Showing posts with label temporary insanity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label temporary insanity. Show all posts

5 Things You Might Need to Hear Right Now

My hand-crafted echo chambers are full of mourning and outrage (with a sprinkling of praises and celebration). Reading through it is hard and not good for anything useful of any kind. Expectations have been shattered, and some are genuinely afraid for their lives or livelihood.

If your echo chamber is similar -- or if it's your life or livelihood that's endangered -- I'm not going to tell you it'll be okay or it will get better. I don't know that. I don't. But I do know a few things you might need to hear right now.

1) Take care of yourself. If you fall apart, nothing else you take in or put out will matter. There is no shame in taking a few days off to cry or laugh or escape. In fact, there may be shame in not doing that.
2) Turn off the Endless Browser of Outrage. I'm in a much better place than I was a month ago, but even I feel the gravity of the downward spiral with each turn of the scroll wheel.

STOP IT. Your life is not in here. It's out there, with friends and family. Nothing here will affect what you do out there, so if the Browser of Outrage is stealing your life, kill it. Take that life back.

3) Love someone. Love everyone. Be nice to nobody in particular. Be the change you want to see in the world.

I mean in real life. You can love people online too, but it's way more effective in real life.

4) Do you create? Then create. If you can't create for anything right now, then don't. Create for you. If you can create for a purpose, do that too.
5) Have a booplesnoot.

I Took Two Weeks Off Social Media and All I Got Was This Lousy Blog Post

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook then you may have noticed that I took the last two weeks off from social media.

So there were a lot of reasons, but mostly it was my kids being off school for two weeks and the aforementioned big ugly reason I haven't blogged much. (My kids are not related to my anxiety, but both things affect how much time I have to get creative work done).

"Okay, so... what'd you get out of it?"

Right, well first you need to understand how Twitter and Facebook factor into my normal life. 

On a good day, the first thing I do is get through all the e-mails the US sent me while I was sleeping. Then I sift through Twitter/FB (and any associated articles) while I'm eating breakfast. It's my newspaper. I have a couple of lists of people for whom I try to read everything I missed, and for the rest I just read whatever Twitter and Facebook deem important for me to read. I usually do this again at lunch and then at night when I need to decompress.

On a bad day, I will additionally be checking them constantly -- every time Unity compiles, every time Torment loads a new scene, every time I come back from the bathroom, every time I get a glass of water or someone asks me a question or a cat mews outside. Hell, I checked Twitter three times just now while I was writing that sentence.

Lately, I noticed I was having more bad days, hence the social media vacation.

So what happened these two weeks? A list:
  • The first 2-3 days were hard as hell. I felt disconnected from everything and everyone. When Unity was compiling, I had to sit there and watch like a chump.
  • I found myself checking and Izanami's Amazon ranking about ten times more often than their updates can possibly justify.
  • I gathered news from primary news sources. It was super weird.
On the other hand....
  • I had way more time for Torment, my kids, and Shadowrun Hong Kong.
  • I watched the third debate without commentary and it didn't make me mad even a little (exasperated isn't the same as mad, right?).
  • I remembered how to solve Rubik's cube.
  • I didn't get depressed even once.

Let me say that last one again: I DIDN'T GET DEPRESSED EVEN ONCE.

When it came time to get back on, I was actually afraid. Did I want to go back to the monster that sapped 2-3 hours of my day and an immeasurable quantity of my joy?

Well, yes I did. Because among other things, that's how I connect with the world and that's how people connect with me. (The second day of my break, my mom IMed me to say my posts helped her get out of bed in the morning and now she didn't have a reason. I love my mommy.)

But I didn't want to do it the way I had been doing it, so I decided to change a few things.

Limiting the time is easy (for certain values of easy). For one thing, I don't need to read every single damn post that went up since the last time I checked. If I'm afraid of missing something? Hey, look: actual news! For another, I really really really really need to stop checking every time I'm in mid-thought.

Yeah okay, that part's not actually easy. But you know what they say.

How to limit anxiety? I spent a lot of time thinking about that (because I had time, you see). Turns out social media can cause depression (shocker), but why? Well, for me it was mostly all the outrage. There are a lot of legitimate things to be outraged about, but when you're scrolling The Endless Browser of Outrage, it kinda bores into your skull. I mean, that's why you're not supposed to read the comments.

I needed to remember that the world is not outrage. It's mostly pretty mundane -- or even happy -- especially the part of the world that has any effect at all on my life.

