Writing resembles prospecting and mining, especially if you've been away from the pen or keyboard for any appreciable amount of time. When a story idea first hits you, that's the discovery. Perhaps you can't get to it immediately. The time isn't right or you don't have proper tools at hand. So you jot down the location and general shape of the discovery and move on. When you finally make your way back (assuming you make your way back), it may not have the hard lines or definition it did when you first unearthed it on the drive home at 5 p.m. last Thursday, but a trace remains, and that's all you need. So you kick around a bit and there it is! A glimmer just where you left it.
Time to get to work. The first shovelfuls go easily enough. Maybe the ground is a bit rocky, clay makes the going slower than you'd like, sticking to your spade. But you push on until you realize that the direction you thought the vein ran might not be right. You question your decision. Did you dig in the right spot? Is there gold here at all? Maybe another location would be richer. Here's where the work becomes work. Tired muscles want you to quit. Doubt frays the edges of your resolve. This is when so many give up the dig and go elsewhere. And sometimes they're right to.
But gutting it out is the only way to be sure. And what you hope to find is a deposit large enough to give you the confidence to keep going because there's more waiting just a little deeper. This is where veteran writers have an advantage over beginners. They still suffer the same insecurities, but they know that the story deposits are rich and just need to get at them. Doing so takes time. Often longer than you want and never on the schedule you'd prefer. But if you keep at it and keep a schedule, the end will come more quickly, and so will the next story.
Of course, knowing what to do and doing it are two different things. The masters are strict about their regimes. Want to be a master? Buckle down and start digging. And don't stop for anything.
Hello from the south of Wisconsin, where all the snow we had before the Thanksgiving holiday has melted, and Seattle's rains have settled in.
As you know, my quest to finish the basement, provide myself with a new place to write, and give Baby Kidwell (now seven months old) a room of her own has consumed pretty much all of 2015. Every waking moment I was in the house, I've been attacking this project. Thankfully! Wonderfully! Amazingly! The end is in sight. How do I know? My office is done. And so is Baby Kidwell's room ... except for the moving her furniture in part.
Behold, the fruits of my labor.
It's nice to have a place to write tucked away from everyone. It's true, you don't need to have a dedicated workspace for you to be productive, but, for me, it helps. I like the solitude that an office can afford, especially when I can lock the door and tell everyone to leave me alone. It's my space and I don't have to deal with distractions. Do I like to write outside the office? Absolutely. But this is the place where the heavy lifting gets done. Now, I've got to start that lifting again.
Wedged between quadcopters, roleplaying games, guitars, and various other pieces of my life that are about to get relegated to the basement, where they and I can be forgotten.
As of March 1, I began remodeling my basement for our baby girl, who would join us in April. If you are wondering why I didn’t start earlier, have the good manners not to ask.
I dove in with nary a second thought. Oh, it would be fulfilling. We’d save money doing it ourselves. It would be the way we wanted it. The only tool I’d have to buy was a hammer driver. Everything was covered. Well, almost everything. I’d need a power painter. And a carpenter’s level. The jigsaw. The circular saw. Not to mention the new knives, blades, tape, paint … whatever. You get it.
The baby arrived. And I worked. And worked. Every night, I’ve worked. And now, it’s almost done, only five months late. I’m just waiting for the carpet guys to put down the floor so I can move out and the baby can move in.
Meanwhile, the due date for the second issue of Drone 360 looms ever nearer. It’ll be on store shelves November 3. That means it’s off to printing at the end of this month. I’m still working a story that should have been finished two weeks ago, but trips to various cons and other obligations have nibbled away the time to get this thing done. The nibbling stops this week. I hope.
Speaking of which, the Drone 360 website went live a couple of weeks ago. A pretty little thing it is, too. Go there. Read it. And never mind that the top of my head has been sliced off on the front page.
Gen Con blew my mind this year. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, and didn’t want to. I’ve been going since 1990, and I’m still not tired of it. Business brought me to Gen Con this year. Next year, I hope I’ll be able to mix in some fun, too. Maybe a little Pathfinder. A little Iron Kingdoms. Some board games.
