2015 becomes 2016

Had a whale of a year. The Chaplain’s War earned out in just nine months, in trade paperback and e-book editions. Made a nice splash on Audible.com, too. Netted the family a surprisingly robust royalty check, just in time for Christmas. Consistently earning four and five-star reviews. Got a pile of sweet letters from some gradeschool kids who were read my story, “Astronaut Nick,” for the holidays — and enjoyed it quite a bit, to hear the anecdote of the reader. Fan mail is always amazing, but fan mail from youngsters is priceless. Better than diamonds or gold, I tell you. And I am (of course) contracted for more, with Baen. Hard to find any bad in any of that. 2015 was awesome. Only real bad thing has been being away from family over the holidays. Especially my little daughter, who isn’t so little anymore. I confess to shedding a few tears about that on Christmas eve.

Looking to 2016, I have a multi-faceted plan to spend a lot less time on social media, a lot more time reading recreationally, much more time with family — a new car will aid greatly in this — in addition to re-integrating with the household when I get home from deployment. On that note, my wife and I are going to be focusing especially on co-diet and co-exercise, to begin the process of reshaping our at-home lifestyle for long-term sustainability. Nobody lives forever. But the changes Annie and I both make, now, could be the difference between us enjoying our (eventual) senior years, and hating them. My desire is to be the 70 year old biking up Little Cottonwood Canyon, not marooned in an easy chair, made prisoner by arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, etc.

2016 is also the first year of a rather ambitious five-year writing roadmap, including overdue projects, long-dreamt-of projects, stories I both need and want to tell, new experiments in marketing and fan outreach, as well as making good on some promises to both myself, and to other people. 2010-2015 was an amazing stretch for me. At least in comparison to all the years from 1992 (when I first imagined becoming a pro) to 2009 (when I won Writers of the Future, in November.) I’ve got my feet firmly established. Venues. Audience. All of it. If 2010-2015 was the burning of the first stage, 2016 sees that first stage fall away, and the ignition of the second stage. If all goes well, the second stage should put me into orbit. I am looking forward to all of it.

Of course, nobody can eat a whole side of beef in one sitting. Over at Mad Genius Club, I put together a piece about New Years resolutions, and how not to make a liar out of oneself. I think most New Years resolutions fail for two key reasons. First, we don’t understand the difference between a goal, and a dream. Second, we don’t anticipate setbacks, bad days, road blocks, etc. In order to achieve a thing, we must understand what it is we’re capable of actually effecting or influencing in our lives. And in order to reach a large goal, we have to hit small goals over an extended period. That extended period should include enough elasticity (in our plans) for bumps, bruises, and the drama of life.

2015 certainly had its fair share of drama, of which I was a willing participant. Some might even say, pugilist? But we all have to pick and choose our battles.

One of the reasons I am imposing some new rules for myself (for social media) is because I am dreading the 2016 United States Presidential election. Or at least, the run-up to said election. I am pretty sure no matter who wins, half of America will consider it the end of civilization. I already went on that carnival ride in 2012, and don’t need a repeat. Especially since none of the present frontrunners thrill me. I will cast my vote, and hope that (somehow) everything will work itself out as it should. This faith isn’t easy right now. Both my father and I agree that there’s a great deal wrong with Washington D.C., almost none of it easily rectified. But then, getting back to my circle of influence — the things I can actually control — there’s no point spending all day raging into a keyboard about politicians who don’t care.

I wish everyone else — my many friends, my readers, my family — good luck with your New Years resolutions, goals, plans, ideas, etc. My church always offers some smashingly good thoughts on this subject. I know I’ll be referring back to these basics when the inevitable missteps and setbacks occur. It really isn’t about starting off with a bang, that counts. It’s getting back up off the mat, each time life knocks you down.

The (star!) road ahead

Yup, still deployed. Will be through Spring next year. Yup, still largely off the social media radar as a result. Just occasionally popping my head up now and again, with decreasing frequency. Which is a blessing in disguise, because it forces me to work on things that are both more important and more pressing, than who is shouting at who on the intarwebz.

The cosmetic revamp continues. I will keep fiddling with things, as connectivity and time permit. Until I settle on something that feels right. It’s been my habit to re-do my web look annually, but as one reviewer noted, we’re also dealing with “branding” issues, and this includes the artwork for my covers. So, it’s a slow process. Thanks again to everybody for the ongoing feedback. Especially since I switched my WordPress theme from Twenty Ten, to Twenty Eleven. Similar, but also different.

During the “remodel” I’ve been thinking back to when I first set up this blog. 2009 isn’t so far away. And yet, 2009 also seems like an eternity ago. Seven years (on the internet) is practically an epoch! My very first post was regarding my initial Finalist story, with the L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest. I hadn’t published a single professional word at that point. Being a first-time Finalist was as close as I’d ever come to scoring. Wow. That was exciting! After so many years of rejection letters and disappointment, I was within striking distance.

Which meant being double-plus crushed a few months later, when I found out that my novelette “Outbound” didn’t make it. Damn, was that ever a bummer. The toughest rejection I ever got in my whole life. I sat at the kitchen table and sort of stared off into space, thinking, this is the best thing I’ve ever written to date, and I know it, and it couldn’t even win in a contest where the competition is with other aspiring writers!

How was I ever going to cut it in the big leagues?

Thankfully, I got my answer in January 2010. Analog magazine said, “Yes, we want this,” just 60 days after Writers of the Future told me I’d won, for a different story.

“Outbound” ran in September 2010. It was a hit with readers, none of whom knew me from Adam at that point. I’ve since had a few other hits with Analog. Enough to establish myself as one of that venerable magazine’s top new names, for the new century.

