Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Buy My Friend's Book!

My friend, Brooke Johnson, admirable and incredibly spirited blogger/YA-Children's Fantasy author, just released her book.  I highly encourage that you get it.





^  This is the print version.  The other links are to the e-book versions.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I'll Trade You!

I’ll Trade You!

When I was growing up, there was one thing I wanted to be more than anything.  I wanted to be a basketball player.  I don’t know why.  I was pudgy, uncoordinated, and I had asthma.  It was a recipe for disaster.  However, none of that squashed my love of the game. 

[So sad.  Just…so very sad.  There are no words, really.]

One of the ways that I showed my support was to buy basketball cards.  Tons and tons of basketball cards.  My step-brother had an amazing collection, and I wanted to be just like him.  He was, after all, a basketball player.

My collection started small, with just a few cards given to me by my step-brother.  I started buying packs, buying plastic pages, and I went crazy.

I was so proud of those cards, that I would do anything to protect them.  My step-brother and I probably bonded most when we were collecting those cards.  We’d swap cards, examine each other’s cards, look at the somewhat impressive graphics on some of the cards.  And then we’d go play NBA Jams on his Sega.

I was convinced that basketball card collecting was the coolest thing you could ever do EVER short of actually playing basketball.  I figured it was my ticket into popularity.  I’d waltz over to the cool kids, flash my b-ball cards, and they’d fall all over themselves inviting me into the promised land of milk and honey and cute girls.

Much to my surprise, one day while I was in class, one of the popular kids did try to talk to me.  I was dumbstruck, gobsmacked, taken aback…made…confused…?  It was easily the most bizarre moment of my life, multiplied by the fact that this kid had been one of my tormenters.  To me, this was a moment of ascention. Surely I must have taken a level in awesome or something.

Anyway, this cool kid was checking out my cards from a distance, and he noticed I had some pretty cool cards.  He came over and we started comparing our collections.  I was enraptured with his fancy cards.  He had a lot of cards with cool graphic effects, like flaming balls, lightning strikes, speed effects, and textures.  Mine were just plain old cards with regular old pictures.  I was feeling a bit insecure until I remembered my pride and joy.  As he turned to it, I watched his face go slack in awe.  I had an entire page of Michael Jordan cards.  Nine cards total, plus one really big, cool holographic card.  One of them—my favorite—had Jordan in his #45 jersey he wore just after he came back from retirement (the first time).

The cool kid was staring at the cards so much he was practically drooling.

He looked at the cards for a moment more, longingly, and then looked back at his own.  I didn’t realize at the time, but I imagine his face must have transformed a little bit in that moment.  Something similar to this, probably:

He pulled out a bunch of the really cool, graphically enhanced cards and began flashing them in front of my face.

“How’d you like to trade cards?”

I was awestruck.  The cool kids…asking to trade cards…with me?

“Sure!!!”  I practically shrieked it.  And so we did.  We traded a few cards, and then we somehow managed to wind up on the Jordan page.

“You know, Michael Jordan is my favorite basketball player,” he said as he shuffled through his cards.

“Oh, mine too!!  He’s the coolest ever!”

“Yeah, I know!  I’ve got some really valuable cards I’d like to trade for a few Jordans.  Since he’s my favorite and all, I figured you should get something out of it, too.”

I was suspicious here.  I mean, it all sounded fair and reasonable, like he was cutting me a deal.  But cards more valuable than Jordan?  That sounds blasphemous.  Nonetheless, he held the cards out in front of me.

[This is not the face of someone to trust.]

“See these cards with all the cool designs on them?  These designs make the cards more valuable.  That’s how you know you’ve got really valuable cards.”

So we traded.  I wound up trading him five of my Jordans for four of his really cool graphics cards and one Michael Jordan baseball card.  I felt a little shaky, like I’d just been punched in the stomach, but this cool kid had just traded with me!!!  Maybe we’d become friends!  When I got home, I gushed to my mom about how cool the kid was and how we’d traded cards.

