Wednesday, August 28, 2013

So Much Ambition, So Little Time

Brilliance from Idea Salesman
Life for a novelist’s Idea Salesman can be full of adventure. Pitches flying around the internet, queries dancing from one inbox to another, readers to tease, agents to entice. It’s thrilling and terrifying. It’s beautiful chaos.

Unless your novelist is working her way back from a long hiatus and has nothing to market. Then things get kinda dull.

Don’t get me wrong; I love working with Renee and she’s going to make me a very rich man someday with all the bestselling novels and screenplay adaptations.

Shut up. It could happen. Fine, it’s unlikely and all that. But the option is out there, just waiting for the universe to pick it up and toss it my way. I am ready, baby!

If nothing else, she’s settled on doing this forever, so there will always be job security and new challenges. A lot of novelists can’t give their Idea Salesman that kind of guarantee, so I’m a pretty lucky guy. And I’ve got this blog to supervise and tweets to nudge her into posting every few days. It’s not sexy, but it works for me. More will come eventually. I’m content with that.

And then the women just have to go and tease me.

Idea Salesman, you look bored. Look, there’s an anthology coming up in a few months and we’re working on a short story. Maybe you’ll have something to market sooner than you thought.


Um… Ladies, what happened to the short story?

Oh, that. Yeah, we learned a lot from it, but we decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. We’re back to working on the novel now. Don’t worry, Idea Salesman. We should have something for you in a year or two.

*@*$##! $&#@ $%# *%#! BLEEP! BLEEP! $*#& @&$^ ^%%& $@$*# @$*@&*! BLEEP! ^*# @#* $&*@! BLEEP! BLEEP! $&&* $** @&@^ *&$*! BLEEP! BLEEP! BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

Okay, deep breath. Woosaaah. Calm thoughts, Idea. Soothing tropical drinks and all that.

I have to remind myself sometimes that Renee is human, she’s not an all-powerful aspect of the mind like I am. I see something pop up that I know she could do, and I want to dive all over it. For example, a tweet will catch my eye and that voice in my head will start shouting “Look! Look! There’s an agent advertising on Twitter that she’s open for submissions and she’s looking for exactly the kind of story we’re writing! Pitch her! PITCH HER! PITCH HEEEEEEEEEER!

The problem with being a voice in someone’s head is that the voice in my head isn’t so much an inner monologue as a loud shrieking crazy man who happens to sound just like me. I have to watch it or those impulse reactions get taken seriously. Drown that crazy talk out with my cool, smooth, logical dude self. “No, no. Don’t listen to that. The novel isn’t finished yet. DO NOT PITCH HER.”

The problem (and it’s not really a problem, per se) is that Renee has a healthy amount of confidence in her skills. We’ve worked hard on that.

I mean, sure, most days she’s convinced she’s a hack of the lowest order whose words are garbage and that the publishing world is going to put her on some kind of blacklist just for having the temerity to consider making this into a career. But that’s, you know, normal for writers.

Back to the point. Renee has good confidence (some of the time) and so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that she could bang out a novel in two weeks if she really put her mind to it. And pawned her kids and her husband and her cats and her dishes off on some poor unsuspecting clone or something. But while that sounds great to me, it’s not really a good plan and no matter how tempting the lure of our ambition, I have to remember to keep things grounded.

Because at the end of the day, she doesn’t actually have a poor unsuspecting clone to take care of things, so we have to remember the physical limits of the time-space continuum and all that. It might make for a slow life for me, but I’ll get through it. There is plenty of chaos to be had later, once we’ve got a few things finished and Renee’s kids start disappearing into the school system (*shudder*) and freeing up some more of her time. Sure, that’s… years from now, but I will not let it get me down.

At least I have football season coming up to distract me. Go… Where are we living now again? Sometimes I lose track of the physical world stuff. Oh, right, Chicagoland! Go Bears!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

State Your Genre and Occupation!

What is it about books that compels us to classify them into smaller and smaller niches? Telling someone you write is like opening yourself up for a rapid-fire interrogation that would make a prosecuting attorney on a prime-time legal drama wince.

Fiction or nonfiction? Fiction, huh. Genre or literary? I see, you write genre fiction. Which genre? Romance? Mystery? Horror? SF/F? Ooooh, SF/F. Love that stuff. Science Fiction or Fantasy? What kind of fantasy? High fantasy or urban fantasy? Does your world have sparkly vampires or scary ones? Does it have thriller elements? Romantic elements? Comedic?...

It's so wearying. Let's just cut to the chase: In case any of you haven't figured it out yet and you're just desperate to know, I write urban fantasy novels with scary vampires (actually demons, since I'm not writing about vampires at the moment, but that's not really the point) and romantic elements. Or how about this? So long as we're narrowing it down, let's go all in. Should one of my books ever be published, I'll let you know the ISBN. I don't think it gets more specific than that.

But it's not just the stories we feel compelled to divide and subdivide and classify down to the smallest detail. We also have to do it to the writers. Traditionally published or self-published? Digital only or print? Are you published or unpublished? Are you a professional writer or a hobbyist?

That last one has been causing something of an uproar this week, at least in the small corner of the publishing world I follow. Here are some links: the quiz itselfJohn Scalzi's take, Chuck Wendig's handy flow chart, this article that popped up today on the Forbes site. (I tried to find a few links supporting Morton's quiz, in the interest of fairness, but my Google Fu was not strong enough to locate any.) The kerfuffle basically boils down to this: someone posted a quiz to tell you if you're a professional writer or a hobbyist.

