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Guilty: One Writer’s Journey

You don’t become a writer. You can become a published author, a success, or find another way to get paid for your writing. Those things are all possible, and reasonable goals. But you cannot become something you either are or are not.

I wrote my first book at age six, and pretty much read everything I could get my hands on when I was a kid. It’s a common writer story. Time alone, time at the library, a list of favorite authors as long as my arm. The story rolls on with the typical advice from adults of our generation who told us there was no way to make a living as a writer: it was an impossible dream and we should just go to college and train for a “real” job.

Read the rest of my story over on Lipstick and Laundry here.

Story

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Good Shepherd Mulligan

mulliganLook at the word count to the right of the page. See the Good Shepherd? There were a lot of words on that bar. They’re all gone.

That’s right. I am starting over. Even though I have said before that going backwards is rarely a good idea. In this case I think it is. I have started and stopped this novel several times, and never been really happy with the results. So when NaNoWriMo came around this year, it seemed a good time to start over.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a time when thousands of authors around the country come together and write novels at the same time, at the blistering (for some) pace of 50, 000 words in a month.  It’s tough, filled with meetings called “write-ins” where authors gather, put in earbuds or place headphones on their ears and write in the same room with goals like 1000 words an hour or other ludicrous games.  Coffee is consumed in copious amounts, and families are neglected.

In the end, a large percentage finish, a few publish, and all move on, with the goal of doing the same thing the following year. Some don’t even write, or write very little the rest of the year. While that is not the case for me, it has been a time of change and fluid schedules for me since the summer, and writing projects like The Seventy and Good Shepherd that I had hoped to finish have languished.

Not this month. Watch this space. Watch the word count rise and surpass its previous marks. It is a Good Shepherd Mulligan Month. Now shhhh. I am off to write about the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

It’s dangerous out there. Excerpts coming soon.

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Labor Day

NWUlogo

Labor Day

It’s the first Labor Day when I have been working a day job in quite a few years. Well, I did work at a museum. But it wasn’t quite the same. I king of set my own hours, and I was so passionate about what I did, I almost would have done it for free.

I’ve been a freelancer and a copy writer for a while now. What I do now really isn’t that much different, I just have an office to go to, co-workers, and real, solid goals. It’s not bad, but when Labor Day comes around, I sometimes wish we had a union.

But wait, we do. The National Writers Union is a thing. And a good thing. They have been around since    1981, and represent freelance and contract writers: journalists, book and short fiction authors, business and technical writers, web content providers, and poets. They are voting members of the UAW. Their most famous victory was probably the 2001 case Tasini v. Times, in which the United States Supreme Court in a decisive 7–2 ruling affirmed the copyright privileges of freelance writers whose works were originally published in periodicals and then licensed by the publishers to electronic databases without explicit permission of, or compensation to, the writers.

But with bloggers, guest bloggers, and content creators looking for exposure, it’s harder and harder to get paid, except for high end sites who are looking for better reporting and solid content. Thousands of blogs provide either mediocre content or worse, sometimes not well researched at all, but mere filler.

So what do we do as authors? The constantly evolving industry calls for one thing: Unity. There are several organizations besides NWU, some with very specific causes.

But for those of us who write for a living, or who want to, and who want to leave behind us a world where authors and freelance writers will still have that ability, perhaps a new paradigm is needed. It’s not a bad idea, and Labor Day might just be the day to start a discussion.

What do you think? Is unity important for writers of all types? Let me know your thoughts.

 

 

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Guest Post: No More Words by Jim Lambert

Today I have a special guest: Jim Lambert, a friend, sci-fi writer, and a fellow Terry Pratchett fan. Despite sharing our last name, we are not related. At least not that we know of. It has become a standard joke and greeting at parties: the Lamberts, not related. When Sir Pratchett died, both of us were pretty torn up. But Jim wrote down his thoughts, and did a hell of a lot better job with it than I would have. Enjoy!

The Goblins have a word: Hang. It means ‘Survive’. It’s their universal greeting.

Hang.

Terry Pratchett died Thursday.

Hang.

