I Made Myself Quit Writing

iquitI good friend of mine works in a variety of capacities for a literary agent. One of the many hats she wears is that of a slush reader for the incoming queries. She shares inspirational (and warning) tidbits on Facebook from the slush pile without identifying the author that sent the query. Her post from today was about an eight-year-old girl who queried (with the help of her mother) this agent. This made me think back to when I was around that age and had started writing, and the journey I’ve been on since then.

Age: 10

I may have voluntarily (meaning not a class assignment) written a piece of fiction before this age, but this is my first memory of doing so. I hand wrote somewhere around ten pages (front and back) in my barely legible scrawl (and my handwriting has not improved much over the years). I remember it being fantasy. I remember attempting to emulate Terry Brooks (one of my literary heroes). It was not fan-fic, but definitely in Brooks’s style.

Incredibly proud of what I had accomplished, I gave it to my fifth grade English teacher to see what she thought of it. I wanted her to pat me on the head and tell me what a wonderful job I’d done. I wanted glowing praise. I wanted affirmation.

Instead, she graded it like it was a piece of tardy homework.

I’m pretty sure she used more red ink on the pages than I had pencil marks. Every spelling mistake was circled. Every sentence (run-on, fragment, or otherwise) was mangled with cryptic remarks and lines and circles and arrows.

It’s the kind of thing you’d give to an adult critique partner in your critique group.

It wasn’t supposed to be the kind of thing given to a child with a fragile ego.

Without explanation or verbal review, she just dropped the bleeding pages on my desk as she walked by a few days later.

I read everything she’d written and understood very, very little of it. I never went back to her for an explanation of the things my childish ignorance couldn’t grasp. What I did understand was that I would never make it as a writer. I’d never be the next Terry Brooks. I’d never write anything worthy of human eyes again.

After crying myself to sleep for nearly a week, I made myself quit writing.

Age: 15

Five years passed, and I broadened my reading pleasures. I was solidly in the fantasy genre, but I snagged the occasional science fiction book as well. I threw in a few westerns for the fun of it, and absorbed every non-fiction book about history I could get my grubby little hands on.

At this time, my grandparents paid for my book consumption habit by gladly paying for anything I wanted to order via my Science Fiction Book Club membership. There were loads of omnibus editions of trilogies available, and I chewed threw them with a voracious appetite.

One of the things I read was The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson. It gripped me. It wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t get the “everything isn’t happy and shiny and glorious” taste out of my brain. I suppose this has, to this day, shaped my writing voice to some extent.

I pulled out a typewriter (see note above about the horrible handwriting), and started banging away on a story in the style of Donaldson. Again, not fan-fic, but in the same vein. Mine was about a fellow with leukemia that went into remission when he slept and dreamed about another world of magic and fanciful powers. It was dark and ugly, and I loved every word of it.

After writing a chapter or so, I handed the sheets of paper to my hero. My grandfather. My Papa. I wanted to know his opinion, and I knew he’d give me solid advice with a loving touch only he possessed.

After reading my words, he said, “This is fine, but you need to focus on something that will pay the bills.”

Like anything your hero says, you take it to heart. Fully. Completely.

I didn’t know of a way to make money via my words. I did know that software engineers (I’d been programming eight years by this time) made money. In order to make my way in the world as a software engineer (which I succeeded at), I gave up writing. I didn’t fully grasp the fact that a person could be proficient in, or even excel in, multiple things. I figured it was a binary decision, and I had to give up one thing to do another.

Again, I made myself quit writing.

Age: 19-22

A few years passed, and the writing bug wouldn’t leave me alone. I picked up the pen and paper (the typewriter broke long ago, and affordable laptops weren’t quite a thing yet) and hauled my writing implements to all-night diners to scribble my words. At this time in my life, I was only responsible for myself. No one else depended on me, so my time was my own. I’d nurse my pot (or two) of coffee and munch on some french fries into the wee hours of the morning while writing stories.

I didn’t have plot, structure, character arcs, storylines, or anything else you’d commonly find in a well-crafted story. These were basically characters going through the motions of life and overcoming the nasty things I threw at them. This was the best I could do at the time, so it’s what I did.

The problem I had was this: no support group.

