The Mid-point Post

Here I am.

This is a place that I have been only one other time. I have reached the mid-way point of Camp NaNoWriMo. I am on track, and have remained on track.

The last time I did this well, I was so squirrely by this point that the ‘week two weepies’ as other NaNo participants have put it, felt like a week two ‘neverending flood of tears and lack of sleep’. I was completely burnt out. This time, I can’t say I’m 100% energized and fresh, but I’m definitely feeling good, with a lot more fight left in me.

I guess it’s true; If you’re going to run a marathon of any kind, even if it’s only straining your carpal tunnels, you have to prepare. The daily work and word count that I have been putting in for the last few months has made a huge difference. In fact, it has made all the difference because I have never been so well-situated to win before.

My secret weapon is consistency. Butt in seat time. Practice and steady care for myself, my craft and my professionalism, which for me, means achieving a significant word count per day. Want to achieve it? Then live it, every day, and then the main event will be a breeze.

I could still burn out, and if I do, I won’t be too hard on myself. At this point, I have the pride of knowing that no matter where I end up in this, I will be doing better than I ever have.

Further Updates on all my Life Stuff

So, it’s been a little while since I posted an update on what’s been going on in my life. Actually, a lot of it is quite well summarized on The Hatchery, as I’ve been working my tail feathers off getting Love, Time, Space, Magic ready for release.

However, what I don’t tend to post on The Hatchery are my feelings about what goes on, or any projects I may have going that don’t relate to the company. There has been lots going on lately, and not all of it has been Pop Seagull related.

I’ve been spending weekends in St. Catharines since the new year, to carve out time to write the nonfiction book I’m working on with the Mayholme Foundation. The first draft is due May 1st, and with the launch of Love, Time, Space, Magic now in the rear view, I’m going to be forging ahead and finishing that draft off, as well as catching up with some web design that’s been on the back burner for way too long. My mini-retreats out of town are resulting in lots of work done, and a much-needed break from the daily grind, but I will be cutting back to every other week after the manuscript is done. I’m missing my church community, and I haven’t been to as many classic movie screenings lately, which is kind of a bummer.

After May 1st, I will be meeting with Mayholme stakeholders and working on the next steps for the book, and reading submissions for Robotica, Pop Seagull’s next anthology. After the riotous success of Love, Time, Space, Magic at the Ad Astra launch, we are well-positioned to continue with production on future titles and grow Pop Seagull to accommodate more outside authors. For more details on that, see my post on The Hatchery, and the upcoming con report series. I’m also planning a possible local Hamilton launch for the anthology since I have confirmed local interest, and the first one went so well.

So, how am I feeling about life, the universe and everything? Pretty good, actually. The success at Ad Astra was a watershed moment for the company, where we far surpassed any evidence-based estimate I had formed for our sales and the enthusiasm of con attendees. The hard work I have put into the company, and the ongoing research and development I have committed myself to have paid off in a big way, and I’m hoping that things will only get bigger. If things continue the way they are going, I can see a day when I might derive a modest income from the company and be able to accomplish many of the larger goals I’d always had in mind.

In my non-literary life, I’ve found some stability doing regular temp work, and I’m currently at a place that I enjoy very much. Since I don’t comment online about employers, generally, that’s all I’ll say. But, the stability in my work life has enabled me to better focus on the other things that I want to do, and I’m happy for that. Robin and I are making a modest savings per month now, and as a result we’re able to worry less about the future, should there be a break in employment, and we’re seeing the eventual light at the end of the student loans tunnel, although that’s still a few years off if I don’t find a permanent job. We’re even dreaming about the day, still a long way off but closer than ever before, that we might be able to afford a cute starter house.

So, where to go from here? Well, I’m looking at some new conventions for the 2015 season after a last-minute change in the lineup, and most of the summer is going to be spent selling, working The Day Job, and working on future books. Oh, and I’m going to go camping for at least one weekend, with or without anybody else. I’m determined.

Enjoy the sunshine, everyone!

Writing Progress 24/01/2015

Since I want to make more use of this blog in the new year, I thought it might be interesting to post my progress on writing and submitting things as well as the usual local new and opinion pieces. After all, this is my personal blog, and it’s great for posting stuff that would be less pertinent, or totally self-indulgent, on the Pop Seagull blog.

