Missing Inaction

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Uh, hello. Remember me?

I’ve been missing for a while, so I thought I would post something before Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris came looking for me. I’ve been busy, just not especially writing-busy. I have been writing, but most of that is work I didn’t feel like sharing here. Some of it is too personal. Some of it is too political. While that has its place, maybe eventually another blog, I don’t want to bring that kind of often divisive monologue to this one. (Actually, the thought of another political anything right now makes me a little nauseous.) I’ve even written some truly awful poetry that nobody deserves to experience. I will likely burn it in one of my apartment complex’s BBQ grills, dump the ashes into a coffee can, bury said can, and entomb it in a concrete-lined hole to prevent it from contaminating anything. Its end will be more poetic than the poetry itself.

I’ve come to question the nature of time and my perceptions of that dimension as possible through our human constructs and celestial bodies. How can I create more time? Could I get more from people who don’t appear to be using theirs? Could I barter for it with toilet paper or hand sanitizer? What does time taste like? (Probably chicken. I like chicken.)

Time continues to disappear each day before I commit to writing. This blog entry was written in fits and starts over an entire week and was started days after I intended. With the arrival of Spring, the outdoors beckons, and I can eliminate cold temperatures as an excuse for my lethargy. I’m determined to make up for that hour of sleep I lost. Walking in the evening gives me ample time to think about writing, but often it doesn’t add to my daily word count. Until a device is invented and affordable enough to allow my thoughts to be transcribed, this will likely continue.

There are quite a number of things related to writing that consume inordinate amounts of time and don’t give me the same amount of pleasure. They often feel like the kind of work and stress writing has always helped me escape. Where writing frequently recharges my introvert energy reserves, some of the necessities common to a professional writer’s success quite dramatically oppose this. Creating a plot outline feels like building a sandcastle. Hunting for publications accepting the kind of stories I’ve written feels like negotiating the downtown streets of a strange and hostile city at rush hour. Developing a character’s backstory feels like sharing dinner with a friend. Promoting my writing on social media provides all the thrills of working on my resume. You get the idea.

When I’ve accomplished some writing, I’ve been chasing those energizing experiences that I always enjoyed when it was simply my hobby. My writing is better now, but I don’t write as much or as often as when I sought solace in it. In some respects, there’s no going back to that time before I got a couple of stories published. Part of my brain keeps saying: “See?!? People want to read your writing. People will pay to read your writing!” This pushes me to stretch for something great. I consciously attempt to write more concisely, choose more descriptive language, integrate sensory elements, show instead of tell. Instead I should probably enjoy the heedless, creative leaps in my first drafts and apply what I’ve learned to my editing.

When I haven’t been writing, I’ve spent an enormous amount of time thoroughly enjoying myself. It’s been a very therapeutic period of time, but also one heavy in carbs. That latter part needs to change before I have to buy new pants. I have read some amazing books, watched some inspiring TV storytelling, and been enchanted by atmospheric, creepy video games. All of these should provide some blogging fodder, so stay tuned.

And if there is sufficient interest expressed in the comments below, I might be persuaded to share the previously mentioned poetry before I seal it away for the good of humanity.

Recent Excellent Reads

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There’s been less writing and more reading in my life lately, and I’ve been remiss in recommending some of my recent favorites. If you follow me on Goodreads, you can see all of my ratings and recommendations. Recently I’ve begun reading outside the genres that I write, with growing appreciation for authors who make their craft seem so natural and easy, even if they aren’t writing about aliens, elves, vampires, or alien vampire elves. I’ve even thrown in some non-fiction for good measure.

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

As someone who likes to claim he’s a writer, I read fairly critically. I appreciate well-crafted plots, believable characters, and the artful use of language. With those in mind, please appreciate it when I say that I am, quite frankly, completely in awe of Andre Dubus III’s mastery of all of these and more. In House of Sand and Fog, he creates a plot based around a bureaucratic mistake that unleashes chaos into his characters’ lives. It is these characters, at once strong and frail, who propel this plot through the simple act of believing they are right, from opposite sides of their conflicts. They perceive their weaknesses to be strengths, they act out of passionate emotions: fear, pride, love, hatred. They fluctuate between admirable and deplorable, and this turmoil creates an emotionally gripping and compelling read. Well outside my usual genre reading preferences, I couldn’t put down this novel, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

I seldom watched Saturday Night Live during Poehler’s tenure, but I fell in love with her work on Parks and Recreation and have been an enthusiastic fan of her work since. In “Yes, Please”, I was treated to satisfying autobiographical pieces from her childhood through her career highs and lows, and I found myself laughing hysterically and, just as easily, moved by some very emotional points in her life as a comic actor, improviser, and mother. There’s wisdom from what she’s learned, and laughs at her own mistakes. She portrays fame and all the hard work it required with honest, self-deprecating humor that endears her to me and gains my respect for her and other women struggling in the same arena. It’s easy to see why she has become beloved by so many fans and peers.

