Settling In

This week marks the second of what will be many TWO TRUTHS TUESDAYS. I think it’s time we settled in to a nice, familiar format. Two truths, followed by TEN THINGS. Short, sweet, simple. So, without further eloquence…

Truth One: Setting. It’s an important part of fiction writing. Whether your story needs a short, pithy jest about the color of the floor tile in the asylum, or your doorstopper novel demands paragraph upon paragraph and scene upon scene of setting, measuring how much to expand or how little to dribble out is key. That’s why you must know your audience. If you’re playing to Tolkien lovers, the more the merrier. Writing YA romance? Three pages of exhaustive setting infodumps is probably not going to work out.

Truth Two: Therapists sometimes need the same help as the people they’re helping. Whether you’re like me, and you experience empathy drain, or like other therapists who experience secondary trauma, you might need therapy yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that. Whether it’s having someone to spew life’s burdens to, or a mental health professional to delve deep into personal issues, the helpers are allowed to need help, and not be stigmatized for it.

TEN THINGS (about the past week):

1–What have I been reading? A lot of articles, blogs, and web content. I want to read Lovecraft Country before I see the show, and I don’t want to start-stop another book, so I’m waiting for that to arrive.

2–What have I been watching? Sadly, no more playoff hockey, but more Madam Secretary (no spoilers!), which I’m quite enjoying, and Umbrella Academy (no spoilers!), which I’ve slowly been getting into. (Spoiler warning! Read at your own risk or skip to #3) I have to admit, season 2 has some tropes I truly despise. The whole stuck in an asylum trope ended fairly quickly, but the HIDEOUS (not just in this show) “how we got here” trope almost made me stop watching. It’s been done to death, and I can’t stand it. I also don’t like that every season will be the team all scattered to start out and then dysfunctionally coming together. Still, I’m enjoying large parts of Umbrella Academy, and alternating between it and Madame Secretary.

3–What have I been researching? Fun internet finds like web comics and short reads, blogs and whatnot. Also, more fairy tale stuff.

4–What have I been writing? Not enough! I got down a few rough scenes in Collateral Healing, but simply haven’t had the time or energy to devote to making large progress. This must change!

5–Farmer’s markets are so crucial to my getting enough fruits and veggies.

6–Family is everything. Given a choice between all-day gaming and catching up with a cousin and his family, I chose the latter on Saturday. Got to see a lot of other family, too, including the kiddoes, and, hey, a swimming pool doesn’t hurt either!

7–Then again, gaming is important therapy for me, and a friend whose wife is out of town has some extra time, so card-driven war gaming was a welcome use of Sunday afternoon and into the evening.

8–I miss Mom. I usually get to see her every week, so a sucky side effect of a busy weekend is not getting to visit with her.

9–Fast food = not a good dinner strategy. On occasion, it won’t hurt you, but on multiple evenings, it’s a real killer. As if I didn’t already know that, but…

10–…if you can’t be smart, you gotta be tough 🙂

Talk about tough, this guy’s supposedly bad to the bone. I mean, his band is the Destroyers.

Opening Week

Welcome to the opening week of my new blog entry, TWO TRUTHS TUESDAY. Bet you can’t guess how often I’m going to be sending these out! Just remember, you can’t stop the signal. You’ll be getting a new blog post every week, rain or shine, come hell or high water. Okay, let’s not make you wait, as I’m sure you’re dying with anticipation.

Truth One: In publishing, writers fail more than they succeed. Unless you’re one of those big-name writers that gets solicited for anthologies or contracted for future books, you’re going to strike out more often than not. Like in baseball, where you’re considered a rock star for failing to hit the ball more than a third of the time, you’re going to strike out a lot. That’s okay. It comes with the job description 🙂 You just have to keep on swinging (submitting).

Truth Two: Depression is real. A lot of folks will tell you that depressed people just need to get motivated, put themselves out there, or–and this one’s the worst–“pick themselves up by their bootstraps.” Um, no. As a mental health professional, I can definitively say that that’s not how it works, That’s not how ANY of this works. If you know someone who suffers from depression, help them; lend them an ear or a shoulder or your time; be a positive in their life. Don’t stigmatize them; empathize with them.

And now (drum roll please)…

TEN THINGS (about the past week):

1–What have I been reading? The House of Shattered Wings (Dominion of the Fallen #1)

by Aliette de Bodard. Started slow for me, but is picking up steam.

2–What have I been I watching? Madam Secretary (no spoilers) and Umbrella Academy Season 2 (no spoilers), which I hope is better than season 1. Also, playoff hockey!

