Making with the Crazy

There are days when my ambition outstrips my talent. There are days when my ambition outstrips my understanding. Most days, though, my ambition outstrips my reserves of energy. It’s a sad truth that, after 30, that’s a battle you’re going to lose 9 days out of 10. You just aren’t 18, or 24 or even 28 anymore. You cannot, no matter how much coffee you drink, get by on 4 hours of sleep. And it is damn frustrating. No, it is crazy making.

I suspect, like most creative people in their 30s, my talent and skill have finally started to catch up with my ego. I can actually pull off writing some of those stories that were just too complicated or too thematically deep for my younger self. I see possibilities where I didn’t before. I marvel at what technology makes possible for anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and a freaking smartphone. I marvel, people. I marvel! I make plans. I see the future. Then, I yawn. Not because I’m bored, but because I’m not 18 anymore.

This isn’t the sour grapes of someone who let their health slide, either. For the most part, I eat right and in more-or-less appropriate portions. I get semi-regular to regular exercise. I even get enough sleep about 65-75% of the time. I am inside the ideal body weight range from someone my height and build. My big health sin was smoking, and I’ve switched over to vaping because it seems logical that it’s less awful for me. The next step is nicotine gum, then quitting. No, it’s not sour grapes. It’s just the reality that my body has started to slow down at a time when I could have actually put all that youthful energy to creative, productive use. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

I know I’m not alone in this, but that doesn’t make me less angsty when I realize I won’t get those last two pages that would finish a new short story. It’s not that I couldn’t power through and write them, because I could. I don’t because of the knowledge that I’d just wind up tired the next day and still need to rewrite those pages. It’s a fact that tired writing is a bad writing…pretty much always. Even that isn’t the worst part.

The worst part is knowing how much I could be getting done, if I still had that boundless energy of youth. I’m painfully aware of how many idea and projects I’m not pursuing, will probably never pursue, because my cells aren’t generating energy as efficiently, that the myelin sheathes in my neurons don’t replenish themselves as rapidly, that my body just needs more hours of rest than it used to need.

Then, after I work myself into this tizzy of self-pity, I take a breath. I think it through. Yes, there are stories and novels I’ll never write, projects I’ll never pursue, because my energy isn’t equal to the sustained effort they require, but that was always true. That is the basic truth of being alive. Everything we do, every commitment we make, is a conscious choice not to take the other path. Would I like to be a world-class chef/guitar player/philosopher/novelist/astrophysicist/painter/neurosurgeon? Sure. Hell, who wouldn’t?

Is the fact that I’m not, and could never realistically ever be, a world-class all of those things some kind of failure on my part? Not in the slightest, despite what my overweening ambition tries to tell me some days. I need to remind myself occasionally that most of my interests, an admittedly eclectic and unusually wide range of them, are hobbies. They’re things I dabble in or waste an evening on. They are not full-blooded pursuits.

Not devoting the full measure of time and energy necessary to master them is how I afford myself the time and energy to devote to writing. Picking one writing project over another is a way of trying to maximize what I see as the most viable projects. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong, but not pursuing every idea is simply a way to maintain sanity. So, to everyone else out there who makes themselves crazy because they can’t do it all, I tell you this…

It’s okay. No one can do it all. Everyone has that stuff they wish they could do, but can’t find the time for in their schedule. So, stop beating yourself up about living in a world with limits and work on the things that really, really matter to you. You’ll find it’s easier to look yourself in the mirror and get to sleep at night.

Contingency Jones Giveaway

Just a quick post this week. The Contingency Jones 3-day Free-Day event is in full swing! If you want a free kindle copy of the first season of this time-twisting, magic-slinging series, you’ll want to do it tonight or tomorrow. It goes back to its regularly scheduled price on July 28, 2016. 😉

Pick up your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Contingency-Jones-Complete-Season-One-ebook/dp/B01CZDCTTO

If you get it and like it, leave a review so other people will know how awesome it is! Thanks!