Even for those unfamiliar with Poehler’s work, I recommend this book as a funny look at comedy, television, motherhood, and growing older in an unforgiving industry. She has earned my respect for her creative vision and determination, and the book is worth reading for those qualities alone.

As someone who loves to read, I always feel like I should dedicate more time to it. Sometimes I have a crushing realization that I won’t have time to read everything that I want in my lifetime. Does this happen to any of you? Leave me a comment and let me know what’s at the top of your “to read” list. Better yet, let me know if you’re on Goodreads, so I can follow you.

The Youth of Optimism

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Photo by Kim Siever

Most everyone has heard of “the optimism of youth”, but how many are aware that the young don’t have a monopoly on this healthy perspective? I’m not denying that, as we age, we accumulate more responsibilities and stress in our lives. These can easily drain our emotional and physical batteries, until we want to plunge down a rabbit hole of TV and ice cream. Everyone’s rabbit hole is different, but mine always involves ice cream. Deep in the darkness of those creamy, delicious warrens, a person can feel downright old and worn thin. Optimism can seem like that dim sunlight above, but it’s there, and it’s warm, and you can still take your spoon with you, in case there’s more ice cream out there.

I spent far too much time in my twenties mired in negativity. I was broke. I was lonely. I struggled to find a place where I fit in. My family was far away, and I had far too much pride to let them know how unhappy and exhausted I felt. After all, I had chosen to move hundreds of miles away from everything and everyone I had known, so I could try to make a living. But I wasn’t living. I was just surviving, barely. It never occurred to me that this struggle was a gift. This decade of my life was full of the freedom to learn and explore and take chances, something later years wouldn’t offer me nearly as easily. This should have been one of the most optimistic periods of my life.

It’s easy to look back twenty years and declare what you should have done differently. I should have given myself a little time for introspection and self-evaluation. Back then, I had plenty of time to do that, to figure out what little things I could do to make my life incrementally better and more positive. It does take time, something that seems to be far less available as we get older, but it doesn’t have to be an all-consuming quest. The little positive steps glom together into a snowball, and they can accumulate into something big enough to crush the urge to flee into that hole, maybe even enough to squash the ice cream cravings.

It might start with giving yourself something fun or relaxing to anticipate: a walk in the sun, a good book, a cup of coffee with a friend. Before you know it, you’re appreciating that little slice of optimism pie (a la mode), and your elevated mood may push you in a direction that will only increase your momentum: exercise, a salsa class, volunteer opportunities. As the optimism snowball rushes on, that rabbit hole starts to disappear in the background, the years seem to drop away like a heavy winter coat discarded in the spring. You’re in the sun, and there’s no reason not to bask in it.

Optimism is making you young.

Nicknames

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When I was a kid, all the cool people at school had nicknames. Most were just shortened versions of their first names: Mike, Steve, Tom, Nick, Liz, etc. I was so jealous. Looking back, I can’t explain what made these humdrum nicknames appealing. Maybe it was the casual nature of a one-syllable name that said: “I’m too cool for my whole name.”

The nicknames I desperately envied hinted at a persona, usually one that oozed toughness or cool out of its hard consonants. I tried to think of one and settled for Spike, like Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli’s teenage cousin. It didn’t occur to me that calling a scrawny, goody two-shoes by a nickname like that was the height of sarcasm. Worse, it was the name of Snoopy’s tumbleweed-riding cousin with the sad hat and droopy mustache. It didn’t matter because nobody agreed to call me Spike. Later I learned that the really cool nicknames, those with meaning and permanence, were those earned and given by others. Some are complementary, and others less desirable than the ordinary moniker.

When I was in college, it didn’t take long for me to earn a nickname: Woody. I was so proud, I would even introduce myself this way. Of course, it was a joke on me that I didn’t understand, and that made it all the more perfect and difficult to shake. Some older guys in my dorm, mostly transfer students mixed in with us freshmen for some reason, nicknamed me after the famous character from the TV show, Cheers, played by Woody Harrelson. My country kid gullibility and naivety made this an easy nickname for them to coin, I’m sure. I had never even seen the show; I just knew it was popular. Woody Harrelson would go on to star in roles as tough guys, but at the time he was famous for playing this ignorant, amiable hayseed. And that’s what I was, I confess.