So, let’s start with today. I’ve finished 2000 words of the non-fiction book I’m writing with a local non-profit, which is excellent and making me feel very accomplished. That’s probably why I’ve come online to brag about it, honestly. But, I do plan to remain accountable when I’m not doing so good.

I’ve also finished another few paragraphs on the story I’m hoping to have done by the end of the month to submit to Tesseracts. That one is becoming an issue… I think I can get past my unease with the structure, but it is threatening to become a bit of a whale, and that might be more of a problem. I think I’ll finish it, see how long it is, and then if it’s too long for the GL’s I might change the POV or start it in a different place.

And, lastly, I’ve begun work in earnest on the layout and cover design for the Love, Time, Space, Magic anthology. That’s not word count, per se, but I am really proud of it and I’m looking forward to geeking out on fonts and graphic design again. I’ve actually found some really helpful books in that arena that are helping my designs out, and I’ll probably do a separate entry on those.

So, overall, lots of progress today, which I hope will continue over the weekend and beyond. It’s great to be back working after so long being under the weather. *shakes fist at the Streptococcus Bacillus*

Getting Back to Notebooks

Like just about everyone else in the Western world, except the cynical and the very, very confident, I tend to make New Year’s resolutions. I like to flatter myself that I stick to them pretty well, too. I mean, I might forget a few minor points, but for the most part I actually tend to follow through on my resolutions, at least until I figure out whether they’re going to be sustainable for me, or I hit a large and unexpected road block.

Most of my resolutions aren’t really pertinent to anyone but me, and certainly not to this blog. Honestly, think of the worst New Year’s resolution stereotypes, and yeah, they’re on there. Because I do need to lose some weight and make more time for self-care and craft a chore wheel that actually works.

I also have a less common resolution: I want to rediscover my passion for the writing life.

As writers go, I would say my level of professionalism is really high. I know my work back to front, I’ve got several degrees related to writing and the creative arts, and I’ve been a writer in the workplace, meeting tough deadlines with ease and delivering copy that meets and exceeds the specifications. I know how to knuckle under and get the work done, and how to tailor my work to the correct audience. Writing is not just a hobby for me. I take it seriously, and hope to be taken seriously in return.

However, as I have written here before, I have been through some tough times in the last few years, and some of my experiences have left me doing my writing and art on auto-pilot, to some extent. Somewhere along the line, creating became an obligation rather than a joy. Some people might say that this is a necessary and practical progression in the journey to artistic professionalism. To some extent, I would agree. Part of taking my craft seriously is understanding that I have an obligation and a responsibility to get work done, on time. However, I also think that the journey to getting the work done, on time, is a much more powerful and productive experience if it is also filled with joy. I have a lot of work to do in the next few months, some for other people, much of it for myself, and I would like to enjoy this time. I remember when writing was my life, and that was so amazing and exciting for me. I want to recapture the spirit of my thirteen-year-old self, toting a hard-bound notebook everywhere and secreting away stories that were so amazing to me that I wanted to live them.

I began to think about the kinds of things that influence my motivation and mood while writing. I realized that my office was a mess, due in part to it also being my bedroom, so I hauled out the backhoe and shoveled it out. That helped, but the office is always pretty much the same. It doesn’t look much like anything that used to inspire me.

I then got thinking about how I approach work. Usually, I sit down in front of the computer after a long day at the office, and spend a few hours typing out a draft, or working on the publishing business, or doing some graphic design. Something felt off about using the computer, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was for a few days, but then it hit me… my writing had become completely computer-centric. Due to the ease of editing in a word processor, I had slowly shifted writing in my mind from something that you can do anywhere, that adds joy to your day, to something that is solely confined to a computer, in an office, at a very specific time of day. Freeing up my mind to see writing as an ‘anywhere’ activity again, and grabbing my hardbound notebooks when I go out, has ignited some of that passion again, and freed up a lot of creative energy that was going to waste.

Looks like I’m on my way to seeing my resolutions through.

