It's the first Monday of 2017, and a lot of us are going back to work after a weekend of celebrating, singing the Monday Morning Blues. Mississippi John Hurt's Monday Morning Blues might not change that it's Monday, but it might make it a little less blah.
Take a listen.
One of the things I like about this song is how he uses the guitar to create a landscape of sound without any electronic help. Just him, six strings and his voice.
A lot of my entries here have been in service of writing for a living. Because, well, to quote Igor from Van Helsing...it's what I do.
But, you know, I also wrote before that because it was my passion. There were days when I would write intensely for hours, by hand, with my specifically chosen and specially designated Writing Pen. I remember a month when I felt the Muse had abandoned me, and then sitting by a river with pen in hand, suddenly, joyously reacquainted with her like a lover from the past, madly scribbling out ten or twelve hand written pages.
Writing got me through two divorces, a decade of depression, crippling self-esteem issues and the loss of several family members. It was more than my hobby, it was my Zen, my crutch...my lifeline. Storytelling was an addiction I fed through any means I could. Video games, where I would have my own motivations for my characters on the screen. Role-playing games (SOOO many of those) where my characters had their own voices, their own goals and reactions completely separate from my own. Historical recreation and LARPing, the ultimate in character and story immersion for me. And the dozens of notebooks I filled with half-finished stories.
I haven't forgotten the soul-deep pleasure of crafting the perfect writing environment. The right music, the right light levels, snack and beverage to hand, ready to immerse myself in the characters and let them tell me their stories. Of waiting for my next day off so I could spend the whole day writing, or composing scenes in my head and writing at my own leisure later. Of not worrying about whether or not I finished something, of just living in the moment in the story. There were days when that was the only way I could feel alive.
For a long time, the process was essential. How I went about writing was as important as what I wrote, if not more so. Just the act of writing itself was my primary goal.
But at some point, I got tired of being the consumer. I got tired of being the audience. I was no longer satisfied with just sitting there and watching from the sidelines while others did what I wanted to for a living. I heard the call of the arena, and I jumped in.
Although I’ve bene writing with the intent of going pro, I've only been writing professionally for a year and a half. To get there, I had to change a lot of things about my writing process. I had to take out anything that might give me an excuse to keep from writing. It takes a discipline to write full time that I still struggle with. But one thing I learned is that while my writing process has changed, my love of writing has not. As I get more comfortable with the necessities of writing full time, I find that I can reintegrate some of the things that I used to do back into my writing routine. Just not all of them. But first, I had to eliminate everything that was not sitting down at the keyboard and hammering away.
If you’re an amateur writer, a hobby writer, a Zen writer or whatever kind of writer, do your thing. Enjoy writing to its fullest. I’ve walked that path, and found my bliss there. I walk a different path now, but that bliss came with me. Keep writing, keep doing your thing. There is a purity in what you do that holds a beauty all its own. Gods forbid that light ever go out.
Not long ago, I ran across some comments about how writers just had to let the process flow, that if you worked too hard at it, you were going to start killing the process. You’d sound like a Harlequin romance.
“I can tell when a writer is forcing it in the first paragraph and I’ll put the book right down!”
“Never force your writing. That just makes for bad writing.”
All of this seems to point to an idea that art should come easily. That, if you’re “talented” enough, it just falls neatly onto the page, like Venus springing fully formed from the foamy brine because the Muse channels it magically through your enchanted self. I did my first take on my first novel like that. The result was something that had promise and failed utterly to deliver on it. Two years of queries, partial and full manuscript requests, and rejections later and I was ready to give up. Finally, someone pointed out the REAL problem with the whole thing, and convinced me to tear it down and start from word one. The finished product is vastly different from the rainbow colored, glitter-filled pile of crap I did the first time.
Art is hard. It’s messy and complicated and uncooperative. And like most things we do in life, it almost never turns out right the first time. And limiting ourselves to what we first throw down on the page, I think, is the opposite of letting art “flow.” I think we have created this perception of creativity being like water, that it just gushes forth freely. But maybe….maybe it’s more like wet, sticky clay. It just sits there until we reach in and start squishing it and mashing it and shaping it and getting our hands dirty, then reshaping it and refining it until we have something beautiful.
