What I Need to Keep Writing: A Realization and a Resolution (and a tiny bit of whining)

When I attended Viable Paradise 17, back in 2013, I got a massive shot of “YES, YOU COULD BE A PROFESSIONAL WRITER OF FICTION” juice.  And that kept me going, when I got home, so that it took me about another year to finish the book, even accounting for all the rewrites required by what I’d learned at VP.

At that point, my self-confidence was flagging.  Surely, this book sucked.  Nothing any of the pros at VP had said about the book, or about my skill, was real.  They were just being nice.  So I sent the book out to Beta, and while I got some feedback that was critical of elements of the book, most of them were also quite complimentary, with a running comment being variations of “If I’d bought this in a bookstore, I’d consider it money well spent.”  That renewed my self-belief, and I spent a few months rewriting and editing quite happily, and polished it up.  Then I sent it out to agents.

I’ve talked before about how the agent submission process is long and often debilitating. Nothing has changed. And so, my “Writer self-belief” is now at an all-time low.  And I’m finding myself working on a new project, but unable to actually write.  I’ve got an outline; I know the shape of the plot… and it’s going precisely nowhere.

I am realizing that I am a writer who needs semi-regular bolstering of my belief in myself.  Which is lame, but there it is. I need to do more writing-related activities, at least once a year or so, to keep my belief in this path going.  Otherwise I crawl into a hole and stop writing, which drives me insane.  I want to write.  I maybe even need to write.  But if I’m not doing it, I lose the thread.

So: In the short term, more talking to my VP friends.  In the long term: Paradise Lost next year.  Maybe even Taos Toolbox.

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My Dream Cast for The Book

If I had unlimited finances and the ability to make a movie of my probably-never-to-be-published Seeking Home, I’d cast:

Tajen Hunt: Nathan Fillion

Katherine Lawson: Ming-Na Wen

Takeshi Lawson: Leonardo Nam

Liam Maxwell: Ryan Reynolds OR Matt Bomer OR Chris Pratt

Kiri Hunt: Molly C. Quinn (though she’s probably too old now)

Ben: August Schellenburg (But he’s dead now, so … hrm… Graham Greene?)

Quince: John de Lancie

Yeah, they’re all a bit too pretty, but they’re often the actors who inspired the characters in my brain.

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That Time I Yelled At My Kid in Public: A Story of Parenting In Progress

I haven’t been posting much, because aside from “Where I am now in my interminable monkeying with this new project I haven’t actually gotten ready to write yet,” I haven’t felt like I had much to say.

And then I remembered that one of the things I most love about Harlan Ellison–and yes, I get that he’s made mistakes, he’s still a brilliant writer, let’s move on–is his ability and willingness to expose his viscera in his introductions.

Well, if he can do it, I can, right?  I guess we’ll see.  So here, have an anecdote from an incident that happened a few years ago, and why it illustrates what I most love about my family:

Sometimes, parenting is hard.  Sometimes it’s even harder.

When my daughter was five or so, she and I went camping with my family–my aunt, my uncle, my sisters, and some family friends who are basically family.  Tegan did great the first day, on the drive up to the campsite, and she had fun that first night, but on the second day she got hit with a bout of “I want my mama.”

Now, Tegan is what most people would call “stubborn,” just like her mom and I, but which experts would call “Holy fuck, she must be Scottish!” She started needling me about how she wanted to go home, because she wanted her mom.  She just Would Not Stop.

At first, I was able to reason with her and handle it, but it got difficult really fast.  I was feeling overwhelmed by being the sole caretaker of her, being unable to relax, and dealing with her nearly-constant demands for this or that.  And after a good long while of hearing “I want to go home!” I was ready to burst.

Once more, I tried to reason with her.  Mama was having some quiet alone time, and we needed to let her have that.  We were having fun, and if she would just relax, and put her socks and shoes on for me, I’d take her to the playground, and we would have dinner, and then go to sleep, and we’d see mama tomorrow.