Minor Reporting, an Announcement, and The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Most of my current projects are chugging along at one speed or another, but there haven’t been any real milestones. New fiction writing has happened. A novel summary was written. I leveled up a video game character some more. All necessary (yes, even the video gaming), all important, but none of it earthshaking.

I am, however, planning to run a Free Kindle deal on my latest book – Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One – from July 25, 2016 – July 27, 2016. So mark your calendars for that, because I don’t run these kinds of promotions very often. J

I recently listened to audiobook version of Jim Butcher’s book, The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass, as read by Euan Morton. This book has come under fire since its release for reasons both fair and unfair. One of the recurring complaints I’ve seen is that there are chapters told from the perspective of a cat. I think that this is a fair criticism. I don’t think it’s fair because I’ve got a problem with a talking cat, because I don’t. It’s not because I think Butcher handled the perspective of the cat badly, because he didn’t. It’s simply because it happened too often. I admit that I found myself resisting the urge to skip ahead during the cat chapters because they didn’t always convey information that forwarded the story.

That being said, I’ve also seen some criticism that Butcher was off-form when compared to his recent Dresden books, that the world building was poor and that readers couldn’t relate to the characters. To all of those I say, what a load of crap. Go back and re-read the first Dresden book, or the first book in any series you like for that matter, and you’ll discover that it’s shot through with flaws and holes that the author tried to retcon later. This is the first book in a series and, as first books go, it was very cleanly written.

The world building wasn’t brilliantly rendered, but it never is when you’re making up a universe from whole cloth. For the most part, Butcher didn’t info-dump on the readers, but included world building information as and where it could be organically fitted into the story. The world that he built was consistent unto itself and consistent with the neo-Victorian stamp of Steampunk. That approach of organic information inclusion and self-consistency is the best solution to the world-building problem that anyone has come up with so far. It’s also used almost universally by all writers. Knocking Butcher for not transcending the limitations faced by all world-building writers seems both petty and unrealistic.

Yes, some of the characters were assholes. Yes, some of the teenaged characters acted like self-involved, cocky teenagers. Some of the characters were also noble to a fault, duty-bound to a fault, and loyal to a fault. Some characters were compromised by circumstance and some were compromised by choice or position. In other words, the people in the book were like the cross-section of people you meet in real life. Some are good, some are bad, and all are flawed. If you go into any novel expecting to like all or even most of the characters, you probably shouldn’t be reading books aimed at adults.

I’d give The Aeronaut’s Windlass a solid 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it as a breezy, Sunday afternoon read for anyone who professes to enjoy Fantasy/Steampunk.

Finding Inspiration

Inspiration is a tricky thing. Based on what I’ve read by, heard from and discussed with other creative types, I’m pretty lucky. On the whole, I get more than my fair share of ideas and I’m usually able to see them through to a something resembling a finished product. I have not, to my knowledge, suffered writer’s block, a condition in which all writing is supposedly impossible. At worst, I’ve experienced the occasional bout of project block, where a given project is fighting me, but other writing endeavors continue to work just fine.

From time to time, though, I hit a stretch where I’m just not energetic. Everything feels like work, no matter how much I like a project. I tend to think of these stretches as my non-inspired periods. I can still write, but it’s all very cold-blooded and painfully grueling. It wears me down, which just exacerbates the problem. So, what do you do when you find yourself in these kinds of straights? You need to look outside yourself. I know that’s a pretty counter-intuitive mindset for most writers. We’re solitary beasts, roaming the prairies of the imagination like wolves on the hunt. Yet, looking outside myself has been the most effective strategy for me.

I think part of it has to do with placing yourself in a larger context. Not to be unkind to my fellow writers, but we can pretty a pretty self-involved group of people who overestimate the scope of our own issues. The truth of the matter is that there’s always going to be people who are struggling a lot harder than we’re struggling. Sometimes it’s your neighbor, and sometimes it’s a celebrity. So, to that end, I recommend the following two books. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day and The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick. Both are readily available on Amazon and at other book selling-type places.

