Firsts

Rejection is the keyword for this past week. Primarily rejections for some of the stories I’ve submitted to several venues, but I did have one company (on the south side of Flint) take a second look at my resume but nix an offer because of the distance I’d have to travel for work. It wasn’t feasible, even with gas prices being as good as they are nowadays.

Can’t sleep tonight, only getting about two hours of restless rack time, as I’ve got a phone interview later this morning. It’s like the nights before a travel volleyball tournament when the girls played club; I knew I had things to do the next day and anticipation kept me on a knife’s edge.

Whether this interview results in a job or not is still an unknown, but it is a first step to getting back what I’ve lost. Life can only look up next week, whether I’ve got a job to go to or not, as I’ll be able to get into a solid routine once Ann Arbor schools return from break and I’ll be up at dawn to shovel the driveway and sidewalks, move the car so the spouse can go to work, and I can go right to the gym before sending out more resumes and knocking out more pages. I’m winning by losing, remember — except I know I don’t want to lose during the interview. It’s better to win by winning.

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Winning By Losing

I’m closing in on a score of job applications sent out since being laid off at the end of January, I’ve only had one request for additional information so far, so you’re right to ask how can I write about winning. Truthfully, I would never recommend “winning” this way to anyone, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t record how I’m doing. If only because putting down these thoughts maintains my sanity. Because I’ve got a really good imagination and it would be so easy to go dark. So very easy, as I’ve considered all the worst-case scenarios in these intervening days.

I’m not going there, though. Either because I’m too stubborn or stupid. Maybe a little bit of both. I told my wife last week she might have been better off if the stroke I suffered last July had taken me out. Since she’d have had the life insurance as a financial cushion. She told me that was a horrible thing to contemplate and she’s right, which is normally the case. Going away wouldn’t help now, anyway; I don’t have the job, so I don’t have the company-paid life insurance any longer. This is the dark, bitter humor, folks. This is the stuff I have to say to purge it from my thoughts.

Because I’m winning. I’ve lost 5 pounds since I came home, as I’ve done a lot of work around the house, moving furniture and other items, shoveling the snow left behind by the occasional winter storm, and I’ve made it to the gym several times. Keeping the body busy keeps the mind busy, and burns calories at the same time. Strange how that works isn’t it.

My muse is firing on all cylinders and I hope to have a new short story completed before the week’s out. A dark short story, of course; circumstance influences her, too. I don’t think I’ll want to change these aspects of my life. I hear Simon and Garfunkel playing in the background, and the sound of silence and the softly creeping visions are welcome.

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Starting Over, Starting Out

It’s been a tough ten days.

After twenty-two years and seven months at my current (former) place of employment, I was laid off for “cost effectiveness.” The company was bought last May. The work didn’t change much with the transition; the culture was a bit different, more corporate, but I still came to work each day, fielded calls and emails from customers, and pretty much had good days. Nights were sometimes hectic, but that was always the case, since I was on-call between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. weekdays and all weekend. Despite those occasional emergencies, my job was quite satisfying; people called with problems and I solved them.

Now, I don’t have that “fix” any longer, and I’m forced to look for work and make ends meet. Each day is a minefield filled with anxiety, as I don’t know what to do with myself. Yes, I’ve applied for jobs.  More than a dozen at last count.  I haven’t heard back on any, and I’m not sure when I will. I’m doing chores around the house, which relieves some of the stress I’m feeling. Work truly is its own reward.

And while I’m writing stories and working on the book, that’s all spec work.  Sure, writing for a living is a dream, and I’ve taught myself to see rejections as teachable moments. Story X didn’t connect with editor 5, and the trick was continuing to refine my submissions and continuing to send them out so I’m more visible and more likely to make connections. It’s still all just spec work, and spec work won’t pay the bills.

I’ve got to admire my peers who do this for a living. For one, they’ve got to have such confidence to trust in their abilities, to trust in their “entertainment value” and how it will appeal to readers, editors, and critics. Rejection is a possibility, but one they don’t contemplate.  Not seriously, not consistently. Not with every letter, word, line.

