Tag Archives: writing

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?

Wonder Woman and Getting Characters Right

DC Comics hasn’t had much luck with movies lately. They’ve been striving to catch up with Marvel Comics’ unsurpassed cinematic universe with several films of their own—with mixed results. Then this past weekend Wonder Woman was released. A lot was riding on it. It was the first female-led superhero film in 12 years (and none of the others were successes). It was the first time Wonder Woman was ever on the big screen. DC desperately needed a film to save their “extended universe.”

And it was, well, wonderful.

This blog isn’t a review of the film. What I want to talk about is the first and most important reason why I think this film succeeded. It’s something that took DC’s film division four tries to learn, and it’s something you as a writer can benefit from knowing.

Get your characters right.

One of the major problems the DCEU films have had is they’ve tried so hard to reimagine and/or “modernize” their already iconic characters that they’ve almost ceased to be those characters. Superman is brooding and doubtful. Batman is paranoid and murderous. And don’t even get me started on the Joker.

Here, though, DC doesn’t screw around. They present Wonder Woman—a character I’m sure they were too scared for years to put on screen—as she should be: earnest, inspirational, and above all, compassionate. I’ve not read many Wonder Woman comics (though I suddenly want to read more now), but I’ve always thought that she was written best when she was written as I just described. Yes, she is an Amazon warrior. Her strength rivals Superman’s and her fighting prowess probably exceeds Batman’s. But hers is a distinctly feminine strength. Her drive to fight comes from a desire to comfort and protect. In the film, she witnesses the horrors of war, seeing wounded soldiers and civilians, and without speaking a word, the audience knows her heart is breaking. She’s naïve, but she’s not brooding, doubtful, or murderous. It’s a welcome change from what DC’s been doing with their films.

Along the same lines, this film isn’t steeped in feminist propaganda. By that I mean making all the men in the film worthless idiots (like what was done in last year’s horrid Ghostbusters remake). Wonder Woman is determined to forge ahead and make her own way, but she gladly seeks and accepts help from men. The male characters, especially Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), are all strong, competent, and well-written characters. Wonder Woman even (gasp!) falls in love with one of them and (SPOILER WARNING) renews her faith in humanity because Trevor told her he loved her before dying heroically. In other words, Wonder Woman saw the best of mankind thanks to men.

Let this be a lesson to you, writers: believe in your characters and let them be true to themselves. Don’t let culture or trends dictate how you write them. That’s a one-way ticket to cookie-cutter clichés. Write the characters you want to write. Make them unique. Make them your own. What audiences want isn’t always what they need, or even what they want in the long run. That’s why you need to let your characters be true to themselves, and by extension, you remain true to yourself as an artist and storyteller.

What did you think of Wonder Woman? What are some ways you’ve learned on how to write your characters right?

My Writing, My Identity

Should I even apologize for neglecting to blog? It’s becoming a bad habit. Sorry, True Believers!

Part of the reason for my absence lately is my increasing busyness. I’ve written often about time management, and while some of my busyness is my own doing, much of it lately has been thrust upon me by outside forces. Most notably, my “day job.” Whenever people quit or are unavailable—as has been happening recently—it invariably throws more responsibility on me because I’m competent, reliable, and available. It’s supposed to be a part-time job, but I’ve been getting full-time hours (which has led me to call it “my part-time full-time job”). This has eaten into my writing time like Pac-Man would an apple.

I’m not happy at my day job.

There, I said it.

I took this job thinking it would be temporary and would allow me time to pursue my true passions. While I’m grateful to have the steady income and enjoy (most of) my co-workers, I feel like I’m not doing what God created me to do. When I have to work long hours and lose writing time, I feel this most potently. I get annoyed when people see me not as a writer, an author, an artist, and/or a creator but as my day job. I don’t care if it’s, unfortunately, where the majority of my time is going. It does not define me. It is not what I want to be doing. If I had my way, I’d be living like most of the great writers, who spend eight hours a day working away on their craft.

