Unwritten Rules

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Growing up, there were some unwritten rules in my family. I think it’s safe to say that every family has some. These were different from the rules that might have gotten me grounded. In fact, occasionally they would be broken without much in the way of consequences, though my sister and I would submit to the rules if we were confronted. It’s remarkable that there wasn’t more resistance to them, even in our teens when we relished a good argument. (By good, I mean any excuse instigated one.) Yet we usually would just shrug and accept the rule.

One I remember was the “You caught it, you clean it” rule of fishing. I think this rule originated with my mom’s refusal to gut and descale fish, and she rarely took part in the fishing. She had no problem cooking them, but cleaning was a different story. My father

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The wily and elusive trout

taught me to do it early in my childhood, when I relished anything slimy or otherwise icky. Had I been differently inclined, the rule might have ruined me for fishing. As it was, I hardly caught any fish, so cleaning them was rarely necessary.

Another rule was that the living room was off limits. We had a family room upstairs, where the TV and Atari resided. The living room, contrary to its name, was more like a museum. It sat just off of our foyer, where its antiques and stone fireplace could be admired but not marred by human hands. At least there weren’t any “no flash photography” signs. I was jealous of the cats who enjoyed the sun in the bay window. This rule was just as silently overturned when I left for college. I returned for a visit home, only to find in the living room a TV and some comfortable furniture that used to inhabit the family room. I laid on the couch, and no one cared. I moved the Nintendo down there to shoot virtual ducks and not finish Super Mario Bros. I enjoyed the “new” room without daring to question it and set about making it lived in (but not too lived in).

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Prime family room real estate

Dad owned the recliner and the TV remote. They could be borrowed when he was absent, but when the time came for him to enjoy them, the rule was enforced. Even if the cat had settled on my inclined chest, the chair was to be vacated. The cat was welcome to return, of course. If I were in the middle of a TV show, I still surrendered the remote. Would he change the channel? Yes. Wide World of Sports was on. I should’ve planned better and started my program on the downstairs TV. At least there was a chance that he would start snoring, and I might pinch the remote from under his hand like Indiana Jones stealing the golden idol. Or I could walk all the way to the TV and push some buttons, but what fun was that?

What unwritten rules did your family have? Did you follow them or shake your fist at the Law? Drop me a comment and let me know!

Expulsion of Disbelief

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Photo by Jin

My reading, TV and movie viewing preferences have always leaned heavily toward the fantastical. This sometimes got me in trouble during my work in libraries because many patrons I tried to advise avoided science fiction and fantasy like it would stain their humanity. It came down to the suspension of disbelief that was required of them. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, allow it. I, on the other hand, craved it. It wasn’t that I stopped disbelieving during a novel or movie, it was that part of me never put the brakes on when things got weird. In fact, my imagination put the pedal to the metal. I wanted to believe I could develop super powers, battle an alien armada, or make friends with a dragon, at least on the page or screen.

Stage magicians and illusionists still earn my awe and admiration, decades after my peers outgrew them. I never wanted to know the mechanics behind the magic. Finding out it wasn’t real hurt as much as discovering Santa Claus was a myth. The best I can do now is jam my fingers in my ears when somebody tries to spoil the secret. There are all too many people who think they’re doing a service to us believers, by exposing reality in the face of our willful ignorance. As far as I’m concerned, David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear and David Blaine can levitate. What’s that? Can’t hear you. I have my fingers in my ears, and I will just keep steering the car with my elbows until you change the subject.

My defiance of disbelief is also why I sometimes listen perplexedly while critics poke holes in movie plots. Sure, some films deserve it, but I want to believe in the story and exist solely in that world for two hours. The Jurassic Park dinosaurs are just vacationing until the next movie in the franchise. Hoban Washburne will have his memories downloaded into his cloned body for the Serenity sequel. Don’t try to tell the imaginative kid in me that either is wrong, or we’ll settle  the argument with Nerf guns at ten paces like civilized folks.

