, and chapters upon chapters of outline just came pouring out of me, along with ideas for presentation and organization, new characters, new spins on old characters, scenes that only had the most tenuous connections to the outline but that pulsed with power and purpose. I ended my lunch break with my outline not complete, but far more fleshed out than I had anticipated, which is a really pleasing and reassuring experience, believe you me. It’s a good reminder that, while inspiration sometimes requires waiting, you really do need to put your butt in the writing chair (or make the place your butt is the writing chair) every day. If you do, after a while, inspiration will wake up as soon as it realizes where it is.

So, the next step is to enjoy my weekend, secure in the knowledge that I do not completely suck at this writing thing; and on Sunday, I will begin work on “Date Night,” and bridge the gaps in inspiration by doing more research and working on Novel 4. Hopefully I get enough sleep between then and there.

Sleep really is the order of the day; but first, I need to get my Day Job work done, and that means not sitting here and blogging. Of course, I would never leave you without bestowing a recommendation. This week, the recommendation is that you go back and watch all of Veronica Mars. It has been a companion to Sonya and I through our efforts to adjust to the time change, and I think it’s perfect for that — smart enough I know I’m not just rotting my brain, but it also holds the hand just enough that it does not become frustrating and leave me despairing. Also it’s a fun noir/high school story, with the added murder-mystery side-game of getting to try to guess what really happened before the main characters figure it out. It carries the Tyler Seal of Approval.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

*I have a problematic relationship with bedtime; if I get in bed before I’m tired I am guaranteed not to get any sleep, so I need to make sure I am well and truly exhausted.

On Advice

There are a lot of books and seminars and web sites bandying about a lot of advice for writers. A lot of makes a great deal of sense. Writers need to learn a lot of business skills that may not seem relevant at first blush; they need to learn to manage their expectations; they need to learn that other writers struggle; and they need to learn how best to equip themselves for the constant, internecine battle to balance one’s real life and one’s writing life. That includes advice on one’s love life; after all, writing is always going to be an ink-stained elephant in the room.

When I’m in the throes of a deadline, I can become a little inaccessible. Not emotionally, so much, but temporally; I need more of my day for writing than I do when I’m working on personal projects. It means I won’t necessarily be able to cook dinner, or watch TV after dinner, or go run an errand. It means that sometimes I am going to be exhausted at the end of the night. It means I will have days when I am consumed by impostor syndrome, when I am contemplating with dire seriousness the idea of setting the whole writing career idea on fire and just spending my off-time playing Skyrim.

If I tell Sonya I need time to write, I have time to write. Even if it means she cooks a few extra dinners or can’t watch Hulu because I need the bandwidth to access my outlines on Evernote. She regularly emails me with links to calls for submissions she finds online. She listens, avidly, to me telling her about outlines for novels or concepts for stories. She talks to me about our experiences with media that deal with some of the ideas I am having, about places we can go, physically or digitally, to find the data I need. She makes sure I have whatever weird little comforts I need to keep the Muse-A-Tron’s engines running (mostly San Pellegrino sparkling water, but sometimes I really desperately need a hot dog or a burger when I’m writing, too*). She listens to me bemoan my lack of talent, and she celebrates with me when I feel like maybe I’m good at this. She is genuinely interested in the process I am going through and is willing to be a part of it when I need a sounding board.

A lot of writers (really, freelancers of all kinds) will advise that one of the best things a creator can do is marry stably. What they usually mean is that a creator should marry someone who is happy making the money that covers the day-to-day necessities, so the creator can focus on creating. And I will admit, I wish I didn’t have to have a day job. I keep considering all kinds of God-forsaken places we could move just so we could afford rent on what I would make freelancing, or ways we could finagle it so I work out of the home so I can write when things are slow.

But in the meantime, having a day job means that I contribute to us having a roof over our heads and food on our table; that we have the leisure time available for date nights and game nights; that I am stable enough to be there for Sonya when she needs me to be there; that I am, in short, getting to help take care of Sonya, the same way she is helping take care of me.

One day, I would love to leave my day job. I would love to be writing full-time. But in place of the advice that one should choose a partner based on financial stability, I would offer this advice: choose someone who sees time for writing as a priority in your relationship, and who makes whatever you have to do to support each other feel absolutely worth it.
*No, I don’t really drink when I’m writing. Faulkner would be ashamed if he could swim up out of his stupor long enough to feel things. And if he weren’t dead.

On Progress, 10/24/14

In which we discuss birthdays, LARPing, prose vs. comics, and the healing power of samurai. Oh yeah, and writing.

So, let’s get right to the thing you all really want to talk about: yesterday was my birthday! For the next 365 days, the Sun will look down upon me and see a living palindrome, for I am thirty-three years old.

Thirty-two was a great year for me, in all honesty. I got a chance to submit a comic book pitch to a real comic book publisher, and have not been rejected out of hand; I proved to myself that I can juggle a day job, a passion, a relationship, and fun without having serious stress about it; I learned a lot about myself and my needs and the communicating of those things; and, oh yeah, I should probably mention I got married to the love of my life, and we conquered all the wedding stress and can now spend that energy building a happy, fun, and wonderful life together. She complements me, and completes me, and makes my life better every day for being in it. I love her so very much, and she is the best part of this year and every year we have together going forward. If I had to pick one reason we should develop a cure for death, the time I’m getting with Sonya would be it.