Nicknames are common in military fiction, and this applies to some of my favorite scifi and fantasy series, too. They are like badges or medals, something coveted by the uninitiated. From a reader’s point of view, the nicknames instantly revealed that these characters had earned a place of respect and importance, even among some of the lowest ranking soldiers. I wanted them to live long enough to earn nicknames, and many of them didn’t. My first exposure to this was in Glen Cook’s Black Company. It was told from the point of view of a mercenary company’s chief medic, Croaker. The nicknames given by the company were replacements for names people left behind when fleeing their pasts. Real names held power, for those with magical abilities, so the nicknames provided security as well. Some included Goblin, Silent, Raven, and Darling. Later I would see the same in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, clearly influenced by the former, and many other works in the genre.

What was behind the appeal of nicknames in these favorite fictional worlds? I think they spoke of camaraderie and respect, of shared losses and victories, of belonging. Some were derogatory and darkly humorous. All were worn with pride.

Now I look back on that college nickname and wonder if there was something more than humor behind it. But, please, don’t call me Woody.

Have you earned a nickname you’re willing to share in a comment? I’d love to hear its story.

Heart in Inglenook

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Even though I’ve been gone longer than I ever lived there, the town where I grew up is part of me. Inglenook isn’t its real name, but it was the name of the property where I lived when it was originally inhabited. The house and its yard used to be part of a larger plot of land, long before I was born. If memory serves, the field across from the house of my youth comprised the other half. I only ever knew it as it alternated between feed corn and alfalfa. I haven’t lived there in 25 years, though I still visit the town to see my mother.

When my mom received some offers on her house, I only considered it for the wise, practical decision she embraced as she looked for something smaller and more manageable. My mind raced ahead to the stresses of house hunting and moving she would have to confront. The emotional response I would feel didn’t happen for a month or more. Even though I moved hundreds of miles away, it was still home. I pictured its fields, river, and rolling hills every time I thought the word. If I considered it for very long, I might shiver at the thought of the protracted and bitter winters. My first reaction always produced summer memories.

I wrote about it in more detail here. It’s a tiny town in the wilder, quieter, cleaner NY that nobody tends to consider when the state is mentioned on TV or in conversation. It’s the origin and setting of a dozen stories I’ve written. It will no doubt spawn a dozen more. Some come to mind even as I type this. In the long-forgotten railroad tracks, the shady hollows, the tapestry of wild grape vines, are tales of boyhood adventure and a few scares provided by isolation and quiet.

I’ll likely never have reason to visit it again, once my mother moves. The covered bridge is a piece of history. The old church, now with its wall full of honey bees, was the sight of Sunday school, chilly sunrise Easter services, pancake breakfasts, and strawberry festivals. I salvaged rusty railroad spikes from the muddy tracks that called to me and my bike, picked juicy blackberries, and hacked through wild grapevines like an intrepid jungle explorer. So many heart-tugging memories of my departed dad took place in a canoe, on that river, with our fishing poles. These places are all friends. Now they’ll be like people I never saw again after high school. Their memories will fade until one day I can’t quite picture the details.

There was a time when I couldn’t wait to leave that town for (slightly) bigger things. Now I relish the chance to leave the bigger town behind and head back to that hamlet. Even though its farms are mostly gone, along with many of the young people and those with means to move, even though I have just as many memories of shoveling snow and winter ills, I will miss it like I miss some of the people buried in its small cemetery. I will miss that feeling of being nearly home when I cross the rebuilt bridge and sight my mom’s house down the street.

Is there a place that will always be part of you? Leave me a comment, and tell me its story.

Zero Calorie Comfort Food

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To be honest, right from the start, this post isn’t about food. It’s not about some amazing alternative to delectable, reliable staples that warm our hearts as well as our bellies. It has nothing to do with fried chicken, or mashed potatoes with gravy, or meatloaf, or chicken and dumplings, or… I think I just gained a few pounds.

There are books I read over and over again that give me great comfort. I’ve spent time wondering why I return to them, besides the fact that they are outstanding works of fiction. Why will I turn to them instead of reading something brand new? Why spend hours on secrets that have already been discovered, characters who’ve already revealed their true natures, battles that have already been decided? I do it because I crave the taste of those books like a warm piece of pie.

