Keeping Focused

 

One of the hardest parts of writing for me is keeping my brain in gear. As a glass artist I could put my hands to work, rock out to some music to prevent the inevitable self-criticism of how it was going, and let the magic happen. That mental disengagement isn’t possible with writing. So far anyway, any slight distraction, like soft music in the background, only irritates me. I need to work on that. In the past music has often proven a good lubricant to my thought processes.

I enjoy the demand of complete mental engagement, I just can’t sustain it for long. It’s like swimming in a cold lake. I know if I’m in it long enough I’ll adjust, but after a few minutes I can’t help but head for the warm sandy beach. There’s also a lurking fear of what happens if I do get too comfortable—like writer’s hypothermia. I suppose that’s where the gentle distractions prove useful, like a little life-line back to reality.

There was a time when I was doing production glass work that I’d put on movies as my entertainment. Though it worked well for cranking out product, it was also an indication I wasn’t challenging myself. Maybe I’m over doing it now. I don’t know. Might be time for some experiments.

Looking for the Positive Lesson in a Bad Situation

 

One of the coolest art markets in New Orleans is losing its prime location. The details are too infuriating to recount, but it comes down to greed and the power to steal someone else’s dream once it becomes a reality. Supposedly, the spot will still be an art market, but run by the land owner and not the dreamer who five years ago envisioned getting artists off the streets at night and into a safe, inviting environment. Now that her idea is a success, she’ll need to move elsewhere.

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered a moneyed power sucking the soul and momentum out of a creative culture. Ebay was an amazing place to sell my beads when I first got into glass. Then, once many artists and buyers made it into a success, Ebay started raising the fees and found other ways to suck dry the very artists that made that corner of the site what it was. From my local chef who says his landlord is raising the rent now that the shop is popular, and therefore the location more desirable, to Amazon constantly changing the rules to benefit the corporation over the writers, the creators always seem to be at the mercy of those providing the playing field.

Which leads me to my pipe-dream. That definition of success I talked about earlier needs to first be an insanely-stupid, unrealistic, fantasy. My current one is to own a jazz club building on Frenchmen Street. Don’t worry, I’m well aware of how expensive and Not Good an idea that is, but those pipe-dreams get to be what they want to be. I have no interest in being an employer. I’ve done that so I know it’s not me. I’m also not looking for another revenue stream, quite the opposite. I like, or would like, to make my money writing. It’s more in the realm of giving back, but that sounds too altruistic. I want to be a part of the scene. To be known as the guy who’s on the side of the artist. Think Leonard Chess in the movie Cadillac Records without the conflicts.

If we don’t support those creative adventurers—be they artists, musicians, chefs, or any other passionate endeavor—we’ll end being little more than McDonalds and Walmarts from coast to coast. D and I spent five years in an RV seeing this country, so I know we’re pretty much already there. New Orleans is one of the few cities that has truly unique flavor. But that can so easily be watered down for public consumption, or worse, capitalized on by those only looking to cash in. I don’t think I could write stories set in Middle-America-Blahville.

The Setbacks Only Become Failures if you Quit

 

I’m starting to see a little positive momentum with my books. Nothing to write home about, and most of it is due to my crackerjack marketing team. They’re smart enough to not bother me with what they’re doing, and I try to be smart enough not to interfere. It’s just very encouraging to look at the daily sales and see something other than a flat line across the bottom of the chart. I still can’t breathe easy, but it’s a start and I’m very appreciative.

I say all that so no one will get the idea that quitting for me is an option. Any new endeavor takes a lot of intestinal fortitude. And that’s okay. People like stories where the protagonist has to overcome great odds. Honestly, a story where the hero just wins from the start and never has setbacks is boring. We all identify with the struggle. From the beginning of this adventure I saw the challenges as good future backstory. “I had to work years and put out X number of books before…” You get the idea. But to stop before that “…” turns everything that went before from backstory to failure.

Writing for me is kind of like being addicted to gambling, and not just because of the money thrown down on each new story. There’s a belief that the odds must be improving. Except with writing there’s also the hope that I’m getting better with each attempt. That has to influence the odds. And I’ve got an amazing team backing me up. Come on, how can I lose?

So I’m trying to embrace my current standing in the writing world and not be too concerned with the time and money it’s taking to find success. It’s a journey and I’m trying not to be in hurry. But to quote Jeff Bebe in Almost Famous, “Although, some money would be nice.”