My one big downer, looking out from the promontory of this stressful, challenging, but ultimately rewarding, year, is that in being a year of learning about myself, it has also been a year of me learning about what I cannot and will not tolerate. There are obvious things, like the ridiculous Gamergate scandal, that have had me riding the Block button like I’m being paid to do it; but there are less political, more personal things, too. It’s been a year of admitting that I’ve changed, and others have changed, and those changes have sometimes left gaps. I just don’t like some people that I used to like, and have grown distant from others without any rancor; and I just don’t enjoy some things I used to enjoy. It feels cleansing to admit that to myself and not expend spoons trying to maintain tolerance of those situations; but it’s also saddening to see parts my life winnowed down, even as it opens up time and energy to do the things I love and see the people I love.

One of the things that has really hit home for me this year is the realization that I just don’t want to LARP anymore, at least for the foreseeable future. This is a writing blog, so I won’t get into details here, except to say that I looked around the other day at my bevy of live-action roleplaying options, and realized there was something about every single one of them that made me wary of checking it out, or that turned me off for some other reason; and the mere fact I am scared to say this out loud speaks volumes about my experience recently. It was deflating to realize that something I used to be full-steam, raging-bull passionate about now elicits a response somewhere just north of “ehhhhhhhhh maybe?”; but at the same time, it feels purifying to admit it to myself.

To give credit where credit is due, and also to shift to a more positive subject, a lot of this realization stems from one of the bright spots in my gaming hobby right now: the campaign of Legend of the Five Rings I am currently playing in. I had gotten to play one session of L5R prior to this game, and I have to say I am both sad that I never played it before (because of all that time, wasted!) and glad that I am playing it as an adult (because part of the fun stems from the group’s maturity level). The game is easily one of the best ones I have been in, both because of the game itself, the story we are engaged in, and the attitude at the table. The GM and other players are all very low-stress people who are there to have fun and play the specific genre we have shown up to play, and we all want to help each other relax and enjoy the game, and we all view it as, yes, a game. I begin L5R day with a feeling of anticipation and I end it with a feeling of satisfaction, and it proves to me that that kind of game is possible to have and that I deserve to have that kind of game. It’s also taught me, for like the millionth time, that I have good instincts when it comes to people once I get my jerkbrain to be quiet, and outside of some known issues with interpreting tone (thanks, social anxiety!) I do not need to let others make me doubt myself.

Also on the subject of games that make me happy, there is Wild Talents. “Great Responsibility,” the campaign I am currently running-slash-the inspiration for the comic book series I am pitching, has been a bit of an up and down for me, mostly because of what Sonya has dubbed “Art Feelings.” It is a story I am hungry to tell and a world I am hungry to explore, and so when it falls short of the exact tone I am going for I always feel it very keenly. I have had nights where I have been in full Biopic About Mad Artist mode, growling to myself and sulking and wanting to just burn the whole thing to the ground. I have also had nights that were all happy little trees and internal firecrackers about how great it was.

I’ve felt a little choked up and blocked in regards to the campaign lately, mostly because things got much darker in the last session than I intended. But I talked it through with (thank God for her) Sonya, and without betraying any twists and turns in the game or indeed any details at all, she was able to help me find my Buddha nature and make the plans I need to make to get us going down the broad track I am hoping to be on. We wound up spending my birthday dinner handling some downtime stuff for her, and it was actually really great to get to flex my creative muscles there. I am really excited about the game again, and while there may be more Art Feelings down the road (almost certainly), I think I am better-equipped to handle them. I just need to remember: I create things that do not exist without me creating them. My friends’ worlds are changed by the effort I put in. Even if I aim for Batman: the Animated Series and get All-Star Batman and Robin sometimes, I am better for the trying.

Speaking of medium, and speaking of actually talking about writing in my writing blog: after a couple weeks of working on comic book scripting, I have switched back to prose this week — specifically, further work on Eyes of Stone — and the return has been amazing. I have talked before about still rediscovering my voice after years of forcing a silly set of affectations on myself, and I have to tell you, having written within the comic-script medium now has helped immeasurably. Having to obey a new structure that I am not used to has really made me appreciate the strengths of both mediums; I know I’ve said that before, but the proof was in the pudding when I worked on Eyes of Stone again. My work was much looser, much more relaxed, much more natural than it has been. It was easy for me to see how to represent a scene in prose and how it would be represented differently than comics, to see the things that prose can and should play with and emphasize that a comic can’t. It feels good, and refreshing, and liberating, and I would tell you more about it, but I’m too busy actually getting writing done.

In other Eyes of Stone news, the work continues apace; I’m around halfway done with the editing and restructuring into a first draft. It’s a long journey, is the novel, and I am glad to be finding time to take it. In other general writing news, the Not Our Kind Kickstarter still needs backers; if you want to call it a birthday present from me I would even send you a thank-you card! (If you told me it happened, that is.) I’m also starting to look more seriously at trying to put together an online writer’s group of some sort; I really need writer-on-writer time, and with my schedule and mobility limitations (no car, not a disability) that really seems like the best and most efficient way to make that happen.

So, that’s 1500 words of blog post. I think I am going to sign off now; I’ve got work to do and a birthday party to clean up for. I will leave you with this week’s recommendation: I think you should check out the graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween. It’s an excellent old-school (post-Miller) Batman story, that explores the issues with the character but also doesn’t try to hype him up as some kind of super-badass for having all those moral quandaries. It has some repetitive bits if you’re reading it as a collected work (Loeb was really into recapping things using the same words during this run), but overall it is a wonderful read for anyone who loves the Dark Knight.

Have a good weekend, everyone!