Living In The Future
On the one hand, I could make this blog post about how I was getting on the T the other day (Boston’s subway system) and saw a LCD screen displaying the warning that hoverboards are not allowed on the MBTA, which I take to be proof positive that we are, in fact, living in the future (no matter how lame that future has turned out to be). I’m not, though. I’m here to talk about what it’s like writing while stuff you’ve written is being published. Because it’s weird.
Did you know I have a novel coming out tomorrow? No? Why the hell not? Well, I do – NO GOOD DEED comes out tomorrow in e-book form (sold wherever fine e-books are found). Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of friends and acquaintances come up and express how excited I must be and congratulations and so on. What’s weird, though, is that I’m not thinking all that much about NO GOOD DEED. I mean, yeah, I am excited and I’m very pleased it’s coming out and so on, but my thoughts aren’t on it that much. I’m on to the next book, you see. I’m eyeball deep in the umpteenth draft of my next book, trying to pry my way out of plot problems, trying to breathe life into the characters and so on. When somebody interrupts that internal thought stream to talk about NO GOOD DEED I’m forced to stop and remind myself “oh, right -everybody else is still six months behind me!”
Writing and publishing stuff steadily means there is no time for your to rest on your laurels. You’ve got to keep going, keep writing, keep editing, keep submitting – there is no “break,” really. So, while the thing you finished a year ago is just getting a publishing contract now and won’t hit shelves for another six months, you’re still moving. You kinda have to push what you’ve done out of your head for the stuff you’re doing now and the stuff you want to do next. When the things you publish (stories, novels, whatever) do hit print, it’s enormously gratifying, but it’s also a bit like traveling back in time. “Oh yeah,” you think, “I remember this now – that story was pretty cool!”
So, it’s a little weird. There’s the time-lag between you and the audience – they’re behind you, reading the stories you worked so hard to create, and you’re out in front, still creating new ones nobody will see for months. When you hear from them, it’s like a radio message from the past, telling you how you did all that time ago.
And that’s totally awesome, mind you. But it’s still a little weird.
The blog tour for NO GOOD DEED gets under way tomorrow – watch this space for updates! The book releases then, so be sure to pick up your copy!
If you like paperback instead, I’ve received intel indicating the paperback release of the book will be August 9th, 2016.
- I’ll be on an episode of Grim Tidings Podcast on this Friday, 6/24. I think.
- Again, if you’re in the Boston area, consider checking out a reading and lecture on world building I’ll be giving at the Hingham Public Library on June 30th, from 7:00pm-8:30pm.
That’s all for now! Be talking to you all soon!
Compulsion, Determination, and Other Mental Disorders
Stumbled across this picture on Facebook the other day and hoisted it up on my wall:
I had intended it as a gentle political jab to some of the more intractable ideologues in my feed. I like these kind of subtle jabs mostly because they are unlikely to start arguments, since everybody assumes everybody else is the one who is wrong and, therefore, they totally agree with me (while, secretly, I am snickering to myself because I’m totally talking about them).
However, a friend of mine took it in quite a different way entirely, and posted this comment:
Honest question: Have you ever wondered this about your writing career?
For a second I was taken aback, just because that wasn’t how I was thinking about this at all. It was a very good question, though, so I thought about it for a few minutes and decided that no, I never had (at least not in earnest – sure, everybody probably stops once in a while and idly wonders if they’re fooling themselves). However, I can totally see how somebody would. And this brings us to the discussion of what it takes to be a writer. The answer is, I think, kinda simple and also wildly complicated, but it starts like this:
Stage 1: You Decide To Be a Writer
There are a couple stages to this and a couple ways to come at it. Some people want something like this from when they’re a little kid (me) and some people stumble onto the desire much later in life, but once you boil it all down, you get the point where everybody makes a decision to be a writer. And I don’t mean they decide, on a lark, that novels are going to be for them and they throw themselves a party. I mean that they sit their asses down at a computer (or possibly a notebook or something), roll up their sleeves, and decide to treat writing a book with the kind of dedication and hard work that it requires. They say to themselves this is a serious endeavor which I am going to take seriously and work at consistently until I succeed.
Stage 2: You Discover That Writing is Hard
After Stage 1, you pretty rapidly get to Stage 2 which is “holy crap, this is way harder than I thought it would be!” Novels, oddly enough, do not pop out of your head fully formed and perfect. Stories are damnably intractable objects. Coming up with a good title seems essentially impossible. You get eyeball deep in your first novel and you realize, to your horror, that this damned thing is going to take years to write, probably, and that you hate it.