Summer’s End, New Beginnings

August was not a good month for me, thus the lack of blog postings. My family and extended circle had three major health crises, and a series of minor scares. After an extended arm wrestle with my last job, I ended up being forced to look for work elsewhere. As I strive for professionalism in all that I do, I will not post details of that situation here, except to say that the whole thing was bogus from start to finish, and it was a wake-up call that I needed to get off my butt and get moving again. We also thought my cat ran away for a few days, which was not fun. As it turned out, she was just hiding, so that one resolved itself in a positive way.

Throughout last month, I just seemed to be clinging to the mast of the ship of my life, trying to ride out storm after storm, praying that we wouldn’t go down. The business, and my writing life, was no exception. I tried a new printer for my books, hoping to save on shipping and buy Canadian, which is important to me. I will not name who it was, but the proofs were misleading and the quality on the printing was absolutely terrible. The covers were literally flaking apart. I got my money back, but that didn’t change the fact that I was short on stock for my next appearance. Also, someone who works with Pop Seagull as an editor had a personal crisis, and backed out of editing the latest book at the last minute, leaving me to find a replacement on short notice and at a disadvantage. I have mixed feelings on this, because I sympathize with their troubles but I wish they could have been honest with me when I gave them the chance to back out shortly after I heard about their life issues.

On top of all this, the historical project I’m working on stalled out completely during the chaos, as I scrambled to get enough assets ready in time for Distant Early Warning to be delivered on October 17th. The animated book trailer I’m working on also got the short end of the stick, and now we’re looking at a release for it sometime in January rather than at the book launch party, as I had hoped. I had known that one was a stretch goal, but things were on track, more or less, until all the upheaval. Now, I’m looking at presenting the work in progress as part of the book launch party as sort of a ‘behind the scenes’ treat. Hopefully I can get it up to the leica stage, which will still be understandable and entertaining for people to see.

Now that all of that is out of the way, here are the good things that happened over the last little while.

I went to the Milton Pirate Fest, and was charmed and entertained by this fun little festival. The actors that roamed around were really good, and the food and programming was fun for all ages! I really appreciated how enthusiastic everyone was about authors and reading in general, and thought that our readings had a really positive vibe to them. Other highlights were the sunshine, meeting new people, and the snow cones and turkey legs. I really hope the author group that I attended with will be going back next year. I also want to thank my author friends for being so supportive and lovely, and convincing me to go despite the botched book shipment and job drama. Catherine, Stephen, Joy, you guys really made a difference at a very low time for me.

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, loved it with all my heart, and now am curious about the comics. I have a new scifi novel bouncing around in my head right now, and I think if it were made into a movie, it would look a lot like that one, with a bit of Contact and some of the art direction of Alien thrown in there for good measure. So yeah, that was a very inspiring experience for me and I’m so glad that the movie got made, because it’s certainly not as formulaic as a lot of what comes out now.

And, lastly (but not leastly?), despite all of the setbacks, Distant Early Warning is coming out, on schedule, with a great launch slot, and we’re going to have plenty of time to prepare. It’s actually shaping up to be our nicest looking book yet, and I think that’s saying something. I did a post over at the Pop Seagull blog with a little self-interview on the book, my writing process, and some key facts about the release. It will be the first in a series of posts talking about the book, the launch, our vending platforms and pre-orders. We’re even going to have some interviews with the real VIPs… the characters.

I also want to invite all of my readers to come to the launch party on:

October 17th, 2014, from 7-9 pm at the Holiday Inn Guelph hotel and conference centre

It will be part of the festivities at Genrecon, and I think we’re going to be able to kick off the weekend with a bang! (Not the kind of bang from Denny’s shotgun, though. Homer Simpson already definitively proved that shotguns are not effective marketing tools.)

And, in conclusion, here’s a little art that I’m contributing to the book. It’s also probably going to get put on t-shirts at some point.

Splash Page/Logo Art for Distant Early Warning (Coming October 17th, 2014)

Splash Page/Logo Art for Distant Early Warning (Coming October 17th, 2014)

Lemons… A Big Pile of Lemons.

         So, you may have noticed that I haven’t been around here in a while. In previous years, that has happened during crunch time at school, which, at Sheridan, was pretty much the last two months of a three month semester.