As you would expect, I’ve been reflecting on my identity. I think of myself as a writer. That’s what I tell people I do for a living. Yes, I add that I’m working a part-time day job until I can write full-time, but writing is always mentioned first and foremost. That’s why I hate when I have weeks (or months) where the day job consumes more of my time. I start to feel like I’m lying to people. Most of all, I fear complacency will seize me, and I’ll stop writing, resigned to the humdrum of my daily labor.

However, in order to have a healthy identity, I believe, one must have a multifaceted one. I’m not just a writer. I want that to be a bigger part of me (and I do believe it is already a big part), but it isn’t all of my identity. Lisa Edelstein said in the movie Keeping the Faith, “I am many things, no one thing defines me.” (FYI, I found that quotation with a Google search. I’ve not seen the movie). I’m also a Christian, a man, a brother, a son, a conservative, a gamer, and a ballroom dancer, among many others. By having so many smaller identities within my larger one, it prevents me from becoming totally dependent on any one of them for my self-worth. I could, God forbid, be in a car accident tomorrow that damages my hands or my brain, thereby robbing me of the ability to write. It would be devastating, but hopefully once the dust of grief settled, I’d have other things to fall back on to form a new identity.

In the meantime, I’m gonna keep fighting to preserve and protect my writing time!

What facets make up your identity? Are you too dependent on one or two? If you’re a writer, what else are you? How would you cope with losing part of identity?

The Spark of Madness

 

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. And if you lose that…you’re nothing.”

This was said by the late, great Robin Williams during one of his stand-up routines in the late 1970s. It started making the rounds again shortly after his death a few years ago, which was when I saw it. The routine was strangely ironic yet fitting because Mr. Williams was pretending to be himself as an old man.

All of that aside, what struck me were the words themselves. I’ve mulled them over in my mind many times since hearing them. They communicate something that, at least to me, is both obvious and yet hard to explain. They resound with me as an artist and raging creative. Considering I’m “weird” even compared to some of my fellow artists, I found those words even more poignant.

Artists—whether they be painters, writers, dancers, etc.—simply don’t think like everyone else. Their minds entertain all sorts of unusual possibilities. They revel in ideas and concepts. They obsess over how to explore those ideas in new ways. This makes them difficult to understand and, at times, to appreciate. Just think about the countless stories about young filmmakers or authors who grew up with blue collar parents who didn’t understand how their creative children could make a living with their art. Often they would pressure them to not pursue their dreams in favor of something “normal.” This would often force those artists to squelch their creativity and personality, making them deny who they were.

As a Christian, I believe I serve a creative God. He made mankind in His image. Part of that image is creativity. The “little spark of madness” Robin Williams spoke of? I think that’s a piece of the “divine spark”—the “breath of life,” as Genesis puts it—imbued into each human being by God Himself. To ignore this spark, to bury it, to “hide it under a bushel” (as the old song says), is tantamount to denying God, and by extension, reduces a human being to a machine.

As Mr. Williams said, it’s only a “little spark,” which I would say is a tiny piece of the overabundance of creativity possessed by God. He generously shares it with humans. But because of that, it is fragile and can be lost. Too often the world berates those who are creative, whether out of fear or jealousy or something else, not realizing that their personal little worlds are touched and enhanced by art. How often do those people come home from a long day at work and watch TV or Netflix? Without artists, there would be no content for them to consume. Even those who are Christians sometimes fail to see that God didn’t create a strictly utilitarian universe. A quick look out their window would show them this. For example, leaves turn bright colors in autumn not just because their chlorophyll is depleted in preparation for winter, but because God wanted that time of year to look like a unique, earthy tapestry.

If you’re a creative, you owe it to yourself to hold onto that “little spark of madness.” Don’t let anyone take it from you. That may be hard to do, but in the end, you’ll be doing yourself and others a tremendous favor. Art enhances life, and artists are the means by which that art can touch the world.

What advice would you give those who want to retain their “little spark of madness”?