My mom was instantly on the phone with the cool kid’s mom, furious about what happened.  It was decided that we would have to trade back at school the next day.

Few things are more humiliating than having to have your mom force you into reversing a trade with a school friend.  Add that I had apparently been duped by this kid, and I felt like a class A sucker.

In the end, I got my cards back—except one, he convinced me to let him keep one b-ball Jordan for one of his baseball Jordans…I still don’t know if that was wise.

Because of that experience, I’ve developed a neurotic fear that I’m being swindled in anything that isn’t a safe, by the book sale.  Buying cars, insurance, or trading cards or other things to people?  I’m convinced the world is out to swindle me.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t improved my haggling skills, but that’s a post for another time.

Did you ever get swindled when trying to trade something?  Were you ever into trading cards--basketball, baseball, pokemon cards, Magic: The Gather, whatever?  Share your fun(ny) memories in the comments.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Oh yeah, remember when I posted here?

So, today I realized it was Thursday, I haven't posted since Saturday, and I'm so very tired, and I've been so busy and--

Oooh!  Look a squirrel!  Hey, squirrelly!  Hey boy!

...What was I saying?  Oh yeah!  I was saying that The Job has been taking up ALL of my time with the exception of an entirely too short D&D campaign with Brooke Johnson.  So, yes.  The writing has been on hold for the week.  I've been so--

Ooh!  Look at those flashing lights!  Where are you going flashing lights?  I need to know you are!

*runs away*

...*runs back*  Sorry!

Anyway, a while back Kyla of Kyla's Not Normal awarded me the Blogger on Fire Award.  Now I have to pull 7 things about myself that you might or might not know.

THING THE FIRST:  I have a love of watermelon that borders on a passion.  It's awesome.  Delicious.  Amazing.

THING THE SECOND:  I love to act.  I really want to be in at least one musical, even a local one, just so I can say I did it.  I'd love to be in Sweeney Todd.

THING THE THIRD:  I have been in one play.  It was incredible.  I played Beast in a stage version of Beauty and the Beast.

THING THE FOURTH:  I'm a space creature sent to live among you and study your mysterious ways.  My report will decide whether this planet should be demolished to make room for an interstellar spaceway.

THING THE FIFTH:  I'm a huge movie buff.  Before the Great Move Purge of '11, where I sold movies to go see Harry Potter and Winnie the Pooh, I had hundreds of movies.  I still have several.

THING THE SIXTH:  I've always loved to draw--since I was little.  I used to write and draw my own comic books.

THING THE SEVENTH:  I like to sing.  I only sing in front of a few people, but I LOVE to sing.  It's almost impossible for me to drive and NOT sing along to something.  I especially love to sing along to Fall Out Boy.  Can't help it.  Their lyrics are awesome.

I'm supposed to tag 5 people.  Nope.  Too tired.  Consider yourself awarded if you're reading this.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tablet Attempts 1

This is my first time trying out a tablet--a computerized drawing surface.  I borrowed it from my good friend Brooke Johnson.  It's not great, but it's also my first time attempting to use it.  I'm sure I'll improve as I practice with it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

My First Guitar and the Death of My Career as a Musician

When I was little, I loved to sing.  I still do, but when I was little, it was an insane passion that I would thrust upon anyone that would listen.  Whenever there was a lull in a conversation, I would only wait for a few moments before a bellowed out a tune or two.

For some horrifying reason, my parents thought it was an endearing quality.  Probably because I’d found something to talk about other than Mario and his incredible exploits.  It probably warmed their heart to know that video games hadn’t turned my brain into mush.  That’s why one year for my birthday I received the ultimate gift of ultimate gifts:  my very own guitar.

As I pulled the beautiful instrument from its box, my eyes shined, my heart swelled, and I knew that I would be THE GREATEST MUSICIAN TO EVER LIVE.