This is the point where Determination comes in. You swore that you’d do this and, dammit, you’re going to do it! You pour yourself another cup of coffee, turn off your phone, and knuckle down. You work late at night. You stop hanging out with friends. You bang and chip and batter that lousy novel into workable shape like Hephaestus at his forge. Then, with long ages of effort, you finally pull it off.
Stage 3: You Discover That Publishing is Fickle and Unprofitable
Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret about the publishing industry, both Indie and Traditional: it ain’t fair. Some chump of a celebrity vomits into a hardcover binding (with or without ghost writer) and makes millions while untold thousands of new talents languish in obscurity. And then, even if you score that Holy Grail of a book deal (or self-publish in the most favorable of circumstances), you then discover that the majority of books don’t sell that well and often flop. Even the ones that do “sell well” don’t make their authors a hell of a lot of money. Certainly not more money than you could make otherwise with much less effort.
At this stage, a hell of a lot of people just throw in the towel – and why not? You’re probably not going to be making real money at this and writing is super difficult and painful and time-consuming, so why bother?
This is the point where Compulsion becomes a very useful thing to have. Ever since I learned the realities of Stages 2 and 3, I have asked myself one question: If I weren’t going to try and get published, would I write anyway?
The answer to that question is, and always has been, yes.
But then there are follow-up questions:
- If you are going to write anyway, will you still seek to improve your craft?
- If you are going to try and improve your craft, are you willing seek other opinions on your work besides your own?
- If you are soliciting the opinions of others, are you able to listen to those opinions honestly and without anger towards someone who is critical, as you recognize criticism as an opportunity to improve or assess your own work?
My answers to all those things are all “yes.” I think that a “yes” answer to all those things are required to be a true professional author or writer (and is all that is required, by the way). Furthermore, if you answer yes to all those questions, you may as well seek publication. It seems odd that you would put in all that work and then stuff your writing in a drawer somewhere. Send it out! Yes, you will get rejected, but so what? You are already determined and compelled to write regardless of success, and so what does it matter if some agent or publisher doesn’t like it? Hell, you can publish yourself these days! And, yes, it often won’t sell many copies or make much money, but so what? You were going to write it anyway!
So, to come back to that original sign and its message, the sign presumes that your writing career can be a mistake and I’m here to tell you that the only way that becomes true is if you don’t love writing in the first place. It can’t be a mistake if you find it fulfilling, regardless of publishing success or failure. Write! Revise! Submit! Enjoy!
There’s a profile of me and my work up on File 770, courtesy of Carl Slaughter, so go check it out!
Also, we are about a month away from the release of NO GOOD DEED! Pre-orders are available anywhere fine e-books are sold! It releases on June 21st, 2016!
Everything You Never Wanted To Know and Did Not Ask
So, there’s more stuff up on the intertubes about me! Go and check them out (because, seriously, they’re being nice to me and I should send traffic their way)!
Guest Blog posts!
Literarily Speaking (Wherein I discuss the importance of creating history for your fantasy worlds)
The Page 69 Test (Wherein I discuss how the approximately 69th page of THE IRON RING fits into the story as a whole)
Literal Exposure (Find out about that time I fought a rat for a towel)
Beauty in Ruins (Wherein I go through where, how, and why I wrote the book!)
Book Features! (which are all the same, mind you)
Say it with me now, folks: PUB-LI-CI-TY. We will be returning to our regularly scheduled jibber-jabber next week, I promise. Well, at least part of the time. Hey, let’s face it – all you people should be reading my book right now, anyway! How could you have time to read some silly blog posts?
But seriously, thank you one and all, for reading and supporting me. You guys all rock.
Here It Is: The Big News!
Some of you may remember when I hinted something big is in the works for me way back in March. Well, I’ve finally been given clearance to talk about it:
I have been offered, and have accepted, a 3-book deal with HarperVoyager to publish The Oldest Trick, my novel set in my fantasy world of Alandar and featuring Tyvian Reldamar. A little blurb about the book:
Almost three decades ago, the Battle of Calassa ended the ambitions of the wizard-dictator Banric Sahand. The war changed the world; sorcery, once the exclusive province of the Arcanostrum of Saldor, began to filter its way out into the hands of the common people. Though tightly regulated, the harnessing of the High Arts brought about a renaissance of practical magecraft, enhancing everything from transportation to health to communication, not to mention crime.