3–What have I been working on? Collateral Healing, my work-in-progress about an Army vet with PTSD with dissociation who gets infested with, rid of, and fights a body-possessing demon. Sure, her mental health might have opened a door for the demon to get in, but it also gives her the necessary weapons to take that demon down!

4–What have I been researching? Background for two short stories: a fairy tale mashup and a wild hunt story I want to submit later this year.

5–I’ve had empathy drain, through my work as a behavioral health therapist. My clients are from the mental health and drug and alcohol domains, so I expend a LOT of energy at work.

6–I discovered that blueberries and grapes go great together, then realized it isn’t a groundbreaking discovery, because fruit salad.

7–I’ve been upsetting my mother even though I was trying to be helpful. That’s a whole “road to hell/good intentions” thing right there. Sorry Mom!

8–Dungeons and dragons to de-stress!

9–…And fog of war block war games to de-stress!

10–I’m the only one allowed to complain about this oppressive heat, because I never complain about how cold it gets in the winter. Low temps FTW!!!

With that, I will leave you with a song that reminds me of better days, when the words did flow, the queries wrote themselves, and we lemonade-ed life with pure ease.

Yep, I rickrolled all yinz right out of the gates 😊

TWO-TRUTHS TUESDAYS

To anyone who reads this blog, and who can hear (read) over the sound of the (imaginary) crickets, I have a fun announcement. Tomorrow I am beginning a weekly blog entry entitled TWO TRUTHS TUESDAY. Each week, I will share one truth about my occupation as a social worker and behavioral health therapist, and one truth about writing.

As a bonus, each TWO TRUTHS TUESDAY will feature TEN THINGS (not all the things, sadly), or, to be specific, ten things about the past week in my oh so interesting life.

So, here’s hoping you tune in to hear (read) the good word and pass it along on whatever social networking platforms you deem necessary. And, you know, hopefully you get something out of it for yourself 🙂

Promotional Giveaway

I’m pleased to announce that my story, Phaethon’s Grace, will be appearing in the upcoming Of Gods and Globes II anthology. The anthology won’t be out for a while, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t cool stuff for you in the meantime. The publisher is holding a mega giveaway in the leadup to the book release. Check it out here for the chance to win some neat (and even autographed) stuff: Mega Giveaway

Getting Back

A while ago, I wrote about the frustrations of writing and artistic output during the global Coronavirus pandemic. How the quarantine, while it gave many of us more free time and opportunity to write, also led to increased depression, anxiety, and other mental health distress for a lot of creative types. Creative output often went down when others assumed it would increase.

The good news is, I personally managed to push through to a point where I was getting words down on the page. Not as many as before the ‘Rona took over, but still. (Note: As a mental health professional, I am not advocating merely “pushing through” as any kind of treatment.) An older problem then reared its ugly head: I wasn’t meeting my overall writing goals even before social distancing became a thing. So, double whammy.

Well, this week, I returned to work at my actual work site. Thankfully, as an essential employee, I worked throughout the quarantine. Not only did I earn my wage, but I was able to do so from my recliner, with extra sleep. Which only reinforces how much I was affected by depression issues early on, stuck at home.

I’m happy to report that my writing is back to pre-Coronavirus levels, and have slowly, incrementally, begun to exceed them. Is getting back to my normal “work at work and write at home” routine the cause? Partly, although I was getting better before Monday. I think what helped a lot was knowing I was returning to work.

Still not nearly where I need to be as far as meeting my goals; at least I’m chipping away at those goals. I fervently wish at least the same level of progress for everyone else out there seeking to create. The more awesome we create, the better the world is.

Quarantine Ups and Downs

By now most creatives are familiar with the “But Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine!” argument that being stuck at home should increase creative output. And by now most creatives have gotten fed up with non-creatives expecting them to compartmentalize emotions during social distancing.  Well, we know it isn’t that simple.

What about when you get the chance to work from home? For many, doing so has resulted in a creative malaise, or too many distractions, from having their kids home 24/7 to having their work life creep into their creative space. Honestly, working from home has been a godsend for me. I have physical disabilities, and working from home has alleviated many of the distractions caused by them. No longer am I coming home in pain, with eye strain, struggling to get any word count. I mean, my home office is an easy chair, after all. I’m even giving the business side of things the proper attention, which I so rarely do. Damn querying!

