Tag Archives: writers

Drafted for a Panel and Other G-Fest XXIV Stories

You get two blogs this week since I missed last Thursday!

I went to G-Fest for the first time a few weeks ago in Rosemont, Illinois. I was accompanied by my Kaijuvision Radio co-host Brian Scherschel. It’s a convention dedicated to Godzilla, kaiju, and tokusatsu. I’ve heard about it for years but never attended. There are a lot of great stories I could tell about the show, most of which you can read about on the Kaijuvision Radio Twitter feed and in Brian’s latest blog on the podcast’s website, but there are a few writing-related ones I wanted to share with you.

I attended a pair of kaiju writing seminars the Saturday of the con. The first was a session for writers to share their ideas and get feedback. Since I’ve been kicking around ideas for a sequel to Destroyer (mostly because people kept feeding me ideas that I’ve churned in my head), I thought I’d talk about it in this session. However, I realized I was the only one there who’d never been published (except for the moderator), so I decided I would let the other attendees take priority and offered feedback. If there was time, then I would share. There were some great stories and concepts presented, such as a first-person tale told from a kaiju’s perspective, but the one I found most interesting was a story treatment for a fanfilm that included a potentially brilliant meta-commentary on the Godzilla franchise. I told the presenter that it reminded me of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. That was one of several pieces of advice that brought several people to me afterward wanting to add me on Facebook. I gave them my bookmark/business card that directed them to my website and other professional social medias.

(So, if you’re one of those people: Hello and welcome!)

Later in the day, I arrived early for a writing advice panel. I overheard the moderator say he wanted to add one more panelist (they brought on a new one thinking one panelist wouldn’t make it, but he did and they decided to add one more). I jokingly said I was a published writer with some kaiju credentials. “Oh?” he said. I flashed him the Amazon page for Destroyer and mentioned my kaiju short story in The Worlds of Nathan Marchand, among others, and he replied, “Get behind the table!”

Yes, True Believers, I got myself “drafted” onto the panel! It was only the second time in my life I’ve been on one.

Once more, the advice I offered impressed attendees and panelists so much, they came to me afterward for more advice and contact info. The moderator even said he would keep my name in mind when planning the same panel for next year’s G-Fest.

I know I sound like I’m bragging, but to be honest, I was surprised by all of this. Weird, right? The shameless self-promotor is surprised when people actually like him. Maybe it’s because I’ve yet to make it big or because I hang out with brilliant writers like Nick Hayden (I haven’t name-dropped him in a while, haven’t I? 😛 ). I suppose I take those as signs that I’m not as talented as I want to think I am. But success isn’t always a marker of ability. Plenty of gifted people (including Mr. Hayden) haven’t become huge successes and many untalented people are big stars. And just because someone is better than me doesn’t mean my talent is worthless. It’s hard to live among giants, though.

I guess what I’m saying is I haven’t been “discovered” yet.

Did you attend G-Fest this year? What did you think of it? Are do you deal with feelings of inadequacy as an artist?

Confessions of a Story Junkie

I’ve written often on time management for writers and my own struggles with making time for writing. I certainly have the desire to tell my stories, but oftentimes life simply gets in the way. It sucks, but it’s true.

Except when it isn’t.

I should clarify: sometimes I don’t make time to write not because of circumstances beyond my control, but because I choose not to write. How’s that?

Besides being a seemingly rare extroverted writer, I’m a self-described “story junkie.” As in I go out of my way to enjoy as many stories as I can. Most of my hobbies—reading, gaming, movie watching, photography, among others—revolve around storytelling (or at least creativity). I eat that stuff up. You might even say I’m a borderline addict. I tend to go through phases. Right now I’m trying to read the pile of comic books next to my bed. Other times I’ll play story-driven video games or read a lot of books. Whatever phase I’m in, I usually inject something else amidst all that (like a trip to the movies to see the latest blockbuster).

