I know that many who know me have been waiting for me to put the thermonuclear reactor into self-destruct mode and head out for minimum safe distance. Others have, and that’s precisely why I’m not. I could. And maybe I should. But I won’t. As one publishing colleague said to me, “Tim, you’ve got about the darkest outlook on the world of anyone I know.”
Yay! I win!
There’s no reason in looking back at 2016 and wondering what the fuck happened. And I have no interest in lamenting my failures, or the failures of others. Nor do I have the luxury of standing back and idly twiddling my thumbs while admiring the pretty things I’ve wrought over the past twelvemonth. I have much more to do. And I bet you do, too.
So, let's get to it.
This year, three enormous projects have consumed my time: The first was the launch of Drone360 as a bimonthly title. From piecing together to editorial calendar, to building and expanding and managing our stable of writers, to navigating the production calendar, it's been more than a challenge. Second, I helped Kalmbach Publishing, without which Drone360 would never have happened, acquire a board game company and establish a games division. Yes, after years of being on the fringes of gaming, I'm back in it, even if it's only part time. We are in the midst of kicking Rather Dashing Games' production schedule into high gear. Third, under the Drone360 brand, I've helped lead the creation of a two-day conference and expo for commercial unmanned aerial systems businesses and users called ASCEND, scheduled for July next year out in Portland, OR. All three of these are ongoing concerns, and, as you can expect, are bleeding my time.
Had any one of these been the only project I've been involved in, I would have been able to turn back to fiction more quickly. Had they come in stages, it would have been more charitable to my personal work. That's not how it went.
For me, the biggest hit hasn't been time, but rather, creativity. To write, unless you're a literary Mozart, you need time to think. To dream. To contemplate. I'm not a literary Mozart, as much as I would love to be. And I haven't had that time to amass my creative chakra to unleash on the page. I've been using the juice on the other projects. And, truth be told, I'm flagging. I'm coming in at year's end tired. The haul has been long, and I'm not sure when it will end.
No complaint here. Simply a statement of reality.
With that said, I haven't given up. Far from it. I have the next book in the Felgate series underway, although it's slow, slow going. And I have two other series simmering away. I just need to get to them.
So, my plan is to work hard to get these projects moving to a point where they're a little less reliant on me. Starting new brands or businesses is like starting to exercise when you haven't ever done it — it's hard at the beginning, but once you get going, things get easier. So, that's where I'm at.
Things will get easier.
At least, that's what I hope. And then I'll be able to turn more of my attention back to my work here. And there's much to be done.
Watch out for one another. Be kind. And remember that standing up for the least of us is standing up for all of us.
Talk to you soon.
I'll not make excuses nor apologize for typos in the following. Because I won't and you can't make me.
A couple of weeks ago, I spouted off on Twitter about writing and being yourself, because while we all want to create the unique character or the plot with the completely unexpected twist, that isn’t really the key to creating. The key is you being you. You have to sing that song proudly and loudly and not let anyone knock you down about it. And they will. People you don’t know will crawl out of that urine-stained toilet we call the internet and say terrible, unthinkable, despicable things at you. Why? For no more reason than they can. Because some of them get their rocks off by tearing other people down, slapping themselves and their compatriots on the back when they think they've scored a nasty insult.
The truth: Their words hurt. Each feeds self doubt that corrodes an artist's already fragile ego. And we're all fragile. Only time and suffering builds the callus that no sword can penetrate, and even then, the impact alone can still sting. And why? Because we'd like them to like what we make. We think it's beautiful or worthwhile in some way, why can't they? And even if they don't, why run us down? There's nothing saying they have to read our work or look at our art.
A keyboard and screen give ignorance jockeys the ability to proudly display their underutilized and preternaturally small intelligences with practically no chance of repercussion. Threats. Bigotry. Hate with a side of toughen up and take it. It's a wonder any of us try any more.
But we do. And we should. Keep going. Don't stop for anything. Are you going to be as successful as Stephen King or John Grisham or Chuck Wendig? Probably not. Can you make a living writing? Maybe, with help. But that shouldn't be a reason not to do it, because, who knows, you might be the next Joe Hill. You might make a shit ton of cash and be more famous than George Lucas and usher in an era of peace in which everyone is excellent to each other.
I'm in a unique position right now to helm a project in which I have incredible writers and graphic designers and illustrators working with me. I know how damaging a negative word can be to them, and while I have to give guidance, I don't have to destroy, and there's no reason to. I figure that if I can give everyone a chance to flourish, give them a chance to show their talents, then they’re going to create exactly what we need, and it's going to be the best creation we can make at that specific time.
It's not as easy being the project leader for your own work and trying to keep yourself on task and give depressed you pep talks and not be overly critical of what you've produced. People tend to stare when you start talking to the empty chair across from you while sitting at Panera in the midst of the post-church service crowd. They also stare when you're cruising down the highway as you're talking to no one with sweeping hand gestures and full-throated gusto. So, I've taken to holding my phone up like I'm talking to someone on the speaker. The Panera incidents, well, I kind of enjoy the discomfort I cause the recently churchified. Call it a weakness.
