Publishing During COVID-19

The global pandemic has me shut in the house like everyone else, and like most of the world, I have tasks to complete. And they don’t involve writing, which is unfortunate. I have plenty of time and space for that; my favorite chair has a low spot due to me being in it daily. But right now, I’m tasked with two things toward getting published: seeking a copy editor, and finding a cover art designer. The book is long-written and several times redrafted, and were it not for the current situation, I would be undergoing these steps right now.

But the problem is, or could become, money. I’m employed and working from home, but things change daily. My job is department-budgeted. Given the fast-approaching economic meltdown, that corner of the budget that includes little me may not last long. I could be laid off any day, any week, or never. Spending a few thousand dollars on these services was already going to be difficult, now I’m unsure if I’ll have the funds to do so. I really do want to move on with this process, and start writing my next novel. But what’s more important, publishing or eating?

Oh, the decisions of a writer during an unforeseen global crisis!

Anthology Launch!

I’ve been gone a long while, now I’m back. I’m here to report the launch of “Chicago Celebrates” by the Writing Society of the University Club of Chicago, of which I am a member. Each of us created a piece (short story, poem, etc.) highlighting a celebration in this great city. Some chose a more literal celebration, others did something more abstract. I wrote about the Pride Parade. One from the city’s history, and the first one I ever attended. For me, a young man newly out, it definitely was a celebration of who I was. But it was also an interesting political time where the LGBTQ community was gaining more acceptance and more rights, even if slowly.

And as usual, I sugarcoat nothing. I tell my celebration story about a situation, good and bad. And when the anthology is available for online purchase, you will be able to read it.

Until next time!

Should it Stay or Should it Go?

Sacrifice has been one of my words du jour in my last few book redrafts. After much painstaking work and consideration of nearly everything, it is down to 112,000 words now. That wasn’t always so, and I’m too embarrassed to say how much longer the book was at its largest. I’m proud when I think of the work that was done to both reduce its size and vastly improve flow—it’s a lean reading machine now.

And it wouldn’t have happened without giving up some things. As I redrafted and whittled chapters down, I kept thinking, ‘sacrifice! What can go?’ I had to because the book, though great in my mind, was too long and bloated. Lots of stuff could have been chucked, but at times I couldn’t figure out what. I loved my scenes so much that I didn’t want to part with anything.

But I had to for publishability, and for my readers’ sanity. Now and then, chapter by chapter and scene by scene, some things had to be parted with. I recall many times saying to myself, ‘this is nice, I like it a lot. But it’s not really necessary for the context, is it? Is it?’ Those were the moments where I had to make the decision of, ‘fine, I’ll delete it….’

I think sacrifice is something every author has to deal with. After a certain point in crafting a work, we like everything we’ve written and created, but we realize we can’t keep it all. Even creative expression (at least in novel form) requires a certain logical flow and progression, rather than a flailing swirl. My book wasn’t quite that, but it was a bit rotund and in need of a diet. Thanks to a developed ability to let go of my notions and favorite items, and to downsize for the good of the work’s success, I’ve created a book that I’m truly proud of, and gained a new and vital authorial skill.

What Draws us to Science Fiction and Fantasy?

I have been a sci-fi enthusiast since early childhood. I don’t know why, but I have guesses. For some reason, I was never interested in the world I live in, not as a child, not now. I grew up in a working middle class neighborhood where everything was neat and tidy, and everyone was very much the same. Though I lived on the outskirts of what we now call a “global” city, conformity was the unwritten rule of law.

I was always proud of my city, though not so much of my neighborhood—I knew when I was a tween that I would someday leave for a more hip locale. I did, and I still have that civic pride, but there’s still something missing. 21st century life on planet earth lacks something for me. The way we dress, work, travel, live our daily lives—something just doesn’t resonate. I constantly find myself looking beyond this world to something “out there,” and it’s difficult to articulate, but I know what I mean by it.

I wonder if most science fiction and fantasy fans feel likewise? Was there something about daily life here that just didn’t appeal to us, and to the extent of having to look to books, scientific discovery, entertainment, anything at all to get us off this world at least mentally? Why do so many of us shun ordinary life to read about other places and times (or if we’re writing science fiction, imagine them), and wear odd costumes at cons with others who share our line of thinking?

Somehow, I don’t think it’s just because we’re nerds; lots of nerds out there have no interest in these things and are fully immersed in the mundane world. (Look at how I just termed it—does that not open a window to my soul?!) But the worlds of science fiction and fantasy are anything but mundane, and for some of us, present a wonderful platform for where we might like to see ourselves, and the existence we might want to live in.

The Catalyst. Each of Us Has One

Every writer had a start: something or some situation that made them sit down and begin their authorial careers. For many, it was frustration with procrastination that forced them to finally go to the computer and start typing—ready, or not. But for some of us, there was a catalyst.