If I give a book or a movie a bad review, it might be because it convinced me I was wrong to expect the magical feeling I wanted. Something about it made me more interested in the mirrors and pulleys and less concerned for the woman sawed in half. I’m not suspending, even in-school suspending, my belief. I am willing to flat out expel it. If you can’t fool me into believing your fiction, you’re not trying hard enough. If you can make it magical and give me all the feels, I will love you. I mean it. I guess that makes me pretty easy to please, right?

I wish everybody could experience these fantastical things with utter abandon the way I do. I honestly feel sorry for people who can’t. But it’s never too late. Maybe CGI will help awaken the kid in them that wants to know magic again. Maybe I can convince them to read one or two books they never would’ve dreamed of reading, and that will be the start of their voyage back to childhood’s sweet, innocent awe of the unexplained.

Do you have any books or movies to share that let you shed reality’s shackles? Do you have some you could recommend specifically to people who hesitate to try fantasy or science fiction? Please leave a comment to spread the word!

That’s a Wrap, 2016!

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What a year! Take that however you’d like. There were ups, and certainly downs, and that’s how this crazy thing we call life goes. I like to keep looking and moving forward. I try to learn from, but not dwell on, the past. Some days are definitely more successful than others, in those respects, but trying is the important part. That’s how habits, happiness, and opportunities are made.

There certainly were an alarming number of heart-wrenching celebrity deaths in 2016, especially in the last month. Many of these people will always be inextricably linked to some of my favorite memories. Prince? He will forever be one of the greatest musicians I will know in my lifetime. Carrie Fisher’s role of Princess Leia taught me at an early age that women deserve important roles in my writing. She was so much more than that brief part of her life, and seeing her in The Force Awakens rekindled that original Star Wars magic in me. It wasn’t completely snuffed out by Jar-Jar, I guess.

On a more personal note, I lost my grandfather this year. He nearly reached centenarian status, and I sincerely believed that he would. His vitality, keen mind, and sense of humor made him seem immortal for so many of his retirement years. If growing older could be that way for most people, they probably wouldn’t dread it as much. I hope that I’m playing softball when I’m in my 80s and golf in my 90s like he did. If I’m still as energetic as he was when I hit 90, I’ll start playing golf just because I can. When I think of the Greatest Generation, men and women whose strength we owe so much, I picture him on a tractor, or fixing a furnace, or surrounded by three younger generations of relatives at our family reunions.

2016 was also the year of many unfulfilled writing goals. My writing output dwindled, my blog stagnated, and there were times I struggled to scratch out a few lines in my notebook. I submitted a few stories to publications, but only one was accepted. It is still unpublished at the time I write this. All others were rejected, with the exception of one, a decision that I still await. Most of the stories I wrote didn’t seem to fit the publications I found, either for length or some nebulous reason undisclosed by the reviewers. I’ll keep writing, and at some point I’m sure the right story will find the right market.

I finished the sequel to a short story that was published in Nonlocal Science Fiction #3, but I’m hanging onto it. There are three written so far that feature the same character. I have one, maybe two, more left to write in the series. My intention is to publish them all as a collection, once I finish them. There’s still plenty to outline, write, and edit before I’ll be ready to leap into the self-publishing arena.

I finished the first draft of my first novel, tentatively titled To Die One Death, and I’m close to halfway through the editing process. I had hoped to be done by the start of 2017, but I’m slowly starting to accept that it will be done when it’s as polished as I can make it. My word count, even before editing, fell short of what I anticipated. After editing, I hope to eliminate around 10 percent. At least, that’s what Stephen King recommends in his suggestions for writers. That gives me some room to add some more details about the world’s societies and environs that I might have rushed past when trying to complete the first draft. I want to make the novel as awesome as I can, and the editing process is where that happens, even if it will mean further delays. I plan to confront the demons of traditional publishing when it’s ready. I will hopefully find some willing beta readers in the next few months, then more editing, then professional editing, and then the submission process.

Because I like to bite off more than I can chew, I applied and was accepted to write video game reviews for Nerd Bacon. I’ve loved video games since my Atari 2600, so writing about them is a great excuse to keep playing them. I also hope to gain more exposure, expand my online presence, and eventually earn a larger audience for my fiction. Who knows? Maybe it will lead to some unexpected opportunities. Nerd Bacon is full of excellent articles and enthusiastic game discussion. I hope you will check it out, if that interests you. My first review, for the zombie survival game 7 Days to Die, has just recently been uploaded, under the moniker Aaroneous.

