I’m saying night-night to 2014 and welcoming 2015. I’ve got a list of ten agents I need to send queries to, a new novel to finish, a magazine to get out, and a new baby on the way, and a non-literary project to get up and running. Not necessarily all in that order, but you get the idea. Yeah, it’s going to be quite a year.
As for 2014, I left too many undones on the table. I'm sure you've felt the same way. Or maybe you haven't. And if you're that person, GREEEAAAT for you. We're talking about me. And I know I could have accomplished some tasks I didn't. That's bad. Others just weren't going to happen unless I used that time-bendy warp clock thingee in my basement. But I was warned that I shouldn't and so I haven't. Don't tempt me.
On the other hand, there were successes, too. I did get "Little Wolf" finished and submitted to agents. I wrote more short stories this year than I did last year and shopped them relentlessly. Yes, none were picked up, but that just means I have to keep submitting and that there's a lot of good sci-fi and fantasy out there written by talented authors. We're all competing in a very tight market. Some of us make it through, others have to keep throwing haymakers.
And I did get volunteered ... I mean selected ... to head up a new special-issue magazine title that will sell next to Discover magazine. That's been cool. Stressful. Worrisome. A huge pain in the ass. But cool. I just handed off the first feature story to art for layout. YAY!
So here we are, on the threshold of a new year. I'll see you in it. Good luck out there!
About a month ago, I was approached and asked if I’d be interested in heading up a special magazine issue focused on drones and published in conjunction with Discover magazine. Of course, I said yes. Needless to say, I’m more than busy. I’m oil in a hot pan. Hear me fry?
I am master and commander, though, and that is good. Not a full-fledged captain, but still setting the course. Now, I just have to make sure the magazine’s cool. Which, you know, is totally subjective.
The concept title for the magazine was UP. I liked the metaphor. The cover design was clean, almost industrial, but then the people who live in the world of weaponized numbers tossed that particular baby off the summit of Mount Literal. Not unexpected, but still infused with regret. So, 50 ideas later, which included such gems as Drones: Fuck Yeah! and DRG (Drones, rotorcraft, and gear), we decided on Drone 360. Not bad, really. Literal? Yes. However, it leaves the way open for getting into land- and water-based drones, not just UAVs.
So, I'm racing along as fast as I can go. Gotta get stories assigned and convince writers to climb aboard while committing to Thanksgiving, contending with college finals, and do I hear sleighbells?
Hello my deranged few. I’m back from the dead, at least for a little while. I have decidedly too many blades for my single propeller, and I don’t think I’m upgrading to a jet any time soon.
I’m reading a lot about drones right now, which might have something to do with an upcoming project. I am, in fact, now the proud owner of a quadcopter, and have shot my very own surveillance video of me flying it near an abandoned school adjacent to acres of forest owned by some very wealthy people who’d probably be unhappy about my activities. I also flew on a Sunday, which I’m sure transgresses a religious precept somewhere. I await excommunication, or whatever punishment more medieval minded residents might concoct.
I’m also back on a Katherine Kerr kick. When I was a teen, I read as many of her Deverry books as I could. I think I caught up to her and never finished the series. I have six or seven of the books on the shelf, and I was foggy as to what happened in them. So, I began rereading them, starting, as people do, with the first one, Daggerspell. I’m in book two, Darkspell, and I am amazed that I’d either forgotten or never picked up on the fairly blatant anti-abortion message splashed through the pages. Not that anyone condones abortion, but I support a woman’s right to choose. I allow that Deverry does not have to be an extension of Kerr’s world view, but a world she has created with its own mores and ethics resembling the late Dark Ages or early Middle Ages. But it was striking how broad the strokes are. For instance, the universal alignment of homosexuals (and herbwomen—harrumph … witches—who perform abortions) is with the dark dweomer masters (i.e., the bad guys). Again, I’m not ready to point an accusatory finger, but I do find it comment worthy that I have yet to find a gay good guy in the books. Maybe that will change—although I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t.
On a different note, Kerr seems to have created an epic as involved as Martin’s, but years before Martin started penning his. I wonder what kept the producers at HBO from looking her up and asking, “Hey, wanna make a ton of money?” Maybe they didn’t want elves. Or maybe they read a little more critically than a 15-year-old.
Anyone else seen Snowpiercer? I watched it, and beyond the crushing depression that ensued immediately after, I found it enjoyable like psychotropic-induced paranoia: interesting and exciting in its own way, but not something to make a habitual. My wife asked why Chris Evans didn’t just use Cap’s shield to solve all the injustice. I did not have the presence of mind to make such a quip.
Probably most frightening, beyond Tilda Swinton’s midlevel government skeeze, was how close the school car’s indoctrination song reminded me of third grade. Pledge allegiance to the flag, America’s the best, we kicked British ass and saved the world from Germany—not once, but twice. By the way, George Washington never lied, slavery is not something we should be overly introspective about, and the robber barons weren’t really that bad. “Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.”
While I await word on Little Wolf, I’ve begun its sequel. I’m really still at the beginning. Not even the middle of the beginning; scenes continue to evolve, and there are a couple of villainous types who as yet remain shadowed even to me. I’ll let you know as soon as there’s movement with the agents. As for short stories, “The Slipside Datastream” is under consideration at Uncanny right now. Three others have suffered rejections. I have to see who is next on the lists and get them turned around.
Much to do. Time to get back in the box.
Why did you fly off in a disgusted huff about two weeks ago? I did not give you leave to go. You are not allowed to “have had enough.”
