Angels or Demons

I both love and hate philosophy.  I enjoy discussing different philosophical thinkings and views of the world.  Sadly, I don’t really enjoy reading philosophy because most philosophers are excessively long-winded that blather on incessantly.  Were I a strong advocate for their specific views, the attention to minutae might be appealing but as a tourist to that realm of thinking, it gets cumbersome.

One philosopher that I’ve been rereading recently, however, is ‘Meister’ Eckhart Hockheim. These days, he’s probably most famous for being referenced at the end of Jacob’s Ladder.  In it, the character Louis Denardo tells the titular Jacob,

“Eckhart saw Hell too.  He said, ‘the only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments.  They burn them all away.  But they’re not punishing you,’ he said.  They’re freeing your soul.  So, if you’re frightened of dying and…and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away.  But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth”

This singular quote has seemed a bit apropo (if more than a little melodramatic) with the recent tragedies that have befallen me and my family.  For example, I lost my computer and all (and I do mean ALL) my files.  That’s years – decades – of writing gone.  Gone and likely unrecoverable.

On the one hand, true tragedy.  My life’s work, up in smoke.  But on the other hand, all of it was and still is in my brain.  All the stories still exist.  Vincent Pierce, Everett Kendall, and so many other characters, still live inside my mind.  And getting them out is as simple as daily visits to the library until I am able to buy a new computer.  Or even just jotting stuff down on a notepad.

A lot has been lost, sure.  Tiny nuances of characters and settings and events that could only be born out of a certain time and place in my life.  But the essence of who they are and what they do hasn’t been lost.  And while I lament what has been lost, I also have the opportunity to rebuild from the ground up.  I can start fresh, of sorts.

So that’s something.  🙂

 

 

Speaking of nice, I will be at Anime Mid-Atlantic this weekend, hosting a bunch of panels as well as helping to man some panels for my publisher, Haven Publishing.  And also promoting the print release of my newest novel, Rhest for the Wicked.  I hope to see you there!

Nobody Is Above Getting Paid

A recent consult with a fellow writer brought up an interesting point: should a writer write work to get published?

To give some context, my author-friend had an idea for a fantasy-romance novel.  It was light fluff (in her own words).  You know, the kind of stuff you see in the supermarket, only with fairies and some such.  She was hesitant to write such a book because she felt like nobody respected it.  When I pointed out that romance novels have never sold better, she asserted ‘but isn’t it degrading, to write something just so it will sell?’

That’s what we all do.

No author writes a book unconcerned with whether or not it will sell.  All of us hold that as a core consideration.  If we (the authors) don’t, the publishers and agents certainly do.  And why wouldn’t they?  Why wouldn’t we?  Sales are the name of the game.

And I don’t mean ‘sales are the name of the game’ in the sense that we’re only in this for the money.  Nobody gets into writing for the money – at least nobody smart.  We get into this because we’re artists, with a love of the art form and the medium and a desire to tell our stories.  That’s why we get into the business.  But it’s necessary to understand that it is a business.  And we may come for the art, but we stay for the paychecks.  Otherwise, the very first time we had to make a choice between something else and writing, we’d do something.  Because something else almost always pays better than writing.

As artists, we struggle with our desire to share our art and also our desire to live.  If we don’t make money, we can’t make ends meet.  We can’t write.  And so, we charge money.  The notion that ‘real artists don’t charge for their work’ is a lie, perpetrated by either charlatan art gallery owners (or their ilk in whatever art form you prefer) or by artists who already make so much money they have the luxury to just give away work for free.

Every artist charges, or should charge.  Every artist wants to make money.  Not out of greed (because – and I really can’t underscore this enough – writing is NOT a good way to make money), but because we want to live.  We want to make art.  And if our art can support us, then we can devote as much time as possible to making that art.

