Another Day in the Life of a (Freelance) Writer

(aka, my writing schedule as unemployed dude)

I do all of this talk about writing goals and how productive I plan on being and I know many people may think that I’m this extremely disciplined writer.  Obviously, judging from the number of blogs I write, interactions on Facebook, and tweets I make during the course of a day, that explains how I’m able to get so much writing done.  So I looked at how I wrote back in 2006 and as recently as 2009 to compare against how I write today.

7:00 a.m.  Stumble out of bed and head down to Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee Shop for a morning meeting.  I might as well set up an office there.  They now even call my name when I come in.

9:15 a.m.  Taunt Jason Sizemore via IM about me taking a mid morning nap.  Cause I can.

10:05 a.m.  Take my turn at Scrabble.  I’m already behind the 8 ball as I have 6 games pending to take my turn in.

10:30 a.m.  Off to library to research grants for my non-profit organization.  Will have to blog about that soon.

10:45 a.m.  Stuck in traffic.  The diva calls.  She, too, is in traffic and needed to kill time.  For the record, Chesya hates it when I refer to her as a diva.  Cause she’s not.  Really.  Just like K. Tempest Bradford isn’t the head of the black (writers) mafia.  Really.  Anyway, Chesya goes on a rant that ends with the words “I just want to beat him with a STFU stick.”  Somewhere in there, there needs to be a t-shirt made.

11:00 a.m.  Okay, this Scrabble game is in a dead heat.  Impatiently waiting for Monica Valentinelli to take her next turn since it will decide the game.

1:00 p.m.  I need to work out a few plot problems in the novel I’m working on.

1:30 p.m.  Wake up from my nap.

1:40 p.m.  Manage five separate IM conversations.  Apparently I’m the work wife of Jason Sizemore.  And I find time to wind Chesya up on the latest bit of stupid to be found on the internet.

1:50 p.m.  It dawns on me that I need to eat.  We’ll just call this the mid-afternoon breakfast.

2:00 p.m.  I remind my agent that he’s an enabler, as he can’t nudge me about any upcoming deadlines and remind me that it’s my turn at our Scrabble game in the same conversation.

2:15 p.m.  I need to work through a bout of writer’s angst.  So I maniacally do two loads of laundry and a load of dishes.

3:10 p.m.  Once again, I’m late picking up the boys from school.

3:35 p.m. The boys challenge me to a game of Blitz on the Game Cube.

5:20 p.m.  The garage door goes up, meaning Sally’s home.  I throw some papers on the floor to make it look like I was helping the boys with their homework.  Sally reminds me to at least turn off the television screen if I’m going to do that.

5:50 pm.  Sally and the boys work on building a gingerbread house while I fix dinner.  Since no one could make up their mind what they wanted, it’s sloppy joes, tacos, and pork chops night.  Which gets me out of cooking tomorrow as we’ll be having pork chops, tacos, and sloppy joes leftovers.

6:30 p.m.  MOVIE NIGHT!  Somehow Jurassic Park II gets chosen.  This is what happens when I have an ill-timed run to the bathroom.

9:45 p.m. Finally, everyone has gone to bed.  I can take my turns at Scrabble

12:05 a.m. I’m out of procrastination excuses.  Time to settle in and write.

3:50 a.m. Three thousand words.  Not bad.

Now THAT’S how you get some writing done.

Writing Goals 2011

As the end of the year draws near, now’s a great opportunity to take stock of the year that was even as we look ahead to the new year. I’m a goal oriented person and as a function of trying to remain hungry and ambitious (since I know if I don’t stay that way, I won’t make any forward progress in my career as a writer), I like to set goals. I prefer to set goals rather than make resolutions. Resolutions are cheap promises that I’m prone to breaking at my earliest convenience. Goals are something to work toward.

Your goals should be measurable, meaningful, and attainable.  I don’t set benchmarks like “write X hours per day” because that’s not the way I write.  But I do measure myself by number of completed projects.  And because this is the internet, my goals for last year will remain forever.  So let’s see how well I did:

So my goals for next year? I need to do any revisions required for King Maker and King’s Justice as well as write King’s War. Currently, I have eight stories out and about searching for homes. I’d like to write a half dozen more. I have other novels I hope to write (one a collaboration, one an expansion on a short story). I’d still like to revise that screenplay. I have two novellas percolating in the back of my head). And I’d like to make a comic book pitch.