Yes, recently, you dragged me through a grueling rewrite of my short story, “The Slipside Datastream.” Before that, submissions and submissions and submissions. And resubmissions and resubmissions and resubmissions. You ushered me through a novel that will ultimately go unfinished because it was like trying to reassemble sawdust into a 2 x 4.
I have crap to do, damn it! I need to rewrite my synopsis for “Lone Wolf,” pick six new agents I’d like to work with, write up six new personalized cover letters, and get the novel submitted to all of them this week. The next book needs writing, too.
Don’t gripe to me about tired. We’re all fucking tired. All of us, except the dog. But she’s a husky and thinks the cat is a deformed otter and wonders why we haven’t eaten it yet. All she wants is to eat that goddamn otter! What do you want? A penguin? Wombat? I’ll get you one!
Never mind. I’ll continue on without your help, disloyal traitor that you are. Go ahead, dalliance with some other fool writer. I’ll just be here working, pen scratching paper, resisting “Hunter x Hunter” and emotionally disabled police detectives solving murders in the Welsh desolation.
You have fun out there, Motivation, wherever you are.
I told you I'd share Kid Kidwell's first painted miniature with you when it was finished. Well, it's finished, and here it is!
He's thrilled with his first foray into miniatures, and we've played half a dozen games of WARMACHINE so far. He likes his Khador warjacks, especially the Destroyer with its bombard. "HAHAHA! I can blow you up from way over here!" If you look carefully, there's a Kadhoran Juggernaut in the background. I was using that to help guide Kid on his journey through painting:
"Is the red as smooth as you want it?"
"Did you get iron on the metal parts?"
"Do you think you need more on the bombard?"
"No. That's shadow."
"How about the legs?"
"No. That's where it got burned."
"Wow! That's a nice touch putting the red on its ax. What is that?"
"Uh, Dad, it's adding detail."
James Foley. Ferguson. Depression. Suicide. Ebola. Gaza. Ukraine. What the hell? It's too easy to get immersed in the continuous data, images and videos, Twitter chatter and insane or innane "news" commentary. On the one hand we're told to look, and on the other, not to look. But how can we ignore one but not the other? We're all Pavlov's dogs, aren't we? Trained to peep whenever something new comes across our screens, clicking, clicking, always clicking. We consume and react and consume and react but to no real benefit.
OUTRAGE! Aren't you pissed at what's going on in X,Y, and Z? GRRRR! Wait! What's on Netflix?
Two weeks ago, I discovered that a friend of mine equates being gay with being an alcoholic. Sure, you might have a genetic predisposition, but you still choose to take the drink. Yeah, you see my problem already. Add to this that a mutual friend of ours, in fact my longest lasting and best friend, happens to be gay.
Last week, Kid Kidwell decided that he would like a Mighty Kids Meal from McDonalds. We indulged him, and instead of getting the Hot Wheels toy which he'd previously seen and knew he would be disappointed with, he chose the Barbie doll. We've always encouraged him to choose whatever makes him happy in such instances. But not long after, he covered his face and said he'd made a mistake, because the girls at school would make fun of him for choosing a "girl toy."
Two days ago, Kid launched a golf ball into the road while playing with the neighbor's boy and, after looking both ways, ran into the street to retrieve the ball. Angie, watching from her secret mommy-spy-sniper-nest put an immediate end to that nonsense. The excuses came hot and heavy amidst apologies and tears, but Kid knows the rules: You don't go into the street. Always get an adult.
Editing my short story has been a nightmare and is hanging up writing new material.
As disgusted and outraged and saddened as I am at the deplorable, horrifying, despicable acts happening in Missouri, Liberia, Gaza, the West Bank, Ukraine, Iraq, or Syria, I have shit right here in Wisconsin that needs remedying. I have to decide, with a dear friend, whether or not to try to convince another friend to change his views. Cuz it's every gay person's responsibility to find a non-gay and convince him or her that being gay isn't a sin, right? WRONG. I have to support my son and reinforce that there aren't boy toys or girl toys; there are toys that make him happy and toys that don't. Just like there are clothes he likes to wear and clothes he doesn't. And people he likes and people he doesn't. And I'd be proud to play with his Barbie dolls or LEGO blocks or Transformers or Strawberry Shortcake figures any time he wants. I have to make sure that he doesn't run into the street, or stick a knife in the toaster, or lick a poison ivy leaf, because he's precious, and a ball can be replaced, but he can't be.
I'm not saying there isn't a time for outrage and activism, but I am saying be careful, because forces are at work to provoke our outrage, not to make the world better, but to get our metrics, to sell us shit we don't want or need, to convince us of a particular point of view. Turn to your backyard, your neighborhood, your town. Talk to your friends; support, teach, and protect your children. Not to shield them from the truths and hardships of the world, but to prepare them to treat one another better tomorow than the adults do today.
And work. Create. No matter how painful it might be. Because, for all its bleakness, the world needs beauty.
Ever get a rejection after deciding to take your manuscript to a different agent? I did this morning. The agent I queried in January said on the agency’s website that she would respond to queries within eight weeks. OK. Cool. Eight weeks and it didn’t happen. So, I prompted her politely. After a week with no response, I wrote a follow-up letting her know I was going to submit my book elsewhere. No hard feelings or anything. Today, seven months after I sent my query to her, and four months after I’ve queried another agent, I received a rejection.