I’m immensely proud of that. More than I can sufficiently say. Because Analog is the cauldron of creation where so many amazing and spectacular names in this field, have first come forth. To include personal heroes like Orson Scott Card. As well as current top professionals like George R. R. Martin. Analog has been home to Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Robert A. Heinlein. Also: Lois McMaster Bujold, Vernor Vinge, Robert J. Sawyer, Frank Herbert, and so many others. In fact, the wikipedia entry lists several dozen notable names of both past and present. I am humbled enormously to see my name tucked away to the side, on that roster. And immensely gratified.

Of course, my track record with Analog (as well as Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show) got me the attention of Toni Weisskopf, at Baen Books. Who would eventually publish my “fix up” book, The Chaplain’s War, which was assmebled and expanded from the bones of two stories which had appeared in Analog.

To frame all of this so that you can understand, it’s a bit like being Charlie from Willy Wonka. One day I am an often-rejected, some would even say failed writer, who’s never managed to do much of anything worthwhile despite years and years of fruitless effort, and the next . . . it’s golden ticket time! Holy crap, sometimes dreams really do come true!

Now, of course, there is the question: what next? What about the seven years ahead? What’s happening between now, and 2022?

I can tell you that Baen has contracted me for the first book in what I am calling my Star-Wheeled trilogy. The launch novel, A Star-Wheeled Sky, is in a seperate universe from the Chaplain’s stories, and focuses on a future human civilization which finds itself at a critical juncture. Restricted for many hundreds of years to a relatively small region of the galaxy, there is finally the potential for first contact with an actual living alien race of unknown origin or power. The various nations of human space will each be in a mad rush to exploit this discovery. They’ve been at war with each other for a long time, dividing and re-dividing the limited worlds of humanity during a slow spiral toward civilizational cataclysm. All three books deal with this initial premise, and I’ve been writing portions of them for months. The first draft of the first book is a bit overdue, so I am going to be focusing entirely on that for the next month, to be sure Toni gets it well before Labor Day. Then? Completion of the remaining two.

Assuming all goes well with the Star-Wheeled books, I will try my hand at alternative history epic fantasy, with a trilogy I am planning (and which Baen has shown a lot of interest in) called Norse America. The setup is like this. The pantheons of the various peoples of Earth are real. Magic is also real, albeit dangerous and not necessarily well understood. The Viking settlers who’ve established themselves in Vinland around the year 1000 find themselves being pushed out by a relentless march of Frost Giants, coming down from the arctic. Retreat to Iceland has been made impossible. Leif Erikson and his heirs — along with perhaps a thousand Viking warriors — must flee to the Chesapeake Bay, where they encounter the remnants of the mound-building civilizations who have been pushed out of the Ohio region by a terrible threat coming up from the Southwest. The gods of the mound-builders and the Norse gods of the refugee Vikings know this is the time for a last-ditch alliance, through their respective peoples. Blood and traditions mingle. But the threat from the Southwest only grows stronger. The Frost Giants are still coming. And the shamans tell of visions of a third, perhaps still greater danger: men in boats from across the ocean, which has remained closed to Viking longships because of sea monsters and cursed storms. The invaders are seeking treasure as well as glory. It’s conquistador muskets against Ulfberht swords! Political alliances being forged, tested, and shattered. Family dynasties born, destroyed, and born again. The one god comes to drive out the many gods. And the chosen sons and daughters of a hybrid nation will rise to claim their destiny, as defenders of their civilization — or see it all burn in bitter defeat.

So, those are the major projects. I’d say they will keep me busy until mid 2017, at least?

Of course, that’s not everything. I’ve also got some collaborations in the works — for both stories, as well as books — in addition to new manuscripts and story ideas I want to pitch at Analog, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy’s Edge, and other venues. Including a planned Monster Hunter International story which I’ve already agreed to do for a book being put together by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and Larry Correia.

Which doesn’t mention the extant stories soon to hit print! Including a story for an anthology inspired by the songs of the prog rock band, RUSH, being assembled and edited by Kevin J. Anderson.

So, that’s all of this year, all of next, and much of the following year. Beyond that? I want to get back to my nascent Emancipated Worlds project, which has been in stasis since 2011. I’ve got ideas for an additional space opera type trilogy, as well as an original swords-and-magic fantasy trilogy, plus the brewing seeds of at least two or three dozen other items which may evolve into either novelettes, novellas, or full-blown books. Including sequels to popular stories like “Outbound” and “Ray of Light.”

If the time between 1993 and 2009 was a desert, the time since has been a green field of trees, fruit, and honey. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do things with my imagination which I only dreamed about 20 years ago, when I was still trying to get my feet under me — as an aspiring writer. The long proto-professional drought (seventeen years?) taught me to appreciate the good stuff, when it finally came. I don’t think I’d have the right perspective, had publication and success come quickly or easily.

I had to work for the shit. You know?

But it’s been worth it. And in many ways, I feel like I am just getting started!

I want to borrow something Geoffrey Lewis said so well, when asked (in story form) what the most pleasurable experience in his life has been.

What’s the best book or story I’ve ever done?

“The best one, is the next one.”

Just Roll With It

My wife Annie and I sat down tonight to take a look at our mutual schedules for the month of September. With her going to school to finish her Masters, as well as working part time, and me doing my Army Reserve and writing jobs—on top of my day job—getting everything to mesh well isn’t easy. We’re both literally going in six different directions at once, all the time, and tossing our daughter between us like a hot potato.

My initial reaction—upon seeing week after week of packed-to-the-gills scheduling—is to groan inwardly and say, oh my Lord, when are we ever going to be able to slow down again? Do I throw my hands up in despair? Yes, honestly, for about 5 minutes every morning when I wake up, I put a pillow over my head and wait for the world to go away.

When the world doesn’t go away . . . I remember four words which have saved my sanity many times: just roll with it.

Of the many dozens of different things that all have to get done in the next 30 days, a significant percentage of them will not get done. Nor come anywhere close to getting done. Panic time? Will someone come to my house and shoot me in the face? No. Just roll with it.

