On Realizing One’s Britches Are Too Tight

I’ve been avoiding submitting The Book to small presses.  I was thinking about it, and I realized my reasons are dumb.

I’ve been holding out on the small presses because “I want a Big 5 deal.”  Well, look who’s a little big for his britches!  Yep, that’s me.

I still think it’s possible to get that deal. But to get a Big 5 deal, you must first have an agent.  And that hasn’t been working out so well.  I’m sure there’s one out there for me, but I’m not there yet.

I know my book is good.  More than one person whose opinion I trust has read it and said it’s good.  But “good” doesn’t mean a large publisher will be willing to take a chance.  A smaller publisher might.  Still no guarantees, but you never know.

Thinking on all this, I recalled that an author I admire made her first sale to a small press, and has now published more than 20 books, most of them with my dream publisher.

So I’m going to sub to agents, until I get one.  And I’m going to sub to the relatively few Big Houses that take unagented subs for SFF.  But I’m also going to add the small presses, because who knows?  Maybe they’ll take a chance on it.

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Our New Kitten

I hesitate to include posts like this sometimes, but he’s so cute.

loki

You wish you had a cat this cute

Meet Loki.  Loki is only five weeks old, but he was found stuck in a fence and turned in to the veterinary office where my sister works.  She couldn’t keep him, but we could, so he’s now nominally Tegan’s kitty (but really spends about as much time with Elli and I).  He’s a cutey, of course, and his run makes us burst out laughing every time.

I had some internal misgivings about adopting another cat–we already had three, and we long ago decided to stop acquiring new ones and letting attrition take us back down to two.  But he needed a home, and he’s very sweet, so I no longer have any problems with it.

He’s a good boy, too–uses his litter box and everything.  The other cats tolerate him, but aren’t ready to make friends yet.  But at least none of them are outright attacking him.  It’s all posturing and hissing.

Anyway, I’ve got essays to grade, so I’ll see you all on the other side of hell.

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How I Smashed Through the Wall of Writer’s Block (This time)

Sometimes, a story just won’t gel.  Usually, that seems to indicate the story just isn’t ready.  You need to do more research, or think on the story, or something.

I’ve been stuck in that spot for months, with several competing ideas swirling around my writer brain, but none of them ready to actually start writing.  Some of the ideas were compelling, but I couldn’t seem to make an entire novel’s plot out of them.

I complained about this to my Viable Paradise classmates, and they reminded me of something Teresa Nielsen Hayden told us at VP17: If you have a few ideas that aren’t working out, try smushing two or more of them together.

Holy shit.  It suddenly became clear that several of these ideas can actually coexist as part of an epic Space Opera.

In the aftermath of an attack in which his entire family was killed, Prince Shin Kincaid attempts to reclaim the throne he never thought he’d inherit–and finally grows up along the way.  Disgraced soldier Alua Ten is trying to save Shin’s life and serve the Empire she once loved.  A couple of infamous thieves are each trying to steal an important artifact before the other gets it–on a time limit, and while a corrupt cop is chasing them both. Several Interstellar Nations are being invaded by a seemingly invisible enemy that can turn their own people against them. And The Witness watches it all, as he searches for the alien race that made him immortal, so he can ask them to finally let him die after all these millennia of watching humanity make the same mistakes over and over again.

All of these stories are linked, in ways both big and small.

I’ve always wanted to write something on the scale of Peter Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy.  If I can pull all these plot threads together in a way that makes sense, I will finally be able to make that happen.

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Career Bullshit

I have given thought, in recent years, to leaving teaching.  It’s not that I hate working with teens, or hate the job itself, but I do hate a lot of the nonsense that goes with teaching:

  • Administrators who are more concerned with looking effective than they are with actually doing anything to improve the school.
  • The tendency these days to let kids get away with murder, but slam teachers for the slightest issue or mistake (hasn’t happened to me yet, but to colleagues, yes).
  • The social scapegoating of teachers as the problem in American Education, rather than focus on actual issues.  Do you have any idea how demoralizing it is to see people shit all over you and your coworkers day in and day out?
  • The relative low pay (sure, I get paid ok, but seriously, for the education I’m required to maintain, and the stress-level of the work, it’s not great).*

The last few years, I’ve had awful classes, which piled more and more stress on top of the usual job-related load.  This year, my classes aren’t so bad, but for other reasons I can’t get into in a public place with my name attached, the job isn’t going great for me.

So I’ve tried to look at other job possibilities, and you know what?  They’re terrible.