Hacked and Slashed

Here’s my first proper blog in two weeks. If you’ve been following my Facebook page, I said that my website was shut down by my host because it was hacked. It affected not only me, but Nick Hayden’s website, the Derailed Trains of Thought podcast website, and the Children of the Wells website. To make matters worse, this happened when Nick went on vacation and when he went to a youth conference with his church and when all of our domain names came up for renewal! In other words, I was out a lot of money getting all this crap sorted out—and right before Gen-Con to boot. (Speaking of which, I’m writing this blog from the Hyatt Regency, where I’m staying for Gen-Con).

Thankfully, as you can see, my website is up and running again. We’re all still working out some bugs, but everything seems to be fine. We’re considering moving to a new website host, but no decision has been made yet.

This is the latest in a series of setbacks I’ve been having with my writing career of late. GigaGeek Magazine doesn’t update much anymore, Exaimer.com shut down (all of my content there is gone), and I’ve been inactive so long at IPFW (where I want to get a teaching assistanceship to pay for M.A. in English) that I have to re-apply. Even then, there’s no guarantee I’ll get a T.A. position, and I refuse to take out more student loans. The former will require me to find more clients to freelance for. Honestly, I worked with Giga as a means of building my resume and creating something from the ground up; I wasn’t paid for my content. From now on, I’m not doing that. As a wise (and mad) man once said,

These sorts of things are depressing. I knew the writer’s life would be hard—I was warned of that in college—but I still expected I’d be doing better than this. This will require that I reassess what I’m doing and how I do it. I started the year feeling like God was giving me a positive vision for 2016. Stuff like this has made me question that. But the year is not over. While last year’s Gen-Con was so good, I’m unsure this year’s show will live up to it, I’ve still had decent sales today (the first day). Once I recover from this harrowing but exuberating weekend, I’m going to make new strategies for how to go about my writing. Don’t worry: I’ll still keep publishing books (I have a few forthcoming). However, if there’s one thing I can say for sure will happen before 2017, it’ll be change. That’s been the common theme I’ve gotten from most of my friends when I talk to them about this stuff. I think God is trying to tell me something. Perhaps He ripping the “training wheels” off, so to speak, so I can progress to a new level in my life and career.

I’m confident I can get more work as a writer. After all…

I made this meme myself! :)
I made this meme myself! 🙂

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!

Are Extroverted Writers at a Disadvantage?

I do a Google search for “extroverted writer” and discover that an old TUFW classmate has a book on the subject. Who knew?

I sometimes wonder if my writing is hampered by my own personality. What do I mean by that? The fact that I’m an extrovert.

Traditionally, writers are seen as introverts. It’s not surprising since they have to retreat into their office (or, as I like to call it, the “Fortress of Solitude”) away from people and other distractions so they can pound out their daily word count. Writing is a lonely art and profession. That’s why it seemed best-suited for introverts, who thrive in such an environment. This isn’t to say there are no extroverted writers. Just look at journalists. They’re always out and about looking for material.

But then you have those rare birds like me who are extroverted but also filled with stories to tell. It does have its advantages (I’m a pretty good salesman and enjoy networking), but I can be pulled away from actually writing if offered hang-out time. That’s partly why I had to institute a new plan for how much material I could produce. It doesn’t help that I’ve seemingly become popular lately. This weekend alone I have several friends, my old English/writing professor, and family who want my attention this weekend. In anticipation of this, I’ve been scrambling to get stuff done while also going to my day job, so you can imagine how stressful that can be. Admittedly, most of these deadlines are self-imposed, but they nonetheless hang over me. (I’m particularly disappointed I haven’t made a new “But I Digress…” episode in a month).

To use the old adage, it seems like I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Either I produce new material but miss out on social activities or I socialize to reenergize myself but get nothing done. I can’t quite combine both activities (if you know how, please tell me!). What makes it doubly difficult is, as an extrovert, I’m more easily drawn to being around other people, and by extension taken away from my work. That isn’t to say that I don’t love my work, because I do. I’m a storyteller by nature. But I also know that if I didn’t have the discipline to say, “No,” sometimes—indeed, oftentimes—I’d never get anything written.

