Friday, January 20, 2017

The Face of the Resistance

Life is sometimes really hard. I’ve been in what can best be called a rough patch for the last few weeks, and no I don’t plan to talk about it here. But I will say that for me, when things get too hard, I revert to art.









When my master’s degree started to kick me in the pants, I wrote a novel. When my defense came and there was nothing else that could be done--I was literally just waiting for the day to arrive--I started painting again. I hadn’t painted since high school.

After these bursts of art, I always “settle back down” again—as if the pursuit of art is some sort of uppity, agitated state. As if the act of expressing ourselves is somehow a threat to the establishment.

One of my coworkers was looking at my art and asked me “why do you work here?”

Good question (more on how I like to live in a nice home and having electricity and heat at the bottom). It made me think, What does the world gain by me toeing the line and coming into my day job day after day? What would I do if I weren’t going to work all the time? Well, the last time I wasn’t going into work, I wrote two novels in just a couple months. I advanced my craft in writing and I took up dancing. When I started working again, I didn’t write as much and I’ve almost completely stopped dancing.

I stopped making art. I stopped doing the things I wanted to do to make sure I could do the things I HAD to do. Imagine if I’d stayed in that heightened state of making art? I’d have ~10 more novels. I’d have too many paintings to even fit in my house (well, I already do). At this point, I’d probably be making real money with my art. Probably not enough to live on alone, but there’s a potential. It makes me wistful to think of that life free of having to do the daily grind.

Free of the daily grind. Ah, there it is.

Then it dawned on me: art is a form of resistance. It is a threat to the establishment. If enough people make art and make art a way of life, it disrupts the drudgery work required for the oligarchy to function. The rich men in the world don’t need art. They need someone making their stuff that they sell to other people for double the price. They need the middle men. They need art to not compete with the products they sell, that they tell us we need in order to live the lives that they tell us we need to live. They don’t want you spending your money on that cute dragon you saw on etsy. They want you to buy the products out of the big box stores, the ones that are made overseas by the thousands and cost them pennies on the dollar.

Art is a threat.

Let that seep into your brain for a second. Art is the threat in the world of oligarchy. Art is the resistance.

Welcome to the resistance:






And about paying the bills: You have to do what you have to do. In general, there’s room for doing the things that make you feel alive. I have a day job, and it’s not something I’m giving up anytime soon for reasons of practicality. But just because I’m working a 9 to 5 (or more specifically, a 6 to 5), doesn’t mean I can’t be dedicated to making art as well. Do the things that bring you joy. That saying about the only real revenge is to live well? That’s the truth. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Fill the box


Art has this funny way of being really hard on beginners. I think most people have heard the quote from Ira Glass about how a lot of artists get into the creative business but drop out when what we envision isn’t something we can manifest into reality. This is the most frustrating thing.

With drawings, if you take every sketch you’ve made, and you put it in a box, once you’ve filled the box, you’ll have improved your drawing skills. It’s simple, the more sketches you do, the better you will be at making sketches.

On some levels, we think this should work for writing, but it isn’t that simple. With visual arts, it’s sometimes easier to judge it because you have this sort of third eye in your mind. You can see it in your mind and compare it to the thing you make in reality. When you start making the paintings look the way they look in your mind, you know you’re close. But how do you do that with a novel?

 Encompassing an entire novel in your mind isn’t an easy thing to do. There are parts, ideas, feels, but the whole thing? Not so much. With a sketch, the whole thing can be judged in one moment, but it takes hours to read a novel. Even though they don’t compare to paintings or drawings, one thing remains the same: the more novels you write, the better you will be at writing novels.

Does this make them good? Being competent at an art form does not make a person good at it. For instance, I’ve been watching Bob Ross painting shows. That man is amazing at how he takes shapes and boils them down quickly into things that can be put together into a painting. He’s got composition, and the colors go together very nicely. I have enough craft that I could probably reproduce his tutorial pieces by following along and being stubborn.

I could do that with novels, too.

I could (and have!) sit and diagram out my favorite novels. I’ve studied the way the plot unfolds, the way the characters are presented, and I could reproduce them if I were to go painstakingly through them. Bit by bit they could be remade. But you know what that makes? It makes a sort of puppet novel.

And that’s why paint by numbers offends some people. You can do what Brandon Sanderson calls the cook method, “Oh, I need a mentor and he needs to die so the main character can grow his wings and fly.” Those are perfectly acceptable forms of novels. Some of them even do very well, but if you’re in writing because you had a vision about the kinds of stories you wanted to tell, making your book according to a recipe isn’t going to work out.