If an author delivers me a plot with a pace that pulls me and keeps me guessing, characters that seem alive or trick me into sympathizing with them, and vivid scenery that surrounds them, I will gorge myself on it with utter abandon. I haven’t met many other people who do this, but I’m sure I’m not alone. There are books that contain passages so meaningful, humorous, or heart-wrenching that I will flip (or scroll) back to read them again. It’s no wonder it takes me so long to read them.

The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie, has moved with me several times. I feel a weight lift from my mind once I unpack and place these books on my bookshelf. This isn’t the first dark fantasy series I’ve read, but it is influenced by others I love, like Glen Cook’s Black Company series. It combines all the elements I mentioned above, along with some dark humor. The protagonists and plot have a foot in the comforting familiar and another firmly in original territory. The first in the trilogy, The Blade Itself, is the first novel I’ve ever read through once and then immediately started over again. They are examples of fantasy that I try to achieve when I write.

Dune, by Frank Herbert, is a benchmark for science fiction I love. While the royal intrigue of the second novel never solidly appealed to me, there was enough of it in the first novel to lend a welcome complexity to the rest of the exciting adventure I love. Part of me just loves the planet that seems like another character, one that presents such a challenge to people who have conquered space and the limits of the human mind. Wicked villains and heroic youths give all the charms of a fairy tale with the alien nature of humanity in the far future, and I want to be there riding sand worms and ‘thopters with them.

The Silver Spike, by Glen Cook (see Black Company above) is part of a longer series that can stand alone. I’ve read it more than any other novel in the series, I think because it magnifies my favorite elements in the other books. The main characters are bad people, but they pale in comparison to the evil working to be reborn into the world. The world contains people who do what they must to survive and always want more after they find what they need. Greed, jealousy, fear, and lust motivate characters that move the plot at a steady pace from one disaster to another, and it’s fun every time I read it.

The novels I mentioned above are those I will talk about to whomever will stand still to listen or find themselves trapped in a car with me. As a writer who has yet to see a novel published, maybe I’m reaching a bit too far when I want to write someone’s comfort food. I would love it every time someone bought one of my novels, but I would LOVE my books to join the dog-eared, underlined, cracked-spined (or the digital equivalent) staples of their regular reading. If my books could compel readers to rant about them to complete strangers at parties, on the bus, or in the supermarket aisle, then I will have written something I believe is truly spectacular.

Do you have some favorite books that satisfy you like comfort food? Let me know about them in a comment below!

Appropriate Stubbornness

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Summers in my late teens and early twenties involved a lot of travel to and from a large(r) town to enjoy a choice of movie theaters, a tiny mall, and the Neptune Diner. Convenient to the largest cinema, the Neptune stayed open late enough to allow me and my friends snacks and boisterous conversations after whatever summer action blockbuster debuted.

On one of these occasions, as our server took orders for burgers and sides, one of my friends dared me I couldn’t finish a large salad. I should’ve suspected that he possessed advanced knowledge of this salad’s volume, estimated the far smaller space of my petite body’s
stomach, and made a bet that he couldn’t lose. To me, the feat seemed achievable, compared to eating a 48-ounce steak, for example. I wasn’t wholly prepared for what awaited me, and I confidently accepted. When I ordered it, I might have heeded the waitress’ raised eyebrows. She must have figured I knew what was in store. As long as I paid for it, she likely didn’t care if I managed to eat the whole thing.

I remember the bowl seemed large enough to comfortably contain a school of goldfish. The Italian dressing, I requested on the side, arrived in a coffee mug. Iceberg lettuce, tossed with cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, and cheddar cheese, filled most of the bowl. A scattering of obligatory croutons dotted the leafy expanse. I tried to keep a nonchalant demeanor in the face of my challenge, but my shock was evident by the grins on my friends’ faces.


I refused to be cowed by the immensity of the task at hand and instead poured the dressing and forked with gusto. Eating mechanically, I closed my eyes as if to will myself into hypnotic gluttony. When I opened them, there barely seemed to be a dent in the greenery. I could read the doubt in the eyes of my peers.

As I’ve gotten older, I find less reason to be stubborn. It’s not something to be proud of as much as it is to be ashamed. I feel better about times when I’ve managed to work out a compromise or let something go. I save the stubbornness for the causes that mean most. Lately writing has become that cause, with its frequent rejections that can frustrate to the point of hair loss. I can call it determination, but in the end it’s the same thing.