Is it a matter of looking at this change in circumstance as an opportunity? Certainly. Attitude matters. Otherwise we wouldn’t have maxims like “always look on the bright side of life” or “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” The question is how. Is it possible to just close your eyes, and imagine a future where you do X, Y, or Z, where you “just do it” and completely change your life?

I guess it depends on whether I can embrace the moment. I’ve spent close to half my life doing what I did until the moment I was let go. It’s not rock bottom, but it feels like one, because it is a turning point. That it was forced upon me doesn’t really matter. I can’t control what others did or didn’t do in bringing me to this point. I know — really and sincerely know — that isn’t going to be helpful. If I agonize over “what ifs” I’ll lose my mind.

So I’m closing my eyes and I’m taking a deep breath … que sera, sera … whatever will be, will be.

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New Year, New Metrics

I’ve tracked what I read and watch for a while now, attempting to reach that (for me) mythical 52 books in a year.

What I watch (DVDs, movies) always tops the 52. That one is easy as pie, and I use the number as a guide to whether I’ve spent too much time away from the written word. So I always want golf score numbers for that category. I’m clearly a duffer, though, if the past is any indication, but I’ll admit that I don’t go out much; video entertainment is a way we unwind in our house. And I can write when the television is on. I let it work like Muzak, creating a background white noise. If it gets too distracting (or interesting) I can always change the channel or turn it off.

Now I’d like to throw another wrinkle into the mix. I’d planned this since 2015 started, but wanted to wait until I had something worth reporting. Namely, I’m going to track what I write throughout the year.

Not word counts. I’m finding those restrictive. So I’m going to instead record finished works, and I knocked out my first short story of the year. It’s a little story called “And Multiply.” It’s subbed, and if I’m fortunate enough to place it somewhere I’ll record that, but the point for these metrics is getting stuff done rather than getting stuff sold.

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Goals

Just added some books to my GoodReads page as currently reading and to-read. And I also set my goal to read 52 books in 2015. Same goal as last year, same goal as the year before.

Ups and downs in 2014 contributed to a finish of 28 books. Knocked out the first third of the Doc Savage reprint by Sanctum Books that collects Terror Wears No Shoes, The Red Spider, and Return from Cormoral. If I hold to reading two of these collections each month (Doc Savage, Shadow, Spider, et cetera) I should be able to meet the goal. I find these pulps particularly inspiring as they let me balance my typical literary leanings with my own writing and the seat-of-our-pants headlong pacing you find in these oh so readable artifacts.

The short story I’m going to submit to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in a few days could possibly veer more toward the former, but I’m keeping in mind “The Body Politic” by Clive Barker, which does an excellent job walking the line between literary and headlong.

I’m going offline for the rest of the day. I’ll be watching football. Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, but mostly I’m diving into the story with the intention of knocking out as many pages as possible before Ohio State faces Alabama tonight. Because the other goal I want to set, besides reading 52 books this year, is to write and write and write. I’ve one book to write at least, another that I can turn into series of shorts as I tackle some space opera. It’s 2015, and way back when I was in high school I recognized that I would be 37 if I reached the turn of the century. I’ve always flirted with writing as far back as when I was 11.

That was in 1974, when I had to write a story for sixth-grade English at St. Vincent de Paul. That’s the same year Stephen King published Carrie, and I’m seriously behind if I ever wanted to keep pace with someone who is arguably in my opinion one of the greatest writers of our era.

So for 2015, I’m going to write as well as read. Write and write and write. I’ve no excuses. Time and tide, you know?

