My Blog: Dramatis Personae
Had a book signing last night at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge. It was a ton of fun. Turnout wasn’t exceptional, but I certainly wasn’t there by myself and I probably sold between a dozen and fifteen books, which ain’t too bad for an author nobody knows about. I totally forgot to take pictures, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it. A big thanks to the folks over at Pandemonium, especially Sarah, for giving me the time and space to sit there and talk about writing and D&D and fantasy and even sing a few bars from Disney’s Tangled.
Anywho, in conversation with my friend Kevin Harrington (who is a masterful networker), I started thinking about this blog and the purpose it serves and what kinds of stuff I do here. I’m not going anywhere, don’t worry (to the extent that anybody would ever worry about the disappearance of another author blog), but I guess I kind of just want to codify and explain this weird little thing I’ve got going on.
Blog Voice #1: Me
Most of the time, the voice you hear on this blog is that of myself. I talk incessantly anyway, so talking here is just an extension of my chatty nature. I tend to write about fantasy and science fiction properties, kid’s shows, Disney, my own work, the art and craft of writing, and whatever happens to cross my path. As a literature professor, I analyze pop culture stuff a bit more deeply than I probably ought to, and I don’t regret it one bit. I also stray off into talking about Role Playing Games (the pen-and-paper kind) and all kinds of other gaming, too. Basically, if you’re a writer, a geek, or some combination, you and I should get along just fine. Either that or become mortal enemies. Time will tell.
Blog Voice #2: FOUL (Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited)
I stray into parody a fair amount here, and one of the chief avenues of this is my FOUL posts. These are essentially me imagining the kind of financial and administrative and legal apparatus that would have to exist if there really were supervillains and evil masterminds in the world. They are pretty silly – very much along the lines of the Bank of Evil in the Despicable Me movies.
Blog Voice #3: Vrokthar the Skull-Feaster
Vrokthar is a dour, bloodthirsty barbarian of the Conan type, dwelling in some fictional wasteland just north of wherever you are. He is constantly angry, and bellows his threats from his throne of skulls. I use Vrokthar sometimes to vent about things that piss me off, since him venting is ridiculous and comical, and me venting is petty and mean. As Vrokthar is an absurdist caricature of a person, he says and believes things I do not, so there is a fair amount of distance between the things he might threaten to do or the things he finds insulting and the things that *I* do, but the stuff he’s complaining about is somehow related to what’s bothering me (even if I’m using Vrokthar to be sarcastic). Anyway, it’s just nice to have an angry barbarian come in sometimes and threaten to disembowel those who defy him.
Blog Voice #4: World-building Stuff
I also use this blog to flesh out settings for my novels. There’s a pile of old documents on Tvyian’s world under the Saga of the Redeemed tab, some stuff on the Union of Stars, some stuff on Nyxos, and more, besides. I mean, assuming you’re into that kind of thing. I have no blessed idea if anybody actually enjoys reading that stuff (it tends to get the fewest hits), so I try not to do it very often.
Blog Voice #5: Guest Posts!
I know a bunch of authors, and so many of them I invite to come on the blog and share excerpts from their new works or guest posts about whatever they feel like sharing. I should note that I don’t want to deal with unsolicited offers of guest posts just yet (I’m not so huge a platform I’d be doing you many favors, anyway, and I’m about as busy as I want to be here), but perhaps one day, if I’m able to quit my day job and write full time.
(Pause here for laughter)
Anyway, that’s basically what’s going on here. Oh, and there’s a few other things, too. Like that time I wrote about One Eyed Willie from Goonies, which has been very popular, or that time I channeled HG Wells for a silly joke, which is one of my favorites.
Well, long story short (too late), I’m curious as to what you folks like to read here and what, if anything, gets you coming back. I’m not saying I’ll change my behavior, mind you, but I’m curious. How is all of this going? Let me know!
What Can You Tell Me About Myself?
I went to grad school and earned an MFA in Creative Writing. I did it for a couple reasons:
- I wanted to become a professional author and was at a loss at how to actually do it.
- I wanted to be a better writer (note how this is not connected to #1)
- I had nothing better to do with my life at the time.
My program was very helpful in a variety of ways. It did make me a better writer, though not in the ways I imagined it would. It earned me a career, though not exactly the career I anticipated at the time. It did, indeed, give me a worthwhile way to spend my time.
It also meant I spent three years in a large number of writing workshops among like-minded individuals (would-be writers) refereed by the kind of person we all aspired to be (professional writers). This, I realize, sounds like writer-ly paradise to many. It sounded like that to me, too, when I first started. Here it was – an opportunity to have my writing read and considered and critiqued and debated by people whose opinion about such things actually bore weight. This is a rare and valuable commodity.