As such, we writers (and all artists) pursue a paycheck.  It isn’t our highest priority but it IS a priority.  And it should be a priority. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to scam you.
So, to my writer friends have that pulp novel that they think isn’t the highest of literature but they know will sell?  Put it out there.  Make your paper, and use that success to help pay for the next novel.

And if somebody accuses you of selling out, smile and let them know you sell out…every book on the shelf.  People think being a sell-out means you compromised your priorities for a paycheck.  Yet, they never seem to acknowledge that getting paid is – and always will be and always SHOULD be – a priority.

Oh, hey, did I mention that I published a book?  You should totally check it out.  🙂

Rhest for the Wicked and other books

In case you missed the announcement, Rhest For The Wicked is now available for the Kindle and other ebook readers, with the print version to come shortly (possibly this week).  But that’s not all!  Haven Publishing House, (aka my publisher) has also released The Pack by Dan Coglan and I Think? No, I’m Sure…God Hates Me by Manny Camacho.  The Pack is a fantasy story, while God Hates Me is a collection of various tales about conventions and the wacky world surrounding conventions.  Please check them both out…as well as Rhest For the Wicked, of course!

Again, these are all ebooks; the print editions will be available soon.

I first published Crossworld in 2001, so it’s a weird experience being a ‘new author’ a second time around.  Given the gap since my last novel came out, I feel like I’m almost starting my career over again.  I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.  In the intervening years since my first book, I’ve learned a lot about the industry.  But it was always as an independent author.  I failed more than I succeeded and I have the personal and professional scars to show for it.  But I also had a lot of fun and got to realize a dream.

Now signed with Haven, an indie company (and an upstart in its own right), it’s been interesting seeing many of the growing pains I went through when I was first published, only now on a company scale.  It’s been a hell of a ride just getting to this point.  But now that I/we are here, it’s like cresting a mountain.  It’s been long, hard, and arduous, but now we get to look out over the possibility that lies ahead.

This is an incredibly exciting time; professional, artistically, and personally.  Having the serials back online, being back in print, and now having a publishing house behind me, a new set of challenges and opportunities presents itself.  It’s exciting, to say the least.

For those of you who have been here with me through it all, thank you for sticking by me.  For those of you who are just now joining the adventure, welcome aboard.  We’re just getting started and there’s a LOT of fun stuff on the way.

And some of it will be showing up sooner than you think!  🙂

Versatility vs Universiality

Which would you prefer to be: good at everything, or great at one thing and above-average at everything else?  At first glance, it might seem being superb at everything would be the path to supremacy in whatever endeavor.  After all, if there’s nothing you’re bad at, if you command excellence at every knowledge and ability in a designated pursuit, how could you not excel?  Well, the evidence would suggest that you will be mediocre.

Take a look at the UFC.  Who are some of the greatest UFC fighters to ever step into the octagon?  According to ESPN, the list includes names like Royce Gracie, Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, GSP, and Anderson Silva.  What do all these fighters have in common?  They weren’t good at ‘everything’.

Take Anderson Silva, usually at the top of every ‘greatest mma fighters’ lists.  Anderson ‘the Spider’ Silva is not known for his grappling skills, nor is he known for his takedowns.  Oh, his grappling is good.  Definitely more than adequate.  But when Silva fought, people didn’t look for a grappling match.  They were expecting striking, specifically kicks.  Anderson Silva was known as one of the best strikers of all time; out of 33 wins, 20 were by knockout (meaning he won with striking) while only 6 were by submission (meaning he won by grappling).

Look at another example in the UFC; Royce Gracie.  One of the pioneers of the sport, Royce Gracie has 14 wins to his name; 12 of those are by submission and he has no knockouts.  He’s proven he can strike, but that isn’t where he excels.  He excels in grappling.

In Easy Strength, Pavel Tsatsouline and Dan John talk extensively about this phenomena, that attempts to be masters at everything yield burnout and exhaustion rather than true productivity.  In this treatise, they suggest instead focusing on one or two primary qualities and abilities and letting everything else more or less take care of itself.