Of the overlapping meetings and appointments and destinations at which I must be, I am liable to encounter conflicts which cannot be resolved, be late, or even blow certain things off completely. Does this make me a horrible person? Will the world end if something gets missed? No. Just roll with it.

Nothing about the next 30 days will be anywhere close to what I’d consider “normal” for my household. My wife and I will barely see each other, we will not get to have weekends for work or play together, and while we will each have individual time with our daughter, my wife and I believe firmly that for us to be there for our daughter we need to each be there for our marriage first. This month is going to suck in this regard. Are we a bad couple? Bad parents? What will people think of us? What will we think of each other? Who cares. Just roll with it.

In fact, just roll with it would seem to be 90% of the secret to life.

As we occasionally say in the Army: no exercise, mission, or training, is ever done in ideal conditions with ideal equipment using ideal people. Almost always the conditions are fair to poor, the equipment lackluster or absent, and the people . . . not necessarily top-shelf. So, what do we do? We roll with it.

When I look at the lives of the successful people I know—and I mean truly successful people, in terms of money and work and family—they seem to be . . . just rolling with it.

Of the few truly iconic men and women I admire from history, when I’ve dug more deeply into their histories, quite often their lives have been sterling examples of . . . just rolling with it.

Is there anything that can’t be conquered by just rolling with it?

In my mind the #1 thing standing in the way of me just rolling with it, is catastrophizing each and every scenario. If I don’t somehow sail through a thing with flying colors, then the outcome is going to be somehow impossibly unbearable, thus I feel little tendrils of alarm shoot into my brain and my flight-or-fight response kicks off, and suddenly I am fretting and getting upset for no reason.

I’ve learned (am still learning!) to detach from the catastrophic impulse, and examine things with a more honest perspective. Even if one or more things, items, etc., in my life totally collapse this month, nothing is going to spell instant death. Nor would anything be beyond repair. I will, of course, most certainly attempt to acquit myself well in all that I do. This is not an excuse for slack-assery. But with a schedule this clogged and with how many different chores, tasks, and projects have to be touched and/or completed by this time next month, some things simply aren’t going to be executed to my full satisfaction, or possibly the full satisfaction of others.

Disaster? My irrational self says: yes!

My rational self (with added experience each year) says: bro, don’t flip out, just roll with it!

And so I shall roll.

How about you?

The year that was, the year that will be

It’s a phenomenon almost everyone over 30 is familiar with: the older you are, the more quickly time seems to pass. For me, the year 2011 flew by in a single, zoetropish blur. It was by far the “fastest” year I’ve ever had, and I am not sure I like that. Because the closer I get to 40 the more evident it is that my time upon this Earth has reached — or will soon reach — the tipping point: more trail behind me than ahead of me. And ironically, there are now more things I want to do than ever before, and seemingly less time than ever in which to do them. And so on, and so forth. Insert the usual midlife analogies here. Blah, blah, and blah.

Overall, it was a rather good year.

I retained my full-time civilian employment — no small feat in this economy of ours — and was in fact able to secure both a raise, and the appreciation of my boss and co-workers by being a pinch-hitter when it came to handling call. Those of you who work IT or IS will know what I am talking about when I use the word “call,” and if you’re not IS or IT, you’ve doubtless had to call about this computer issue or that computer issue, for your own day job, so I hope I don’t need to explain it more than that. For those of us on the receiving end, call sucks. But it’s also the best way I’ve found, at my current level, to have an immediate and positive impact on my team as a whole. Which is pretty much my philosophy with my Army job too: I will never be the strongest, fastest, toughest, or smartest, but I like to find ways to help out — and often simply helping out is more than enough.

Speaking of my Army job, I got promoted — CW2, Chief Warrant Officer — and while I did spend the usual more-than-two-weeks away from home (Fort Dix) I did not have to spend them in Iraq or Afghanistan. Which has been true every year I’ve been in the Reserve. It’s strange being one of those minority guys who have been in almost ten years, and yet haven’t had to go spend time in the sandbox. All the same, every year I’ve been allowed to stay home with my young daughter, is a year I’d not trade for anything. And I’ve still been able to contribute positively to King and Country, beyond the bare necessities of annual training or weekend drill. (Ergo: helping out.)

In 2011 I went from having two published stories, to having 11 published stories; including a cover story in the December issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact, as well as a collaboration with my mentor, Mike Resnick. I got the Analog readers’ choice award — the AnLab — for last year’s story in the November issue, and I saw my first foreign reprint, for the same story, in a Russian digest of high repute. Mike and I did a total of three collaborations — two of the three due out next year — and have become good friends, in addition to being teacher-and-student. And finally, my exploits in Analog, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and elsewhere, have given me the profile boost necessary to begin building a working relationship with both a major agent and a major novel publisher — the dividends of which will hopefully come forth in the next two or three years. Providing that I don’t slack off, get distracted, or otherwise fritter away the opportunities that are being placed before me.

If that sounds a little too deterministic — placed — I should say that I very much believe in good fortune. There are wonderful things that are happening (and have happened) for me which I could not have planned and over which I’ve had almost no control. Just the same, I also believe that hard work and creativity and pouring energy into multiple avenues all have a way of generating luck. Just as helping out — the mere act of expending extra effort so that others don’t necessarily have to — also has a way of generating luck. Almost always of the good variety. So, I look to the new year with much of the same attitude that I’ve taken into the last several: more hard work, more energy expended, more helping out, and hopefully the ball will just keep rolling.

And of course, you can’t have good fortune without being very, very, very thankful. I am thankful my wife, daughter, and I have enjoyed good health this year, and no serious injury. I am thankful that both of our cars still run, and that we’ve managed to stay afloat with bills and a mortgage. I’m thankful that my little family has enjoyed the generosity and support of both my parents, and also aunts and uncles and my sister and her husband and family. Nobody is an island, and where families and friendships especially are concerned, everything is like a web: interconnected and interdependent. The more you invest in the web, the more the web invests in you. Or at least that’s my experience.

