writers

Public Access

So, I've been watching Amanda Fucking Palmer's glorious TED talk "The Art of Asking" over and over. It's profound and speaks to my hippy dippy crowd-love soul. It's 15 minutes well spent and should be required viewing for all artists,performers, musicians and storytellers across the world. Not because it's The Way or anything, but because there is wisdom there and it raises some fantastic questions that we need to ask ourselves about what we do. Check out the video (linked above) and meet me after the jump for my thoughts.

In her TED talk, Amanda shares stories about her time as a street performer and the human experiences she had with other people. She discusses crowd-sourcing a couch to sleep on while on tour, and her propensity of finding artists and performers to share at her shows. (Fun fact: my last professional poi gig was spinning glow/sock poi for 3 consecutive hours at a Dresden Dolls show in Tempe '08 as part of the call for artists. Hella fun.) In all the stories of personal connection there are lessons about what we as artists/creators do on the person-to-person interaction as well as profound questions about how we move forward in the digital age.

"I maintain that crowd surfing and couch surfing are basically the same thing. You're falling into the audience and trusting each other." - AFP

I've said before that writers need to write from a place of truth if they want a good story. We need to be able to be vulnerable and be unabashedly human and real within our stories to lend them a visceral truth that is recognizable by the reader. We have to fall into our audience and trust that they will accept our gift to them in the spirit in which it was given. And you need to similarly build trust with your reader. They need to trust that you will lead them through the story. That you will answer the questions you ask in the story and make good on your end of the connection. Putting a book out there isn't just a monetary exchange. You are connecting with someone, inviting them into your story to introduce them to a world of your creation. You're opening yourself up to be ripped apart on the Internet for writing drivel. You're allowing yourself to be seen in a very special way when you put it out there. Even if it's just a short story on a blog, you're taking what some see as  a risk. You open yourself up to criticism as well as compliments. (Compliments are just as hard to take sometimes as flame comments. I'll get to that in another post.) At the end of the day, making your writing public is crowdsurfing. You're falling into an audience and trusting each other.

"Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance...but {being an artist} is about a few people loving you up close and those people being enough." - AFP

There's something else going on here, though. There's an openness that isn't just the vulnerability of telling a story, but also of being accessible to your audience. The past decade has seen a major change in the way artists can react with their fans. I can have a late night Twitter conversation with Steven Brust or get into a giggle fit with Christopher Moore. Thanks to the internet and email I have damn near instant access to not just other fans but a direct connection to the artists, actors, musicians and authors that I admire. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, blogs... all of them help us connect with each other, our audiences and our heroes.

Right now newb authors are being coaxed into diving into the social network pool head first. It's part of building your platform, right? Well, I know it's not for everyone. I was talking with a friend once who is a damn fine storyteller. He said, though, that if he ever wrote those stories down and tried to sell them he would be a recluse. He wouldn't be a social media maven with live Tweet chats or blog tours or any of that. He's too private a person and shuns that kind of exposure. Right now, that approach is a difficult one to make because we as an audience want that kind of access. That connection is a sacred one and I think it's something we've lost, but are finally getting back.

It's a question you need to ask yourself as an artist: how accessible do I want to be to my audience? This will determine the content of your online presence and your interaction with your crowd. The question is largely about trust and the answer has everything to do with your comfort level and your life.

Personally, while I do keep certain parts of my life veiled, I've been an open book here. I prefer it that way. By showing you my stories, you've already seen me naked and bare. I've left myself open to whatever you can throw at me. The more public you go, the wider that scope is and the more risk there seems to be. There's more of an opportunity for rejection and vitriol, more of a chance that someone will shout words that trigger your softest spots. We want people to like us and our words, we don't want to hear our own insecurities made real. It's bad enough that we have those voices blaring in our heads, but to hear those words come from someone else's mouth? There is a risk. But there are rewards. Great ones that hinge on the connection made between author and reader. To be open to those experiences is to be vulnerable and accessible to strangers. It takes trust.

This is why when I see an author/musician/performer behaving badly that I get up in arms. It's a breach of the unspoken contract we build, an abuse of trust.

