Friday, December 30, 2011

Living a Writing Life

“I'm either going to be a writer or a bum.” ~ Carl Sandburg

(Image: me trying to decide to write or not to write)

I recall reading an anecdote about a mill worker who dies and his family discovers a hidden book of poetry under his mattress. They wonder: Was he a millworker who wrote poetry? Or was he a poet who worked at a mill?

I feel like that sometimes. No. Not like a millworker or poet, but like a person who is leading a double or triple or maybe quadruple life.

I’m an IT manager, a father/brother/son/husband/friend and writer. Many times the thing I’d like to be emphasizing and focusing on is being THE WRITER, but often he has to take a backseat to all the other stuff going on that makes up plain old life.

In thinking back on this year I couldn’t help but wonder—have I been doing a good job of keeping up on the writing side of my life?

In 2011 some of the ways I expressed my writer-side:

§ Wrote, edited and revised a lot. Results: 3 completed short stories, two novel draft revisions (Blackheart) and more scenes and material for use with my current projects and other projects down the road.

§ Entered two writing contests (one of which was a bust, the other I won’t know until February if I did well or not)

§ Took a “Book in a Month” class (April) at the Loft where I made more progress on my 2nd novel, Sunlight. (And no, I didn’t complete a book in a month… but I wrote many more pages than I might have otherwise.)

§ Went to two writing conferences, one at UW Madison in April and another at the Loft in November (I enjoyed the Madison workshops more, but the networking was better at the Loft). One highlight at the Loft conference was past instructors making a point to seek me out and ask: “How’s Blackheart?”

§ Did an in-person “pitch” of my book Blackheart to two different agents. One asked to see more (which I sent out but have never heard a word back on) and the other gave me a reference to an agent friend who I will be looking up next year.

§ Went to two book events/readings where I got to listen to some authors I enjoy read their work and talk a little about how they live their writing lives (Neil Gaiman and Chuck Palahniuk). I even got to sing with Neil Gaiman at the Fitz (well, it was an audience sing along.)

§ Attended my first Sci Fi convention in St. Paul (Diversicon in July) and sat in as part of a panel with the rest of the Scribbleratti. To say the least we were strange bedfellows—but there were more people in our “audience” than in our panel—so I was happy.

§ Did some research for my next novel, including

o A police ride along including my very own encounter with a “vampire”

o A trip to Duluth, MN on a very sunny fall weekend (both the location and the time of year where one of the scenes in my book Sunlight takes place)

§ Took part monthly in critiquing and being critiqued as a member of the “Scribblerati” writing group and blogged monthly (hey, you’re reading our blog now)

§ Wrote 202 times out of 365 days in 2011. I’d always like this number to be higher. Some days that writing might have been a quality paragraph that made it to the page. Other days it was anywhere from 2 to 11 hours at the writing desk with lots of completed and revised chapters. Most Monday days and Saturday mornings were dedicated to my writing craft.

So what about your writing in 2011? Anything that made you feel like more of a writer than the alternatives? I’d like to hear about it.

Goals for the year ahead

2012 is my favorite year, the Year of the Dragon, and I hope to keep on writing like a mad man. My writing group is currently giving me feedback on the latest version of Blackheart. Once all the feedback is in I’ll let it sit for a month or so and then clean my manuscript up and then start looking for an agent. I plan to finish the last half of Sunlight in the spring. I know I’ve got another short story or two in me. My work schedule is changing a bit, so my best writing times will be Monday, Friday and Saturday mornings. Mostly I’m going to keep on writing in the spare moments, as I am able.

Wishing you lots of great writing in the year ahead.


Friday, December 23, 2011

A very Scribblerati Christmas

It's that time of year again, boys and girls: It's the Holidays! It's time for gifts and eggnog and booze and I don't know... reindeers, I guess, and fat burglars or something and... other stuff... whatever. Anyway, we here at the Scribblerati are not above celebrating for no reason, so...

Happy Holidays to you and yours, everyone!

It's been a good year around the ol' workshop table. Lisa is about to send out some queries. Shawn and Mark are wrapping up their manuscripts. Claudia is knee-deep in her second draft. And I have started work on a brand new project and even managed to sell my first short story to boot. We're all in pretty good spots, all things considered, and the reason we are where we are is simple: We've been working, working hard and working often.


Because that's the trick. That's the whole secret. Butts in the seats, brothers and sisters...butts in the seats.

So in these yule loggy days to come, through the rummy haze of friends and family and wise men, while the rest of them are airing their grievances and performing feats of strength, remember to squeeze in a few moments for yourself. Take some time. Jot down some notes. Plot out some points. Sketch out some characters. Churn out a couple of pages.