Now, I’m ashamed to admit it today, but I used to be a HUGE fan of country music.  I mean, enormous.  Nowadays, I prefer the harsh beat of a kick drum and someone wailing on an electric guitar.  The scratchier their voice, the better.  Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are gods.  But back then?  Back then, it was all about the Billy Ray Cyrus.  Specifically, “Achey Breaky Heart.”

For some reason, I considered Mr. Cyrus the greatest thing to happen to music since Mozart, except better than that because Mozart didn’t even have words to go with his music—unless you counted boring fat ladies howling about.  Surely Billy Ray Cyrus must have invented singing accompanied by music.

Anyway, my Achey Breaky Fever reached the point I actually begged my mom for…a mullet.  *shiver*  I know, I know.  What was I thinking?

Thankfully, my mother knew better.  She saved me from lots of hair disasters over the years, and for that, I owe her…although she didn’t save me from the Junior Prom Spiked Hair Fiasco…but that one was out of her control.

Anyway, the guitar only fueled my desire to perform.  I began to play that guitar everywhere, strumming away, creating music that would have made Beethoven’s ears bleed.  My mother, proving her unconditional love, never once discouraged me from my dreams.  She even videotaped me.

 Unfortunately, with every golden age, there must be an end.  Some golden ages can slowly fade.  Mine went out with a bang.  Or, rather, a smash.

One day, my mom invited one of my cousins over to play.  It was going well.  I forget what we played, but it was probably some rendition of army men.  I often played army men.  It was a lot of fun defending the world from bad guys.  Usually someone had kidnapped the president’s daughter or something and I had to get her back.

When the game fizzled out, I decided to show my cousin my prized possession.  His eyes lit up when he saw my beautiful guitar.  I was so proud my chest was practically bursting.  He asked me if he could play it.  That was when disaster struck.

I went to my mom about the destruction, but there was nothing that could be done.  The guitar was destroyed, gone to guitar heaven.  When the bag of trash containing my broken relic was carried out, it was like I was attending the funeral of one of the greats.

That single moment scarred my love of music forever.  I don’t sing in public anymore, and I don’t play any instruments.  I guess I’m afraid I’ll get attached and some mean little boy will come along and jump on my guitar again.  Now, only one person gets to hear me sing:  my wife.

Have you had passions that were ruined by tramatic incidents?  Or just a mean kid that broke your toys?  Share your stories in the comments!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Prejudices and Perceptions


Interesting fact about people--we are incredibly judgmental.  Studies have shown we respond better to people we find more attractive (and they're even likely to get paid a little more than unattractive people) and we like to be around happier people more than unhappy people.  That's true even of babies.  People have a visceral response to a smiling, pleasant baby.  A baby that's not necessarily unpleasant, but may be fussy or at least "not smiley" will not get as much attention.  In that same vein, every job interview advice column ever will tell you to dress your best (even if it means over dressing) because we judge people based on their appearances and first impressions are hard to over come.  For example, when I met my wife's family for the first time, if I'd had a giant blood stain on my shirt, they might have thought of me as a somewhat careless, forgetful person.

We all make judgments like that.  Our perceptions alter how we see the world.  That guy driving the Prius with all the bumper stickers on the back saying things like "Mother Earth is sick, let's make her better!" and "Meat is murder" you may think, "hippy" or "crazy activist" or perhaps "Dad back when he gave a crap."

Oh, sure!  Support our corporate masters!  Make me get a job to buy a car!  Jerk!

Or maybe you see the guy with the loud, rumbling truck pouring black smoke into the air with a rebel flag sticker, an NRA sticker, and another sticker announcing they are in fact a country boy.  Depending on your prejudice, you may think "redneck," "uneducated hillbilly," "guy who knows how to have a good time," or perhaps "Uncle Walter."

