Now, the Next Six Weeks.

I gotta tell ya, I’ve had a tough time getting the last installment of my Mermaid Underground series written. Between moving my family to a new house, parenting, working for financial gain and general life-living, I’ve had it rough getting my creative rhythm going. About a year ago, I set a goal for myself of writing, editing and publishing these three novellas just as fast as I could, because I wanted to “call my own bluff.” You see: so, so many people say they want to be a writer of novels, but rarely put in the real work it takes to be one. I didn’t want to be one of those who just say it. I didn’t want to have a perpetual masterpiece in the works. I wanted to put my work out there. I wanted to actually do the work.

Although it’s honestly gotten me into a few fair spots of trouble over the years, my secret personal philosophy has always been, “Don’t regret the things you didn’t do!” It’s a policy that’s led to me looking like a crazy person on more than one occasion (especially when I asked out one or two guys in college) but it also led to the most amazing experiences of my life. Because I pursued him, even when I was afraid of rejection, I am now married to the love of my life. Because I persisted, even when I was afraid of pain, I had a homebirth for my second child. Even though I was nervous about what lurked, unseen, beneath the murky surface of the river, I became a whitewater rafting guide at the tender age of 18.

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This post isn’t a classical hero’s psych-up: look at the monsters I slayed! The conquests I wooed! The floods and raining fire and fearsome earthquakes I bested!

On second thought, that’s exactly what this post is.

‘Cause I finished the first draft of a book. The final book, actually, in a fantasy series I started with the motivation of a peculiar dream and a personal test of mettle.

Now, I have to let it sit. For six weeks. The words have to lie together, to get used to each other, to congeal and link and form the solid bonds of a good story. Then, I will rewrite the whole damned thing. And then, I’ll probably do it again. Then, I’ll send it off to my freelance editor, who will tell me all the plot holes, stylistic sticks-in-the-mud and other troublesome flaws in this, my final Mermaid Underground novella.

Then, my comrades-in-words, I’ll publish it: Mermaid Underground: Revolution!

In the meantime, if you’re in the market for a story about mermaids, their families and their antiquated and oppressive feudal culture in the crystalline catacombs beneath the surface of Florida, then check out books one and two of the series.

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2017

First things first: Happy New Year! Part of me loves this “fresh start” idea with turning over a new calendar. It’s a chance to make new goals with the bright-eyed outlook of actually achieving them. A smaller part of me thinks that’s silly; you can start a new year full of goals any time you want to. Our system of keeping time is arbitrary, anyway, and not very good. It’s imprecise enough to leave leftover days every four years, for goodness’ sakes.  

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It’s never a bad time to wish someone happiness and prosperity, though, so I wish it!  

I’ve been neglecting my blog. I have many good reasons for this, all falling under that nebulous, overarching prerogative-maker/changer called life. I have a new job. Three new jobs, really; two freelance writing gigs and a part-time position at an ad agency in Knoxville. I have to say, the last quarter of last year really opened me up creatively and professionally. We’re also in the process of setting up what amounts to a family compound in the woods of South Knox. See? I’ve been busy! 

For those readers who are trying to hack it in the thorny world of freelance writing, I have a series of blogs coming up in the next few weeks about my professional endeavors of late.  

For all those who barrage me with messages of irritation because I’ve waited so long to get back to the Poor Valley Witch story, I have this to say: Ok, Mike! I get it! I’ll get back to writing it. 

I had planned to release the third and final installment of the Mermaid Underground series at the end of 2016, but (happily) I was too entrenched in my new jobs and moving my family, or at least getting started moving them. I say “happily” because I needed to get better perspective on that story before I could immerse myself again. Mermaid pun intended. So 2017 will be the year of the final Mermaid Underground story: Revolution! 

May your new year start with joy or contentment, or, if those aren’t in sight, something cathartic that will be the bridge to a better outlook.

 

You’re Not That Awesome!

So, a couple of posts ago, I promised I would write about how you’re not that awesome.

Let me explain.

Sometimes a writer gets going on a roll, and holy crap! it feels good. The words drop out of you into the keyboard, the characters pop off the screen, and the whole texture and warp and weft of the plot come together so sweet it’s like you didn’t even write anything, just opened up and let it all pour through you from the existential beyond where characters and all things make-believe hang out, just waiting for you to call them up to duty.

How can something that feels so amazing be anything but, well…amazing? Hey, man, sometimes it really, really is. But sometimes…sometimes it’s an exercise in self-indulgence, and its honey-sweet flavor that tastes so good in your mouth is really gross to other people, like NutraSweet sprinkled all over Superhero-flavored ice cream.

