2015 in review

2015-03-27 12.42.39

My friend and colleague Allie Drennan wrote up a post like this, and it got me to thinking. A lot of people have been talking about the year 2015 in qualitative ways, and for me… well, 2015 was nothing if not full of extremes.

The beginning of the year was grim, with me missing out on our family’s vacation in Whistler, BC. Being home alone for a week offered me a chance to write, but it also left me bumping around a house that had no laughing child and no smiling husband. The only good thing was my story “The Gaijin & The Butterfly” was published by Oriental Excess.

Later, in March, I got to go to Norwescon and take the panels seriously. Three fourths of my writers group were there with me, and we were organized. One of my writers group, James, even introduced me to an excellent writing opportunity. I was flying high and feeling invincible.

So, when I lost my job in April, you can imagine my surprise. I wandered in the weeds as I tried to find a job, only to be roundly neglected by everyone I applied with. Finally, it came down to a harsh truth. I had capped out on what I could do on paper, and if I ever wanted to get out of call centers, I was going to have to go back to school.

I published my book Bento Box in all of this excitement, and tried to learn more about the marketing side of writing. I wrote a short story, “Bits & Pieces,” and it was published by Luna Station.

I then took my planned trip to Wyoming. When I came back home, it was a matter of days before both Toby and I went to school.

School hit me like a load of bricks. I was a good student, but I wasn’t anticipating the amount of work it would be to do school. I fell behind in my classes a little and struggled to catch up. The last time I was in school, I didn’t have as many responsibilities as I have now. I still managed to churn out thirteen short stories over the course of the year. One is submitted to a contest, one is submitted to an anthology, and the rest are in stages of doneness before I figure out where to submit them.

A little ray of sunshine hit after I registered for winter quarter. Turns out, I had more credits from going to college as a high school senior than I thought I did. It was a bright spot in a month full of flooding and replacing our floors.

I passed my classes, which is probably better than I deserved after floundering as hard as I did. I learned a lot though, some directly from my classes and more indirectly.

The most important thing that I learned from 2015 is that I got comfortable. I stopped striving. I didn’t push my body; I didn’t push my mind. I just accepted that life was going to be as it was, and I was okay with that. As soon as I got to that point of acceptance, life turned a huge corner and my life shook down to its foundations. Now that I am striving for something again, things are going in the right direction, and while it’s hard, it’s good.

I also learned that if you have a small, dedicated group of people on your side, working towards similar goals and willing to trade help for help, you can get so much farther in life than trying to go it on your own. Support is vital to success, and the more support you have, the better off you are.

I learned a hard lesson this year. I also had Allie, who has been with me through this whole rough year, cheering me on and keeping me focused on the prize. We’ve been friends for over a decade but our friendship was strengthened this year quite a bit. We have plans to publish more stories, and to get our names out there. It’s good to have a shared dream; no one motivates you more than the person who is just as invested as you in the goal.

And now, on to 2016, and the challenges that await.

Confessions of an Author

Someone

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

Squidlock Holmes

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

slowgoing

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Authentic

When we are children, we are our authentic selves. Completely unaware of other people’s feelings, emotionally self-centered, we learn from society how to behave. These behaviors are essential, especially to a child. It creates a set of rules in which they can begin to build on, to “fit in” and share. Humans are social animals. We need other people – and that means learning to communicate with others.

What we gain from becoming societal animals, though, we lose some of our authentic self. We compromise our personality a bit, but it seems so harmless at the time. We’re children, after all, voraciously learning everything, learning so much we don’t always have time to question everything we’re learning.

Also remember that our parents’ message might be well meaning, but the understanding may in fact become flawed. My parents taught me common sense, a strong work ethic, and a desire to take care of others around me. What I learned was that following my dreams was a good way to get hurt. That was in no way what my parents intended me to learn. That was my interpretation of what they meant.

Now, I’m beginning to unravel the faulty understanding that I built through my childish misunderstandings. I am starting to feel the security of believing in myself… not in the ra, ra, everyone expects me to believe this so I do kind of way, but in the quiet certainty that I got this. I’ve been through this cycle before, but I was nineteen, and my break from not believing in myself was overcompensating with rock star levels of arrogance. Fortunately, I couldn’t be deported back to my hometown, and I grew out of that phase as I left puberty behind me.

When I was twenty-five, I had a life-changing conversation with my cousin Von, in his friend’s newly remodeled kitchen. My cousin Von is also a writer, but he’s ten years older than me, so his level of experience is always a decade ahead. Probably moreso; he’s always seemed like an old soul to me. It was this rare moment that he told me that things would begin to change, and that I would experience life on a different cognitive level. I would feel more in charge of my life. And he was right.

The interesting part of that reaches me now, that I am just past the age he was when he told me how my life would change. He was telling me how twenty-five would be different, but he never got around to telling me how different thirty-five would be.

Now, I have seen past the incorrect view, that dreams are too hard to achieve. Now, I see what my parents meant, which was that you can set yourself up for disappointment chasing dreams, if you don’t use your common sense and work ethic to chase them.

There are six billion, swiftly becoming seven billion, people on this blue-green marble in space. We don’t compete for the things we used to. Corporations gang up and roll in, dominating mineral rights and land and resources. But it’s not just them. It’s your neighbor, competing for a job. It’s your co-worker, competing for a promotion. It’s your children, competing for your attention. When you’re competing, it makes dreams seem like a very nice thing to think about, but they seem as far away as a date with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

At least, it did to me. I felt as though nothing would ever change, until it did. These moments of insight are becoming more frequent, and it feels like when I experience one, I am left feeling different. They resonate with me, despite knowing that I’m not the only one who knows these things, and that there are people who have beat me to this understanding, and have been enjoying their knowledge for years.

Hopefully I can keep going, and I can inspire a few others to find this way for them as well.

 

Full Circle

Once upon a time, I met a magical girl with a singular talent. My fairy godmother directed her my way, and when she approached me, she said, “I heard you write.”

A beautiful relationship was born. The magical girl was called, HG, and she could draw like no one I’d met before. She followed her talent into the arms of a kingdom known as Disney, but she liked having pet projects, and I was one of those.

Then, alas, like all fairy tales, the challenges mounted, and HG and I both had more and more come between us. Work, family, obligations, there was never enough time for our poor project and it slipped into the slumber of forgotten dreams.

This would normally be where the story ends. I have been a party to many projects that ended in a puff of smoke and a sigh. It’s how we learn. Projects are almost always ill-advised, and we try them anyway, learn what we can from them, and then take it with us.

In this case, that is exactly what happened. HG learned project management while she was drawing, and I learned how to strategize a story before writing it. It is not enough to be a writer or an artist any longer. In order to produce a product, there must be a plan.

Plans scare artists of every stripe. Plans are the bane of the creative mind. If you let them be.

Last night I reconnected with HG. We talked about how we’ve grown as artists in the past year. Almost as if this was part of ‘The Plan,’ we picked up our project where we’d left it, waking it up from its long sleep and getting it ready for the day.

And they all lived happily ever after.