I didn’t have anyone to talk with, anyone to encourage me, anyone to help me grow as a writer. This was before the Internet (as we know it now) really took off, so online communities didn’t exist. I didn’t have any local resources (that I knew of) to just hang out and talk-the-talk with them. There was no one around to encourage me to walk-the-walk.

Remembering my fifth grader teacher’s critique (and I use that word loosely here) and my grandfather’s advice, I tossed aside the writing. I moved on with my life. I threw myself head first into improving my software engineering and computing skills because I knew I would be good at it.

Because no one was around to support me when I needed it most, I made myself quit writing.

Age: 33

Lightning struck in 2006. I was eating at a local (Colorado Springs, CO) pizza joint called Poor Richard’s Pizza. Locals will recognize what I’m describing…. Poor Richard’s has a giant corkboard wall where people can post ads for yoga classes, upcoming band appearances, local businesses, suicide prevention hotlines, veteran assistance groups, some stuff for sale, lost animals, found animals, and so on. That corkboard is a great reflection of the society and culture of Colorado Springs.

When I eat at Poor Richard’s alone, I always try to sit along the wall where the corkboard is at, so I have something to read while I wait for the pizza.

This one day, there was a bright, yellow, oversized bookmark that would not be ignored. The logo at the top said, “Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group.” Somewhere under it were the bold letters, “Visitors Welcome” and below that was the rest of their schedule for the year.

This catapulted me back into the writing world. I found a support group to encourage me, improve me, educate me, and drive me forward in my writing.

Through the CSFWG, I discovered Pikes Peak Writers. Through both of those organizations I’ve made countless friends, endless networking opportunities, and a world of literary wealth warming my heart.

Yeah. I’ve had my downs to go with the ups, but since that day in 2006, I made a promise to myself:

I will not make myself quit writing again.

Chuck Wendig Challenge: Why I Write

Chuck Wending posted a flash fiction challenge here. I’ve taken up the challenge. Here goes my (up to) 1000 words:

This requires quite a bit of introspection on my part. I started writing when I was ten years old. I walked away. I picked it back up when I was fifteen, and dropped it again. I tried some in my early twenties, but had no real support group for it. Again, I moved on to other things.

Despite these stops and starts, I always wanted to create. I always wanted to forge stories in the form of words. I tried music, but I have no rhythm. I tried art, but I just don’t have the patience to master that craft. I tried photography, but it felt too mechanical and artificial for my tastes. (This is no bash against photographers. That’s just how I felt internally when I looked through the viewfinder at the world instead of just looking at the world.)

It wasn’t until I discovered the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group nine years ago (this month!) that I found a home for my writerly heart. With a support group around me, I found the encouragement and drive to continue chasing the goal of becoming published. The random discovery of the CSFWG bookmark/advertisement on a cork board in Poor Richard’s Pizza Shop forever changed my life.

However, this doesn’t answer the question of, “Why do you write?”

For two decades (plus a few years), I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t quite know why. In the past nine years, I’ve come to learn the following:

I write to…

… entertain.
… make people think.
… make people uncomfortable.
… challenge myself.
… challenge my internal assumptions.
… to stroke my ego.
… to leave a mark on the world.
… to allow an escape from this world for others.
… to create an escape from this world for myself.
… to be able to point to something and say, “I did that.”
… to purge my demons.
… to find new demons to chase, and that might chase me back.
… to discover (and create!) new worlds for me to play in.

Now… you may have noticed the “ego stroke” reason in there. That’s me being brutally honest. I’m not a highly egotistical person (though some might argue that point since I’m a writer), but there’s a part of me — a deep-down, driving part of me — that wants to walk into a book store and see my name on the shelf on the spine of a book.

If you have reasons you write, throw the words into your blog (or similar media), head over to Chuck’s site, and drop him a link!

Without Damage

FunctionalNerdsLogoI’m about a month behind in my podcast listening, so some of you may have already listened to the podcast I’m going to talk about tonight. If not, do yourself a favor and checkout episode 206 of The Functional Nerds. (Check them all out, actually. They’re really good!) In this episode, Patrick Hester and John Anealio brought Sarah Chorn to the podcast as their guest.

During the course of the interview, they talked about how many books Sarah reads in a year, her excellent book review site (see link above), and her regular column on SF Signal called Special Needs in Strange Worlds.