But do those pep talks. And be critical, but not overly so. Don't tear yourself down. It's hard not to, I know. But creating is already hard enough without you making it harder for yourself. And don't let the assholes out there that have nothing to gain or lose from your success or failure other than the immediate gratification of tiny, tiny egos pull you down either.
And you don't need a goddamned book to tell you how to write. Find your voice. Use it. Be you.
On the other hand, some books can be entertaining and have good insights. But don't spend all your time reading those. Read well-written books. Being well read will help you the most.
Sweet Jeebus. You need to tell me to stop yammering.
Hello everyone! This week I put to bed another Drone360 issue (now my fifth), spent a day at ACD Games Day trade show, and and am working on locking down a couple of stories for another magazine. I also signed on to write a section for an upcoming book about building and finishing science-fiction models; I'm doing a figure of a comic-book character. I don't think I'm allowed to tell you which one, but the character wears tights. Narrows it down, don't it?
It's 11 PM on a Saturday as I spit this out, and I have a lot of other words to pound out, so I'm not going to take up too much more of your time. It's proof of life, really.
I'm about ready to start transcribing my compositon notebooks over to the computer. Now doubt I'll wish I had never thought to write the zero draft of a novel by hand.
As a kid, I thought there would never be an end to the lists of things that I'd want. I could make wish lists all day long, every day, and would never have to result to stupid things like asking for my sister's hair to grow back after I'd burned half of it off with an ill-conceived flamethrower made from a grease gun. She wasn't scarred. Permanently.
No, I could crank out lists with abandon. Selfish lists for warehouses of shit that, individually, would provide mere seconds of gratification. But that's all I wanted. What grand plans did I have at eight? Well, I did want to be a fighter pilot. Whatever.
I thought it damn well time I create a list of things I want this year. Being out of practice and having learned the hard lessons of parenthood (thus, being less selfish, I think), this will no doubt be a bumpy ride.
1. I want my cat to die.
Okay, now wait a minute! Don't get all over me. I've had Kosmo for 17 years. The dude has rocked this world hard and lived large. Now, he wheezes when he sleeps and literally pisses three minutes after stopping at the water bowl. This is a humanitarian wish. Really. Will it be hard to see him go? Sure. He's family. But, it'll be better for everyone. He won't have to deal with the indignity of having a husky sniffing at him like he's tomorrow's dinner, and I won't have to vacuum a gravel pit's worth of litter out of the carpet every 90 minutes.
2. I want to take back the first wish on this list.
Yeah, not really, but I thought I'd make the effort to make you feel better about me calling down Death on an elderly cat who's on his way out anyway.
3. I want you to stop worrying about Kosmos' welfare.
You've only heard about him like two wishes ago. Let it go. He's fine. Truly, he is. Other than that he's old and tired and I can't keep him free of mats no matter how much I brush him, because he refuses to clean himself anymore. He's fine. Hangin' in there like a champ. I mean, he is going to die. Probably fairly soon. But other than that, he's fantastic.
4. I want you to clean up after my cat.
Kosmo just flipped the dog's water dish again, in protest that there weren't any ice cubes floating in it. He's a dick.
5. I want Star Wars Rogue One to be awesome.
Well, duh. Kosmo loves Star Wars.
I've been writing by hand in a couple of composition books and haven't transferred the work over to the computer yet, so I'm sketchy on word count. Still, I'm enjoying it. I love writing with pen and paper. For the last book, before each writing session, I'd sketch out the scene I was working on in a notebook first, then get to work on the computer. I'm switching that up a bit this time around, at least for now.
I've whipped the cold. Yay! And I didn't use whiskey to do it, more's the pity.
If you've been paying attention at all to my tweets, you know I've been working on something prettybig with some artists. I still can't tell you what it is exactly, but I can tell you that Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Mark Nelson, and Dana Knutson are all on board for it. And it just happens that Larry was in Lake Geneva last weekend for Gary Con, which gave me the perfect excuse to go see the man who defined the look of AD&D.
I first met Larry in the summer of 1986. I was just a kid running around Lake Geneva. A friend told me that a couple of the artists from TSR were renting the space above his parents' cheese and liquor store and that they wouldn't mind if we visited. Up we went, and sure enough, there were these two guys, one shorter with long wavy hair and a beard, and the other, tall and lanky, with curly dark hair. I'd never seen pictures of Larry Elmore or Keith Parkinson before, but boy did I know their work. Larry had figures of nude women on the shelves in his work area, and Keith introduced me to using artists acrylics instead of enamels on miniatures. And then there was the art. Sketches and paintings all over the place. It was cramped and smelled of oil paints and thinner and exuded a vibe of Bob Ross approval, which, of course, remains the gold standard for everything an art studio should be. "Let's put a happy little tree right over here. And let's give him a friend or two."