She was having none of it.

And finally, I snapped, and screamed “Knock it off!”

Now, when I say I screamed, I’m not telling you I raised my voice, and I didn’t yell.  I outright screamed, in a five year old child’s face, to knock it off.  At the top of my lungs.

Yeah. Parenting fail.

As soon as I did it, I knew I’d fucked up.  Her little face was in tears, and I was feeling like the biggest shithead in the universe, and the worst dad ever.  I couldn’t even dare to look away from her; I knew everyone would be looking at me in horror.

And then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and my aunt said, gently, “Take a breath,” and steered me back to everyone else.  And my sister Blair, took my daughter, and said “Hey, let’s go play and give dad a minute.”  And my sister Brooke handed me a beer, and said “Sit.”

Nobody lectured me.  Nobody said anything, except “It’s hard, sometimes, huh?” And I talked about feeling overwhelmed, and how I wasn’t sure how my daughter was going to grow up without hating me, because I just don’t have patience.  And the family friend told me stories about her losing it at her kids, and that they turned out pretty good (which they did).  And when Tegan came back, I gave her a hug, and she sat in my lap until it was time to eat, and gave me kisses.

That was the first time I ever really lost my temper with my kid.  I wish I could say it was the last, but that would be a lie.  But when it happens, I do what I did then–I apologize for losing my patience, and for making her afraid, and then deal with the actual problem.  I’m getting better now and heading off that kind of loss of temper and cooling down, but that’s a thing you learn over time–I wish I’d known it then, but I was still pretty new at the whole “parenting someone who can walk and talk and has her own mind and personality now” stage.

I just talked to Tegan about this incident–and she has no memory of it at all.  But she remembers other times, and she knows that my temper is a lot like hers–sometimes it gets the better of us, but we keep getting better at controlling it.

My daughter and I are super close.  She’s lost it at me, I’ve lost it at her, but when it happens, we handle it.  And we heal.

And the thing about my family that story illustrates is that we’re there for each other.  We don’t talk about how close we are, and we don’t generally say shit like “Family is Important,” but when the chips are down, we are there for each other.

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Writing is SO Weird: Plotting

I’m working on the plot for book 1 of my new project.  It’s going to be an Epic Space Opera, and while book 1 has a clear plot that is finished at the end, but the overarching story goes on for at least two more books.

Anyway, I have 23 chapters of story worked out.  It isn’t enough.  I’ve been wrestling with this, because there are clear holes in the story–not so much plot holes as discrepancies between the story-as-plotted and the story-I-want-to-tell.  For example, while the T’lari Alliance is part of the story notes, and that government has an agent who is a POV character according to my notes–the character wasn’t in a single chapter of my outline.

So today, driving to pick my daughter up, I realized I could change something in the last few chapters, and have a much stronger story.  But doing that would mean changing some things earlier in the book–things like character motivations, as well as what a particular character knows in the early part of the book.  And that change would necessitate even more changes, some of them to the basic bedrock of the plot

But in exchange for that effort, which fortunately isn’t that great, since all I have right now is outline notes, the plot makes more sense.

And even better, I have a place for the alien agent.  And a storyline for her that dovetails with two other characters, and their storyline dovetails with yet another character in a much more believable way, and oh right, now I have a rebellion against the guys who staged the coup in the first place, led by a presumed-dead Prince and a pissed-off Admiral, and supported by the villain’s own son.

Much more interesting.

Writing can be like that–often a change in one place makes another change necessary. And sometimes it’s like a hall of dominoes going down, one after the other, and leaving a much nicer picture in their place.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish this plot outline before I lose it.

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My Wasted Day, and the Fury it Spawned

I am so completely and utterly furious at my school administration and the district.

At 9:15am, my classroom door was opened by security, who said we had to evacuate to the gym. The teachers of D wing did our best to ensure the students moved to the gym as orderly as possible.