Anyway, I really don't have a good way to wrap this up today. So, I'll say thank you. Thank you for coming here, sitting by my fire and talking story with me. Thank you for letting me share pieces of me and my writing with you. Thank you for seeing me.

Prepare Yourself

The end is nigh! Or not... Anyway. I've been remiss for a while with updating the blog. I've been sick of late and went on a three day binge of DayQuil, orange juice and episodes of Say Yes To The Dress. Honestly, other than the rise and fall of my temperature there's not much to report here at the moment.

My family and I are watching Avatar: The Last Airbender together in the evenings. Love it muchly. If you've not seen it, check it out on Netflix.

Um...yeah. I've got nothing. OH! Right! So, in the next few weeks we'll (and by we, I mean me, the voices in my head and a monkey in a fez) be rolling out a brand new website for yours truly. An honest to Loki website with my own domain and everything. So yeah, watch this space for details on that.

I need chai.

 

Warning For The Future

So, it's 2013 and there are several people in this world who have made the resolution to finally write that novel, to get published or other variations on this theme. For those people I have a word of warning: QUIT NOW! Get out while you can. Just walk away. Really. This industry is so chock full of mind-boggling dichotomy and confusion, arcane rules and bylaws that no one talks about. Save yourself the trouble, the heartache and the endless boxes of Kleenex (you know, for wiping your tears of despair and anguish). Just quit. Now.

No? You won't be deterred? Fine, let me warn you about a few things that are frustrating as shit about this business. Meet me after the jump, if you will...

I've been actively pursuing traditional publication (ie, not self-publishing, although I have looked into it enough to know it's not my path) for the better part of 5 years now. Since mid 2008 it has been my job to learn the ins and outs of this business, to hone my craft, make connections and friendships and tear out my hair because Publishing is annoying as fuck. You hear all sorts of advice around the Intertubez and some of it is not worth the ethernet its saved to. Some of it is gold. In the end you have to decide which is which. While we joke that you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake, little writer, your career IS. No two are exactly alike, no two people necessarily have the same goals or paths to get there. Gah! That's what I'm talking about. Both are true. You aren't special and yet you are. What the hell? Annoying isn't it?

Well, I kinda wish someone had warned me back when I was dewy-eyed and fresh to this world that Publishing is rife with these kinds of both-truths. Here are a few of the more frustrating that I've collected. Take them with a full rim of salt and an extra squeeze of lime.

1. It's Not Who You Know...

We hear this chestnut in several industries insisting that you don't need a special friend, fuckbuddy or other such contact within to get access to the clubhouse. You can make it on your own merit and you should make every attempt to do so. Besides, you don't look at people in terms of where they fit in your Rolodex.  Right?

And yet...

You must network. Your sanity will (at some point) depend on forging friendships with other writers (see #2) and you can only learn about this industry from people more experienced. Talking to writers, agents, editors, critics, slush readers... it all helps you learn more and grow. Trust me, there are people in every category I've just listed who have helped me over hurdles, made suggestions or upped my chances of success just because they were willing to give me the time of day.

It's odd, at least it was for me. We're not supposed to look at people in terms of what they can do for us. We're supposed to build friendships and connections based on commonalities and what's inside the person. And yet, here we are building networks with at least some level of "how will this relationship help me in the future?" I don't like knowing that that voice is there that calculates the 6 degrees of the Big 6 or something, but it *is* there. Learn to deal with it. Make friendships. Help each other. Be there for others. Pay it forward. That kinda thing.

  by Zaratops (deviantart)2. The First Rule Network! Make connections and friends! Have a social media platform! Put yourself out there and be part of the community. Share your journey.

And yet...

A lot of writing is solitary. Trying to get published is a slog of misery that loves company. So we use Twitter and Query Tracker and Book Country and any number of message boards as our water cooler. We talk about everything! We blog about query letters, query rejections, revisions, getting the call. But once you get to a certain point you are expected to tighten the lips and let the publishing happen behind the curtain. Submission, for example. I've been told by many people that it's best to just not discuss your submission period with your blog/Twitter audience. Editors like to think they are your first choice, or it's not professional to complain (I agree).... really, this is where those writer friends are helpful. Set up a Google hangout, open a bottle of something at least 15% and kvetch, moan and otherwise pour out your soul about how agonizing the wait of submissions are.