On the Complete Fail side of the ledger, I blew working on the screenplay, novellas, comic book pitch, and novelization of my short story.  And I fell short of my goal of a half dozen new short stories having completed only three, though one has already sold:  I Can Transform You (co-written with Jason Sizemore), The Cracker Trap, In Receipt of Fern Seed, The Problem of Trystan (sold to the anthology Hot and Steamy:  Tales of Steampunk Romance).

I try to keep a dozen short stories “out there” in search of homes.  Currently I’m at ten.

I also am not a slave to my goals.  It’s best to always allow for the unexpected and have the flexibility to grab opportunities when they come up.  Thus the ghost writing projects that I completed as well as work on the Leverage RPG.

For 2011, I want to challenge myself a little more to continue to capitalize on whatever career momentum I may be experiencing. I’m not the most disciplined of writers, so without realistic goals, I’d probably sit around and do nothing but blog and play being a writer on the Internet. So I plan to write half a dozen short stories, write my creative non-fiction take on the book of Hosea (co-written with Danny Carroll), write a book on urban ministry (with Bob Schultz), write a postapocalyptic novel (with Wrath James White), and finish Pimp My Airship:  The Novel.

I don’t include stories I take off the shelf, dust off, and attempt to breathe new life into or blogging/reviews in my goal list.  Those things just happen as I get inspired and typically happen when I’m taking breaks from other projects.  I also want to read more.  I may have only read seven books this year, and all of those were research for stories.

We make our own luck by being prepared when opportunities arise.  And writers finish things.  It’s the only way to reach our goals.

In short, my goal for 2011:  Plant ass in chair and write.

Facing Your Friends Part II: King Maker All Over

aka, what goes around comes around…

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about “facing” friends (facing means turning books out so that folks can see the whole cover, not just a spine and allowing those writers more book shelf real estate).  Well, turns out, I have a lot of friends.  Folks have been sending me pictures of King Maker out in the wild, faced out.  When King Maker first debuted, folks sent me confirmation pics.  The pics have kept coming in.

Eric Smith sent in a pic from the Barnes and Noble in North Ridgeville, OH.

Pastor Milo Curtis found his copy out in Oregon.

As much as it pains her, Chesya Burke exercised some of her underused “nice” muscles and found my book down in the might ATL.

Jeff Vandermeer continues to show why he rocks so hard.  Here’s King Maker down in Florida.

Joe Branson found his copy at the Barnes and Noble in Reston, Virginia

Jen Orosel found her copy down in the Barnes and Noble in Texas.

A certain editor from Lexington, KY, between planning the world domination of Apex Books, went out and sprang for his own copies of some of the books from his stable of writers (speaking of which, I need to pick up Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman myself).  I am unconvinced that King Maker found its way to the cowboy romance section on its own.

When in doubt, you can always just order a copy off the internet and wait for it to arrive at your doorstep like Ron Smith.

Hmm, I just did an entire blog post basically repeating the same pic of my book.  I would say that this was the height of my narcissism and dorkiness, except I was just as dorky here in Indianapolis.  Not that I was running around town to see my book on the racks, signing them, and posing with them or anything …

And now for something completely different…

I’m going to be off for a while.  Apparently Wrath James White can talk me into just about anything, because I’m off to Austin, Texas to audition for a reality show, Focus Rally America, with him.

You can follow along on my Twitter feed.

Speaking of Wrath, he’s re-releasing his collection, Book of A Thousand Sins.  Here’s my review of it from the first go around as well as an interview I did with him, part I and part II.

R.I.P. Marquis Stylez … We Never Knew You

I told a variation of this story at GenCon not too long ago, so I figured I might as well share it here.  We’re family, right?  So this can stay just between us.

A few years ago, I had one of those encounters that writers ALWAYS have.  It’s that conversation that goes “hey, I got an idea.  You write it and we split the profits.”  Anyone who’s not a writer thinks it’s the ideas that we have trouble coming up with.  Well, anyway, at the time I was rather at the mercy of the person who had the idea as it was my barber and he literally had a straight razor to my throat.  So he had my full attention.

