Closer to the Finish Line

I finished my second book, or at least, mostly finished. It’s out getting dry cleaned and pressed; in other words, getting some line editing done, to make sure it’s grammatically correct and all the spelling errors are caught. You might think that these small functions could easily be done by the author, but allow me to assure you they aren’t. Even today I’m still getting feedback for The Corsican’s follies. I learned from my mistake. Self-editing is a necessity, but I’ll never publish without another pair of eyes again.

I’m experiencing a lot of peaks – excitement, terror, panic – and valleys, which are mostly the adrenaline crash and attempts at calming self-talk. A friend of mine mentioned to me during a conversation, saying that she figured since I was a published author that this would be old hat. I reminded her that I’ve only ever done this once before. One does not simply walk into Mordor; and one does not simply write a book.

I’m terrified. I feel like so much is riding on this book. It’s hard to feel like your entire career hangs on a book, but when you only finish one once every two and a half years or so, it’s important that your book is well received. There are so many books in this world, and I’m adding to the pile. I put my heart into this story, which is exciting and weird and awkward and fun. I am putting myself out there to be read, and judged, but this is what I want to do. This has been my dream since forever. I love to hear what people think of my story, I love knowing that I’ve entertained someone. My favorite is to make people laugh, or to surprise them.

I’m still figuring things out. There are signposts on my particular career path, but it has taken me years to make sense of them. I’m really happy with the book that I’ve made. I just hope that it makes everyone who reads it happy too.

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Work Redefined

Being recently unemployed, I was faced with a quandary. Do I find a job, or do I go back to school?

Getting a job in my town has always been a struggle. Nineteen years ago it was a struggle, well before the dips and dives in the economy. School was an attractive alternative to fighting over scraps. I went to the WorkMore office, a non-profit resource for the unemployed.  Lovely people work there and they try to help.

I went to a class on how to keep unemployment benefits and go to school. I felt that my situation wouldn’t qualify but it was worth me spending an hour to find out. The class left me feeling as though I was correct about my supposition, but then the teacher told me he’d make me an appointment with a woman who was a writer and “knew more about these things.” A slender hope, but when you’re in the water, you don’t judge the rope you’re thrown.

The woman, who I’ll call Maggie, was a short, feminine powerhouse of personality. She was stone confident in herself, and seemed pleasant enough.

Maggie listened to my plans, to become an author and to become an editor, and she promptly discarded them. “You’d have to move. Are you sure you don’t want to become a nurse?”

I was staggered. Why would I want to become a nurse? I mean, it is a growth industry, but it’s never been my calling. Maggie threw my calling to the ground and stomped on it.

I didn’t argue with her. I was there on the hope that I could get some help from the state about my unemployed status. I’m getting handouts until I can find a job, after all. Why would my feelings about my job matter?  I just nodded and contributed a little to the conversation, waiting out the storm.

In years past I would have wilted under her onslaught. I would have talked to her about nursing, even though my heart wouldn’t have been in it. I would have capitulated, just to get into school, just to do something to change my life.

But I realized.. I’m already changing my life. I already have a job. It doesn’t work like we consider jobs to work – it’s not 9-5, and it’s not paying me. Yet. But I’m putting the work in. I work far more hours than a simple 9-5 job. I am always considering, tweaking, reading, researching, and agonizing over what to do next. I take time out for my family after work and school, but as soon as my son goes to bed I’m back at work again. I’ve never worked this hard in my life.

And I love it. It doesn’t feel like work, not the way I always understood work to feel. I get to make decisions for myself; I don’t have to check in with a supervisor. I don’t get assigned tasks, I go and find out what to do next. I don’t have upper management frowning at me because I have an idea; I just implement it.

The hard part is making money. A lot of people are better writers than me, better known, with backers and recognition and years of experience. But they all started somewhere.

I may not be famous yet, but I do have faith that I can tell a good story. I have learned a lot about writing books in the past six years. Knowing what I know now, I wish I could have done things differently, but I wouldn’t want to change a thing. I’ve learned so much and I’ve grown so much as a writer. Now more than anything, I want to get my book out there so I can start on the next one, and just keep doing what I love.

And if I have to take a job to support my writing habit… to me, it just means not giving up, no matter what.

Confessions of an Author

A month ago today, my day job let me go.

The shock was utter and complete; I had no idea that I was in trouble until my supervisor asked to speak with me in the conference room. My stomach sank when I saw the HR guy was already there. I sat in confusion and disbelief as they broke up with me. Breaking up is what it felt like, anyway. I wanted to argue with them. My pride demanded I try to show them they were wrong. Defeat descended quickly, however, and then I couldn’t get away fast enough. Stripping down my cubicle to the bare beige and gray was terrible.