Keep writing!

Your pal,

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Ones Who Walk Away

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Ursula K. Le Guin's short story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Partly it's been on my mind because I assigned it to my "Telling the Story Queer" class as a nice example of a story with an unconventional narrator.

I'm not even sure how to classify the point of view in the story. It doesn't quite seem to be third person objective, because the narrator doesn't feel neutral to me. Third omniscient seems closer, but the narrator isn't all-knowing, her ability to tell/create the story is limited and she knows it. What I love about Omelas is that tho' the narrator does not take part in any of the action of the story, she is for me the one fully formed character in it. If you're not familiar with the story, read it now and see what you think. (To entice you away, know this: it is short; it is powerful; it is creepy.) Here.

 Le Guin's narrator is somewhat similar to the overarching narrator of my WIP. Neither of them are protagonists or even minor actors in their stories, yet both are fleshy characters (at least I hope One Potato is fleshy...tee hee.) I think Le Guin's narrator feels so real to me because of the particularity and forcefulness of her voice, and because she directly confronts the reader, telling us we have to help her envision the utopian nature of Omelas. (An aside, I usually hate the fourth wall being broken, but, I think because this is a parable, it works here.) My main narrator is a sentient potato, and so her voice has to be, well, potato-y. If I've done my work well, readers will feel a kinship to One Potato, even though really all she does is sit in her hill telling stories to her spudlets. So one reason Omelas resonates with me: I'm trying to play around with narration in Once We Were Bears and I adore Le Guin's breaking-the-rules narrator.

Clearly, another reason I would like Omelas is that Le Guin is asking a very core philosophical question: should the happiness of many be sought after, even if that requires the misery of a few. This is at base the debate between Kant and Mill. And Le Guin, as a fiction writer, captures what's at stake in this debate more successfully than any professional philosopher I've ever read. When the cellar child pleads with us, when Le Guin writes "It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the...poignancy of their music.... It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children," at those moments in the story, the debate comes alive for me. In my WIP, I'm using fiction to reflect on my own philosophical questions about what it means to be human in the more than human again, what Le Guin does here models for me the very best of the sort of thing I'm attempting.

A final reason I've been pondering Omelas. I was recently posed the question, would I rather live forever or die happy. That's such a no-brainer for me. Living forever would take all the horrible ephemeral-ness out of life, but I kinda think it is that horrible ephemeral-ness that makes life so wonderful, so full of wonder. I like to play the Sunday Puzzler with Will Shortz on Sunday mornings. But some Sunday mornings I forget, or am busy, and so don't get to play along. For awhile I subscribed to the podcast. But then listening to the puzzle wasn't special anymore. I could do it whenever I wanted. So I stopped with the podcasting, and now every couple weekends I get a thrill of anticipation--today I get to hang with Will!--and the show itself feels, well, special. So, here's to our own mortality, bringing the special to life.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Today's Literary News (AKA My Dystopian Thursday Morning)

The Tweets just kept coming today, one thunder crack after another signaling doom and gloom for the publishing industry. It was like peering through Twitter's looking glass and seeing into the Big 6's dystopian future.

First there was this:

From @GalleyCat
Adult mass paperback sales plunged 54 percent in September while eBook sales rose 100 percent:
I've been anticipating numbers like that, but it's still surprising to see them in print.

And then there was this spooky bit:
By 2016, e-book revenues from portable devices will reach nearly $10 billion and bookstores that don’t merge digital and traditional commerce may face extinction

Now I'm imagining the pages of old books blowing through empty strip mall parking lots.

And finally, there was this piece of holiday joy: How many Christmases until we see a whole new industry?

Which is neatly summarized by these two quotes:
John Makinson, the global CEO of Penguin, was quoted in a Reuters article saying that the post-Christmas period in publishing coming up is “tougher to predict” than “any time that I can remember”. Asked what he sees in the immediate future, Makinson replied “dark clouds.”

The pace of the digital switchover is quickening. That will reduce the cash available to invest in building a new ecosystem at the same time the urgency of coming up with new answers is rising. It’s enough to make a sober executive, even at a very large, successful, smart, and innovative company, admit to serious concern for the industry’s future 

But in good Hollywood fashion, we'll end with a ray of hope striking out from deep within the gloom:
IndieBound Reader is an ebook reading application [... that] allows book lovers to read ebooks purchased at their local, independent bookstores.

Thank goodness, right? I've been wondering how much longer it would be before the independents began to get their act together.

Oh, and an interesting closing note: The Bookcase in Wayzata (a real nice bookstore, BTW) is where Claudia and I went to see Leanna Renee Hieber, Friend of The Scribblerati.

Aren't you glad I shared?