2016 was a year of emotional turmoil, but I like to think that I contributed a small amount to make it better and spread some positive vibes. If I were pressed into making resolutions, they would be to dream bigger and work harder to bring about those dreams in the new year. I look forward to continued writing progress, and I wish all of you a successful and satisfying 2017, no matter where your muse may call you.

Three Day Birthday Celebration! — (Almost) Average

Today (Dec. 15th!) is my birthday and what better way to celebrate than with gifts! But, I’m not asking for them, I’m giving them! Today through the 17th, you can get my first collection of dark fiction short stories (Almost) Average Anthology for FREE on Amazon. It’ll cost you a click or two to grab […]

via Three Day Birthday Celebration! — (Almost) Average

Standing Together

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This is the first, maybe the only, post that I intend to write that could be considered divisive. I hope it isn’t. I hope that everyone reads this as the deeply personal account I intend it to be. Afterward, I hope it resonates as something that could happen to our neighbors and our children’s friends. Certainly I’m not unique in these feelings or in the childhood experience that affected me so strongly. I should note that I’ve been Red, Blue, and various shades of purple throughout my adult political life. This has nothing to do with one side, the other, or the middle. It has to do with fear, rage, and sorrow, mostly mine.

When I was in junior high school, I met two new students. They had moved from a town not too far away, by upstate New York standards. The older brother had trounced me in a school tennis match the year before, and I still hadn’t completely forgotten it, but that was the only time we’d met. The younger brother shared several of my classes. He was new, and I wasn’t popular, so I introduced myself before anybody could tell him how uncool I was. (In hindsight, he had probably already noticed by the time I approached him.) We became best friends in record time, chiefly because we loved tennis and science fiction. Throughout our school years, we studied, played tennis, and rolled polyhedral dice together. I forgave his brother for humiliating me on the tennis court, and the three of us shared some of my most treasured high school memories.

If I had heard a presidential candidate at that time support ideas to register or imprison my friends and their family, I would have been outraged. If that candidate won the election, I would have been heartbroken. Why would the President of the United States, leader of the Land of the Free, want to do this to my best friends? How could voters let someone like that be elected? What would my parents and other adults do to stop it?

My friends, who had so much in common with me, were Muslim. They were my first exposure to any Islamic people. In a town that was 99% white, my cultural ignorance wasn’t surprising. I wasn’t wise enough to recognize the ignorance for what it was, what it might have become if I had never met those friends. It might have become fear, frustration, and rage. It might have become hatred, or perhaps worse, indifference.

 

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Photo by Fibonacci Blue

I wish everyone who considers a registration or internment of Muslims in this country had experienced a friendship like the one I enjoyed. I wish they had been warmly welcomed into a Muslim’s home and shared a meal and conversation or laughs over a movie. I want them to consider that their children’s best friends could be stripped of their rights and forcibly separated from them. Their study partners, teammates, and shoulders of support would be irreparably branded and convicted. I want them to imagine the hurt their children will feel when it happens to their friends. I want them to attempt to find any valid moral, let alone constitutional, justification to give their kids.

I’ve tried several times to write this. This is the first time my heartbreaking disappointment and anger have allowed me to finish. I couldn’t give up after my first two incomprehensible drafts. It’s not much, but writing this is some small way to speak for my friends and others facing such potential horrors after the election. I owe it to my friends and their parents after all the kindness they showed me. I hope, no matter how you voted, you can tell that Muslim people deserve your voice, too.