***

What I Read – 2014
01 – The Impossible Theft by Thomas C. McClary
02 – Patriot Games by Tom Clancy
03 – Cold Death by Laurence Donovan
04 – Supernatural: Nevermore by Keith R.A. DeCandido
05 – The Unseen Killer by Walter B. Gibson
06 – Fragment by Warren Fahy
07 – The Golden Masks by Walter B. Gibson
08 – The South Pole Terror by Lester Dent
09 – Brand of the Werewolf by Lester Dent
10 – Supernatural: Witch’s Canyon by Jeff Mariotte
11 – Fear Cay by Lester Dent
12 – Nocturnal by Scott Sigler
13 – Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille
14 – The Shining by Stephen King
15 – Princep’s Fury by Jim Butcher
16 – A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
17 – Persuader by Lee Child
18 – Voodoo Trail by Walter B. Gibson
19 – Death’s Harlequin by Theodore Tinsley
20 – The Devil’s Paymaster by Norvell W. Page
21 – The Benevolent Order of Death by Norvell W. Page
22 – The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
23 – Legacies by F. Paul Wilson
24 – Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
25 – The Man of Bronze by Lester Dent
26 – The Land of Terror by Lester Dent
27 – The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
28 – Terror Wears No Shoes by Lester Dent

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Different Starting Points That Are Really The Same Point

I’m a writer who tend to fly by the seat of my pants. My gut reaction to detailed outlines is they’re the same as writing for me, and sometimes outlining a book satisfies my muse to the point where she feels she’s finished her job when I finish what is essentially a guideline for a longer work.

But if you want to create something that is complex and satisfying on multiple levels, you’re either going to outline your work or you’re going to write and rewrite draft after draft after draft.

And a writer who doesn’t outline is a writer who hasn’t learned to use all the tools available to them. And like any tool, the more you use it the better you’ll get. You only get to Carnegie Hall one way.

My process starts with a titles, and the novel I’ve worked on for a while has gone through several. I’m finally zeroing in on the one that will work on a couple levels. I finished Doctor Sleep by Stephen King last night. A pretty straightforward title, as it’s a name/title for the main character, Dan Torrance. The first book to showcase Dan was The Shining, and that’s another straightforward title as well, describing his psychic ability.

Myself, I prefer titles that work on a couple levels, but finding one is as hard as writing a story. Hence the various attempts on the current work. Heck, I haven’t written a title for this post yet, since I don’t know what best summarizes what I’m trying to get across. Get a title to serve different purposes and you’ve probably got a good story to go along with it.

Right now I’m looking forward to picking up King’s latest, Revival, which seems a layered description for a work about religion and resurrection. I think the last one where King did as good a job was Misery, which was the name of a main character from writer Paul Sheldon’s romance novels as well as the pain Sheldon experiences while held captive by his #1 fan, Annie Wilkes.

Only time will tell whether I’m able to put together a title that’s worthy of the story. I need to finish the work first.

Robert Sawyer talked about this several years back at a Worldcon, when he was promoting Mindscan. Sawyer noted that the story, which was about uploaded consciousness, was usually read as “mind” and “scan.” But he had liked that the title could also be read as “minds” and “can” as well, which seems to me to go further toward examining what the book is about in the first place.

That all being said, the working title for the novel is Through Grief. Make of that what you may. It’s the most I’ll reveal besides the odd snippets. I’m going to save the “elevator pitch” for an actual pitch.

My lovely spouse gets an acknowledgement for helping, as I ran several titles past her this afternoon. This was the best, as I points my muse in the direction I want her to take as we take flight together.

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Snippets

Snippets from the work in progress.

Since it’s a first draft, and I don’t have any delusions of grandeur that I write brilliant “don’t edit it” prose, I offer them to you as a sign of things to come.

***

“The first thing you learn about going to hell is how to make the trip bearable.
Problem is the next thing you learn is those good intentions make damn fine blacktop.”

***

“Life needed moments that were exceptions from reality.”

***

“Most of the time he only caught glimpses of her ghost from the corner of his eye. He imagined this was how grief affected most people. As vague reminders that something was missing from their lives, something they couldn’t turn heads fast enough to see.”

***

Copyright, Steve Nagy, 2014

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