It really sucks when that happens. So many days of writing feel like a grind, and you have to pull the sentences out like a parasitic worm, one tiny millimeter at a time, and even then you feel like you didn’t get it, you left some of it in there to fester. So when you have one of those wide-open days full of promise and sparkle and screw work, this isn’t work, it’s aaaalll play! Savor the feeling. Hold it close. Then keep grinding at the story until you have your first draft, and…

Let it sit. Most experts say for six weeks. Then comes the editing. And then…you might find that you have to cut out all that stuff that seemed so perfect, more perfect than any of the rest of the story put together when it was coming out of you. ‘Cause it just doesn’t fit, or it isn’t any good, or it’s extraneous.

So my question is, why do we have those days at all, if they aren’t effervescent gifts from the muses on high? I think it’s because muses aren’t on high at all, and they don’t give gifts, they demand sacrifices. My muse is a bald guy in a pit. And he’s sweaty and a bit off-putting.

Anyway…try not to get too caught up in the bubbles. Even the very best of masterful writers don’t think they are so great…not really. There is deep strength to modesty. A solid grounding in humility. The trick is to not sink below that to despair, to “I basically suck.” Because you probably don’t, and even if you do…you got nowhere to go but up!

Writers are a special breed: gluttons for punishment, willing to put our snail feelers out for acceptance, only to whip them back in again when we get burned with rejection and criticism. This post really is encouragement disguised as dark discouragement. If you read it down to here, I’d like to leave you with this: I know I said you’re not that awesome, but I probably lied! I just wrote that to get your attention.

Ride the high of those muse-gifted days, and understand it’s the time itself, the deep satisfaction of getting it down on paper, or on screen, that’s valuable. Then, sacrifice it to the muse if you have to. Edit down to the real story. But…maybe you could keep a separate file, for those snippets you had to cut away.

 

 

Get Out of Your Own Way: Part I

This week, under my “Misadventures in Self Publishing” category, I’ll be discussing Failure, one of the ways we cripple ourselves, and my methods to overcome. Next week I’ll continue the Get Our of Your Own Way topic with this nugget: Hey, maybe you’re not so awesome! Sound intriguing? Sound like just the kind of slap-you-with-a-psht-sound-effect, tough-love coaching you like? Well, your tastes in self-help may be questionable, but I’ll oblige.

For now, let’s talk about the ultimate F-bomb for writers the world over: Failure. Everybody ever, no matter how kick-ass a person has become (or used to be!) has experienced this ovary-punching, toenail-kicking, cystic zit on the face of your life. The question is not if you have failed, or if you will fail, but what the hell do you do with it?

We have a tendency to partition our lives into eras, or categories like home, parenting, work, and even further: legitimate, paid work, hobby work, side hustle. It’s helpful for our mental clutter to think this way. It’s also sometimes helpful to get over things in this way; it’s easier to let pain go when we relegate it to the past. But we are, at least partly, made up of the sum of our experiences, and our reactions to them.

I’ve failed. I’ve failed a lot. I didn’t make the basketball team in middle school. I didn’t get the job, got dumped, fell down (a lot!), lost opportunities, got rejection letters or worse: I was met with the forlorn sound of indifference, the vast digital equivalent of crickets chirping as I put my work out again and again, where it was fated to sit, waiting for the series of commands to activate, illuminating my story on the screen of some blessed reader with a silent choir calling out: “aaah-aaah-AAAH!”

In fact, I’m so used to failure that I have wrung two gifts from it: vast gratefulness when my particular talents are seen and enjoyed, and an ever-strengthening supply of patience.

Sometimes, my optimism dries up and my patience scuttles away before a storm of despair. In case you don’t know naturally optimistic people, let me explain this: when we are down, we go DOWN. It’s a deep pit, full of the ooze of worthlessness.

pit of despair!

But I promised you a discussion on how I handle getting hung up on failure. Before I can do this, I have to describe a failure of a wholly nonprofessional kind. Please understand that the story I’m about to tell is in no way a declaration of how I believe other people should think, or feel, or act, in any way. It is an insight into my views, and mine alone.

I wanted a homebirth for my first baby. I wanted it desperately, but I was afraid of failure, afraid of pain, afraid that I was going to be a horrible mother. You might guess what comes next: I failed in homebirth. My boy, although a brilliantly healthy child, was born via emergency c-section. I could go into all the messy details for how and why, but it doesn’t matter for this discussion. I did not accomplish my desire. I hit bottom physically and emotionally.