Actually, his pitch wasn’t bad.  African American romances were white hot at the time and he thought he should jump on that bandwagon.  The problem was he was great with coming up with plot and sex scenes, but he needed someone to do the actual writing.  So he proposed that we write this thing together, and by “write” he meant he’d pitch me ideas and I could do the writing.  And as long as I was producing pages, I could get free haircuts from him.

*does math*  Ten dollars a week.  Figure to drag the thing out a year.  SOLD!

So we began hanging out.  I’d listen to his stories, his fantasies, his theories on women and relationships … and realized pretty early on that if I put my name on this thing, I could schedule the pitchfork and torch brigade showing up at my doorstep.  I can put my name on anything I write, but this fell into one of those “I should use a pen name” scenarios.  After agonizing over this (I suck at names and titles), I came up with the name Marquis Stylez.*

Seriously.

So I finish the book.  He asks me to send it to Zane’s publishing company.  Since it has no chance of getting published, I send it.  Then it is held for another round of reading.  And another.  And suddenly visions of my writing career go through my head.  I know it would be a pen name, but that’d still be me.  And I’m just whore enough to write more if someone backs up the money truck.  So I panicked, withdrew it, and put it in a drawer never to be spoken of again.

Except …

So at the World Horror Convention in Toronto (2007), a group of us had slipped out of the convention to go to a bookstore.  Wrath James White standing in front of the African American romance section when I wander over.  He says “you know, if I had any sense whatsoever, I’d write one of these and sell a bunch of copies.”  I don’t know what possessed me, maybe a sudden wave of being in a sharing mood, I say “you know, I actually wrote one.  Even came up with a pen name to write under.  Marquis Stylez.”

There are moments in your life when you say something, you can see the words leave your mouth, and you want to try and catch them before they reach anyone else’s ears.  This was one of those moments.  Because Wrath got this look in his eyes, that big brother devilish glint, and all he said was “I’m gonna tell Keene.”

Yes, Wrath is huge.  Wrath is also surprisingly fast.  And I used to run track.  He might as well have left a dust cloud outline of himself in the store, cause by the time I caught up with him, he was standing at an author booth … behind Brian Keene.  Both of them with disturbing Cheshire cat grins.  And all Keene says, while standing there like a James Bond villain only missing a cat to be stroking, is “So, written again good stories lately … Marquis?”

And, OH they have not let me forget it.  You don’t know the horror of what it’s like to get calls in the middle of the night from Keene doing his Marquis Stylez bedroom voice routine.

Who knows, Marquis may rise from the trunk drawer one day, to write again.

I guess if it’s any testimony to how I feel about my “big brothers” in writing, I did name the main character in my Knights of Breton Court series “King James White” (and now Wrath demands to be referred to as that).  And I did make the mistake, in another moment of weakness, to later confiding in Brian that the working title for Knights of Breton Court used to be “Black Camelot.”  It wouldn’t be so bad except that every time he says it, it’s like a chorus of our friends pop up and begin playing bad seventies theme music …

*Pronounced either like the Marquis de Sade, my preferred pronunciation, or as Marcus, as I have a friend who spells it that way.

King Maker is Here!!!

Spotted out in the wild by Daniel R. Robichaud in San Antonio, Texas with confirmed sightings by fellow Indiana Horror Writers, Brian J. Shoopman in Greenwood, Indiana, and Rodney Carlstrom in Noblesville, Indiana … King Maker has hit the U.S. shores!

It seems like just yesterday that I was  I was doing some volunteer work with a ministry called Outreach Inc. (they work with homeless and at-risk teens). Well, we were doing a writing exercise and I was trying to get them to imagine themselves in different environments and situations. And no one could imagine themselves past next week, much less in a different life. So I went on a rant about princes and princesses and the idea of prince of the streets kind of stuck with me. And how the kids protective were of one another reminded me of knights. Next thing you know … Arthur, cause that’s how my brain works.  It’s hard to believe that I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo only a couple years ago (literally, two years ago next month).