And make no mistake, for some of us, it isn’t the finished product that is the end goal. Sometimes, act of making art itself is what we’re after. For a lot of writers, just creating worlds and watching the characters’ stories unfold is the entirety of what our art is for. Storytelling is our therapy, our escape. It’s where we find God, serenity or our Zen space. Calling it a hobby falls far short, and calling those writers amateurs feels like a disservice to me, even if the terms are technically correct. When you’re creating art for yourself, writing stories to your own standards, you’re going to write the work you want to read, generally, and you’re usually going to get it right or close to right the first time.
It’s when we start trying to make art that speaks to others that it gets hard. We have to see things from our own perspective, and that of our audience, and bridge the two, so that our audience can see what we see.
Like I said, messy and complicated.
The following two videos are a great example of how the finished product can be so very different where we start from, and the magic of trying out different approaches, instead of expecting it to just fall from our pens fully formed.
The first one shows the process inthe studio, and the second is the finished product. The difference is enlightening.
So, with Charm School out for about 10 days or so, things are going well enough, but I still decided to launch my Patreon campaign. Given how long this one took to get done, and how thin my earnings have been over the last few months, I found myself facing some difficult decisions about what I could afford, both in terms of money and in terms of TIME.
Patreon is a monthly contribution, so my income remains fairly steqdy, and I don't HAVE to worry about how soon my next book comes out. Well, okay, I do and I WILL, but not because of external pressures. But when your FANS want the next book as bad as they wanted Charm School...well, I better get busy, right?
Check out the video below, and if you can swing a few bucks, it's always appreciated.
And wihtout further ado, here is a preview of chapter one of Charm School...
~ When a mortal says they want things to be ‘fair,’ they really just want to win. ~ advice given to a young demon.
Wizards aren’t supposed to be whiny. But Dr. Corwyn was getting close to it. I could feel Shade’s shoulders shake under my arm as she snickered quietly. Wanda was carefully looking at something on the far edge of the platform, but Mom looked like she wasn’t about to spare his dignity. Even with dozens of people around us on the transit platform, her expression said she was ready to lay into him. Junkyard didn’t offer an opinion. He was on an adventure, which was pretty much any time he wasn’t at home or Dr. C’s place. Any opportunity to mark a new part of the world as his was a good thing, as far as he was concerned.
“This is what I could afford,” I growled in response to his latest complaint. In front of us was a teleportation platform, its triple rings dormant and upright. Around it was a series of runes, and the stone floor was inscribed with magickal symbols.
“Master Draeden offered to fly us up on his private jet,” Dr. C said. “For free.
We’d be there in a matter of hours, and we’d fly in comfort.”
“No,” I told him again. “I don’t want to owe him any favors. And believe me, he’d think he was doing me a favor.” Dr. C’s lips pressed tight together as he looked at me, then he nodded.
“You’re right about that,” he said after a moment, his tone resigned. “You do know you’re making it harder on yourself though, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I know you get sick when you teleport. I’ll deal with it.”
“Then so will I … again.” I nodded, willing the memories of his troubles with teleportation back into the box I’d built for them. Ahead of us, a group of Dwarves in gray business suits stepped onto the platform, handing tickets to the man at the opening in the waist high railing as they passed him.
“Last call for Denver Commons. Dennnnver Commons, transiting in three minutes. Last call!” As he finished, a woman in a flowing green dress came bustling up with two boys trailing from each hand.
“Denver Commons, that’s us,” she said as she let go of the boys’ hands and dug in her purse. Moments later, she produced three tickets and thrust them at the man. He took them and gave them a quick glance, then nodded and gestured for her to go on. She grabbed the two boys by the hand again and stepped forward.
“Mom, do we have to take the transit platform?” one of the boys asked. “Barry always gets sick.” The other boy was turning a little green around the edges, and the woman’s eyes went wide.
“Oh, hell,” the mother spat and rushed to the edge of the platform to grab something from a wooden box and hustled back to her sons. “I’m glad you reminded me.” The Dwarves shuffled over a little as she returned and handed the less enthusiastic looking boy the paper bag she’d taken from the box. The man at the edge of the railing stepped back and went to a control panel by the upright rings.