What I want to talk about is a phrase that John Anealio dropped in the middle of the conversation. I’m going to give you the phrase, and then the context. The phrase itself may seem heartless truth, but read on before sending hate mail to John. The phrase is:

No one gets out of this life without a little damage.

The context in this statement is that they were talking about John’s son, who is in the autistic spectrum, Sarah’s health problems, and the curve balls life throws at us. John spoke the phrase, not in the vein of “Dammit! Why the fuck does this happen to me?” but in from the angle of compassion. He knows the truth of life handing you things you may not want or in a way you may not prefer, and he thinks that community (any supportive community) is what bonds us together as people, not just human beings.

John hit the nail on the head. No one is perfect. No life is perfect. Between the time you’re born until the time you’re put in a grave, life deals you damage. There may be breathing room here and there where life takes it easy on you. Cherish those moments. Be thankful (this is a Thanksgiving Day post, after all) for the times in which the fellow with the baseball bat stops to admire his handiwork on your life. Those are the moments in which you thrive.

This is not to say that life is a downer. It’s most certainly not. This act of breathing and acting and reacting and moving and doing and creating and all that is wonderful. It’s to be cherished. It’s to be hold close and admired along with the community you choose to surround yourself with.

Just remember that those people around you (and those you push back out at a distance) are damaged as well. All of us have been hurt and pushed down in the dirt at some point. Some of us recover, but bear scars. Some limp along (usually emotionally) for the rest of their days. Keep that in mind when dealing with especially bothersome people. They are not without damage. Give them some compassion, and you might be amazed at what the outcome brings.

For all of you that struggle with your particular flavor (or flavors) of damage: You Are Not Alone. We’re all there in some way. There are people and places that truly want to help and see you succeed in your endeavors.

Be human. Be damaged. Be beautiful because of it, not instead of it.

Robin Williams… And More

I’m not sure what to say here that’s coherent or will make sense, but I gotta get this out of me.

Robin Williams passed away today of an apparent suicide.

I’ve lost more than my fair share of close friends to suicide. It’s one of the most painful ways to lose someone you love. Probably the most painful. I hate the word. I hate the act. I hate what it does to friends and families. I…

Let me rewind a bit before I get carried away on that train of thought.

I’m 13 years old and living with my grandparents full time. My grandmother is in the hospital with her second heart attack, and I’m horribly frightened to my very core that I’m going to lose the woman that’s taken me into her home without hesitation or question. I’m scared like I’m 3, not 13, that she’s going to leave me behind. I’m old enough to know that everyone dies. I’m young enough to think that I have forever with those around me. These two conflicting thoughts rage in my mind, and I’m not sure what to do with myself.

My step mom is staying with me in the house while my grandfather cares for my ailing grandmother. We’re flipping channels, and get to HBO (I think it was HBO) that’s showing the intro for Robin Williams’s An Evening at the Met performance. Despite the adult material and cussing in the show, my step mom lets me watch the whole thing. We laughed together until we cried. For those scant few hours, my tears were of joy, my shaking was from guffaws, and my soul was soothed from the worries about my grandmother.

That’s the night I fell in love with Robin Williams. I looked up to him like that crazy uncle that everyone loves and he loves everyone back with such ferocious passion that no matter what he does, you support him in everything.

When Robin went to repeated rehab trips, I prayed for him. I truly wanted him to get better. I wanted him to overcome the demons that drove him to drug and alcohol abuse in a healthy manner. I suppose it was a selfish desire because I wanted more of him in my life. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every movie he’s been in. I’ve seen most of his stand-up comedy. I loved it when Whoopie and Billy and Robin would riff and act-up between sets on all eight Comic Relief shows.

When I fought my own, personal darkness in my early 20s, I remember heading to a Hastings to find something to rent to watch. I didn’t know what I wanted. I meandered through the aisles of tapes looking for something to rent. Something caught my eye, and I pulled it out. It was a Robin Williams act I’d seen before. Then I realized they had a full section of Robin’s stand up.

I rented every tape that afternoon. The cute girl behind the counter looked at me weird, but I didn’t care. I was going to have some “me time” with Robin.

I got home, and binge watched every minute of it. I think I finally came up for air two days later. During that time, I cried more. You see, some of these were from later in his career when he didn’t have to fling endless jokes. He could put his own humorous spin on the tragedies of life. He delved into some deep, hidden areas of his psyche that many people didn’t know where there. His vulnerability and honesty and comedy about it all made me cry tears of sympathy, tears of joy, and just tears for no damn good reason.