But it’s hard.

I’ve read all the Discworld books he wrote. More than once. The whole series, in order, at least three times. I’ve read the Johnny series. I’ve read the Bromiliad and Strata and The Long Earth. I’ve read Good Omens. A lot.

And there are no more words.

Hang.

He’s gone and there’ll be no more Discworld books. No more words. There’s one more left in the pipeline that hasn’t been released, but everything he will ever write, has been written.

Writing has been described as telepathy. Using nothing more than words (many borrowed from common streetsigns) writers put thoughts and emotions in our brains. Terry Pratchett has put a lot in my brain. It came from his brain and went into mine. Telepathy.

But that’s all done now.

Hang.

I suppose rather than telepathy, it’s now necroman… Post-Mortem Communication. There are no Necromancers at Unseen University. Or maybe the Reddit forum has it right: GNU Sir Terry Pratchett.

Had to stop for a moment, go into the other room and take a look at one of my bookshelves. The entire four-foot-long top shelf is packed tight with Terry Pratchett books. That’s where all the best stuff goes, right? The top shelf? There’s a little wiggle room because I’ve loaned out a few. There it is. I pried out Going Postal.

Oh God. I forgot. That’s the one he signed. I drove eight hours to Seattle, walked to the wrong place (the website had said University Bookstore, but it was at one of the halls in the university), walked to the right place, bought Wintersmith, found a seat, and listened to Terry Pratchett talk. I stood in line to get two books signed. We got numbers so there wouldn’t be as much confusion. Mine was in the 300’s. I’m really not sure what I said to him. Probably “Thank you”. I suppose that seems appropriate. Then turned around and drove eight hours home the next day.

So my point was to quote from Going Postal. Let me find the page. Give me a minute. Talk amongst yourselves.

[The letter G means send it on.] “I know a U at the end means it has to be turned around at the end of the line, and an N means Not Logged.”

“We keep that name moving the Overhead,” he said, and it seemed to Princess that the wind in the shutter arrays above her blew more forlornly, and the everlasting clicking of the shutters grew more urgent. “He’d never have wanted to go home. He was a real linesman. His name is in the code, in the wind, in the rigging, and the shutters. Haven’t you ever heard the saying ‘Man’s not dead while his name is still spoken’?”

If that’s true (and since Terry said it, it must be fundamentally true), it might be he’ll never really die. But there are still no more words. It’s still hard.

Hang.

There are others who, once again from Going Postal, are:

“…offered that greatest of all treasures, which is Hope, sir.”

Tom Pride started a petition, at Change.org, asking Death to ‘Reinstate Terry Pratchett’.

Comments abound.

“It’s a million to one shot, but it just might work.”

They can tak’ oour troousers, but they cannae tak’ oour Terry Pratchett!

While the dead don’t need these gestures and rituals, we, the living, sometimes do.

Ook.

We all know it can’t happen. It could never happen. But it just might. And if it did, and we didn’t sign, we’d all taste the Bacon Sandwich of Regret.

I bought a bunch of the stage plays based on Discworld novels. Most of them are adapted by a playwright/director/actor named Stephen Briggs. He also reads some (all?) of the audiobook versions. They’re good plays. Funny, with a lot of the feel from the novels. Shorter, with a lot of the subplots and such cut for time. I tried to get two of them produced at one of the local community theaters (I’d directed there previously and had attached myself as director for these). I picked Carpe Jugulum for a Halloween show, and later Maskerade about the same time the Phantom of the Opera movie was being released. Both were turned down. I got Carpe Jugulum through the script committee, but the board of directors thought there were ‘too many characters’ and the names were difficult. So it goes.

Back to Thursday.

My smartphone vibrated. It was a Facebook post from an old coworker. I just checked: 9:37am. “I thought I would share with you. I know he was a favorite writer.” The Buzzfeed.com article: The Author Sir Terry Pratchett Has Died Aged 66. The author of the Discworld series has died.

“Thanks. I’m devastated.”

I shared the post out again: “No words.”