So for now, I'm trying to pay closer attention to my emotions as I read. Am I getting upset? Bored? Depressed? Maybe it's time to stop scrolling.

Will I stick with it? God, I hope so. Maybe you can help keep me accountable on that.

I don't know how or whether this applies to anyone else. But having done so I would definitely recommend a break from social media from time to time. And if you do take a long break (like a few days or more), before you turn it on again stop and think about how you want to consume it.

So what's your deal with social media? How do you handle the terrible signal-to-outrage ratio?

Fix All The Things!

I know some of you want to hear what my time at PAX was like. I intend to write that post, but you'll have to wait a little longer. I have a crapload of work to do, including but not limited to:
  • Write Torment conversations
  • Design Torment conversations for others to write
  • Review Torment conversations others have written
  • Fix a number of problems created by the most recent round of Torment cuts
  • Finish a novella by October
  • Write a newsletter by October
  • Give the Thai government a bunch of documents they asked for while I was in the US (timing, man, seriously)
  • Fix everything that broke around the house while I was gone
  • Parent several children...
  • ...while my wife takes her own trip to the US
So my already ridiculously over-tasked life got turned to 11 for a few weeks. I will tell you about PAX, but not yet (fair warning: I fail at pictures).

However, you can hear me at my panel, wherein I and several awesome designers talk about what makes a classic RPG. There is no video recording, but the audio is here:

Classic RPGs Panel at PAX

Hey, all! If you're going to PAX Prime next month, I'll be on a panel there.

The panel is "CLASSIC RPGs FOREVER!" (yes, in all caps, apparently), and it'll be on Sunday, August 30th at 11 AM in the Sasquatch Theater.

We'll be talking about resurrecting subgenres of classic RPGs that were once thought dead. I'll be joining veteran game developers Annie Mitsoda, Josh Sawyer, Mitch Gitelman, and Swen Vincke, with Penny Arcade's Jeff Kalles moderating.

I'm super excited and super terrified. This will be the first time I've ever been on a panel (or even seen a panel, or gone to PAX, or gone to any convention of any kind). It'll be awesome to talk games with a bunch of developers I admire, but yeah, combine a thousand unknowns with enormous crowds with nigh-clinical introversion and you get something that's even scarier than what I already do all day.

But hey, I'll manage. I always do.

So if you're going to be at PAX, let me know! It's possible I might be able to do something about that information without crawling under my bed in terror.*

* That's a joke. My bed is a mattress on the floor. I can't crawl under there without straining something.**

** Unless I crawl under the bed at my hotel. Hm, there's an idea....

Q: How do you have time for everything?

Trevor asks a very pertinent question:
How do you have time for everything? 
Seriously, I see that you have 10 kids, work remotely on an anticipated game, and write, among other daily challenges I'm sure. Was there ever a point when you wanted to let go of any of these passions? Do you ever worry that you can't devote enough time to each of them?
Do I ever worry I can't devote enough time to everything? Constantly. How do I make sure that doesn't happen?

I have no idea.

Well, that's not strictly true. I have some idea of how I pull this off, but I'm so notoriously bad at everything below that it's a miracle I get anything done. For what it's worth, here are the things that help me run my life:
  • Priorities. My family comes first, then paying work (98% of which is Torment), then my own writing projects (i.e. those that are currently unpaid but will hopefully be paid later), then boring things like fixing stuff around the house and watching Fast and Furious 7. When one priority threatens the happiness of another, they get cut off in reverse priority order... which is why nothing ever gets fixed around here.
  • Knowing my limits. I'm pretty terrible at this one usually, but occasionally I will have bursts of genius, like when I signed on to Torment with a 25-30 hour/week commitment instead of fulltime (although that usually turns into 30-35, and even more during crunches, but commitments! Yay!).
  • Schedules. This is easier when the kids are in school (which they're not now, oi). I try to do Torment work from 7-12 in the morning, then lunch, then write for 1-2 hours, then pick up kids from school, then spend time with kids, then usually more Torment work, then spend time with my wife, then pass out. And somewhere in there I get on Twitter and play chess. No, I don't know how that works either.
  • Very little TV. We don't have Netflix or Hulu out here, and we try very hard not to pirate anything. That leaves Crunchyroll, Legend of Korra DVDs, and our collection of Friends episodes. (We actually have more than that, but we rarely get to watch anything as it airs, making Twitter a constant spoilerfest).