From that darkness in his life came laughter. It was hard to see the pitch black because of the bright lights Robin put on everything. Maybe if we’d looked a little closer, we could have seen what was coming. Maybe not.

My favorite show on TV last season was The Crazy Ones because of the pain-inducing laughter that I suffered through while I had an inflamed intercostal nerve. It drove lightning-like pain through my torso to breathe deeply, move quickly, or shake my body. The Crazy Ones led to all of the above, and I didn’t care about the agony because I was laughing along with one of my favorite people in the world.

Now he’s gone. I never had aspirations of meeting Robin or becoming a friend of his or anything like that. It was just nice to know that it could happen. Now it can’t. Ever.

Even the most brilliant comedians or the most upbeat people or the happiest souls in the world have pain and sadness and internal agony and demons plaguing them.

I know. I’ve been there. I still go there (unwillingly) from time-to-time.

It’s a hard thing to do, but if you think you’re in (or heading for) one of those times of life when even the brightest light can’t shine, reach out for help. It doesn’t have to be professional help (though I advocate that as well). For starters, it can be a friend, sibling, parent, grandparent, cousin, or anyone close in your life. If you’re a person of faith, find a counselor that shares a similar faith and talk to them. Talk to someone. Talk to many someones. Check in with psychiatrist or psychologist and see if they think you need professional counseling or medication to help with a chemical imbalance.

Having a medical condition that affects that way your brain works is not shameful. Would you be ashamed of having a ruptured appendix or a gallbladder full of stones? No. I don’t think so. Those are serious medical conditions that you don’t ask for or bring upon yourself. The same thing goes for clinical depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and a host of other mental illnesses.

They are medical conditions, just like that popped appendix.

They can be treated, just like that inflamed gallbladder.

They happen to the best of people. Having a mental illness doesn’t make you less of a person. Having the strength to find help, accepting it, and putting that assistance to good use makes you a better person.

Please don’t suffer in silence or alone.

How am I to know all of this about mental illness? I don’t claim professional training. I don’t have any specialized knowledge or skills in this area.

These are all things I’ve learned by living it. There’s something most of you don’t know about me: I’m bipolar. I go through bouts of severe depression followed quickly by sessions of increased anger and inability to sleep or think straight.

It took me until almost two weeks of no sleep drove me to the doctor. I sat in his office shaking from fear. If I’d had a cold: antibiotics. I knew something was wrong with my brain chemistry, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t know if there was a “magic pill” that would make me better. I didn’t know if I’d end up in a padded room. I didn’t know if the doctor would just shrug and tell me to drink some warm milk before bed time.

I didn’t know. That scared me more than anything.

He talked with me at great length and ran me through some self-assessments. After spending almost two hours with him, he declared me bipolar.

I cried. Not out of fear or anger or frustration. I cried because someone finally had figured out what was wrong with me all those years ago. I started seeing a psychiatrist for the chemical imbalances in my brain. After trying one medicine, I asked for something different because of some side effects that were messing with my life. We swapped to another medication, and it’s been a miracle drug for me. I’m not going to give the name here because I don’t want to endorse my miracle drug. You see. It’s worked wonders for me but your mileage may vary.

I want you, if you need to, find a mental health professional and seek their guidance, not mine. Well, I guess I’m guiding you, but I’m pointing you to someone that can help you more than I can. Assume I’m a sign post that’s pointing the way out of the forest of scary thoughts.

This post has gone on long enough and I’m emotionally exhausted from the news about Robin Williams. I’ll wrap things up here.

I just want you to know that you’re not alone and there are always positive options out there. Please think about that.

Good night, and rest in peace, Mr. Williams. You’ll be missed.

PS: I still have An Evening at the Met on VHS. It’s late now, and I need to get to bed. I think I’ll watch the tape tomorrow night and remember the good times with Robin.

You Never Knew Me, But I Have Met You

I awoke yesterday morning, and the very first thing I saw in my RSS feeds was news of Jay Lake‘s passing on SF Signal.

Jay didn’t know me. We were Facebook friends with the occasional “like” or “share” between us, but no real conversation or comments to talk about.