I came up with the idea for my novel series while at work. I developed it to the point where I said to myself, “you’d be crazy not to do this.” But me, a writer? Me? I had never done anything so bold. Beyond my master’s thesis, which I had no choice but to write, who was I to think I could write such a lengthy, creative piece of work as a novel? So my idea sat idle. For four years, I played around with it, creating a very loose plot, and even going as far as to write scenes. But still no book, not even a chapter. Just a lot of playing around here and there. I even thought of going to a writing class, just to get the effort off the ground, but that’s all I did…

One day at work, my manager came over to my area. She said the company had just lost a major client, and that they blamed their departure on my team. (I found out later that the real reason didn’t involve us at all, but I digress.) I knew this couldn’t be right, we were too hardworking and we always did everything to the letter. I was so miffed that I decided to start writing my book. Enough of offices and cubicles–one way or another, I was going to get out of there, do what I really wanted to do and make money with it. It would be hard, but so what, the beast in me was awakened.

I went home that evening, looked up writing classes and signed up for one. I spent my entire summer learning the basics of the craft, and when the class was over, I started my novel. Like most writers, I started with bits and pieces that came to mind first. Then I tightened my original plot, hashed out my chapters, and started writing, beginning-to-end. (The very first scene I wrote became chapter 12, but I digress again.)

Through the entire first draft, I assumed that I would never finish. I couldn’t possibly be serious enough to see this through. I had always wanted to write a novel, but dreaming of something and doing it are two vastly different things.

But I didn’t stop. I finished the first draft. I redrafted the entire thing, over and over, adding pieces, subtracting pieces that no longer fit, and then polishing the whole thing. And I never stopped. When my mother became terminally ill, I wrote late at night after visiting/taking care of her. When my company fell under hard times, and I had to find a new job, I still kept writing.

Well, I’m done now, and I’m in that same bucket as other writers looking to get published. It’s been a long road, but one I’m proud that I took. And, I look back now to that unlikely moment that put a spark under me: who would have known that one unfortunate situation would bring such a turning point to my life?

The “Outgoing” Introvert

exintrovert.jpgI can no longer find my favorite article on this subject, but it’s still intriguing nonetheless. Here is one similar article on the subject, and here is another.

 

Or just google it, there are lots of them. What I found most descriptive of me from that old article were, “you’re not anti-social, you’re selectively social”, “you appreciate full conversations and do not enjoy small talk”, and “you have no interest to prove yourself in a crowd of strangers”.

All very true, and I can go on and on about this but suffice it to say, I am a proud outgoing introvert. I enjoy the opportunities it affords me to both engage others (I can be the life of the party when I want to be), or be completely to myself in a fog of introspection when the condition is needed.

I’m going to look for more of these little online personality tidbits, and if I find some nicely written, well-reasoned ones, I’ll share them.

Writing is the Easy Part

I know I will have more to say on this in the future.

Everyone in the business of publishing knows this, but I must expound anyway. I spent years writing and redrafting my novel (mostly redrafting it). It underwent many changes and sacrifices in that time to bring it to the level it has reached today.

That was the easy part.

The hard part is getting the writing out there: marketing it and getting it before as many readers as possible. Networking within the authorial world. Engaging these and other various facets on social media. Determining how to publish in terms of one or other methods, or a mixture. Planning all the above, and researching it all as well. And, doing all of this with little experience as a new writer. Some writers may disagree with me on this; I’ve heard many horror stories on writers block and the like when creating a novel. But for me, writing, character building, etc. were all done at home on my own time and by my own self. It was simple and all according to my needs and schedule. The hard part, will be engaging the world outside my own head and beyond my front door, and getting my work out there for public consumption.

Good luck. To me!

Whom am I writing for?

There is a new Star Trek series out called “Discovery”. It features a ship with a black female captain and black female first officer. I applaud the writers and the network for having the courage to feature black women for these roles. But not everyone does, apparently. Some Stark Trek fans have taken issue with them, going as far as to say that their presence as captain and first officer are a form of “white genocide”. Additionally, per this Chicago Tribune article:

“The New Yorker reported, comments such as ‘Where is the alpha male that has balls and doesn’t take crap from anyone?’ ‘Is everything going to have to have females in every . . . thing?’ and ‘Star Trek: Feminist Lesbian Edition’ quickly appeared on YouTube.”

I know there are fantastic sci-fi fans out there, and I won’t point fingers at everyone, but I find this appalling. As equally appalling as the similarly biased backlash against Sulu’s sexuality in the last Stark Trek movie. The Tribune article rightfully notes that this sentiment is quite opposite that of Gene Roddenberry’s original wishes for Star Trek. During tumultuous social and political times, he created a setting that embraced and encouraged diversity, and for the real world, one where fans of all kinds could have a hero and envision something better for their future, and the future of humanity. Those who take exception to this completely lose sight of what Star Trek’s creator hoped to achieve. And to me personally, it is sad to see this in this day and age, when by now, humanity in general should have moved well beyond this kind of thinking.