Yet as I type those words, I’m reminded that procrastination is a common problem for most writers. I’ve read many articles talking about how writers will often find anything else to do besides writing, how they’ll come up with excuses not to do it. It could even be important things like chores that need done. And as I mentioned above, the majority of writers are introverts, so even they’re guilty of not getting work done. They just have different reasons.

What do you, True Believers? Are extroverted writers at a disadvantage compared to their introverted peers? Do need to take special steps to remain productive in a normally solitary profession? What are those steps? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Alma-Con and My New Writing Regimen

He kinda looks like me…if I was skinnier than a bean pole. 😛
Just a quick blog today since I’m busier than a workaholic. At least that’s how it feels. But that’s a story for another time.

First, I want to announce that I plan, schedule permitting, to attend Alma-Con in Alma, Michigan, February 5-7. My friend/co-author Eric Anderson will be running a table for his ministry Nerd Chapel in the vendor’s hall, where he will also be selling our devotional, 42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom. I’ll be there helping him with his table and a worship service he plans to have that Sunday. Feel free to come see us.

Now on to the main thrust of this blog.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I need to manage my writing time better, especially when I keep getting projects thrown at me and/or I bite off more than I can chew. So, in light of this, I wanted to share with you what I think should be a reasonable amount of material you can expect from me. It may take me a bit of time to get used to this new schedule, so don’t expect me to get into the rhythm immediately. I also reserve the right to change my output at any time.

Regardless, here it is:

-one (maybe two) articles a week for Examiner.
-at least two articles a month for GigaGeek Magazine.
-one (maybe two) blogs a week on my website.
-one “But I Digress…” video a month (with intermittent “Digression” videos as they come to me).

These are the things I want to do with regularity. I’m seeking other freelance opportunities while also writing books, among other things.

Did I mention I’m crazy?

I Should Be Writing, Not Blogging!

It’s been one of those days. Or weeks. Or months.

Not only have I let my writing projects pile up higher than the stack of comics I needed to buy at my local shop (it’s what happens when you neglect to pick them up for two months), but somehow everyone and his dog’s cousin is vying for my attention. I have friends who want to hang out just because, for their birthdays, etc. I sometimes run errands for my family or spend time with them. I have my increasingly demanding “day job.” I have hobbies I try to enjoy now and then.

All of this is eating into my precious writing time. I haven’t penned a word in the next Children of the Wells novella in a month, nor have I touched Hope’s War for a long time. My last Examiner article was in December. Yet here I am firing off a quick little blog because I resolved to be more consistent with posting content on my website. Blogging should be secondary to all my other writings.

I’ve heard that a writer should never blog about how he hasn’t been writing much. I broke that “rule” a long time ago, unfortunately. Besides, I hope I can use it as a lesson for aspiring writers.

Learn to say, “No.”

It’s totally okay to do that.

You’re only one person. You can’t do everything. If you want to be successful at anything—especially writing—it will take sacrifice. You’ll have to turn down many things, even good things, so that you can squeeze in that daily goal of 1,000 words or whatnot. You’ll probably upset some people, but the ones who love you most will understand. In fact, they may eventually adjust their expectations and schedules to better accommodate your goals.

I’m not sure how I became as “popular” as I am. I do, however, know that what I do with my time is my choice. I have no one to blame but myself if I miss a deadline or don’t get something done. I have an active mind that seeks as many creative outlets as possible. I’m also a bit of a weird writer in that I’m extroverted and have to come out of my writer-ly solitude to be with others. All of those things together can create a lot of tension. What am I saying? I know it does because I’m experiencing it right now!

That’s why saying, “No,” is an important skill to have. You can’t please everyone, no matter how hard you try. You have to learn to make priorities and stick to them. Otherwise, you’ll lose your mind. I’m sure most loony bins have wards set aside for writers and other creatives who went crazy. You’ll have plenty of collaborators and time to write, but I doubt anyone will publish you. 😛

Anyway, I have places to go, stuff to do, people to kill. (Wait…did I say that out loud?)