I’m also thankful that 2011 has been unusual in that it’s the year I’ve gotten to know some of the people in my Ward. For those not in the know, the Latter-Day Saints operate what are called Wards, and these are organized into Stakes. Which are somewhat analogous to parishes and diocese, respectively. When my wife and I moved back to Utah, we bought a house that was walking distance from the chapel where our Ward meets each Sunday — and during the week for other activities. I am a notorious hermit about most church duties. My time is precious to me, and I don’t give it up easily or without grumbling. This year, though, I’ve felt my grinchy heart softening. I’ve made more effort to be plugged in, aware, and active in my Ward, and among the brethren with whom I share it. I still have a lot of work to do, but unlike years past, the additional effort made in 2011 did not feel like a burden. And this heartens me for the year ahead.

Speaking of which, I ought to dwell a bit on goals and plans. As my mentor Dean Wesley Smith is good at pointing out, the difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal is something which can be accomplished 100% under your own control, while dreams are largely up to other people — or the aligning of events and circumstances which are most often not under your direct control. Ergo, my writing goal for 2012 is to write no less than 7,000 new words every week, while my writing dream is to sell my first novel to a traditional publishing house — hopefully, Baen Books. The first part? Totally under my control. If I am disciplined about how I use my time, 7,000 words a week is perfectly within my ability; even on busy or disrupted weeks. But getting a Baen contract? Not in my power to deliver. I can go half way — turning in a finished manuscript — but the rest is not up to me.

I also plan to complete (at last!) my home office — which has been in a perpetual state of demolition and re-finishing since 2008. It’s been apparent for the last two years that for me to be functioning at my best, I really do need to have a space of my own. I haven’t had an office — really, just a room where I can close the door, and nobody messes with me while I am in it — since 2003. Almost ten years. It may have been a luxury before, but now it’s something of a necessity. With some work and a bit of money for paint and a few other supplies, I should be able to move into the office by my Birthday in April. This is not a hard-and-fast date, but it’s something to shoot for, given how close my wife and I are to wrapping the project.

And — sigh of sighs — I am going back to school. Urk! I hate college. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it. Have avoided it. Tried to shimmy and shake my way out of it. And, so far, have done damned well for a guy with only a HS edumacation. But the writing’s on the wall. I can’t avoid it forever. I have to finish my BS, and then, probably, pursue an MS afterward. We live in an era when education is more important than ever before. And if those writing-related dreams don’t lead to a river of gold, well, it’s a good idea to have some tangible, objective education targets to shoot for. Because a chap in my place with degree(s) is far, far better off than a chap without same.

Of course, much of this depends on effective use of time, at which I am rather terrible. I like to chide myself that I am a professional slacker. But that’s because it’s true. I am a pro at finding ways to divert and distract myself from jobs that need doing. When asked what my favorite pastime or activity is, I usually — and honestly — respond with, “Goofing off!” But all signs are pointing to the need for me to make 2012 more structured, more regimented, and less chaotic. I won’t make my writing goals — or my fitness goals, I have those too — or a lot of other good things happen, unless I can use my hours and my minutes more wisely than I have in the last few years.

2011 was good. No question about it. But 2012 could be much, much better. Indeed, it deserves to be much better. There is so much happening — electricity at the fingertips! — I just need to “level up” and make it happen.

Metaphor Alert: The Fine Sport of Writing

When I was a youngster, both my father and my grandfather taught me to fish. For a desert state, Utah has a surprising plethora of lakes, streams, and reservoirs, all loaded with a variety of trout, cat fish, bass, pan fish, walleye, and if you’re into that sort of thing, carp. Below the age of 10 I didn’t give a hoot what it was. If it swam and put up a decent fight on the hook, I wanted to catch it. The bigger it was and the more it bent my fishing pole, the more fun I had. So much so I’d typically spend the days leading up to an expected fishing expedition daydreaming about the kind of fish I’d catch: how many, how large they’d be, and how marvelous a time my father and I, as well as my grandfather, and occasionally cousins or friends, would have.

Today while I was making a “trophy” out of my latest story in Analog — I razor off the cover of the issue, then razor out the interior art and/or title page, plus perhaps as much as one page of text, to be laminated broad-sheet style, and tacked up in my office — it struck me that ‘landing’ a publication in a major venue like Analog is a lot like landing a nice big rainbow trout. Takes knowing the bodies of water (the markets) and which lures or bait to use (types and kinds of stories accepted) as well as knowing the seasons and the conditions (reading issues to get a feel for what’s being published) and, finally, going out on a boat or casting off from the shore, over and over and over (submitting stories) until you get bites (personalized rejections) or catch something (sale!)

Having a physical copy of the book or venue in your hand — seeing your words rendered in the pages — is one of the most supremely satisfying moments of being a published writer. Not that different from bringing a massive cutthroat or bass into the net. The level of satisfaction is off the charts.

But the analogy holds for other sports as well. Getting a story sold and seeing it published professionally is like bowling over 250 or making an eagle at the golf course or getting a home run at the ball diamond. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of work to get to the point where you can see yourself sold and published professionally on a regular basis. The level of gratification is tied — in my opinion — directly to the energy, time, and effort devoted to building up one’s craft or skill. Anything accomplished easily, or as a fluke, just doesn’t feel the same. But seeing yourself in print, after long struggle, and knowing that you’ve truly earned your hour in the sun, that’s one of the most magical moments in a writer’s life.

The September 2011 issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact came to my mail box about ten months after the November 2010 issue — which was the first time I got to see myself in print, even before Writers of the Future. I was a little nervous from January of 2010 (when I sold my first story to Analog) to September of 2010 (when I sold the story that’s now in the September 2011 issue) because I’d not yet established a true “track record” and was painfully aware of the fact that fledgling writers appear and disappear all the time. It happens constantly. The only way to become a known quantity is to keep selling — again, and again, and again, until your bibliography expands accordingly, and your level of recognition grows.