The only logical conclusion is that the words are flowing and everything’s peaches and cream for me at the moment. Not so fast. My creative output IS up, as a direct result of social distancing, the quarantine, and working from home. No denying that. What IS suffering while my writing thrives is ME. After I close the computer, what is there? I make connections online, talk to friends and family, and…sit around and do nothing. Watch TV. Surf the ‘Net. Read. Get things done around the apartment. Watch TV, surf the ‘Net, watch TV, surf the ‘Net, become more of a hermit, forget the positive things I can do at home, watch TV, surf the ‘Net…

I’m falling into a vicious cycle because of this quarantine. For now, the writing is good. I don’t have the problem many creatives have, of finding it harder to create. For how long, though? There will come a breaking point, and if it is reached, I have no doubt I’ll be in a deeper rut than before. So I have to guard against that. Try to lift myself in these trying times. Work on coping strategies to deal with the difficulties. You know, the hard stuff.

We talk about the obvious problems, that it can be difficult for many to create in these circumstances. We also need to worry and take precautions when things are going WELL in these trying times. We need to recognize our own fragile mental states and balance our creative output against our mental needs. I’ve written this rambling post as a cathartic tool, not so much to find answers to my dilemma–because there are no easy answers here–but to process what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling. Hopefully, in reading this, it will help a few other creatives do the same.

Chasing Your Tail in Traditional Publishing

If you’re like me, self-publishing your novels isn’t even remotely possible. At the very least, it isn’t a good idea. To be a successful self-publishing novelist–and, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be successful?–you have to be able to promote yourself and promote your book. For someone who considers three likes and one reply on Facebook an enormous victory, I’ll never be able to sufficiently self-promote.

So, what do you do when you think you’ve finished what you consider a successful novel? Sign with an agent that will champion said novel, get it into the right hands, and land you a publishing deal. I won’t even get into the nuts and bolts of how difficult it is to succeed at that, as most of you already know. And most of you already know how brutal it is trying to write and assemble all the materials, especially the query letter, you’ll need along the way. That’s fine. If it were easy, everyone would do it. No, let’s talk a little about how, unless your first finished, polished manuscript is an instant success, you’ll be chasing your tail.

One of the truths I hear spoken by countless amazing and successful authors is that it’s rarely your first book that gets published. Often, it’s the second, third, fourth, fifth…you get my drift. The more you write, and the more books you write, the better you get at it. Simple logic. So, what do you do after getting all your querying materials together and get to querying? Start another book!

Here’s where the seemingly impossible gets even more difficult. You’re itching to move on to your next project, eager to put those writer muscles back to work. Writing takes a lot of time as well as effort, and, with an assumed day job, time is at a premium. Well, you have to give yourself copious amounts of that precious commodity to query your finished manuscript. Querying is a volume task, too, meaning you don’t just want to query one or two agents. If you limit yourself like this, even a great manuscript may take years to land you an agent.

How long does it take to query each agent? Mileage varies here. Some agents use sites like Query Tracker that make the process quicker and easier. Some have easy-to-read sites with concise lists of what they want emailed to them. And some…don’t. Just figuring out who wants what sent how is a chore. Then there’s personalizing your query, inputting the agent’s data into your files, changing formats, copying chunks of your manuscript into files of four chapters instead of three, never mind finding the agent in the first place…you get the gist. Personally, I lay out half an hour minimum for each one, because I’m slow and prefer to be thorough.

Half an hour each? Submitting to as many as you can? When will I write? It’s an excellent question, and it leads many writers, myself prominent amongst them, to vacillate. I tried to split time for a while, querying a few agents a week while writing my current WIP. But, time being short, I ended up super behind on my WIP. I’ve previously finished three books that were polished enough for me to query with. The first I have since shelved, but I feel the other two have potential. I’m trying to query two novels and write a third one. Ai!

Take heart. It’s frustrating, it’s a lot of tail chasing, but if it leads to an agent, and that agent lands you a book deal, it’ll all be worth it. And while, yes, being a published and agented author working on future projects comes with its own challenges, guess what you won’t have to do from that point on? Query agents. It’s a ginormous, intimidating prospect, but one you only have to conquer once. Unless you have to change agents for one reason or another. Hey now, let’s not borrow trouble! And, who knows? At that point, you may be like Kameron Hurley, who had an agent solicit her for work 🙂

ConFusion 2020 Report (or the Also Report)

As reported, I attended ConFusion 2020 in Novi, Michigan last weekend. I enjoyed a confluence of wonderful coincidences, had a lot of fun, and met some fabulous new friends.