Better Lies (Writing Tips)

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Photo by Tristan Schmurr

Writing fiction is a process of making stuff up, telling tales, fabricating reality, lying. An exceptional story will string me along like a gifted grifter. I’ll buy into its characters, conversations, plot hooks, and setting. I’ll pay to hear it, even though I know it’s not true, because it’s not true. What lies do I anxiously await time to experience? More importantly, what separates the great lies from the meh? As I pull out the dwindling supply of hair from my head, sore from bashing it against my desk, otherwise knows as “editing a novel”, I crave advice to make my manuscript better. I comb the internet and get sucked into Twitter and Facebook conversations about the dos and don’ts, rules, appropriately breaking the rules, artistic license, grammar police, etc. Ever present is the caveat that the writer should trust his/her gut about the changes he/she makes to his/her manuscript. There’s no way I will offer any definitive writing tips here, BUT I will pass along some that I’ve read about and make sense to me. First, my caveat, hereby relinquishing me of any responsibility that said shared tips might ruffle feathers, stir dander, or otherwise frustrate. I’ve found them to be helpful. There have been enough that I no longer remember where I read most of them, but I will give credit where I recall the sources.

Most recently, I signed up for Rayne Hall’s “Writer’s Craft” newsletter. The bonus for registering was a workbook for growing my author voice. It contained a practical guide to implementing a bevvy of tips for more dynamic writing. The workbook exercises customize to any type of writing that I am interested in successfully pursuing. Sounds too good to be true? The concept was simpler than I imagined. Putting it into practice was as challenging as I thought any realistic guide to improvement should be. Identify the type of voice you want to write in, based primarily on your genre, and figure out what adjectives describe that voice. Find and use verbs in your manuscript that lend credence to those adjectives. Eliminate verbs that don’t (and there’s a handy list of weak verbs that most new writers, including moi, abuse). I look forward to future newsletters and tips. Rayne Hall has also written whole books about writing, and I intend to check them out. Good stuff! Follow her on Twitter: @RayneHall

One of my favorite authors, Joe Abercrombie, thanked his mum (they’re British) for giving him some important writing advice. She said that he should be honest. It may be the vital ingredient that keeps me reading, and re-reading, his novels. While it sounds simple to emulate, it can be extremely difficult. Each character should act honestly, not that all the characters are truthful. How boring that would be! They should behave in accordance to their motives, personalities, fears, and experiences. Sounds like a lot of work? You betcha. But it’s what makes his fiction such a pleasure to read. His characters feel alive. They don’t seem created to fulfill a specific purpose or take on stereotypical roles in the narrative. They are messy, faulted, wounded, and often pathetic specimens, and those that don’t have those qualities are usually just exceptionally good at hiding them. As I edit my novel, I’m challenged to honestly portray my characters as people first, characters second. This, I think, is the key to luring in readers who normally wouldn’t want to read genre fiction. If I can make them believe my made-up characters mimic real people (see “lying” above), how much easier will it be to convince readers to follow those people through their journey? It’s also vitally important that I be honest with myself when editing and making difficult decisions about what furthers the story and what is unnecessary.

I talk to myself like the crazy guy on the bus. That’s one of the things I do when I’m writing and editing dialogue, and it’s also the reason most of my time spent on these activities is in the privacy of my home or my car. This exercise has been recommended to me nearly universally in every tip I’ve read on the subject. Why? Because anyone who speaks English will detect the lies I’m selling if the speakers of those fictional conversations sound like 1980s TV robots. Each character needs to speak consistently, and there should be a unique sound to each voice. It’s a great way for readers to be able to tell the characters apart in conversations without using dialogue tags. Speech can tell readers things about characters without taking up time to describe them in more traditional ways, more boring ways. There’s a fine line between perfect and overdoing it, though. When I speak characters’ lines out loud, I can hear how they sound and if their voices have changed from one conversation to another. I learn more about the characters, too, like what body language they might use along with their lines of dialogue.

Share your writing with others. It’s an important step for those who want to be read by an audience. Doesn’t that seem obvious? For many writers, this is completed with a great degree of trepidation. Rejections can be harsh, and there will be rejections on submissions. I’ve experienced a ton of them, and each of them sucks. Writing groups can be relatively safe spaces to get honest and helpful feedback. After all, they are filled with other people who want the same thing and appreciate opinions that are given respectfully. I’ll plug 10 Minute Novelists, a group I joined some time ago on Facebook. Now with thousands of members, they promote members’ blogs, give advice, offer consolation during the painful process of editing, and encourage members to help each other out. I’ve received encouragement, blog followers, and beta readers through membership in this group. Most importantly, I’ve learned that writing doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit like it was before the Internet, or “when dinosaurs roamed the earth” as my son likes to say.