Which brings us to the problem of going from competent to great. I am certain that anyone with enough dedication can reproduce something they love in the same way that a photograph reproduces the view from the top of half dome. But the view just doesn’t compare to the way the wind slips up the cliff like it’s going to suck you off into the void. I doubt the photograph makes you feel as if your life is in danger by standing on that razor edge between two feet firmly on the ground and the better part of mile drop to the valley below. The picture is beautiful, but being there will change your soul.

With novels it’s harder to know if we’ve lost someone in the woods, or the path took a wrong turn until we’ve gotten to the end of the novel and had others read it. They didn’t get to the mountain top, or they felt like it was more of a mole hill. Always so vexing when our vision isn’t understood, but those attempts have given us something. At least the reader felt the rise. Maybe they saw bits of the view between the forest of melodramatic metaphor (such as this bit here). The point is, you have to put in the effort. You have to fill the boxes with your art.

Oh but Rena, my best friends, sister’s ex-girlfriend wrote her first and only book and it sold a bajillion copies. She had ten agents offer her representation—the only ten agents she sent her query letter to!—and she now lives in Scotland with a castle and a staff to see to her mandatory hiking breaks.

Wow. Welp, that’s super awesome for your best friend’s sister’s ex-girlfriend, but I also heard about this guy who got struck by lightning 19 times. I don’t use that as a reason to assume the first rumble of thunder is going to nail me in the back of the head (though, to be clear, I definitely practice lightning safety as I am a coward!). My point is, yes, some people are really lucky and everything falls into place perfectly. For the rest of us mere mortals, the way to making the art we envision is through practice.


You will have to write more than you ever dreamed, and before you think about how you’re done with that nicely polished novel and its three major edits, just wait until you get an editor and they ask you to rewrite most of the end… and most of the beginning… and maybe we could do something different with that middle bit?—but that’s a discussion for another day.

Friday, January 13, 2017

It's Friday the 13th, and there's nothing scarier than politics


If you’ve been paying attention to US politics, you know the US is currently pretty strongly divided. I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that our marginalized people—the artists, the LGBT, the disabled, the children, the freelancers and entrepreneurs—are going to suffer under this administration.

I am a very lucky person. I currently have my health and a full time job. My full time job is something I don’t talk about because most of it is confidential in nature, so it doesn’t come up. My job is largely underpaid, but it comes with my favorite feature: healthcare. It comes with healthcare for myself and my family (to the tune of ~500 a month out of my pocket). Until I meet my deductable (500!) I have to pay everything out of pocket. I went to the doctor for pink eye (that I got from my job, no less), and it cost me $100 to speak to the physician for 5 minutes before he gave me a prescription and sent me on my way.

I don’t tell this story because I think people want to know the perks of my job. I’m telling this story because that’s what it costs to treat pink eye. Conjunctivitis. This was at the local, rural health clinic. When a kid goes to school and they have pink eye, they get sent home.

Right now, with the ACA is still going (they have voted to repeal it, but it will still take time to trickle down to the home front as it were; besides, people already paid their January premiums), so many people have coverage, specifically the working poor. I’m talking about your nearly full time employees of Walmart, McDonalds, Taco Bell, etc. These people are supporting their families, their sick spouses, their three kids from a traditional marriage. Very soon, when their kids get sick, they won’t have health insurance. Very soon, when their kid gets sent home with pink eye, they will be looking at a $100 doctor’s visit plus the $35 dollars to get the drops (and the time off work to take care of their kid who can’t go to day care because they have a highly contagious disease).

A bit of math, if you’ll hear me out. So this person makes minimum wage and works, oh, let’s say 30 hours a week (because 32 hours and their employer would have to provide health coverage), so they are making 300 dollars a week. If this is in my home town and they have a one bedroom apartment, that means 800 dollars is going just to rent. Let’s say this person is super frugal and is able to feed their family on 200 dollars a month. That means there’s only 200 dollars left for EVERYTHING ELSE: electricity, car, gasoline, clothes, toilet paper, diapers if there’s a baby, babysitting/child care costs. And they have to come up with $100 to take the kid to the doctor and the school won’t let the kid come back to school until they’ve been to the doctor.