First, the coincidences. The week before the con I began reading “The Light Brigade” by Kameron Hurley, which I finished during the con and highly recommend. Kameron was a guest of honor, whom I shared coffee with in a small group at a kaffeeklatsch. Kameron’s a wonderful writer and person who encouraged me in my writing and showed genuine interest in what I had to say, and who shared a lot about her own journey. Also, in the days leading up to the con, Bogi Takács posted a series of intersex literature resources on Twitter, which I found immensely helpful, as a novel I am querying has an intersex main character. E was also a guest of honor, and I also had a kaffeeklatsch with em! Bogi shared anecdotes about events in Hungary, helped bring me up to speed on current controversies in the literary world, and was simply a delight to chat with.

John Scalzi was also in attendance as a guest of honor and hosted a DJ dance party on Saturday night. I’m usually one people must force to stay up late these days. All Scalzi had to do was put on some slammin’ tunes, and I was up until almost 2:00 in the morning playing the dancing fool.

ConFusion had outstanding programming, too, for a writer. Although I didn’t go to many of the panels on the craft, the one on training sequences inspired how I’m going to handle my main character’s initial training scenes in my current WIP. The Friday panels on the business side of things really dropped the knowledge bomb, though. I learned oodles at those. Might just be filing as a fiction writing for the first time this year. Ugh, itemizing! Ugh, receipts! lol

As for the people, I’m not going to try to name all the names, because there’s just not enough bandwidth to name them all. I reconnected with some folks, made plenty of new friends and connections, and even met a few authors I knew of but hadn’t seen in person. On the Border for the win for dinners we didn’t have to drive through the snow to get to! Was the con perfect? No, of course not. No con is. There were some coordination issues, and not all the logistics worked out. Also, I didn’t have any agents go goo-goo eyed over my books and offer representation–not that I was expecting even a chance to pitch, but you never know. Still and all, I will definitely attend again. Hopefully next year I’ll check in early enough to be a panelist, too.

ConFusion

Let there be no confusion (pun very, very much intended): I will be attending ConFusion in Detroit this upcoming weekend. Well, it’s in Novi, Michigan, but close enough, right? If you want to ask about the novels I have to query or submit, chat about geekery and nerdy things, say hello, or just plain want to chill out with me, cool! I’m easy to approach and love making new friends and business contacts, as well as catching up with old ones.

World Fantasy Con 2019

*–I’ll post the same caveat at the beginning of this report as I did last year. Too many names, too little time (and blog space!) to mention.

Once again, I ventured out to World Fantasy Con. This time, rather than rambling across Pennsylvania and dropping into Baltimore, I had to take flight and cross the country to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, due to aircraft problems, Southwest withdrew their nonstop flights to and fro LAX. It wasn’t to be the only travel problem–the decision to do an Airbnb instead of the host hotel didn’t pay off, and the final leg of the trip home was a pain-in-the-ass delay–mitigated by a great flight-mate–but none of that mattered. Like last year, WFC was one hell of a time. 

So, I had the same sub-agenda as I did last year: to find representation for a novel. Well, novels, this time, as I have two manuscripts ready to go. This time around, I made it a sub-agenda, because I learned that WFC is so much more than tasteless trolling for agents. Not that I would ever act like that, but still, there’s more to life than selling books. My main agenda was simply to have fun networking and catching up with those already in my network. And, you know what? I ended up garnering a few requests to check out my manuscripts anyway.

When I think about what I found best about WFC, I can only reply “Yes!” There were wonderful panels on professional development in all aspects of the industry. I went to a fair few of these, adding to my knowledge base and writing tool box, but these by far weren’t the highlight of the con. There were great chance meetings with new folks, with whom I enjoyed rich conversation, yet this wasn’t the best part either. Brandon and Brandon against the world rocked California like Hans Gruber blitzing into Nakatomi Tower, but that wasn’t it. Hitting up the con suite, relaxing with the friends, new and old, that washed up there, was marvelous, as was lingering in the lobby and ballroom lobby doing the same, but neither was it the best part of the week. I just can’t separate one of these from the other. Everything about WFC was the best part of the con, because the sum of WFC IS its parts.

Okay, so maybe I’m getting too philosophical about the experience. In simplest terms, I loved it last year, and loved it this year, too. LA was different than Baltimore, sure. No two experiences can be the same, no matter how wonderful they are individually. I hope I come to enjoy many more WFC’s in the future.

Next year is in doubt. It’s in Salt Lake City, and sounds a tad more expensive than I may be comfortable with. Regardless, I’ll do my utmost to continue connecting with all of you beautiful people I met and renewed connections with at WFC, whether it be online or at other cons, or maybe even in Salt Lake City. Ya never know. Until then, I’ll ride the energy wave this trip infused me with to jumpstart a few projects.

Stay frosty, my friends!