Have I ever wanted to let go of something? Yes and no. I certainly enjoy the financial freedom InXile has given me (especially when we needed it most), but part of me thinks I'd be okay with having time to focus on just my writing and family again. (Then the other part of me starts shouting, "Hey, remember how hardly anybody paid us for our own writing?!").

Giving up writing is also an option, but I don't know if I could give it up completely. I've been writing my own stories in some form since I was seven. For now, I'm content to just take it slow.

Obviously my family is not on the table. They're what I do everything else for.

I've already given up a lot of things to make this work: blogging regularly, keeping up with Naruto, any kind of serious board game design, most movies and computer games that I can't enjoy with my kids... These are costs I'm willing to pay in exchange for creating cool things and raising awesome children.

And if my other commitments become too much, I'll cut those too. Until then, I'll just keep trying to live three dreams at once (four, if you count sleep... which I do).


Got a question? Ask me anything!

In Which I (Yet Again) Discover Why I Don't Self-Publish

[Some of the links below go to TV Tropes. You have been warned.]

These days, there is no end of people who say, "Why are you still putting yourself through the misery of traditional publishing?" Some folks say it nicer. Some are meaner and use words like "broken," "obsolete," and "dinosaur". I've talked about my reasons before, but I've come to realize that the thing behind it all is an illogical personality quirk.

I am trying to get the best ending.

Before I go on, understand that I don't think either path -- self-publishing or traditional -- is better than the other. They are both means to reach readers, and to that end, both sometimes work and sometimes don't.

I'm talking about video games. The RPGs and graphic adventures that form the core of my childhood often gave you multiple paths to complete the game, and often different endings. Sometimes there was a "best" ending; sometimes the endings were just different.

The thing about me is, whether there was a "best" ending or not, I always tried to get it. I'm the kind of guy who will spend hours leveling up the most useless Pokemon in existence, trusting he'll become something awesome (spoiler: he does). I'll choose the Smash Bros. character everyone hates and spend weeks figuring out how to beat the crap out of people with him. I once stopped playing Riven for 5 years because I refused to look up the solution to the puzzle I was stuck on.

The point is I'm stubborn, and I've been conditioned to believe that the path of most resistance will yield the best rewards.

Again, before all you self-pubbers stab me with your pitchforks: I don't believe traditional publishing is better, not in a money-and-success way. It's only my subconscious that's convinced me there's some kind of unlockable bonus item.

But if my intellect says both paths are viable, why am I still doing the hard one?

Because the other part of my personality quirk is this: even if the ending is the same, I want to be able to say I finished the game on the hardest setting. To say I beat Super Mario Bros. without warping (I did), I caught all 151 Pokemon (I didn't), I finished Contra without losing a single life (did).

For me, getting traditionally published isn't about making more money or even reaching more readers. Neither path outdoes the other in that sense. Getting traditionally published is about being able to say I did it.

What about you? What's your path and why?

So You Want to Kill a Character...

Sometimes characters have to die. Because facing death makes people do crazy, vengeful, courageous things, and when we need our characters to be crazy, vengeful, or courageous (etc), sometimes killing their mom/best friend/cute guy they just met/dog is the best way to do it.

But it's really hard to kill a character. We love these fictional people that exist only in our heads. We don't want to kill them.

For me, this is just one more reason I plan. When I'm outlining, the characters are just pieces of a game to me. I don't really kill them, I just take them off the board. I'm like fricking George Martin, slaughtering characters left and right until there's hardly anyone left to denouement with.

But when I'm actually writing the draft, they're no longer game pieces. They're people, with feelings and hopes and dreams, all of which I'm about to crush with a single, over-written sentence. I could bring them back, sure, but I'd have to cheat. Some readers might be happy their favorite character didn't really die, but others would feel ripped off.

So I think, "Does this character really need to die? Can't I keep them a little longer?"

As it turns out, that's a good thing. It forces me to re-evaluate whether I was just going crazy in my outlining phase. It dials me back from George Martin to, maybe, Joss Whedon -- to killing one or two characters who really, truly have to die to serve the plot. (Though usually I do end up sticking with the outline.)

How about you? Do you kill characters? How hard is it for you?

There is No Way This Could Fail. None.

You know that moment in Mockingjay when they finally rescue Peeta, and Katniss spends a paragraph or so thinking how happy she and Peeta would be and how she would hug Peeta and tell him all the things she was never able to tell him before?