Then, despite the additional rock pile of more sad things: death of a beloved family member, choosing to leave behind my burgeoning business, feeling totally unmoored…I came back up. I loved my family, I’m naturally an optimistic person, and I made dozens of small choices toward happiness every day. Then, I discovered I was pregnant again. Again, I opted for a homebirth.

Here’s the thing: when I was pregnant with my boy, I could never visualize birthing him. I had no idea how that immense a thing could happen. I had no concept that I could actually do it. But with my girl, I knew. I knew I could. I had failed, had felt the deep, keening sting of failing in what I percieved to be my first real act of motherhood, and I was still alive. I was still there, and my boy was there, too, happy and healthy. Somehow in the dungeon of failure I found the strength I needed.

I rocked my second homebirth. I ripped my heart open and let my failure fly out of me, because there isn’t room in one person for a suitcase full of FAILED and a sweet, buoyant “I f-ing did it!” It was not easy getting my baby girl out of my body. It hurt, a lot, and in birth you have to embrace the pain like a lover. You have to accept it. You can’t say “No, I need a break, make it stop a while.” Well, you can, but then your midwife, your uterus and the forthcoming little person will make you understand in no uncertain terms that it ain’t happening. I was rent when my daughter came into this world. I was struck by lightning and ripped apart, and the failure I felt in birthing my son was exorcised from me.

So, when my writing is rejected…I mostly can accept that. Nobody is everybody’s cup of tea. And, there are plenty of people who say “yes, please.” But when I fall into despair, I embrace it, just like the pain of childbirth, because I know it will end. I let it take me down, make my eyes dark, show me all my shortcomings. And then, when it’s all over, I sigh, and think to myself, “I f-ing wrote that book. I accomplished it. That’s really something.” And I’m still here.

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Here’s something important: we can change our reactions to our past experiences. Maybe we can’t change what we said or did at the time, but we can choose how to embrace or let go of the event today. And when you do, when you sew your badge of sadness as a valuable life experience on the back of your jacket and then forget about it, you’ll discover something badass: you’re a better writer, now. Go write!

 

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Hiring a Freelance Editor

I am occasionally asked my advice about self-publishing. The writing part of it is universal: you have to put one keystroke down after the other, over and over, until you have a digital pile of words equaling a story. Or, if you have an analogue soul, you bleed out pens or bang out lettered shapes from the typewriter ribbon (if you don’t understand this part, you are too young. Work on that.) Use whatever metaphor you like, you have to write the damn story before you can do anything else.

pen and paper

Then you have to edit it. And edit it again. I’ve tried to edit as I go, with almost always disastrous results. Just don’t do that. Yes, you’ll have a jumbled mess after you pound out the last period of your narrative, but it will retain much, much more clarity if you take that tangled skein as a whole pile and then work at smoothing it all out. (BTW, I’m on a roll with imagery today!)

And then, here’s the thing: hire an editor. But…you’re a good editor, and you can just do it yourself and…nope. Hire one. Here’s why: you are too close. Stephen King says to kill your darlings, and this guy says “I’m just too close to love you,” and they are both right. You live with all these people, the villains and heroes and quirky neighbors who just show up for comic relief. They don’t want you to kill them, and, frankly, you don’t want to either. You need an impartial judge, one you pay to analyze and dissect the story, and then hold up a surgical tray laid out with quivering organs. Fix it, they tell you. Or throw it out.

But…your budget only allows for a killer digital book cover by this cool artist…well, yes, that’s important, too, but if you put a pretty cover on a shoddy story, it’s still shoddy.

An editor is the only thing I’ve spent money on in my self-publishing adventures. Mostly because I’m a broke artist, and I’ve had to prioritize ruthlessly. You can judge the quality of my book covers and marketing endeavors on your own time, but for now focus on the topic at hand. For my second book, I used Karen C. Armstrong, and I searched diligently to find her. Here’s why I chose Karen:

  • She likes fantasy
  • She has an excellent web presence
  • Her rates were within my budget

Here’s why I recommend her for other independent writers:

  • She’s professional and concise
  • She’s fast
  • See the first three bullet points

You’ll notice I placed her enjoyment of fantasy first. That’s not arbitrary; I put out a Craigslist ad for a freelance editor. I asked candidates to tell me whether they like fantasy (the ad stated outright that the work was an independent fantasy novella), and most responded with “meh.” One even told me outright they did not like fantasy, but would be willing to tolerate it. (!?) There is no greater crusher of creativity than “meh.” You need an editor who actually likes what you are writing about, one who will be in your fan camp solidly if your work is any good…and, if you get a good editor, it will be much closer.