To Do or Not to Do

Things have been a bit busy lately. So while I’ve (mostly) kicked this cold, it seems to be tormenting my wife on a recurring basis. On top of that, she and I have begun a rotating schedule of crazy days. Last week, I had a couple 12 hour days back to back and this week, its her turn. And as the only parent home with twins, your attention is pretty much just focused on them and nothing else.

And because of all of this, work has become sort of condensed. Or just dense. Lots to do all the time. I was out Monday with my kids and I’ll be out again Friday traveling for a friend’s wedding, making my remaining free time all the denser.

I’ve found that I need the occasional to-do list of tasks or things to accomplish, but I only ever seem to work from the bottom up. The newest stuff is checked off pretty quickly and the stuff near the top tends to sit there. Hence why my first line on today’s list is and has been “blog” for about a week and a half now.

But with all these things I have to do vying for my attention, let’s talk about things I want to do …

I’m still pitching The Red Door. It’s hard not to get discouraged at times, but I keep myself motivated by only querying maybe three people at a time. I don’t always wait a full 8 weeks or whatever to try again – maybe only 2 – but I do try and keep the numbers small. My reasoning being that with every pass, I go back and revisit the pitch. I’ve tweaked the letter and opening couple pages a bunch now to make them as strong as possible. Obviously, this is a subjective business, so I’d like my work to speak for itself and I’d hate to be the one getting in my own way with a bad pitch.

Blame my career services day job, but I see this kind of thing all the time. Great candidates sometimes have terrible resumes and cover letters. Employers will never know how great they are until these documents get cleaned up and the applicant gets out of his or her own way. It’s not them who aren’t working, it’s their approach. I try and do the same.

As far as distractions go, I’m still working my way through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild again. I could beat it at any time, but I’m getting all the shrines now. I’m up to 91 or something. I’m basically just twiddling my thumbs and turning my brain off until the next game. Having a console-quality experience in my work bag is the best brain brake ever. I used to think that my PS4 was my favorite guilty pleasure, but hands down, its the Switch.

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First Draft Blues

Maybe the single greatest piece of writing advice I ever received was from an AI I had back in college in a short fiction writing course. Her words have stuck with me all these years even though, for the life of me, I can’t remember her name.

“Just finish it.”

Whatever the problem. Whatever the hold up. Keep writing and don’t look back. As she explained at the time, you need to get it out because once you do, the story’s told. That’s the hard part. After that, you can edit and polish to your heart’s content.

While she may have glossed over the editing part – as many of you know, editing is MUCH harder than writing – but she had a point. Those were the words I needed to hear. Push through for the sense of completion and getting out of your own way, and after that, you’re left with an actual artifact of your progress. You’ve made something. Past tense. Instead of present tense: making/working on …

I bring all of this up because I already know that Altered Egos is going to need some work. Everything from the macro to the micro levels. From the story beats and structure to the language and the voice of the main character. I mean, I’m pretty sure I wrote the whole first chapter in the present tense, but the rest of the book is in the past. I honestly don’t remember. I haven’t looked back yet.

What I do instead is to create a generic document alongside my manuscript that’s oh so cleverly titled something like “THINGS TO FIX” and put it all in there. I make a big list of anything and everything I can think of. Once I’m done with the manuscript and I’m familiar with how its laid out, I reorganize that list chronologically with the book so I can hit it on a later draft.

I typically save that stuff for draft 2.5. I guess you could call it 3. Even things that I know are broken, I can’t fix until I’ve read through the book in its entirety first. So after I finish the manuscript, I take some time off to clear my head and then read through and do some general cleanup with draft 2. That’s usually when it goes from “this is the worst thing I’ve ever written” to “it’s bad but it’s not that bad” in my head.

After the cleanup phase, that’s when I go back and and check everything off the THINGS TO FIX list. Then I comb through it again a third time for further polishing. So theoretically at this point, the book is structurally sound (or sounder) and I’m just cleaning up the prose. After this read through is when I’ve started handing the work off to beta readers. The way I see it, it’s not getting any overhaul without their help and this is usually when I’m comfortable enough with that I’ve written to let others read it.