A recently syndicated cartoonist I know expressed disgust when I explained the submission process for books. “Antiquated” and “fucking stupid” I believe were the words he used. “It’s the 21st century. You’d think that you could submit simultaneously to a bunch of different agents. We do in cartoons.” Some agents accept multiple submissions, but the majority does not. And time is a precious commodity. When an agent tells you they’ll let you know within eight weeks whether you can send your manuscript to another agent, that’s comforting. As a writer you rely on that, because you’re pretty sure you’re going to be rejected. That means you can plan where to send your manuscript next. You might get six submissions in a year. It gets scary when an agent says they’ll get back to you in six months. It gets even scarier when the agent says they’ll get back to you when they get back to you, or no response is a no. How long are we supposed to wait?
As writers, we’re told to be up on the market and write for it. I call bullshit on that. I write what I want, because, ultimately, I can’t keep up with a market that is changing while I’m writing. And assuming I cranked out a book for a market that was hot for it, chances are it wouldn’t be by the time I was able to get an agent to read it, accept it, sell it to a publisher, and get it printed.
My answer to my cartoonist acquaintance was pretty lame: “It’s how the business works. Agents want to have first crack at your book. If they find out that you’re submitting all over the place, it could damage your reputation and make it harder for you to break in.”
“Dude, self publish,” he said.
The thought of traveling the self-publishing route tempts me. Some authors have had success, but many have failed, too. I am reminded of this article about survivorship bias. And rightly or wrongly, I still have faith in the system that says this is good enough to move on, but this isn’t. (Maybe because I’m part of it on the editorial end.) Everyone thinks their work deserves to be read. However, does it? Is my book, Little Wolf, ready for a worldwide audience? Does it need more work? The idea behind the traditional agent-publisher-public chain is that you get help along the way to realize the best books and stories you can.
For now, a query for Little Wolf resides in the inbox of an agent on the East Coast, where it’s been since April. I started another book, but killed the project for lack of momentum. There are good ideas in it, but, despite all my hammering, I couldn’t forge them into a usable alloy. On the upside, I’ve started plotting the sequel to Little Wolf, and have revved up the short story machine again. With any luck, you and I will see a couple of them hit some small-circulation venues soon.
This past Monday, I visited Games Universe in Brookfield. A set of six-siders stood out to me, so I bought them for Kid Kidwell, 6, in preparation for our foray into WARMACHINE. What better way for him to get his first dice set than to discover them in a treasure hunt?
Since I was going to start teaching him to play on Friday, that meant I had less than a week to get things together. Of course, I procrastinated. Well, that’s not exactly right. I’ve been working on a new short story, so that has consumed my nights. But during the days, I gathered the bits and pieces for the treasure hunt. I just needed to get them all together.
Thursday arrived and I still had nothing finished. Swallowing hard, I decided that writing would have to wait. Kid went to bed, and I got to work. Notebook in hand, I wrote a list of names corresponding to locations in our backyard: the Ruined Kingdom of Backyardia, the Temple of Kalaparnaxus (garden shed), Mammyammyonna’s Jungle Garden (the garden), the Tree-in-need-of-a-house (a maple tree that really needs a tree house), and the Tabeltarna Skyfortress (our patio).
All of these places had to figure in the treasure hunt. I wrote a mysterious letter from a guy named Malachi Barterweight. In the letter, he told of the places where an adventuresome six-year-old would need to travel, artifacts he’d have to discover, and a monster he’d have to defeat—the Gabbersmack—in order to discover forgotten treasure. One of the artifacts would be the Monocular of Sight, because Kid thinks telescopes rock. Another was a key for the treasure chest.
I set about building the Monocular of Sight from a thick-walled shipping tube, an applesauce cup, and a canning-jar lid. I wanted to paint it, but there just wasn’t enough time. So, I gave it the Mk. I designation: I’ll add bits to improve it for future treasure hunts.
In the meantime, I needed help with the map. I’ve drawn plenty of maps for D&D, but this needed something more than my stick-figure sensibilities. That’s where my wife Angela came in. I handed her Barterweight’s letter, and she got to work.
I have a small wooden box with lock and key that would serve as a treasure chest. I fished it out, dusted it off, and put Kid’s dice in it. Meager, thought I. After all this work, the dice alone didn’t quite sell it to me. What more? Loose change? Colored glass? A sharp rock?
A dice bag!
Burrowing behind some books in the office, I found a black velvet dice bag with an orange draw string that has been lingering for ten years through move after move, always finding itself tossed behind some books on a random shelf. In the dice went.
Asking for my inexpert art direction, Angela produced a map that I wouldn’t have been able to draw in three days, let alone a couple of hours. Once finished, we went over the materials, made sure everything was present, rolled up the map and letter and hid it all in our bedroom closet.
When I arrived home Friday afternoon, I was greeted by Kid at the door: “Are you going to teach me to play WARMACHINE?” No one can say that he lacks enthusiasm—or persistence.
“Before anything else happens,” Angie chimed, you have to read one of your library books. Brilliant! He ran off, grabbed the book and sat next to his mom while I sneaked around, planted the letter and map in the mailbox, placed the monocular in the temple, tied the treasure box key to the garden trellis, and hid the box under the picnic table on the patio.
I returned inside, looked out the front window, and asked Kid if he’d gotten the mail today.
“No. Mom did.” He rushed to look at the mailbox. “Hey! What’s that?” We were off!
The treasure hunt went exceedingly well. Kid ventured into the dark templer interior alone, stole a key from monstrous beans, overcame the Gabbersmack (me) with the help of his trusty green lightsaber, discovered his dice, and, I hope, has a cool story to tell his first-grade class about one of the things he did during the summer. The experience turned out to be a treasure hunt for me too: I got to make a bunch of neat things, uncover artifacts from my own life, watch my wife draw (which is always a joy because she has so much fun doing it, though she gripes the entire time), and I’m teaching my son his first “grown-up” game. WIN!