“Transiting to Denver Commons,” he called out as he manipulated the levers on the panel. “Stand clear of the platform! Stand clear of the yellow line.” The nested rings started to spin with a metallic rasp, then the two inner rings rotated on their axis until they were horizontal, leaving a dark blue glow in their wake. A moment later, the inner most ring rotated along the second ring’s axis, creating a third axis. The rings started to hum as the dark blue energy obscured the inside of the transit platform. Finally, the first ring stopped, with a rune glowing. The horizontal ring slowed to a stop a few seconds later, a different rune glowing over our heads at the spot where it intersected with the third ring. Finally, the inner most ring stopped, and I could see the glow of a rune at the top of the rings. The glow pulsed brighter for a moment, then disappeared completely, revealing an empty platform. Dee gave a squeal of delight as the rings slowly started to return to their original position.
“Can I go with them?” she asked. “I wanna teleport!”
“Not today, sis,” I said. “I only bought two tickets. But you and Mom can come up some time.”
“There is a Parent’s Day every month or so,” Dr. C said. “And students can earn off campus passes for weekends.”
“Liberty Plaza,” the transit operator called out. “Ten minutes to transit to Liberty Plaza. All on the platform for Boston.”
“That’s us,” I said. I squeezed Shade a little closer for a moment, and her arms tightened around my ribs.
“I’m going to miss you,” she said for about the thousandth time.
“You know I’m going to be crazy without you,” I said as I kissed her.
“Promise to wither away and die?” she asked.
“I’ll even write depressing poetry about how much I miss you every day.”
“And I’ll lock myself in my room for at least a month and mope,” Shade giggled.
“Could you two get any more dysfunctional?” Wanda asked, adding an eyeroll for emphasis.
“Still a better love story than-” Dr. C started to say. Wanda’s elbow in his ribs cut off the comment.
“Okay, now that the Codepency Channel’s off the air, Lucas sent something for you. He said you’re not supposed to open it until you’ve got your room set up.” She handed me a black gift bag from Lucas’s grandfather’s store, Mitternacht’s Books. “We’re gonna miss having you around to make things interesting. Hopefully, no one tries to destroy the city while you’re gone,’ she said as she hugged me.
“I’m sure you guys can handle it,” I said as I wrapped her in a hug.
“Great,” Wanda said with a grin. “Now you’ve pretty much made sure something is going to happen while you’re gone. We’ll be stuck trying to make it an episode where you come back right after we beat the Big Bad and we act all cool like nothing happened, instead of one where you have to rescue us at the last minute from our own stupidity.”
“I got you something, too,” Shade said with a sly smile as she pressed something into my hand. When I looked down, I saw a sleek phone laying on my palm.
“Baby, I can’t afford this,” I said as I tried to push it back into her hands.
“I can,” Shade said, her smile turning a little feral as she closed my hand around the phone. “And it’s not for you. It’s for me. I want to see your face when we talk. I want to talk to you for hours and not have your minutes run out in the middle. And I want you to have something that’s just between us.”
“Like I don’t already,” I whispered. Her hand came up and touched the center of my chest, where the vial with several drops of her blood hung from a leather thong. One with filled withmy blood was nestled between her breasts, both given under a waxing moon, so our love would only grow. I leaned in and kissed her, then stepped back.
“Why is it I keep saying goodbye to you every time I turn around?” Mom asked when I turned to her.
“Because life sucks,” I said. Both our voices were a little rougher than we wanted anyone else to hear, but I wasn’t about to go all stoic and stiff-upper lipped on Mom. Dee put her arms around my waist and held tight for a few moments, then turned and shrugged the straps of her purple backpack off her shoulders. At least today it almost went with the plain blue t-shirt she had on. Lately, she’d taken to wearing plain shirts, refusing to wear even her Dr. Hooves t-shirt, which I was pretty sure was her favorite shirt ever.
“Take Pyewacket with you,” she said as she pulled the black stuffed animal from her pack. “I’d give you Dr. Hooves, but I need him if you’re not home.”
“I’m sure he’ll keep me safe,” I said as I took the black cat. It had a little hand-made wizard’s hat sewed to its head now, and wore a little pewter pendant with symbols carved into it.
“I don’t recognize these symbols,” I said as I went to one knee.
“I made them up,” Dee said. I almost heard Dr. C’s shoulders unknot. “That one’s so you don’t have bad dreams, that one is for protection, and that one is so you don’t have too much homework.”
I hugged her tight, and tucked Pyewacket into my backpack next to Lucas’s gift bag. “I hope that last one works really well,” I told her before I stood up and hugged Mom.