If you write, you know of what I speak: of all the various friends and relatives who step forward to read something you’ve written, 75% of them (or more) will not actually read it. Of the 25% who do read it, the vast majority of them will just compliment you to be polite and their criticisms, if they exist, will be indications of taste rather than actionable critique. Then there’s that guy you know who takes a real, honest-to-God crack at it and tells you stuff that is about 80% worthless (“did you know you missed a comma on page 3?”) and 20% puzzling (“honestly, I thought the main character was a woman the whole time, so when she went to the men’s room, it was jarring”).
So, a writing workshop sounds like a refreshing break from the solitude of writing. The thing is, though, that all the same rules that apply to your friends and family also largely apply to writing workshops. The only difference is the moderator in the room – the professional – who, if they are doing their job well, will prod the chorus into providing more interesting and useful critique. As a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I caught a variety of my peers in this program off guard. My most common comment was “I was surprised I liked this,” which is about as backhanded a compliment as it is possible to give and, furthermore, entirely useless critique. All it indicates to me is that you are incapable of judging something that does not exist within your own narrow band of genre awareness, which belies a certain inability to separate genre (which is specific) from the art of storytelling itself (which is universal). The criticisms ranged from the occasionally thoughtful and useful to the completely useless (“I find science fiction pretentious” is a hard nut to swallow from somebody writing self-indulgent navel-gazing lit fic).
Then I had that one workshop where the majority of us in the class were fantasy or scifi authors. It was cool – a lot of that ‘genre-shock’ stuff was cleared out. I had a professor who knew her stuff, who challenged me about my understanding of my main character, and so on. It was pretty great. I walked away reeveluating my entire novel at the time, and that was well worth it. Even within that context, though, there was a fair amount of chaff to be winnowed from the actual wheat. It took a lot of effort from all of us.
Since that time, I’ve steered clear of most writing groups. I learned a lot about myself as a writer during my MFA program, and most of it was stuff I taught myself. I taught myself how to evaluate my work objectively, how to keep writing to a deadline, how to accept criticism you disagree with, how to accept a compliment (I’m honestly the worst at that one), and how to frame questions for others that will get them to address the concerns I have with my own writing. The people I was in workshop with, well-meaning and talented as they were, could only help me so much. I rather doubt I was much help to them myself, despite my efforts. I have had some trouble seeing what I am to gain from another writing group; what am I hoping to learn about myself?
That’s the trouble, I suppose – the unknown unknowns. If you know you don’t know something, you can learn about it. If you don’t know that you don’t know something, you can’t – you need somebody else to tell you. It’s searching for buried treasure without intending to; it’s somehow blundering into self-awareness. The odds of it happening are slim, let’s face it, particularly if you’ve been at the whole self-reflection game for a while. And writing groups can have negative effects, too. They can become an echo chamber, inflicting a kind of subliminal homogenization on the participants. The group and what it considers ‘good writing’ is often only one kind of good writing, and sometimes it isn’t the kind you want to write or that feels good in your bones. Sometimes, if you’re good, all you hear from the group is how good you are and you forget your own flaws. Sometimes, if you aren’t very good, all you hear is how bad you are and forget your own strengths. This can be as damaging as it is helpful, sometimes even moreso.
As I write this, I have informally joined a new writing group of sorts. They are all talented, prolific, and many of them (like me) have professional sales under their belts. This is why I joined (I’ve been alone in this too long, methinks), and I’m considering how and when to submit my first piece for critique. I’m wondering if there’s a nugget of wisdom waiting for me out there, somewhere, for me to stub my toe on or, perhaps, for some brave soul to chuck at my head. We shall see.
The State of the Blog: Anniversary Edition
It occurs to me that, about a year ago (give or take a week), I began writing this blog. This seems as good a time as any to reflect upon it, so here we go:
For one thing, traffic has gone up a lot. Last time I did this (about four months in or so), I was averaging 40 views a day. Now I average between 70-100 and I had a stretch or two there where I was between 300-1000. I don’t think these are necessarily unique page views and, in the scheme of blog-dom, this is really small potatoes, but more is more. Traffic has lagged a bit the last few weeks, but I think that has something to do with the Publicize feature not working right and me not noticing for a while.
Anyway, more views, more followers, and it seems to be more-or-less sustaining itself. Good.
I’ve largely eliminated my fiction contributions to this blog. I still write a little bitty scene here or there, but that’s about it. They do not seem to be missed, by and large, and those posts always got the fewest views, anyway. I try not to take this personally and tell myself that much of the blog-reading world is pretty firmly in the ‘tl;dr’ camp. Anything I post over a thousand words gets fewer hits; attention spans ain’t what they used to be.
In writing news, I didn’t wind up winning the Writers of the Future contest this time around. Though most rejections roll off my back, this hasn’t. This is much because it wasn’t a rejection–I placed as a finalist, which is good. It also means I didn’t win, which my hyper-competitive nature inherently interprets as ‘losing’, even though it isn’t. Finishing as a finalist is a great honor and good for my career…
I’ve landed another story, this time with Stupefying Stories, which is also good. I can now send out all that stuff I was holding back from submission while I was waiting for the contest results, this time with the moniker ‘Writers of the Future Finalist’ attached to the queries, which should help. Onward and upward, though I’m getting very tired of finishing second-tier in my writing career. My novel queries make it past the initial round of readers, make their way to editors’ desks…and then ‘aren’t right for them’. My stories make it through the first round of cuts and I get wonderful, personalized rejection letters. These are good signs, ultimately, but they are uniquely frustrating. I’d almost prefer the form, pat rejections, since then I don’t have to live with the knowledge of just how close I came.
