Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Mind Your Own Biscuits And Life Will Be Gravy

It's yet another edition of Writing Wednesday, where your intrepid hero realizes that he hasn't posted anything on his blog in a few weeks and that a large photo of his friend has been the feature photo on the front page of his website for almost a month and it's starting to get weird.

What I'm Reading

The journalist/blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates is someone whom I really respect as a writer and thinker. I became aware of him when he wrote an article for the Atlantic titled "The Case for Reparations." The crux of the article, as is apparent from the title, is that the United States' government should pay all African-Americans a sum of money in reparations for all the years and years of oppression they've faced. This isn't just about slavery (although that is certainly part of it) but the discrimination and oppression that has continued until this day and is so all-pervasive that it's entrenched in everything--right down to the housing market and how towns were designed.

The article is fascinating, and I recommend you read it if you haven't (warning, it's looooooong), but the part that thunderstruck me was the stuff about housing. I had no idea that many cities, towns, and neighborhoods were all white by design. I'm sure I knew some were, just because...obviously since black people couldn't even use the lunch counter in the south for a time, of course some towns would be all white by design.

I had no idea how pervasive or transformative it was.

I actually want to write a blog post about this, so I don't want to go into much more about it right now except to say that I'm currently reading Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. It's a book about how many (the majority) of towns in the United States either kicked all of their black people out in a racially-charged riot, and/or instituted ordinances to keep them out. It was both relieving and equally horrifying to learn that the North was JUST as racist in this time period as the South was. Often we in the US use the South as a scapegoat--"Oh, of course this racist thing happened. It's the south."--because of Jim Crow. But y'all...that ain't the half of it.

What I'm Writing

My friend Emma Maree (@emaree) has convinced me to begin working on a novel. I've had the idea kicking around for a while, and I've done some preliminary work on it a few years ago, but I'm trying to get it outlined and ready to write. This is exceptionally difficult. I think I'm an outliner, y'all. Generally when I write short stories, the ones I complete are the ones I already know where they're going. I have an idea of the main conflict, and so while certain things come up on the fly, I mostly have the structure in my head before I write. A too big for that. Which means LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of plotting, which is broken into small increments stolen in short snatches of time.

I have codenamed the book Werewolf Bar-Mitzvah: Spooky! Scary! because I love 30 Rock and I love that song.

What is it about?

No clue. I'll let you know.

What Works for Me

Limitations seem to work for me. If I have a legit deadline looming, or a firm word count, I will suddenly be motivated to really press to get things done on time, or to really slash and burn in editing.

I have a story that has clocked in at around 5500 words that I've been shopping around. A market opened up that I wanted to submit to, but the preferred upper word count was 4000. Since this story hadn't been having much luck, I decided to try to trim it down.

I didn't get it down to 4000, but I did cut 700 words. That's...a lot. And it's SO MUCH BETTER for it.

I didn't actually end up submitting it to the 4k market, but now I know I have a stronger draft going out. And that makes me happy.

What Else I've Been Up To

In other news: I have discovered I really don't like video games. As I've gotten older, I've discovered that I really have no patience for video games anymore. I have a very particular niche in video games that I can enjoy: Uncharted, Infamous, Tomb Raider. Very story-heavy games with just enough combat to keep you engaged as you uncover more story, and even those I have to enjoy is small bits.

I bring this up because I recently started playing the first God of War--yes, the first one. I've got my finger on the pulse of modern culture, I'll tell ya--and I barely got past the first boss before I was on my feet, going, "Nope, can handle that anymore. Let's go read a book or something."

The combat is sort of enjoyably dumb and easy, but I find myself getting bored really quickly. Maybe it's because there isn't much storey right up front besides Kratos jumping off a cliff? Like, that's not enough to hook me, really, as I don't know who this dude is.

