State of the Self, Feb 2017

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Let’s talk about where things stand in general with me.

1. Last night I posted fiction onto my Patreon. It’s the first scene of ONE MAN, the novel I’ve been working on, and I thought my patrons deserved a sneak peak. Just my way of saying “Thank you.”

Someone immediately cancelled their pledge.

Can’t please them all, I guess.

2. My gaming group has been playing MASKS, which is a genuinely great game about teenage superheroes. For the longest time, we couldn’t settle on a team name, so I’ve been throwing out joke suggestions (The Integriteens!)

The other players have latched onto one of my jokes as the name they actually want to adopt.

It starts with a hashtag.

3. I shipped my latest revision of ONE MAN to my agent last weekend, and I feel pretty good about it. She may have additional tweaks, but maybe not. If she does, I’m not sure how long it will take me to do them, because

4. I’m sick and getting sicker. Low-grade fever. Body aches. Exhaution.

And a cough that could shatter marble. At this point, I’m coughing so hard that my vision goes fuzzy and my extremities tingle. I honestly feel close to fainting. Which sucks.

Now that I’ve gotten older, it’s common for me to suffer a lingering cough after a cold, and I mean that it lingers for months. My wife hates it, because I cough big. BIG. She tells me to see a doctor, but they never do anything except prescribe cough suppressants and try to placebo me into thinking they’re super powerful. That never works and I’m sick of going. This time, though…

5. I’m not doing too much social media right now, because HACKING. It’s too hard to focus, which is why I’m doing Lemony Snicket and PI shows on Netflix.

6. My rent just went up.

7.Buy my books.

First Scene of New Novel Going Live on Patreon

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Folks have been very kind about my Patreon, so I thought I’d do something nice for my patrons. On Feb 1, I’m going to post the first scene from ONE MAN, my new novel which (with luck) will be published sometime next year.

It’s about 2.1K words and it’s not an entire chapter. It’s just to show folks what they are supporting.

If you’re not a patron, you can become one (and see what I’ve been working on these past two years) by pledging a dollar. After you see the new scene, you can always cancel your pledge. I hope you won’t, obviously, but if you do that’s on me.

Thanks, and take care of yourselves.

Three Things Make a Post

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If you subscribe to my Patreon, you’ve already seen this, but here’s one for everyone else:

1. Long time readers of my blog and/or social media will know what this picture means. I’ve reached another major goal in my current work-in-progress. The book is ONE MAN, which is the fantasy/crime novel I’ve been working on for OVER TWO YEARS. The goal is that I’ve incorporated my agent’s notes and I think the book is much stronger and therefore ready to send to publishers.

There will be new drafts later on, whether publishers bite or not, but for now it’s off the table.

That means I can spend the week leading up to Giftmas doing family stuff, cleaning, cooking, and otherwise refilling the well.

2. I took the wife and son to see ROGUE ONE (no spoilers) on Friday afternoon. I liked it more than they did, but I’m more inclined to forgive the clunky, awkward moments so I can have space ships and shoot-outs. We all watch Star Wars as generic but enjoyable mass media entertainment, not as a fannish fetish object. But it’s more my kind of thing than theirs.

And the clunkiness was there–hoo boy–along with the plot problems that come with the way the films have used The Force. They also struggled with the constraints of being a prequel to “A New Hope:” Darth Vader is there, but he’s not the main villain. They need their own antagonist who can lose at the end (see above re: generic but enjoyable mass media entertainment) and not outshine the villains in ANH, but still seem powerful and effective. They might have had a better film if they’d managed it.
Still, it’s an enjoyable diversion from holiday stress.

3. Speaking of Giftmas, I’ve dropped the Amazon ebook price of the first novel in my Great Way trilogy to $2.99. If you know someone who likes ebook adventure fantasy, you might want to grab it for them. Also, once you own the ebook, the audio book becomes super cheap. That, too, might make a nice gift.

And that’s it. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, however you celebrate. And if you don’t celebrate at all, I hope your days are wonderful anyway.

It’s how you spend your free time: the power of small decisions

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One of my friends said something really smart on Sunday, and I thought I’d share it.

She and her partner live in Denver, and my son (who is 14) is planning to spend two weeks with them to pick their brains about Photoshop, After Effects, and a number of other programs they use. They make their living using all sorts of fancy software that I don’t know anything about, so he has a lot to learn in those two weeks.

ANYWAY. What she said, which I have to paraphrase because it was during an extended conversation, was: “What matters is how you spend your free time.”

To which I say: Yep.

Her story is that she was in college some years ago, learning software as part of her design class. I think it was Photoshop, but there was some cross-talk. Anyway, it was relatively new, and she and her friend were so fascinated by it that they spent their free time on a deep dive into the program, learning all the things it could do. In not time, the professor realized that she and her friend were more capable of teaching the software and asked them to do so. When she graduated, they offered her a teaching position.

It wasn’t because she was so good in class; it was because she was so engaged outside of it. The same is true of any kind of challenging field. If you want to be great in the arts, you have to cut out time from your daily life to practice and improve. That’s time you could be spending watching TV, going to the gym, sleeping in, playing video games, or making money.