Then its rinse and repeat. Get feedback, make lists, polish.

The other quote that keeps me sane is from somebody’s name I do remember. Some dude you may have heard of named Michael Crichton. “Books aren’t written — they’re rewritten.”

I figure the guy knows what he’s talking about.

The One Cold to Rule Them All

Everyone in my house is sick. My daughter never stopped being sick and my son beat his fever, but its either evolved into something else or this is just the next manifestation of it.

I thought I’d kicked this cold by getting a couple good nights’ sleep, but turns out the sucker was just lying dormant. It’s paying me back full force, having gone from an irritated throat, to some coughing and all around head fuzziness. I’m seriously considering unfurling the yoga mat I keep in my office and curling up. I probably shouldn’t even be typing this right now. I should be home in bed.

Oh wait. Nope. Can’t.

I love my kids dearly, but they couldn’t care less if Daddy feels sick. Well, that’s not true. They’ll want to sit with me and have me read to them, but they won’t understand Daddy’s need to sleep. So rest right now is off the table.

If I don’t kick this thing for good over the weekend, Monday might be a full on sick day which isn’t necessarily bad thing because that means I get to watch Lord of the Rings. I’m pretty sure like one day after I bought the special editions on DVD, I made the deal with myself that when I’m sick I watch Lord of the Rings. I can take all the medicine in the world, but I don’t actually get any better unless I watch LOTR. In fact, that’s probably what’s happening now.

Don’t talk to me about psychosomatic whatsits. Or placebos or any of your new-agey hooey. It’s the magic of the movie bathing me in its healing rays. Yep. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Last time I was sick I watched Two Towers, so logically my next move is Return of the King.

Come to think of it, this is sounding better and better. Monday might be a sick day no matter what happens.

Sleep rx

I had my first good night’s sleep in a long time last night. That doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but it is. I was so tired and so worn out, that it devolved into an Ouroboros of insomnia where my mind was going too fast and my heart raced too much that the thing I wanted most eluded me in a vicious cycle.

It hadn’t been that bad since when the kids were newborns. I used to literally keep track of the hours I’d slept just so I can tell myself in the morning if the night was “good enough” or not. Of course, I was spending more time awake than actually asleep and came to actively dread going to bed, but that’s a different thing.

Lying there, wigging out, I used to think about what if people had literal switches where you could turn them off instantly like a machine. There wouldn’t be a gradual process, just click and you’re out; guaranteeing rest.

I could have definitely used such an augment over the weekend. Also, in a home where I’m typically fighting with my munchkins to go to sleep, I’ve definitely thought about the implications of installing such a switch in them would be too.

When they were baby-babies, I posed myself a philosophical question on a near nightly basis. What if babies had an off switch? But here’s the catch, it was literally an off switch. They weren’t going to sleep like my later sleep-starved thought, but were ceasing to be for however long they were off. Turn them back on again and they were technically alive once more. They wouldn’t grow while off and if you wanted to help your kid sleep, they’d need to be in the “on” position. Follow me so far? OK that wasn’t the question. That’s just the rhetoric.

My philosophical question was: In a world where we could turn newborns off with a switch, how “old” would they actually be? How much longer would that newborn state be preserved?

I guarantee you that after trying to be responsible with such a system, I’d cave in like a week and start trading off nights. One night of sleep for me. One night of sleep for them. My kids might just now be clearing their first “birthday” instead of the two plus years old they actually are.

Sleep and I have always had a weird relationship. My wife loves it. It feels good. It empowers her and she needs like 10 hours every night just to feel normal.

Me? I hate sleep. I think it’s such a waste of time. We spend a third of our lives (well, not me. No now, apparently) asleep and doing nothing. If I could give up sleep without consequences, I’d do so in a heartbeat.

Think of it this way. If someone lived to be 60 years old, then 20 years – 20 years – of that person’s life are spent just lying there. If you gave me the choice of a place to shut down or 20 years of stuff, I’ll take the stuff, please.