The graphic cruelty that Kratos demonstrates is interesting to me intellectually given the distance in the game's release and my getting to play it. I'll admit that I've played Infamous, and I've played the evil storyline. But the act of getting to choose to do these evil acts and witnessing the repercussions--both good and bad--is very interesting. There was a moment when Kratos found a man desperately clinging to the throat of a giant sea monster. Kratos steals the man's key, then hurls him down the monster's esophagus. At first, I got a little mad, simply because I didn't WANT to kill that man, and being deprived that choice irritated me. I had to remind myself that this was before that kind of game mechanic was really in use much. I'm curious if something like that came into play in later games, or if Kratos is just cartoonishly cruel all the time.

Anyway, as someone who knows nothing about the games, approaching this game with no nostalgia or strong feelings about the franchise at all, after so many years, is interesting. I looked up what this game got originally on IGN: a 9.5/10. And so far....I'm not seeing how.

So, what have you been up to?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

5 Reasons You Should Order THE BRASS GIANT

Photo by Brooke, shamelessly taken from her Twitter feed.
If you're not already aware, my friend, Brooke Johnson, has a book out today through Harper Voyager.

I've known Brooke for 8 years now. She's one of my best friends. I knew her when she started writing this book, and I've watched her grow as a writer. I've watched her struggle and fight with all she had to reach this point, and I could not be more proud of her, or more excited for her.

Her book, The Brass Giant, is a steampunk book filled with automatons, bad ass ladies, and government conspiracies.
Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world. 
Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings. 
When Emmerich Goss--handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild--needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she's been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra. 
Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council ... and their automaton is just the beginning.
You should order this book. Some quick reasons why:

1) It's super cheap.

2)  Brooke Johnson is a very talented writer that only sometimes strangles passers-by to consume their writerly Quickening.

3) She is not a squirming mass of scorpions hidden under a trenchcoat and fedora, unlike your favorite author--yes, you know the one--who totally is. I know, right? Who woulda thought?

4) Reading her book could potentially make you live forever. I mean, probably not, but you never know. You haven't read it yet, so that's still technically a thing that could happen. In an infinite universe, where all variations and events are possible, this could totally be the universe where her book makes you immortal. The only way to test it is to order a copy and try it out.

5) You could help in making a young woman's dream come true. Not Brooke. Well, yeah, probably her, too, but there's a young woman that lives in rural Nevada who has dreamed of this moment--the moment when you purchase this book, for her entire life. She's not allowed to influence fate, but she also knows that NOT buying this book is the final event that sets off the unraveling of reality as we know it. She watches you in her dreams, each night, as both sets of events transpire. A duality in her brain, threatening to tear her apart. Which will come to pass. Will you be our savior? Or will you be our destructor?

Further reading about the book and the process on Brooke's blog tour - including a post at the MARY FRICKIN' SUE!!

Order the book at:

Find Brooke online at:
Her Tumblr
On Wattpad (where she's writing an ongoing story: Dark Lord in Training)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Where's the Shadow Government When You Need It?

It's once again Writing Wednesday, the day where everything's made up and the points don't matter.

What I'm Reading

I'm currently working on The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.

Whether you live in the US or not, you may not realize that between 1915 and the 1970's, millions of black Americans fled the Southern United States and moved to the midwest, northeast, and west coast.

What's the most impressive (in a horrible way) to me is how dedicated white America seemed to be to keeping black people as lower class citizens. This book and The New Jim Crow both demonstrate how after slavery, white people in the Southern United States came up with angle after angle of screwing black people over and depriving them of as many opportunities as possible. This is very relevant given the things going on in Baltimore, Ferguson, and elsewhere in this country.

It's a hell of a book. If you're interested, you should give it a read (plus, the paperback and the Audible audiobook are, like, stupid cheap right now).

What I'm Writing

I'm working on revising a short story.

A weird thing I notice about myself, at least so far, is that I tend to write short stories in three drafts.

My first draft is just me vomiting everything onto the page in a chaotic and awful mess. I go through and pick through the slurry to find the gold in the slurry.

Draft two is where I try to make those bits work. This is usually the draft where I figure out what the story is "about."

Draft three is often the draft where I understand how the characters, plot, and themes fit together (at least...somewhat better), and approach the story with such thoughts in mind.

