Sweet Smell of Success

As you know, I’ve had my self-publication of my baker’s dozen of books on my mind. I’ve contacted three artists about covers, received two amazing ones back, and am looking into getting a real webpage. I’m not expecting to make any money on my books, and everything I’m sinking into covers is a luxury, not an investment. I don’t want to do what I’d have to do to to really sell myself, i.e. become an active presence on Twitter (Ugh) and shaking hands. I want to write. That’s all I want to do.

I’m a member of this FB group that makes me feel awful about myself. The focus of the group is how to make a living being a writer, and they insist on putting way more work that I’m ready into marketing and such, and if your book doesn’t sell a lot, then you’re a failure. Today someone made a post where he listed his mistakes when he started out writing, and the #1 and the most important was that he wrote for himself, not to market.

That really got to me. Because, in my mind, what’s the point in writing if you’re not writing for yourself? Nicole suggested I write to market, and the amount of not-being-able-to-motivate-myself-into-doing-that cannot be overstated. How do I measure my success, by having a webpage of thirteen (and counting) books with sweet covers that nobody will go to? Or by canvassing Twitter so I can retweet a bunch of authors whose books I may not have read and writing books so they’re exactly like every book out there? I’ve obviously found the FB group for the latter, but is there one for the former?

He Who Hesitates

I’m ordering a book cover, with more to come next month (Newcastle is going to the cardiologist this month, so my funds are limited in October). I’ve looked into some easy ways to do some marketing that won’t break my bank or my sanity. I am at peace with the fact that I won’t sell that many copies (I’m doing this for myself, not because I want to get rich). I will probably be good to go in January.

So the question left is, will I actually start in January? Will I be able to stare into the yawning chasm of Amazon and just throw myself in there? Or will I simply hold my breath and promise myself I’ll do it when I’m ready? Will imposing failure hobble me (I said I was at peace with not selling many copies, but I’m not going to like it)?

I’m running out of excuses.

The Sanctity of Fictional Life

The Sanctity of Fictional Life

It’s no secret that I like the Urban Fantasy, whether in books or in TV. This doesn’t apply only to Urban Fantasy, but to all genre-style books, movies, and TV shows (excluding romance). These works of fiction tend to have a high body count. Whether it’s the victim before the opening credits of a TV show, or the innocent bystander being killed in the carnage of the two heroes duking it out above the city in a movie, or the person who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the sexy rogue vampire is walking through the pages of a novel, genre fiction is a bloodbath, and life (except for the main characters) is cheap.

With that much death, it’s hard to comprehend how we’re supposed to feel about it. It should be shock value when the villain just lashes out and kills another hostage, is it? We’ve lost almost 200,000 people to a virus, and most of that was due to negligence and political infighting. Each of those lives means something, but the number is so staggering, we can’t comprehend it. It’s why people don’t wear masks anymore. They don’t see the lives, they see a number.

I write primarily in Urban Fantasy, and I’m really squeamish about killing people. I mean, I have. My nostalgia novel Infinity has a pretty shocking death toll, and the vampire in my vampire novel’s gotta eat. But usually I let people live.

Partly it’s because of logistics. For example, the population of Sunnydale, California, could have, in no way, supported the amount of people who died there on a weekly basis. And who would want to be a Gotham City cop or a guard at Arkham Asylum when anytime one of them appears on panel, they get their throats slit?

But mostly it’s empathy. Even fictional characters have a family who will miss them. They had favorite movies and food, and statistically, some of them have got to have pets. They may be made up by me, but they’re more than just a statistic to make the bad guy seem extra bad and for the heroine or heroine vow to avenge and then forget later.

Also, I found a lot of storytelling possibilities. In one case, a character who should be another dead victim is turned into a trauma survivor who becomes friends with the heroine. And when I do decide to kill someone, the loss of a life means something to their family, to their friends, and to the heroine who witnessed it. I’ve just made the on-the-cuff decision to kill a minor character in my current book, and it’s really allowed me to think about who he was when he was alive, and to get to know him, not just through his funeral trope where everybody stands around a hole while a priest drones on, but through the wake, a celebration of his life and his potential.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t really have the stomach for the way non-main characters are treated in genre fiction, and the only solution to that is to do it better.

Hope & Change

What if everything that’s going wrong with this country politically—the hatred, the distrust, the bad faith, the hundreds of thousands of deaths, could be traced back to a single event twenty-six years ago? Without that event, our country could become a more reasonable, equitable place? What if you could make that event go away? Would you do it?

But making that event goes away would change everything. It would smooth away some of the adversity that makes you who you are. You might not be friends with the same people, you probably wouldn’t live in the same place. Your economic situation could be different. You could even have a different partner. And almost certainly, every single person born in the last twenty-five years would cease to exist, replaced by other people, who I’m sure are lovely, but they wouldn’t be your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and friends. Would you still do it?

That’s the question I’m asking in my current novel. I’ve identified an event in 1994 that has led directly to where we are now, with federal agents kidnapping innocent Americans off of the streets (but, ironically enough, not the Americans that stormed state capitals with AR-15s on their backs), and I’m asking if everything good that would be altered in history was worth it to change our decades-long slide into fascism. Do you have a duty to the hundreds of thousands of those who have lost their lives so far and the millions more living a nightmare life of poverty, or do you have a duty to the members of the Zoom Generation who have touched your life?

Would I do it? Would I change literally everything?

And the answer is, I don’t know. I really don’t know.