However, I met Jay. I met him through an interview he gave over at SF Signal. I met him through his writing, his short stories, his novels, and his non-fiction.

Did I know Jay? No. I can’t claim to have known him as deeply as other people in his life. Far from it. However, I knew him through his words. That’s the extent of my relationship with someone no longer with us. That will be the only kind of relationship I’ll have with Jay. It will never change as the only thing I have left are his stories on paper and his voice coming at me through my iPod.

I’ve met quite a few people that were touched by Jay during his short forty-nine years on this planet. Without exception, they related to me the kindness, generosity, love, and care he had for everyone around him. Even when busy with his own concerns (like fighting off the cancer that eventually took him on the next part of his journey), he had time to guide “Hugo newbies” through the process of what to expect and how to do things. From the tales I’ve heard, he put out an incredible amount of energy and concern into others.

Jay, you don’t know me, but I know you through your deeds, actions, words, and legend. You’ll be missed. I only wish we could have met on this side of things. Maybe we could have had a Hawaiian shirt contest (odds in your favor, of course). I hope to be able to meet you on the other side of this life and swap some stories while wearing hideously-colored clothing.

Thank you for the words… more than that really… that you’ve shared with the rest of us.

A Fear: Writing the Other

I’ve started work on a new sword & sorcery series. I have a map of the city. I have back story of the city. I have scant character outlines. I know how the two protagonists met. I’ve worked up key side characters and vital locations. I’ve outlined the plot of the first book as well as I can without actually writing the book.

Egan was a well-educated (thus well-spoken) child living in a remote area. The emperor took offense to some (as yet to be determined) slight (or maybe an attack?) by leaders of Egan’s village. The emperor (being the bastard he is) declared a rebellion brewing in the village and ordered all adults killed and all children to be enslaved. Egan was barely young enough to be called a child. He and his brother were taken back to the city and sold off. Egan was forced into life as a gladiator because of his size, strength, and intelligence. He did well for himself.

Stiles was raised in the warrens of the city, and was forced to survive through any means necessary. He never knew his parents and was more-or-less raised by communal efforts to groom him to be a thief. As a result, he became a stellar thief just because he knew he had to be valuable to someone in order to make that someone keep him alive. His drive to excel pushed him high enough in the hierarchy of the Warrens to the point where he was able to escape to the city proper. Once in the city, he was back on the bottom rung of society and had to start over. He’s known to the law as a relatively minor criminal, but always manages to slide past punishments meted out by the judiciary system.

There. We have a couple of character sketches and some background.

Sounds like I’m in good shape, right?

Not so much.

Here’s why:

Egan is a black man. Yes. I went there. I enslaved a black man to a white master. While this is an alternate reality story, it’s a reflection on history of our world. I hope to treat the outlook, attitudes, actions, and reactions of not only Egan, but also society, his master, those against slavery, and those for slavery properly. I’m a middle-aged white guy who has never been a slave. I’ve never owned slaves. Slavery (at least in the United States) was long gone before I came about. This means I have no personal experience with any of this. Egan, his past (and present) situation(s), this society, his master, etc. are all “the other” to me.

Stiles is gay. I had originally written him as a womanizer, but every time I had Stiles flirting with a woman, something felt off to me. The interactions were false at face value. I didn’t even believe them. As an exercise, I wrote a test scene where Stiles had an intimate (not sex, just close) moment with another man. Someone who was once a lover, but now are just good friends that still deeply care for one another. The scene worked. It felt (to me) to be plausible… believable…. genuine. This convinced me that the character that leaped from my brain was not who I originally imagined. He told me he was gay. Who am I to argue? However, I’m not homosexual. This means I have a second main character of the series that is also “the other.” I’ve had a few gay/lesbian friends over the years, and they are the people I’m thinking of when I write Stiles. I’m not planning on using them as examples or character sketches, mind you. I’m going to be thinking, “Will they approve? Will they like this? Will they ‘buy’ this scene with Stiles?”

So there you go.

I’m writing “the other” on so many different levels with my next project that I’m actually scared shitless about doing it.

Will that stop me?

Hell, no!

I’m all in.

I’m going to do this.

I just hope I do it well enough to make an entertaining story without forcing my middle-aged-hetero-white-guy perspective and attitudes onto my decidedly different characters.

