In Which I Discuss Fiction and the Peculiar Consistency of Voice

photo credit: stephenscottjenkins via photopin cc

photo credit: stephenscottjenkins via photopin cc

A very long time ago, a lifetime ago it feels some days, I got it into my head that I was going to be a writer. Not merely a writer, I was going to be a writer of short stories and novels. So, I wrote short stories and started novels, most of which were truly awful, unoriginal, or plagued with the kinds of mistakes that all writers seem to make in the early days. I submitted the short stories to various markets. In most cases, I received the dreaded form-letter rejection and I still have all of them tucked away in a folder somewhere. Every once in a while, though, I found myself getting a scrawled note of encouragement from an editor.

In those early days, I didn’t recognize the significance of those scrawled notes. Intellectually, I knew they meant that I was getting somewhere. I knew it, but I didn’t feel it. I felt the rejection, of course. The fragile confidence of youth always recognizes rejection and I wrote less. Then life began to intervene. There were deaths in the family, college, relationships and I wrote less and less and less. Until, finally, I wasn’t writing fiction at all.

It was years before I turned back to writing fiction and I went big. I started with a novel and, by and large, have stuck with it since then. It’s been a hobby, a thing done between the paying gigs, and that seemed okay by me. Then, a funny thing happened. The holidays rolled around. Western society all but ground to a halt and I had some extra time on my hands. I had a lot of extra time on my hands. So, I wrote a few short stories. These were ideas that didn’t have a place in my novels, but persisted in reminding me they existed.

I discovered two things as a result of that little experiment. The first thing I discovered or, perhaps, remembered is the correct word, is that I like writing short stories. It’s fun. It’s also demanding. Writing short fiction forces you to excise all of those extra characters and subplots and interesting tidbits you can squeeze into a novel. The second thing I discovered is that voice is shockingly consistent.

In the process of looking for something else, I found an old short story I had written and submitted in the bygone days of 2003, buried in the depths of my email. I pulled the story out of the email and reformatted it into something readable. Then I read it. It wasn’t a great story. I wouldn’t even call it a good story, though it had the potential to be a not bad story. The interesting part about it, however, was that as I read it, I recognized my own writer’s voice in it. I could imagine writing that story, with very similar language, today. There was something in the cadence, in the word choice, in the particulars of description that I recognized as me.

It was like hearing a decade-old echo from a younger me that I barely remember sometimes. What I do remember about that much younger version of myself isn’t terribly flattering. I wasn’t an awful person, at least, not any more so than all 20-somethings are raging, self-involved psychopaths that substitute hubris for self-confidence. I’ve just reached a point in life where I felt like that person and the person I am now didn’t share anything. Then I read that story and realized that I did share something with my younger self. I shared a voice. I shared a sense of how language can be employed for effect. I could connect the writer I am now to the writer I was then and, by proxy, the person I am now to the person I was then.

It was a strange realization that voice, less polished and precise, perhaps, but still the same in its essentials, was so consistent. I just assumed that my writing had evolved in the same way that I had evolved as a person. The funny thing is that I was right, but not in the way I imagined I was right. The hardest, sharpest edges that made me problematic as a person were worn down by time and experience. The roughest, most flagrant errors that made my writing problematic were corrected by the same thing. It wasn’t evolution I was experiencing, but a process of refinement. The impurities, the flaws, the blemishes were being burned away, slowly, so very slowly, but they were exiting the picture.

The process isn’t over, it’s never really over until you die, but I can see it now. I haven’t become a different person or a different writer. I have become and am still becoming a purer version of both and that’s okay by me.

Why You Should Care About the Open Internet

photo credit: Mark Coggins via photopin cc

photo credit: Mark Coggins via photopin cc

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down the Open Internet Order. The Open Internet Order was a set of rules put in place by the FCC in late 2010 that, broadly speaking, prevented broadband service providers from bottlenecking the bandwidth available to certain types of content, services and sites, such as Netflix and Youtube. The surface level reason that broadband providers give for wanting those rules gone is that it would allow them to develop different pricing plans for websites and services with high bandwidth demand, as noted in Brian Fung’s blog at The Washington Post.

That rationale, while plausible, is also not the whole story. With the Open Internet Order out of the way, the entire notion of net neutrality goes with it. This opens the door for broadband service providers to decide for you what kind of content you can or can’t look at online, by choking the available bandwidth to sites, content and services your service provider doesn’t like or doesn’t own. That is a thought that should send a chill down everyone’s spine.

