Dancing with them that brung ya

Kristen Lamb is killing it recently on her blog. Great writing advice. Here’s one that I could have used years ago, and might boot me into posting here more regularly.

Fiction authors are not blogging to become experts. You are blogging to connect with as many people as humanly possible and recruit them to your team. Period. That simple.

I blog about writing and social media, but my blog is being used to establish me as an expert in my field. I write books for writers.

Do you write books for writers? No? Then you don’t have to establish expertise. Have fun. Connect with people via your shared passions. Isn’t that how friends have always been made?

via Sacred Cow-Tipping–Why Writers Blogging About Writing is Bad « Kristen Lamb’s Blog.

I’ve enjoyed some of the writing articles I’ve posted here, and I’m glad they’ve helped some people. But really, most of the connections I’ve made online over the years have been tech related. And I’m still as active and opinionated regarding technology as ever. Yet I haven’t said a word here about stuff unveiled at Google I/O and WWDC this year.

I think the other big roadblock for me in tech blogging is I keep trying to write articles, not posts. Posts are smaller, centered around a single idea. I’m still writing long-form journalism, and it takes too long to write.

So, I’m going to try to write shorter, more frequent tech posts. If you like them, please link to them on Twitter or Facebook and help me reach more readers. Thanks!

Your regular Monday post was eaten by the Smoke Monster

No? Not buying it? Meh. Works on Lost.

I got precious little writing done last week or over the weekend because, frankly, I was too depressed to care. It happens once in a while, and this time I wasn’t able to push through and write anyway. The experience did give me an idea for writing a piece on the best examination of what it’s really like to be clinically depressed I have seen in popular media (yes, I’m serious), and when the damn finally burst, well. I’m working on one of my way-too-long-for-a-blog how-tos on how to be cloud-based and use local, OS-native applications anyway, a “hey! you writers!” cautionary piece about not talking your story to death before you write it, and, get this, a short story (which I will not be talking about until it’s done, because, hey, read the previous clause in this sentence).

So, really, more to come. Honest. In the meantime, console yourself with the knowledge that some questions are just unanswerable, like where did the phrase “on the fritz” come from.

In which the blogger peers out from behind the curtain of depression


I’ve been gone for a while. I haven’t written here, or really any anywhere else, for about three months. During most of that time, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever write again. I’ve been the slap-bitch of that old dog, depression.

Depression is a weird thing. It’s part mental, obviously, but also part very much physical. My brain, thanks to a genetic mutation passed down on my mother’s side, doesn’t either produce or retain enough of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Low levels of serotonin suck all the color out of life, leaving the sufferer in a gray twilight—sans sparkly vampires—where nothing much seems to matter. No drive, no ambition, no dreams of something better.

In my case, the symptoms of depression are normally held back by the SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) I take every day. But they can be pushed over the edge by an emotional trigger, the likes of which I got the first week of January.

I was already teetering on the edge, because I’d just finished writing a novel, the first one I’d actually finished in thirteen years. Writers often go through something very much like post-partum depression when they finish a book, for largely the same reasons. We just finished this really intense emotional commitment, and now it’s just… over. Now what? This is especially hard to deal with if you, like me, get stalled trying to immediately jump into the next book.

Queso, I was already a little fragile dealing with post-partum writer’s block, and then I lost my job. I mean I didn’t actually lose my job I mean I know where my job is still. They just don’t let me go there anymore. Instead of transferring from Old Job to New Job as expected, Old Job instead recalled me and then laid me off. Word had come down from On High that IT Support had to cut payroll by 20%. If you want to do that and lose as few people as possible because you’re barely hanging on as it is, you cut the people making more money than their peers. And who has two thumbs and was the highest paid person on the Helpdesk? This guy!

But here’s where it gets screwed up. If they just transferred me, as had already been approved, they’d lose my salary, but it wouldn’t count towards the 20% cut. So they had to lay me off instead so the bookkeeping would work out. I lost my job in the Great Recession because of friggin’ accountants.