Before anyone tells me these people, these working poor, don’t exist, let me assure you all that they do. My entire job is going through the earnings of people who have applied for medical aid, temporary aid for needy families, and food stamps. Yes, I am an eligibility worker, and I have yet to meet a welfare queen, but I’ve met plenty of people working multiple jobs who don’t have coverage for themselves or their children through their work. And before anyone tells me “but wait, they qualify for food stamps!” that’s not how it works. Food stamps is a supplemental program based on income, which means, the more they earn, the less food stamps they get. I picked a 1200 a month job on purpose. If this person has one kid and 1200 a month in income, they are going to qualify for roughly 50 bucks of foodstamps. Sure, it’ll help, but not much. With the repeal of the ACA, those margins for people receiving medical assistance gets even smaller. Fewer people will qualify, including people making about 1200 a month. For real, if you are making minimum wage and not quite working full time, you do not qualify for state based medical assistance.

Or my personal favorite, you have two part time jobs and you work a total of 50 hours a week. Neither job provides you with health coverage, and you now make enough money that No One in your family qualifies for medical assistance from the state.

These are the people who will not be covered now that the ACA is gone. People who are working their butts off. People who are crushed between just trying to make ends meet, doing the right thing and being told on every side that they are the lazy ones destroying the system.

Without health coverage, more children will be sent home from school for contagious diseases and not go to the doctor. The parents will wait a couple days and send the kid back to school, infection still raging and still contagious.

Children will not be treated because it is too expensive. Children will die.

Children.

They didn’t ask to be born into a poor family. Literally, their only crime is that they came from a family who was too poor. That’s it.

We, the citizens of the United States live in an oligarchy, and we are too stupid to realize it. The insurance companies wanted out of the ACA because they weren’t making enough profit. Not that they weren’t making profit, but that they weren’t making ENOUGH profit.

And children will die from this because their parents can’t afford to take them to the doctor.

Children.


I am so upset, I don’t even have words. More on that soon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I'm waiting for Vicini: an IWSG post

Wow, it’s been four long years since I started Insecure Writer’s Support Group---wait, hold on, I can’t count. It’s been FIVE YEARS!

Five Years.

It seems impossible that so much time could have passed since I decided to jump in on these Insecure Writer’s Support Group. When I started on this journey, I imagined I’d be farther along by now. Little did I know, publishing is VERY slow.

Did I mention slow? Glacial would be more accurate.

It takes forever to hear back from agents. Then it takes forever to hear back from acquisitions. Then it takes forever to hear back from editors. Always the waiting. When I remind myself of how much time I spent just waiting to hear back, it doesn’t surprise me that it’s taken me this long to get a book out into the world.

So, if I could give any new writer one piece of advice, it would be to not wait. Write more, wait less.

That doesn’t mean skip directly to self publishing—that can take a long time too! What I mean is that while you’re waiting for responses, don’t just sit on your thumbs. Get back to the writing, it is the only thing that will help your career as a writer that you can actively work on while you are waiting. #LearnFromMyFail


Don’t forget to visit the Ninja Captain, Alex, and this month’s co-hosts: Eva @ Lillicasplace,Crystal Collier, Sheena-kay Graham, Chemist Ken, LG Keltner, and Heather Gardner!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Status Update, just like the last status update: Life after contract

Yet another reason writers tend to fall off the radar is that it takes a long time to write a book.

And for the whole time we're writing, we are painfully aware that most of the book doesn't exist yet. The problem with that is it's rude to talk about something that literally no one else can share in. I can talk about it sure, but it ranks on the same boring scale as people telling you about what they dreamed about last night. Some people will find it interesting, or they might find parts of it interesting because they like you and are interested in what your dreams tell them about you, but otherwise? Nope, not really the stuff of riveting conversation

Sadly, the same is true of a book that isn't even a book yet. In fact, in some circles, it's considered rude to talk about unwritten novels. No one can even read it. There's no use in pitching it because it doesn't exist yet. There's no use in talking about the plot because, well, that could change dramatically too.

And yet, there's this ongoing need to do a sort of check in.

Many writers move to the talking about word count, or the "wrote a great scene" sorts of posts, but those aren't exactly the stuff of legends either. So there's the writer, a book in their mind, a blog full of blank pages and they've already talked about the--still imaginary!--book enough to push the boundaries of politeness.

Which brings me rather nicely to a status update:

Everything is uncertain in a writer's life. I currently have one novella that is in production. Everything else is in various states of maybe or not finished. I'm waiting to hear back on one novel. I'm finishing up edits on a rough draft to send off to my early readers. I'm plotting the rest of a rough draft for a novel in a completely different world. And I'm researching self publishing and if I want to go that route with one of my books.

