Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Muse Chose Me, By Process of Elimination

*sits peacefully munching on holiday candy*

One topic I haven't written about on this blog (that I can remember) is why I decided to become a writer (or, at the least, pursue it with the end goal of making it a career option). 

This story begins in olden times, and it's very VERY long-winded. So, set the sails.

This story begins in olden times, the 1990s to be exact. I was a young boy who enjoyed stories, whether it be my father's bedtime tales or movies like Star Wars. Since we didn't have cable television, I wasn't fully aware of what other media had to offer. 

I was in elementary school in 1997. One day, after watching an episode of Arthur, I asked Mom for a few extra minutes before leaving, just so I could see what came on next. 

This is what I saw.

I shrugged and went about my day.

A few months later I was at my grandmother's house (my only chance to watch cable) and stumbled upon this.

I don't remember much. Sailor Moon was the first anime series of which I saw a complete episode. I sat there scratching my head thinking, "Hmm. This sure is different than Loony Toons."

I decided to check out Cartoon Network a lot that summer. Toonami, The Midnight Run, and Adult Swim were at the height of their popularity. Pretty soon I was neck-deep in it.


And even this.

My reaction?


Look at the animation! The music! The special effects! It's not just a half hour of gags and laughs, there's an actual story to this! It feels so good. The art! The fight scenes! And, English names. Yeah.

Don't get me wrong. The American stuff was good too. I loved a lot of 90s shows: X-Men, Spiderman, Batman. It's not that they were bad shows. In fact, I think many of them had superior writing, plot elements, and character development than most animes (I'm looking at you, Dragon Ball Z, but that's another post of its own).

When you're only eight years old and probably won't be around to see the next episode, getting some flashy battle sequences is a major plus. (Incidentally, I find myself watching more of the old American cartoons now that I've grown up). 

There are other reasons why I watched a lot of anime back then. The Marvel and DC shows came on early in the morning. Anime was an afternoon/late night affair. 

Ok, maybe that was the only reason.

Point is, I was instantly a guy driven by visual pizzaz. I decided that I wanted to become a cartoonist. I knew next to nothing about how to draw, let alone animate. Back in those days, there weren't any instruction books on how to produce your own manga, or any sources about how to get into the business. America was caught up in the craze, but all we could do is consume. Those with the time, money, and talent emulated to the best of their ability.

I remember sitting in a class on day drawing a blonde-haired male character in Sayin body armor. There was no plot. No objective. No rhyme or reason. Just a bunch of dudes (and later dudettes) beating the crap out of each other, because hey, that's what DBZ was all about and it was AWESOME. 

Eventually, instruction books were published. I bought several. Lots of money was spent on books, paper, pens, and even a big art desk that I have to this day. Books are good for understanding basic concepts. But when you plan to make something your life's work, as I thought I had, you need a mentor. 

Instruction from someone who's been around the block is the single most valuable use of time you can apply towards any career. Cops have Training Officers. Soldiers have Drill Sergeants. I didn't have anybody. The only person in my family with artistic experience was my other grandmother, and she didn't have any idea what this Japanese stuff was (though I took her to see Mewtwo Strikes Back).

Despite the lack of supervision, I pressed on.

But, in the words of Don McClean, February 2000 made me shiver.

I was eleven, and diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The pain was excruciating. Holding a pencil or pen for a prolonged period to get the lines of someone's face just right had been a minor annoyance. Now it was downright torturous. It's difficult to explain how a disease can make every movement and range of motion a dreadful event. 

Over the course of the next several years, I went from one hospital to the next. Art was something I didn't enjoy anymore. It was too painful. Physically, yes, but emotionally as well. I couldn't get what I had in my mind onto the page. It was lost in translation. The eyes weren't right. The hair was too short. It didn't look natural. 

It was all wrong. A cycle of diminishing returns.