The trouble is I get so caught up with other stories that I neglect my own. Consumption is easier than creation. An old adage (erroneously attributed to Dorothy Parker, apparently) says, “Writers don’t like writing—they like having written.” In other words, writing is hard work. Authors may enjoy it, but they much prefer finishing a project than being in the middle of one. Sometimes it’s a chore to grind out 1,000 words or figure out what your heroine will/should say next. I say all that to say that it’s a common trap for writers to procrastinate because they would rather go enjoy someone else’s completed story (or at least an analysis of a story) than work on their own. “Write another scene for my Great American Novel? Maybe after I binge watch a few episodes of Clone Wars on Netflix.”

This is a trap I often fall into. I’m so desperate to get my fix of story, I procrastinate on whatever project I’m working on. Sometimes I even the excuse that whatever story I’m consuming will somehow help with whatever project I’m writing (how a Godzilla movie relates to Children of the Wells, I don’t know. 😛 ). In reality, though, it’s just me making an excuse to not to the hard work of writing. This is why I’ve had to train myself to use my “story fixes” as rewards for accomplishing writing goals. Then I can use those stories as inspiration.

It’s not always easy, trust me. After a long day at my day job (a part-time job that’s been giving me full-time hours lately, making time management even harder), I don’t always want to write. I’ll just want to relax with a good book or a new video game. But as Jack London famously said,

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Are you a “story junkie”? Does it distract you from your work? How do you deal with it?

Protect Your Writing Time!

I’m once again touching on the subject of time management, but not exactly like I’ve done before. I’ve been reminded in the last few weeks of an important writer’s mantra:

Protect your writing time at all costs.

As writers, our time is valuable. We don’t have more than other people, so we must block out sections of the day (or week or month) to sit at our desk with a keyboard (or typewriter or paper) to do what we love. But, if you’re like me, you have a lot of other things vying for your time. There are chores that need done. Day jobs that must be worked (ugh!). Friends and family who want to spend time with you. It can be overwhelming. It can also be easy to let those other things steal your time, whittling it down until you get to the end of the day and realize you didn’t write any of the 1,000 words you wanted to have completed in your new novel.

Those things, however, are the “good” ones. Writers need to be around people (writers are human, after all), and until they become more successful, they need other jobs to sustain themselves. But trouble comes when other things like social media get in the way. I’m not saying Facebook and Twitter are terrible things that should be avoided, but there comes a point where they become huge time-sucks. You may feel obligated to rummage through 50 notifications and leave 1,000 words-worth of comments on Facebook instead of focusing that energy and time into penning 1,000 words for your current writing project. Trust me, I know.

As Sean Connery said in Finding Forrester, “Writers write.” That requires time. In this (over)busy society we live in, time is even more precious. Writers can’t afford to let it be stolen unnecessarily. It is a treasure hidden in a castle and there are barbarians at the gate seeking to steal it. We writers must stand our ground. We have to set boundaries and, if needed, quote Captain Picard, who said, “This far! No farther!” when something infringes on our writing time. Otherwise, we will miss a deadline and/or regret that we didn’t get anything done.

How can you go about this? I think it depends on your particular personality and situation. If social media is an issue, consider doing a “detox,” i.e. fast from it for a time. If your hobbies are taking you away, discipline yourself to use them as a reward for completing your writing goal. For example, I try not to play video games until I’ve finished working or completed a task. Heck, a friend told me about a couple of apps one can get on a smartphone that turn goal setting into an RPG. I believe they’re called LifeRPG and EpicWin. Those might be great tools for you.

I started this blog by saying writers have to defend their writing time. I ended with talk of role-playing games. Perhaps it’s time for you to “level up” and protect that treasure!

Falling Through the Cracks

Get it? 😛

I’ve written many times before about time management and how I tend to take on more projects than I possibly could. Well, this week, that bit me in the butt—hard. Remember how I was supposed to have a book signing at the North Webster Public Library Monday?

I completely forgot about it.

