Friday, June 27, 2014

"The jungle is dark but full of diamonds..."*

On a particularly piteous kind of day, I started hum-drumming about all my financial burdens and the creaky, leaky apartment that I share with two other people and the job I find duller than staple-gunning vinyl to chairs and then doing that same thing for 8 hours, when it dawned on me. I have been lied to. We all have, in fact. Forever. Now I'm sure this comes as no surprise to the misanthropes out there, but in this particular case I find it sort of unnecessary. To clarify, it isn't so much lying as just...not talking about certain things. So basically all politics everywhere, only not as tyrannical or soul-crushing. Mostly.

The lie of omission is essentially this: I don't think people realize how hard it is to pursue your dreams. Mostly because the people who actually do succeed in achieving them only really talk about the euphoria and the joy inherent in what they get to do now. And that's fine, they should talk about that because pointing out the silver-lining can only encourage other people to keep slogging through. But I've never been a rose-tinted-glasses kind of person. I'm no pessimist, either, but I'm not one to get lost in delusions of my own idealized reality. So while the success stories are good and serve a purpose, I think it's just as useful to talk about the struggle to get there. The After is a very pretty picture, but the Before is the more comforting image.

People setting out to pave their own way, following their dreams, choosing the road less traveled and all that jazz; they know there will be difficulty along the way. Pretty much comes with the territory. But what I don't think they realize, what I certainly didn't realize before joining the workaday world, is that the hard part isn't necessarily the steps directly related to attaining your dream-whatever. It's every other part of your life, all the time. And it isn't only the artists and writers and actors and musicians, the creatives and Bohemians. It could be starting your own business, designing your dream house, an invention you're trying to get off the ground or even just your ideal career. It's dragging yourself through schooling and shelling out your carefully saved pennies for tuition and supplies, it's massive amounts of debt and working odd jobs you hate because your field is bottle-necked and no one is hiring. It's the creepy-crawly feel of futility coloring all your small victories, the sweetness of a hard won comfortable life leaving a bitter tang in your mouth because none of it feels real yet, none of it is "your life."

And while dreams are always laudatory things, sought after and prized, there is never any discussion about how having a dream can be a double-edged sword. On the one side it's passion, drive, gives you direction and something to aim for, puts up rudders for you to steer your life by. But for those who aren't able to realizes their dreams, or even those who struggle for years and years to get there, the effect it can have on their perception of life is...disappointing. Hope can be dangerous when it is constantly beaten down. There is no despair if you never expected better to begin with, and having that One True Calling that never manages to break into the real world can be its own exquisite form of masochism. Just ask Willy Lowman.

But that isn't to say dreams are an evil. I'm just saying they need to be approached realistically. Don't work yourself into a corner, refusing to take minimum wage jobs because working at McDonald's so you can feed and shelter yourself will somehow cheapen your "craft." The starving artist is a lovely romantic ideal and that's great and all, but do you know what the starving artist actually is? Hungry. The starving artist is living off ramen they heated up over a garbage fire because they're actually squatting, have no heat, and no one's around to enforce fire codes. The cast of RENT is a prime example. They were all "dedicated to their craft" and what happened to them? Couldn't afford their rent (spoiler alert!), became truants, half of them had AIDS or drug addictions or both, and the most talented one of the bunch dies before the end. Take all the sweeping rock-opera numbers out and you are left with a fairly tragic grumble of people who, at the end of the day, have basically nowhere to go. Gainful employment is not conceding to the man. It's being a functioning goddamn member of society.

So I guess the message for today is yes, go out there, dream big, refuse to settle for second-rate or less than your best. But understand that there are steps that have to be taken, that just about everyone has to take before they can get to the point where they can do what they really want. Don't back-burner your dreams by any means, because like as not you'll just keep putting them off until one day you're a failed salesman with a dismal home life and you're rolling your inadequate car off the road so your loved ones can collect on your life insurance policy. No one needs that drama. But do go into life knowing that there will be drudgery, expecting it, embracing it, so it doesn't catch you completely off-guard when the time comes to join the great cesspool of iniquity and doubt that is early adulthood. It took me off-guard, and that's why I sit in a tiny grey cubicle musing on existential crises. Never fear, though, I won't be pulling a Death of a Salesman anytime soon.