And was anyone surprised when Peeta wasn't okay?

I think this is becoming a pet peeve of mine, in YA especially, where the MC starts thinking about how great it will be when their plan works then (of course) the plan doesn't work.

(This goes the other way, too. Whenever the MC is dubious about a plan or is certain someone has died, it's a sure thing the opposite has occurred and everything is going to be okay.)

It shouldn't bother me. It's just a trope, right? I mean, you can't have the MC go, "Was that his voice in the next room? It had to be. Of course it was! He was back home safe, and everything would be like it was." And then he's really there and everything is just like it was. That's boring, right?

But when I read a narrator's thoughts like that, it either makes me feel like the MC is dumb or it blows away all the tension ("Well I thought it might be him for a second, but now...").

But what to do about it? I'm sure I do this all over the place, and it can't be a bad thing all the time, can it?

Seriously, is this even an issue? Or should I file this under temporary insanity (too late)? What do you guys think?

I think what I want is for authors to be aware of the signals they send the reader. We (authors) go, "I'll trick the reader into thinking everything is okay then BAM!" But the reader is all, "Do they actually think I'm buying this? Oh, look: 'bam'."

We need to find a better way.

When Your Agent Asks You For Revisions

To me, writing a novel -- trying to make a dozen characters and themes and motivations and goals all fit together in one comprehensible mass -- feels like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube.

It takes years, but then one day I'm all, "Holy crap, I did it, guys! I finished the cube!"

Even better, I show it off to agents, and one of them says, "That's a great looking cube. Can I represent you?" And, well, you know how that goes.

Then my agent says, "Now before I can submit this to publishers, I want you to try and put these pieces in, too."

And I'm all:

Stupid Rubik's Cube.

In Which I Work Up the Nerve to Edit Something

There's a lot of waiting coming up in the next few months, in which I have to just hope that Air Pirates is good enough. In which I have to write the next thing. The thing is, I have at least two finished drafts sitting on my computer, one of which probably will be the next thing, but I'm having trouble working up the nerve to edit them.

This is what's going on in my brain, then. Welcome to the crazy.

Brain: Work on Post-Apoc Ninjas. It's pretty good, and it has a lot of the same feel as Air Pirates.

Me: But I'd have to rewrite over half of it. It's so much work! Can't I just work on this New Shiny over here?

You'll have to rewrite that draft, too. It's less work to revise Ninjas.

But what if it's not? What if I write something that's mostly good on the first try?

Has that ever happened before?

. . . But if I rip out half of Ninjas, it'll feel like I wrote it for nothing.

Look at it this way: you still have half of a good novel.

What if I rip out more than half?

It's still part of a good novel. It's more than you had before you wrote it.

But what if I revise Ninjas and it's still not good? All that work will be wasted!

That's what you say before you start every draft.

I'd have to revise it AGAIN!

Look, what's it worth to you to write a good novel?

I HAVE written a good novel. It's called Air Pirates. Have you read it?

And how many times did you revise that?

. . . I hate you.

So long as you finish something.

3.5 Years + 231 Rejections = 1 Crazy Author

(I've been using my temporary insanity tag a lot lately. That's what querying will do to you, I guess.)

So here are statistics on three rounds of querying, including some highlights and A Chart. Let's jump right in!

("Queried From" counts from the months in which I sent out queries; it doesn't count when I got responses. "Rejections" are of the query itself. Consequently, "No Response" are also rejections.)

Queried From: May 2008 - Jan 2009 (8 months)
Queries Sent: 52
Requests: 0
Rejections: 41
No Response: 11
Request Rate: 0%
Representation Offers: 0

Air Pirates (Adult SF/F Version)
Queried From: Feb 2010 - Jun 2010 (4 months)
Queries Sent: 41
Requests: 5 = 4 partial + 1 full
Rejections: 16
No Response: 20
Request Rate: 12%
Representation Offers: 0

Air Pirates (YA Version)
Queried From: May 2011 - Oct 2011 (4 months)
Queries Sent: 140
Requests: 16 = 5 partial + 11 full
Rejections: 72
No Response: 52
Request Rate: 11%
Representation Offers: 2

Obviously, I sent out a LOT more queries for this latest version. Part of that is there are just a lot more agents repping YA than adult SF/F. Part of it is I got excited/desperate sometime around my 10th request, and, thinking I had gold on my hands, started sending queries to EVERYBODY.