I’d always wanted to write a story about a character who’s only superpower was that he didn’t have to sleep. He wouldn’t necessarily be punching bad guys, but he’d be a well-read, artistic, and pretty productive dude.

One of these days I still may write that story.

The flip side to all of this is just because you have more time doesn’t mean you’re more productive. Hell, it could mean the opposite because there’s no rush. What if instead of the most cultured and interesting person, not having to sleep made the most boring and sluggish? Instead of practicing art or a new language with his spare time, he just binge-watched Netflix.

Maybe that’s the story I should be writing …

Feverish

It’s one of those mornings.

I got about half my words in, but I’m throwing in the towel. Normally, I’m all about the discipline, but we’ve had a sick household all weekend, so I’m giving myself an excuse. My daughter as croup (the croup? I don’t know …) and my son had a temperature of 102. So, as you can imagine, there weren’t a lot of happy campers. I spent most of the last three nights either being woken up every couple hours to help a kid fall back asleep or myself sleeping on the floor of their room because I was too tired to get back into my own bed after holding their hand, stroking their back, etc. And then to top it all off, this morning I woke up with a sore throat and fuzzy head. I’m exhausted.

So, what I’ll leave you with instead of a success story of getting work done, is something of a rant.

I finished Every Dead Thing, the first Charlie Parker novel, by John Connolly over the weekend and its one of those books I need to talk about a little. For good or ill, it’s stuck with me. And not just because of the horrible juxtaposition of reading a book about child-murders and torture while trying to put your own children to sleep every night …

So the good:

I like the story for the most part and I liked the character voice. The world is loaded with a bunch of colorful characters with interesting back stories. Even the premise is cool: catch serial killer guy who murdered your wife and kid. Sure, good ole revenge story. I’m in. Parallel that with another serial killer story. Let’s get on this ride. But after that …

The bad:

I feel like its two books in one. The first half is about catching a child killer and the second is about the Travellin’ Man, the real antagonist. But ultimately, the child killer has NOTHING to do with the story. That’s half of the book literally wasted. Connolly pulls you from place to place, person to person so quickly, it’s hard to care about anything anymore. It’s weird, there’s an interconnectedness to his characters and the world, but not the plot. Even though he tells you there is, but there isn’t.

And the ending? Look, I like the reveal. That was cool. But there was NO explanation. This is coming from a guy who reads comic books. I accept things like “it’s powered by a black hole.” I don’t need much. But this was NOTHING. No explanation of how the killer did anything. Hell, there wasn’t even a second for the protagonist, Charlie Parker, to even have an emotional response to the reveal and resulting confrontation. I’ve never appreciated denouement more because this book didn’t have any.

The book has obviously stuck with me because it had a great setup but I ultimately feel let down. And I’m not the world’s foremost authority on story structure, maybe if I was an international bestselling author too my two cents would mean more, but I can’t help feeling like this one was off.

Aside from the fact that it was too books crammed into one. Aside from the fact that the first half is literally meaningless. There were little things. Like talking about a cop character who may or may not have murdered a criminal, then when you bring up that criminal’s name chapters later, you don’t remind me what that criminal did. Hell, there are so many names and places in this book, it’s hard to keep it all straight. Or instead of a big climax, Connolly spends more time on a shoot out between two criminal mob bosses that, again, ultimately mean nothing, rather than work on a satisfying conclusion.

I’m also not saying that everything needs to be wrapped up in a neat little bow, but there’s not even a soggy, cardboard box.

Just weird choices through and through.

OK. I have some very specific questions and points to rant about. I’ve been trying to keep it pretty spoiler-free so far, but that’s gonna stop. You’ve been warned …

 

Still with me? Let’s do this …

So we had the false climax with the gun fight at Joe Bones’s place. What was the point? Bones knew something. But he never said what it was. If Bones knew who the killer was, he’d be dead. That was the one thing we could always count on. The TM wraps up loose ends.

We were told Remarr knew something too, but, again, he didn’t. It never mattered to the plot. What did Remarr even see?

For that matter, why kill David Fontenot at all? It seemed so out of character to anything the TM was doing.