I don't even own a car.

*Quote from Death of a Salesman

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Taxonomy of Art

So I've hit a bit of a tangle, not surprising given all my progress feels like flailing in the dark. It seems such a tiny issue, or maybe it only seems that way to me, which is why it's an issue to begin with: I can't tell when my issues are issues, or me just over-thinking. The trouble is genre. Specifically, what genre is my story? You'd think I would know by now. It's been a year since I finished writing the stupid thing, and I've revised once already, so where exactly is the grey area? Where is there possibly an unturned stone? In any case this has become a concern now that I have to turn my mind from writing and editing and focus instead on writing and editing and marketing. At least I'm never bored.

Because that's what everyone wants to know. Whether you're getting published through one of the Big 6 or just getting some sage advice on building a reader base for your self-published novel, at some point someone will ask, "So what kind of story is it?" Not, "what is your story about?", though they'll want to know that, too. It's your originality that will intrigue readers, but it's your conformity that will cinch sales. That's not to say experimental writing can't make it, but in order to be marketable you have to (apparently) straddle an arbitrary line between the unfamiliar and the recognizable. You must be singular and fresh and different while still fitting certain guidelines to turn a profit. It's a very awkward pill to swallow, as a writer.

So my book. What kind of book is it? I made a list of the different genres I thought it could be and checked it against the glossary in the back of my Writer's Market and promptly found that my book doesn't fit any of them 100%. I'm sure plenty of writers find this to be the case, odd angles of narrative flopping out over the edges of their genre shoebox. The question on my mind is: "What do I do about this? If anything?" Is this a big deal? Is this, in fact, a problem? I mean my book does fit one of the Sci Fi subgenres pretty close, and if ever asked that's what I'd call it. But do I tweak the parts that don't fit? Do I trim and prune them until it all fits in the box as it ought? Or do I just let the story hang all out, embrace its abnormalities, scoff in the face of type and expectations? Tough call, considering no on knows who I am and bucking tradition is traditionally sort of isolating. And I'm not really a rebel, unless 'rebel' here means "wanting to do what I want to do." I'm pretty sure I need more in the way of social commentary or moral debate in my work to be a rebel. I just want to tell the story that came to me when I was half-asleep and it seemed reasonable to have a society based entirely on aphrodisiacs and perpetual imprisonment, because my mind is evidently a terrifying place. Yes, there are some very objectionable things that happen, but they aren't discussed in terms of "right" and "wrong." It's more like: you did something to me I didn't like so now I will wreck your everything. It's like Brave New World if instead of John the Savage as the protagonist it was The Bride from Kill Bill. It's basically a revenge story that accidentally topples an unscrupulous regime only no one else knew it existed, no one welcomes them as heroes, and they go about it in a frankly un-heroic way (which is putting it lightly). It survives mostly on character-study, cursing, and a dark sense of humor in the face of a very bleak reality. So, you know, a family favorite in the making.

I just need someone to talk to, is what this all boils down to. I need someone with some amount of experience to say hey, you're focusing too much on this thing, over here is where your energy should be spent. And not another author. Other authors have great advice, and more than that they make this whole getting published thing seem attainable, in a they-did-it-so-can-I sort of way. I still always, always want to hear from authors about how they managed to succeed. But what I need, at the moment, is someone who doesn't have a personal anecdote for me, but a bullet-point presentation complete with swooping graphic designs and artful dissolving techniques, something tangible I can put a benchmark on or cross off a list so I can gauge progress. I need something more concrete than people telling me "well I just did this that and the other thing and BAM, Best Seller's List." That's great, but the big drawback for any author's success story is just that: it's a story. It's the way in which it worked out for them, but it doesn't necessarily follow that it will work for me. Sure, I appreciate being given new ideas for what to try, but at the end of the day it still feels like I'm in this alone. They can shower me with all the names and listings and how-to's until I suffocate in it, but I still have to go home and plod this all out by myself, like a desperate attempt to throw everything plus the kitchen sink at the wall and see what sticks around. It's a tightrope walk between endless possibilities and a paralysis of indecision. I could do everything, which means I'll end up doing nothing. And I don't want that to be how this endeavor goes. In the end, though, I think it's pretty clear what sort of person I have to talk to.