I don’t like anyone to tell me what I’m not capable of doing. I have limitations, sure, but I want to be the one to decide when I’ve reached them. I finished that salad, and I felt like I might explode, but I ate a few fries from my friend’s plate afterward. It was a statement: Think twice before betting against me. How childishly dramatic, but it’s funnier, now that I think back on it.

I’ve been lucky enough that no one has ever voiced their doubts to me about my writing. I’ve received patronizing nods and smiles when I mentioned my goals, but at least they stopped short of verbal discouragement. Maybe I would be writing more prolifically if they hadn’t.

What’s your giant salad? I’d love to hear about your stubbornness in pursuit of your dreams in a comment.

Pulverizing Writer’s Block

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There are few things more frustrating for a writer than writer’s block. As it gets worse, more prolonged, it can fuel self-doubt and exacerbate the problem. For me, trying to power through it and continue efforts on my current project only produces inferior writing and more frustration. Ironically, only writing or writing-related tasks seem to help alleviate my severe cases of writer’s block, like the kind I’ve experienced lately.

Finding another writer I can help can stoke my creative fire. I’ve found that regardless of the type of help I give, it prompts me to examine my own writing. Whether taking part in a group discussion or providing notes on a story I’ve agreed to read, I’m surprised at the creative energy this can generate toward my work in progress. When dealing with the frustration of writer’s block has sapped my energy, this is the kind of boost I need to motivate my continued efforts. It’s also personally fulfilling to contribute to the writing community, since there always seems to be a kind member who’s willing to help me when I need it.

Reducing the stakes of the writing I do can also help recharge my batteries. Journal writing is something I do too seldom, and since it’s writing solely for myself, I can write lengthy brain dumps of words at a manic pace. Something about this contrast with the plodding pace of my creative writing is rejuvenating. Likewise, something mundane, like a review of an online purchase, can remind me how much more fun it would be to work on something creative.

Here’s an actual review I posted on Amazon for some electric toothbrush replacement heads:

Like me, you purchased your electric toothbrush with a goal in mind: healthier teeth and gums. Like me, you may have been shocked, nay, outraged at the price of replacement brush heads. Certainly you would find more reasonably priced options online, but which could you trust to deliver the cleaning comfort you need at a price you can afford?

This product’s massaging oscillations provide brush work artistry comparable only to the Renaissance Masters. For a fraction of the cost of name brand brush heads, enjoy a family-size package sufficient for a year in a typically sized household. Finally it’s no longer a compromise between value and the brushing health you deserve. No need to stretch the head’s use past the recommended three-month lifespan. Change the head as the manufacturer intended, and do it with confidence that your wallet won’t suffer.

Yes, I went a little overboard with the dramatic flare, but that was the point. Destroying my writer’s block is achieved by bringing back the fun that started my aspirations to write. Plus, the product makes my teeth feel awesome, so I can stand behind my review.

When writer’s block is frustrating me, I’ll turn to whatever I need to get writing again. What works for you? Please leave me a comment and let me know!

Spring, Sounds, and Skunks

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As I walk outside this time of year, I can tell spring is waiting to burst out. It’s like a…well, a compressed spring. There’s a palpable, coiled force that will be released soon, at least here in NC. (Sorry, northern friends.) Our next string of warm days might spur buds on the trees, greening grass, and a chorus of avian song.

Some couldn’t wait. I’ve seen robins hunting worms. Geese are showing up in grassy clearings around town. Daffodils have pushed through the earth but haven’t yet flowered. The Bradford pear trees are in bloom. Their white blossoms are a nice break from the bare branches, even if they are an “ecological disaster“. (I imagine Bradbury pear trees would be worse because they would be a Martian species, invasive and carnivorous. Sorry, my writer’s brain does’t stop.)

When will the other trees follow suit? I can’t help but think of the brave kids that were first to jump into the swimming pool in early summer. They always said the same thing to us more cowardly swimmers: “It’s not that cold. You’ll get used to it. Come on!” Do you think these early arboreal bloomers put the same pressure on their neighbors? “Come on, oaks, maples! Winter’s over. There might be a few cold nights left, but you’ll get used to it?” I wouldn’t trust those daffodils. I’ve seen them push up through the snow. I probably shouldn’t even mention the blasted dandelions. Some of them are already going to seed and scattering their fluffy aviators all over the place.