Selling “The Chaplain’s Assistant” was, therefore, a huge relief. I’d been sort of holding my breath up until that sale — wondering if the previous two sales hadn’t been flukes. Was I going to be the one-hit-wonder boy? I’d definitely been getting a better quality of rejection since being able to list pro publications in my cover letter, but then I’d been getting some nice rejections anyway, even before I won Writers of the Future. Was I doomed to suffer what many Writers of the Future winners encounter: a sophomore slump? Months or maybe years spent toiling between the initial break-in sale(s) and those more regular, ‘establishment’ sales that are the hallmark of a functional industry professional?

But now that I’m sitting here with my laminated “trophy” of the September 2011 issue of Analog — knowing I have two more stories coming in subsequent issues later this year — it seems to me that another way in which writing is like sports, is that you’re only as good as your last game, your last day on the water, your last match, your last event. True professionals don’t just accomplish a handful of things, they make a habit out of going back to the course, the court, the range, the lake, the slope, the track, and putting themselves out there again and again, over and over. Regardless of results. Oh yes, the sales I have had are incredibly nice for a guy at my stage of the overall writing game, but when I look at the people with decades under their belts, they all seem to have had the same kind of determination to simply keep doing the work.

When my Dad and I fished regularly, I’d wager we caught fish on just half the occasions we went somewhere to put our lines in the water. There were a lot of way-too-early mornings where we got out of bed at oh-dark-thirty and drove an hour or two to some dam, some bend in a river, some lake shore, and spent the whole day casting, never to catch a thing. I remember trying to introduce fishing to a few friends who didn’t do it much, and they gave up quickly because they didn’t like how much non-success was involved in being a successful fisherman.

Writing is a lot like that. You have to be prepared to keep going to the spots, hitting the water, and not bringing back anything. Again and again. You have to find other ways to make going-through-the-motions meaningful or enjoyable, until, at last, you get those amazing days when the fish come fast and hard, one right after another.

If you’re in the writing game strictly for the fame quotient, or the notoriety quotient, or just because you think it will be impressive to tell other people that you’re a writer — a published writer! — then I suspect you’re in for some rough years. Yes, the end goal is a marvelous thing to reach. But you have to find some satisfaction in the process too — in the small and subtle ways you can slowly teach yourself to get better. “Better” being one of those subjective things that’s tough to nail down, but you know it when it’s happening, because you go back and read something you wrote last year, or two years back, or even ten years back and you recognize how far you’ve come.

And then, bam, it happens. That day (those days?) when the hard work and the tedium and the frustration pay off. And boy, do they pay off! Tangibly, and economically. Suddenly, it all seems worth it. More than worth it, in fact. Because the money is real, and the words in print are real, and you can sit there on your couch or at your desk or curled up in your bed with a copy of your book or your story in your hand, and realize that for the rest of your life nobody will ever, ever be able to take that accomplishment away from you. Ever. It’s yours. The fruition of everything you’ve ever worked for.

Earlier in June I had the pleasure of watching the Dallas Mavericks win the National Basketball Association’s championship, before a packed and hostile crowd. Dallas was the underdog in its showdown with the Miami Heat — especially since the Mavericks had previously folded up and melted down in a prior Finals match-up with the very same team, five years earlier. Dallas was old, while the Heat were relatively young. Dallas had but one big star, the Heat had several. In a certain sense, Dallas reminded me — just a little bit — of my beloved Utah Jazz from their Stockton-to-Malone days. My Jazz of yore never got their championship, but it was a real treat watching the Mavericks get theirs. The underdog, less talented, older team, had won — against the odds, and the predictions of the popular press.

How did they do it?

I think it comes down to one word: heart.

I think writing is a lot like that too. I think it takes heart to be a successful, long-term professional writer. Heart being that somewhat nebulous combination of will-to-win plus the stamina and determination necessary to outlast all setbacks, fight through and jump over all roadblocks. Beat the odds. And just like the Mavericks, it doesn’t just happen for one game. It takes an entire season of games. Or in the case of veteran players like Jason Kidd, numerous seasons stacked on top of each other: the accumulated experience, wisdom, and gut-level feeling a person gets for a thing they’ve been doing relentlessly for a long time.

2011 is half over. I’ve had a string of very nice things happen for me in the last 6 months. Indeed, the last 10 months. But the game keeps on going. I’m only as good as my last sale, and as more time creeps up and adds on — between the last sale and that next, elusive sale — I feel the old familiar suspicions begin to stir. Am I good enough? Can I keep going? Will I run out of heart and wind up on the sidelines of the game while other people keep playing? When that starts to happen I know it’s time to re-tie my shoes, get up off the wood, and dribble back out into the lanes. I may not be the fastest, nor the quickest, nor the most talented. But I think I’ve made it so far with a refusal to quit. That, and having a good support system of family and friends who support me in my dreams. It’s for them, almost more than myself, that I want to keep going. Because I’d hate to let everybody down.

Which is an oft-heard refrain of many sports figures, when asked how or why they keep doing what they do. Everybody’s got mentors, coaches, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters and brothers and buddies and comrades, all pushing and cheering and hoping for success. With that kind of momentum, it’s almost a sin to quit or walk away.

So I haven’t. And I don’t. Even when other stuff interferes with the expected flow of events, as it has several times now in 2011.

Gotta get back to the lake. Put another line in the water. The fish won’t catch themselves!

No battle plan survives contact!

2011 is shaping up to be one of the wildest, craziest years in American publishing history. After a long, semi-abortive childhood, e-books have finally emerged as a mature, commercially-viable technology. Even as recently as five years ago, electronic rights were one of those “neverland” slices of the intellectual property pie that writers took for granted. No more. Electronic rights are suddenly big money and big business. Even many authors who have been successful in the traditional New York publishing world, are beginning to consider e-publishing as a viable alternative.