Fifteen minutes later, a school monitor walked into the gym and, without saying anything to the teachers, told students on one end of the gym to move out to the main building. Since we didn’t see him, we tried to stop the students from moving until he finally told us what was going on.

We then sat in lockdown for four hours while Sac PD did their thing. We were told a “suspicious object” had been found.

For the next four hours, the only way teachers knew anything about what was going on was by checking the news on our phones. Three hours in we got an update on our “emergency text” system; it said only “Thanks for your patience; we’ll update as soon as possible.”

BULLSHIT. They’re telling me that in those three hours, there was NOTHING they could tell us? Do these people not get that it’s ridiculously hard to keep students calm when we don’t know anything? As one student asked me, “Why are teachers LESS informed about this than the Sacramento Bee?”

We should have been told the “suspicious package” was a possible bomb. We should have been told when SacPD arrived on scene, when they deployed their little robot, and when they decided to detonate the object on school grounds. We were told NOTHING.

This administrative team is constantly blowing smoke up our asses about how much they respect our professionalism. And yet they treat us little better than they treat students. They have little to no actual respect for us.

Not related to today, but related to the problem: A colleague in my department caught one of her classes cheating on their final exams. She had proof. The five ringleaders got five hours of community service rather than the prescribed consequences from our student handbook. Yesterday one of them called the teacher a “fucking bitch” (to her face, in front of an admin) and only got a one-day suspension.

Similar things have been happening to me. I’ve got a kid who attended 19 of the 90 days of school in semester 1. She’s still enrolled despite our policies saying she should not be. She’s also an attitude with legs who told me this morning to “go fuck yourself” because I told her to stop cussing at another student and posturing to fight. Nothing was done about it.

I’ve got another kid who hasn’t turned in a single page of work all semester; he walks in and out of all his classes at whim, and has cussed out not only me, but all his other teachers AND the administrator who tried to deal with him. And NOTHING is being done about it.

And people wonder why I’m stressed out.

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Still Working, But Slowly

I’m still working on Rage Across the Stars, but it’s going very, very slowly.  I wish I could say it’s for good reasons, but it’s just that I’m having a hard time with it.

With Seeking Home (which is my new working title on what I used to call The Widening Gyre), I only had to deal with one POV.  The only thing the reader sees is what Tajen sees.  But with Rage, we’ve got at least four POVs to worry about, and three (or four, or maybe even five) separate-but-linked stories that all have to come together by the end of the book.  It’s a challenge, and it isn’t made any easier by the lack of “creative energy” I feel lately.

I’m not as much of an activist as many of my friends, but I’m plugged in to what’s going on, and I’m as dismayed as most moderate liberals with what’s going on in our country. While I don’t think Trump is going to destroy the US, I do find myself incredibly worried by the incremental rollback of rights and hard-fought victories we’ve fought for years–decades, even–to get.

More importantly, my students are worried.  I’ve been fielding many more questions than usual about politics.  Which means I’m spending some time every day assuaging their fears, or helping them find ways to help, etc.  And I’m also spending more energy trying to redirect them back to the class.  Which means that at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is use my brain.

It’s no wonder I get most of my fiction-writing done during vacations and the summer.

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New Project: Rage Across The Stars

So, The Remembrance War Book 1 has a new title, Seeking Home, which will hopefully work better as I continue to flog it (but of course not to agents who already passed on it under the old title).  But I need a palate cleanser, and also I don’t really want to start work on Book 2 unless I sell Book 1 (or decide to Indie-publish it).

So I’m starting work on a new saga.  Like The Remembrance War, this one is intended to tell a larger story, and like TRW, it’s Space Opera.  But where TRW is all told from the point of view of Tajen Hunt, this story will be told by multiple POV characters on a much larger canvas, encompassing an entire galaxy, five different interstellar governments, and over a thousand years.

Current Status: Plotting

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