Writing tips are everywhere, and I could spend lots of time reading them instead of writing, but it is necessary research. Anybody who becomes good at something will tell you that you have to keep striving to improve. If I read advice that seems like a step in the wrong direction for my writing, I disregard it. I intend to share the nuggets of genius as I learn them. I’d appreciate it if you will too, because I can use them. Feel free to drop me a comment with the best writing advice you’ve received. Sharing can make us all better writers.

My First Snowflake

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Years ago, I began a fantasy novel. It had all the requisite fantasy stuff: heroes, fair maidens, evil sorcery, and swordplay. I began writing it from the protagonist’s first-person point of view. I set a dark tone and laid plans for the protagonist’s revenge against his enemies. I added some horror because I like horror. There is so much horror under the surface of fantasy novels I enjoy most. It just seemed like a good fit. Then the project fizzled out. I don’t know what went wrong. I don’t know why my interest flagged. It became another unfinished novel to add to my small collection, and I didn’t miss working on it.

Then something happened. I finished the first draft of my first novel. Let me tell you, it felt like I’d successfully scaled Everest. Only without oxygen tanks, avalanches, frostbite, starvation, or exhaustion. Man, that was a bad comparison, but the feeling was great. I’d done something I doubted I could do, something I had failed to accomplish after many attempts. The best part was that it made me see that I could do again because I had done it once. I had learned a few things, and I was determined to succeed again. I was determined to finish my second novel more quickly, with less editing, because I would try to organize it better from the start. I wouldn’t get sidetracked, I wouldn’t doubt my character’s voices, I wouldn’t second-guess my decisions in the middle of the first draft. How? Not with just a simple outline. I stumbled across something I wish I had found years ago, something other authors have been using for a long time. It’s called the Snowflake Method, and you can read the details here.

I’ve returned to the unfinished fantasy novel. Why not? I’ve thought about it often. The characters, especially the villains, have grown in my mind, and I already have a general idea how the plot will unfold. If the Snowflake Method will work for me at all, it will work for this novel. I don’t need to start over from scratch. I’ve already written the first three chapters. My problem was charting the plot beyond that point. It seemed overwhelming to think about where those characters would go, how their motivations would clash, and which of them might not survive. The Snowflake Method could help me organize it, help me define the characters in such a way that there would be no doubting the decisions they would make. I could write a character-driven, dark fantasy novel in the models of those I love. Maybe that’s why I never finished it: it seemed like I was going about it wrong. If so, I’m glad I stopped where I did. It will be easier to fix.

What I like about the Snowflake Method so far is that I started with the simplest of ideas and progressively expanded them. The creator, Randy Ingermanson, points out that this lends well to pitching the novel to publishers and agents. That’s something I dreaded, and now I feel emboldened to talk about the novel with anyone, even though it’s not finished. I’ve really barely even started, and that’s the beauty. By the time I get done with the preparatory work of defining characters and slowly expanding the plot details, I will have largely written the novel’s basic form. As with any fantasy novel, there will be world-building work and rules governing magic that I have to solidify, but I already have most of that in my head from years ago, years I spent thinking about it but not writing it.

After my first novel’s first draft took me roughly two years to write, I knew that I needed something to help me accelerate future projects. I’m optimistic that the Snowflake Method will be just what I needed. It’s hard enough to find time for writing on top of a full-time job and family responsibilities. It feels so much better to know that I will be spending my writing time more efficiently. And if it cuts down on editing time because my first draft will be written better, that’s icing on the cake. After all, the writing is the easy part. Editing is work.

If you’ve thought about writing a novel, I encourage you to take a look at the Snowflake Method. Once it helps you eliminate some of the most daunting tasks, gives you a place to start and a path that makes sense, you may find yourself on your way to finishing your first novel, too. And writing it much more quickly than I did.

Reading, Watching, Playing, Writing

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Every once in a while, I like to talk about some of the media I’ve been consuming and enjoying. Now is one of those whiles.