As you might expect, the sheer cosmic insult of this was enough to push me over the edge. At first, I watched a lot of TV. You see, the last thing a depressed person wants to do is confront their own life, their own problems. Life becomes an almost manic struggle to keep oneself distracted, anything to avoid actually thinking about your life. You cling to these distractions like a life preserver in shark infested waters, because they make the pain go away.

Eventually, and this surprised me too, I ran out of forensic shows in syndication to watch. I know! Between NCIS, the various CSIs, Criminal Minds, Cold Case, etc. you’d think I’d be set, but over time I started to recognize the ones I’d already seen. And once you’ve seen @wilw run over by a semi, you really don’t need to see it again.

In February, I got into the beta for Star Trek Online, and zeroed in on something else I could lose myself in. I now understand those guys at SF cons debating the finer points of Trek canon, like why the Gorn are so damn angry. Trek has nearly fifty years of backstory, and the game ties into quite a bit of it. To get the full experience—and, as mentioned, avoid my own experiences—I immersed myself in Star Trek.

I’ve always been a casual Trek fan. I watched most of TNG and the early seasons of DS9, and of course all the movies. I remembered sitting with my Dad as a kid while he watched the original series in syndication, but didn’t really remember anything specific. And I loved the JJ Abrams reboot last summer.

Now, in my desperation to avoid thinking about myself, I went full-on Vulcan salute Trekkie. I bought all the TV series on iTunes and started watching them in chronological order: Enterprise, TOS, movies, TNG, DS9, Voyager. I redownloaded all the Trek novels I’d bought over the years from eReader and arranged them in chronological order, and bought the dozen or so books that take place in the 30 years between the end of Nemesis and the beginning of the game.

And I played a lot of the game.

Star Trek Online isn’t the first MMO I’ve played by a long shot, but it’s the first one where I’ve hit level cap, gotten a character to the point where they can no longer progress because the developers haven’t built that content yet. But after weeks of shooting Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians and Borg, something at the back of my mind started to itch. A few weeks more, and I started to listen.

That itch was telling me that it was time to start writing my own stories again. Time to start blogging again, time to go back to the Unification Chronicles universe and finish telling the story. I have my own centuries-long sprawling space opera, dammit.

My tentative plan is to go back and finish rewriting Revelation, make it as solid as I can, then post it to Smashwords/iBooks, Amazon and Fictionwise/eReader/Barnes&Noble. Once it’s out of my hands and "in the wild," I start on Crusade and ride it all the way to release as well, then Jihad and so on until the series is done. I have absolutely NO timeframe in mind in which to do this. I have no illusions or intentions about getting any of it published commercially or making a living as a novelist. This isn’t about business.

It’s about the itch. It’s about telling stories. And it’s about time to get back to writing.

The plan

A big part of this blog, and Writing On Your Palm before it, has always been to document my journey as a writer and serve as either a cautionary example or inspiration to others. It occurred to me recently that I have a unique opportunity to do so much more.

When I was writing my first novel, one of my idols was Joe Straczynski, the creator and writer of nearly every episode of Babylon 5. I read every word Joe published on the internet during the production of the show, and I learned a lot about both writing in general and how television is made. But there was always more I wanted to know. I wanted to see the scripts. I wanted to sit in on the breakout meetings. I wanted to see the background of the story the way Joe saw it. I never got those things, because Joe is sane and had a business to run.

But now, I have the opportunity to provide just what I wanted. I can do something no one else has been nuts enough to do. Here’s the plan.

Step 1: Write and edit Unification Chronicles simultaneously

Regular readers know I’ve committed to writing all seven books of the Unification Chronicles series in ten months, to be finished by Labor Day weekend, 2010. But now that I’ve figured out how to write 2,000 words a day and still have time for my normal life, I’ve decided to aim still higher. I’m also going to edit the books in nearly the same span of time. Basically, while I’m writing 2,000 words a day of Book 2, I’ll be editing 5-10 pages of Book 1. This is possible because the 2k-per-day rough draft I’ve been turning out is surprisingly readable, not at all the unreadable crap I was expecting. Turns out you can write well and write fast at the same time (Mike Cane, I’m looking at you).