Just ask my friend Steve Savile, who has a top-selling book through Amazon UK. His excellent book “Silver” is defying the odds, and paying big dividends for its author!

Steve Savile's SILVER

No doubt you’ve read or heard about a few other authors — like Steve — who are jumping the New York ship for a swim in the e-book ocean. At least one notable e-book queen — Amanda Hocking — drove her electronic numbers so high, she parlayed them into a very lucrative New York deal and a Hollywood deal.

All of this activity — plus what I’ve learned at the Superstars Writing Seminar combined with the Dave Wolverton novel workshop — has forced me to scrap my e-book strategy I’d developed for the year. I’d originally planned to do free chapters on the blog for my Emancipated Worlds Saga, then package them all up in December as a single e-book, for release to the Kindle. But I’ve realized that I’m looking at the new e-book model backwards, and I am moving too slowly to boot. Many of the old rules from the old model, don’t apply anymore, so after some degree of internal debate, I’ve arrived at a new plan.

Emancipated Worlds Defense Force

One thing I realized very soon after I began doing the Emancipated Worlds Saga, was that this was going to be a sprawling epic that had a BIG cast of characters jumping around on a BIG stage. But releasing one chapter a week? It’s one thing to sit down and start reading a 300,000 or 400,000 word mega-novel that’s already been written. Depending on how fast or how slow you are, you can cruise through it at a decent clip, more or less keeping track of people and events as the book unfolds. But doing it in the “sip-gulp” fashion that chapter-a-week dictates can be frustrating from a writing standpoint, to say nothing of a reading standpoint. Thus I was often stymied when writing up the new chapters because I kept wanting to throw in more and more stuff to the tune of, “…and if you’ll remember from last week, Bob…”

Well, I kinda think that’s a crappy way for me to try and tell my story. And to be bluntly honest, it’s been difficult to burn the time necessary to make it worth the readers’ while, because I’ve also had — as some of you may well be aware — a lot of paying projects jumping to the forefront. This year alone I’ve sold more fiction in the first four months than I sold in the previous 18 years, so the money-making side of the house has been cranking up very well. And since I’m a capitalist about my art, I gotta go where the money is.

But damn, I still want to do EWS! I have the epic in my head! It’s a project worth doing. How can I make it work?

Novelettes and Novellas. The doomed kid brother and kid sister of the paperback. Hard to fit into the digests and other science fiction magazines, but far too short for the New York novel houses to mess with. But for e-books, they’re perfect! Nicely-sized drafts of substantial story, available inexpensively and with no arbitrarily-imposed expectations on size.

Going back over my EWS outline — revised, heavily, as a result of the Dave Wolverton workshop — I realized that what I was trying to do was tell lots of individual tales and cram them all into the sweep of the broader tale. Again, for a whole novel, that works. But for chapter-per-week, I think it fails. What I needed was a way to be able to tell these smaller tales, and do it in a way that wouldn’t amount to massive, painfully long blog posts — and which might also be able to financially support the project along the way.

The new world of e-publishing makes it possible.

So, I am breaking the EWS up into novelettes and novellas. I don’t have an exact release schedule yet, but I should be putting out some of this material over the summer. Nothing about the existing chapters or material is being retconned or discarded. It’s applicable within the arc of the bigger story, and the characters too. Some of it will show up in the novelettes and novellas, in fact, because many — if not all — of the chapters to date, are essentially beginnings for each of the different novelettes and novellas I want to do.

Meanwhile…

Blood and Mirrors - A Camarror Jones novelette

…much of my other original fiction is going to be coming out via e-book as well. That link above? For the first Camarro Jones novelette? That’s going to be its own series too. I invented that character and that universe because I’d been wanting to kitbash a lot of elements into one project. Camarro’s world is not too far into our own future: grimy, wet, sexual, and occasionally deadly. Perfect for a femmebot cop packing a .45 ACP to go with her 38 DDDs, if yah know what I mean. It was tough finding Camarro a home with the digests or other short fiction markets, but thanks to e-books and e-publishing, Camarro can be out there kicking ass on the Kindle, Nook, and other platforms.

She’ll be joined, gradually, by a supply of other stories — bundled in threes and fives, depending on length — because quite frankly there’s no sense in letting them sit around. This is good fiction, ready for a good audience. And I don’t have to wait for the paper publishers to realize it. I can take my product directly to the market, which I am absolutely going to do!

Also…

Searcher and Stallion logo

Scott Howard, Kendall, Jackman, Garth Steck and I are going to be firing up a project that is near and dear to my heart. Searcher and Stallion began life as a home-grown half-hour science fiction radio drama on KRCL-FM in 1992. After numerous episodes and several abortive format switches, S&S is coming back out into the world with all-new audio production and — most important for you readers — a series of (ding, ding) novellas and novelettes!

We’ve got the arc fleshed out, the major events mapped, and the plan is to produce one new title every month through November. I am so happy and thrilled to be working in this universe again, and with these characters, after all these years. Searcher and Stallion is where I got my start, and it’s going to be a complete gas returning to this project for some all-new material.

Oh, and I’ll be selling and publishing more stories through the magazines and whatnot. (he he he) I’ve got at least one story due out in Analog Science Fiction and Fact within the next issue or two, my story “Exiles of Eden” is currently up at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and so forth.

It’s gonna be a whale of a fun summer! Stay tuned!

Oh, and while you’re at it, please go check out what some of my other friends are doing?

Alastair Mayer and Jamie Todd Rubin both have good fiction in the June 2011 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, available at Barnes & Nobel nationwide.

And my Writers of the Future classmate Tom Crosshill has a very well written — and disturbing! — piece now up at John Joseph Adams’s on-line magazine, Lightspeed.