I finished Joe Hill’s The Fireman not long ago, and I have to say it was H-O-T. OK, that was bad. But the novel was great. After reading another of his novels, Horns, I found The Fireman to be much more accessible to a wider audience. I loved Horns, but I could understand if it were a bit weird for a lot of people. I was really surprised that it was made into a movie. The Fireman, on the other hand, begs to be shown on the big screen. IMDB says a movie adaptation is currently in development, so we all have that to anxiously anticipate. I found it to be a wildly fun suspense story written with Hill’s exceptional characters and injected with just the right amount of humor. It does describe what could be the end of humanity, so laughs were welcome. I won’t spoil it. You should read it immediately.

I finished my Luke Cage binge on Netflix much more quickly than I thought I would. I should have known, from his brief appearances in Jessica Jones, that I would find his own series fantastic. Mike Colter couldn’t have played Power Man better, though I confess to little knowledge of the character from the comics. (I read the only available issue in my orthodontist’s office a dozen times when I was a kid, but my interest at that age was generally monopolized by Iron Fist.) Outstanding performances from Alfre Woodard and Simone Missick made for extremely compelling television. With 13 episodes to pepper with details of origin story and character development, there was a lot to love.

Black Ops 3 surprised me with its excellent game play and gritty realism. I don’t typically like FPS games, but my son loves those he’s been able to try, like Garden Warfare and Destiny. He’s at an age where most FPS games are inappropriate for him due to language and violence. That’s what sold me on Black Ops 3. As a parent, I could opt to blur out mature images and gore, as well as censor objectionable language, in effect keeping a mature-rated game at a PG-13 level. We got all the excellence of a challenging campaign plus additional zombie levels that he loves, and I was able to stick to my parental obligation to limit his exposure to inappropriate content. We can play together in a cooperative, split-screen mode, which makes it even more enjoyable. If you have a kid too old for kids games and too young for more adult games, Black Ops 3 fills the gap much like Destiny and much more enjoyably than I found Star Wars Battlefront.

How do I have time to write when I’ve been reading, watching, and playing all this stuff? I don’t sleep (enough)! Actually I do far less of the others, so I can make time to write. In the past couple of months, I finished the first draft of my very first novel. I wrote nearly all of it in longhand during lunch breaks, so my first round of editing is also my time spent typing it. I also wrote the chronologically second, long short-story featuring my character, Os. The first of these appears in Nonlocal Science Fiction Issue 3. I just recently finished typing that up and look forward to editing it more in the coming months. Already ideas are percolating for the next story in the series, and let me tell you, Os is in for some trouble (again). Finally, I’ve written several new short stories that I’m currently shopping around. No takers, so far, but I’m optimistic after positive reviews from some beta readers. And I’m not about to stop there. Currently I’m writing a fantasy short inspired by Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay sessions with my friends. I’m also in the extreme beginning stage of planning my next novel, using the Snowflake method to hopefully finish it much more quickly than my first.

Have you read, watched, or played any of the above? I’d love to hear your thoughts about those and any other recommendations you have, so please leave me a comment!

Rewards of Perseverance

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Perseverance is at the heart of nearly every success story I encounter. Those who keep going, despite setbacks and frustration, are left to squeeze every last wonder out of their lives. Among those setbacks are moments of joy, rays of sun, to be cherished for the moments we can appreciate them. Past difficulties, one day in the future, can become stories of triumph to inspire or even make us chuckle.

There are many frustrations and disappointments along the path of writing professionally. Dedicating hours of time to create a story or novel most often meets with rejection without any constructive criticism. That risk of rejection kept me from submitting stories to publishers for decades of writing, and it never gets easier. In fact, I write this blog entry just after reading a rejection email for a story that took me over a week of writing and editing.

Giving up is probably the easiest decision to make when faced with a challenge, especially one where a solution is completely unclear. I’ve faced it many times as a writer and taken that road once, only to come back to my senses years later with regret. Only after carefully weighing the possibility of failure against the what-ifs of success did I determine this: the only way to guarantee failure was to give up. It’s not the realization of a genius. I should have stumbled upon it much earlier.