I was back in Las Vegas last week for the International Drone Conference and Exposition, or InterDrone. Probably three thousand very pro-drone attendees, all trying to figure out where the UAS rocket ship is headed and how to avoid blowing up before arriving. Tensions grow between the we-can-fly-where-and-as-high-as-we-want rotor jocks and those who may think the rules a bit stuffy but don’t want to wreck the whole endeavor for a killer pic of a passenger jet taking off.
Through all of this, I’ve been writing stretches of prose and notes for the next novel. It sucks not having an agent right now, and so the first of what I’m calling the Felgate Saga rests, waiting for me to put my full attention into shopping it. That happens when the office finally gets moved and I’m clear of the second issue of Drone 360. Somewhere around the beginning of October. That’s when Felgate Book Two gets underway in full.
Much more to tell, but I don’t want to wear you out. Keep an eye on Twitter. Converse with me there. I’ll be back here with another update soon.
If you aren't in danger, you've done something wrong.
I am drifting into a media dead zone. As my new novel continues to take shape, I find reading or watching TV or movies a challenge. Frankly, they begin to annoy me. Not in the “I could’ve done that” way. Rather, it’s more of a “I need to be working on my stuff more!” It’s as much motivational as it is a source of frustration. The frustration emerges when I know I’ve reached a personal limit on what I can usefully accomplish and need to walk away but my brain keeps screaming to do more.
However, my media dead zone isn’t really dead. By nature of my other job, I have to stay plugged in to emerging tech, government regulations, and publishing trends. And news, of course. I don’t know why I bother with the last, except out of desperate habit that stretches back to a time when I had cable and consumed everything Keith Olbermann. I’ve learned since leaving all that behind that news reinforces my inclination toward nihilism and desperate yearning to march humanity back into the dark, desolate sea from which it emerged, leaving the planet to heal its wounds and rejoice in our passing. For, in the mighty vastness of a mostly empty universe, what possible purpose could 7 billion humans serve except to prove self-realization a waste? Yeah, that’s what Charleston did to me. Sent me right back there.
In the face of multitudes telling us how they’re affected by the actions of white men, it is damned frustrating that we white men think it’s completely within our rights as white men to invalidate the stories of those who aren’t white or men. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?
White dudes, ask yourselves, would you trade in being white and male to be black and female? How about Latino? Latina? I’m willing to bet that no white man has ever woken up and said, “Goddammit! I wish I was a black man.” And that a white man wouldn’t trade places with any another Common Joe who wasn’t white speaks volumes. It is the essence of privilege. Recognize it.
And men in general, drop the alpha male bullshit. Just. Stop. If you’re one of those, quit trying to equate being a gigantic douche to a wolf-pack hierarchy based on competition that doesn’t exist and never has except in our imaginations. What’s more, quit demeaning women. No one wants to hear your excuses. Women least of all.
I’m tired of old philosophies that somehow, despite centuries of furious gnawing, still have enough meat on their bones to sustain the goblins beleaguering our existence. If you have nothing new to add, be quiet. The universe is mostly silent. Take a hint.
As a friend of mine likes to point out, it used to be traditional for Romans to roundup Christians and feed them to lions in the Coliseum. How do you think they felt about “traditional values?” It’s beyond time to throw out traditions.
If only we could confine to fiction political bullshit and murder and rape and waste and backward thinking and all the myriad ills of our tiny, blue world.
You know how much I love definitions. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised when I serve one up. Merriam-Webster defines success as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame,” or “the correct or desired result of an attempt.” Big picture and small picture.
For writers, we give a whole lot of fucks about the big-picture success. But it’s the small-picture successes that break us. You can live your whole life fantasizing about fame and fortune, never working toward it, and you’ll be just fine. People do it all the time. The fantasy takes on a desperate neediness when you put yourself out there day after day, week after week, and the small successes don’t come. When will it happen? Will it happen? Ever?
The truth: The odds of you making a living as a writer are against you. Hell, if Faulkner lived in today’s world, chances are we’d never see The Sound and the Fury.
What does success mean to the working writer? It means setting a word-count goal and meeting it for the year. It means finishing your novel and feeling fucking grand about it. It means sending out queries and knowing that getting your work in front of other people who could potentially sell your book to a publisher is the goal, not landing the agent. If you do land the agent, then BONUS!