         This year, it’s a little different. I’m enjoying a larger share of freedom than I once enjoyed, having left school behind me. I had a very nice Canada day, roasting marshmallows and hot dogs over a fire pit and watching other people’s fireworks from a safe distance that did not involve either boozers or traffic jams. Plus, it seemed like Rush was all that got played on the radio that day, and it only made the fun times all that much sweeter. I’ve taken walks in the sunshine, and gone to the park and taken pictures. I’ve read a good history book under an even better shade tree. These are not pleasures that I take for granted after being put through the wringer for 5+ years.

         I’ve also been scrambling to find a better job, and the chaos has been affecting my life’s work significantly.

         I have always considered my foremost calling to be art and literature. I believe that they are what I was put on this earth to do. To that end, I have tried as hard as I can to be recognized for what I do and make a steady living at it, by going to school and working toward the right degrees, and attending important workshops and development opportunities like the Odyssey program. However, as anyone who is familiar with the arts can tell you, none of those things are a guarantee, however prestigious they may be. So far, I’ve had periods of luck, when I’ve been employed doing the things I love and been compensated well for them, and periods of ill fortune where I’ve been forced to stick it out with jobs I’m neutral on at best. I have come to accept this reality most days, and I know that even if I never received another penny for my work for the rest of my days, I would continue to create it and try to bring it to the public with whatever means were available to me.

          Having said all of this, however, the last eight or nine months have just felt like I can’t catch a single break. Last summer, I was on a professional animation contract, and I was having the time of my life. Not only had I scored a job right out of school, but I had done well at it, met every deadline, and made many wonderful friends. When I left, I was told that I would have another contract from the same studio within three months. Although in retrospect, it may not have been the wisest decision, I trusted, and I waited. I needed more than three months’ experience to convince another studio to invest in me, and this was the only studio that knew my work. I looked for other jobs, but didn’t find any. Then, in November, with my credit card debts mounting, my reserves depleted and my student loans coming due, I found out that the new contract had fallen through, three days before I was supposed to start work. I went into panic mode, scouring every available resource for a job, and eventually, I found one that would work (barely) in retail.

          When I started at this new job, it was on a probationary basis. The owner was willing to hire me for a few months, but said he couldn’t afford me in the long run if I didn’t produce an improvement in the business. I had no experience beyond customer service, and no previous knowledge of most of the things I was asked to do. I threw myself into it, needing the stability it offered financially, and ultimately raised profits dramatically, improved the store’s policies and procedures, and was promoted to assistant manager. Despite all of this, my boss continually refused me a raise, citing impossible sales goals and long-distant milestones as carrots to keep me thinking that things would eventually improve. I reached the end of my rope with this job when by boss threatened to fire me, after months of exemplary work, for a single typo in an online listing. My work there has become chaotic and stressful as I constantly have to fight the stupidity of the management to preserve even the poverty-level wages I earn.

            I’ve been looking for a new job, but it’s been rough going. I’m good at getting interviews, because I present well and have a lot of obvious skills, but am passed over more than others because people see my list of previous employers and decide that my wide and varied work experiences, which I have been forced to take because I have to do whatever will keep food on my plate, mean that I won’t be loyal enough to their business or have enough of what they want. And it’s not as easy as just leaving jobs out on my resume, because if I leave too many of my experiences off the list, I’ll have no chance of convincing employers that I have any skills at all. I would love to quit this job outright and have more time to pursue other avenues, especially since it is no longer making me enough to cover my monthly expenses, but I fear that I’ll get even less interviews and opportunities if I don’t already have a job.

           All this chaos and hardship has taken a toll on my work, despite my best efforts. I find myself getting behind on emails, vegging out at night when I should be revising and boarding and animating, and constantly apologizing for not being more present with my business. I feel, right now, like I am fighting a losing battle. Most of my day is taken up with things that I don’t even remotely want to do, and when I do have time, I feel drained and angry. I hate how unstable things have become for me when I’ve worked so hard all my life, and still don’t have many of the basic things many people take for granted: a dependable job, the ability to buy new clothes or get my hair cut at the salon, the hope of having a starter house… I feel like this stress and the crap that is thrown at me just to survive is killing the most vital part of me, and it breaks my heart.