But here’s my last point: These negative viewpoints do not come from the average person, but from sci-fi fans, a group that I have always assumed to be too intelligent for this. I am a sci-fi writer aspiring to become an author in the genre, and I will continue my craft regardless, but this new situation unfortunately causes me to ask a difficult question: Whom am I writing for?

 

Gee Whiz, is Anything Going to Happen?

I ask myself this when I read some SF/F novels that go on for dozens of pages with no action or character development at all. I will keep complaint posts to a minimum here; writing is a wonderful experience so I want to maintain a positive tone as much as possible.

The last novel I read—Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray was excellent and kept me engaged, beginning to end. But there have been many, too many that did the absolute opposite. I’ve endured some real stinkers: books that droned on and on with nothing going on, and with wooden, emotionless characters to boot. One novel that I won’t name featured no action for 100 pages, and the protagonist was the dullest guy I ever met. Yes, I said ‘met’ because in a good novel, one connects in my view to the characters as though they are real in a sense. And especially the protagonist of all people; if one has to follow this person for a few hundred pages, s/he should be engaging and intriguing.

After about 150 pages, I finally had to put this book aside. I’m not even sure where it is now. Ditto another that I bought as an e-book. It had a hair more action in its first chapters, but every character had the exact same personality—another of my pet peeves when reading a novel.

As a new novelist I have some issues of my own to work on. But I know my writing strengths and weaknesses, and I can safely say two great strengths of mine are scene development and character development. I have a vivid imagination and a love for action and surprise, so this finds its way into my writing pretty quickly. I will never write anything that has nothing going halfway through it. And, I like to employ what I call a ‘community’ of characters: a diverse set of people with varied personalities. Real people as a former writing instructor called them.

I don’t say this to toot my own horn, I say it because my readers have told me these things, and because I feel it in my writing as I redraft it. But with my natural abilities that I’m thankful for, I have also learned from novels good and bad. And the ones that slog on with nothing at all going on and no one I can relate to are the ones that have said to me, “don’t do what this author is doing. Keep your scenes moving nicely, and keep your characters interesting and engaging!”

How I Write and Rewrite

Writers generally spend hours on their computer crafting their work. Would you believe that I don’t? I spend part of my writing time on computer, but the vast majority of it in my favorite living room chair with my chapters on paper. Yes, I said ‘on paper.’ Before you say, “but that’s harmful to the environment,” hear me out. I always print on scrap paper so there is little waste, but my main reasons for paper versus the computer are (1) comfort, and (2) more thorough redrafting. Both are equally important, and I’ll explain.

I’ve discovered in the assemblage of my first novel that I love to write more than anything else. But one thing that aids my writing is to do it in the best possible environment I can find. For me, that would be my favorite living room chair in the sun. It’s peaceful, quiet, bright and cheerful—what better physical environment can an urban writer hope for? It affords me the mental space to do what’s needed most: create and concentrate. I gain a lot of energy from moving about the city, and I understand many writers would prefer a coffee shop for their craft. But for me, I prefer my own space to think. (On that note, my bed in the silent, wee hours of the morning has also become a creative space. Some of my best writing ideas have come at times when I woke up at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep.)

The other reason for redrafting on paper is one I discovered by accident. Making edits in pencil allows for deeper, more comprehensive redrafting. I started by writing on computer only, and discovered that as I deleted and replaced passages, it became difficult to go back to the original or even parts of it. I found this to be awkward. After redrafting on paper, I discovered that not only was I in a nicer physical environment (my living room is bright and sunny, my computer room is dark and at the back of the apartment), but having the original writing allowed me to see what was being changed, so if I decided to keep some parts of the original writing, it was there. Occasionally, I find that parts or all of the original thoughts were fine as they were. But what I’ve also discovered, is that after all my paper mark-ups, I go to the computer and make even more, and better edits. Transferring to the computer in a sense creates a second round of redrafting which always produces better sounding passages in fewer words. The wrangling I did and re-did in my living room chair gets smoothed out at the computer. Some of my best dialogue and narration have come from this process of second-guessing the changes I made earlier by hand, from those ‘actually, this would sound even better’ moments at the computer.

I imagine most writers would find my method cumbersome and would prefer to do all of their work at the computer. It is more contained and involves no printing. And I’m certain some wonder why I don’t just move my computer into the living room, but that isn’t an option for reasons I won’t go into. But redrafting on paper first works excellently for me, and I have heard at least a few other writers say that they do the same thing.