Aug 14 2017

In Which I Need to Start Getting Somewhere

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So recently, at Barnes & Noble, my attention was drawn to a hardback on the “fantasy new releases” table, featuring what was described as “flintlock fantasy with airships, a touch of humor, and an engaging female hero.”

I nearly burned the place down. ¬.¬

After the writing, revising, submitting, re-revising, submitting again, and so forth that Sky Pirates of Calypsitania has gone through, to see this thing sitting there made me want to scream at the top of my lungs, “THIS SHOULD BE MY BOOK!”

So. Yeah. I was upset. Deep breaths. Let’s work this thing out.

On the positive side, clearly someone must think there’s a market for the kind of books I want to write. I mean, there it is. But I have to connect to it.

And to be clear, I’m pretty sure that the author of that book worked just as long and just as hard on it as I did on mine. My own personal green-eyed-monster popping out notwithstanding, I wish them success.

That doesn’t alter the fact that I had this extreme, intensely emotional reaction to seeing “my book with someone else’s name on it” right there on the very table where I have been trying to get my book for years now. What I have to do, is direct that energy in a positive direction.

If this is the team that put the book on the table, I reasoned, then it could serve me well to hook up with that team. A little research turned up the agent of not-my-book. I went back and rewrote the opening, again, to address feedback the book had received on the previous round, getting thumbs-ups from my beta readers, and sent it to that agent. Given that this particular agent has a strict “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” policy, however, the response could easily range from an excited followup any day, to chirping crickets until forever.

I don’t intend to wait. As far as I’ve been able to make out, the main thing that makes a writing career succeed (besides lightning in a bottle) is sheer volume. The most popular and well-paid writers I know get that way by writing a lot of books. And as much as I love Sky Pirates of Calypsitania, it is only the one.

What this boils down to is, I need to work on another book. I’ll keep shopping Sky Pirates around as long as it takes, but I can’t leave my career on hold waiting for any one project to move.

I have been trying to write a more “mainstream” fantasy, and I got maybe a third of it done as part of last year’s NaNoWriMo, but I keep running into a fundamental paradox: in trying to adhere to more standard tropes in order to make the book “sellable,” I feel like I’m just aping other people’s work, which in turn makes for a book that I’m not sure I would read, myself.

Of course, it’s just the first draft of said book, and so there’s an argument that I should just finish the thing, with “rip out all the Tolkien” being one of the goals of the second draft. But if I know all the Tolkien needs to come out anyway, then leaving it in there for the first draft feels like creating work I don’t need to do.

So perhaps I should just leave that one in the drafts folder and start a whole new project that’s more like what I want to write.

But I need to do something. I need to get somewhere.

-The Gneech

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Dec 07 2016

TelegrAIM

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I pretty much stopped paying attention to new social media platforms a while ago. They were coming and going so fast, there seemed little point in getting invested in any of them because they’d just be gone the next day. So other than a foray into Tumblr, I’ve stuck with Twitter and LiveJournal for some time, and those three covered most of my needs or wants in the social realm. Except for one thing: I missed chat.

I dumped AIM and ICQ ages ago due to security holes and general bugginess, but doing so left a big hole in my connections with friends. Anyone who wasn’t on Twitter pretty much faded into the distance, and even on Twitter the DMs tend to be spotty and slow for a lot of things.

But this past weekend at Midwest Furfest, the phrase I kept hearing over and over again was, “Do you have Telegram?” Everybody and their sister was using it to connect for commissions, to plan meal outings, whatever. So I decided that I’d better look into it. A quick download and a few keystrokes later, I was up and running on both the desktop and my phone.

My first thought? “Wow, it’s like the glory days of ICQ again!” You don’t get the adorable little “Uh-oh!” when a message comes in, you just get a beep, but you’ve got a friends list (based primarily on your phone’s contacts), in descending order based on how recently they’ve posted something (basically a less binary “online/offline” notification) and you can toss in emoji, “stickers” (which are basically GIF images like meme posts), and so on.

The best part, for me, is that I immediately restored contact with people I hadn’t been in touch with for years, or at best had sporadic contact through slower channels. We didn’t necessarily have real deep discussions beyond “Hey! You’re on Telegram! I’m on Telegram! We can chat again, yaaaay!” but it had the warm and happy feeling of coming home.