Wait, you say, what about (insert tragispirational memoir/biography/autobiography here)? Yes, I’m sure those are tragic/inspiring, but I assume I’m mostly talking to other creative types here. Day and Hardwick’s books both speak to those who are actively involved in the creative spheres, as well as to the geek/nerd/dork set which seems to be a nearly one-to-one with the writer set. Both Day and Hardwick talk about their struggles with mental health, anxiety, self-doubt and finding ways to continue being creative. In short, a perfect inspirational soup for the soul/world-weary creative type at low ebb.

Anytime I start feeling drag-ass about my books, short stories, and other projects, I go back to those books. They help me put my creative troubles into a broader context, to see which ones are just me being a melodrama queen (most of them) and which are actually problems that require some real attention. Most of the time, I realize that my big issue is being stuck in that awful middle phase of a project. You know the phase I’m talking about. It’s the spot where you’ve already poured a ton of time and energy into an idea, it’s nowhere near done, and you’ve got to put a ton more time and energy into it before you can show it off to people.  Yeah, that phase makes me feel tired.

That said, it’s not a real issue in terms of the work. It’s a psychological, rather than creative, roadblock. If you’re like me, though, you need something to jumpstart your perspective. I use those books to do that.

How about you all? Any tips or tricks for getting over low-inspiration periods?

Hey, I’m Not Dead, Really

So, it’s been a while. Do you remember me? I remember you. Despite outward appearances, this blog/site/author hasn’t died. I’ve just been crazy busy with the writing and ideamancy. So, here’s what’s been going on.

Last year, I wrote 2.5 books. One of them was released as a series of short stories that are now collected and available under the title Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. You can get yourself an ebook or print edition on Amazon here. It’s a good time, promise. I also completed what I hope will be the first book in a new series. It’s titled, The Midnight Ground. Unlike my previous efforts, I’m preparing this one for submission to agents. I think it’s good enough to secure representation, so I’m foregoing my usual strategy of self-publication until/unless it’s proven to me that no English speaking agent anywhere in the world will represent it. I’m also about to pick up writing again on the half-written book, which takes place in the same universe as The Midnight Ground, but makes only glancing references to characters/event of The Midnight Ground. All told, that accounts for about 250,000 words of productive writing last year and is, I think, a pretty respectable output.

In addition to those projects, I’ve also been working on an audiodrama. For those of you who looked at the word “audiodrama” and thought, “He just made that word up,” I didn’t make it up. It’s a real thing with a proud tradition. In ye olden days of the early- and mid-Twentieth Century there was this really popular device called radio. You might know this device as the thing in your car that plays the stuff on your smartphone/mp3 player. Well before the iPod and largely before the television, radio filled the entertainment void. They used to do these things on the radio called radio dramas and radio serials. These were either one-off or serialized stories that aired on whatever schedule the Powers That Were decided. A few examples you might be aware of are The Shadow radio serial and the Superman radio serial. More contemporary examples include pretty much everything put out by ZBS (you should check them out, because they’re awesome!) and the Prairie Home Companion skits done by Garrison Keillor.

Well why didn’t I say radio drama? It’s not going to land on the radio. It’ll be hosted online somewhere and, being audio only, I’m calling it an audiodrama. The current plan is for a limited run of 9-12 episodes. Why 9-12 episodes? Sanity. This is a labor of love and most of the work will be done by yours truly. I put together the first episode and it ran to about 20 hours of work. I assume that as I get more proficient, each episode will go a little quicker, but it’s just a lot of work. So I’m limiting it to 9-12 episodes. I’m still outlining/writing scripts for it, so the final tally of episodes isn’t set yet. Once I know, you’ll know. Despite already being underway, the timeline for this project is very long. In my ideal universe, this project will see the light of day sometimes in early/mid 2017.