I tried to get back to work, but I was having trouble seeing the screen. My phone buzzed a lot that day. Everyone who commented or ‘liked’ my post. Same for the original post where I was named. My old boss texted me: “I just heard about Terry Pratchett passing and immediately thought of you. I’m sorry—guessing it’s hitting you hard. My condolences, take care”

Hang.

And every time my computer screens would get blurry and I’d have to stop work for a bit. After work I walked over to a favorite bar (which just happened to be a block from where I was meeting my critique group in an hour). The bar manager is a writer, too. But not a Pratchett fan. I had to explain. I think I looked pretty down. He offered to buy me a shot. Maybe I should have taken him up on it. I did have a beer.

Made the toast.

Hang.

So here I am. It’s 4:30am and I’ve been thinking about writing something like this since Thursday. I still don’t know where I’ll put it.

Who I’ll send it to.

But I wasn’t sleeping, so what the heck. I had come up with a good finish for this, but now I can’t recall just what I was going to say. Oh, that’s right: the tweets.

Terry had some tweets posted.

3.06pm: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.”

One minute later: “Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.”

The final tweet: “The End.”

Every good author knows to end their story with “The End.” Terry Pratchett was a brilliant author, and I’ll miss him.

Hang.

About Jim:

Bio PictureJames T. Lambert (”call me Jim”) is a long time science fiction reader who decided to try his hand at writing the stuff a few years back. He planned on doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). That’s fifty thousand words in thirty days. First time he was two weeks late starting. “Maybe next year.” It was only held in November at that time. Next year he was a week late. “Maybe next year.” Next year he was three days late. “You know, I type fast. I can make up three days.” Now he needed a plot.

Steampunk. Going to the moon. In 1894. And, go!

He finished Steam Opera, then Aether Powered, then Proxies. He’s still working on Muse. And working with some other authors on Monster Marshals. So science fiction, Steampunk, and urban fantasy. He’s in four critique groups, and they tell him the stories need work. And they do. So they are all opened up on the surgical table and are slowly bleeding out. Once they’re resurrected, they’ll be sent out into the world to stagger about and cause havoc.

Please wait patiently.

Until then you can see his progress in building a website at http://jamestlambert.com.

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Art as a Business

ArtbusinessI took a day off yesterday. In fact, I have been less busy the first part of this year on purpose. But I did a little “work” yesterday, if you want to call it that. I had a Skype call with one author who I greatly respect, and who does one thing we all want to do: sells books.

Then I had lunch with another author, new on this journey. We mapped out a couple of her stories, talked about plot, character, and the usual writer stuff. And we talked about streams of income.

Because at some point we all have to survive. Shelter, food, clothing, health, and Wi-Fi are all necessary, and in our present economy we must exchange money for those things, with few exceptions. So if you want to be a writer, a professional writer, you have to make money from your art, or have a day job, or do both. From personal experience, can I just add that option #2 sucks, and option #1? It requires that once you have “completed” your work, you realize it has become a product you must deliver to your customers. You have to know who they are, what they do, and where to find them.

publishing_businessSounds a lot like a business, right? Well, it is. Like any business, there are three steps: production (writing, editing, cover, and formatting); distribution (self-publishing, a publisher, affiliate sites, your website, etc.); and finally marketing.

A publisher can help with some of these things, and indeed they do, but in the end the author, and the tribe the author has gathered, are the best marketers of your work. The difference is simply treating books as what they are: a product to be sold. Not because we as authors are selfish and want to make millions on the backs of poor readers, but because we write to be read. And to be read you must be discovered. To be discovered, an author must market.

So stop thinking of marketing as some kind of betrayal of your art. Stop thinking that asking for reviews (in the right place and the right context) is some form of evil. Professional writers treat their work as what it is: a business offering a great product.

This doesn’t excuse you, as an artist, from being polite. Not spamming or bombarding your audience with links to your work, begging for sales. That is not the “how” of marketing, and there are many resources to help you understand that. More on that in another blog post.

As you start this new fiscal year, as an author, remember art is a business. Unless you don’t like eating.