I have a friend who was giving me directions over the phone one day. He said, "Then take a right on ear-rack-wee-us."
"Excuse me," I said. "What's the street?"
"Do you mean Iroquois?"
"Oh. Is that how you say it?"
Sometimes phonics just fails us. Or perhaps it's the other way round. <shrug> Also, I think, our given accents can be devilishly difficult when trying to pronounce foreign or unfamiliar words. I remember people in college unable to get the nasals for French; too much Wis-can-suhn in them I suppose. I always found mimicking accents easy, but that might be because I spent my formative years near the Arctic Circle. I don't think we have an accent up there; or maybe it's more mutable.
In other news, new short stories have gone out to a couple of magazines you may have heard of: Apex and Clarkesworld. I've received rejections from both. Other stories went out in turn and the aforementioned new stories are about to be rotated into other hands. So, the cycle continues.
I submitted Little Wolf to a third agent. Keep your fingers crossed, or touch wood (you know the kind I'm talking about), or whatever you do for luck (I suppose you can touch the other kind of wood if that's your thing).
There's another short story in the works. It's been hard prising this one loose. I tend to get these little fictions out of the way in between larger projects. And right now, they're tumbling out, so it's as good a time as any to write them, though I'd like to get back to the larger course. All in due time.
For too long it has been the sorry plight of humans to come into a bright, open world of color and noise from dark, placental confinement only to suffer meaty imprisonment forced upon us by biology. Consider the harm inflicted upon all children, growing up segregated from the billions of other individuals inhabiting our planet, each spending their formative years with no one but their parents, grandparents, extended family, and family friends to help teach them about this immense, beautifully dangerous environment they find themselves deposited, never having asked for the privilege, but finding it thrust upon them nonetheless. Where do they get the advice to cope with their lives? Their parents.
But every child knows, instinctively, that his or her parents are wrong at least half of the time, some as bad as 90 percent or more. Yet, because of growing up in a home, kept secure and guarded from outside influences, children have little recourse when it comes to challenging their parents’ erroneous, often self-serving, if not intentionally false prating. Maturing, a child’s world by needs must grow, but still, they are limited in what they can experience by parental obfuscation and an overbearing, ill-conceived sense of protection, their own fears (most likely inherited from the parents), and the influence of friends whose own life experiences may have been variably wider or narrower in spectrum, but still retarded by similar safeguards. The end being adults who, once they have children of their own, perpetuate the cycle, raising another generation of babes, stunted by individualism rather than unfettered by the wisdom of the collective psyche.
Thanks to advances in technology, the proliferation of digital media, and a surprising eagerness on the part of humans to get on with getting everything in the open, the days of privacy and secrecy can be eliminated by installing a camera on every person, in every room, and on every street corner, everywhere.
As sweeping as this action may seem, in actuality, it would not be as hard to implement as you might think. Every computer, tablet, and cell phone now has an onboard camera with the ability to link to wireless networks. Governments around the world have already implemented closed-circuit television systems, and supermarkets, financial institutions, and restaurants have all installed security cameras. We find ourselves at a juncture where but a single, bold step can take us from entities wandering the mist-filled, tangled ways of individual pursuits to monolithic fused intelligence, each of us watched and watching, engrossed not only in our own lives, but the lives of everyone else around us, all seven billion, every minute of every day of every week of every month of every year, from birth until death.
And it need not be traumatic. Indeed, for the youngest among us, it will be the easiest change of all, since they won’t remember a time when it wasn’t, and, therefore, not a change at all. In fact, we must begin with our infants. As shortly after birth as medically sound, every infant will be fitted with a micro-camera in its forehead just above the point where the nose meets the brow ridge. These micro-cameras will become recognized as our third eye, and these infants will not know a life without them. Indeed, after a generation, a well-placed third eye will become a mark of beauty as much as a well-formed nose or high cheekbones. And from that day on, the child will have his or her every moment streamed onto the web, recorded, commented, annotated, cross referenced, marketed, and monetized. Not a moment will pass that someone will not be watching to make sure that the child does not come to harm, nor does anything that the populace in general does not approve.
Similarly, we must endeavor to retrofit all healthy adults with a third eye. I say healthy because there will be a segment of the population, afflicted by age, ravaged by disease, or hampered by immune deficiencies, whose bodies will not be able to heal as quickly after augmentation as the healthier populace. But do not despair. We will not forget these folk in their lamentable conditions. For whom among us needs a third eye more than the most fragile and infirm? We shall fit them with collars plainly but comfortably mounting a third eye around their necks with an apparatus to make sure a second or third chin or an inclined head never obscures its view.
We cannot, in our attempt to bring society closer and obliterate the barriers to individuality, stop there. Beyond a third eye for every person, every room in every building everywhere, from the smallest unincorporated village to the megametropolis, the lowliest hovel to the uppermost middle-income flat, must be wired for sight and sound, its every second broadcast to the world for the continued expansion of the greater good. Nothing is off limits — bathroom, bedroom, office, or kitchen — it will all be piped live onto the internet. The benefits are practically too many to be enumerated. However, a few come directly to mind.