If you click on the Tweet below, you’ll get a thread by comics writer Gail Simone on this very subject.

[Update: she deleted the whole thread. The gist was that people determined to be writers have to make the time to practice.]

I’ve tried to explain this to my son, because he acts like his great ambition is to be the best Overwatch player ever. It’s gotten to the point that I’m tempted to take away his computer games for good, even though he and I built a gaming computer for him just this past January. (Personally, I try to avoid most games because they’re addictive, and I’m vulnerable to that.) Choosing to spend all his free time playing video games is essentially choosing to be a regular joe with a joe job, and the US culture and economy squashes people like that now. If he’s going to be squashed, he ought to have the satisfaction of making art (or something!)

And what of myself? Thinking about spending down time always makes me audit myself, and I have to confess that I’ve been obsessing over Twitter and the election these past few months. It seems like my duty as a citizen to be as informed as possible, but how much of my time and energy do I REALLY need to devote to this? How much can I push off onto other citizens?

Clearly, I need to cut back and focus more on my work. The book I’m revising is complex and I need to get it to my agent so she can sell it. But Twitter is soooo tempting, almost like a video game.

And that’s the power of tiny decisions. Not the big stuff, like Where should I go to college or Should I quit my current job for that new one? No, the really important decisions are the huge clusters of tiny ones that we all make every day. Should I work on my book, or should I watch this tv show/go to the gym/hit the pub/etc?

Obviously no one can spend every spare moment of their lives writing (nor should they) but if you never choose writing over those other things that’s a clear statement of priorities.

[Added later: See also: Twelve Years from Hobbyist to Pro]

State of the Book/State of the Self

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[I wrote this on Saturday night, before news struck of the deadliest mass shooting by a civilian in this country’s history. Rather than let it go live at the scheduled time, I’m just going to post it later in the week, along with my wish that sensible gun control be enacted in this country, starting with a lifting of the ban on CDC’s ability to study gun violence.]

You’ll be reading this tomorrow, but I just tweeted this:

If you’re not a long-time reader, let me explain: When I finish a draft of a novel I treat myself to a bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Which means that I’ve wrapped up the zero draft of ONE MAN, and what a fucking relief it is. I started this book in March of 2015, according to the creation date of my Scrivener file. That’s a long time for me, even if you count the amount of time I spent traveling on vacation and taking a digression to work on side projects, like The Way into Fate, the rpg game supplement that closed out my Kickstarter campaign, and short fiction, too.

So, that’s a long haul, and I’m still not done. I have a list of 90-some changes that need to be made, from small ones like adding a couple characters to a scene or changing someone’s name, to systemic ones like giving certain characters their own slang. Then, once those changes are done, I have to manage the numerous comments I’ve left myself recommending I check various details in the book. Then, once THAT’s done, I have to reread the whole book, smoothing out the text, searching for word echoes, and generally prettying things up. If I were sensible, I’d do that twice.

Only then will this draft be truly done and ready for my agent to read. If you’re waiting for THE TWISTED PATH, which is the next Twenty Palaces story, you’ll have to wait until then. Sorry. Gotta get this book on the market.

Personally, I’m relieved to have accomplished even this much. This has been a difficult book, and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s a fantasy with a made-up setting. It’s a crime story. It has a bunch of POV characters. It has stakes and magic and betrayals and secrets.

And if this book flops, too, I’m going to have to rethink my whole approach to writing.

Want to see the cover for the German edition of The Way into Chaos? (train trip wrapup)

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I should have written this post last week I guess, but I returned from vacation and landed with both feet on the run. I’m working hard on One Man again, and making good progress. Homeschooling is on again. My wife has a computer station I need to set up. My niece, who has been housesitting for us so kindly while we’ve been taking trips, is having a birthday.

So I haven’t really had time to write an in-depth report on the 30-day train vacation I just took. Here’s the short version: It was great to see family. It was great to see friends. I was lucky enough to eat a bunch of regional foods: jambalaya in New Orleans, pepper steaks in Philly, Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago. Splashing around in the ocean in Miami was fantastic, and so was seeing the monuments on the National Mall in Washington DC.

And then there were the long, quiet moments with my family on the train. Sometimes we played games, or read, or talked with other passengers. Sometimes we just stared out the window.

Sleeping was a bigger challenge than I’d expected and those east coast trains carry more people than this Seattleite is used to, but it was a beautiful trip with a lot of family time, and that’s what I wanted.

We also stopped in at every bookstore we could find, but none of my books were on the shelves. It’s just been too long, and I need to finish this one asap.

Speaking of which, the German edition of The Way into Chaos has come out, and I like the cover. Check it out.

Sitting in the train station in Los Angeles

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Awaiting my last train ride home. In an hour, we board the Coast Starlight which will return us to Seattle about 35 hours from now. I’ve enjoyed the trip, but I’m so very ready to be home. I guess that means a 30-day trip was exactly right.

We slipped out to Olivera St.–the “Mexico replica” street beside the station, but every place was closed except one. We had delicious Mexican breakfasts and bought burritos for the train. I loved it, although my son scorched his tongue and the experience was therefore ruined.