You read that right. I didn’t even show up at my own book signing. That’s never happened before. I’m the kind of person who keeps his commitments. I feel terrible if I don’t. I don’t like letting people down. Yet despite seeing promotions for my signing and even blogging about it, it completely slipped my mind. Since I was scheduled to work at my day job, I couldn’t even show up late. I spent the next 24 hours beating myself up over it until I talked with the librarians this afternoon and found out all is well. I’ve been rescheduled for June 6 from 3:30pm-6:30pm.

Me yesterday when I got the call from the library.

I had no excuse or justification for forgetting it. The problem is I’ve had a hundred other things on my mind, from writing/creative projects to family concerns to a ballroom dance showcase this weekend, and everything in between. Something was bound to get lost in the shuffle, to fall through the cracks. It’s not the first time it’s happened, but it was never something this major. It was usually just something like forgetting to blog (I’ve apologized many a time for that) or neglecting my writing time (a greater crime for writers). Never have I neglected an entire event centered on me that was promoted for several weeks, if not longer, beforehand. My only solace is the library is too nice to make me wear the proverbial bag of shame over my head whenever I’m there.

At the height of my metaphorical self-flagellation over this, I told myself I should just cut out everything that isn’t work or writing from my life to avoid more gaffs like this. Now that I’m in my right mind, I don’t think I’ll go that far. I’ll certainly put some thought into cutting back on some things, though. More importantly, I’m going to be smarter about remembering my own schedule. Put it on my calendar or in my iPhone as a reminder.

Or marry a secretary. 😛

The point is I can’t afford to make a mistake like this again. It was unprofessional and irresponsible. At least it only happened for relatively small event. If I forget Gen-Con….

So, be it known that future events will not sneak up on me like one of Master Heeyah’s ninjas. 😛

Leap Day Blog: It’s Not Easy, Being a Dreamer

Yes, I promised I’d post two blogs Thursday. I didn’t get around to the second. I felt bad. Then I realized Monday was Leap Day. I couldn’t miss a chance to post something on a day that only comes once every four years. So, here’s the bonus blog. 😛

Anyway…

I’m a dreamer living in a world that seems hostile toward such people. I’m not the only one, though. I’ve heard many stories about artists (though dreamers can also be scientists and missionaries, etc.) in particular who grew up in blue collar families/communities and were discouraged from pursuing their passions. “Get a real job!” they’d be told. They didn’t understand the dreamers’ aspirations, their desire to do extraordinary things. No, these naysayers knew only of clocking in and out at their easily understood and quantifiable jobs and bringing home a paycheck.

I don’t say this to demean blue collar (or white collar) types. In fact, I admire their work ethic and down-to-earth attitudes. Many, if not most, are full of common sense and free of the delusions that pervade certain demographics of society.

However, oftentimes they are so down-to-earth, they can’t understand people who, for lack of a better term, has their heads in the clouds. Actors, writers, and directors, to name a few, often came from families like this who, at best, tolerated their kids’ unusual interests or, at worst, tried to force them into the “normal” mold. This was usually done with good intentions—wanting to make sure their kids could provide for themselves—but it came at the expense of crushing their children’s souls. It was a forced denial of who they were. It made the dreamers live while dying inside.

I know this from experience. My father has a blue collar mentality. When I said I wanted to go to college to study writing, he was supportive. He even helped pay for it. But then a couple years ago, he revealed to me that when I made that decision, he thought I was crazy. He didn’t think I could make it as a writer. I was flabbergasted, disappointed, angry. This was the man who, just a few years before, read my first novel, Pandora’s Box, and liked it; who read my newspaper articles and thought I was an ideal journalist because I didn’t put any biased spin in them. It was, to say the least, a bit of a blow, especially since I was (and am) a struggling artist.