Without overstating the incredible position we will have achieved, the third eye and the Universal Broadcast of Everything (UBE, pronounced you-be) will bring an end to exploitation. I have friends concerned with the welfare of animals, especially the kinds whose sole purpose is to end up butchered on grills or in frying pans. With eyes in every farmer’s barn and chicken coop, the likelihood of these animals being savaged before their ultimate doom will assuredly lessen. All sexual intercourse will become public, viewable by anyone. Those thus engaged could receive real-time encouragement and critique during their lovemaking. Those of a more conservative political and religious bent may at first balk at the notion, but it would surely prove the downfall of the pornography industry, as there will be no need for it. Think of the boon to children: No longer relegated to schools, sex education need not be an uncomfortable conversation between shame-faced parents and bewildered offspring. Children will be exposed to sexual intercourse from their earliest moments and firmly grasp its details long before they can read or write. What better billboard for abstinence?
Women can finally leave the stress of deciding what to do with unexpected pregnancies behind. The world will be with her when she misses her period, there when she takes the pregnancy test, and there to let her know what it is she should do. By choosing likes and dislikes, we will tell women how to proceed once gotten with child, and that way lift the burden of guilt from their shoulders. From conception, to ultrasound visits, to the birthing room, no woman will be alone, ever. We will all have a hand in raising every child, and every newborn will have billions of parents, and billions of brothers and sisters. And that thought is a comforting one, isn’t it?
Because of UBE and the third eye, essentially any crime will become public knowledge instantly. Will crime end? Certainly not. However, only the boldest of the bold, or those hell-bent on incarceration, would succumb to the temptation. Homicides, assaults, thefts, all would drop dramatically as undeniable proof of the criminal's activity would be immediately available. The amount of time and money spent at the local, state, and federal levels prosecuting violent crimes would drop to a mere fraction of the billions of dollars we now spend annually. We would reduce the need for juries — in fact, viewers could serve as a defendant’s peers — fewer cases would mean fewer judges, and we can all agree that decimating the number of lawyers making a living wage would not only be preferable, but of utmost moral benefit to society. Lawyers could turn to other, more useful pursuits, such as growing vegetables, repairing infrastructure, driving ambulances, or feeding the dwindling great white shark and grey wolf populations.
Of late, fear of government intrusion into private life weighs heavy upon the public conscience. With a third eye and UBE, this fear will cease to exist. In a world without secrets, there is nothing for the government to uncover. Equally, the religious among us would discover they can watch their fellow faithful and know when to censure them for failure to hew to their averred beliefs. Consider how much improved the lives of the religious can be when able to choose friends, doctors, prospective employees – everyone! – based solely on religious affiliation. As important as any religious rite, no more will the populace suffer under the yoke of a secret ballot. Voting for the candidate or policies you believe best and knowing that your votes would be yours alone to know would be over. You will share your political beliefs with everyone and be a better person for it. Those people you thought your friends will cease to placate you, and you will find a host of new acquaintances ready to embrace you. Similarly, UBE will help de-escalate racial tensions and animosity by starkly limning prejudices, forcing individuals to bare their beliefs to the world or bury them so deeply that such feelings essentially disappear. Either way, people of like minds will be able to better choose whom they cull from their personal acquaintance without having to suffer through the laborious niceties of face-to-face communication.
Lest you think me insensitive to the wants and needs of the wealthy and our government necessities, allow me to put your concerns to rest. First, it goes almost without saying that if the wealthy and famous submitted to a third eye and UBE, they would garner most of the viewing attention of the rest of the world. Being born into wealth and power, being blessed with handsome attributes, or having the luck to rise above the bland billions, cannot be blameworthy. Therefore, the wealthy and famous will be exempt from an active third eye and UBE. Nor can they volunteer, as this would undermine and fracture the work to create a seamless, conglomerate society. Such people must stay segregated, living private lives to maintain the integrity of the whole.
A government cannot function without secrets. In fact, for a calm and pacific public, a robust governmental silence displays greater benefits to society than a government bent on revealing even a small portion of its complex, unfathomable, internal machinery. As such, government officials, staff, agents, and military personnel, their offices, homes, and fields of operation, will be exempt from an active third eye and UBE presence. Private conversations among the world’s leaders should remain so, and their personal lives must remain beyond reproach, lest they lose the faith of the people who have elected them to govern on their behalf. But, we should expect, rising from the ranks of the greater society and accustomed to the openness facilitated by UBE and a third eye that our elected officials will continue to behave as if they remain under societal scrutiny.
Change frightens, and in the beginning some will resist receiving a third eye. We cannot begrudge our fellow humans their right to refuse. However, deigning to continue to promulgate a misbegotten notion of a right to privacy and secrets damages our society as a whole. However, we have discovered over time that individuals have been willing to reveal more and more of themselves to the society of the world without the asking. I should not think that it will take more than a single generation, once implemented, for the objections to a third eye and UBE to disappear completely.
Personally, I will refuse the installation of UBE in my home and a third eye on my person or the persons of my family. I find I’m too entrenched in the unsavory notions of privacy and secrecy to give them up. I prefer private conversations in the living room with a drink in hand, and not worrying whether someone somewhere who is not privy to knowing me beyond a few snippets read from a computer screen or seen in a video takes testicle-twisting offense at an ironic statement because they’re too desensitized by the cesspool of smarm flooding their lives to discern anything more refined than flesh-tearing sarcasm. Although I won't be able to enjoy the new expanses of unfettered informational transaction were my suggestion implemented, I still find it my duty to submit it for the betterment of all.
So, let’s roleplay a little bit. You’re Super Fan who wants to turn your passion for fanfic into a paying gig. No? How about Ordinary Joe who plays with his buddies every week and wants to get some of his adventures published? Or Geek Chick who revels in the challenge of genre writing and is looking to get her best stuff noticed?