Then there's sometimes a draft 3.5 where I go through fix whatever stupid shit I might have done or broken in trying to make my story better. My last draft featured an entire nonsensical scene where forgot not just a key detail to the scene, but a key detail to literally the whole fucking story.

I'm not very good at this. But I'm trying to get better.

What Works for Me

Finding someplace quiet.

My wife is very respectful of my writing time and for the most part, when I go into the office to write at home, she's very good about giving me time to write undisturbed. However, with only so many hours between getting off work and going to bed--and still needing to find the time to eat, clean the house, and spend at least some time with my wife--I've been looking for ways to add more writing to my day.

I refuse to get up any earlier as I already get up at 5:30, and I'm still usually running late in the mornings--and that usually is only involving me getting ready for work. I used to write in the mornings, but once my wife and I consolidated vehicles, it took away the majority of the time I could write if I wanted to. Plus, I just can't really function well in the mornings. I'm too sluggish, and coffee doesn't help. My brain has to warm up.

I think I might have found a place that I can write during my lunch breaks that's isolated, quiet, and has access to wi-fi. It's also a great place to read, so if I take a week off here and there to read, I can get through more without people badgering me about reading. By the way, I totally need to write a post sometime about the weird reactions I get reading in public.

What Else I've Been Up To

The garbage disposal in my sink was broken for more than two months. We ignored it as long as we could, but keeping a plunger on standby because your sink frequently stops up is no good. got stinky.

So this weekend we went to Lowes and purchased ourselves a new garbage disposal that I put in over the weekend. I have learned it is stupid easy to replace garbage disposals, and not at all the clusterfuck it was when, say, I replaced the passenger mirror on my car.

Although, because that's the way things always go when I fix things, the door has fallen off of my kitchen cabinets now. Of course. So I'll be dealing with that this weekend.

All in all, things have been going well. I feel like I'm staying on top of things. Nothing appears to be falling by the wayside.

One thing I'm trying very hard to do is become more serious about my writing. I worry that I'll just play writer on the internet and never actually have anything to show for it--it feels like that's what I've been doing for a while. I'm taking steps to not be that person anymore.

How are things with you?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Anxiety, Depression, and Running on a Bum Knee
The internet is ridiculous. Case in point: what you are about to read is a blog response to a blog response to a blog responding to a Twitter rant. We're in dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream territory, people.

Quite a while back, Chuck Wendig went on a Twitter rant about how sometimes you just have to put on your big-kid pants and get the fuck to work. This is, obviously, advice that applies to more than just writing--although that is obviously the angle he was taking. He even noted at the time that it takes a certain amount of privilege to make that claim.

Someone named Pipsqueak the Ferocious from Tumblr responded. They made the comparison that being able to take Chuck's tweets as the appropriate kick in the pants necessary to get out and write is like running with two good knees. If you've got good knees, running is no issue. But if you've got an injured knee, trying to run on it is awful. In the same vein, if your brain isn't functioning like it's supposed to, it can be difficult to write. If you've got depression or anxiety or whatever, writing can be like running on a bad knee.

Chuck wrote his own ruminations on that, and there was a moment where he landed so firmly on what life is like for me that I broke out in goosebumps.
"But the feeling of a support group can go the other way, too — you can see other folks who have suffered as you have, or have suffered somehow worse, and yet, they're managing. Maybe they're doing better. Maybe they're doing fucking awesome, which once more only makes you feel like they're running the race and you can't even find the starting line."
I am not one of those people that, when told you won't make it, burns with the determined fires of "I'll show you!" Watching people overcome adversity doesn't inspire me to buckle down and get better. It can often make me feel even shittier. I'll wallow in my own ridiculous sad-sack feelings. "Well Jesus, they don't have hands and they're actually not even a person but just a lamp with a wig on it, and they're succeeding at writing, I might as well just fucking quit."