Step 2: Blog everything

Yes, everything. I’d like to announce The Unification Chronicles Blog, where I’ll be publishing every single thing I use in writing these books, documenting every step in the process. There you will find notes, research, plot outlines, even drafts posted as I write them, and before I revise them. I want aspiring writers to see the whole package. To be able to compare outlines to drafts to the finished product, and see how it all changes. I’ve set up a wiki for most of the structured information that doesn’t work as well on a blog.

Step 3: Sell the finished product cheap or free

Once I’m done with each book, each chapter will be available as a free PDF file or a free podcast (narrated by yours truly, and a straight read, none of this voice cast business). Each book will also be available on eReader.com, Fictionwise.com and Amazon.com as a 99 cent ebook. At the end of the series I’ll also make a 7-book omnibus edition available for $5.

For those that want something to put on a shelf—or don’t take my advice about how to read ebooks comfortably—I’ll also be publishing each book via either Lulu or CreateSpace—haven’t decided which yet—for just a little bit more than it costs to print. I’m not trying to get rich here. But I want to make sure that anyone who wants a printed copy can get one. I likely won’t be doing a printed omnibus edition, however, as it would simply be too expensive.

Step 4: Embrace the Chaos

One of the reasons I’m doing this is to establish a certain setting I plan to come back to again and again throughout my career. This is the Chaos. After the events in Book 5, I basically have kicked over all the anthills and set the galaxy on fire. Everyone is at war with everyone else, humanity is in pretty dire straits, and everything has gone to hell. Book 6 actually takes place during the Chaos, but it’s far from the only thing going on. It will take years, maybe decades of this to get to Book 7, Unification, where the heroes that survived Book 5 get back together and unify the galaxy. In those years are an infinity of tales.

But I’m not going to be the only one writing Tales of the Chaos. At least I hope not. I’m going to open up that setting under Creative Commons so that anyone can write stories set there. There will be a few limitations, like not using actual characters from my books, so the new stories don’t end up contradicting Unification—and even that will be negotiable, I expect to approve a few canonical stories I don’t write—but overall, it’s an open sandbox. Most of the stories will even be hosted on the Unification Chronicles site.

Step 5: The Audition

Once I’m done with Unification Chronicles—aside from Tales of the Chaos—I’ll keep writing, of course. Homeworld (my NaNoWriMo 2006 project) and Titanus (which I developed for Script Frenzy 2009 but decided I’d rather write as a novel) still need to be finished. As does Ghost Ronin, the first in a new adventure series. These, and the works that follow them, will in all likelihood be written with the door closed. I will seek an agent and get these and future works published traditionally. But here, the work I’ve done for Unification Chronicles will give me an advantage. Agents and editors considering my work will be able to see that I can write to a specific length, finish what I start, and tell a good story. They’ll have half a million words of my fiction as a work sample, and they’ll be able to see exactly how I research and write a book. And hopefully, they’ll see you, dear readers, and see that I can build a fan base and get people excited about my work. That’s why I’m giving Unification Chronicles away for free—or as cheap as I’m allowed to make it. Because if I pull it off, and do everything right, then I get to…

Step 6: Quit my day job and write full time

I want to make my living as a novelist. I want my only requirement in life to be continuing to tell the stories that make my life worth living. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been really good at, and with your help, I think I have a way to make this happen. I expect this to take time, but hopefully I’ll be a full time working novelist by the time I’m 45 (I’m 38 now).

Let’s get started.

Chasing my tale

I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news is that I’m going to stop talking about Evernote so gorram much. Not that I don’t still think it’s made of AWESOME, but I have a lot more interesting topics to cover.

The bad news is that I have a lot of more interesting topics to cover. My relative silence recently is nearing an end.

So, in the interest of “What personal life? I have no boundaries, I’m a blogger!” here’s what’s on my plate.

