A Decade of Ambition

Next weekend, just after Thanksgiving, TeachTheSky.com will celebrate its 10th anniversary.  It was in 2003 that I first launched this website, in its original form, telling the story of Everett Kendall, Marilyn Johnston, Jericho Kingston, Roland and Ledger, and all the others.  TtS would spin-off with Deadman, APT Responders, and so on, coming to a debilitating hiatus in 2009.

It’s been interesting to look back on my career during the last ten years (twelve, if you want to go back to Crossworld’s original run in November of 2001).  It’s been full of hiccups, deadends, false starts, and every imaginable mistake.  But at the same time, it’s been full of some really sterling successes and some events of which I am very proud.

Over a decade, writing has been a very curious adventure, with no real road-map or guide.  I set out to become a ‘professional author’ and when the money from Crossworld started coming in and I started seeing reviews of my book and writing, I realized I had ‘made it’.  The question at that point became a matter of increasing sales, upping visibility and distribution, etc.  In other words, it became about marketing and salesmanship.

An author – or artist period – who tells you that salesmanship isn’t a big element of success is misguided.  To both audiences and production companies alike, the onus is upon the creator to drive the work forward.  In time, teamwork may take over and managers and promotional teams may take on some or even much of that burden, but that will only occur after you have already excelled at it.

And that feels like where I am now.  From a professional standpoint, as we wait for these last few but terrifyingly critical details to get taken care of involving Rhest for the Wicked, that transition to teamwork is underway.  Even as we wait for Rhest to clear, books #2 through #11 are already in development.  That’s now my job as part of this team.  It’s yet another part of this adventure as a writer.

It’s a subdued excitement that fills me these days, a decade later.  Amateurish exuberance has evolved into (what I hope is) a professional temperament.  I hope my stories and storytelling reflect this decade of work and effort.  I strive to be a writer worthy of the stories I’m trying to tell.

It’s been a wild ten years.  In that time, nothing has gone according to plan.  In more ways than not, I think that’s a good thing.  The adventure isn’t made up of what goes right; it’s made up of what goes wrong and is then overcome.

And this has been, and continues to be, a hell of an adventure.

Our Line of Work is Entertainment

Billionaire Ted Turner once told Vince McMahon that he was starting his own pro-wrestling circuit, World Championship Wrestling (or WCW).  Vince McMahon, president of the then-WWF, famously responded “Have fun with your wrasslin’ company, Ted; I’m in the entertainment business”.

I’ve taught a few writing classes and writing workshops, at conventions, libraries, and other places.  I’ve also consulted with writers off and on since I was first published in 2001.  A common trend I’ve noticed is a little bit of confusion as to what it takes to be a good writer.

Discussions of how you define being good at something aside, many people seem to think its originality.  Most writers – specifically aspiring writers – seem to think that they need to have some new concept, some new story, like something no one has ever seen.  And originality is great, don’t get me wrong.  If you’ve got originality, you’ve got a leg up on your competition.  But what defines a truly successful writer, what makes them good, is being entertaining.

Writing as a profession is being an entertainer.  We exist to engage, enthrall, and generally entertain our readers.  Originality is wonderful, a following is a plus, and skill at writing never hurt anybody.  But at the end of the day, what will determine whether or not you are any good is if you entertain your readers.

The old adage that ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’ may be accurate (I don’t believe so), but it doesn’t mean there aren’t new and engaging ways to tell the same stories.  ‘Boy meets girl’ is about as trite as it comes and yet everybody has their personal favorite versions of that story that came along long long LONG after that story had been worked to death.  Somewhere between the true essence of the story and the window-dressing, you find the writer’s skill at entertaining.  And that’s what matters.

Don’t neglect skill.  Don’t underestimate novelty and originality.  But at the end of the day, what you need to ask yourself is if the reader will be entertained.  Because if they will, then you’ve done your job as a good writer.

Bullet Points

I had an entire tirade planned on the XBox One, but somebody else pretty much summed it up.  I was also going to rant about the Ender’s Game movie and Orson Scott Card in general, but I figured powerful people were about to do all they could to distract him with something shiny to keep him from being seen in public for the next little bit.  So I figured I’d just hit a handful of small points of things I’d like to talk about, but don’t warrant full-on posts.

Will The Serials Ever Return?
I really, really hope so.  I enjoy writing for online audiences.  The problem is writing serials is an incredibly time-consuming and complicated process.  It’s actually more demanding than writing a novel.  Right now, my publisher and I are hitting numerous speed bumps getting our first book together out the door.  You’d think this would be the perfect time to do a serial – and you’d be right – but the effort and energy is needed to get that book moving.  And I also have an additional consideration two bullet points down.

Is there going to be more content than just once-a-week blog posts?
Yes.  I actually plan to start updating on Wednesday…this Wednesday.

Why didn’t you do a Memorial Day Blog?
For starters, because it seemed cliche to the point of being almost inappropriate.  Secondly, because I’m a part-time, self-employed individual.  See, I actually have a dayjob that I do in addition to writing.  I work more than 30 hours a week, but am only allowed to log thirty hours so as not to go over the part-time maximum.  I accrue no retirement, no health benefits, and accrue no sick/vacation time.  So Memorial Day, as a ‘work holiday’ is lost on me.  I have to work today, just like millions of others.  As a result, I feel like the holiday is cheapened.  Maybe that’s a poor excuse, but the truth of the matter is that if I didn’t work today, I’d have a bill at the end of the month I couldn’t pay.