I was now fifteen and in a dire predicament. I had thought of so many stories, but without a medium through which to tell them, what was I going to do? At a summer camp I sat in on a card game (one of those ridiculous inventions people make so they don't feel guilty for playing anything that resembles poker). 

A girl had a copy of The Last Mermaid. She told me it was a love story set against the Peloponnesian Wars. We said nothing else. I walked out of that room after a few minutes. It was sunny. I stopped, looked up, shrugged, and said "I'm going to write a book."

If anyone tells you that they were inspired by a bolt of lightning, a voice from the heavens, or any other contrived mumbo-jumbo, here's what you do.

1. Slap them in the face.

2. Apologize. 

3. Slap them again.

4. Retract apology.

5. Ask them how it really happened.

Many famous authors had no lofty ambitions about a "dream career." Frederick Forsyth was broke and needed a job. Stephen King was also broke and needed a job. J.K. Rowling was really broke and needed a job (all right, fine; maybe she got inspired by a vision). 

So, in short, my decision was like asking a wallflower to dance after my date stood me up.

I started the first draft of The Eclipse Chronicles on an old Windows computer my parents kept for us kids to play games. I wasn't much of a reader as a child. I knew even less about writing.

My thoughts during the first draft?


I got a mentor in the form of an older woman at church who agreed to coach me on the basics. Week after week, I printed off a chapter, brought it to her, and received it about a week later all marked up. 

And then Paolini. 

Paolini's Inheritance Cycle (originally a trilogy) fueled a nation-wide craze for young writing geniuses. Once again, I got caught up in the hype. I'd simply write a book, self-publish, then wait before inevitably being picked up my a major house.

That's when the hard learning began.

I've covered what happened next in my recent posts, so I hope you enjoyed this little origin story. 

To cap off, I thought I'd list the books I've read this year. 

- Of Mice and Men
- Battlecry of Freedom
- Band of Brothers
- Salem's Lot
- Twilight for the Gods
- Jaws
- The Dogs of War
- IT
- Frankenstein
- We Were Soldiers Once, and Young
- Cordell Hull's Memoirs, Volume One

My resolution? Read more!

...and write more.

Power to the pen!

Sunday, December 22, 2013


You caught me with my pants down! While I call my lawyer to discuss pressing charges, allow me to explain myself. I had the most wonderful weekend with my beautiful and insightful girlfriend. As such, I am thoroughly exhausted and will post again next week after the holidays are over.

Power to the pen! Now, write me a fat check you lecherous perv.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Oh There's No Place Like Home

School's over! Winter's here! Snow! Egg nog! Break time! Writing time! Happy time!

I'm not the least bit excited, as you can tell. I'd almost forgotten how beautiful the world looks clothed in white. When I was a kid, they used to show me calendars with the four seasons beginning on the first day of certain months. March for spring. June for summer. October for autumn. December for winter. I used to pretend that our car was going through hyperspace, if we were lucky enough to be out when it was snowing.

Then I grew up. Years passed without seeing so much as a spit of a flurry. I despaired at the notion that my teachers had lied to me. 

But then we got a foot of the stuff in one day. And a lot of it is still here!

Taylor is pleased.


I've been writing one book and outlining another. Eclipse Part Two is finally in the works! Might not get it done in 50 days like Hammer and Keys, but that's ok. As was the case last week, I don't have a lot to say, but hopefully what I do say will be interesting.

I was told of a website called Rejectionwiki. For those of you submitting your work for publication, this will help you determine how far your MS made it with the editors. 

From their website:

The goal of the RejectionWiki is to house the standard (or “boilerplate” as they are often known) rejections as well as upper-tier rejection letters. These upper-tier rejections are usually still forms, but knowing that you made a few rounds to that upper-tier can be encouraging. The more different tiers of rejection letters people share, the more transparent the whole process will become.

Rejectionwiki was started by a group of poets. It seems that the website only includes journals or other related publications, which makes sense. That's where the biggest traditional poetry market is.