Given how depressing Twitter has become since the election, I would not be surprised if I spend less time there and more time on Telegram, where I can have more focused conversations with friends and “opt out” of the relentless barrage of bad news when I need a break. Over the years I’ve had amazing and transformative discussions with friends via chat, and maybe that can start happening again. 🙂

-The Gneech

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Nov 19 2016

The Official #NaNoWriMo Punt Post

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As things have developed, both public and private, I have decided that my I need to change my priorities in the upcoming months. To that end, I need to put By Elves Abandoned on the back burner and work on other things. Instead of working on those other things and feeling guilty about not hitting wordcount goals for NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided to simply let that go.

The book still has a lot of potential, and I expect to pick it up again before too long, it’s purely a matter of timing. Maybe my own personal NaNoWriMo will come in February, we’ll see!

Suburban Jungle will keep going, and punting on NaNo will hopefully give me time to fix up lingering issues I’m having with the current storyline and the direction the comic is taking generally. Fortunately, that only takes me a couple of days a week and could be done at night or on the weekends as needed. I am also still working on finding a publisher for Sky Pirates of Calypsitania.

How Not to Suck at Overwatch is also going to go quiet for the foreseeable future. It was a fun project and I enjoyed it (and I’m very grateful to the friends and fans who made it possible), but at least for now I have other things I need to concentrate on.

As for what I am working on, that’s not in a stage where I’m ready to tell the world. But when the time comes, I will! But until then, I’ve got commissions to finish and a comic to draw, so I’d better get to work.

-The Gneech

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Aug 22 2016

Helpful Feedback is Helpful

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On the value of good manners, the agent who passed on Sky Pirates of Calypsitania last week wrote back in response to my thank you note to say, “I think your writing is very strong and I wish you the best in your agent hunt! For me, I just didn’t fall in love with the characters in the way that I’d need in order to be a great advocate.”

This, while it may not sound like much, is actually hugely helpful feedback. When you send out query after query and get the same boilerplate “not a good fit at this time” response, you begin to question every little aspect of what you’re doing. “Is my query letter too amateurish?” “Am I committing enormous grammatical blunders that I just don’t see?” “Is my adventure story about airship pirates really just a string of vapid clichés?” “Are the weird relationships and social outliers in this story too off-putting?” “Am I a hamfisted hack and everyone’s just been too nice to say so?”

This tiny bit of specific feedback makes all that junk go away. Being told by an industry professional that my writing is very strong is a bonus, I won’t lie! But the real value here is knowing that it was a matter of personal taste, rather than a systemic problem with the work. There are plenty of books out there that are great books, but I just don’t get into them. The entire corpus of Ernest Hemingway, just for starters.

What that means, in real terms, is that I have to just keep putting the book in front of agents until I find one for whom the book clicks. Of course, that was my plan anyway, but I feel a lot more secure about it now. Even if this particular agent and I end up never crossing paths again (although there’s no reason we might not), she’s done me a great favor and I’m grateful for it.

-The Gneech

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Aug 20 2016

In Which I Deal With Rejection

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It has often been observed that writing is a tough racket. Like, suspiciously so– people have been predicting the death of the written word pretty much as long as there have been written words, but particularly the death of the modern publishing industry as long as there has been a modern publishing industry, despite the fact bookstores tend to be full of people happily shelling out their hard-earned dollars for books even in this post-internet age and that book sales are actually up rather than down. The rates for writers are largely un-moved in decades, and editorial budgets are slashed, but book prices keep going up, so… that money has to be going somewhere.

However, for the time being at least, I am not interested in figuring out that mystery. Publishing for me is largely a giant black box where I put words in one end and, theoretically, money comes out the other. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Granted, I have not submitted that much for publication in the grand scale of things, being largely self-published or having worked mostly with editors who were also friends and colleagues already. But over the course of my writing career, I’ve had far more successes than rejections. In fact, I can only think of three rejections off the top of my head:

  • A creature write-up sent to White Wolf for a Werewolf line “monster book” in 1989 or so. This was done hastily, because Bill (the line editor at the time) was in a pinch, and I basically threw together something that belonged in Call of Cthulhu instead. I’m not surprised he didn’t use it– in fact, I would have been more surprised if he had.
  • Out In the Cold, my first full-length(ish) novel, sent to an agent c. 1996 in a fit of youthful enthusiasm. This was a cozy mystery, and it didn’t totally suck but it wasn’t great, either. It did at least garner me a very nice handwritten reply praising the narrative voice and depiction of the characters. I eventually decided that mystery writing was probably not where my strengths were and shelved it after that. And finally…
  • Sky Pirates of Calypsitania, which as of yesterday has been rejected by one publisher and seven agents, and “soft rejected” by a handful more agents who simply did not respond (“If you do not hear in 4-8 weeks we aren’t interested.”). Of all these, yesterday’s rejection was the hardest.