Al Mayer's STARFIRE & SNOWBALL

Al also has some e-books out too (above) as does my friend Annie Bellet. Annie’s got a short story collection available that I downloaded recently, and am enjoying very much.

Annie Bellet's THE SPACER'S BLADE

Everyone, much recommended, all the way around.

Shut Up and Write

Shut up and write. Of all the many, many pieces of valuable advice that bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson distributed at the Superstars seminar last weekend, this was the one that really got under my skin. All week long I’ve been re-listening to Kevin’s 11 tips on increasing productivity, and his first tip is the one that seems to shout the loudest — shut up and write.

The reason this got under my skin is because I am an expert at finding excuses to not write. On any given day I can come up with 50 different things to do, all of which are more important than sitting down and logging writing time. And from a certain perspective — the perspective held by sane people — all 50 of those things really are more important. But as a writer, I have committed myself to what Tom Clancy once described as a self-induced form of mental illness. I shouldn’t be giving myself the option to do something other than write — not before the day’s designated writing objectives have been met. Whether they’re a set number of words, a set amount of time sitting in front of the keyboard, or perhaps a chapter or chapter(s) completed, and so forth.

But I have been giving myself the option to not write. Sometimes, to an extent that’s embarrassing. I’m a semi-pro trying to figure out how to become a full-time pro, and I’m still stuck (in too many ways) in the hobbyist’s mentality. Which basically means I often don’t write unless I’ve suddenly got a sizable chunk of free time that also happens to coincide with me being in the mood. Everybody who is a hobbyist almost always waits until those two conditions are met, before they will sit down and put words on the blank page.

The professionals I pay attention to have learned to move past mood. They’ve also often learned to move past the requirement that they have large pieces of free time in which to sit at the computer and create prose. Ergo, they’ve figured out a way to make use of the small pieces of time in their lives, for writing. And they do it whether they’re in the mood or not. They don’t wait for circumstances to fall exactly into place, because they know that circumstances so rarely do.

Thus the keys to being a professional are not talent or inspiration as much as they’re discipline, being able to ignore silent doubts about quality, and forging ahead with dogged consistency.

All the pros I admire had day jobs, before they became bestsellers. All of them figured out a way to put in the time and the effort, day after week after month after year, on top of their normal working lives, until they’d written what they wanted to write, and achieved the goals they’d wanted to achieve.

I’ve got big goals for 2011. I can already tell I won’t make even half of them if I don’t figure out a way to have some discipline about what I am doing. I’ve said it before to many people: 2011 will be my year of writing professionally. No more hobbyist mentality. I want at least two or three books and a couple dozen shorter works done and out to the markets before the year is over.

But as much as I might have sworn it to myself on New Years, breaking old habits is very, very hard. I am, by nature, the kind of person who likes to take it easy. I am also the kind of person who finds it tough to focus intently on long-term, incremental projects without getting distracted or bored. I have also always desired and preferred large hunks of free time before I’ll sit down and type. Because my emotional writing sense is that nothing worthwhile can get done if I don’t have whole hours in which to drop into The Zone and get cruising.

Well, it doesn’t take an idiot to figure out that I’m going to have to let go of these blocking mindsets if I am going to have success this year, and in years to come.

So I need to take Kevin’s advice and shut up and write. If Kevin’s muse sounds like R. Lee Ermey, barking orders, I need to develop an internal TAC officer who bird-dogs me with my daily goals. Drops me for push-ups when I screw up or slack off. Revokes privileges if I miss my wordcount or otherwise fail to achieve — daily, weekly, monthly — what I have set out to achieve.

It’s been easy to slack on writing goals because nobody punishes me externally if I decide to goof off and surf the internet instead of write a few pages. Which is, according to pros like Kevin, one of the huge problems with trying to become and remain a professional, working fiction author. There is nobody but YOU to enforce the standard. Nobody but YOU to keep yourself on track. Nobody but YOU can make yourself do the hard chore of writing without being in the mood, without having the large blocks of free time, and without having the luxury of spontaneous creativity on a flexible schedule.

The professionals I admire sometimes seem inhumanly maniacal about their writing. They seem to miss no opportunity to put new words onto the white page. They write waiting in the doctor’s office. They write during the commute to work. They write on lunch and smoke breaks. They write for 15 minutes before bed, or for 30 minutes before work. They sometimes do all of the above, and they do these things every stinking day, such that I begin to wonder if you have to be a literal machine to function like that.

Ironically, many writers who do quit the day job and create an open schedule for themselves, discover that they write less because when suddenly they don’t have the familiarity of the structured routine to rely on, they invent all kinds of excuses and distractions for themselves — so that their production almost always takes a hit. Sounds counterintuitive, yes, but that’s what statistically happens, more often than not.

So it’s clearly not about not having the time to write. Clearly, I shouldn’t pine for something which is really just a fantasy anyway. If I am not a disciplined, structured writer now — with the day job — how can I ever hope to be a disciplined, structured writer when I have no boss, other than myself? It won’t work.

So I keep re-listening to my MP3 from the Superstars seminar, and paying attention to the wisdom which I have heard from so many professional writers so many times before: don’t wait for inspiration or mood, and don’t wait for large blocks of time. If you can only write a few sentences in a short span of time, then dammit, write a few sentences. And every chance you get to write a few more sentences, write a few more sentences. And then a few more, and then a few more…. Do that consistently across days, weeks, and months, and that’s how books get written. Sometimes, bestselling books. No magic to it. Only effort and discipline.

Just… shut up and write!

Fictioneer for 2011

It’s an old debate: are writers authors, or are writers writers? Technically, an author is a writer who has written, but most pros I admire abhor the word, standing on the argument that writers write — active tense — while authors merely enjoy having written — past tense. Me? I prefer something altogether different. Earlier in the year, at one of the workshops I attended, I recall mentioning to someone that we ought to start labeling ourselves as fictioneers. Folk who engage in literary derring-do. Anyone can write. Hell, look at the eighteen billion blogs and fan fiction sites around the internet. But not everybody can think up a story and type it onto the page — real or virtual — in such a way that it becomes entertaining for the average eye.