They let me go near the end of my shift. I went home, stunned for the entire evening, worrying about the logistics of what to do next.

Rather than stay at home and stew in an anxiety ridden turmoil, the next day I went to a coffee shop with my laptop. I worked on my novel. I’ve been working on this novel for two and a half years. The bulk of the day was spent doing what I loved.

I am of course looking for work, but finding a job in my town is a demanding art form all its own. I’m also looking to get back in school. I have a few hours a day that aren’t spoken for, in that time  I work on finishing up Bento Box.

The first time I was laid off, it was in 2009, when the housing bubble burst and all the jobs stopped. During that time, I wrote two novels. I didn’t know what to do then either, but writing at that time seemed just like something to wile away the hours until I landed my next job.

This time, I don’t feel like I lost a job. I’ve been practicing at this writing business for almost three years now. I’m not lost for things to do, I’m desperate to get everything done in a day. I’ve worked harder in this last month than I feel like I have in a really long time. The only difference now is that I enjoy the work so much more.

This has been a time of unexpected ups and downs for me. The one thing I have going for me is the amount of support I have. So many of my friends have told me, “This is a blessing in disguise,” “This is an opportunity,” or my favorite, “The universe really hit you with a two by four, didn’t it?”

I’m terrified, but I’m going for it. In this situation, what else can I do?

The Con Show

I went to NorWesCon, which I have done for many years before. This con, however, I focused on my venturing into my writing career, rather than just going for fandom. Fandom in and of itself is fun, but this year I was more engaged. I went to learn about something I love, and that’s just what I did.

I went to panels, which were great fun. I went to one panel called, “The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made…” and all of the panelists seemed in consensus that it was agreeing to a panel at 10 am Saturday morning. I didn’t meet Simon R. Green, but I made him laugh. It was a nice return for all the times his books made me smile.

My next most exhilarating moment was getting my story critiqued by four published authors. Sunlight streamed into the big plate windows 14 stories up, creating a hot box effect. Not ideal. I tried to hang in there and concentrate on what they said. I felt like a patient being diagnosed by four doctors. Fortunately, they were kind, wonderful doctors. They didn’t leave a stone unturned, but the way they delivered their advice was professional and encouraging. I have lots to think about going forward on Bastions.

The best is of course for last. My friend James, whom I met through my writing group, offered to escort me down to see Phil Brucato and his partner Sandra for dinner down in the lounge. I’ve met Phil once before, when I sat on a panel at Geek Girl Con. He was wonderful, and I thought to myself that I’d like to get to know him better. He remembered me, smiling easily as I sat down at a table full of noone I knew. At one point James brought up the Mage Anthology that Phil is orchestrating. At that moment, Phil Brucato turns to me, looks at me point blank and says, “Oh yeah! I forgot you were a writer. Do you have a month? I’d like you to write a short story.”

…and then my heart stopped.

I said, “For you, of course! I’d be happy to!”

…and then I remembered how to breathe again.

I had other great moments while I was there. I bought a very adorable, tiny matted picture of a blue squid with a hunter’s cap, magnifying glass and pipe. Squidlock Holmes is my favorite, and I have to find a place to put him on my wall. The artist was Meg Lyman, a local Seattle artist with a clever talent for cephalopods.

Con always ends too soon, and Monday is the cruelest cut of all. That being said, I have no regrets. This con was the best I’ve attended in ages.

Learning process

It is safe to say that I’m doing it wrong.

I can’t tell you the number of happy, unemployed writers who are writing up a storm, who are spending hours a day on their efforts and treating it like a real job. I see them schedule signings and market new books. They post word count that makes me nauseas from jealousy.

I hear about product funnels and how to make a mint by posting serials, and I continue to labor on my second novel.

I have a full time job, a seven year old son, and a husband. Most people might consider that to be three full time jobs.

Unfortunately, I have a powerful need to eat sometime this month. I also like to talk to friends, although unfortunately most of the time I bore them with the same thing I’m writing about here – my life and how my writing fits into it.

Still, I see how my other friends live. Two of them stay at home and manage their domiciles. One of them writes, and I am terrifically jealous of the “free time” she seems like she has. In her perspective though, she chooses to spend this “free time” helping out her brother and sister, both who have several children. She’s doing Very Important Things. And it’s easy for me to say what I’d do with that time, but I’m not in her shoes. My other friend is an artist and a mother. When she does get free time, she has multiple hobbies, which she seems to switch in and out of.

Several other of my writing friends do what I do – work to make money, and write on the side to get started. They’re mothers, they’re wives, and they’re exhausted, like me. And our word counts suck. And our writing groups are tiny, and barely held together by the invisible force of the Internet. Hell, I’ve only had a writing group since March.