Life-hacker and efficiency activist Tim Ferriss espouses much the same in his books, the 4-Hour Body and the 4-Hour Chef.  Rather than zero in on one’s weaknesses, he advocates playing to one’s strengths and letting weaknesses improve more casually.

In head-to-head competition – whether it be physical or intellectual – focusing on a single aspect of play where you will not be surpassed often improves performance as a whole.  The inverse – trying to make sure all performance is flawless – rarely if ever results in notable success.  The myth of the ‘man skilled in all ways of contending’ is therefore somewhat counterproductive.

That isn’t to say that one shouldn’t improve your weaknesses.  That isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to be good at every aspect of your craft/sport/passion.  By all means, improve your weaknesses and tighten your shortcomings.  But the majority of your time and effort needs to be focused not on making you ‘less bad’ at something, but making you ‘that much better’ at what you’re already good at.  Don’t neglect where you need improvement, but don’t fixate on it either.

Play to your strengths.

This is true regardless of your pursuit.  As an athlete, if you naturally skew towards endurance over power, don’t try to turn yourself into a powerlifter.  Excel more and more at endurance and learn to make your opponents try to keep up with you.  Don’t let power become a liability, but don’t bother with making it your forte either.
As a writer, if your descriptive skills are only adequate, but dialogue is where you excel (and what you enjoy), don’t break your back trying to turn your stories on their ear.  Focus on your dialogue.  Make it that much better.  Pay attention to your description and work to make it better, but don’t bust yourself trying to become something you’re not.

Universal aptitude is overrated.  Being familiar with, adequate in, good at, all the skills associated with your chosen pursuit is what you need and want, but fixate on the one thing you can truly excel at and enjoy, and knock that out of the park every time.

Teach The Sky ReLaunch!

In November of 2002, I first launched TeachTheSky.com (this website).  In the intervening eleven plus years, it’s endured a year-long hiatus, seen the launch of ten serials, including the serialization of the Crossworld Saga.  It’s been a blog, a literary hub, and a host of other things.

But mostly, it’s been a journey for me as I try to wind my way through the labyrinth that is publishing.

Writing, you see, is easy.  Get a word processor – or hell, just a notepad – and write a story.  Boom!  You’re a writer.  Want to be a successful writer?  Sell that story to a friend for more than you paid for the notepad.  Seriously, that’s all it takes.  From that point, it’s just a matter of scale; of how many units you sell, how much profit, etc etc etc.

Publishing is a different beast.  Publishing is an industry, and one with all the flaws and loopholes of any large industry.  You have publishing houses, big and small, as well as agents and clubs and unions.  It’s all a big mess.  And as an independent author, it’s hard to sort through it all.  So I’ve tried to be open and transparent with what all I was doing.

But I also tried to maintain some artistic autonomy.  And thus, my serials.  At TeachTheSky.com, I have endeavored to produce literature and art that was entertaining.  I grew so very tired (so very quickly) of the publishing game that even as I pursued it, I wanted to further my art.  And thus, this website became not just a professional portfolio but also a means with which I was able to continue being a writer while I kept dealing with the trials and tribulations of being an author.  For the two are, thankfully, not one and the same.

 

In 2014, TeachTheSky.com will see the return of the serials.  The first episode of my newest serial will go live March 7th.  Currently, I will be updating every four weeks, but I expect that time span to quickly shrink.  I will also be publishing several novels in the coming year.  Everybody knows about Rhest for the Wicked (my first novel with Haven Publishing) and I continue to chip away at that, with resolution coming in the next few weeks.  But in the meantime, other novels are in the works.  They will be announced in the next few months, with releases before the end of the year.

It’s an exciting time.  I’m happy to share with you the art that I love so much to create.  I hope you enjoy it.  And now, please enjoy the new and improved (hopefully) TeachTheSky.com