Defining Success

 

Every few years Deanna and I reevaluate where we are with our lives and professions. Early on we realized money was only a means to an end. It’s not what defines us or is even a reasonable measure of how we’re doing. Of course that proves to be a challenge when we’re dealing with others, be they artists or writers, who do subscribe to the monetary measuring stick. We buy into it for the sake of conversation but always feel a little dirty afterward.

Our last definition involved wanting to move to New Orleans and allow D to do all the traveling she wanted without me freaking out. We’re there. It was a good pipe-dream and it happened much faster than we imagined.

But it’s not the end point that we’re striving toward. Our definition isn’t a goal. It’s more like a way of seeing when it’s time to reevaluate our situation. I can’t say that we have a current definition, and I probably wouldn’t tell you what it was if we did. Some ideas are better kept private.

The conversation that defines what we want isn’t one that’s completed in an hour’s walk, or a week of walks, or even a month of walks. But once we stumble on the truth we won’t forget that road marker when we pass it.

Convenience is my Vice

 

Typically, we don’t spend a ton of money. There just isn’t anything either one of us wants. Deanna is fonder of travel than I am, but even then her trips are usually more for work than play.

And, contrary to what many people who know me may think, I do know how to cook a meal, clean the house, and maintain the yard. I just don’t want to. At all. I’m happy to pay others to do my chores, especially as most of those people do a far superior job than I would.

At the moment I’m supposed to be headed to the store for one of the few tasks I still have assigned to me. Unfortunately, I’m also suffering with a sinus infection that’s making it hard to get off the couch. I’m looking forward to the day Amazon and Whole Foods create an online ordering system with a smart warehouse that pulls the product and same-day drone delivery service. Sometimes the science-fiction writer in me wonders why reality lags so far behind. I’d be happy to pay the fee. Especially today.

The Title of Doctor is Gender Neutral

 

I’ve enjoyed Doctor Who from the moment my father introduced me to the show back in the Tom Baker days. For seven years Tom was The Doctor. That’s a long run for any show. I was crushed when he regenerated. Peter Davison was good, and I’d seen him in All Creatures Great and Small and enjoyed him in that series, but as Doctor Who he was no Tom Baker. I felt the same way about Matt Smith as I did with Tom. I’ve really tried to enjoy the David Tennant version of the Doctor, but those episodes just don’t do it for me like Matt’s. I’ll admit, though, when Karen Gillan left I nearly quit watching. If it hadn’t been for the impossible girl Clara Oswald played by Jenna Coleman I just might have.

I bring up that long, personal, Whovian-nerd history for a simple reason. I’m jazzed that the next Doctor will be a woman, but she’s not going to get a free pass from me just because of the change in gender. I have big expectations for her. I had really hoped the last Doctor was going to be Emma Watson. I know it was a pipe-dream, but how cool would that have been? Not that I didn’t like Peter Capaldi, but once Jenna left as companion I didn’t fight to keep BBC as part of our paid-for viewing. With Jodie Whittaker I’m hoping to be won back over.

The thing is, I love not only writing powerful women characters, but also seeing their journey and how they gained that strength. Technopia was meant to follow my leading man, but I gave him such deep flaws that he’d never save the universe without his wife and daughters. I still kind of want to continue on with the women’s stories, but that’s a different topic. In the Malveaux Curse Mysteries I’m not even trying to promote my male lead. These stories follow Kendell Summer and I love watching her progress. Myles is a fun character, but let’s face it, he’s not the primary role.

There’s more room to explore a female character. The strong, confident man bores me. I fear I don’t write him very well for that reason, though my latest nemeses might fit that mold. And anything other than the alpha male doesn’t play well as a main character. I know I’m being overly simplistic. I don’t doubt that you could come up with dozens of examples of where I’m wrong. But not in my writing.

So I’ll be watching Doctor Who with high hopes. I’m not sure she’ll attract many female viewers, and may very well lose a lot of arrogant males, but maybe the trans-community might gravitate toward The Doctor as an interesting case study. Vive La Difference.

 

The Positive Choice

 

I’ve put off writing about this topic as a lot of people who know me roll their eyes when I get going on it. But with what I’ve been reading lately, pretty much everywhere, being so negative I thought it was worth getting back on my soapbox.

I’m a firm believer in “Where you look is where you go.” It’s a philosophy I’ve run into many times in life. Basically, whatever you focus on is what you manifest into your life. In cases of crashes—be they vehicular, economic, or political—staring at the negative outcome, like the car’s grill, will result in the worst case scenario. Focusing on the most positive outcome, like the field of grass beside the road, prevents becoming a splatter on the windshield. I guess I should have mentioned the first time I ran across this idea was in a motorcycle riding course. The bottom line is, if the crash is inevitable, what’s the best way to survive it?