There are probably millions of people out there who dream about getting paid to write fiction. Some start and never finish. (Just look at my pile of unfinished novels. Guilty!) A lot more probably finish writing a story but never submit it. That’s a big step. It’s not like showing it to a few friends you know will probably like it. Somebody is making a decision whether or not it will help them sell a publication or generate advertising revenue, and they will not necessarily be nice when they reject you. For a lot of people, and for me up until a couple of years ago, the risk wasn’t worth the reward for $.01/word (and a free digital copy). And that’s the exact reason you can succeed.

In the picture at the top, there are a mess of flowers, most dead. Certainly these black-eyed susans didn’t get rejected by publishers, but at one point they were part of a much larger bed of flowers. Periods of drought, followed by Hurricane Matthew, likely accounted for many of the deaths, but some persisted despite thirst, severe winds, and probably neglect. Now the determined survive and don’t compete with nearly as many others for sun, water, and nutrients.

Every time a writer gives up and I submit another story, my chances of success are better. Each aspiring novelist who crumbles under criticism and naysayers will have to live with their regrets while I’m cashing my royalty checks. Their novel will never find a publisher who believes in their vision. Mine will get rejected by 20, but that 21st will give me some of the best news I’ve ever had. It’s a long game for most. I only wish I had started it younger.

The best part is that people will always want to read, and they can read a book in a fraction of the time it took to write it. There’s always room for more excellent books on shelves, no matter how many people decide to persevere. There are plenty of readers for all of our works if we have the determination to keep banging away on our keyboards. Don’t give up, flowers. Hold up your faces to the sun.

The Dwarvenaut

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Ever watch a documentary and think somebody made it just for you? The Dwarvenaut is a documentary about Stefan Pokorny, an artist, entrepreneur, and Dungeons & Dragons aficionado. When I saw it available on Netflix, I mistook it for just another profile of geek culture. While it definitely falls into that category, it more importantly chronicles a man who has, despite struggles, turned his love of art and role-playing games into a successful business. He’s living the dream so many of us wish we could, spending his days creating what he loves and still making ends meet.

Perhaps I’m biased, since I sit at the very core of this documentary’s demographic. The desire to somehow make a living predominately with my imagination is foremost in my thoughts on any given day. Right behind those dreams, reality obnoxiously stomps and hollers about practicality, responsibility, priorities, and statistical improbabilities. Thankfully for some of us, our dreams can still be heard above all the doubts within and naysayers in society. Some can even stand up to reality and command it to fall in line and work alongside their creative ambitions. One of those is Pokorny, and I rooted for his success through the whole documentary.

The film isn’t without flaws. We can see his rough start in childhood, school, and career endeavors. The current day portions of the film explain the state of his business and follow his third Kick Starter campaign, this one to fund his dream project. But the middle of the story seemed lacking. The first two Kick Starter campaigns only received limited descriptions. Lessons were learned from them, but there was little elaboration. Pokorny confesses that he’s not good at the day-to-day business aspects of owning a company. I would have liked to learn more about the failures that taught him to succeed. Perhaps they didn’t make the final cut of the documentary. At any rate, it left me wanting, and I will have to research it on my own.

Where the documentary really shines is in its ability to capture Pokorny’s personality and life philosophy. I hope this was accurate, because it was truly the most moving side of the film. To witness his passion, bravery, and gratitude brought tears to my eyes. It made me want to emulate those qualities in my pursuit of my writing career and in other areas of my life. Certainly they are integral to his success and happiness. It has prompted me to recommend the documentary to others, even those who don’t understand the appeal of Dungeons & Dragons. I dare say, there are people who could understand me better by watching it because it affected me so viscerally.

I’m glad that I either stumbled across The Dwarvenaut or Netflix recommended it to me via its algorithms. I wish I had seen it 20 years ago, when I was still listening to reality tell me I shouldn’t pursue my dreams. Reality will always be there, droning its rhetoric, and ignoring it is not a solution. Giving yourself permission to argue with it and win, on the other hand, is something we all owe ourselves.

If you should somehow take time to read this, Stefan Pokorny, thank you for choosing to live your dream and share it with me.