It DOES feel like I’ve kind of given birth … to a bouncing baby paperback.  It’s a heady mix of terror (this is it!  This is what you’ve worked toward and sacrificed for … wait, what if people don’t like it and you really suck?!?)  and excitement (MY BOOK IS HERE!  IT REALLY HAS MY NAME ON THE COVER!  WHY CAN’T I STOP JUMPING UP AND DOWN LIKE A DRUNK CHEERLEADER?  WHY DON’T I HAVE PANTS ON?).

King Maker is book one of my Knights of Breton Court trilogy.  It follows the life of King James White, a homeless teenager pulling his life together, who is the modern embodiment of the spirit of King Arthur.  The story of Camelot slowly begins to play out on the inner city streets of modern day Indianapolis.  So amidst urban decay, gangs, the drug trade, and homeless teens, there are zombies, elementals, magic, and trolls.  It’s The Wire meets Excalibur.*

You can check out some of the reviews here.  Feel free to leave me your thoughts on the book on Amazon reviews since, you know, I will be obsessively checking them and judging my self-worth by them.  To make things as easy as possible for you:

Search for an independent bookstore near you

King Maker on Amazon and available for your Kindle

King Maker on Barnes & Noble and available for your Nook

King Maker on Powell’s

King Maker on Book Depository

You can read the first chapter here.

And keep checking the News section of my website.  There I will be posting my book signing and convention appearance schedule.

Yeah, I’ll probably spend the rest of the day looking myself up on book sites and library databases then calling in the family to point at the screen and yell “That’s ME!”  They’ll NEVER get tired of that!  Never, no, never.

*Or we could do the comic book version of the pitch:  Mage meets that one Falcon mini-series where street gang members kidnap Ronald Reagan.  Or, Mage meets DC’s scrapped Milestone line.  Or, Mage meets Power Man, except none of the black people yell things like “Sweet Christmas!” … though it’s not too late for me to write that into the third book of the trilogy in order to start that trend.  I’m sure glad no one actually reads my little footnotes.

Not All Rejections are Bad

If you stay in the publishing business long enough, go to enough conventions, spend enough time on Facebook/message boards/Twitter, you will make your share of industry friends.  These will be people you may find yourself submitting stories to or having them submit stories to you.  It’s not easy rejecting friends.

Case in point, a few years ago, I subbed a story to an anthology that a couple of friends of mine were doing.  I got rejected from it, though my rejection did have a personal note in it.  Critique notes as to why the story was rejected well as a few words to soften the blow.  Even with friends, it’s important to handle things as a pro.*  It hurts my heart when I hear tales of how friends let business come between them, be it through a rejection, having to say no to something, or some other entanglement due to crossing business and personal lines.

Having now been an editor, for the Dark Faith anthology, I can say that it’s not like editors are rooting against any story.**  They want to put together the best anthology they can.  Sometimes they have to pass on great stories because, for one reason or another, it just won’t fit in with what they are putting together.  And they especially root for their friends.

Well, I took my friend’s advice and re-wrote the story.  It ended up selling in a great market.  And you know what?  When I told my friend, he couldn’t have been happier:  1) because his friend sold a story and 2) because, as an editor, he made a story better and its sale proved that out.

Which brings me back to this past weekend’s ConText.  My friend, Brian Hatcher, had a story that we ended up rejecting from Dark Faith.  One of the last we let go, actually, and in the rejection note, we said as much.  It was a great story.  But, Brian’s a pro and took the news like a pro.  Well, Mr. Hatcher’s story ended up in the great journal The Midnight Diner.  And you know what?  We couldn’t be happier.***

*Okay, I did once have a panel at Mo*Con which featured a bunch of editors who had rejected a story of mine.  And I may or may not have called it “those rat bastards who rejected me”.  A little more foresight might have told me that assembling a panel of people with only rejecting me in common might end badly for me.

**Okay, truth be told, there is a CERTAIN amount of delight one may get from rejecting someone who once rejected you.  You can take that delight, but it only means that much more pain when you end up HAVING to buy a story from an editor who rejected you (… Nick Mamatas says what?  And you know what?  He was also on that rat bastard panel at Mo*Con and helped lead the charge against me!)