But this is one of those times where it would be so nice to be able to do what you did with querying agents... read other people's stories to know you're not alone. Sorry, dude, we don't post that kind of thing. You have to learn that one on your own and suffer. You just don't talk about being on submission.

3. Don't Judge A Book Don't judge a book by it's cover. Right?

And yet...

We totally judge books by their covers.

4. Don't Take It Personally When an agent or editor rejects your book, you're told to not take it personally. It's true. It's not a judgment of you, Joe Schmoe. It's not even necessarily a critique on your work. Sometimes rejections come even when an agent or editor likes you and thinks you're quite talented. You want someone who is ablaze for you, so it's okay. Keep working and putting yourself out there. It's not personal...

And yet...

You're expected to write from a place of truth, to bleed on the page. Your writing has to be not just personal but visceral! When you put yourself into your novel so much it is difficult to see how a rejection could be anything other than personal. I get it. But really, it's not about you. Unless it is.

5. The Next Big Thing

Have your own voice. Write like YOU.

And yet....

"Publishers want the next George R. R. Martin/Hunger Games/50 Shades"... So write like you, but be like them.

6. Things Take Time

Above all things (not craft-related) a writer must learn patience. The whole process is a sticky, sluggish waiting game that will drive you to lunacy if you don't have proper coping mechanisms. (Believe me, my agent knows how impatient I can be... and that's after I've been working on being more patient for years!)

And yet...

you can get a query rejection in less time than it takes to make a cup of chai. Seriously. My first ever rejection to a novel came less than 10 minutes after I sent the query. And when things get moving in a positive direction, things happen REALLY FAST. This agent loves you and wants to talk, but you have to call this person, and this one emailed on the same day requesting a full and holy shit avalanche of awesomesauce. But then you have to wait. People need time to read. Phone calls have to be scheduled. Contracts have to be drawn up and sent across the country via snail mail. And that's when a blizzard hits, wouldn't you know it?  Even when you think the roller coaster is about to speed up, it's not, kids. Just be prepared to hurry up and wait.

There are infinite frustrations along the road of traditional publishing. You have to ask yourself if the end goal you've set for yourself is worth all that trouble. It might not be. Then again, it might be just the forge you need to help you become Excalibur.

What about you? What are your gripes? This is a safe place to bitch so let it fly.

A Word From Our Sponsor

 artwork by Skottie Young Real life makes for crazy times, I tell ya. I haven't been blogging much because I haven't had much to say. Okay, that's not entirely true. I've had plenty to say, but there are times when you just don't want to spew negativity, invite drama or spend every waking minute of your online life kvetching about one thing when your life is pretty awesome. 2013 started off by behaving like an unruly teenager. You see, we rent our house, my husband and I. And as of the end of this month, our lease is up. Well, we have to give notice of staying or leaving on New Year's Day, but that usually comes in the form of paperwork we fill out in December. New Year's Eve came along and we still hadn't received that paperwork. So, I got a little panicked that we would be scrambling to find a new place, pack, move and that made Jamie more than a little... um... crazy? Long story short (too late): We're all good. Staying where we are for another year. Woo.

There's also an issue with transportation. Oh, my car is fine. It's the other car. For the past 9 months or so we've been using my late sister-in-law's car. Well, last month, the registration expired. We found out that the car is still in her name and the DMV wants an asston of paperwork to get that fixed. Almost there! So the husband has taken my car to get to work (you know, since he has a real job and not one where he sits at a computer talking to imaginary people and the Internet all day), and that means the kiddo and I had to walk/take the city bus to get her to school.  I lasted all of a week. For one thing, the walk has been brutal on my back. I've been in more pain this past week than I've been in a very long time and I'd rather not put myself back into the hospital. Also? It's Phoenix, but our lows right now are in the 20s. That's the temperature we'd be walking in. I can suck it up and whine about it later, but that's not okay for my 7 year old, ya know? Not cool with that. We ran through many letters of the alphabet before finally concocting a plan that works for all involved and doesn't require her to be out in 20 degree temperatures for an hour to get to school. Yay!