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Handicapped

It’s NaNoWrimo, which for the uninitiated stands for National Novel Writing Month. For many authors or just those who aspire to writing a novel, it’s a month of stress: an attempt to write 50,000 words in a single month.

For me, that’s usually not a really big deal. If you write every day, it really isn’t that hard. But this year, it is a month of renewed focus, and renewed pain.

“Pain?” you ask. “Troy, we see you writing all the time. Why pain?”

There’s something you don’t know, something I tell, until this point, only a few people who know me well. It’s a quick story, and I need to get back to NaNo myself, so here you go:

SAM_3769If you look at my right hand, you will see a scar across my thumb. It’s from a motorcycle accident I had in 2000. On October 13th, to be exact. A lady turned left in front of me, and I hit the side of a Toyota at 45 mph. $25K later, this thumb is what I’m left with. you could say I’m handicapped, intend the pun, and not be offensive at all.

I deal with pain from it on a daily basis, although not too intense. I have about 90% use and mobility, and really that’s pretty good. It could have been much, much worse. I could have been doomed to perpetually haunt someone with my stories. Instead, I get to write them myself.

My hand does get more painful around certain times of year. Changing temperatures and humidity have a profound effect on the amount of pain I experience. Which happens right around the end of October, first part of November here in Idaho, where I live. This year, I got a new keyboard and mouse, more ergonomic. They help, but the pain is still there.

“Do it this year. If you don’t, you’ll be one year older when you do.”

-Warren Miller

Instead of letting it slow me down, I push through. I use it as a reminder: we are never SAM_3770guaranteed tomorrow. And everyone has obstacles that try to prevent them from doing what they love.

I’m an author. It took me a long time to get here. I had bumps along the way, the above motorcycle accident and my own fear only two of them. So I won’t ever go back. If I found I had six months to live, I would do one thing, no questions asked. I’d write. Until I couldn’t any more. So whether you are a fellow author, and November is your month to develop that writing habit, and set yourself on a new course, or you have another passion, don’t quit. Follow your dream.

As Warren Miller, the great ski film maker says, “Do it this year. If you don’t, you’ll just be one year older when you do.”

Happy writing. Or whatever you choose to do.

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If Wishes Were Horses

There are times when we wish things were different, but I can tell you from experience, wishing will get you nowhere. A friend’s Grandfather used to say, “Shit in one hand, wish in the other, and let me know which one fills up first.” While this may reflect a negative overall world view, at least the shitting part, there is a certain truth we can universally see, and perhaps a tiny, Monday morning lesson.

Wishing creates unrealistic expectations. The reality of most wishmeatsituations is that hard work produces measurable results. In most instances hard work is definable, quantifiable, and has a certain value attached to it. Those measurable results should establish expectations for us, and we should logically determine them to be realistic. Instead of “I wish this would happen,” instead we formulate “hard work, applied effectively to this task, will equal this.” We could perhaps add “with a bit of luck, this will also happen.”

Wishing breeds laziness. There are aspects to any task that are unpleasant. For an author like me, this is often marketing. Wishing for book sales rather than working toward them reduces the desire or even the necessity to accurately track results. The only way to determine if the hard work above is actually effective is to somehow measure the outcome. Wishing for results makes measuring outcomes a depressing process, filled with hope and disappointment, often in inequitable amounts. It is easier to ignore the results, or lack thereof, and keep hoping to get “lucky.”

Wishing isn’t healthy.  Writers in general tend to be a manic bunch. Often in the now defunct traditional publishing model, there was a great deal of luck associated with success. So we sent out queries, manuscripts and stories with our fingers, toes, and laces crossed, hoping. The old model is no more. Writer success is a business model, one that is reproducible with hard work rather than wishing, strategy inserted in the place of hoping for luck. Continuing to wish accomplishes nothing but enhancing the manic ups and downs life already offers.

So stop wishing. Stop hoping. It’s time to stop whining, whether you are an author or in any other field, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Yes, you also need to work smart, and need to educate yourself in many areas. That’s part of the hard work. But if you want to ride, you’re going to have to do more than wish for what you want.

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