But I’m doing it anyway. I’m writing, I’m editing, I’m taking classes, and I’m reading articles. I tweet, post, and network. I try to minimize the Internet stuff, as it eats into my all-important writing and editing time.

I have by no means become rich off my first book. The good news is, I wasn’t expecting to. I really do have high hopes for Bento. Hell, I want it to be a zeitgeist, and I’m in love with it. On the other hand, I’m a novice, with only one book under my belt. I still have so much to learn about marketing and all the things. If Bento becomes my golden goose, so be it. But even if I never made a dollar writing, I would still do it.

I love writing. I’m passionate about getting stories out. And despite the obstacles I’ve mentioned previously, I still make time to write. I go out with my girlfriends and talk plot. I hop onto Hangouts and learn about the publishing world. I listen to podcasts about how to improve my writing skills. And I write.

Maybe in five years there will be articles about me. Maybe my name will sit on the shelf with authors I adore: Gaiman, de Lint, Martin. And maybe there won’t. There are few guarantees in this world, but there are lots of stories.

And maybe, I’m not doing it so wrong after all.

Tensegrity

The career is the goal. The way to get to the career is through the work. It doesn’t matter where you are, as long as you can move forward. Money is the consequence of the work, it is energy. Money flows from hand to hand, helping people communicate. It is a medium, a concept, and should not be the focus or the goal.

The career is the goal. There are benefits of having the career. Not all careers offer the same benefits, and the benefits can sometimes be intangible. Having more time, enjoying what you do, knowing your family is taken care of are benefits.

Leave enough room to think. Leave enough room to breathe. Remember how powerful you are when you’re alone, uninterrupted, and allowed to chase down “idle” thoughts.

Growing hurts, but it’s meant to stretch you out of old thought processes and adopt new ones. Abandon approval seeking – you already either have it, or you don’t, and you don’t have to swing the fence-sitters. That’s energy better spent elsewhere.

Find a voice. You don’t have to wait until you’re so angry that your inner Hulk shows up.

Don’t obsess about how others are going to feel. You can’t predict or control their inner Hulk, but if it shows up, maybe they weren’t your friends to begin with.

On that note, letting go of those “friends” is like ripping off a Band-aid – worst at first.

When you’re working, set everything else aside. When you’re not working, don’t work.

It’s okay to be sick, or hurt, or just not want to. You’ll get the momentum back.

Time is not the enemy. Time is your friend.

Money is not the enemy. Money is a tool.

Balance isn’t permanent, in three dimensional space it’s tensegrity.

Esoteric

It’s my birthday today, and it’s my blog day.

Talking about my birthday could be its own blog post, but I won’t do that. The only thing worth reporting so far is that my barista tried to get his co-workers to sing to me through the drive through window. He was summarily shot down by the other male barista on the scene, and I found his thwarted pout to be exceptionally charming.

As far as my writing goes, it’s stopped. It is a source of utter frustration to me as the holidays have run over my time frame like a Zamboni over an ice rink. I look back at the wilds of November and wonder how I could possibly have churned out fifty thousand words. Right now, a four hundred word blog post seems daunting. I’m too busy looking for deals and counting my beans.

On the other hand, I still love this time of year. I love the lights and the decorations and silly velvet hats. I love the manic glee and gilded tragedy of pouring over stuff and guessing what will make someone’s eyes light up. It’s like being told that you’re going on a date with everyone you know, but you have to bring them each something that says, “I know you and love you.” That is, unless you really just want to shag them and lose their number instead. Then it’s perfectly acceptable to give them chopsticks.

It’s a complex dance that brings joy and dread in equal measure. Two years ago my husband and I went out to Seattle and walked the town for the day. We walked into a Starbucks for directions and to treat our addictions and there were two gorgeous boys who had made themselves a matched set. The barista was thin, pale, and had white hair. Anime white, no less. I remember because I couldn’t help but wonder how he managed to out-elf Orlando Bloom. His counterpart in crime was dressed in all black, from the tips of his ebony coif to his very stylish Fluevogs. They were obviously in love, and I couldn’t help falling a little in love with them, too. They were so very true to themselves. We wouldn’t have seen them if we’d stayed inside, looting and cyber-pillaging Amazon’s trove. Inspiration is just as much a part of the process as perspiration, and these days are full of inspiration.

This is what I must remember during this season. While I may not be breaking any word count goals, I am absorbing life so I may reflect its light later, broken down like so many children’s building blocks and rearranged for the entertainment of others.

I am moving into the next phase of this strange career now. I am beginning to obsess. I am dissatisfied with the way I live because I’m not spending 8 hours a day writing. My new year’s resolutions this year are going to have less to do with BMI’s or IRA’s, and more to do with getting my next book published. I wasn’t entirely certain about it before, but now I am.

It’s been staring me in the face this whole time, but now I’m confident.

Time to get to work.