(I generally try not to wade into kerfuffles. I've had bad experiences igniting flame wars on blogs in the past and, to be totally honest, while lots of topics in publishing catch my interest, by the time I get around to blogging about things they're usually old news. But I figured what the heck? This issue seems pretty cut and dry and I might as well talk about something topical every once in a while. The Idea Salesman says blogging about current events might get this blog some readers other than the bots.)

My stance is pretty simple: why do we care?

Seriously, why would anyone care whether I consider myself a professional writer or a hobbyist? I'm just a person babbling on the internet. I really don't think you need to check my credentials for that. I certainly don't care if you're running around calling yourself a professional writer or a hobbyist or an aspiring novelist or a Scribe for the Ages.

(Truthfully, I think the list read more like Ten Questions To Know If You’re A Fanatic, but that's neither here nor there.)

I suppose if we, to borrow Ms. Morton's choice of words, want to get down to the nitty gritty of it, the traditionally accepted definition of a professional is a person who is paid to do something. It's not sexy, it doesn't evoke images of smoky coffee houses and hipster glasses, but there it is. Whether or not you like your friends, how much television you watch, and what kind of house you live in don't really enter into the equation.

The premise is flawed. I could answer yes to the question about being more interested in spending my time writing than cleaning, but I suspect that's got less to do with my dedication to my craft and more to do with the fact that I'd rather spend my time having dental surgery than cleaning my house.

I don't consider myself a professional writer for two reasons: 1) I don't get paid to do it yet and 2) I don't have any immediate plans to change that fact. I have no books under contract, I don't have short stories out there under submission, and I'm not querying agents, going to conferences, or taking classes right now. I write for a couple of hours in the morning on the days when I can drag myself out of bed before the kids wake up. That'll probably continue to be the case until my kids are in school.

I'm lucky; Long-Suffering Husband has a good job and I have the luxury of not needing to get paid for my writing. So I can take my time with it and not stress myself out trying to make it work.

I also don't really consider myself a hobbyist, because that term implies to me a kind of... leisure. I'm not just slapping words down on the page for my own amusement. Getting up at 4:30 in the morning to pound out a story that frequently leaves me wanting to beat my head against the desk isn't my idea of relaxation. The fact that on days when I don't beat my head on the desk I do find the work relaxing also isn't the point. I'm writing with publication as the eventual goal. I might be taking the slow road, but queries and conferences (and hopefully contracts) are somewhere down there around the bend.

I'm a writer. (I have the hat to prove it and everything.) I write. Barring a drastic change in my brain chemistry, I'll probably continue to do so in one form or another for the rest of my life. Whether I ever get paid for it or not won't change that fact. Whatever extraneous labels you feel the need to stick to my forehead probably won't change it either. I don't feel the need to shove you into a random niche and I'd really prefer it if you didn't try to shove me into one either.

Okay, I'll get down off my soap box now. Please feel free to blast me in the comments and scare me away from ever blogging about current events again. Or, you know, don't. I'll leave the choice up to you.

Friday, August 2, 2013

July 2013 Camping Debrief

As the Inner Editor mentioned in an earlier post, I tried out Camp Nanowrimo last month. I was feeling disconnected from Familiar and I thought putting together a short story about the time leading up to my plot would be useful. And I’ve always wanted but been unable to pull off a short story. I’ve been participating in the Office of Letters and Light’s National Novel Writing Month for several years now with varying degrees of success and the pared down summer version of the program seemed like a good fit for my needs.

I tried to be very smart about my goals for my first camp out. The 50k in 30 days whirlwind of NaNoWriMo is a charming experience, but it’s not something I’m really feeling up to right now. I get 7-8 hours a week to write; 50k would have made for some very fast-paced fiction to fit that time frame. It’s doable, but I didn’t really want that level of stress. Also, I really wanted to work on my short fiction skills, and 50k may be short for a novel but it’s nowhere near the realm of a short story. I set a smaller goal of 10k.

I ended up getting just over 4k. So not a win in the technical sense. There were some personal issues that got in the way of my writing time in the middle of the month. Plus, as the Inner Editor mentioned, I knew by a week into the month there was no way I was going to reach the end of the story in 10,000 words, which didn’t do much for my motivation. Short fiction and I just don’t get along. My philosophy on writing seems to run more toward the “don’t use 3 words when 10 will do” school of thought.

And there were the wasps. We aren’t going to talk about the wasps.

(The nest is gone, by the way. Just in case you were worried.)

But the time off from Familiar made me interested in working on it again. (Pro Tip: When the project gets stubborn, cheat on it and make it jealous!) And even though I didn’t finish writing “Singed”, I did plot the rest of it out and now I have a much better handle on the head space my main character is in at the beginning of Familiar.

I knew she was in the mood to throw daggers at people, but I didn’t really understand why, which made me want to tell her to stay away from the pointy weaponry. Now I know better and will be letting her get a little more stabby. This should make her feel better, and will probably help me keep the romance subplots from taking over the story.

It’s difficult to work in a lot of sexytime scenes when the POV character is more interested in killing someone than kissing him.

So next week it’s back to Familiar for me and I’ll leave “Singed” to play with another day. Plus, there’s a certain guardian grinding her teeth and tapping her toe rather impatiently, getting just a little sick and tired of waiting for me to pay some attention to her little corner of my imagination again.

I’ve decided to count the Camp Nanowrimo experience as a win, even though I didn’t win. What about you? Did you camp in July? Did you win?