Strangely, I don't think I could have met two men who were more chill than Larry and Keith. Who is totally cool about having a couple of kids come into their studio and hang out for a while, watching them work? They were. They never told us to go away and both had a great way of talking while they painted, just like Bob Ross! I still get tickled when I see one of their paintings on a book and think, "I saw that before it was finished. Before most everyone else knew it existed."
Fourteen years later, being able to work with Larry on the Sovereign Stone world was a terrific honor for me. Helping define the look of the taan and Vrykyl was a thrill. Who would have thought that kid in Lake Geneva would have been writing art orders for Larry Elmore? Not me, that's for sure!
And here I am, fourteen years after working on Sovereign Stone with the chance to work with Larry again. Of course, we stayed in touch off and on over the years, but I always wanted to do more with him. Now, I am, and I couldn't be more excited. For those who have worked with Larry continuously, I might seem a bit fanboyish. That's because I am, unabashedly, a fanboy. More to come!
I said that I'd talk more about this little counter, and I will. For now, note that there are actual words written. However, I will not attest to their quality nor how long they'll survive.
Drone360 March/April 2016 officially hits store shelves tomorrow. I hear tell that some places released it soon. All the cool kids have one. The really cool kids have more than one.
I've caught another freaking cold. It's a nuisance cold. Enough to make my nose run all day and make the back of my throat feel like I've got a cactus stuck in it. I don't usually get these, but, for whatever reason, this is my year.
So lots to relate, and not a lot of time to do it in right now. What you need to know: I've helped Kalmbach Publishing launch its games division. We purchased Rather Dashing Games. Founded by Grant Wilson and Mike Richie, I'm happy to say that we've picked up a couple of talented, driven guys who, I think will make some great games in the coming years. And it feels good to be involved with games again.
I've overseen Drone360 become a full-fledged bimonthly magazine and there's lots more in the works. The first issue as a frequency title hits stores on March 8. I couldn't be happier with it. Drone360 has practically taken up all of my days and nights. And when I'm not working on it, I'm thinking about games. And when I'm not thinking games, I'm thinking of another project that I'm just about ready to hand off. And if it's not that, then it's the sequel to my novel, Dreadark.
Speaking of which, as I gear up to start writing the next book, I'm going through Dreadark once again. My agent search was put on the back burner as Drone360 heated up. Now, I'm getting ready to start again, and decided it would be good to go through the manuscript once more, with a fresh perspective. I'm glad I am, because I'm catching small mistakes, crafting better sentences when I need to, and discovering that I'm really proud of the novel. But I'm also finding out that some of the ideas I had initially, won't work and I need to rethink my trajectory for the sequel.
And speaking of sequel, I'm going to try something new. I've seen plenty of writers use a word count meter on their websites to let readers know where they're at in the process of writing the next book. I thought I'd give it a whirl here. I don't have a working title for the sequel yet, and while I've been researching and have a ton of notes and snippets of chapters in a couple of notebooks, I haven't begun the manuscript proper. Sounds promising, right?
I'm dropping this little gem right here, and we'll talk more about this in a few days.
Right now, I'm working on a 2,000-word story for the May/June issue of Drone360. That's out of my hair, at least for a little while, this week.
I love and hate the way music will remind me of powerful memories or a particular time in my life. I love it because I enjoy reliving those moments. For instance, whenever I hear Sound Garden's Blackhole Sun, I remember running the AD&D Dragonlance campaign as the group trudged through the very trippy DL13. Or smoking my first cigar to Iron Butterfly. Anything by Ralph Vaughn Williams conjures my dad, and Iron Maiden's Lord of the Flies brings to mind my wife when we were first dating (she liked the Blaze years). I hate it because the feeling is fleeting and leaves me feeling forlorn, wondering if I'll make new memories that are as powerfully associated with music. Or are those memories, those emotions forever tied to a certain electric guitar tone, a series of notes played by a specific musician?
And then I have to ask if that inspired feeling that washes over me when I listen to Vai or Satriani or Friedman is just the memory of past inspiration, the phantom pain of a limb long withered and destroyed. Trying to capture the moment is impossible but doesn't stop me from trying, from wishing, hoping. Invariably, I fail. Just like chasing the feeling of your first high, you can't recreate it, contain it, adequately explain it. I wonder if there comes a time when I'll have to admit that my best chances to create have passed me by, that I stand before a mirror staring at illusions of what may have been, not what is or what will be.
Sure. When I'm dead. No other answer suffices.
I know what I've created and force myself to remember, however reluctantly. Self pity and masochism are hallmarks of this particular creative mind. I continue to create and build new worlds, still tread unknown paths, hunt for treasures as yet undiscovered. I haven't had a patron or a guide or landed a lucky break. I'm not bathed in glory. My stories aren't grazing the shelves of millions of readers, and I may never get there. Am I OK with that? Not really.
Maybe I have to take time to listen to the music the way I used to. To revel in it. Perhaps remembering these years of work and the associated music will spur the next 10 or 20 years of creativity.