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!

Seahorse

Work is finally turning around, my friends. I mean real work. Work-work. It’s one of three times a year that constitutes crunch time in the truest meaning of the term. Normally, it’s a black hole sucking abyss that is all consuming. A mad dash where I work as hard and as fast as I can for a week and a half and pray I make it out alive.

This time around is a little different, though. I was driving into work feeling pretty pleased with myself. I ran 7.5 miles this morning and I was working on some prewriting in my head when I remembered what I was actually driving myself too. The black hole does not allow time for things like writing on the side or you know, lunch. I went from super psyched to super pissed in about one second. But then I remembered that I could finally start training. It’s taken two months, but they’ve finally replaced my old position at work with somebody else. All this work that has to be done for this looming deadline? Yeah, that’s her worry now, not mine. OK. OK. She doesn’t know how to do any of it yet … So I get into work, ready to give up all of my free time and start working with her. We’re at it maybe 45 minutes when she says she has a handle on things and I should go do something else and check in later so she can practice. Fine by me.

Black hole averted.

I got back to my office and for the first time in a long time had nothing to do. Looks like I was getting in some writing after all.

I got to expand on a scene I started over the weekend. After placing both my protagonists in mortal peril, the next bullet point on my outline has them recovering with a side of exposition. I realized, though, that if I did it that way, it felt too much like an info dump. Instead, I spent a thousand words just on having one of them wake up and take a shower. It sounds dumb, but I think that after everything they’d been through – the reader included – that all parties involved needed time to breathe. We could build to the exposition later, but for right now, we all needed a hot shower to calm the eff down.

When people talk about the writing process, the concept of pacing will sometimes get brought up. It falls right in there with scenes and sequels, but it’s often a judgement call. You can plot it and plan for it, but sometimes it just makes sense. The funny thing is that I first started to grasp the need for pacing when I started writing comic books.

For years, that was all I wanted to do. I’d do anything to break into the comics industry. I remember showing my first full length script to a friend and a professional in the biz and after padding my ego, the first thing he said was that it needed at least one splash page. I thought those were just for the artists to show off or something, but he explained that no, it allows the story to breathe. Yes, they’re usually big, dramatic moments, but it’s really just a place to slow everything down for a minute and let the reader take it all in. They’re like a visual pause.

I’ve taken that advice to heart. It’s a little different to have a splash page in a novel. At this point, they usually fall under the wow category instead of the reflection one, but it was thinking about stories visually that helped me wrap my burgeoning writing brain around the concept of pacing in general. You can’t always be rush-rush-rush, hell, even Sonic stopped and had a chili dog every once in a while.

Over the weekend, my wife and I sat through an all day intensive baby basics course at the hospital. We got to meet some personnel and see what the rooms look like for the big day in a couple of months. It helped alleviate a lot of worry and put some more excitement in the hype tank. It’s not that I wasn’t looking forward to them before, but now I’m really excited about it! We also sorted through some baby clothes people had loaned us.

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We have a lot. And that’s just for the boy.

And when we were at the hospital, there was one part of the class that had all of these physical activity stations. Most of which were places to practice hand and hip massages for when she’s in labor and has nothing to do but sit and wait through the pain. She got to relax for a change and I pushed and pulled on stuff I didn’t know could go those directions but I guess they helped reduce pressure somewhere. Go figure.

Oh and I got to try one of these on. She said she was getting tired so I told her I’d carry the babies for a while.

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Assemble

It’s been a rather momentous couple of days …

First and foremost, this morning, my wife and I went to the doctor’s for the monthly ultrasound. Although, this is the last monthly as we’re heading into biweekly territory from now on. Everything is great. Both of the little dragons are coming along nicely. Adequate limbs and digits. Hearts and spines. It was funny. I was watching the flickering images of the ultrasound, looking for the ghostly visages of my future children’s faces and it occurred to me that if I spotted something else: wings, horns, a tail … I don’t even think I would have blinked. That’s the kind of head space I operate in. Bat wings on my kids? Sure. That makes sense.

I’ve made a couple of deadlines for myself … things to accomplish before the babies are born in August. These are in addition to the usual house stuff: Fix the nursery, retile the kitchen floor, clean up the mess so we don’t look like hoarders anymore … you know. I’ve decided that I’m going to finish my current novel and run a half marathon before the babies arrive. I’ve worked it out with myself. I don’t necessarily need a sponsored event. I just need a day where I go for a run and end up hitting 13.1 miles.

I’m an avid runner and I’ve done it before, but I’m not really in half marathon shape anymore. So with the weather finally nice again, I’ll be out there more often than not. Actually, on Saturday, I hit a milestone. Since I’ve been keeping tracking of my running miles over the last couple of years, I hit my 1,000th mile on Saturday! That’s like running from New York City to Daytona Beach, Florida! (Yes, I Googled that distance. I tried for Orlando because I thought it sounded more impressive, but that was like 1077 miles instead … soon.) It’s only taken a few years and I know I’ve missed some runs in there, but seeing the number laid out like that makes me feel pretty damn good about myself.