There are good things going on, too. Don't let the above paragraphs fool you. My husband started a new job in December. It was up in the air for months as he waited for security clearances and background checks to go through, but just after Thanksgiving we got word that yes, he would be starting his new position. It's been a huge boost to his sanity and that makes for a happier family all together.

Friends are chasing dreams, finding fulfillment and welcoming their own joys. I've got a couple of irons on the fire that I can't really discuss at present. This year--dubbed by my friend Brian as The Year of Giving it A Shot--seems to be off to a good start. Albeit frustrating at times.

So yeah. How the hell have you been?

Fail

Last night I heard one of the most glorious stories of epic failure ever conjured by reality. It's so rare that you get something so juicy without a script, but this gem was mined straight from headlines.

Sir John Gurdon, is a British stem-cell researcher. Unless you're a bio-engineering groupie, however, his name might not ring any bells. Doctor Gurdon attended Eton, Oxford and is a Fellow of the Royal Society. His work has garnered several awards over the years, most recently the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Pretty impressive resume, I'd say. However, before he was "Sir" Gurdon, Johnny caused some trouble for his teachers. In fact, one of his high school science teachers said that since Gurdon preferred to "do things his own way" it would be a waste of time for him to continue learning the sciences. Hell, the professor continued saying that it would be a horribly bad idea for anyone who tried to teach this boy science. For sixty years, Sir John Gurdon has carried that report card with him. And now, he's a Nobel Laureate.

Many things about this story make me happy (dude, that stodgy professor--who's probably dead--just got pwned!), but some things just astound me. And some aspects make me think... Sixty Years

That's 1952... That teacher's nay-saying voice has been rattling around this man's head for as long as my mother has been alive. That in and of itself boggles my mind. There were no men on the moon when he took that report card home. Kennedy was alive and not even on the political radar. There were no Beatles. Not even Quarrymen! Just remnant shock from World War II and poodle skirts.

We hear this story--or variations on it--all the time. It's part of the underdog fixation. Tell someone they can't and watch them exceed expectations, right? Hell, I have been told that by a few people in my time. We've all been told at some point that we aren't enough. Most people believe this about themselves and just stop there, letting the broken record of it play into perpetuity. Believe me, I know this. Self-deprecation is the basis of my sense of humor. Without it, I'm a talentless hack whose only chance at a funny bone is banging a circus clown. Anyway, these rejections and slights from childhood/adolescence stick with us. Over time, those infinite loops of "you're not good enough" can erode one's bliss......or it can strengthen it.

You can choose how you let those voices control you. You can choose to listen to those report cards, or you can box them up and ship them straight off to Hell.

This is something I'm consciously working on right now in my personal life. I've got a lot of fat-shaming voices in my head that I'm trying to snuff out, but their roots run deep. Like first grade deep. I have to do this, though. I have to eradicate that shit because it's not healthy. It's not productive...even if it has been worth hours of jokes at my own expense over the past few decades. For a long time, those particular voices have not been helpful, they've hurt me. I've said for a while now that of all the wounds I've survived, I've inflicted most of them upon myself.

It takes work to tell the "good" voices from the "bad" ones. Snarky inner dialogue is a constant for me and is a good motivator. It's what keeps me going. The voices that tell me I am a "talentless, ass-dragging sea creature who couldn't write her way out of a wet paper sack" are toothless tigers at this point in my life. I can laugh at them and gain strength from the knowledge that they're wrong. But it's not always so easy to deal with.

I know authors and artists that are dealing with this, too. I know that every query rejection is another voice to add to the chorus of fear in your head. You get enough of these voices together and it can paralyze you. Don't let it. "What if they laugh at me? What if I fail? What if I'm not good enough?"

Who cares? Fail! Fail gloriously! Write the words you want to write, tell your story, paint your masterpiece, sing your arias and dance rings around the world if that's where it's at for you, but do it. If you fall on your face, you get back up. If you fail, do it with style and pinache. Do it, learn from it, and do it again...only this time better.

That's what goes into every brick on your path. Try try again.

Don't be afraid to fail. Aim for the sun, shoot for the moon, give it everything you can...but just fucking do it. Failure is its own success, so it is always an option.  What about you? What voices are you trying to kick in the junk and evict from your brainpan?

Nerdmaste, my friends.