What was the point of the whole first half of the book? So Modine (that was her name, right?) knew who the TM was?! Why? How? That was just there so Charlie Parker could keep obsessing, but it made no sense whatsoever. What, like Sandman, are there serial killer conventions?

How on earth was TM (W) setting up/controlling Byron? Again, makes no sense. And why? To lure Charlie there? But that’s not what brought Charlie to Louisiana. That was a really weird connection and only worked because the plot said so.

And if the TM (W) killed “hundreds” what’s the point of his ‘prentice killings in those barrels only a handful of months beforehand. So, if they’re practice killings, does that mean he kills like someone new every day? That makes no sense. Is he killing lots of people and only now deciding to make art out of them?

And ultimately my two biggest greivences:

We don’t have any explanation from TM (W) as to how he carried any of this out. Half the fun of a detective story is the puzzle. Not just who it is, but how he’s doing it. We’re missing out on that latter half. Fine. He’s killing “because he can,” but there needs to be more than that for a satisfying ending. Why toy with Bird all this time just for this?

And speaking of Bird, for a guy obsessed with the TM he certainly has zero feelings once he figures out who the guy is. Not anger, rage, betrayal, anything. It’s like oh here’s some world shattering news. Oh damn. And then, when Rachel’s taken, he never once even worries about her. No wonder she leaves at the end, Bird’s a selfish asshole.

This could have all been forgiven if there was even an attempt to wrap any of this up at the end, but nope … fade to black. Weird epilogue.

I had to get this out of my system because I wanted to like this book so much. Hell, I did for a while, but like Bird, I was betrayed by someone I trusted too …

 

Vignettes

Inspiration is real. Waiting for inspiration is BS. By slogging through the trenches, I’m back on board the Altered Egos train and genuinely look forward to working on it again every day. There are two metaphors in that sentence.

I’ve worn a tie so much at work these days that my son says, “Daddy, no tie,” on a near daily basis. It’s not that he doesn’t like ties, he knows that I’ve been against them lately and he’s super supportive.

My daughter has developed a second joke. Her first one was telling me, “poopy diaper,” when she definitely didn’t have a poopy diaper. Now, she’ll sit on this plastic fish while in the bathtub, look me dead in the eye and say, “fish on the butt!” and then devolve into a giggling fit. I’m psyched that she’s telling jokes. She didn’t get the toilet humor from me, though. It’s all high brow over here.

I keep querying agents hoping for a bite. I try and pitch maybe two or three every couple of weeks. Way I see it, if my query is bad, then instead of cutting all my chances at the same time, I’m doling it out piece by piece. Granted, that means its taking a while. But I’m not ready to put The Red Door to bed yet anyway.

While I’d rather work with an editor and a publisher, Plan B is to self publish. I’ve written five novels by now – two of which are what I consider to be publishable – but I’m waiting until I have three before I hit the self publish button. I figure that three novels of three different styles will be a good starting point and I’ll go from there. Spaghetti on the wall, that’s my approach. Throw enough and something’ll stick.

I’ve been working D&D back into my life, playing with a group about once a month or so. I’m DMing, but I’d much rather play. But since I’m the one making it work the most, I’ll take DMing as a small price to just be rolling D20s again. I’ve looking into joining an online group that meets more frequently and while that sounds great in theory, the twins don’t allow me much free time. The only reason I’m even playing D&D now is because I’ve somehow convinced my wife to play too. She either really loves me or feels really sorry for me. A bit of both?

Right now, we’re watching the days go by, more or less. We were coming to terms with our current family dynamic and thought that was going to be it. But life, uh, finds a way. That cat’s out of the bag, internet. Come March, the kids will be outnumbering the adults at our house.

Hurry Up and Wait

I feel like I need to learn how to write short stories. I don’t quite have their structure down yet. I don’t write them very often. My last one, I’m still working on it off and on figuring out story beats for almost a year now. And the one before that became my novel, The Red Door.