Lastly, I saw the Avengers: Age of Ultron over the weekend like the rest of the world. I don’t need to post a review here because, hey, who didn’t see it, right? But I wanted to say that I liked it. I liked it a lot. And I’m glad I did.

A few months ago, a good friend of mine, David, had a heart attack while running. He was 51 and as far as I knew, in pretty solid shape. He was actually actively reforging that shape into something better. He loved running and he loved Marvel. My god, did he love Marvel. I’ve been reading Spider-man and his buddies for almost 20 years now, but David rekindled my inner fanboy like noone else. He was just a passionate guy. Every little snippet, tease, image or rumor just made his day and he loved to talk about it. There were other things going on in his life and Marvel was exactly the wish fulfillment and escape he needed. He’d been counting down the days for the Age of Ultron release.

It may sound silly now, but after his accident, my first thought was that he’d never get to see how this grand experiment ended. He had so much emotionally invested in this franchise that this revelation actually hurt. Time has passed and the blow has softened, but watching the newest Avengers movie in the same weekend I hit my 1,000th mile got me thinking. If he’d been around, we probably would have grabbed a beer and engaged in a discussion along the lines of:

David: Dude … Awesome!

Me: And when he-

David: So awesome! God and when-

Me: Loved it!

Rinse and repeat.

I miss ya, buddy, but I’ve read comics long enough to know that no hero is every truly gone. Even though I couldn’t share the events of the weekend with him directly, I know he would have been both proud and excited. It really has been a great couple of days.

Until next time. Excelsior!

There’s Still A Little Bit of Wick Left …

My eyes feel like they’re about to melt into a goopy mess and dribble out of their sockets as I type this. I spent most of the day going over spreadsheets and data and verifying said data and inputting new data and putting a lot of X’s in a lot of boxes. That’s not typically something I do, so I’m definitely feeling some Excel Fatigue (is that a thing?) right now.

Speaking of fatigue, it ended up working out yesterday that I had two long overdue doctor’s appointment back to back. Somehow, fate was on my side for once and I was able to schedule the optometrist and the dentist on the same afternoon. It had been 2(?) years since my last eye exam and at least a year since my last dental check up. I was convinced that after so much time, this recent brow-furrowing and eye strain was just as much a precursor to something wicked this way comes as those shadow spots between my molars they are supposedly “watching.”

So imagine my surprise when the optometrist tells me my eyes basically haven’t changed. I could use a new pair of glasses though, as my current ones look pretty “beat up.” The dentist, who was sure to deliver a hammer blow of bad news, told me that nothing’s changed. Keep on flossing, brushing and rinsing and they’ll x-ray everything next time. If they’re not worried, I’m not worried. Good to know that my aches and pains are self inflicted war wounds of my hectic life rather than something more sinister. I am not, in fact, falling apart. Although after their dilation yesterday and LED retinal flaring today, I think my eyes are ready for little rest.

Oh man, that makes me want to watch Daredevil. Guys, the episode ended with him getting caught by the cops. The cops!

I also found out that there’s a light at the end of my work tunnel as, supposedly, a replacement for my old position is to be hired by next week. I’ll believe it when I see it, but just the thought of it … well, I thought it would be squeal-inducing, but I think I may just break down and sob tears of relief. If I do, I’ll get a picture …

But all of this has somehow made me motivated to really tear into my current novel. I’m maybe 20-25% in and there’s a lot left to cover, but I’m ready to kick it up a notch. This double-job business has put me back long enough. Too long. It might have been worth it if they’d been paying me double salaries, but alas. So I’m ready to devote as much of myself to my own endeavors as I can. Lately that hasn’t been a lot, but I’m so frustrated with work-work that the idea of coming home to continue my own work actually sounds appealing. I’ve been jotting some snippets and the start of threads down so I can hit the keys running as soon as I have a quiet minute to myself. This novel HAS to be finished before August. After then I won’t have a quiet minute for a long, long, loooooooong time.

Or so I’m told.

One-Two Punch

I mentioned on Wednesday about hoping to see the critters come climbing out of the trees – I don’t know if they are in fact monkeys. Maybe ethereal monkeys? We can work this out later – and boy did I need them yesterday. So my writing routine was interrupted per usual. At this point, is it really a routine anymore if I barely follow the same schedule two days in a row? Put that on the agenda for next meeting too while you’re at it … Anyway, I had just finished one project and was looking down the barrel of another one coming my way later that afternoon. I had about 45 minutes to myself. It was going to happen then or it wasn’t going to happen at all. I didn’t have the luxury of inspiration or warmup or any kind of prewriting. I jumped in with the sharks.