“Everything I can give you, I already have,” she said as she took my hand in hers. “The gifts of my bloodline, the love of a mother, and a home to return to when your travels are done. I’m proud of you, Chance.” I choked up for a moment, so all I could do was hug her to me.
“I won’t let you down,” I said when I pulled back. Mom smiled and shook her head.
“You never have,” she said.
“The gate’s open,” Dr. C said. I shrugged my backpack on, then grabbed the dolly that had my book trunk on it and wheeled it toward the opening in the railing. Dr. C wheeled the one with my clothes in it along behind me. Junkyard trotted along behind us, carrying his own luggage in the red harness vest that Mom had made for him. His food and water bowls were on either side, and his blanket was rolled up and tied to the harness across his shoulders, with a few little items in the backpack behind that. His most important possession, a big rawhide bone, he carried in his mouth. And as always, he wore his two bandanas around his thick neck. Once we had my stuff on the platform, I went back to the gate and gave one last round of hugs and kissed Shade.
“Liberty Plaza, transiting in one minute!” the transit operator called out. I backed away from everyone.
“You ready?” Dr. C asked when I reached him. I looked down and saw the paper bag he held in his hand.
“No. Are you?”
“Eh,” he said with a casual shrug. Junkyard looked up at us and thumped his tail. At least one of us was happy to be there.
“Transiting to Liberty Plaza,” the operator called out. Dr. C nodded and turned so that he was facing away from me. His shoulders pressed against mine, and I felt his weight shift as his right hand went to his side, where a pistol would be if he was armed.
“Old habits?” I asked.
“Bare is the brotherless back,” he said as the world outside of the platform turned blue. Reality seemed to spin and lurch at the same time, while my mystic senses were bombarded by a scream of static. Then everything stopped at once, and that was almost as bad as the onslaught of sensation. My ears felt like they were cringing and I blinked like I’d just been flash-blinded. As disorienting as it had been, it was a lot smoother than some of the transits I’d made with Dulka to the various Infernal realms. Behind me, I could hear Dr. C moan and gulp.
“You gonna make it, sir?” I asked.
“Oddly enough…I think I will,” he said. “That’s a first.”
The blue haze faded around us, and I was treated to my first sight of Liberty Plaza. ...
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak at Charm School. With any luck, it will be out in a couple of days.
I have the cover for Charm School, and as usual, Angela Gulick did a fantastic job. I can't wait to share it with you. Stay tuned, and watch this space.
How I got an agent…
So, how did this happen? What led me to sign with this particular agency? Who did I know (because you have to have contacts in this industry!)?
Well, like a lot of stories, it starts kind of randomly. I was at NorWesCon, and I’d just gotten out of a panel, and I was waiting for the next one on my list to start. Across the hall, two guys were talking about the changes in the publishing industry, and new genres that one of them was interested in, including fantasy and urban fantasy. Well, I just so happen to write in that genre, so I deftly joined their conversation. Somewhere along the way, we all traded business cards, and I learned exactly who I was talking to: Trodayne Northern, from Prentis Literary, and Lawrence M Schoen, a Nebula nominee for science fiction. As we went on, I mentioned that business was so good for urban fantasy for me that I had out-earned Jim Hines last year, (but quickly pointed out that I hadn’t out-SOLD him). It was about here that we decided this conversation was a lot more interesting to us than whatever the panel was on, so we wandered over to one of the little sitting areas, commandeered a table and proceeded to talk about publishing, self-publishing and sales. At the end of things, Trodayne invited me to have dinner with him the next night so we could talk further, and I could meet the other two agents from Prentis.
So, the next night, I pitched some of my upcoming work over dinner, and they told me about what they had in mind to help capitalize on what I had already done to get me the best deal possible going forward. I’d already done my research on them, and I knew by then that they had represented Patricia Briggs. They asked to see some of my current work, and for something from my pipeline, which of course I sent them immediately. The thing was, as much as it actually was a business meeting over dinner, it also felt like I was having dinner with friends I’d also just happened to be doing business with for years. They answered a lot of my questions without me having to ask. I walked away feeling pretty positive about things.
So, NorWesCon came to a close, and I went home feeling pretty good about my career. And the truth was…I hadn’t shown up intending to pitch to an agent.