I’ve gotten hooked on the best-damn-writing-podcast-I-should-have-founded-but-didn’t, The Dead Robots Society. This is a group of folks who talk the talk about writing on a regular basis. They’re serious about writing but not serious about themselves, which means they avoid the pretentious puffery so common in writing discussions. It’s a fun, insightful podcast even if you write something other than SF.

(I even dig the name, so similar to the writing critique group I’ve led here in Denver for ten years now, the Dead Asimovs Society.)

And since the Robots and their guests do a lot of podcast fiction, they’ve inspired me to give it a shot. I will be podcasting “Do Over!” first, since it’s only 17,000 words, and then if that works out without starting any major wars with third world nations, I’ll be podcasting my first novel, Between Heaven and Hell. BHH will be produced semi-weekly, with new episodes every Monday and Thursday. This will give me three 10-week seasons, one for each section of the book. I am NOT updating the book into the present day. The events in the novel take place from 1997-2000. This means they were before Google. Before 9/11. Before YouTube. Before smartphones and before Twitter. It would be a very different book if it were set today, less than 15 years later, and I don’t have time to write such a book unless, of course, a paying publisher really wanted me to.

A few notes about the podcast. While I admire the work of podcast novel pioneers like Scott Sigler, JC Hutchins, Phillipa Ballantine and Mur Lafferty, I’m not going to do what they do. A lot of podcast novels border on full-on audio dramatizations, with sound effects, voice actors for each part and well… production values. That’s not my style. I’m a total Audible.com audiobook junkie and was hooked on that style of audio fiction before the term podcast was even coined, much less applied to fiction. So what you’ll get from me will be more of the Nathan Lowell-style straight reading of the text, just me, a microphone and whatever ambient noise makes it into my car (which is the quietest place I have access to in order to record). If I get really fancy, I might splice in intro and outro music. Maybe.

But that’s not all I’m doing. I’m also going to try to finish the first draft of Ghost Ronin by Halloween. This is an less an updated and expanded novel version of the “In Shining Armor” screenplay on my blog as a new novel loosely based on that screenplay. Lots of new stuff, new characters, new motivations, new ending. I hope I can pull it off because I’m doing some interesting stuff with it. I’m about 20k words in, and hope to get to 75-80k by Halloween.

Why finish by Halloween? Because the day after Halloween is the first day of NaNoWriMo! This year for NaNo I have a pretty interesting project. It’s a story set in the Unification Chronicles universe, long after the events in Between Heaven and Hell. The novel will be about a lone human trying to survive stranded on an alien homeworld in the middle of a civil war between the male and female aliens. In addition to being a cool story in its own right, it’s a trial run to see how the setting works. I have lots of ideas for this setting down the line, a galaxy united by war against a common enemy and then torn apart once that enemy was defeated. The story of that war, the Nemesis War, is a trilogy I had abandoned, but am now using as backstory for this much richer canvas. I actually stopped writing the first book in that trilogy 80k words in, just a few scenes from finishing it, and learned much about the aliens—the Sendeni—we’ll see in this Sins of the Mothers.

(yes, I’m bloody well aware of the pattern you see here, and I’m working on it)

And finally, when I’m done with NaNoWriMo, completely finishing the first draft no matter how many words over 50k or days into December it takes, I’m going to finish the first draft of my NaNo ‘06 project: Homeworld, my Mars book. Every SF writer, it would seem, eventually has to tackle Mars, and this is my take on the subject. The elevator pitch for it is “Bill Gates goes to Mars,” but there’s a lot more to it and I’ve had a blast getting as far as I’ve gotten, maybe halfway into the third act.

Lastly, I’m going to try to take this blog back to the old days of Writing On Your Palm, and by that I mean a new article posted every Monday. Topics will be the usual suspects: mobile technology, writing, publishing and other items of interest to the gadget-obsessed writer.

This should leave me with three novels in first draft form, and halfway through a podcast novel around New Years. Big plans for 2010 include lots and lots of rewriting and getting my own apartment. Also, naps. I’ll talk about the process of all of it here, in the hope that I might at the very least serve as a cautionary tale for some of you.

So that’s me. What are YOU writing?