A Positive Spin

I think I’m making a huge mistake, narratively, in my novel, but I’m not sure I want to fix it. Basically, the law and order principal of my heroine’s high school asks her to trust her (the principal) with the kind of secret that could end the heroine’s life at that school if it gets out. This would be the perfect opportunity for betrayal and creating an impossible social situation and the kind of chaos that my stories thrive on.

But I don’t do that. The principal keeps her word. The secret is safe.

Right now, I severely distrust authority. From the top to the bottom, I don’t believe that authority, in general, has my best interests at heart. I saw my high school principals, in one way or another, betray the students they were supposed to protect. One went to prison for it. And yet I don’t want to teach my heroine the same lesson I learned. Her life is hard enough as it is. I want her to be able to trust someone in power.

As a weaver of plots, I chose the boring path, the overly optimistic one. This isn’t Game of Thrones—this is a YA novel about a teenage witch. Let me have a little light.

Cooped up and Crazy

Day 15 of quarantine, and I’ve snapped. I thought that, as a rabid introvert, this would be great, but I’m barely keeping it together.

Part of it is physical. It’s a seven-minute walk at top speed to get to the office from the Metro in the morning, and Order Processing is an active, demanding job, and over the course of two days, all of that is gone. Walks around the cemetery aren’t filling in the gap.

Mostly it’s time. What am I supposed to do with all of it? I thought I’d write more with tons of it, but I’m actually writing less. When I worked, I wrote for an hour first thing in the mornings, on the trains when I found a seat, and in the hour between jobs. I still write for an hour in the morning, but that’s it. The rest of my time I spend trying unsuccessfully to think of things to write and watching TV. When time isn’t precious, I tend to waste more of it.

This is going to go on for a while, so what I need is some way to apply the pressure that I’m used to, or just to use the time productively, or to accept and forgive myself if I’m not productive. These are strange times.

The Best Days of our Lives

My current novel is a Young Adult novel. That means I have to get into the head of a social outcast in high school, and that’s fun, I guess.

Here’s the problem: thirty years later, the stakes aren’t as high. If I woke up in high school tomorrow with forty-four years behind me, and some pretty girls in the hallway started whispering to each other while keeping their eyes on me, I’d just say whatever and keep walking. I wouldn’t even be able to work up the energy to make a jerk-off motion with my hand.

But back when I only had fourteen years behind me, the ground would tremble, fissures would open in the floor, and skeletal hands would grab me and drag me into eternal suffering. My life would be OVER.

And let’s not underestimate the amount of influence the contamination of going through puberty affects the point of view.

So, yeah, I’ve got a great story to tell, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to properly communicate the URGENCY of the experience.

Entitlements

Sometimes, when looking for inspiration, for the answer to a creative question, it’s like a tug of war. You pull and pull, but not-having-the-answer is pulling back even harder. You think about it constantly, you turn over every angle of what you know about what you’re working on, and you’re still not seeing what it is you’re looking for. There’s a solution, and it’s so close, you can taste it.

And then not-having-the-answer lets go of the rope, and you fall on your ass. There it was, what you have been looking for this whole time. The answer couldn’t have been anything else, it’s so obvious now. The frustration dissolves, and the weight lifts off of your shoulders.

I’ve been looking for a title for my vampire novel for five weeks, and I just figured out what it is. It’s called The Bereaved, which should give you a pretty good idea what it’s really about.

A Plot To Take In

So, it turns out my vampire novel isn’t actually about vampires. It’s about the relationship between two young women and how one helps the other come to accept the sadness and anger she feels after a shocking, unimaginable loss and live her life one day at a time, and also there’s some vampires in it. This book will never get published.

Write Down to the Nitty Gritty

I was talking to a friend (I have those. Who knew, right?), and she had expressed some interest in my process for writing. I’ve declared before that I don’t do a lot of prep work to start a book, but going over my method, steps 1-5 of 8 are all prep work that I need to do before I get to the fun part (cracking open the notebook and letting the page dictate the story to me). My novels are mostly freeform, but I have a lot more control over them than I admit.  

tl;dr: I can write a novel in two months. This is how I do it. 

1) I want to make a novel about this particular hook. 

2) I need a main character. Default jumping-off point is a straight white guy. From here I some editing. First, the guy should be a woman. (I always do that. I like writing women. What can I say?) Next, does she have to be white? I consider the story possibilities—social, political, emotional—that can open up by writing about a black woman, or a Latina, or an Indian woman, and then I pick one. Next, does she have to be straight?* 

3) I do a little bit of research, if necessary, about the hook and how it relates to the main character’s race, gender, and sexuality. I don’t do this to make the research fit into the confines of the novel, but rather to let the research to take my idea and blossom it. There are ideas and directions I’d never considered that I find out about on Wikipedia.  

4) I look back on my life and I find moods, people, sensations, and events that fit into the world that is being created in my head. I pull details and emotions out of these memories and gift them to the new characters I’m creating.  

5) I stare off into space and think about all of this. If I have a cat, I pet the cat. 

6) I put pen to paper and write. The plot will magically reveal itself to me. 

7) I type what I wrote in my notebook and use the time to review my language or ideas. I catch a lot of mistakes this way. 

8) I wait a month or so after I finish my novel to go back over it. I consider themes and characters I introduced later in the book and see if I can introduce those earlier. I consider pacing. But mostly, I’m satisfied with what I’ve written.  

And that’s where a book comes from. Now, if I could figure out to do with them. 

* (Note that the two main characters in my last novel were white, which they had to be for the irony in the story to work properly. I had considered alternatives, but that’s what I figured would be best. One of them was a white guy, but at least he wasn’t heterosexual, so I give him a pass. The other was straight, but she was a woman. Ultimately, this was probably my most vanilla novel.)