I haven’t been following blogs, or LiveJournals, or anything except Twitter, and even that has been pretty sporadic. You can see some pretty terrible pictures at https://twitter.com/byharryconnolly/media mixing in among my other stuff.

As for my books, I’d hoped to finish One Man on this trip, but it’s too hard to write on the train. Too chaotic and distracting, even with my headphones on. Plus, a month of iffy sleep hasn’t left me at my best.

Soon, it will be over. I’ve really enjoyed this trip, but I’m ready to be back at my book in a big way.

Hacking Popular Books But Still Confusing Popular With Good

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Every question can be answered by computers, apparently, including What’s the difference between bestselling fiction and fiction that doesn’t sell?

Oh hell, am I supposed to make you click a link??? Have this relevant blockquote instead:

They took the first 1,000 sentences of 4,129 books of poetry and 1,117 short stories and then analyzed them for various factors. They looked at parts of speech, use of grammar rules, the use of phrases, and “distribution of sentiment” – a way of measuring the use of words.

They found that successful books made great use of conjunctions to join sentences (“and” or “but”) and prepositions than less successful books. They also found a high percentage of nouns and adjectives in the successful books; less successful books relied on more verbs and adverbs to describe what was happening.

More successful books relied on verbs describing thought processes rather than actions and emotions. The results varied by genre, but books that are less successful, the researchers reported, used words like “wanted,” “took” or “promised.” Successful authors employed “recognized” or “remembered.”

“It has to do with showing versus caring,” Choi said. “In order to really resonate with readers, instead of saying ‘she was really really sad,’ it might be better to describe her physical state, to give a literal description. You are speaking more like a journalist would.”

Communications researchers believe journalists use more nouns, pronouns, and prepositions than other writers because those word forms give more information, Choi explained.

“Novelists who write more like journalists have literary success,” she said.

And to think that I deleted all those prepositional phrases from my books because I thought they were unnecessary! Josh Helman might be playing Ray Lilly in the movie version right now if only I’d left them in.

More seriously, color me skeptical that Choi’s analysis above, which boils down to showing vs telling, is more than post hoc rationalization (or a mundane error in science journalism) since it seems to contradict the paragraph before, which says “actions and emotions” take second place to “thought processes” in successful books. It’s almost as though the data has to be twisted to fit the popular model of how to write well.

It’s almost enough to make me grab a Lee Child novel off the library shelf to see how much ink is spent “retaliating first” and how much analyzing story beats.

At the back end of the article, a writing teach claims that the research must be all wrong, since it’s verbs that make for good writing, and that people choose books based on subject matter rather than style.

Both statements might be true, but good writing is not the same as popular writing, and if you’ve got the subject matter, maybe there’s a boost to be gained by writing in a journalistic style.

Which, honestly, is interesting to think about, but which I’ll completely forget about by the time I return to my current book. I just gotta do my own thing. As much as I’d like to be successful, I suspect I’m immune to the advice that could make that happen.

Huge delay in my next book

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not going to hit my NaNoWriMo goal. No big deal; I was just using it as a goad to pick up momentum with ONE MAN, my current WIP which has stalled.

It was a new thing for me, and it didn’t work.

What I realized on Wednesday was that I needed to start over. I plan to keep most of the 65K I’ve written so far, but I need to revise it extensively. The protagonist need to be someone else. I’m even going to give him a new name.

So today is the second beginning of my book. It’ll be a deeper, stronger story, and I’ll be able to make serious progress on it.

Sometimes I wish I could be one of those writers who finish a paragraph, tweak it here or there, then never look at it again. Sometimes I would like to be one of those writers to takes five years for a single book, and just keep revising like mad until it’s perfect.

Unfortunately, I’m me, and tossing a book so I can start over is part of how I work.

Portugal posts on hold, plus gaming and other stuff

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My kid is downloading Fallout 4, and we’re already into day 2 and it’s only half done. Our internet is bullshit, but I hate the idea of upgrading to a cable company for better. So while that’s using up our internet, no uploading pictures, so no posts for a short while.

My gaming group is about to start up a new game with a new system: BREACHWORLD. It’s been a while since we started a game with practically helpless level one characters. I’m concerned. My PC has zero fighting skills and the magical healing skill that’s his whole justification has a 16% chance of success.

I’m currently reading The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman. There’s all kinds of woo woo bullshit around being lucky, but (as I’ve mentioned before) a lot of luck seems to boil down to specific psychological traits and behaviors, like being open to meeting other people and so forth.

I’d like to be lucky. I’m giving it a try.

My NaNoWriMo is still bullshit. What I need to do is ruthlessly cut out everything from my life for a week or so just to get back into it. It doesn’t help that I have all kinds of distracting crap going on–not all of it bad, but still distracting. For example, our dishwasher broke and the landlord replaced it. The guy who put it in tore the front off our cabinet (and I didn’t even notice at first). Plus, I keep thinking I need to put together a Bookbub proposal and whip up reddit ads for my trilogy.

Stuff! There’s so much stuff all the time, and I just want to write my book.