My friend’s brother’s cousin’s roommate’s personal trainer told him you shouldn’t drink more than two glasses of water a day. Is that true?
No.

While it is true that hyperhydration is a real thing, it is so rare, it might as well be an urban myth.  So long as you aren’t drinking a gallon of water in half an hour or less, you are fine.  8 cups, 10 cups, 6 cups, it’s all good.
And keep in mind, that recommendation of ‘glasses’ comes from the misunderstanding of the recommended 8 cups of water.  That’s not ‘8 medium cups from MacDonalds’, that’s 8 cups, as in the unit of measurement.  That comes out to half a gallon or two liters, over the course of a whole day.  Nothing but a thing.
This was fun.  We should do this again sometime. Got any questions? Email me or post a comment.

Week Off

I live my life in twelve-week cycles.

I train and work hard for twelve weeks, and then I take one week off.  During that time, I do not write, exercise, and am far less strict about my diet.  I turn off my alarm clock and wake up naturally and I go to bed as I wish, rather than adhering to a schedule.  It’s pretty fun.  And the benefit of it – aside from the obvious – is that when it’s time for me to return to my regiment schedule, I am hungry to do so because living so carefree doesn’t suit me.

As both a creative professional and a pretty serious athlete (or at least I like to think so), I think there’s a benefit to completely throwing it all away for more than a few days at a time.  Weekends are great but you can only do so much decompression and recovery (both mental and physical) in two days.  Having a full week off where one doesn’t work, it allows you to fully recharge.

The trick, I think, is to staying on this ‘I ain’t doing nothing’ lifestyle until you start to get bored.  For me, that takes about four days.  Around about Wednesday night or Thursday, I’m starting to get antsy.  I get restless.  My mind begins to bubble over with story ideas and scenes and clever concepts waiting to be put to the page.  And I start getting hyper-active, ready to get out and do something.  By Saturday, I’m anxiously awaiting the coming week, the coming start of the new cycle.

Having this week off has other benefits as well.  It helps you define success with greater clarity.  Living in these twelve-week cycles makes it easy to set medium-term goals.  “In this twelve-weeks”, I might say, “I’m going to write a full book, six short stories, four essays, publish two articles, and prepare two convention presentations/panels”.  And by having a clearly defined start date and end date, I know how to further breakup my tasks for easier accomplishment.  But I also have a period when I call it.  I have a date where, after this, I stop.  I no longer work on this book, I no longer push to get this article published.  If it didn’t happen in this twelve weeks (barring a few extenuating circumstances), I drop it and move on.

And that clean slate every three months is intensely valuable.  During that week off, I am able to let go of all the baggage and issues and static that’s built up.  I’m able to clear my head and let go of everything that was unnecessary.  So that way, on Day One of the new cycle, I am focused and eager, with clearly defined goals and a timetable for achieving them.

And that’s where I am.  Day Two of my week off.  It is restful.  It is relaxing.  And I had candy bars for breakfast.

Project Update

Last night, I received the first draft of the cover art for my upcoming book, Rhest for the Wicked.  It’s still in the early stages (thus, no teasers, sorry), but it looks very promising and I think it will pair well with the book itself.

I’m quite anxious to return to print publishing.  As many of my long-time fans can probably attest, I’ve been unable to find a comfortable niche since the Fall of 2009.  Having signed with my new publisher, things are starting to ‘get back on course’ as it were.

And in theory, they’ll get back on course quickly.  After Rhest for the Wicked, several more books should follow in short order.  A cyberpunk lovestory is slated for release in September, while the re-publication of Ghee (my oh-so-infamous gay ninja book) should see release this December or January, and lastly Teach The Sky will be in print for the first time around this time next year.  All these dates are tentative, of course.  Publishing, especially in this day and age – and especially with a small press – is a unique and unpredictable beast.  But with each subsequent book that is released, the process should become hopefully smoother.  And from that experience, hopefully more ambitious projects shall follow.

A lot of people have wondered about Crossworld Saga and if it will see redistribution and the short answer is ‘yes’.  The long answer, unfortunately, is ‘yes…in a while’. Crossworld has been released twice.  And the entire Saga was rewritten as a serial.  But both versions were aborted short of their finale because of industry and professional evolution.  My current publisher is quite interested in seeing the Crossworld Saga back in print, and I am too, but it’s a story I first wrote in 2001 and have largely worked on almost continuously since then.  It’s been developing over more than a decade and, quite simply, I’m not eager to go back to the starting point yet again.  This will be the third time I’ve restarted the Saga, and the fourth time I’ve rewritten Crossworld and it’s just a task that I don’t take lightly.  But it will see print again.  I just want to get a few books down first before I start tilting at that particular windmill.

The publication of the serials remains a big unknown.  Writing the Teach The Sky Continuity online constituted a massive undertaking and transferring that to the printed realm is no small task.  I doubt the entire franchise will see print, but what doesn’t see print will be re-released on here as the story unfolds.

It’s a very exciting time right now, professionally and artistically.  I owe a lot of these opportunities to my publisher and their team whom have given me a chance to return to the print world.  There are a lot of exciting projects in the works, with still more waiting in the wings.  I hope you’re going to enjoy them!