***Okay, DOUBLY happy, since The Midnight Diner is edited by another friend of mine, Michelle Pendergrass.

The Crossroads (aka The Dream of Full Time Writing … The Reality of Life)

Okay, so I’ve been unemployed for nine months now and have been using my sudden copious free time to do as much writing as I can.  I have even flirted with freelance projects, tempted by the idea of becoming a full time freelance writer.  Oh, it’s a tantalizing prospect, as I’d be really living the dream.  Unfortunately, little things like life cause me to hesitate from making that final leap.  My wife likes little things in life, like security, benefits, health insurance all things I have to weigh carefully as I move forward.

So I’ve been talking to a lot of freelancers trying to gauge the reality of life as a freelancer.  And to be perfectly straight, the only safety net I’m operating with is the last of our savings.  Which was the first thing I was told:  know The Date.  That’s the date at which not enough money comes in to cover bills (trust me, Significant Others will clue you in on the date if you try to remain blissfully ignorant).  For example, I figure I have a six month window, barring unforeseen circumstances, to get a real job or string together enough clients/work to continue freelancing.

After that, it’s about chasing down jobs.  Research, research, research.  Obviously, short of novels, I can’t make a living just doing fiction work.  So then I have to do other sorts of writing from articles to ghost writing.  Which means I also worry about how much of a drain the non-fiction/freelance stuff is in terms of my other primary/fiction writing.

I’ve looked into the gaming industry and if it works like most other publishing, I’ll be chasing my money.  Even working for large publishers that will continue to support their products, payment can either be delayed or … optional.  Royalty checks have a way of running late.  Gaming companies, like publishing companies, are often run by well-meaning folks who love the industry … but don’t know much about business/money.

Which brings me to the idea of valuing how much I’m worth.  It was a watershed moment, a writer’s emancipation proclamation I called it, deciding that my words were worth professional rates and that I shouldn’t settle for less in the name of “exposure.”  That being said, if I want to make money, it would happen on the non-fiction side of things and I have to measure if that’s something I want to do.

Work-for-hire stuff is also problematic because I don’t get to retain any of the intellectual assets.  I don’t own what I write.  I might want to consider tie-in fiction to supplement my income and help boost interest in your original stuff.  Video game freelancing is certainly on the higher pay grade of the gaming landscape.

*sigh*

It’s a lot of stuff to consider and certainly  one of those things where the “idea” of it sounds great but I don’t know if it’s the “life” I want.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of needing to pay bills and losing control over the kind of career you want to have (similar to the desperation to see ones name in print leading one to make bad publishing decisions).  As a friend told me “a savvy writer needs to understand the difference between what they want vs. what they need to do.”  So it boils down to figuring out how much I need to make, how much time it consumes, and how much of a creative drain it is.  And while I’m calculating all of that, I will keep writing.  At least until The Date arrives.

A Time For Career Selfishness

I have a couple of writer friends in particular that I’m thinking of right now who have selfless hearts.  They are quick to lend a hand (organize conventions, organize book signings, put together writer retreats, become a one person publicist for their friends, be a marketing guru, read/crit stories, and otherwise bend over backwards) for their people.

It reminded me of a conversation I had at Necon many years ago, when I had but a few short story credits to my name.  A rather physically imposing writer sidled up to me.  A big burly guy, fresh off his motorcycle, with arms the size of my legs, and he put one of those massive tree trunk arms around me and pulls me aside with the words “we need to talk.”

And he was not a man to be refused.

“I’ve been watching you, he said.  You run around and do all this stuff.  You’re on message boards, you’re helping friends, you’re reading and critting stuff for folks, you’re organizing events and are pitching in to help out.  So … do you actually write?  I know that you do, I’ve read your stuff.”  [insert inner squeal at the thought that *he* reads *me*] “It just seems to me that you’re so busy doing stuff now that you aren’t taking the time to finish things and nurture your own career.  I know you want to help people wherever you are and I love that about you.  And I can see by the look on your face that this is not computing.”

And he was right.  Because I am looking at the kind of guy he is:  helpful to all writers, no matter what stage of their career they are and willing to put himself out there to lend a helping hand.  Which was one reason why his words seemed counterintuitive to the point of contradictory.