Enter Tyvian Reldamar — Arcanostrum drop-out, smuggler, and impeccable dresser. He’s just been betrayed by his longtime partner (naturally) and left for dead in a freezing river (as is customary). The one hiccup is this: some fool has affixed a magical ring to his finger that won’t let him ‘do evil’, whatever that means. To get even, Tyvian will have to use every dirty trick in the book to combat this ridiculous magical albatross, all the while drawing himself deeper and deeper into a vast conspiracy at the center of which is none other than old Banric Sahand himself. Faced with enemies on all sides and only the grubbiest of allies beside him, Tyvian will discover (with the ring’s help) that maybe—just maybe—he isn’t quite the evil villain he’s always thought himself to be.
The first book – The Oldest Trick – is to be serialized into two volumes (parts 1 and 2) while the third book, tentatively titled All That Glitters, will track Tyvian’s continuing adventures. Release for part one will likely be in February, 2015. This is a digital-only release with only a limited print run associated with the books, but it is extremely exciting for me and the culmination of a life-long dream and ambition. My heartfelt thanks to the good folks over at Harper Voyager for giving me this opportunity.
Here is a copy of the press release:
(not to quibble, but I won second place in the Writers of the Future. I mean, I still won, but they make it sound like I won the whole enchilada, which isn’t strictly true. This makes for better marketing copy, though, so far be it from me to complain!)
Thanks to all of you out there who have encouraged me, listened to me, and been kind enough to read what I’ve written over the years. Now, if you’ll just follow me a bit further, I promise to take us on an adventure we won’t soon forget.
P.S.: I will be certain to make lots and LOTS of noise about this when it is released, so don’t worry about missing it. Watch this space!
Fair warning: if you play a game against me – a game I like and enjoy – I will come for your blood. I don’t mean it personally, but I like to compete and I particularly enjoy winning. I can get unreasonably interested in even very trivial competition. A ‘casual’ game of Trivial Pursuit is nothing of the kind to me. I will crush you. No offense.
Granted, age has taught me how to ratchet back my competitive response in certain situations. I’ve learned to do this habitually now, but I always have that moment where I need to pull back on the throttle, lower my blood pressure, and tell myself ‘it’s only a game – calm down.’ So, essentially if you play a game with me, you get two versions of myself: one who doesn’t seem that invested in the outcome, and one who is very, very invested in the outcome. No middle ground.
There is something to be said for competitiveness as a positive trait, though. It keeps me coming back for more even in the face of defeat (pretty crucial for a writer). It means I work well under pressure and that I thrive in competitive situations (which, let’s face it, are common). It means I tend to keep myself as my best self whenever I can. These are all good things. I wholly believe that competition and competitiveness is, on balance, good for everybody. It’s good for society, the economy, personal fulfillment, and so on. There’s no need to be a jerk about it (sore losers and sore winners are real louts), but testing your worth is an important part of life.
This brings me to this article by Lynn Shepherd on the Huffington Post, in which she appeals to J.K. Rowling, asking her to stop writing. Shepherd insists that Rowling “sucks the oxygen out of the room” in the publishing industry, making it hard for new novelists to get started. She adds:
By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn.
So, basically, ‘go away, Ms. Rowling, as your success is enough and you should be done now.’ To which let me now add my response:
The fuck is this?
Okay, let’s breeze past the part where she belittles an entire genre of literature because it’s for young adults and, therefore, somehow worthless: I’ve discussed this before, and I think the sentiments contained therein are as applicable here as there. What I really want to discuss is the supposition that, just because somebody is successful, they should stop doing what makes them successful so other people can have a chance. What a load of bullshit.
Look, I understand the frustration of being passed over or ignored in favor of more established authors or voices. I completely understand reading books and thinking to yourself “hey, I write way better than this! Why aren’t my books getting published and sucking up so much attention?” Believe me, I’ve been there. That, however, is no reason to demand (or even politely suggest) that an author should stop publishing just so you can get a chance.