          I’m working on new stuff, gradually. I’m going to be writing a history book soon for a local charity that I believe in, for which I’m currently doing research in conjunction with the historians there. I’ve got a deadline set for myself to have a new book out in early October, and the book trailer at least past the rough animation stage by the launch. I’m trying to get back on my feet, and back on track, but it still feels like I’m making compromises that I didn’t want to make, all because my boss decided to have a few mood swings. I hope that someone takes a chance on me soon, and that this past nine months doesn’t turn into a full year. We only have so much time on this earth, and I refuse to waste it wandering further and further away from what I really want to do. I don’t know how I’m going to address this issue in my life, but over the next little while, I’m going to be doing a lot of thinking.

         Hopefully this time, I think of something that works.

Some Thoughts On Ad Astra 2014

This weekend, I attended Ad Astra 2014, an annual literary SF/F/H convention held in Toronto. Ad Astra was the first convention I ever attended as a young person (to the best of my admittedly shoddy memory, I was around 17) and it has always been a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

Ad Astra is where I first started to connect with the indie writing community, and picked up some of the first books that were outside of the mainstream, feature shelf at Chapters Indigo category. It’s actually where I wrote my first published short story as part of a flash fiction contest. Before that point, I had scarcely ever written any flash fiction. The mental stretch of trying a new form among friends, I believe, helped to push me to that next level and make every word count in a way that finally caught the attention of an editor.

Ad Astra was also one of the first places that I learned about the ins and outs, the opportunities and pitfalls of self and indie publishing. I was intrigued that so many people were out there, doing it for themselves, and not waiting for someone else to tell them it was okay to begin. I met people who were producing high quality work that didn’t fall into easy categories, and I loved it. Yes, over the years, Ad Astra has provided a fertile ground for the seeds of my creativity and business sense to grow in.

These past few years have not been easy for me. A lot of the initial inspiration, strength and conviction I found through my passion for writing and art have been shaken by the perspiration that it takes to get somewhere with your work. I’ve faced severe financial hardship, job uncertainty, hostile work environments, and drifting away from friends. For several years, I also faced self-alienation from the fan community after a horrible experience with a stalker that went unaddressed and left me feeling vulnerable and unsupported within the community. All of these things have led me to question my work, my conviction, and my reasons for doing what I do.

Things reached a low for me this past fall when I was forced to drain most of my funds for upcoming cons and business appearances in order to pay rent, because a contract I had been promised fell through at the last minute. The business was left with a skeleton budget, barely limping along and unable to grow until such time as I found the money to breathe new life into it. With credit card debt mounting, and a job that paid a fraction of what I would have gotten with the other contract, I felt hopeless and bogged down with obligations.

A few months went by, and I tried to figure out what to do, but nothing I came up which seemed realistic. I got a car, got out of debt, and generally stabilized things, but I was still feeling discouraged artistically, and a little bit lost trying to manage my art time with a full time job. That was when I got an amazing email, one that I’d forgotten was coming. Ad Astra was writing me to confirm my place in the dealers’ room, which I’d booked two years before but hadn’t been able to follow up on. Since I now had a car, I could keep costs low, and potentially fund some future projects, if the weekend went well.

Suffice it to say, the weekend went well. We sold out of our second anthology, Spirits of Suburbia, and had to direct more people to our e-store. We made enough money for more books, more appearances, more everything, and better than that… I got inspired again. I learned about some amazing opportunities for marketing my books nearby that didn’t involve table fees or gas money. I looked into some really great volunteer opportunities that I hope will bring me closer to the local writing community. I got two (two!) interviews! There’s way more to tell on that front, but hopefully that can all wait until I have official announcements to make. I also received praise for our books from several writing colleagues whom I greatly respect, which… well, I just have to say thank you to everyone who offered words of encouragement. You have no idea how much your support and friendship meant at this point in time, and continues to mean going forward.

Ad Astra has done it again. I came in tired, discouraged and on my last legs, and I left inspired, supported, and empowered for the battle ahead. Thank you to everyone involved with the convention, and I wish long life and health to this wonderful organization. Thank you for making grass-roots arts and literature possible for the fan community with integrity and inclusiveness.