“Think of it this way:  take a bit, focus on your career, push through to the next level and think of how many others you’ll be able to help from that next level.”

Now, on more than one occasion, I have had a bout of “fear of success”.  The sudden sense of contentment where I am rather than risking continued heartache (read:  possible rejection) by sending my stuff out there for possible publication.  But his words cut to the quick of the matter from another angle.   It was easy to play at being a writer, doing enough stuff—book reviews, con attendance, even wrap yourself up in a cloak of good deeds, etc—to keep me in that world.  But that’s not what I wanted from things.  I wanted to be a writer.

[And we’ll skip the part about how much time I had lost trying to help those who either didn’t want or weren’t ready to be helped.  Or getting bogged down by the sheer amount of users, takers, sponges, and all around general dirt bags who can suck up so much of our precious, precious little time.]

So I decided to go back to doing my job as a writer and put aside a lot of the other stuff for a little while.  I needed to focus on what I was meant to do and held on to the belief that I could still pay it forward once I was in that position.
Of course, I say all this and look around.  The gentle soul who imparted those words to me, as well as the collective of friends that we share, ARE SOME OF THE WORST EXAMPLES OF SELFISHNESS!  They’re all still quick to read the work of a newbie, dole out advice to all comers, mentor when they can.  I can only barely refrain from fixing each of my fans breakfast in bed and inviting them over to the house.

So, I guess in short, change, but don’t change.  The heart of generosity and selflessness should never be diminished or discouraged.  We need as many lights in this world as possible.  Just don’t forget to do what you were meant to do.

And, uh, but you can still help me out on occasion.

W.I.P. – 07-28-10 Edition

In case you notice my blog being fairly sporadic over the next few weeks, it’s because I’m in the final push on a few projects.  Not to mention Gencon, a sekrit project, and Context really tying up my August.  I figure at the very least, I can update you on the status of my latest projects.

King’s War – as Book One of the Knights of Breton Court trilogy, King Maker, prepares to make its U.S. debut this October, I’m hard at work wrapping up the first draft of Book Three, King’s War.  Remind me to shoot myself if I ever get the wacky idea to take on a sprawling mythology with dreams of boiling it down to three books.

Wrath of GodWrath James White and I are teaming up for another project.  Our last story, Orgy of Souls, went so well and we had a premise so tantalizing neither of us could resist.  For any curious about the universe this postapocalyptic tale takes place in, read his contribution to the anthology, Dark Faith.

I Can Transform You – Speaking of Orgy of Souls and Dark Faith, the guru behind Apex Books, Jason Sizemore, got it in his head that he and I ought to collaborate on a story.  A murder mystery set in a dystopic future, no less.

Nisi Shawl is “editing WisCon Chronicles Volume 5. I’m looking for essays between 1000 and 6000 words long, on or adjacent to the theme of “Writing and Racial Identity,” with the focus on 2010’s WisCon 34–panels, discussions, and other events. I want written contributions from people who attended WisCon 34. I will need these contributions by August 27. Photos, drawings, poems, interviews, and (very) short fiction will also be considered for this book.”  I am busy revising my essay for her as I write this.

It’s probably too early to discuss my latest collaborative project in depth.  But I’m teaming up with a pastor to write about the front lines of urban ministry and what it means to engage the poor.  That’s three collaborations, which isn’t so bad as it means I have to do half the work.  Usually, I can count of my partners having an equally busy workload so when I turn around a chapter or section, it can be a minute before I get anything back.  Unfortunately, there are those rare times when I’m so focused on something that projects bottleneck.  Now would be one of those times as I keep swearing “this will be the last chapter I do before I take a break.”

Oh, and I’m outlining my next solo novel as I’m hoping to do what I did with the first draft of King Maker and write it during this year’s NaNoWriMo.  It will be a novel length treatment of my story—again from Apex Magazine—Pimp My Airship.

Speaking of pimping things, I thought I’d mention the latest project my sister is working on.  I’ve written about her before about her being one of the best moms that I know.  When she’s not busy convincing me to write about unicorns, rainbows, and moats full of skittles (those of you who follow my nonsense on Twitter get that), she is writing as the Indianapolis Parenting Tweens columnist for Examiner.com.  Go and check her out.