In addition to that, I’ve completed the first draft of scripts for a 5-episode machinima project in cheerful collusion with my brother. I can hear you…“mahchimiwha?” Machinima is a style of filmmaking that uses a video game as the visual core for storytelling. You move your characters around the video game universe to sync up with existing dialogue, capture the footage, and then edit the footage together with dialogue, post production effects, and a soundtrack (if you can afford it or find the right royalty free music) to create episodes. The most famous example of this is probably the early seasons of Rooster Teeth’s series, Red vs Blue, which you can check out here. The later seasons employ pre-rendered animation which, to my mind, makes it less machinima and certainly beyond the means of most machinima filmmakers….though, no less entertaining. As with the audiodrama, the timeline on this is long. Also expecting this to be a project that won’t see public consumption until 2017.

That brings you up to speed on what I have been up to. Upcoming in the Eric’s parade of productive insanity…

There is Contingency Jones: Season Two that’s tentatively set for later this year (fall/early winter). There’s pre-production and production on the audiodrama and machinima projects. Querying agents for The Midnight Ground. Finishing the half-finished novel, as yet untitled. I’ve also tentatively scheduled starting the writing of the 4th Sam Branch novel, Rises, for December 2016. And somewhere between now and mid-2017, I’m planning to get moving on the sequel to The Midnight Ground, which has been tentatively titled, Favors Given. Yup. I’ve got some stuff going on. That said, I will be doing my best to check in with you on my various and sundry projects at much more regular intervals. I’m aiming for once a week.

CNN’s Marketing Fail…

photo credit: Justus Koshiol via photopin cc

photo credit: Justus Koshiol via photopin cc

(…Or, A Major Multinational News Service Inexplicably Obfuscates its Intention of Advancing Understanding of Innovative Consumer Interaction Restructuring.)

So I just read Erik Wemple’s article about CNN’s Redesign and was struck, as he was, by the God awful marketing speak CNN used to describe the redesign. However, as is so often the case, we can learn more from failure than success. The redesign itself was, of course, intended to facilitate access from a wide range of devices, incorporate social sharing and encourage engagement. By all appearances, the redesign accomplishes these tasks. The descriptions of the changes to the site, however, leave a lot to be desired.

The descriptions were littered with nigh meaningless phrases, such as “seamless integration,” “total re-platforming,” and “automatically re-optimizes.” Yes, Strunk and White are rolling over in their graves. Clarity is the heart of good communication, and phrases like these – common as they have become – are the enemy of clarity. What is worse is these phrases defeat the purpose the redesign they attempt to describe.

CNN’s site modifications/upgrades improve the user’s experience. The changes make it easier to share, easier to discover, and easier to access. So, one might ask, why employ language that is more appropriate to a political cover-up than a renovation that should generate increased traffic? After all, that is the holy grail of online news reporting.

There is no way to know for sure exactly what the point was, unless it was an attempt to make the changes sound more impressive. It might be that simple. There is a lesson to be learned from this failure, though. When it comes to marketing yourself, your site, or your product, keep it straightforward.

Trying to bury the purpose of your marketing in obscure language not only insults your audience, it undermines your marketing efforts. If I’m trying to encourage people to buy my new novel in eBook format, I don’t call it “an opportunity to invest in a re-optimized version of an entertainment experience that seamlessly integrates with ereaders.” I say, “Get your copy of Rises: A Samuel Branch Novel, available for Kindle.” (Achievement Unlocked: Shameless Self-Promotion)

The second version of that statement doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It’s a pitch, albeit a short one best used on Twitter. Maybe someone clicks on the link, maybe they don’t, but no one is left scratching their head. If they do click, it’s because they understand exactly what they’re getting into. What CNN did was try to reinvent a wheel that already worked. In doing so, they confused rather than clarified and, by proxy, undermined good communication.

If you want your marketing to work, deliberately forego utilizing needlessly complex linguistic machinations. I mean, embrace clarity.

