How Did I Do In February?

Darn good, as it turns out. No, not 100% on point with my plans, but probably 90% there. Which is pretty awesome, considering my realistic goal was about 70%!

Rather than taking you through the things I did this week, I’m going to summarize how my overall goals for this month fared.

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  • The Shadow of Saturn First Draft
    • GOAL: 30,000 words
    • ACTUAL: 23,000 words, but the day isn’t over yet. I’m sure I can get to 28,000 tonight, which is close enough. I am still on track to finish this first draft by May.
  • Paradisa Edits
    • GOAL: To be halfway done with developmental edits
    • ACTUAL: This is a bit hard to quantify, but I did schedule all my edits between now and March 31, and I met all of those goals. I also decided to devote April to line-editing, which takes off some burden. Originally I wanted my past tense conversion and all line edits to be done within this next month, but I’m going to focus on developmental editing only.
  • Short Story Submissions 
    • GOAL: Submit 12 poems or short pieces to 12 publications.
    • ACTUAL: Achieved! And two are in the “final round of consideration” for two different publishers. I will hear back from both in April.

Overall writing grade? I’d say an A. I was a pretty studious writer this month.

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  • The Con Runner’s Handbook
    • GOAL: Brainstorm the book.
    • ACTUAL: I did brainstorm it. I thought my goals were more lofty on this one, as I felt bad about not having it fully outlined. Looks like past!Michelle knew that would be a bit too much for the time being, and already set the bar low.
  • Kindle Shorts
    • GOAL: Write and publish four shorts for Kindle.
    • ACTUAL: I completed one of them, and hope to publish it tonight. The other three were consumed by Sundays that went to other projects. I’m not going to beat myself up about this, especially as writing the first one was a lot of fun and not terribly difficult. But this first one is taking me awhile because the process is new to me. Once I can get into a routine, I’ll hopefully become more prolific. Additionally, I’ve decided to devote 1 Sunday every month to writing a short story for publication, so that will reduce my Kindle burden too.

I’d say a B for this one, as I technically completed my Con Runner’s goal and I am exploring the Kindle Short publication process. Perhaps not as quickly as I’d hoped, but it’s coming.

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  • Video Company
    • GOAL: Work on website, research equipment, and file for an LLC.
    • ACTUAL: I did manage to file my LLC, ha! I am now officially a business owner. I also researched equipment, and narrowed it down to two DSLR cameras (the Canon 70D and one of the Canon Rebel EOS t series. Any opinions?). I designed my logo, linked my domain to my Squarespace account, and started designing my website. And best of all, I secured two “gigs” for when I purchase my camera (nonpaying, but it will help my reel). I still hope to launch the site officially on April 1st (no joke ;D) and I feel that I’m on track. I get a bonus at work this month, which I’ll use to purchase my equip.
  • Dead Air Webseries
    • GOAL: Complete Episode #4
    • ACTUAL: I did it, aside from some color correction and sound balancing. On to the next!
  • Indie MoCap
    • GOAL: 20 articles, a completed March newsletter, functional social media accounts and a site launch on March 1st.
    • ACTUAL: 9 articles, plus two secured interviews with some wonderful people in the industry. March newsletter is complete. My Twitter is thriving, although I need to get my YouTube, Google +, and Facebook accounts going. The site launch has been pushed back to March 7th, but I’ve been working diligently on the site, mailing list, forums, and many other features.
  • Animation Tutorials
    • GOAL: 4 animation tutorials complete
    • ACTUAL: 1 complete, plus some tinkering with Black Desert Character Creator, downloading Source Filmmaker, and the start of a 2nd tutorial. Mondays were rough. I’m going to move animation to Thursdays in March, and maybe put my Indie MoCap stuff on Mondays (as I….sometimes get that stuff done at work >.>)

I’m very pleased with how things are going. The prospect of my video company becoming a thriving business is incredibly exciting, as is the growing interest in Indie MoCap. I modified my schedule to make animation more of a priority, and I will continue to work diligently on finishing Dead Air in time for my video company’s launch. \o/

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  • Freelance
    • GOAL: Have talent, make money?
    • ACTUAL: So, you can see why I failed here. I didn’t have any concrete goals! I threw Freelancing onto the burner end of my schedule – Friday nights and Saturdays – which I normally use to relax. I did start interacting with the Freelance Writers Den and doing research, but I didn’t set up my profiles on Odesk and such. With all of my film goals thriving, I’m starting to wonder if freelance writing and graphics is too much extra effort. Or if I need to approach this a different way. Perhaps in March, I will resolve to 1) set up my profiles and 2) write an essay or article to pitch to a few different magazines.
  • Side Hustles
    • GOAL: Earn $100
    • ACTUAL: I earned enough through Google Opinion Rewards to pay for my YouTube Red subscription (I think it was about $13 total). I am up to $15 on Inbox Dollars and $15 on Swagbucks, as well as $13 on Ibotta. I think I’m at $4 on ShopKick. Total, that’s $60. I didn’t put nearly as much effort into this as I could have, and I haven’t cashed out yet. I think I’ll lower my goal to about $40 in March and see where that goes.

Big C for this one, gang. I need to decide where to take my Freelance work and accept that my side hustle apps are pretty low priority.