It didn't work though:

Air Pirates (YA Version)
Request Rate in the 1st Half of Queries Sent: 17% (12 out of 70)
Request Rate in the 2nd Half of Queries Sent: 6% (4 out of 70)

Across all three rounds of querying:

Slowest Request: 78 days (one of two requests I got after following up on a lost query)

Fastest Request: 3 hours 45 minutes

Slowest Rejection: 1 year 24 days (the query had gotten sent to the agent's spam, but she fished it out along with a number of others)

Fastest Rejection: 55 minutes. That was Michelle Wolfson, who also gave me my...

Best Rejection: In which Michelle said she recognized my name from the comments on Kiersten White's blog. The rest of the letter was a pretty standard form, but because of the personalization, I felt like she meant it. (I also started following her on Twitter. She's fun.)

So, a couple of months in, I wanted to see a graphic of the responses to my query. I'm not sure what I hoped to glean from it -- probably I just wanted to make a chart. Here it is.

(RED = query rejection/no response deadline passed; BLUE = partial request; GREEN = full request; BROWN = partial rejected; BLACK = full rejected; GOLD = offer made).

I did learn a couple of things. (1) Most agents responded on Monday (being Tuesday here and on the chart), with Tuesday and Wednesday coming in second. (2) My emotional state in any given week had a very strong correlation to the placement of green and black circles.

(The chart also makes it look like summer responses are few, but keep in mind, too, that I doubled my query rate in the middle of August)

The fact that I got an agent exactly where the chart ends was completely unintentional, or coincidental, or God telling me something. Take your pick.

Was there anything else you wanted to know? I got all this data here; might as well do something with it.

How I Got My Agent, Part II

You've all read everything leading up to this post, right? Cuz if you think querying is all excitement and roses, you should go back and read the last post.

So Tricia Lawrence is my agent, but it may surprise you that I never queried her. I couldn't have if I wanted to: she wasn't an agent until after I'd stopped sending new queries out.

Ammi-Joan Paquette was one of the first five agents I queried, being one who asked to see the YA version when it was ready. She had my manuscript throughout the entire process and sometimes felt like my only hope. (And oh my gosh, if I had known the third query I sent out would be The One, and I could have saved myself the time and pain of sending out another 137 -- Oy! Just . . . kill me now (but don't because then I wouldn't have an agent anymore)).

When Joan upgraded from partial to full, she said she had reservations but wanted to see how it ended. I tried to tell myself (with only a little success) that she would say no. And, in fact, she did. She said the same as all the other agents: very promising, but she wasn't quite passionate enough to offer representation.

But the e-mail didn't end there. Apparently, Joan had passed it onto her agency's newest agent, Tricia, who had read it with enthusiasm. Joan said I should be hearing from Tricia quickly.

Listen, if you thought sending out queries is crazy-making, you should try getting an e-mail like that. I stared at my inbox for hours at a time, tenaciously ignoring the fact that nobody in America was even awake. I was checking my inbox in my sleep. I once checked my wife's e-mail to see if Tricia had somehow E-MAILED HER BY MISTAKE.

So yeah. Crazy.

Finally Tricia e-mailed me. She told me how much she loved Air Pirates, gave me a list (yay, lists!) with specific and awesome revisions ideas, and asked when we could talk on the phone. I looked and looked for the "I'm just not passionate enough" line, but I couldn't find it. It sounded like she actually wanted to work with me on it.

From the phone call, my story sort of devolves into everyone else's agent stories: I was nervous, she loved my story, she asked where I got certain ideas, she wanted to represent me, had editors in mind, etc, etc (but imagine me dancing a little the whole time). It was like every agent story I've ever read, with one exception.

See, when I first got the e-mail from Joan, I heard a tiny, evil voice. It said, "You're not good enough for the 'real' agent so they're giving you to the new one." Totally unfair, I know, and I feel bad even admitting it. But I don't know how anyone could get over 200 rejections and not doubt themselves like that.

Tricia couldn't know that lie had crossed my mind, but she totally murdered it. She told me when Joan had passed Air Pirates to her, she was actually wavering. She almost took it back to represent me. And Joan not only passed the manuscript to Tricia, but also to Erin Murphy, head of the agency and agent for 12+ years.

Honestly, I didn't need to know all that to make my decision; I knew that evil voice was lying to me, and Tricia's professionalism and enthusiasm had already won me over. But when I heard that, it made me feel all good inside and gave me a faith in Air Pirates I didn't realize I had lost.