Which is a guarantee of exactly nothing (another reason writers tend to clam up). It looks like I have a lot going on writing wise, but it could literally pan out to nothing (except the self publishing bit). And every time a writer finishes up a book, that's where it might be headed. All that work, seemingly for naught.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Life Goal Met! Now what do I do? Life after contract


This post is pulling double duty as a continuation of my Life After Contract Series, and Insecure Writer’s Support Group. So pop on over and say Hi to Alex, and give a big hand to this month's co-hosts: Jennifer Hawes,Jen Chandler, Nick Wilford, Juneta Key, JH Moncrieff, Diane Burton, and MJ Fifield!

Sometimes writers talk about how the first half million words suck. Yeah, that was me. I was well past that mark before agents and publishers started requesting partials. All of those early requests landed in the rejection pile.

My most recent break in writing lasted until the summer of 2009. I hit September and started writing like a woman possessed. Over the next 18 months I wrote over 350,000 words, all of it crap. I spent the next six months after that writing another novel, so two full years in. Then, a year after that (!!!) I got my first partial request. It came back a week later as a form letter rejection.

As you can imagine three full years of busting buns to get a thing going, and the best I had to show for it was ONE partial request. Ouch doesn’t begin to cover the moment when I started questioning my life choices. And, as a side note, writing was not the thing I was doing for my daily bread. Writing was a major sacrifice for me and my family. I had believed in it—believed in me!—and all I had at that point was a partial and a quick rejection.

Yeah, things were dark, so I did the thing that many writers do: I picked a different goal. I stepped back from my writing and asked myself “What would be worth it? What would be worth all of this sacrifice?”

Fame?

Well, to be clear, fame has its own problems, and I’m just not interested in playing that game.

Fortune?

Well, pretty much no one makes a fortune in books (which reminds me of a joke: Wanna know how to make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a big fortune). Okay, so money isn’t on its way.

So if fame and fortune aren’t goals that I can work towards, then what is the goal?

After much soul searching on the Do I cut bait and run or do I stick this out scale, I came up with another reason to write stories. I wanted to write stories so that other people, people who found them could know that they are not alone. Specifically, I wanted people to be able to read my books, identify with something or someone inside the book and think “I’m not the only one.” Because, honestly, I was very lonely growing up, and books were my salvation. So I chose that. I told myself that if just one person could ever have that feeling after reading my book, I was good with the effort I put into it. That thought carried me through years of rejections and hope and revisions, it was what kept me from diving into my writer’s cave to never come out. I could always write and not share it with the world. But I held the hope of sharing the light of not being alone in this great big universe with someone else, someone I would never meet, through my books.

And then my book came out into the world, and someone said that reading my book made them feel less alone—on the very first day! A complete stranger no less!

That’s right, life goal met on day one. Now what?

And there was this mad scramble in my mind because I had never prepared for success. Not once, not ever. There were plans and contingencies for failure. Failure I knew how to handle, but this unqualified success, this light in the darkness thing? What was I supposed to do with that?

There’s a StarTrek saying that’s confusing until you experience it: Having a thing is not so pleasing a thing as wanting a thing. It means that sometimes the pursuit of a goal is more fulfilling than have accomplished the goal. I know, pure insanity, but for me, the journey had become tied up with my identity as a writer.

And by having accomplished that thing, I fell into a sort of shock. Now what? I thought. I’d done the thing. I’d managed the impossible. Now I needed a new dream, and I hadn’t been ready to say goodbye to the other dream. It caused some major discord in my life to have my identity stripped from me by success. I’d failed so much that not failing had become out of character.


How about you? Did you ever accomplish something big and have that moment where you’re looking around for the things that define you?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One Year Later

It's sort of insane to write this, but one year ago, my first book was unleashed on the world.


Like Wow. I don't even have words. That statement feels simultaneously long ago in a galaxy far away, and like it happened just a couple days ago. And it's still such an honor to have my work out in the world, and supported by the amazing people at Curiosity Quills. I am amazed and humbled by the reception my book has received. Fan mail and reviews, all of it has been amazing, and I count myself lucky to have connected with some many wonderful people along the way.


The thing I get asked the most is: "When is the sequel coming out?" Coincidentally, this is the biggest compliment anyone can give a writer, to express excitement about future work. Thank you all for making the last year unbelievable!

(And yes, there is a sequel in the works!)







(Also, you can buy the book here or here if you don't already have a copy!)