The reasons why yesterday’s hit me so hard are twofold. First, this agent was specifically seeking steampunk novels– a genre which is notoriously tricky to get people interested in. I was very jazzed to see someone actually wanting steampunk, instead of having a subtext of “Okay, I guess I’ll look at it, but don’t you have any doorstopper fantasy or military SF we could check out instead?”

Second, after the initial query, the agent wrote back to me and asked for a larger sample, which was the first response of any kind on this book beyond a polite form rejection. I knew it wasn’t guaranteed that she would want to move forward after that, but I did think it was quite likely. She wanted steampunk, she liked the first chapter, and her agenting portfolio seemed like just the right fit for this particular book’s eccentricities. Alas, “After a careful reading, I am sorry to say that I don’t believe this project is right for me.” I sent her a thank-you note, and who knows, maybe something else will work later.

But in the meantime, we carry on. I really like this book– even if it weren’t my own it would be one of my favorites– and I honestly think it’s as good as anything out there. I know that steampunk is a long shot, and I know that first-time novelists always have a tough hill to climb. Yes, I’m disappointed, but I’m going to put it away for the weekend and then, come Monday, pull up the next three agents on my list and send it out again.

It is, as has been observed, a tough racket.

-The Gneech

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Feb 24 2016

In Which Something Must Be Done

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So last Friday, Business Guy put together a running tally of income vs. expenses for last year, in preparation for tax time. The results were, in a word, bleak.

My gross income for 2015 (not counting a brief spurt of Starbucks salary) was somewhere around $5,000. The good news is that this is up from 2014… the bad news is that it’s only up by $300. This was feasible when Mrs. Gneech was making enough money for the both of us, but with the disintegration of her job as well, this has left us in an uncomfortable spot.

We are not in any immediate danger of being out on the street, thanks to savings and other resources held aside for such things, but financially speaking we are currently at 5,000 feet in a plane with no engine. My artistic pursuits, at least as I practice them, are not making me a living. If I want to avoid returning to the days of hand-to-mouth, I need to make a serious change.

One possibility is returning to a “day job,” and I am currently investigating options. My previous career shunted me down a blind alley into dead-end technology and left me burned out in the process… so even if I wanted to get back into that particular grind (which I don’t especially) there isn’t any work to be found there anyway. In fact most of my professional experience (word processing, graphic design/desktop publishing, web page design) is in stuff that was cutting edge from 1995-2005 and is woefully out of date now.

At this stage, I have little idea what is actually useful in the world, and no real idea how to effectively look for work in 2016. Once upon a time I would sign up with a handful of temp agencies and that would be my doorway into the professional arena, but even temp agencies don’t seem to exist in any appreciable way any more. To that end, I have signed up for The Oxford Program and am currently going through it in an attempt to reboot my career, but it’s not a short-term fix.

I have also been brainstorming on creating a “brand,” with the intention of using my creative talents to build a franchise, such as name designers or the Life Is Good guys. I’ve done some stuff along those lines with Snerks’N’Quirks but it’s very much a sideline right now. The hard part of this kind of thing for me is that while it does use my creative skills, it doesn’t hold my interest. Coming up with buttons just for the money is not that different from putting together webpages just for the money (or doing anything else just for the money). I have to find some way to make it vital or it will be just a different sort of grind.

I keep thinking of people like Steve Jobs, who set out with a mission and sorta got rich on the side, and that’s what I want out of life myself. But for the moment at least, I don’t know what that mission is, besides drawing Suburban Jungle and writing the occasional book… which is sorely lacking in that “get rich on the side” element.

But I have to do something different from what I’m doing right now, before the plane crashes.

-The Gneech

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