There will always be those people in your life who don’t understand what you do. They’ll tell you that you’re dreaming and that you’re writing won’t amount to anything. You know how easy it would be to believe them and throw it all into the wind. But you’ll regret it. Plus, you’re making it easier for the rest of us if you drop out, and you really don’t want to do that, do you?
How do I define success?
I try not to. For me, I just keep working and thinking and jotting. Even if I can’t get to my keyboard or don’t feel like it, I scratch illegibly into a composition notebook, working out ideas by hand. I’ve learned to let success worry about itself. I’ll concentrate on getting the job done.
On another note, Jim Ward, a friend, colleague, and TSR stalwart, recently published The Storyteller’s Thesaurus with Anne K. Brown. It has wonderful word lists for fantasy, history, and horror writers. Jim and Anne wend their way through vocabulary for character building and clothing to military terms, geography, and loot. It’s not arranged alphabetically but by subject. It doesn’t focus on finding synonyms, but helps you find the best word when, for whatever reason, the word has gone out of your head.
I think there will be another issue of Drone 360. I’ve sketched out the feature well and have a few covers mocked up. I have a pitch meeting next week. And I had a meeting last week in which I saw a huge project I’ve been working on get the green light. Now, I’m waiting to see when I can say more.
And finally, for all of you who have been asking, yes, Goodwife Kidwell and the latest addition are doing quite well. Kid Kidwell is adjusting to life as an older brother, drawing the line at changing his sister’s diapers. “I won’t do it. It’s something I just don’t need to see.”
Take care of yourselves. Until next time.
My wife and I have a new baby on the way. You may have known that, or not. If you didn’t, you do now.
When we bought our house, I claimed one of the three bedrooms as my office. Despite my best efforts, my wife won’t allow the new baby to nestle in a crib between the printer and a stack of edited manuscripts. I’m in the midst of the eviction process and have to find a new place. To the basement!
The problem: I don’t like spiders or sitting in dust among cobwebs in a perpetual gray dusk that becomes marginally better in the incandescent glow from a drawstring light.
The solution: Building a new office and family room.
I began back in January and figured I could be done with the project by the end of April, with steady work. However, as I am wont to do, I failed to take into account that I have myriad responsibilities besides building a new office and family room, and therefore wouldn’t be able to put in 10 hours at the office and the eight hours in the basement everyday I had planned. Nope, nope, noooooope.
Freaking doctor visits and magazine launches and sickness and business trips and school functions and … you get the point. Life.
Whatever. It’s getting done. Just one more wall to go up and I can call an electrician and figure out a lighting and electrical plan. Then an inspection and drywall, carpet, and finishing. Oh, and a baby in there, too.
Meanwhile, the book, newly rechristened, Dread Ark, will head out to ten agents in the next couple of weeks. I’ll let you know as they go out, either via Twitter or here.
I have a bunch of handwritten notes and story fragments for Dread Ark’s sequel. I just have to work them all together into a cohesive format.
In case you’re wondering, I’m rereading the Count of Monte Cristo. Goodwife Kidwell bought me an English translation published around the turn of the 20th century from M.A. Donohue & Co. Long dead, the company specialized in publishing popular fiction at an affordable price. Literature for the masses. I love the casual “Alex Dumas” on the cover. Dumas gets a more formal “Alexander” on the cover page. A strange publishing artifact to be sure. Maybe he was less daunting if you thought of him as the 13-year-old living next door. Yeah, he just writes these crazy stories, Alex does.
Considering the uneven translation, the poor print quality, and the weak editing, the reading has become quite the adventure. It might also explain why Donohue & Co. went under well before the rise of the digital titans and super-shortened attention spans.
I made a whirlwind trip to the Game Manufacturer’s Association Trade Show in Las Vegas this week. I arrived Wednesday morning, and after a brief dustup where I was told I couldn’t take a couple of pics of a ballroom full of eager retailers listening to presentations from select publishers (which would have made a great publicity photo for the show), I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I saw many friends I hadn’t seen in a long time and revived contacts that had accumulated a little more dust than I would have liked.