So you want that magic formula to “break into the biz”?
No snake oil here. I’ll give you the lowdown. Ready?
Hit a deadline. Consistently.
Ask any professional writer you want and they will all tell you different stories of how they got started in the trade. In my years as a writer and editor I’ve heard them all. Meeting someone in a *insert establishment here* and getting them to give their editor a call for them. Working the convention circuit as a driver so they could chat up authors. Getting paid in product just to get their name on something to prove they could write.
What all of them will tell you is that it takes perseverance and dedication. You gotta want it. It’s long hours in front of a computer pouring your soul into the text. And more importantly it’s doing that with a timeframe that is not your own. Want that magazine article gig? Then I need 1,500 words on my desk by close of business tomorrow.
Deadlines are a writer’s bane. The stuff of long nights and love affairs with caffeinated beverages. Writer’s block was and is born from looming deadlines.
Of course, deadlines are also an essential tool in the writer’s arsenal. They are the target. The arrow to split to impress your editor. The badge of honor you can show off in interviews.
So how do you tame the beast as it were and make deadlines your strength?
1. Know your limits as a writer. Every writer has a limit to the amount of material they can generate. Can you write 500 words a day? How about 10,000 words in a week? Sure, you may be able to crank out 20,000 words in three days with no interruptions and two cases of Diet Coke, but that isn’t a realistic expectation on a regular basis. Know what you can comfortably generate and stay within those limits.
2. Lie to yourself when it comes to your deadline. The deadline may be Friday, July 18, but that’s the day you need the final manuscript delivered. Your deadline is Thursday, July 10. Build in time not only to breathe when you finish, but to have a few days to walk away and come back one last time before you send in your draft. Remember, even revised drafts can stand one more look with a fresh set of eyes before delivery.
3. Don’t have one deadline. Have many. Don’t believe the hype. Writing professionally is a job. It’s long hours and hard work. Every gig you get is a project and managing those have rules. Rule number one is that any project should be broken down into milestones and tasks. The same thing with your writing. That deadline is your final milestone. When you get the gig first set up your other ones. Use whatever milestones you need, but the draft, revision, draft, revision cycle is a good place to start. Once you have the milestones, set up tasks to complete to reach them. Now you have a plan and that looming deadline is just another item to check off on your list!
4. Deadlines don’t move. Deadlines are missed. It’s easy to lie to yourself as a writer. Sure, you didn’t get all 500 words you needed today, but you will make up for it tomorrow. Deadlines, especially personal ones, are easy to push off. You’re busy today, but tomorrow you are free. You’ll get to it then. A deadline is a deadline. If you missed a deadline, then you have failed. Either your editor or yourself. Make it not just a commitment, but a source of pride that you hit every deadline set before you.
5. Don’t Panic. Your editor is lying to you. That deadline you have looming and are freaking out about? Yeah, it’s not set in stone. Every editor builds in time from when they ask for something and when they absolutely must have it or else they lose their jobs. They’re just not telling you. Why? Because just like you they have many deadlines and getting the material from you is just a milestone in their project. So can you ignore their deadline? Never. But you can throw yourself at their mercy and beg for an extension. This should be used only as a break glass in case of sudden unexplained illness last resort instance. Hitting their deadlines is what got you the job and what will get you more, but life happens to everyone. That said asking for approval is always better than begging for forgiveness when it comes to deadlines.
I’ve worked with wordsmiths that can evoke emotions with a simple collection of words … when they get around to writing them down. I’ve also worked with writers who give you exactly what you need when you need every time. The first one I try to work into my project when they give me a call if I can make him or her fit. The second one I have on speed dial.
Want to be a professional writer? Want that magic formula?
Hit a deadline. Consistently. It will get you the jobs and keep you writing.
All this inspecting old books got me to thinking about the others I keep on my shelves and three authors in particular: J.R.R. Tolkien, Margaret Weis, and Tracy Hickman.
My love for Tolkien began in third grade. In school, we received fliers from Scholastic Books every month that were basically mini catalogs. My mom never let me buy from them, until, one day, I came home and was adamant that I wanted this book titled The Hobbit. By that time, I was already playing D&D, and I remember the blurb talking about dwarves and a wizard. That sealed it for me.
Surprisingly, Mom relented without much fuss, so my ardor must have meant something. After The Hobbit arrived, I couldn’t contain myself. I crawled through it again and again, to the point that it eventually fell apart. But there was mention of three other books at the beginning of The Hobbit, something named The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The Hobbit, LotR, and the Silmarillion were treasure troves of arcane lore that I could discuss with my friends and most adults around us couldn’t hang on through the tidal wave of foreign words and odd names to make sense of it all. With age came reflection, and my love for the venerable work changed from one of torrid adoration to companionship. Its flaws required reflection.
Fellowship has always been my favorite, as it presents, in my opinion, the best characterizations and storytelling. Towers plods along and remains a dry read for me — more like studying than reading for pleasure. My problem with Return springs from Tolkien’s backdrop of all-out-war: It, in large part, makes the story an impersonal one. Besides Frodo and Samwise, everyone moves along and plays their part, but their efforts, even Gandalf’s, really amount to nothing. It’s up to the hobbits in Mordor to bring down Sauron. If they do it, HOORAY! CONFETTI! If not, DOOM BOOM, orcs and goblins. Whether Minas Tirith falls, or the ring wraiths are slain, really doesn’t matter. We suppose everything is interconnected, but even the characters have this “all we can do is hope that Frodo makes it through, though we really doubt he can, being just a little hobbit. Gandalf, you’re an idiot …” attitude about them. And the interaction between the love interests comes off something less than coy. Arwen may as well not be mentioned for all the effect she has on the story, and Eowyn’s only purpose, seemingly, is to fulfill a quest condition in order to kill a Nazgul.