I decided to give it a go, seeing as one of my pieces was turned down by One Story. If their data is accurate, I got a high-tier letter. Not bad for a guy who hasn't submitted anything in over six years. I tried to make a Christmas list, but no luck. I can't think of much that I really want, except a few more books, maybe typewriter supplies. My, one's perception of Christmas changes a lot over the years. 

When my brother and I were growing up, we used to compete to see who had the longest list. We were inspired by a strip from Calvin and Hobbes. Most of Watterson's adult humor went sky high over our heads, but not the Christmas stories.

Note for Novelists: We are not allowed to pair question marks and exclamation points. Cruel world.

We never got that far along, but I did include a light saber on my list ten years in a row, blue of course. Santa always had to apologize for "not having the magic" to make that dream come true. But I never faulted him. After all, everyone knows you need Kunda or Illum crystal that's been properly attuned to the Force. I wouldn't expect anyone at the North Pole to have access to a mineral deposit banned by the Galactic Empire. Stupid Empire. Stupid quicksand.

But snow is never stupid.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Weather Outside

I had convinced myself that I'd never see snow again, that I would only have my childhood memories to remind me of how beautiful the world looks sitting still, clothed in white.

But no.

Friday we got a whole foot dumped on us, and we're on the third day of isolation. Not bad, given that we still have electricity and running water. Bad, once I considered that the semester might be extended as a result. We live on a country road. The interstates are the first ones to get salted and sprayed. Ours has been plowed and raked a few times, but no salt. Not sure how long it takes the county to get around to this kind of thing.

Meanwhile, I've used the extra time to transcribe "Hammer and Keys." I've got about 50 pages left and it just hit the 80k word mark. Might not be as high as I originally thought, but no matter.

The Brandon Sanderson lectures have been amazing, along with his podcast Writing Excuses. They provide the sort of professional guidance I wish I had had years ago when I was first starting. But no matter.

Truth be told, I didn't put a lot of thought into what I was going to write about this week. I've been brainstorming a lot of different ideas, one of which I hope to turn into a series later in life. I found two more writing contests that I plan to enter. Still no word on any of my submitted stories.

As disappointing as it is for me, all I can come up with is another rendition of Reject a Hit.

Dear Mr. King,

We've read the finished manuscript of your novel It. I regret to say that we are unable to accept it for publication at this time. Well, no. Honestly, I'm not sorry! I hated this book! Wanna know why? The clown. You've turned a classic icon of children's entertainment into a bloodthirsty monster. I married a professional clown and she threatened to divorce me if I accepted this...thing. Ok, maybe clowns can be scary, but you provoked her. There's an anti-clown agenda in this thing and I won't be a part of it (no pun intended).

For posterity's sake, I guess I have to come up with a legitimate reason to reject the book. Fair enough. The chronology is ridiculous and confusing. The novel begins in 1958 and we get a chapter per character as they live in Derry, which might as well be called StephenKingstan since it's yet another one of your small-town-nightmarish-festering-armpit-wounds whose people have no redeeming qualities (except the Irish cop, I liked him). Then we jump forward to 1985 and get a chapter per character in their grownup lives. In between, we get the diary entries of one of the main characters as he records bits of evidence to prove that It has returned.

And speaking of It, why would any sensible author use a pronoun as the title of their work? Are you trying alienate all of the English teachers in your audience? You yourself were a teacher, which intensifies my disgust. 



Power to the pen. 

Hopefully I'll be more on my game next week.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Let the Countdown Begin

Happy December!

I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving. I have a whole bunch of things to be thankful for. I'm still in a happy stupor on account of the feasting, so all I have for you this week is a series of lectures by the one and only Brandon Sanderson.

Some of you may recall that Sanderson was the one who helped finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. He teaches creative writing and I've found these lectures very helpful.

Here's the first one.

Power to the pen!

By the way, NOW it's legal to sing Christmas songs and decorate....