I thoroughly miss the game industry, partly because I love games, but also because I love the people who design games. I miss working on games, talking concepts and mechanics. Crazy as it sounds, I miss manning a booth. Yeah, it means standing for hours and hours until you’re sure that your shoes are the only things keeping your feet from disintegrating into something resembling ground pork. But you’re talking to people who love your games, or who would like to love your games, or who think your games suck but are completely devoid of social graces and willing to tell you exactly what you fucked up and why their ideas would have been better.
There’s camaraderie, a familial bond that people in the hobby-game industry form, and I feel like I’ve strayed a bit from the fold. Not forgotten, but definitely not in the thick of things either. Twinges of sentiment akin to homesickness, I suppose.
I left Vegas at 6:30 Thursday night—told you it was a quick trip. I was back in Wisconsin by 11:59 p.m. An hour-and-a-half later and three minutes from home a vigilant police officer clocked me doing 80 mph in a 65 zone. All I wanted was the bowl of beef-and-lager stew waiting for me in the fridge, my warm bed, to see the groggy smile of my wife whom I would inadvertently wake as I try to climb into bed without disturbing her. Instead, I got a $124 ticket.
More than three thousand miles and hiccups at the beginning and end. Not bad. Though I could have thought of at least a dozen other things I'd rather do with that $124.
I love Drone 360. I hesitate to call it mine. After all, I didn’t pay for it. There would be no Drone 360 without a dozen writers, a handful of editors, and a talented art staff. That’s not to mention the support staff for circulation, advertising, and marketing. There’s a lot that goes into launching a new publication, and I stood in the eye of the storm. So, what did I learn?
1. I will take on too much
I’ve always known this about me, so I didn’t “learn” this so much as get smacked on the ear by it daily. However, when confronted with a huge project and then given a deadline that will not budge, you have to do whatever it takes to meet that deadline. Delegation? BAH! Who needs it?
As it turns out, I do. I’ve never been good at delegation, going all the way back to my days as a rookie editor at Sovereign Press (now Margaret Weis Productions). You might think it vanity, like I need to have my fingerprints all over everything. That’s not it at all. I mean, I’m editor of the freaking magazine. My fingerprints are all over it by necessity. No, it’s good ol’ farmer ethic: If it’s gotta git done right, why, I better do it myself.
I blame my mom, because that is exactly where I get it from.
Drone 360 made me delegate. I still took on a lot, and there was no escaping it, but I also had to push a lot of the responsibility on to the team—thus the whole “team” thing. Yay, team! So, I gained a level in delegation.
2. Asking for favors blows
Holy crap, do I hate asking people for favors. Hate it. Kill it with fire ants. Then burn it with gasoline and a Roman candle. I think this stems from my whole anti-delegation thing. Yeah, when you delegate, you normally have the responsibility to delegate. Asking people to get onboard with you when they have no reason other than the good will you hope you’ve garnered over a few years is something else entirely.
But, when I was handed Drone 360, that’s exactly what I did, and it was essential. I reached out to people I hadn’t talked to in years, hoping against hope that they might find what I was working on interesting enough to maybe write something for it, or, at the least, steer me in the right direction of someone who might want to. What I found is that I haven’t completely alienated everyone I’ve ever known, and what’s more, they thought the magazine was a great idea. Suddenly, the network grew, and not only did we have authors, but we had advertisers, too! How fucking cool is that!
3. When you’re “the editor,” you’re a god
I had forgotten what it’s like to be the guy who makes the decisions. You set up the style guide. You assign the stories. You figure out the books pacing. Everything falls to you. So, that means your balls suddenly get hairier and a tad larger and you head out into the hinterlands with a club, hunting for writers. Of course, because you’re working on something completely new, no one knows what you’re talking about. You end up writing email after email introducing yourself, presenting your credentials, and trying to sell folks on what you’re making. You also bait traps with gold. Sometimes you bag your quary, sometimes not. But there is something nice about the “editor” appelation. Something from which to draw sustenance. Like, “Holy dog brains, someone saw fit to trust me with money to create this thing that you’ve never heard of. That is a fucking miracle. Trust the miracle. Trust me.”