My Nonovels Experiment

photo credit: jdlasica via photopin cc

photo credit: jdlasica via photopin cc

So, I’m always looking for new outlets for my writing, and I recently ran across a site called Nonovels. It’s an interesting little site, made more interesting to me because it’s trying to do some really cool things. The guiding idea behind the site is fairly simple. A lot of people who won’t read novels, or simply don’t have the time to read novels, will read short stories. However, no one wants to read crappy short stories. Nonovels aims to provide solutions to both issues, while taking advantage of the explosion in mobile technologies.
A big part of the site is a set of training courses, most of them free, that center around short story best practices. The courses are primarily designed for beginning writers, but they do offer very sound advice. It’s the kind of advice that most fiction writers, me included, learn through extended, painful, trial-and-error. For example, one piece of advice they offer is to limit the number of settings you employ in a short story. This might be obvious to seasoned writers, but not so much for novice writers.

To be fair, like most writing rules, that one isn’t set in stone. Some writers can and do violate this piece of advice. I’ve done it. It is possible to sketch an authentic setting with a few well-written lines, but it’s not easy. As a guide for early forays into short fiction, though, that advice is invaluable. The other advice they offer on characterization, voice, point of view and so on follows the same essential principle: don’t overcomplicate things.

The other thing they offer, which is the selling point for me, is dealing with the entire formatting and submission process to turn the short stories into Kindle-ready products on Amazon. They take a percentage off the top of the royalties for this service and, to me, it’s worth it. Yes, I agree, the dedicated writer can do that formatting and submitting and cover creation. It is, however, time consuming and takes me away from the writing.

The base price they set on Amazon for Nonovels short stories is $2.99. I blinked at that, right at first, until I considered everything they’re doing in terms of managing submissions and offering training. Plus, it’s still a heck of a lot cheaper than any Kindle-ready fiction from one of the big publishing houses. What you’re really paying for is helping to develop a cohort of writers that will, with any luck, produce work that transcends the current crop of Fifty Shades of Terrible Writing and that Twilight horror.

Like most writers, I have ideas that don’t nest comfortably in a pigeonhole. That is great from a creative standpoint. Unfortunately, those stories generally prove difficult, if not impossible, to place in publications. So, over the next few months, Nonovels is going to be the place where those stories go to live.

I’ve got one short story live already. It’s a shiny, new Contingency Jones story called, “An Afternoon’s Work,” and you can get it over on Amazon. For Prime subscribers, you can borrow it free. I’m also working on a follow-up Contingency Jones story that I’m hoping to get finished and live sometime in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes open.
I’ll keep you all updated as this experiment moves forward and the Nonovels site develops and expands.

Are you on Nonovels? Got some thoughts on this experiment or the Nonovels site? Leave a comment and let me know!

Eric’s Year End Report – 2014

So, it’s been an interesting year. I set some goals earlier this year. Some I achieved, in part or in full, and some I failed to achieve. And one came out of the blue and I more or less made it happen. So, here’s the report.

I set a goal to get the new Branch novel out this year and I did it. I did it by the skin of my teeth, but I did it. Speaking of which, you should go get your copy of Rises: A Samuel Branch Novel. It’s available through your friendly, neighborhood Amazon.com in Kindle and print editions. It will be released for Nook, as well as most other e-readers, early next year.

I set a goal of getting three short stories published in magazines this year. I fell a bit short. I placed two short stories with Stupefying Stories, which is a terrific publication that you should show some love. One of my stories appeared in the August 2014 issue, which you can get here. The second story will, most likely, appear sometime early this coming year. Still, I’ll take my two placed short stories, be happy, and aim to place twice that many next year.

I had also planned on starting a podcast. I even recorded a preliminary episode that generated some positive response from the alpha listeners I shared it with. It just never quite came together. Some of it was a time issue. There are never quite enough hours in a week. Some of it was simple concern that, however good my intentions, I just wouldn’t be able to come up with enough interesting material to sustain the podcast over the long haul. The idea isn’t dead, but I’m letting it percolate a bit more before I either move forward or scrap heap it. I’ll let everyone know where I come down on that.