Wish me luck.


Yeah. That’s the same sound a little girl makes when she’s found out that her father bought her a pony for her eighth birthday.

It’s the same sound I made when I read this article on /..

You see, I was an avid player of Star Control 2 when it came out. I was deep in a funk. I was unemployed, was having some health issues, and generally not feeling well about my 19-year-old self. I decided I was going to go buy something to cheer me up. Unfortunately, I had no money because of the lack of a job. Fortunately, I had my grandfather’s credit card “for emergency use only.”

I considered this an emergency. I hit the mall. I was going to buy a little something to cheer me up. The first store I went into was Software Etc.. (Are those even still around?) I wandered the store looking for a game on the cheap. I didn’t want to upset my grandfather and have him yank the card from me for being extravagant.

I perused the selection for about 30 minutes before I came across Star Control II sitting on the shelf. I think the price-point was somewhere in the $40 area. I picked it up and compared it against the other 2-3 games I already had in my hands. I eventually settled on Star Control II for my purchase.

I was not disappointed.

My roommate at the time (Vince) loved the game as much as I did. We spent countless hours playing “Super Melee” against one another, and even more hours watching each other play the role-playing section of the game. He finished the role-playing portion before I did, but I wasn’t far behind him. I think I finished it about three days after he did. We had extensive notes, coordinates, save points, and general advice for each other.

The game pulled me out of my funk.

Fast forward more than a decade, and I come across this open source game called “The Ur-Quan Masters” in a software repository. I wasn’t looking for a game or anything. It just came across the alphabetical listing. I immediately forgot what I had been looking for and downloaded/installed the game. I hoped it was a clone or extension of Star Control II.

It was neither of those. It was the original Star Control II rebuilt as open source!

I let loose a “SQUEEEEEE” back then just like a did today.

I’ve been playing The Ur-Quan Masters ever since. I play it almost daily. I’ve beating the role-playing story line a few more times, but I get a vast amount of enjoyment out of the Super Melee that I play against the computer (on the hardest level, I might add.)

Seeing that there will be a new version of Star Control excites me to no end. I can’t wait for it to come out. I’ll back the Kickstarter! I’ll pre-order! I’ll buy it on Steam! Give me a way to get that game, and I’m all over it.

PS: Yes, I played Star Control III, but it sucked. I didn’t play it for long because of the clunky controls and crap game play. Shame on the makers of that game. They sullied the good name of a fine game.

PPS: Yes, my grandfather was upset with me for “wasting” $40 on a “worthless game.” I can see his point. I should have been trying to find a new job instead of dicking around with a game. Ah well. Wasted youth and all that.

Seven Years Gone By

I just realized that it was exactly seven years ago today that I joined the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group as a paying member. That set me on the path I’m still walking today.

I wish I had kept track of the number of words I had written since then. I can take a guess at it, and the number probably sits right around 400,000 words.

It’s been quite a ride since then, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the future!

Cars, Cards & Carbines

I’ve been mostly silent here lately for a variety of reasons. I might expand on that previous sentence at a later date, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Nothing horrible is going on.



I’ll explain it later because I want to focus on a Kickstarter a buddy of mine has put together. It’s called Cars, Cards, & Carbines. This is a campaign to bring a cross-genre anthology to the public through crowdfunding efforts. Travis Heermann (one of my critique partners) has teamed up with John Helfers to make this awesome-sounding anthology a reality.

I’d take a swing at describing the concepts behind the anthology, but Travis has already done me the favor. Here’s a quote from the Kickstarter page:

One cool thing about putting together this kind of anthology (aside from the sheer talent we’ve already assembled) is the way the three elements of the theme can be stretched. “Cars” can mean a lot of things: hot rods, getaway cars, train cars, mine cars, horse-drawn carriages. While originating from a Poker theme, “Cards” can be expanded into things like credit cards, tarot cards, programming cards, green cards, and more. And of course “Carbine” literally means a short-barreled rifle used generally by cavalry, but could easily reach into all sorts of firearms across almost any milieu.

Here’s a list of some of the authors involved in the project. There are some huge names on this list. I’m sure you’ve heard of a few of these folks. If not, I implore you to drag yourself out from under your rock and check all of them out.