4. Deadlines reek like corpses left in the Tucson sun
I understand deadlines. We have to have deadlines, otherwise no one would ever finish anything. We’d putter and poop around with this or that and leave a river of half-finished shit in our wakes.
But you’re aware of a deadline as soon as one is imposed. And magazine publishing is nothing if not deadline driven. Magazine companies create sickening spreadsheets that dissect and plan out every last pulsation of the publishing process, telling you when this story should be passed off for layout and when that story is back to you for final proofing.
The truth: When creating something like Drone 360, with literally nothing in hand but a name and concept, the deadlines were mile markers and nothing more. There was no way to pull all of the disparate parts together to meet all of the deadlines. I told my team over and over—there’s one deadline that matters, and that’s when the whole thing is due to production. That’s the one day we have to be on time.
Yes, I did impose deadlines on our writers, because writers are slothful creatures who need to be harried from sunup to dusk and beyond, or you’ll end up with a pocketful of crumpled paper blackened with cramped illegible scrawl and the chewed, slightly-damp-at-one-end paper stick from a cherry Tootsie pop. Yeah, I’m a hypocrite.
5. Nothing is over! Nothing!
Rambo knew publishing.
Drone 360 went to the printer last week. RELIEF! Then the editorial director, art director, and I had to do a presentation about the magazine. Little jobs to clean up: info for the Apple newsstand; recipient suggestions for comp copies; another presentation; a possible trip to help market it; a second issue … Can we do it again? We’ll see.
At the beginning of the year, my wife and I write out our goals for the next twelve months. Hers usually focus on making her a better person. Mine usually revolve around my growing list of enemies and plans for revenge. However, a few writing goals find their way into the list of people who’ve ordered a slice of comeuppance pie on the house.
We write our lists on a dry-erase board hung on the office wall, where they will reside all year, with achieved goals marked off so one of us can gloat over the number of things she’s done while the other can stew about not yet having even slung the first egg that’s been fermenting in a coffee can brimming with carefully selected skunk scent sacks and buried in the southwest corner of the backyard two summers ago!
A warning, cordoned by a thick black line, resides in the lower right-hand corner of the board with our names writ large. It says: Remember Kid Kidwell needs you too. All goals are subject to his needs!
Of all the things listed on the board, I have found this warning the hardest to achieve. Not because I’m a selfish prick, though you’ll undoubtedly find people who would say as much. Rather, I obsess. Whether it’s reading a book, playing a game, writing, or editing, I need to work on something until it’s done. Or until I can’t work on it anymore, and the tiny distractions of “Daddy, can I?” and “Daddy, come play,” and “Daddy, what you doing?” get lost, fuzzed out, ignored. That’s why the warning’s there.
The end of 2014 and the beginning of this year have tested my ability to remember the warning. I’m wrapped tight in deadlines and projects, while others languish because the vat of Create Juice hasn’t been replaced. And the stuff comes at premium these days. So, I use a burned out credit card and sluice what runoff I can into tiny rivulets I suck up with a straw I made from a dead mosquito’s proboscis. And I desperately want to excavate the Hill of Languish.
While I can decide to miss some things or choose this night or that will be one that he’ll have to do without me, my words and my characters and my stories will be there for me when I return to my office an hour after he goes to bed. The boy he was at four-years-old isn't who he is at six, and the boy he is now moves inevitably toward the boy he will become—and while the same, inescapably, charmingly, frighteningly different, like shedding Halloween costumes. Our little Yoda, who was at first a spider for two years, has morphed into Obi-Wan, and then Captain America, and then a scarecrow. Who knows what's next?
So, if you find yourself at home with a little one, remember that you can sacrifice sleep, though it may leave you looking like a urine-soaked Big Mac. You can forego Justified until that next chapter is finished. Wait until you finish 500 words before you rev up the Porn-o-tron. It ain’t always easy. Believe me. At a quick, sharp word, a 6-year-old will scurry away from the angry ol’ writer troll without more than a sniffle and a watery, wide-eyed glance. But when those times happen, don’t let them go. Get out there and apologize. Play. Have fun. It’ll do you more good creatively than you might think. And then remember it the next time you’re obsessing.