So, for 2011, I’m running with Fictioneer. It’s a handy, all-purpose word which properly expresses the nature of my job. It’s also a hat-tip to the pulp era, when the word was first invented and used (sneeringly) by the literary elite to put down people who told stories for fun and money. Nothing wrong with that, I say. In fact, it’s the whole gottdamned point of the enterprise.

Along with the new descriptive, I’m bringing in a new look. Somewhat self-portrait actually; yes that is pretty much what I look like at my writing desk, complete with pinned-up copies of the covers of the publications I’ve (so far) been in, with interior illustrations too. Probably I’ll update that cartoonish self-portrait from time to time, as whim and need arise. They say it’s good to establish a “look” for yourself; to stand out. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for awhile — shamelessly copying the style of the great Berke Breathed, whose Bloom County comic strip is as hugely influential on me as that of any novel writer. Hopefully with a bit of practice, it’ll look a bit sharper, a bit more distinctive.

Meanwhile, 2011 is less than 48 hours distant. I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to get done in 2010, not by half. But it was a grand year all the same, with several triumphs in several areas. Huge thanks to everyone who has been supportive. To everyone who visits regularly and posts comments, and to the new readers and friends that I’ve gathered.

Brad’s 2011 Writing Goals

Even more than 2009, the year of 2010 was my best year ever, in terms of selling fiction. Things got off to a great start with the sale of my novelette, “Outbound,” to Dr. Stan Schmidt at Analog Science Fiction & fact — a story that was later re-sold to Russia’s ESLI science fiction magazine. I sold two more stories to Analog throughout the year, have learned that another story is sitting in very-close-to-sold status with a highly-respected professional on-line publication, and picked up some monthly work with Writers of the Future to boot — as the administrator for the Writers of the Future on-line forum. Yep, it’s been a remarkably profitable year, and I’ve had fun the whole way.

However, I still have to admit to having fallen short on my raw production goals. I didn’t get as many short pieces done as I wanted, there was a lag in getting Emancipated Worlds chapters up on the blog, and I still have to wrap my re-write on my novel that’s going to a publisher (by the publisher’s request, after having queried them earlier in the year.) My second novel project splintered into three different novel projects, none of which are complete, and I’m rather miffed at myself for not having matched my sales mojo with even better production mojo.

But, it’s water under the bridge, can’t get the lost time back. And I don’t like treading into a new year with anything hanging over my head. So I am sweeping the decks and washing them clean. New year, fresh start, and a fresh list of objectives. Some of which have been brought forward from last time, some of which are totally new.

BRAD’S OFFICIAL 2011 WRITING GOALS
1) Finish Reardon’s Law re-write and send novel to publisher by January 15.
2) Finish Emancipated Worlds on-line web novel, post to e-reader markets.
3) Finish unnamed mil-romance (yes, you saw that right) project; send package to New York.
4) Finish unnamed mil-YA-fantasy project; send package to New York.
5) Develop 3 additional packages for totally new novel projects, send to new York.
6) Finish 2 short works every month, send to market; total of 24 for the year.
7) Word count NLT 2,000 words per day, Sunday thru Friday; Saturdays off.

That’s a very ambitious list. More ambitious than last year, but if I stick to #7 and don’t slack, then #1 thru #6 should be well within my capability. I’ve spent the last three months discussing it with my wife and slowly working my way into an early-morning routine that should let me produce a lot without cutting too much into normal family hours. I’ll be losing some sleep during the week, but Saturday is “off” day in many ways, so I can catch back up then.

The main thing for me is to make 2011 a truly professional year, in the production department. I’ve proven several times over I can sell. That’s not the worry anymore. Now it’s down to raw, dig it out of the dirt writing. Lots and lots of words on the page, with very few days off — and absolutely no excuses. None. The pros I admire most are working at this level, if not beyond it, and the time has come for me to put away the “hobbyist” production pace and graduate to a new level

Even more than last year, I can’t have a do list without there being a do not list to go with it:

BRAD’S OFFICIAL “DO NOT” LIST FOR 2011
1) DO NOT get on the internet and “surf” before the day’s writing is done!
2) DO NOT check e-mail before the day’s writing is done!
3) DO NOT allow writing-related internet activity to replace actual writing!
4) DO NOT substitute reading about writing for actual writing!
5) DO NOT play any video games before the day’s writing is done!

Lastly, 2011 is going to be the year I rediscover how to read. That might sound weird to some people, but the truth is I’ve been struggling with this for awhile, and it’s really gotten bad — the point that I’m just not finishing anything I start anymore. I didn’t finish a single novel this year. Nor even a single magazine. I slacked off on my critiques I owed people because every time I sat down to read, my eyes glazed over and it felt like a chore and I put it down and went to do something else. Or, as was often the case, I clicked off the light over my pillow and let myself retreat into blessed sleep.

But reading is the pump-primer of writing. I have learned from experience that when I am not reading routinely — and enjoying it — writing gets much harder. And because the last few years it’s been tough to get into my reading, it’s often been tough to build and maintain writerly momentum. So I am going to make a conscious effort to move reading up the priority totem pole — even if it means displacing some of the other recreational things I like to do. Which, I admit, there aren’t many. But some of them will have to take a back seat.

I am pulling my thumb out, I swear!

No, really. I have like a dozen unfinished things all demanding my attention. I am trying to prioritize these into my “real” work (ergo: Day Job & honey-do’s) and get the s*** knocked out. New Emancipated Worlds chapters are COMING! Additional short stories going to editors before the end of the month? Check. It is going to happen. It is. No, really. No, like, really really.