But these flaws don’t make me care for the material any less. In fact, it’s heartening to think that one of the progenitor’s of modern fantasy was not infallible. And there will probably never be someone capable of Tolkien’s immersive world-building.
Round about the same time I read LotR, I happened to be in a bookstore and saw this green paperback on the shelf. On the cover posed three characters: a Conan the Barbarian type, an intriguing wizard in red robes, and a hot girl with shapely, bare legs.
There went my $3.50 into the store’s till. Had I bothered to read more than the title of the book and slaver over the art, I would have realized Dragons of Spring Dawning was the third in a series of books called Dragonlance Chronicles.
I dove in and was immediately confused. The story was way in the middle of things, as you would expect for the final book in a trilogy. Once I realized my blunder, back to the store I went and spent the rest of what little money I had picking up the first two novels. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, particularly Fellowship, started me thinking about storytelling, but Dragonlance Chronicles unlocked my desire to write. (And there were D&D modules, too! I ran the entire campaign, twice. A proud achievement, I must say.)
At this point, I seriously started to try to put my words on paper. I think, today, we call what I wrote fan-fiction, using characters from many different authors, excited whenever I used “damn,” and mimicking everyone I’d read up to that point. I’m not sure if you’d call it juvenilia, but I filled up notebooks with handwritten stories. I confess: When I moved out of my parent’s home, I tossed all of those notebooks, and, now, wish I hadn’t. I’m notorious for trashing things that I deem unnecessary or burdensome, and I guess I didn’t see much worth in my early work. With a son of my own, I recognize that perhaps I was wrong. It would be nice to be able to delve back into what pre-adolescent Tim was thinking, but, alas, it’s not to be. I’ll have to make do with teenage Tim and later.
As with the original Star Wars trilogy, Chronicles left me wanting more, and Margaret and Tracy brought the goods with Legends. Therefore, all six reside in the library, right above Tolkien’s work. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read them. Not only resources, they keep me going, reminding me that I love to write and want to tell stories that others, hopefully, will want to read.
To be continued ...
After putting my Tolkien and Dragonlance books away, I continued inspecting the science and fantasy fiction books on my shelves. I saw books I hadn’t opened in years, while others showed signs of frequent flipping, as I’ve studied word choice and cadence or marveled over an elegant and breathtaking point-of-view transfer between two characters.
In 6th grade I read Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown. It was the first book I remember not being able to put down, and, as with The Hobbit, I read and reread it. With McKinley, I realized that heroic fantasy could have an ugly side, that the emotional journey across love, duty, betrayal, jealousy, and hate, could provide as much adventure as slaying wizards and dragons. And it was from her that I continued to spread out. With each visit to the bookstore, I’d pick up a new novel from an author I hadn’t read before. Strangely, I didn’t get to what you would term the classic science and fantasy fiction authors until much later.
In the back of the Dungeon Masters Guide, Gary Gygax provided a list for “inspirational reading.” And from it I ran into the likes of Burroughs, Howard, Leiber, Lovecraft, and Moorcock. These guys challenged just about everything I’d learned reading Tolkien, from romantic relationships to the nature of good and evil. The difference between friend and foe need not be stark. Were the bad guys really bad? Who persecuted whom? Burroughs and Howard remain, in my estimation, pure escapism — not a bad word, just a critique. The other three were the ones who left me pondering, questioning.
In the ‘90s, White Wolf collected Moorcock’s novels and short stories into a 14-volume collection. I anticipated the series. I’d read the Elric saga, of course, but never Corum, or the Von Bek books. I recall a near-epiphany while reading Hawkmoon, sitting amazed at Moorcock’s rapier sentences — quick, light, sharp. He didn’t cudgel you with elvish dialects or bombard you with liturgical poetry.
At the other end of the spectrum stood Poe’s heir, H.P. Lovecraft. He enthralled me. So much so that for a long while everything I wrote had a decidedly Lovecraft-ian feel. But I soon realized that I didn’t possess the stamina or psychological intricacies for macabre writing. Still, a study of Lovecraft teaches the power of perfect word choice, much like studying poetry can help with the creation of metaphors and developing an ear for the music of words.
Reading Leiber, I realized that small men can be large, large men small, and friends make the vilest enemies. What’s more, you can’t always trust your friends, and sometimes, your enemies make better partners.
Well, I’ve devoted to three posts to mulling over some of the books on my shelves, why some are there and others aren’t. These are the words, the authors, who put my feet on the road to working with words. If anyone wondered why I majored in English and write fiction, these books bear much of the blame.
And look! I made it without cursing — an achievement I’m sure to rue for many a year.
(Unrelated writing advice: In my experience, a well-placed goddamn in your college thesis, white paper, or business proposal, adds unexpected and undervalued flair to what can be an otherwise onerous treatise to write, and an equally unfulfilling bore to read. However, confusing will and shall sinks an entire effort. You’ve been advised.)
Looks like I don’t have anything to rue after all.
Waiting on an agent can feel like a waste of time, and sometimes it is.
On Oct. 2, 2013, I sent a prospective agent a submission query for my latest manuscript. Anyone who’s been around publishing knows that there’s a waiting period involved. Agents usually let you know, up front, the time it typically takes them to get to your manuscript. In my case, eight weeks. I received an auto-response from the agent’s email client telling me my query had been received. Waiting now lay in front of me.