Guys, I need an editor.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Brave Not-so-New World

All right everyone. Enough of this crap. Dust your asses off, because I'm shifting gears. No more flailing around bemoaning my fate at the hands of a cruel and unfeeling universe. Time to get up, get in there, and get my hands dirty. What am I talking about, you ask? The same thing I talk about all the damn time on this blog, Pinky. Getting Published.

And then taking over the world.

So first things first: a little temporal refreshment. I've been mum about my progress within the boggy moor of getting published, in large part because I have made no progress. But! Despair not, all those who stumble blindly onto my page by hitting the 'Next Blog' button too many times. I now have the power within my grasp and I am drunk on possibilities. To whit, I am now in possession of one of the most comprehensive guides to getting your aimless drivel polished up and worth anyone's notice. The Novel and Short Story Writer's Market 2014.

GAZE UPON ITS GLORY


 It is gorgeous and intimidating and my holy grail, at this point. If you are also trundling along this murky path with me, I highly suggest this as a good beginning point. I made a brief study of several different version of the Writer's Market, including the actual Writer's Market (yes there are multiple focuses and specialties, in various sized tomes, all of them $30 a pop. I almost had a fit in my local bookstore). While all of them have useful information and very exhaustive lists of magazines, book publishers, and literary agents, some are slightly more novice-friendly. I have so far found great advice and the starts of many a brain-storming session all alone in my cubicle at work about what direction I want to take my book and how I might go about achieving the best results for that end. I seriously recommend it. In fact, I would be so bold as to say you need this book. Go buy it now. Right this instant. But you're not a writer, you protest? You will be in about ten or fifteen years. Everyone wants to write a book once, might as well start preparing now.

The second thing is more embarrassing to admit to, but it was pretty monumental for me anyway. I finally entered the modern age and got myself a smartphone. For the record, no I am not 58 years old. I'm actually 24, if you must know, but I have an old soul and am therefore terrified of bright shiny things I don't understand and I also have no money. But the boon of such a thing, which I imagine is painfully obvious to everyone but me until five days ago, is that I can now keep up with my online presence more so than before. Let me revise that: I can now have an online presence more so than before. And that will be super useful, nay essential, in my attempts to get published and then actually succeed at it. There a bunch of grown-up terms I learned in my Writer's Market, one of which was "building an author platform." The difficulty, other than logging the sheer man hours required to make this profitable, is a complete 180 of priorities for me. Facebook has never been all that important in my life. I'm rarely on it. I don't get Twitter. I only heard of LinkedIn, like, 72 hours ago. It's like I used up all the fucks I gave for online communities during my LiveJournal days and ever since then I was like "meh." So yeah. Stuff I've thought as a non-priority now has to be at the top of my list, and not only do I have to pay attention to all this stuff, but I need to interact with it and find a way to really care about it. That's not to say that the plight of other writers like myself isn't important to me, but I have spent much of my writerly life being shut up in a microcosm of friends and people who share genetics with me. I have a creeping paranoia that if I even breathe a word about my book, someone else will slap their name on it and make millions before I can say COPYRIGHT, BITCH, DROP IT BEFORE I SHANK YOU.

My feelings are pretty strong on this point. Because let's be realistic here, people. The publishing world is not a high-octane, over-caffeinated race to the finish line. It more resembles warfare, in two particular ways: it is a long game of hurry-up-and-wait, and there will be an astronomical amount of bodies to dump in your local landfill by the end of it. But it doesn't have to be that way, is what I am finding out. I've seen publishing and writing careers dramatized in movies and such, and for any intrepid break-out author it's just this vicious backstabbing world of cut throats and assholes out to screw you any way possible and a few ways that defy all rules of physics, just because they can. I am trying to embrace a different reality. It's hard. I have trust issues, largely unfounded to be honest. But I guard my stories snarlingly like a dragon crouched over its gilded hoard and not only will that eventually prove counterproductive, it's murder on the back. Time to grow a trust bone. Also, start giving a crap about tweets.

It'll be an uphill struggle. But worth it at the top, where it looks like it might not be lonely, after all.

Welcome to my blog, the world. I'm going public now.