I have to say, I think it went pretty well. Cranked out about 700 words. It’s true that once the critters start showing themselves, they like to hang around if you keep coming back to them. I hit a bullet point on my outline and advanced the scene in a satisfactory way. I’m pleased with the results. In times past I most likely would have just dicked around those 45 minutes and chalked yesterday up as a wash, figuring I’d make it up to myself by writing again on Friday. Just like I don’t like working out too late in the day, I really don’t like writing the more the day drags on. I get distracted and tired and it’s like pulling teeth to put words down. But yesterday I wouldn’t give myself the luxury of an out. You can’t always have the opportunity to write when you want to. Sometimes the job needs to be done whether you like it or not.

The other highlight of yesterday is that I hooked up our Apple TV. With the babies coming, we keep talking about cancelling cable to save whatever money we can. It’s a pretty scary concept as cable has become quite the safety blanket in our lives. However, last night I finally experienced the majesty of Apple TV. Yes, we’ve streamed Netflix and Hulu and all sorts of things from a laptop to the TV, but never has it been so seamless! It was probably because there wasn’t a bunch of other programs vying for RAM space, but man, it was like watching whatever show we wanted at the touch of a button. It was hard to stop consuming media.

I finally got around to watching the first episode of the Daredevil series and I’m already in love with it. The chemistry between Matt and Foggy is perfect, the show’s choices are smart and edgy, and it’s even shot and framed in a particular cinematic experience that just oozes style. It makes me miss my old Daredevil trades. (They were a casualty when I moved and had to pare down my comic book collection.) This show scratches so many itches for me, I don’t think I could have made a better version if they’d given me complete creative control and an unlimited budget. Granted, I’m only an episode in, but having read comic books since I was 12 years old, this fills a void in my life that so many mainstream books no longer seem to hit. I’ll write a post about this soon as comics have been – and still are, I guess – such a large part of my life growing up. But for now, I want to end on a good note.

Consistent writing? Check.

New source of TV? Check

Work done for the week (for the most part)? Check

I think its time for more Daredevil, don’t you?

Birthing Pains

Welcome to my first official blog post!

I’ve been toying with the idea of running my “official” writer’s site for a while now and letting a few ideas roll around before I actually landed on anything. With three novels under my belt – arguably, I think that only one of them is any good – and being a quarter of the way through number four, I decided it was finally time (maybe past time) to pull this proverbial trigger. And on my actual birthday no less!

Part of what had been tripping me up for so long is that I couldn’t land on a single idea for a blog. I don’t feel confident giving other people writing advice on a continual basis as I’m just as likely to abuse the comma (used to use it like a Band-Aid) than anyone else. I also over think my tweets and have never been good at Facebook posts, so the thought of a published journal of my day to day life didn’t sound compelling to me either. So that left some of my other interests: Comic books, book books and video games. I like all of them, but I’m rarely an authority anymore as most of my time has been spent getting our lives ready for the birth of our first children: Twins! Wait, that’s ANOTHER thing I could write about! See where I’m going with this?

So instead of focusing on just one thing, you’re going to get it all. One day it might be a plot issue I’m tackling, the next it’ll be about a half marathon I ran. Oh, and I’m putting new tile in my kitchen floor in a couple weeks. You’ll definitely be hearing about that one. Whether you’re here with me at the beginning – which might only be my mom and my wife. Hi guys! – or if you’re reading from the future, consider this a manifesto of sorts.

For years I’d always – still do, actually – wanted to be a comic book writer. I spent a long time wrangling other people into drawing my dreams. It finally hit me that I didn’t always need another person to translate the images in my head. I love telling stories and I love crafting them. Why can’t I do both? Thus, I wrote my first novel, A Binder’s Oath. Needless to say it’s sitting safely in a digital trunk right now. I’ll probably pick its corpse like a carrion bird for a few good ideas later, but I’m not thrilled with it enough to fix it into a real boy. Working full time at Indiana University only leaves me with so much extra time to write, so time management is incredibly important. And once those babies are born you better believe that it’s going to become even more so. Anyway, I say all of this to illustrate a point. I’m so happy I wrote that book because it taught me so much about the novel writing process, but more than anything it showed me that I’m a novelist at heart. Even if nothing I write ever gets published, I’m not going to stop. I’ll crank these suckers out. My pace is about one a year right now. I hear that’s not too shabby.

At this point, you might be thinking, “What does this have to do with a blog?” That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked.

Stories. I come from a family of born story tellers and I’ve been fascinated with the concept of stories for as long as I can remember. I’m becoming more confident thinking of myself as a writer, but I’m definitely new to the writing community. I’ve done a lot of lurking and not so much posting and I don’t meet with a writer’s group. Although, I would definitely like to. Anyone in Indiana? So I have some tips and advice, sure, but more than that, I have stories that I want to share. I think they’re interesting, hopefully you will too.