That's not to say I don't feel very excited and proud for people who succeed. Only that the pride I feel for people I care about succeeding exists simultaneously with an impish creature that's muttering, "Well, they're doing it. What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Chuck goes on to say:
"No matter who you are, or what you have to deal with, the truth remains: if you want to be a writer, you have to write. The trick is having realistic expectations. Not ones given over to excuses, no, but also ones that are kind. Expectations that push you enough to do the work, but not so hard that you break. If you don't write for a couple days, let that be okay. But if you don't write for a couple years, then it’s worth looking back and asking why. It’s like dieting and exercise — a cheat day here and there is fine. You take Sunday to lounge around in a pile of Doritos bags while watching a marathon of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (*ooooh damnit), fuck yeah. Take that time. Be good. R&R is key. But if you take all of January and February and March to do that — then you have to find a way forward. Not backward. Not a shame-based motivational plan. But you have to take a step as soon as that bum knee lets you."
This right here has been one of the most difficult things for me to do. It always starts innocently: missing a day because of random life bullshit. It happens to everyone. Then the next day, I'm tired because I worked all day and hell, I'll just do it tomorrow. And then that becomes, "Well, I'll just make up for it on the weekends." And then that becomes, "Well, the weekends were busier than I thought, I'll just have to buckle down Monday to and get back to it." And then I start feeling guilty for putting it off for so long, so I put it off even longer. Which makes me feel guiltier. Which makes me put it off more. And then when I do sit down to write, it's been so long that things feel unnatural, clunky. Any rhythm I developed has dissipated and I can't recapture it. It's hard getting words. Like pulling teeth. And they read awkward and shitty. So I say, "I just need to let this story stew a little more. I'll try again tomorrow." But tomorrow, it's the same, and I continue the spiral of shame and avoidance.

Sometimes, what I want is for someone to read my stuff and just say, "Hey, you're doing a good job. You're not as bad at this as you think." And then I feel completely fucking stupid because who the fuck am I to need such a narcissistic thing as positive reinforcement? After all, if I get something published, the world is not going to be a child-proofed playground with all the sharp edges sanded down and cushion-covered. I'll be rejected, get bad reviews, hate mail. I need to toughen the fuck up. And then I feel guilty about that as well.

This tornado of anxiety, guilt, doubt, and depression can become so loud that I can't hear anything over the sound of my own negativity. This is often when I disappear from the internet entirely. I sit down, even just to blog, and find I'm so utterly lacking in any interest in anything that I'm in danger of imploding and becoming a person-shaped black hole.

And it's not just writing. Everything gets sucked into that twister. The house isn't clean enough. I can't stay on top of the laundry and/or the dishes. We waste too much money going out to eat. I can't stick to an exercise regiment. I can't stick to my diet.

And then, I'll sit down, and read something, and say, "you know, this isn't half bad. I might actually be an okay writer."

Or I'll put my foot down and insist that we cook something, and I'll remember how much I enjoy cooking.

Or I'll realize I'm up early and I might as well load the dishwasher and clean off the kitchen counters while I'm ahead.

Or, or, or.

And it's like the fever breaks, the storm passes, the earth stops shaking. Suddenly, I can see my bad writing's flaws and shrug it off. I can accept that not every work will be my best. I can say, "well, we haven't done that great staying in to eat, but there's no reason we can't just pick that back up starting now." I'll see the laundry and say, "you know, I can probably divide this into small jobs over the next few days and get it knocked out in no time."

And it's so fucking reasonable, so fucking rational that I wonder what the fuck I've been thinking all this time. Jesus, how hard is it to load the dishwasher? How hard is it to sit down and just write a few words on something and not think too much about them? And I'll have a good laugh at how silly I've been lately, and I'll move on with my life.

Unfortunately, the spiral will come back around eventually. It always does.

I'm trying to be less hard on myself. I'm trying to find that balance where if I fall down for a few days, it's not such a Herculean task to get back up and get back in the race. Maybe when I get like that, I should just pick one thing that's bumming me out and focus on fixing it. Maybe it means talking my feelings out to someone rather than bottling them up. Maybe it just means getting out of the house and having some fun with my wife and other people I care about.

I'm trying to figure out when my knee hurts because I've injured it, and when it hurts because I haven't used it enough. I haven't figured that out yet, but I'm trying. And that's all I can do.