So next week I will get some querying statistics up, along with some other related posts. I'll try not to bore you with All New Agent Posts All The Time, but, well . . . you know.

How I Got My Agent, Part I

I don't know about you, but when I read these stories, I'm always more interested in how long and difficult the journey was (it encourages me when I'm dealing with The Long and Difficult myself). So this first part is everything leading up to the call. The part where Tricia chose me comes on Friday.

2003-2008: I wrote a novel (Travelers). I learned what a query letter is. I got rejected a lot.

2008-2010: I wrote another novel (Air Pirates). I got lots of feedback on it, learned how to delete whole chapters, and queried again. I got rejected less, but still . . . rejected.

(Side note: I also spent some time writing three short stories, getting one of them published, and drafting another novel (Cunning Folk)).

2010-2011: I revised Air Pirates from adult SF/F to Young Adult and, in May, queried it again.

Querying the YA version of Air Pirates started off fantastic. Three agents from the adult round said they'd be interested if I did revisions or had another novel, but more than that, I had the Holy Grail of the Unpublished Author: a referral.

As part of my, ahem, "networking" I lucked into a couple of beta readers who have agents and/or book deals. One of them LOVED Air Pirates (still does, I believe) and thought her agent would too. Her agent requested the full within hours.

Three weeks later, she passed.

She was really nice, and said her client was right to refer it to her, but she just wasn't passionate enough to represent it. And I learned something I thought I had already known: a referral can only get your work seen, not sold.

That rejection hurt the most, I think, because I'd put so much hope in it. Over the next month I got a couple more requests and a couple more passes (always with the same thing: "There's a lot I liked, but I just don't love it enough to offer representation."). I also wrote this post and found myself in Stage 6 of this one.

Then in August I got 8 more requests(!). I thought I was level-headed about it, but I also doubled the rate I sent out queries so . . . maybe not.

In September, my manuscript was with 10 agents. A month later, half of them had passed -- some that I'd been really excited about -- all with the same comments as the others. I was still querying, but emotionally I was in the final stages.

This is another post, because it comes with warnings I think every Professional Aspiring Writer should hear. For now, know that I got an offer that may or may not have been a real offer and probably wasn't a good idea even if it was. I turned it down.

And I realized I was sending my 140th query letter to agents I probably wasn't going to be very excited about even if they offered -- agents I might even have said no to. I stopped sending out new queries.

I was done. Yes, there were still a few manuscripts out there, but I'd lost hope in most of them. I didn't even know some of the agents who had requested them. Would they turn out to be the same as the offer I turned down? I let it go and focused my efforts on drafting another novel.

It was less than 24 hours after finishing that draft when I got an e-mail with some hope in it. (Continued here)

What If You Don't Fit Neatly Into One Genre?

If you're not sure what genre your novel is, read this post by agent Jennifer Laughran. It's a fantastic breakdown of the (current) standard genres agents are looking for when they read your query.

So what if you don't fit neatly into one?

(An aside: The post on name pronunciation has been updated with the correct answer. Not surprisingly, most of you got it wrong. Don't worry, I still like you.)

Not fitting neatly is kind of my problem. Not just with Air Pirates, but with most things I write. I like to straddle the line between sci-fi and fantasy (apparently). Everything I've written so far--and most of my future story ideas--take place in the real world, but different. Sometimes there are time machines and immortal beings that can travel outside time. Sometimes there are steam-powered airships and stones that tell the future. Sometimes there are Burmese refugees that start fires with their minds. Sometimes there are mechs and dragons.

I generally fall back on fantasy, but that's potentially misleading. There isn't always magic, and what "magic" there is usually has some sort of science behind it (even if I don't always explain it). And only one of my stories has mythical creatures. (Although Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a fantasy magazine, so I guess Air Pirates counts).

They're not science-fiction because they're not strictly about technology or a "what if." In fact, most of them feel like fantasy (what with the dragons and overall low technology).

They're not dystopian because, although many of the worlds are in the future, it's a future that's not terribly bleak. (Though I guess the lack of food and the oppressive dictator would put Travelers in that category).

I would call them science fantasy, but that's not on the list and nobody really knows what that is.

I call most of them steampunk (for the mixture of technology in a low-tech society), but they're way out on the edge of that subgenre. There's nothing Victorian about these worlds, and I never use the word "corset."

Technically, it's all speculative fiction, but I've always found that term too broad and boring.