Another goal I had was to put together a limited run web-series. The plan was 4 episodes running 3-5 minutes each. This one really did boil down to me not having enough time commit to the project, paired up with my uncertainty that I could get the right resources in place, at the right times, to make it happen. I still want to do the series and, if Clotho, Lechesis and Atropos see fit to consent, I’d like to be announcing that the first episode is going live sometime in April. Pester me about this folks. Shame is a powerful motivator.

A goal I hadn’t set for myself, but ultimately wound up delivering on was a pretty substantive renovation of an old house. I tore out floors clear down to the joists and, in some cases, those came out too. I installed new underlayments, sanded down hardwood, put down new finish, and even helped to cut and install some tile. It was a pretty massive project that stretched out for months, but it’s all but complete now and I’m pretty proud of what I did there.

Overall, looking back, I can’t complain about this past year. There were some pie in the sky things I either didn’t get a chance to do (visit Crater Lake), or would have liked to have done but it wasn’t realistic (finish a second novel in addition to the new Branch novel).

Still, I did learn how inefficient I can be with my time. It’s a forgivable sin, I think. I’m certainly not alone in it. In retrospect, I can see how those inefficiencies contributed to my failing to reach certain goals (podcast, web series). So, right at the top of my list for next year’s goals is improving my time/self management. I’m going to take my cue from Lean Thinking and aim make persistent, incremental improvements. Some will be easy, some will be hard, but even small improvements often lead to big results. As I formulate some new goals for the coming year, I’ll keep you appraised.

Today Only, Get The Sam Branch Christmas Special Free

photo credit: Joseph Jayanth via photopin cc

photo credit: Joseph Jayanth via photopin cc

Because it’s Christmas Eve and I’m feeling jolly, today you can get your free e-copy of The Sam Branch Christmas Special. Right here! But better grab it quick, because after today, they come down!

For Kindle: Get it HERE

For Nook and other .EPUB friendly readers: Get it HERE

Happy Holidays everyone!

Update: Free day has come and gone. Hope you got your copy while it was free! Merry Christmas everybody!

 

Dispelling the Writer’s Block Myth

photo credit: Jonno Witts via photopin cc

photo credit: Jonno Witts via photopin cc

One of the recurring subjects in writing is the dreaded writer’s block. As I understand it, for most people, writer’s block seems to be the inability to get the work moving. The blank page or screen sits there, mocking you, until it becomes so oppressive that you walk away. Other versions, which I actually don’t think are writer’s block, include not being able to figure out where one specific story goes next or not being able to get one of the multiple ideas you do have off the ground. In my experience, writer’s block is a myth.

I’ve had moments where I couldn’t figure out what happens next in a book. I’ve had stories that never seemed to go anywhere. Plenty of false starts, unfinished novels, and bad writing in my past, but I have never experienced, in close to 15 years of amateur and professional writing, a flat out inability to write.

What I have experienced, and suspect most people mistake as writer’s block, is a lack of passion for what I’m writing. I either don’t care what happens next, wasn’t interested in the topic in first place (think informational articles on some very dry topic), or am simply having an off day.

It was never that I couldn’t write. I just couldn’t write in that fiery heat that early 20th century writer’s waxed rhapsodic about. The muse wasn’t speaking. Or, as Stephen King would put it, the guys in the basement were taking a day off. None of which impaired my basic abilities to construct serviceable sentences, reason my way through plot problems, or deliver finished work. I just had to MAKE MYSELF DO IT. You know, like going to work when you’re hung over, or tired, or just don’t feel like it.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what separates the serious writers from the dabblers. You don’t have writer’s block. What you have is a passion deficit. You can still write. You just need to accept that it’s going to feel like work that day, maybe the next day, and maybe for weeks at a time. Here’s the thing, though, the writing will get done.

More importantly, because your essential skill set hasn’t changed, it will be about as good as everything else you write. It’s just harder to do. So, stop fretting about writer’s block, stop waiting for the muse to fill you with creative fire, and start putting words on the page. Do it today.