No problem. I wanted to take a little time to recharge, and then get back to work on my new book. December 2 came and went. I decided that I wouldn’t hector the agent. I did submit my work at a pretty busy time of the year with holidays and all. I gave the agent the benefit of the doubt. An extra week found me in the midst of my own Christmas happenings, so I again postponed poking the agent until after the New Year.
When Jan. 4 rolled around, and I still hadn’t heard even a “Hey, working through the backlog and will get to rejecting your putrefaction shortly,” I knew I couldn’t put off what I should have done a month earlier.
I emailed the prospective agent a brief, courteous note regarding my submission. I received the auto-response and let the agent have a week to at least acknowledge me. Nothing.
On Jan. 11, I respectfully withdrew my submission. Maybe that was the plan all along. I certainly hope not.
Did I think I would land this agent? No.
Did I hope? Hell yes!
I try hard to keep my day job off this website, as the site is devoted to my fiction writing. However, this is one of the rare times I’ll break my embargo. I work as an editor. I understand deadlines, and I understand that sometimes tasks get buried, missed, or forgotten. It happens to us all.
I also know what it’s like to handle manuscript submissions and work with authors. When I say I’ll get back to you in a month regarding your work, I will get back to you within a month, even if it’s to tell you that I haven’t read your submission but will get there soon. If I haven’t gotten back to you in that time, and you prompt me with an email wondering what’s going on, I respond as soon as I see it, even if it’s only to say that I’ve been a total slacker and will stop watching Pacific Rim and evaluate your manuscript ASAP.
Lesson: Don’t mess around with your work. If someone isn’t willing to give you the common courtesy of treating you and your work in a professional and businesslike manner (compassion would be good too, but let’s not get carried away), then they don’t deserve your time. It sounds like common sense, but, as artists, I think writers often worry about being pushy and irritating someone who might be able to open doors to get them published. The world isn’t a nice place a lot of the time — the publishing world especially. You have to be willing to fight for your work like you would your child. Be fearless and pull no punches.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a gamer. Not the video-game kind, but, rather, the sort who likes to sit down with friends around a table laden with chips, pizza, papers, metal figures, and dice. We brave traps, hunt treasure, and kill githyanki. Our characters dream of kingdoms and wizard’s towers and leading mighty armies to the very extents of existence to battle the gods themselves. Cue epic symphonic-metal score!
When I was in high school, I took architectural drafting. By the end of the year, we were supposed to design our dream house. A massive library dominated mine. I imagined the day I could have a room whose four walls bore shelves crammed with books, beautifully faced and impeccably organized, from floor to ceiling.
What would these books be? Why, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons tomes, of course, and other RPGs, and fantasy and science-fiction novels, and books about myth and legends, and dictionaries and encyclopedias. The kitchen in my dream home remained small, the bedrooms negligible, and it had only one bathroom, but it was my dream house. I don’t remember my final grade, and I really don’t feel like hunting down my transcripts. Let’s just say the teacher didn’t share my enthusiasm for books.
This memory surfaced the other day as I looked around my office and realized that I have a room almost solely devoted to books. While I call it my office, it really serves as an office for both Goodwife Kidwell and me, and a library for our family of three (HA! rhymes <sigh>). It isn’t meticulously faced, and it’s not organized according to the Library of Congress system, but among the art books and atlases (of Earth and other worlds), histories about Western Civilization and all of the wars of the 20th century, poetry and plays, myths and legends and sagas, science fiction and fantasy, scholarly journals and dictionaries, I can find what I need (most times).
Almost as an afterthought, one low shelf supports the meager number of game books I allow myself to display. The collection essentially comprises my 3rd and 3.5 Edition Dungeons & Dragons hardcovers (including Pathfinder), with the exception of the 2nd Edition AD&D Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix I keep out because Tony DiTerlizzi’s illustrations kick my ass.
I’m quick to toss things in the trash or give them away. If I haven’t used it in the last three years, why do I own it? Also, I am forever chasing around after myself asking, “Didn’t we have one of those?” Strangely enough, I haven’t parted with my old AD&D books. Not that I haven’t tried — on one box housing old game materials I prominently scrawled “D&D box sets – eBay”. But I can’t. They’re my darlings.
D&D transported me to other worlds. I immediately had an affinity for running games rather than playing in them. I liked the storytelling process and have DMed far more games than I’ve played in. Though, now, I find that I enjoy playing more than I used to — maybe because I don’t pour myself into the new editions like I once did with 1st Edition. There was a time that someone would ask me a rule and I could quote it back to him along with the book and page number. Not unusual for dedicated DMs, but it’s something I was tremendously proud of. Now, I don’t have the time to devote that sort of cranial hard-drive space to my own writing, let alone a game.
I pulled out a couple of the boxes with the old books in them and reverently leafed through their contents. The look and feel and the esoteric knowledge inside each, especially the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Unearthed Arcana, is enough to make someone feel like a real-life wizard.
We wove magical worlds that others couldn’t access without the proper learning and spoke a distinct language with terms like THAC0, saving throws, double specialization, and +5 Holy Avengers. It was exclusive, and those who didn’t understand were either puzzled or discomfited. Sometimes they grew angry, and that made playing all the sweeter.
As with any library, you have to be judicious with what books you shelve. And while I love those books, they also represent my Pleistocene. They’re a reminder of where I’ve been, but are of limited use to me now. However, my son might be interested in them, and that thought gladdens me.
To be continued ...