My theory is people like this don’t understand dreamers for two reasons: 1) The dreamer’s path to success is more abstract, less direct, and less certain, and 2) the dreamer’s aspirations and goals are too “pie-in-the-sky.” Going to a factory or office and putting in one’s eight-hour shift is simple and direct. The most such workers have to think about is perhaps moving up in the company and/or getting a raise. Dreamers have to take risks and think outside the box. Someone who aspires to start a nonprofit to, say, help inner city kids has to do fundraisers. Writers have to submit stories to publishers and agents. Actors have to attend auditions. In all these cases, there’s no guarantee of success, and initial success doesn’t always guarantee ongoing success. They don’t get paid a salary or an hourly wage. The closest equivalent are independent contractors. It’s also usually a slow, gradual process to becoming “successful” for the dreamer. This is why most, including myself, hold down “day jobs” until they reach a point where they earn a living doing their “unorthodox” dream jobs. These aren’t usually the most glamorous or high-paying of day jobs, which doesn’t reflect well on the dreamers. (I’ve heard many stories of now-famous actors who worked at restaurants until they became successful).

Dreamers walk difficult roads, but if they stick it out, the results not only include a satisfying career for them, but changed lives for many others. Nonprofit organizations save lives. Writers and artists entertain and, most importantly, enlighten audiences with their art (if done right). Actors can do the same. The notoriety they gain through these can give them platforms from which they can do other great works.

This is why I’m a dreamer. This is why I support dreamers.

If you’re a dreamer, don’t give up!

If you know dreamers, I hope you will encourage them.

Are you a dreamer? If so, what are your “lofty” aspirations?

Writers are Sadists

While I don't hate Steven Moffat, he certainly has a reputation for torturing characters (and audiences).  (Image courtesy of Pinterest).
While I don’t hate Steven Moffat, he certainly has a reputation for torturing characters (and audiences). (Image courtesy of Pinterest).

I’ve missed a Thursday or three in my weekly posts the last few months. I should be flogged for that. I’ll probably have to find anorther writer to perform said flogging. Why?

Writers are sadists.

Well, most writers are sadists. Well, closet sadists. (Hear me saying that as the 10th Doctor?)

I’d define a sadist as someone who takes pleasure in the suffering of others. Now, generally speaking, I’d consider sadists to be terrible people (trust me, I’ve dealt with a few). But when you’re a writer—or even just a reader—you have to be one. Sorta.

The backbone of a plot is conflict (and there are nine of them). Without conflict, there is no story. What are essential ingredients for conflict? Trouble, misery, strife, and pain, to name a few. Characters must fight each other, overcome impossible odds, or battle forces (seemingly) beyond their control. As my friend Nick Hayden pointed out: “If a protagonist wakes up fully rested, eats breakfast, enjoys his day at work, comes home to his lovely wife and kids, fiddles on some project, and goes to bed, we might think one of two things: 1.) This is a terrible story. 2.) Uh-oh, everything’s going to hit the fan soon.”

When I attend writers’ meetings—particularly Children of the Wells creative meetings—I’m astonished at how much time writers spend figuring out how to make their characters miserable. Take my novel, Pandora’s Box, for example. I gave Pvt. Brewer the happiest life—career, family, fiancé—much of which she worked hard to get (there’s conflict), but then I took it all away in one fell swoop. If I hadn’t, the book would’ve ended in a few chapters or been terribly boring (like Pamela by Samuel Richardson, a 500-page book I had to slog through in a week during college). I rarely, if ever, wish such misery on people I know, yet I go out of my way to make my brainchildren borderline manic depressants. Yet that’s what makes their triumphs that much more satisfying. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, called this a eucatastrophe: “…the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears….”

This was one of my problems with modern Christian authors for a long time: they were afraid to make characters miserable or include true suffering in their works (at least when it wasn’t an attempt at proselytizing). That’s why their stories didn’t resound with people. I determined when I started writing that I wouldn’t do that. I’m the kind of writer who puts his characters through Hell so their victory at the end is sweeter. I love those “eucatastrophe” moments. It makes the journey all worthwhile.

Perhaps that means writers like me aren’t necessarily sadists. We want our characters to be happy—they just have to survive long enough to reach the ending. (Get it? “Happy ending”? Never mind).