Sure its nice to create more content and I can always put them up on the site or try and sell them, but really, I like short stories for the following two reasons:

1.) When I was killing myself with NaNoWriMo last year and cranking out words, there were definitely days it went beyond pulling teeth to drilling down into the gums. I wasn’t starting a project from scratch, but instead dove into TRD and tried to hit 50k words that month in the process. Even working from an outline, things got tiring some days, so I ended up writing a short story Chi Town Swing in E Flat — That’s the one I’m still figuring out.

Anyway, I’d write TRD in the mornings and work on Swing in the afternoons. It served as a nice palette cleanser and kept me motivated. I know that sounds odd as someone who admitted to not liking to split his focus, but it worked for this occasion. Because the second project was so small, maybe?

So with Altered Egos not even halfway finished, I think I like the idea of a secondary distraction to keep those writing juices flowing.

2.) I’m getting an onslaught of new ideas lately. I’m writing them all down and slowing cooking those kernel, but I can easily see some of them turning into a short story and I don’t want to ignore them or lose my passion for the premise.

We combine points 1 and 2 and we’ve got a pretty solid desire to write short stories.

I know you’re thinking, so just do it already, Dan. And I probably will. I think what you’re seeing here is the result of an early (definitely not mid)-life-writing crisis. I made peace with the fact that Fairfax Cleaners wasn’t picked up by an agent or editor. It doesn’t mean its dead, it’s just resting. That was probably because I liked The Red Door so much. Well, now The Red Door is making the rounds and I’m just waiting. I don’t like waiting and I don’t like things hanging over my head.

Burying myself in projects sounds like a good distraction but also has some tangible payoff. Even diving deep into Altered Egos isn’t cutting it because I’m still only halfway finished. Working so hard on TRD only to his a wall like this has infused me with a restlessness that I just don’t like.

Look, I write for me. End of the day, I’m my biggest fan and I’m telling stories that I enjoy. That said, it wouldn’t be so bad for someone else to tell me they enjoy those stories too, right?

Siren

My cousin got married in Hot Springs, Virginia the other weekend. I went out for the ceremony. Now that the kids are two, my wife and I figured that buying four plane tickets for one person to attend an event was a little superfluous.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I’d actually never been to that part of Virginia before. And living in Indiana now, I don’t know if I’m just tree-deprived or what, but man that state is gorgeous! Hairpin turns included.

I brought my Switch with me, eagerly looking forward to some time to myself. I got some writing and reading in under my belt, but I also played an S-ton of Switch. I’d purchased I am Setsuna, a game I’d had my eye on for a long time, specifically for this trip. Yet, when a friend loaned me Mario Kart and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for my travels, all I did was play Zelda. A game I’d already played and beaten on his Switch.

In fact, I’m still playing it. Much to my detriment.

Gaming-wise, the Switch is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. And the worst. It’s portable nature means its never far from my side and I’m always playing it. After playing Zelda on my friend’s machine, the final nail in the convincing-myself-coffin to buy my own was that now that my kids have transitioned to their toddler beds, it means we’ve pretty much lost our family room for nightly hangout space. The room is right across the hall from their bedroom, so just being in there will wake them up. Our retreat is back into our own, now baby-free, bedroom with my X-Box 360 to watch movies, the last iteration of Apple TV, and our old TV from almost ten years ago. Sensing a trend here? Outdated technology.

My Switch comes with me of course. I never know where I’ll be allowed to hang out and play games, so having a console not far from hand is a great perk. It also means that as I type, say, this post, I keep glancing over to that blue and red siren sitting on the edge of my desk.

If I was having a hard time getting back into Altered Egos, then the Switch isn’t helping things.

Know what? I think that’ll do for blogging today. I just remembered that there’s a gentleman in a hot air balloon selling monster masks that I need to go speak with.

Wrench in the Machine

I’m in the process of writing my sixth novel right now. I’d like to think that with every one of them, I try new things and I learn something every time. This time around, I gave myself a dose of what being a “professional writer” must feel like. Notice I put that in quotes, that’s not to say it wasn’t professional, but more that there’s no single model of what being a professional writer looks like.