Every writer, artist, musician, small business owner and entrepreneur should be squarely and fervently against the loss of net neutrality, regardless of political leanings. While the conservative spin machine will no doubt tout this as a victory over big government overreach and a victory for free market capitalism, it is neither.

The Open Internet Order was an example, though poorly executed, of the government protecting small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs from monopolistic action on the part of massive corporations, such as Verizon.  That is not government overreach, but government acting on behalf of citizens and, ironically, in protection of a real free market system. Net neutrality helps to ensure an, if not level, than more level playing field for new business ideas and services.

Just as important for those engaged in creative activities, such as writing, art and music, the loss of the Open Internet Order sets the stage for an unprecedented level of corporate censorship. Imagine a world in which a corporation can decide whether or not your author website, or band website, or photography website is worthy of receiving bandwidth. Is that a world you want to live in?

The internet is an essential element in business and a true marketplace of ideas. It provides a forum for those without a voice and an infrastructure for innovation. No handful of corporations should be able to exercise the level of control over that forum and infrastructure which the loss of the Open Internet Order now gives them. It’s bad for business. It’s bad for creative expression. It’s bad for freedom.

Official Reveal – Cover Art for the New Sam Branch Novel

I’m going to take a quick break from the usual today for something near and dear to my heart. As many of you know, I’m in the midst of writing the third book in my Samuel Branch series of novels. As I wind down into the final stretch of the first draft, I decided it was time to paint/develop the new cover art, both as a practical concern and as a way to reward my patient readers. So, without further ado, I present you with the cover for “Rises: A Samuel Branch Novel.”

Copyright 2014 Eric Dontigney

Copyright 2014 Eric Dontigney

For those of you not familiar with my Samuel Branch books, check out my books page or find them over on Amazon here and here.

Forget the New Year’s Resolutions – Set Goals Instead

photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

Oh yes, kids, it’s that glorious time of year when we stayed up late to watch a disco ball drop and make outlandish promises to ourselves about all the things we’re going to do differently…this year. Uh huh. Right. Sure that’s how it’s going to happen. Like, somehow, wishing on a falling disco ball is going to magically make us stop having all those habits that prevent us from making changes the rest of the time.

Therein rests the problem with New Year’s resolutions. They aren’t resolutions. They aren’t promises. They are not vows or oaths or covenants or contracts. They have all the substance of a wish you made while chucking pennies into a fountain and about as much staying power. So, this year, I recommend that you forgot those resolutions you made and substitute in some real goals.

What’s the difference? In my experience, the main difference is that goals reflect some cognizance of your own limitations and failings and include a plan for dealing with those things. For example, a common New Year’s resolution is something like, “I’m going to start getting up early and working out to get in shape.”

This may have sounded good to you and the people you were standing with on New Year’s night, but if you find it next to impossible to drag yourself out of bed to go to work, there isn’t a chance that you’ve got the self-discipline to get up even earlier to work out. Should you quit on the idea of working out? Of course you shouldn’t, but you need to plan for it to happen at a time and place you can actually show up for.

You should forget that phrase “get in shape” or any equally nebulous phrase you used in your resolutions to describe something different. Like other nebulous phrases, “get in shape,” doesn’t mean anything in practical terms. Olympic athletes are in shape. So is the guy down the block who runs a couple miles 4 days a week.

Figure out what your goal means to you in precise terms and then figure out how to make that happen. If “get in shape” means lose 15 pounds or complete a 5K or build a six-pack, those are specific things you can achieve. You can set benchmarks and timetables and consult with experts to make that happen.

Another common one is “make more money.” This is also nebulous. How much is “more?” Ten percent? Twice as much? A million dollars? Having financial goals, particularly when they tie-in to professional goals, can be an excellent motivator, but only if you pin down specifics. Is it reasonably possible for you to double your income in your current profession/position…at least, legally? If not, you need to set your sights lower or find another avenue for bringing in additional income.

While wishing on falling disco balls might be fun, it isn’t really an effective methodology for change. It’s a wish. If what you want is change in your life, get very specific about what you’re after, accommodate your own failings to make it feasible, and create benchmarks that make sense. Goal setting isn’t wishing, it’s planning for success.