I’m 45 years old, and I’ve been a teacher for eleven years.  I’m qualified for a great deal of jobs who won’t even give me the time of day, because they don’t want to consider that eleven years of teaching writing is pretty much equivalent to three years of writing low-level brochure text.  Or they don’t want a middle-aged guy when what they’re really looking for is a twenty-something who will devote 99% of his time to the job.

Added to this, I can’t really take a job where my pay would be less than I earn now without causing my family a great deal of stress.  And we’d like to move in the next few years; upgrade to a better place in a better location.  Not going to happen if I leave for even worse pay.

So, option two: Sell some books.  Except that isn’t working out so well, and may never change.

Anyway, this is why I’m pretty unable to seem upbeat lately.  I feel like I’m carrying too many loads.

*If you’re tempted to get all high-and-mighty and inform me that I do get paid well considering I “only” work ten months, let me point out that I have a BA and three years of post-grad work, and I get paid half of what my wife makes with no college degree.  If it were just because I don’t work for two months of the year, I’d make more.  Also, quite frankly, what I do is much more important to our society than what most people do. Why are we paid so little?

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The Difficulty of Living For Me

Elli made an observation this morning, in the middle of a larger conversation, that is reverberating in my brain today.

She pointed out that when I need to do something for the family, or work, I get it done.  But when it’s something for myself, like fiddle lessons, or losing weight, or getting some time away from home doing fun things, I don’t follow through.

She’s not wrong.  And part of that a very family-focused mentality, but it’s also a self-esteem issue.  On a deep level I can’t seem to get through, I don’t think much of myself.  No matter how I act, I see myself as wanting in every way.  So why should I cost my family money so I can learn to play the violin better?  I don’t deserve that.  Why should I go to movies, or have a night out?  I don’t deserve it.

And it’s really hard to break through that, because you guessed it: Why should I?  It isn’t worth it for me.

I’m trying to break free of this, but it’s a habit of mind that I’ve been living with for forty years now, and the neural pathways were laid when I was much, much younger, when I lived with my adopted family.

It’s hard to shed a toxic family, even when it’s been 27 years since you spoke to any of them.

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On Becoming the Johnston Family Archivist

I was just delivered a treasure trove. My late Uncle Michael had decided I should have the Johnston family records and paraphernalia, and my Aunt Kaye sent it to me this week.
 
This is an amazing treasure trove of documents, from pictures of my dad and uncle as kids, to pictures of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and even further back into the 19th century. There are newspaper clippings from V-E and V-J days, from FDR’s death and Kennedy’s assassination, as well as many clippings from a huge flood that hit Kansas City in 1951.
 
Best of all, there are letters, not only between my grandfather and his mother, but between my great-grandmother and my great-grandfather, dating to the literal turn of the century–one of the letters is dated 1900.
 
I’m looking forward to spending more time with this archive, and protecting the papers within it.
 
All my life, I’ve been connected to my mother’s family, but keenly felt the lack of knowledge of the other side of my being. Over the last few years, as I met Michael, and found my brother, I’ve become more and more steeped in the history of my dad’s family. It’s somewhat overwhelming.
 
There are lots of people who are holding on to the stories and archives of my mom’s family, myself included. But with my dad’s family, I’m it. There are others connected, of course–my dad and uncle had cousins, and the Johnston clan is all over this country. But my particular branch, my dad’s branch, there isn’t anyone left now but my brother and I, and those who come after us.
It’s humbling.
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The Things That Get In Our Way

Arthur Dent said it best: “I seem to be having this terrible difficulty with my lifestyle.”

My daily routine is to get up, help get my child up, and on some days take her to school.  When the work day ends, I pick her up.  I’m supposed to go to the Y, work out while she does her homework, then head home.  But I never seem to do that.

There’s always something that needs to be done, you see.  An errand I need to run, a car to pick up from the shop, a package to mail.  And then there’s a solid 30-45 minutes of traffic to get home. So I don’t go.

So I’m still fat.

I need to either get my days under control, and go to the gym, or I need to suck it up and go back on Medifast.  I am sick to death of carrying this extra 80 pounds around, and I want it gone.  Changing eating has helped, but not enough–I simply need more exercise.

This kind of thing gets in the way of writing, too.  There’s homework to help with, papers to grade, and when it’s all done, my brain is not at all interested in letting me create fiction.  Who cares where Azhan and Jasen are?  Who cares that Ereka is a prisoner of the Dalken Ro, and why should I figure out how she escapes? It’s much easier to sleep, or play a game, or watch something fun.

And who really gives a crap about the Zhen Empire and its people?

I’m working on ways around my daily errands and such, but it isn’t easy.  If you have a suggestion that doesn’t involve getting up at 5am to write (I am NOT a morning person, no matter how much it may seem otherwise once I’m actually awake), feel free to sling it my way.

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