But I certainly can't say it doesn't fit into any genre, or it's a genre all it's own, because that's pretentious (and wrong).

People are more interested if you can give them a precise genre. I read Perdido Street Station because I heard it was steampunk, but it's a little bit of everything. I'd rather pick a genre that's close enough than have an agent skip it because they don't know what it is.

Have you ever had a problem categorizing what you write?

How to Use

TV Tropes is a fantastic site, collecting every story trope humanity has ever done, along with examples. If you've got a spare month or two (not a typo), I highly recommend heading over there. If you've never been, let me give you some tips on how to use the site.

1) Let it depress you. Start with some trope you're writing, say air pirates. Follow the links to all the interesting, related tropes--especially ones you thought were original--like cool-looking airships or the villain's airborne fortress that threatens to rain cannonballs on the goodguys. Come to the realization that there is NOTHING original in your story AT ALL. Quit writing.

2) Let it encourage you. After you've quit writing for a few years, realize that nobody ELSE is original either. That makes unoriginality okay (within reason). The goal in fiction is not originality, but to take what's been done and make it fresh and interesting again. To make it YOURS.

3) Let it inform you. Now that the tropes are no longer soul-crushing, find your favorite trope to see how it has been handled before, how it's been subverted, and how famous the examples are so you know what you can get away with. Come up with subversions of your own, or mix it with other tropes in new and interesting ways.

4) Let it inspire you. Stuck for ideas? How about the origin story of a Judge-Dredd-style adventure hero and his possibly-insane sidekick facing an evil tribal circus in the African jungle. If that doesn't work, just hit the TV Tropes Story Idea Generator one more time until you find something you DO like! And if it sounds too lame or familiar, just add ninjas (or samurai or pirates or mecha or whythehecknot all of them). Because it's AWESOME.

Are any of you even still reading this, or did I lose you like 15 links ago?

The Kitchen-Sink Story VS. The Rule of Cool

The Kitchen-Sink Story: A story overwhelmed by the inclusion of any and every new idea that occurs to the author in the process of writing it.

The Rule of Cool: Most readers are willing to suspend their disbelief for something that is totally awesome.
-- TV Tropes (intentionally unlinked because I care about you)

Yesterday I posted this on Twitter and Facebook:

Most of the responses were combinations. Steampunk ninjas. Jumper elves. The most common response, though, was all six: elven ninjas with Jumper powers, driving steampunk mecha in a genetically perfect waterworld (possibly fighting dragons).

It sounds great, largely due to the Rule of Cool stated above. Take two cool things, slap them together, and nobody cares how impossible the outcome is BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME!

But the fear, then (well, my fear), is being accused of writing a Kitchen-Sink Story. "You're just throwing in ninjas because you think they're trendy, not because they add anything to the work!" "Mecha don't make sense anyway, but in a world covered entirely in water?!"

At first glance, it sounds like these are two different sets of people: the SF geeks (who love ninjas) vs. the erudite literary heads who Take Fiction Seriously. But the SF geeks who find all this stuff awesome are also the folks who will nitpick your story to death. They want the cool stuff and a world they can dig deeply into (I know, I'm one of them).

Fortunately folks like me are willing to accept any explanation you can give them, provided it's consistent. So I think I'll do what I always do. You can feel free to follow suit:
  1. Ignore those who Take Fiction Seriously. Much as I'd love to win a Hugo, those guys aren't my target audience.
  2. Pick the elements I want, figure out why it makes sense later. It worked with Air Pirates, after all.
  3. Apply the Rule of Cool where necessary. Giant mecha don't make sense, neither tactically nor physically, but who the heck cares? They're awesome.
  4. Ensure whatever I make up follows its own rules. Sufficiently strange technology, or elements that don't exist in the real world, is treated like magic. State the rules, then follow them.
I don't know what I'll actually decide (depends on the story, I guess), but I'm definitely going to lean on the Rule of Cool rather than be afraid of the Kitchen-Sink Story. What do you think?

Oo, KRAKEN! Those are definitely going in the waterworld.

Gummi Bears and Obsessive Compulsions

Everyone's got their quirks. Some people have to collect the same edition of a book (mass market, trade, or hard) for the entire series. Some people straighten cards and game pieces constantly. Some won't watch a movie if they have to start in the middle. Some have to peel their orange in one giant piece, while others put each piece on the table such that none of them are touching.