Over the next few weeks, we exchanged a few emails, as Trodayne and Leslie hit other conventions leading up to the Nebula awards in Chicago. Then, on a Wednesday afternoon as I was driving out of Springfield on my way to X-Con, my phone rings, and it’s Trodayne and Leslie. I pulled over to take that call, and got the news I think pretty much every author wants to hear: They wanted to represent me. We went over the details for a few more minutes, and I resumed my journey on cloud nine. I signed the contract a few days later, and made the announcement today. Now it’s starting to feel real.
There are a few things I’d like to mention.
First thing to remember here is that I didn’t come to the table with just a manuscript. When I showed up to NorWesCon in late March, I was already writing full time, with six books of my own across two series, and a seventh that was a spin-off from another successful series. I showed up with a solid base of readers and a track record of being able to earn with my work. I gave them a solid set of numbers to work with.
Second, while I showed up at NorWesCon with only one contact, I left with half a dozen. A lot of folks say it’s who you know in this business, and I think that knowing the right people can be extremely helpful. The thing is, a lot of folks also seem to think that if you don’t have contacts, you’re out of luck. The truth is, you can and will make them as you go. Just ask my friend Ronnie Virdi, who has recently made friends with Jim Butcher and Kevin J Anderson. So, yeah, contacts are important, but just because you don’t have them doesn’t mean you can’t make them. You just have to get out there and talk to people at conventions.
Finally, kind of a double point. Don’t give up hope and keep your options open. You never know who you might meet or what might happen. So keep your business cards with you, keep a quick pitch rehearsed and stay professional.
Trodayne Northern (l), Lawrence M. Schoen (c), Me (the dorky one on the right)
(Caveat: This post is aimed at writers who want to make a career of their passion. That isn't everybody's goal, and I don't want to waste your time if you're looking for ways to make writing more enjoyable. There are folks who are better qualified on that subject than I am.)
TL;DR Connections help but aren't a requirement. You can make connections. Agents want a writer they can work with.
In some posts recently, I've seen comments where people talk about "connections." I want to address that for a moment. (I'd say real quick, but I'm a novelist. Almost nothing I write is short.)
First, the idea that you NEED connections to get an agent's attention. Otherwise, unless you're a celebrity already (which means you already HAVE an agent, or if not, you have an agent knocking on your inbox because of that viral video you made), you're NEVER going to get an agent to pick you up. So, say I'm a literary agent, and that I'm like EVERY literary agent out there, following the same business model as all the rest. Only celebrities, or only people who have the right "connections." If you don't have those, I'm not going to bother with you.
Why do I bother with accepting submissions from nobodies? Why deal with dozens, if not hundreds of emails pitching stories that I've already decided don't fit qualifications that don't match what's on my website? I mean, if you have the "connections" I require, then they are going to get you in touch with me, or they'll call me to tell me how cool you are and they'll make that back-room deal through me.
"Well, you want to keep up appearances." For who? Nobodies who don't matter to me? The government? The Illuminati or the Lizard People? All I have to do is put a notice up saying "Not accepting new clients at this time" and close submissions. So, the way agents do business right now is counterproductive to a system that is closed to someone without connections or fame.
That isn't to say connections don't HELP. They do. But therein lies the other myth about connections. "Unless you HAVE connections" basically assumes, by the way it's phrased, that if you don't already have those connections, you're screwed. The thing is, you can MAKE connections. Sometimes it's as simple as talking to someone in a hallway at a convention. Or as simple as messaging a successful author about e-book pricing here on FB and striking up a conversation about something you have in common.
Or, you can do something bold like my friend Ronnie Virdi did. He had the cover of one of his books etched on a beer glass prior to a workshop Kevin J Anderson was going be teaching. Seeing him at the hotel bar, he had his glass sent to Mr. Anderson with his favorite pale ale. That got some peoples' attention, including Jim Butcher.
The point is, you don't have to already BE an industry insider to make connections. Just talk to people, become part of the community, contribute to the community. Make yourself a positive presence.
Most importantly, act like a professional. Agents aren't just looking for someone they like. They're looking for someone they can work with. They're looking for someone they can rely on, because agents don't get paid unless YOU do. And you don't get paid if you don't have a brand worth buying. In the end, yeah a big chunk of it comes down to writing a damn good story. But there is also a big part of it that relies on you being reliable and resilient.