The reason I bring all of this up is because Chuck Wendig, profanity spewing writerly advice extraordinaire, wrote an article about what it's like to a writer.  We're not well respected by "pen-muggles" as he called them--or non-writers.  He goes on to ensure us that we are in fact doing work and to please not interrupt our writing time because it's not a hobby it's a career aspiration.

I have to admit, despite being a writer and understanding how hard it is for people to understand, I still catch myself thinking stupid things that I know better than to think.  For example, anyone who frequents my or Brooke Johnson's blog knows that we are very good friends.  She is fortunate enough to have married someone who completely supports her in every way, and since he has a job, she can stay home and write all day.  Despite knowing that in order to succeed at writing you have to treat it like a job, I still caught myself getting annoyed if we couldn't hang out during the week because she was busy working on her novel.

"God!  What is her problem?  Can't we just hang out for a couple of hours and then she can go back to writing?  What the frak?  We just moved up here, you'd think she'd try to help us make the transition a little easier.  It's not like she doesn't have the rest of the week to write."

While some of that may be true, it just goes to show that the idea of the traditional job is a solidly ingrained one in our society.  If someone makes a living by doing things like writing, video game testing, blogging, drawing comics, acting, gold weaving, dwarf wrestling, or bigfoot hunting, we tend to respect them less than someone who gets up and goes to work in a cubicle from 9 to 5.  It's unfair, and I did my best to correct my thinking when I thought this way.

Perhaps bigfoot hunting should be the most respected of all.

Even the most well-meaning people can be dismissive or disrespectful of your passion.  For example, if you  mention to someone that you're working on a novel, they could get that blank "deer-in-the-headlights" look, like you just confessed that you're a Nalbroggian Alien Overlord spy here to help in human-kind's subversion.  Maybe they think if they make you mad you'll make them die some horrible, bloody, painful way in their next work?  Or maybe they'll just try to hide a snicker because, honestly, who isn't working on a book these days?  Sometimes, you'll admit that you're a writer in hushed tones, like you're confessing some sort of perverse fetish.

I've had experiences like what Wendig writes about.  I've had well-meaning friends and family sort of roll their eyes at my dreams, or stare blankly when I try to explain what I'm doing, or walk off mid-sentence when I'm excitedly describing a new idea.  (You can deal with these people by simply keeping a length of rope on you. If they walk off, simply bind them like a calf at a rodeo and drag them back into position and finish your story*.)

The people I've described above are not nearly as bad as the dismissal from other writers however.  I mean, how many people who write science fiction are afraid to admit it because they know that their literary writerly friends will simply scoff at those of use lesser beings who choose to roll in the muck of genre-fiction!

Eghad!  Is that...science fiction!  Help!  Police!  Deviants!

Or, even worse, when you're dismissed by other writers because you have a day job.  I cannot count the number of times I've had writerly friends almost blatantly disrespect me because I have a dayjob.  I like my dayjob, I work hard at my dayjob, but I also have dreams and passions.  Just because I've gotten used to thinks like air-conditioning, food, and regular showers doesn't mean that I'm not passionate about my writing.  True, I have less time to work on it, but I'm also married and trying to help support my wife as she finishes college.  I've got other obligations and usurping all responsibility because I want to write is irresponsible and stupid.

At least I'm staying true to my craft!!

If you're a writer, what experiences have you had when you tell people that you write?  Have they generally been positive or negative?  Any writerly friends?  Anybody with a dayjob?  Share your stories in the comments!

*Some people might call this "kidnapping."  Some people need to get their opinions straight on what is and is not acceptable behavior.  I'm not a frickin' mind reader.  Geez.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Sting of an Early Rejection

Every writer has horror stories about rejections.  Stories about how they had a shoe box full of rejections, or they had 200, or 50, or some other unbelievable number of rejections before they finally hit it big.  Here is my story:

When I was in first grade, there was a book series that was extremely popular in my school. It was comprised of your typical animal based characters running around learning life lessons and such, nothing really groundbreaking, ya know? However, I was a fan. Not a raving fan, but I enjoyed them. One day, the authors announced they’d be coming to our school. It’s funny how you can be a mediocre, luke-warm-at-best fan of someone until the authors are come to someplace nearby. Then you’re a ravaging fan. Or at least, that’s how it worked with me.