I try not to be preachy. I think I was better at keeping my beliefs to myself when I was younger, though that sometimes made me a bit hard to deal with for no apparent reason. One of the reoccurring criticisms of my science-fiction adventure was I got a little preachy in places. I can accept that. When I started writing there was a lurking desire to express some of those thoughts that have circled back onto me throughout my life. Some of them are more socially acceptable than others apparently.

Looking up instead of down, though, doesn’t seem that controversial. I’m not some always happy, positive, person who believes everything will work out. I’m really not. But seeking answers instead of fixating on how bad the problem is just seems like a better direction than constantly complaining.

Rant Over.

Kicking it Up a Notch

 

I was waiting in line for my favorite neighborhood chef last night and a fellow patron whom I see on a regular basis mentioned I looked tired. I feel tired, but in a good way. Lately both Deanna and I are trying to push ourselves a little harder.

For the last couple of books, I’ve been on a thousand words a day kick. That might sound like a lot of writing, but that pace is about the minimum I can do and still be connected to the story. Usually at a thousand words I’m writing a sentence or two, maybe a paragraph, then getting lost online. It’s not always about checking in with social media. There are times where I’ll be writing and trip over a word or image that I need to double-check before moving forward. Of course, once I open the internet it’s never a quick check and back to work.

For the science-fiction books I was at closer to three thousand words each day. I couldn’t maintain that pace indefinitely, but I did feel very connected to what was going on with the story. For my current project I’ve been comfortably at a two thousand words pace. It feels good. I still get tripped up and have to wander around, take a shower, basically kick my imagination in the side to spit out an answer to my characters’ dilemma, but at 2K there’s not a lot of time for goofing off.

D’s at an even more aggressive pace. Even on my best day I haven’t put down as many words as her daily goal. And she’s sticking to it. So though I feel a slacker compared to her, this story is going to get finished in record time so long as we keep pushing each other.

But things like going to the store, shipping out a glass order, or walking down the block to get food ends up feeling like a daily obstacle course for getting those precious words down. Sometimes that balance between work and life gets a little out of wack.

It’s a Marathon

 

Writing takes work, and not just the sit at the keyboard and bang out words work. I have to fill my mind with images, people, actions, plots, the list goes on and on. And I have to be continuously aware of what’s going on around me in case something interesting crosses my path. That level of attention can be exhausting. I’m not saying people aren’t always interesting, but I might need a better window on the world than social media.

So I try and get out, watch interesting movies and shows, and be aware. That gives me the details. And TV is not bad at this. We just started binge watching Treme. I recommend it. But that awareness just gives me my building blocks. Getting a good day’s writing in also means preparing myself mentally and physically. I need to keep the blood flowing and I can’t let my mind drift off track. That mental thing can, and often does, conflict with filling my mind with building blocks.

It helps having a writing partner. Like running, having someone there keeping me motivated and on track is a big boost. We try to challenge each other, but as it’s my wife if one of us is on a low energy kick it usually infects the other as well. We’re trying to do better about that. Not that either of us is competitive. I’d lose. Fortunately, we’re more about the support. Many days I see military recruits up on the levee running. I’m always encouraged by how they support each other to do better rather than making it a competition.

Over the years Deanna and I have had people ask us how we hit our success. The answer is the same whether we’re talking art or writing. Do It Every Day. It’s a mind set.

Production or Perfection

 

I had a conversation a few years back with a fellow glass artist about the best way to build one’s reputation. His take was that even a newbie should release only the absolute best and everything else should be trashed so their name is never associated with lower quality work. Glass art can be a ruthless medium.

My take was I produce as much as I possibly can. Rather than being known for one or two highly prized items, I’d rather people have access to my work. I have patrons who spotted me early on and have collections that span my artistic and technical growth. I do cringe when I see some of the early work, but I’m also gratified that it’s still out there.

But beyond what having a large portfolio of work does for my buyers, for me I’ve advanced much faster by cranking out idea after idea. Obsessing about making something completely perfect usually drives me into a hole I have trouble getting out of. It’s never perfect. But making or writing piece after piece helps me connect with what the public wants, let’s me explore my creative voice, and develops my skills across a range of challenges.

I’m like the kid who draws a thousand pages of squiggly lines. Individually they might not be better than my fellow classmate who’s managed to draw a square house, but the volume of my work has an insane beauty all its own.