After wrapping up my first round of edits on The Red Door, I sent it off to my beta readers which has become my usual practice. I figured I’d have a couple of months before I got anything back. This makes for an equally exciting and terrifying time. Picture it if you will, you spend how long —  Four? Six? — months working on a project you care deeply about and then you hand it off to others, eager to hear what they think about it. It makes me anxious and antsy and other words that start with A. Agitated? I wanted to hear their thoughts now. I didn’t want to wait two months twiddling my thumbs.

I needed something to do. So I gave myself a new project. Enter my next novel, Altered Egos.

Now, I had a pretty good idea Altered Egos would be next on the plate anyway, but I’ve only ever worked on one novel at a time. Purely to distract myself and to keep myself working, I dove right on in with an outline and started writing it in the hiatus. I got about 30k words in before I got all the feedback for The Red Door.

Now, my original plan was to work on both at once. That’s the responsible writer thing to do. But seeing as I’m not working with a publisher (yet, hopefully) I soon realized that the time spent not editing The Red Door meant time longer before I had a finished project. So I switched gears and diverted all focus back to The Red Door to crank it out for querying.

That’s been finished for about a month now and I’m back into working solely on Altered Egos. The problem, my friends? It is a struggle. It’s not just a motivation thing. I’ve long learned that you can’t write only when you’re motivated. Writing is a job. Flexing muscles. You know the metaphor. The works. This is something deeper. As much as I try and remind myself what excited me about the project in the first place, I can’t help daydreaming about The Red Door. It’s out there in the ether. I think the Schrodinger’s cat-nature is what’s killing me. It’s hard to care for a new baby when my other one is out there in the wilds, alone.

So I hit my daily word counts as planned, but I’m working on ways to trick myself back into this new project. It distracted me once, it can do so again. I  just need to fall in love with it all over again. Easy, right?

In the mean time, I’ve added a link to Fate Stitcher over on my Comics page where you can download the entire graphic novel. Free. That’s essentially seven issues of my first baby. All free. I hope you like it.

Let me know what you think and if you have any advice about switching gears and staying invested, I’m all ears!

The Battle for Bedtime

Why does bedtime always have to be such a fight? I’m sure parents across the interwebs have asked themselves this same question and are agreeing with me right now. That, or they’re shaking their heads at me expecting anything else.

It’s never “Oh, go to sleep, sweetheart …” It’s “Get. Back. In. Your. Bed!”. Teeth gritted. Muscles clenching. The works. I mean, I can’t even tell you the last time I didn’t go to sleep without a headache. It’s kind of hard to remember all of this in the comforting light of day. In the middle of my twilit anger, it feels so much more important. Maybe it’s because I have two in the same room who keep each other up. I don’t know. Is it really all that bad? See?! That’s how they get you. It’s parental amnesia!

So my kids are two now and we’ve transitioned them into toddler beds. At least I think they’re transitioned? If that means taking an hour and a half to fall asleep because they don’t want to be held or rocked and then waking up throughout the night crying for us just so they can run back to bed and have me sleep on the floor next to them as they fall back asleep … then yeah, they’re transitioned. It’s a double-edged sword because while I’m excited to get my bed back, I never seem to end up using it for long. Sunday morning, I got my best sleep of the night on the floor of their room with a couple pillows and a blanket. Who knows? Maybe, I’m the one who’s transitioned.

It’s been a while since I’ve been on here, so I’ve been going through and updating everything. Hopefully, it’s looking a little more streamlined. The biggest surprise for me is that I’ve updated my Comics section with details about Fate Stitcher. FS is a graphic novel I wrote and Kickstarted years ago. But while we hit our expected goal of getting it drawn, I never had enough funds to get it colored liked I’d wanted. Because of that – and yours truly doing the actual lettering – I’d always thought of it as the project that could have been. But looking at it again to refresh myself of what to say for the site is showing me that it’s a lot better than I remembered. I was being too hard on myself.

I’ve got the cover up for now, but once I clean out my gDrive, you should be able to download the whole thing soon. While I work on getting this place populated with more of my Stories, here’s a nice juicy one to get started on.