Okay, so those are all me (except the last one, but that's my son, so it's the same thing). When I was a kid, I'd dump all the Gummi Bears on the table, separate them into groups, and eat them in order from my least favorite to my most favorite. That way I'd have the best flavor still in my mouth when I was done.

It's, uh . . . it's possible I still eat food like that.

But I'm discovering it's not just me. My wife, after separating the colors into groups, would eat from the largest groups until they were even. Then she'd eat a bear of each color, keeping them as even as possible until they were gone. My dad, on the other hand, ate the groups that had the least number first. Why? So the strongest would survive.

I have no point, except that it's okay to be crazy. So how do you eat Gummi Bears?

Overthinking Dr. Seuss

I read a lot of Dr. Seuss (9 kids will do that to you), to the point where I've caught myself thinking about the story behind the story, wondering if the good doctor ever considered these angles.

What do you mean I'm over-analyzing?

The Zax -- Evolution or Cruel Experiment?
"Never budge! That's my rule. Never budge in the least! Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I'll stay here, not budging! I can and I will if it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!" 

A North-going Zax and a South-going Zax bump into each other during their long, seemingly pointless journeys, each stubbornly refusing to step aside for the other.

Are there more of these creatures? And are these the first to ever run into each other on their (presumably, magnetically perfect) paths? This appears to be a potential evolutionary problem.

Or is it intentional. One mentions a South-going school. Is there some genetic scientist who has trained them and set them on colliding paths, just to see what they would do?

The Sneetches -- The Economy of Beach Bums
Then, when every last cent
Of their money was spent,
The Fix-it-Up Chappie packed up
And he went.

And he laughed as he drove
In his car up the beach,
"They never will learn.
No. You can't teach a Sneetch."

Plain-belly Sneetches live oppressed by their star-bearing brethren. Until a con man convinces them to change their stars back and forth, taking all their money and leaving the Sneetches poor and confused.

But where did they get this money? In the entire book, the Sneetches have neither homes nor jobs nor clothes (it's cool, they're birds). Maybe their economy is just never shown, or maybe they are the world's most successful beach bums, spending vast welfare checks only on marshmallows and frankfurters.

The Sleep Book -- A Message from Big Brother
We have a machine in a plexiglass dome
Which listens and looks into everyone's home.
And whenever it sees a new sleeper go flop,
It jiggles and lets a new Biggel-Ball drop. 

From one perspective, the Sleep Book is about the bedtime and sleep behaviors of various creatures as the countryside goes to bed.

From another, it's subtle propoganda composed by a totalitarian regime. The message? "Everything is fine. All are sleeping peacefully, except you. We know."

Fear of Failure and Revisions

I have a problem with a fear of failure. I guess most people do a little, but I feel like mine affects everything I do. I mean, I'm even afraid to talk on the phone or exercise because I might do something stupid.

It affects writing and drawing too, of course. I stare at the blank page until I convince myself to sketch something fast and light, reminding myself it doesn't have to perfect. Once I have something sketched, I'm afraid to darken or ink it because it already looks good -- what if I make a mistake? And once I ink it, too, I'm afraid to color it.

It's stupid, I know. My wife called me on it the other day. "At least you can always erase and redo a drawing. It's not like you only get one shot."

I know she's right, so why am I so afraid then to put my pencil (or ASCII characters) to the page?

In performance, like dancing or singing, you don't get to revise. Once the moves or notes are out there, they're permanent. But for some reason I'm not as afraid of performance. When I am afraid, I practice -- that, after all, is how you get your body to do the right thing when performance time comes. And I don't mind screwing up in practice because, hey, it's just practice.

So why the heck can't I do that with drafting and sketching? The delete key's only like two inches from my pinky!

Not sure I have a conclusion to this one, so I'll throw it out to you. How do you struggle with fear of failure? How do you overcome it?

¡Viva la Revolución!

(This post brought to you by the inspiration and revolutionary cake of L. T. Host, the Jokerman font, and That Thing Where I DrawPhotoshop)

I'm seeing a pattern. My first novel generated no requests. My second novel is getting partial requests, but no fulls (so far). I fear my third novel will generate fulls but no offers--those will come with my fourth novel.

And then what? Will I have to write yet another novel before I get a book deal? To that I say: NO!

Down with our (imaginary) oppressors! We will not have to write three more novels. THIS is the novel that will be published.

No more slush pile! Representation for everyone!


* CARPE EDITIO: Seize the book deal (or, if you want to be literal, "the publishing of a book.").