  • Mario Acevedo
  • E.C. Ambrose
  • Kevin J. Anderson
  • Jay Bonansinga
  • Nancy Holder
  • D.B. Jackson
  • Mur Lafferty
  • Jay Lake
  • Nick Mamatas
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Norman Partridge
  • Cat Rambo
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • Ken Scholes
  • Dean Wesley Smith

Let’s see if we can rally together and help a good friend of mine out in his creative efforts!

A Life Worth Living

I’ve been out of sorts lately. More agitated with my writing. More grumpy with the feedback I’ve been receiving. More dissatisfied with what I’m doing with my life.

I’ve been rockin’ and kickin’ ass at the Day Job. I’ve been pulling off things and improving products in ways the other engineers (including my boss, the CTO) thought impossible or impractical. That’s kept me going.

It’s sad when the Day Job is the highlight of your day.

It’s been like this for me for several months.

On the writing side of things, I feel very good about myself when I’m not focused on my prose. What I mean by this is that things in the writing community is going really well. I’m now the president of Pikes Peak Writers. I’ve finished off the portal for handling The Zebulon Writing Contest. I’ve created the PPW Workshop Proposal Portal. The critique group Patrick and I founded early this year (Front Range Fiction Writers) is going strong with nine members. The conversations around the table about writing and each others’ works is going really well.

Things on the non-writing writing life couldn’t be better. I feel like I’m actively contributing to the writing community and helping others improve their writing. That also makes me feel good.

However, when I turn to my own prose, I’m feeling down. I feel like I’m not making any progress in any aspect of the craft or business. Let’s break that down.

The business side of things means getting published. Getting things out there in front of readers. The last thing I had published was “A Poor Fellow Soldier” in the anthology An Uncommon Collection, which was put out by the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group back when I was president of that organization. I didn’t get paid for the story. It was donated to the effort of getting a CSFWG anthology out the door. Some folks would claim that means the story isn’t “published” due to the fact that I didn’t get paid for it. Putting that argument aside for now, I haven’t submitted a damn thing to a publisher since November of last year. Yeah, I pitched my book at the 2013 PPWC, and sent it out to three agents and an editor. This garnered three rejections and one no answer. The final rejection arrived in August of this year. That put me into a “death spiral” of doubt, despair, and general self-loathing. Because of this, I’ve not had the courage to knock the dust off of one of my unpublished short stories (I have about a dozen of them) and find a home for them.

On the craft side of things, I’ve written a few new short stories and the start of a new novel. However, the feedback I’ve received on one of the short stories goes along the lines of, “Did you write this years ago? It’s not as polished as your other stuff.” The answer is, “No. I wrote this last month.” This kind of questioning from my critique group is meant with all of the kindness in the world, but if they are doubting my ability to improve my skills, who am I to also not have the same doubts? The seed is there, and my shattered psyche from going nowhere in the business side of things just waters and fertilizes that seed to where the doubts sprout and grow.

Now that I’ve wallowed in pity and pathetic doubts, it’s time for a change.

I’m not sure why, but something in my brain told me to pull “Tao of Jeet Kune Do” by Bruce Lee off my shelf. It was as if someone else had taken over my body. During the brief two-and-a-half steps to the shelf where the book had been resting, I was thinking, “What’s the point? Why should I even do this? Where did this idea come from?” Even though my brain balked, my body continued on and smoothly slid the thin book from its shelf.

I’m not sure how much time passed as I leafed through random pages, but my mood lifted over the course of reading passages and advice.

On the surface, the book is about how to perform as a better physical martial artist. Scratch the veneer off of that surface, and the true, wondrous depths of the book come to light. The book is not just how to punch, kick, grapple, or balance better. It’s about how to live a life worth remembering. That very close to one of my favorite quotes from Bruce Lee, which reads, “The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.”

The book is also about living a balanced life. Living well. Living happily. Taking every chance to drink fully from the cup of life. How to develop yourself into a better person.

On the opening page of the book, there is a quote: Take what is useful and develop from there.

I’ve been taking in everything and trying to develop it all.

That’s clearly not working for me.

It’s time for me shed my doubts, shed my fears, shed my self-destructive tendencies.

It’s time for me to enjoy life.

One of the things I truly enjoy is writing. It’s time to ignore the negative voices (internal and external), and get back to doing what I do best: living life through my prose and with my family and friends.