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Misophonia is occasionally in the news. It’s the rage-inducing sensitivity to certain sounds. I’m lucky enough not to suffer from it. I only notice the occasional sound that drives me batty, though I’m a big fan of quiet for times of concentration and creativity. I wonder if Cookie Monster’s enthusiastic chomping and crunching ever triggered anyone? That would be tragic. He’s long been one of my favorite Sesame Street characters. Maybe it’s our mutual love of those desserts. If he ate them quietly, it wouldn’t be the same. I don’t think he would have the patience to soften them in a glass of milk. His name isn’t Reasonable Cookie Aficionado, right?

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A friend of my family’s, whom I remember from childhood, recently passed away. His name is Al, and news of his death shocked and saddened me. Most of the memories I have of him involve my deceased father. They worked together as well as played together. I vividly remember their partnership in canoe regattas. Al crafted his own paddles. He was a handy guy, even blew glass, which seemed like magic to me back then. He and my dad also carpooled together, so I saw Al often. He would pour a cup of coffee from our pot while my family finished breakfast, and they would head off to work.

One morning, Al stopped short in the doorway. We all stared at him, puzzled by his uncustomary quiet. The cat figured out what was amiss. Our orange tom froze in mid step. His growl seemed just as freakish as Al’s quiet. Then the smell hit us, the acrid, tear-inducing stench of skunk.

We had experienced a rash of skunk trouble during the summer. The pesky rascals toppled our trash cans and made a mess of the yard. My dad owned a tender-heart trap and had successfully nabbed several of the varmints, always careful to throw a sheet over the trap before loading it into the back of the pick-up and transporting them out of town. Al borrowed the trap and was not as successful. He must have been in a hurry to get to work and somehow not realized he’d been sprayed. Even today, when I smell skunk, I think of Al’s mishap and chuckle. RIP, Al. You’ve left a lot of people who treasured you and treasure memories of you still.

Writing Conference

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Recently I attendedĀ  my first writing conference. It had originally been scheduled for fall of 2018, but Hurricane Florence had other plans for us. Thankfully it was rescheduled and not cancelled. A small affair, it was held on a rainy Saturday at NC State’s campus. Armed with pens, notebooks, and a hurriedly written pitch for my first novel, I prepared to engage fellow writers and hopefully entice some agents to read my manuscript.

I was both disappointed and a little relieved that there were no agents attending. At least I had an elevator pitch to use on other writers and ran into another author with a penchant for post-apocalyptic fiction. Over lunch, we discussed indie publishing, the difficulties of gaining blog readership, writing discipline, and a host of other topics. I left with his business card and his hearty encouragement to keep writing, keep working to improve, and never give up.

Even though the majority of people I met were non-fiction authors, even photographers, their desire to be published and share their creative efforts was palpable. I was in good company. Their questions to panelists often echoed by own concerns and confusion about the publishing world, marketing, and a host of other topics. I could feel tension from some who, like myself, were a bit overwhelmed by all the details, especially the expensive ones.

The panels ranged from branding and marketing to publishing and outlining. Again and again, I heard disparaging remarks about traditional publishing that dispelled many of my preconceptions. It was also overwhelmingly obvious that the panelists were entrepreneurs first, drumming up business for their editing, layout, or marketing services. Some of them were also writers. I found myself wishing there were more full-time authors on the panels instead, people who could provide keen insight from their own experiences in the trenches, without the incentive to sell me something other than their novels. I think what I really crave is out there somewhere, maybe in another city not so far away, at a conference that spans a whole weekend or even a few days.

According to what I heard, traditional publishing has changed considerably over the years. Most of these changes benefit the publishers by allowing them to cut expenses. They invest most of their time and money in authors guaranteed to make them money, which makes sense from a business standpoint but sacrifices the discovery and support of new talent. Editing quality and marketing are two areas where publishing budgets have shrunk, and both can have a drastic effect on book sales. Since the publisher would also benefit from additional sales, it left me scratching my head. I guess there’s some mysterious formula that helps compute which books are better off unsold than being marketed more aggressively.

Armed with questions around what I heard the panelists discuss, I turned to an online writing group for some opinions. What I received in response to my questions was phrased in pros and cons of both traditional and indie publishing. Will I continue to submit to agents, or will I self-publish my novels? I’ve read that doing both, when possible, is the best practice. In the immediate future, I won’t do either. I’ve got at least one more revision to make to the novel I finished and more outlining to do for my new project. I’ll continue to submit short stories to publications, when I have time. Self-publishing involves more work on my part, more time spent marketing and leveraging social media. Since I don’t have time for that right now, I’ll have to be content to hone my skills and research agents seeking the kind of fiction I write.

The most important advice I received was that I will need to finish more books before any of the rest becomes important. Keep writing? I can do that.