First off, this seems to be a misunderstanding of how the publishing market works. Do you think quality has anything to do with which books sell? Like, if Rowling weren’t there, people would somehow magically gravitate to your book because they’ve heard how great it is rather than, oh, not reading anything at all! Seriously, do you know why people read The Casual Vacancy? Because JK Rowling wrote it, that’s why. It has nothing whatsoever to do with their inability to see other authors behind Rowling’s aura of popularity. It’s because the aura of popularity is the only damned thing they’re interested in. People didn’t read A Casual Vacancy because they thought it was a good book – hell no! – they read it so they could say that they read it. They wanted to be seen at the beach with it poking out of their bag. They wanted to have their nose stuck in it on the train so that other people could look at them and say to themselves “my, there goes a lady who’s got her finger on the pulse of publishing today! My, my, what a peach!” The millions of people who buy Rowling’s books are not waiting in the wings to buy other people’s books. They are waiting to buy what is cool, not what is good.
Yeah, sure, there are people who are just plain Rowling fans and read the book to support her, but a book doesn’t just sell that many copies based solely on literary merit. Perhaps it ought to be that way, but it obviously isn’t. Look at Dan Brown. Stephanie Meyer.
Dave Barry. ‘Nuff said, right?
My second point is this, and pardon me if I wax a little Klingon here: Are you a coward? What kind of meek, squeamish writer are you that you balk in the face of challenging the best sellers of the day? Do I need to dig Vrokthar out to give you a talking to? I don’t want the mega-selling authors of the day to quit their jobs just to make room for me – no fucking way. I want to beat them. I want to get my own hordes of howling fans by the merit of my own prose, not because of the absence of somebody else’s. Will I fail? Yeah, probably, but I’m going to take a swing at it anyway. I don’t want my success handed to me; I want to earn it. I want to claw it, tooth and nail, from the cold, hard clutches of the publishing industry. I want to hold it up in my blood-soaked hands and display it to the crowd – my victory, my trophy. I don’t want Rowling to go anywhere. I, rather, want to write books so unspeakably awesome that someday, when I’m at a conference somewhere on some panel or other, JK Rowling herself comes up, shakes my hand, and says “Mr. Habershaw, I’m a huge fan of your books.”
And you know, if I fail, if I never pull it off, if JK Rowling never hears my name and no fans of any number ever congregate anywhere to discuss my work, it will still be worth it. I won’t cry about not winning; no, not me. Win or lose, though, I won’t stop trying until they nail my coffin shut. I will leave you, now, with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite people of all time, the inimitable Bruce Lee:
Do not fear failure – not failure, but low aim is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.
Get out there. Fail gloriously.
And don’t you dare complain.
Be the Glacier
I currently have two novels and six stories submitted to various contests, publishers, and agents all over the place. Some of them are on their second or third rounds of editorial review, some of them have been in the slush pile for nearing four or five months now. I just finished and sent off another story today (to Clarkesworld, which gives lightning quick responses, so they aren’t really part of this conversation). I always have my line in the water, waiting to catch the big one.
In keeping tabs on my submissions, I often stumble across folks writing comments on discussion boards or whatever exclaiming their overriding impatience to hear news, either bad or good. Their nerves are getting the better of them, they say, and they just need to hear, no matter what. I commiserate.
I also feel, though, that these folks need to move past such feelings if they’re expecting to make a habit of this writing thing. Writing, more than any other factor, seems to take time. You need the time to write, you need even more time to revise, you need time to accept rejection, and time to await acceptance. There is a lot of waiting, and there is nothing you can do about it (unless, of course, you simply want to publish it yourself, but I gather that, if you do it right, self-publishing should also involve a lot of time).
I long ago resigned myself to the fact that my road to success would not be short. It would require consistent, constant pressure on my part to cajole the catatonic publishing world to recognize my existence. I think of my writing as a process similar to that of glacial drift – slow but inexorable. I will always keep writing. I’m not doing this for money, I’m not doing it for fame (though either of those would be nice, I guess). I’m writing because I always have been, I always will be, and I simply don’t know who I am if I don’t. Even if I never publish another word professionally, I’ll keep doing this. And, since I’m doing this, I may as well submit stuff all the time. Sooner or later, some nice person (or sucker, depending on what you think of my talent) will pay me some modest sum and put my words in print.
Be the glacier, my friends. Always submit, always apply, always attempt. Start at the top markets, work your way down. If you got a story that falls out the bottom, then publish it yourself. Keep writing. Keep that line in the water.
You only fail if you stop.