To sweeten the deal, the authors were running a contest. All of the students in the school were to write a story. The authors would read them and the best story would be published AS A REAL BOOK! Mind you, it wouldn’t be distributed across the country, but you’d always have a real, hard copy to have for yourself for the rest of your life.

Now that I think about it, those authors had to have been local authors published from a local press, because my town was waaaaay too small to have anyone of note show up. In addition, it wouldn’t be possible to publish just one book like that. A publisher wouldn’t go for it. But to a kid that dreamed of becoming an author? That was the greatest thing you could promise. Visions of the prestige and honor that this would get me danced through my head. I imagined I’d write a story so amazing, the authors would beg me to join their writing team.

I set to work, thinking up a story. I wrote stories all the time. You could probably call them flash fiction today. I would fold paper into quarters like a homemade card, and then I would write a story on one page, illustrate the other, and create a cover. My usual works wouldn’t cut it; I had to go all out on this one.

First, I thought about stories. When I had a good one, I wrote my little heart out. I had probably twice what was expected of us. When I turned it in, I was bursting with pride. I expected the teacher to rave about how good my illustrations were, how poignant my descriptions were. Instead, it was simply tossed onto a pile.

I wasn’t deterred. When the authors read my story, they’d be overcome with the sheer awesome of it. The day of the visit came. We had a big assembly in the cafeteria for the announcement. The authors came on stage, and I could barely sit still with the anticipation.

I couldn’t believe it! As they read the story out loud, I was horrified. Her illustrations were terrible—just stick figures! And she hadn’t even bothered to color them! She just drew the pictures with different crayons!!! And her story was so boring!

“A monkey had a banana. He liked the banana. He found a pineapple. He did not like the pineapple. A fox found the pineapple. He loved the pineapple. And so the monkey had his banana, and the fox had his pineapple, and everyone was happy.”

I mean, seriously! Where’s the drama? Where’s the action? The suspense?

[I was not pleased.]

I still thought I had a chance because there was a signing session after the assembly. I bought one of their books and got in line to have it signed. I thought when they saw me and I introduced myself, they’d realize who I was and say they’d left the biggest prize for me—a book deal!!! That was not the case.

So that was it. No book deal. No bound book. Not even a pat on the shoulder and a “good job, kid.”

We were told that those of us that didn’t get our story published would have them laminated, which seemed almost as good until I realized that laminated just meant plastic covered paper. When I got it back, I reread it. My finely crafted prose, my lovingly detailed illustrations, all taken for granted!

[Seriously! Look at this quality!!!]

It’s been almost fifteen years, and I still remember that feeling. I still remember how my story about a ghost that drove a motorcycle around a city stopping crime at night was beaten out by a monkey who had a thing for bananas, but not pineapples.

I guess all this rambling should have a point, and I think I have one. Sometimes you’re going to get rejected. Sometimes your amazing story is going to be cast aside in favor of something else that you may feel is not as good. Don’t let it get to you. Perseverance is the only way you’ll make it in the writing business. Don’t give up on your dreams.

Have you had any rejections?  How did you deal with them?  If you haven't, how do you plan on dealing with them?  Share in the comments!

P.S. Funny thing about my story: a ghost that haunts a motorcycle and drives around at night scaring hooligans and stopping crime? Does that sound familiar? My story was called The Ghost Rider. When the Nicholas Cage movie came out over a decade later, I felt robbed. We don’t have comic shops in my hometown, nor arcades, nor any fun things. Just Wal-Mart. So I had no idea that my idea already existed.