(Actually, no, I wouldn’t prefer that. This frustration in my guts is a good motivator.)
In between my bouts of ‘almost getting there,’ though, there is this blog here, wherein I can publish things and pontificate about stuff my wife would never want to listen to and people read it. That, as it happens, helps a bit and also keeps me in the writing zone, which is important. The semester is looming, and I’m sure my classes will be packed full of students–staying in the zone is very, very difficult, believe me.
Anyway, thank you all for reading. I hope you have enjoyed the blog, and I’m interested to hear your feedback overall or about anything in particular. Thanks again!
The State of the Blog
Okay, so I’ve been doing this blog thing for about 5 months now, and I suppose it’s time for some self-reflection. When I started this blog, I swore to myself that it wouldn’t do or be about a couple things.
- No Navel-gazing: That is to say, the blog won’t be about me, my personal life, my problems, or anything like that.
- No Politics: I’m not interested in starting political arguments, I’m not interested if people think my opinions regarding the state of the world are right or wrong, and I don’t want to be tempted into debating things with people who don’t agree with me.
- No Random Spam: If I’m putting something on the blog, it’s mostly going to be my own thoughts or reactions to some idea I’ve had or been inspired to discuss by others. I’m not just going to, say, post a picture of a thinking monkey I found on the internet somewhere and go ‘LOL!’
Now, with the exception of #3, I’ve avoided this stuff (I had a post at some point just linking to the Straight Dope wherein they discussed the practicalities of a cube-world. It was awesome; forgive me). I intend to keep sticking to my rules; I like them.
What I have been putting on the blog is a fairly even mix of critiques about sci-fi or fantasy topics, random ideas and observations or even analyses of spec fic topics, and finally my own fiction. Of it all, the stuff that I’ve liked the most has been my fiction, but the stuff that everybody else has liked the most has been the other stuff. As it is my intent to become a successful, published author, I’m not sure what to make of that. Furthermore, friends of mine have drawn my attention to this blog post entitled “How Not To Blog,” wherein the author tells me that posting unpublished fiction on a blog is a Bad Idea.
If I may digress on this point for a second: Why not? Well, yeah, I guess people don’t read it all that often (I average 30-ish hits for non-fiction posts and only 20-ish for fiction, both of which are tiny), and obviously if I were to post an entire story here, I’ve given up or decided not to publish it professionally, but I really can’t understand how it hurts my chances of getting an agent. First off, the stories I publish up here are usually pretty damned good, if I may say so myself. Are they my best stuff? Well, no–that stuff I’m sending off to sell. The excerpts of novels I’m trying to sell, well, I guess I can see it as being a bad idea to post stuff I hope to publish, but those instances are really only the barest fraction of what the work entails. I’m not serializing it, and it isn’t like I’m not querying through the normal channels in the meantime.
Furthermore, if I’m a fiction writer and I’m not supposed to post fiction, then…why am I here again? Are folks really tuning in to read my opinions on why Avatar sucks, but repulsed by my own stories? WTF, internet. Is that what blogging is about? It’s okay for me to bitch and moan about my personal problems or go all glassy-eyed about that one time I saw that really pretty rainbow or rip apart somebody else’s creative work, but when I try to create something myself, it’s not okay? Hmph. Sounds a lot like academia, to me–yeah, get your PhD in How To Read Everybody Else’s Stuff and you’re the toast of the town, but get your MFA in Making My Own Stuff and you’re a second-class citizen. Bull and Shit. If this is how the Publishing Industry works or some facet of Self Promotion I don’t understand, then that goes to show that I really ought not self-publish, since I clearly don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
Alright, rant over. Back to reflection. Cue the soothing music. Light up the incense (let me get my inhaler…pfft…okay, yeah, light it now).
Anyway, traffic around here has steadily increased, so that means I’m doing something right. I have more followers than when I started, which is also a good sign. I think for the future I’m going to focus more on posting fewer longer stories and cut the novel excerpts out entirely (better safe than sorry). That won’t stop me from posting the occasional vigniette or short-short–stuff I wouldn’t sell anyway. I will probably up the amount of RPG posts I’ll make, since those seem to be popular. I’m currently posting 2-4 posts a week, which seems a manageable pace. Furthermore, and against my original predictions, I have enjoyed posting here. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too, since I’m going to keep doing it. Tough luck, Facebook.
I’m very open to suggestions or comments regarding my blog thus far. If you have an opinion of what I’ve been doing, good or bad, let me know. Oh, and thanks ever so much for reading!