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  • AusmAtari Retro YouTube Channel
    • GOAL: 8 videos
    • ACTUAL: 5. It would have been 6 or 7, but Austin’s setup gave us massive technical difficulties on Saturday. At least the 5 we have turned out really well!
  •  AusmAtari Retro YouTube Channel
    • GOAL: A book every week
    • ACTUAL: I did it! I completed Chris Kennedy’s Self Publishing For Profit, Leona Wisoker’s The Secret of The Sands, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars, and Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. All of which were quite good, although TSotS was long and has scared me away from books over 100k for awhile (it just took me a long time to get through, and I don’t want to get behind on my 50 book goal). This week, I’m reading Ready Player One. Also in the pipeline for March is The Call of Cthulhu by Lovecraft, If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Calvino, and Rollback by Robert J Sawyer.

 

Usually after a productivity attempt, I totally overhaul my old methods and come up with something new. However, I think I’ve finally struck gold with this schedule. Aside from swapping my Indie MoCap and Animation days, and consolidating The Shadow of Saturn to 4 days instead of 7, this schedule will remain the same. I am also reducing my load on Fridays, as I find it to be the most unproductive day of the week. Overall, I do not feel any sense of fatigue or burnout. I did a lot of fun things this month, from playing several hours of Fallout 4, to going to a friend’s party, to going to the movies three times and watching plenty of Hulu and YouTube.

We have to know ourselves honestly to achieve that which we strive towards. I have to accept that I am useless on Fridays. I have to accept that technical difficulties happen sometimes. I have to accept that sometimes, projects require more work than I originally planned and may require a week or two of delay. And don’t be afraid to reevaluate your plans and consider if they’re what you really want (like my freelancing). If you really want something, you will make time for it. You’ll have vision for it. If something keeps getting pushed off, you and that project may not be right for each other after all.

Cheers, kids! What are your proud of from February, and what are you looking forward to doing in March?

 

Book Courtship Tag

I was tagged once again by MageChild – this is the Book Courtship Tag! This one required some thinking on my part, as I wanted to limit my responses to books I’ve read in the past two years.

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1.) Initial Attraction: A book that you bought because of the cover?

tbs-aussie-coverThese Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner – I bought this a couple years ago, and have finally started reading it this month. It’s REALLY good, ya’ll. The writing is superb, especially for YA (not saying anything against YA, but those books are harder for me to get into). It’s just a really engaging, beautifully done book with good characters – which matches the stunning cover perfectly. For those who don’t know, the premise is basically “Titanic in space,” and leads to a sci-fi romance between an underdog soldier and the richest girl in the galaxy.


2.) First Impressions: A  book that you got because of the summary?

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– When I discovered the niche of postmodernism, House of Leaves was title that kept cropping up. The premise – a house that’s bigger on the inside and the family that it torments, all written in a topsy-turvy experiment of typography – intrigued me incredibly. Thank goodness it did not disappoint. House of Leaves was about everything I expected it to be and everything I wanted.


3.) Sweet Talk: A book with great writing?

Ada or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov – This book is so complex and confusing that I can barely tell what’s going on in it. But I don’t care, because Nabokov’s beautiful, unusual, synesthetic prose is so lovely to read. He describes people in a particularly interesting way, always focusing on the most obscure and sometimes unflattering aspects of their physical appearance, while still making them charming. I have a few works of Nabokov on my shelf, not because I really care about the Russian chronicles he writes about, but because maybe immersing myself in his talent will rub off on me. Whenever I feel like my style is suffering, I open one of his  anthologies and work through a few short stories. It’s just a nice reminder of this is how it’s done.


4.) First Date: A first book of a series which made you want to pick up the rest of the series?

Divergent by Veronica Roth – I haven’t actually read Insurgent or Allegiant yet, but I think Divergent did a good job of introducing an interesting world with enough questions to keep the reader moving through the series. Honestly though, I found out that some of the questions were just there as bait and ended up with rather unsatisfying answers, so that’s put me off finishing the series. I….tend not to support books that do this to their readers. There are better ways to build suspense.


63345.) Late Night Phone Calls: A book that kept you up all night?

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – This book had a lot of intrigue. Once I started reading, I just couldn’t stop. Unfortunately, the ending was a bit of a let down after all that build-up.


6.) Always on my mind: A book you could not stop thinking about?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn– Rarely does a book hit me in the face with some real-life observations and cause me to reevaluate my life, but man. Gone Girl called me out on so many problematic things I did on a daily basis, from trying to please everyone to judging other women for being “bitchy”. Amy pulled me in with her first 100 pages with that likeable persona of hers, and when she proceeded to call me out for going along with it…man. Gillian Flynn is brilliant. That is all.


7.) Getting Physical: A book which you lolovecraftleatherve the way it feels/looks?

H.P LoveCraft – The Complete Fiction– Any of these Barnes and Noble collectors editions are beautiful, with their gold-leafed pages and leather bound covers. The H.P Lovecraft one is especially pretty, as the nebula on the front is foiled and sparkly. The pages have a nice weight to them too. These anthologies are the best looking things I have on my shelf.


8.) Meeting the parents: A book which you would recommend to your family and friends?

Eating Bull by Carrie Rubin – I had to think hard about a book that is “for everyone”, and really, there’s no such thing. But I think this book has a message that everyone ought to hear, and does a good job of offering multiple perspectives on a very sensitive issue. Plus, if I’m asked to recommend something, I like offering indie/small-press books over mainstream novels, as word of mouth is so much more important to those without a PR team and NYT bestseller buzz.


9.) Thinking about the future: A book or series you know you will re-read many times in the future?

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – This series was my first fandom, sparked my first fanfic, and I am still stoked about the (potential) movie that’s stuck in perpetual pre-production. Colfer is an amazing writer and the entire cast of characters in Artemis Fowl will stick with me forever. Especially Holly – one of the best female characters ever put to page.


10.) Share the love:

Any takers can leave their responses in the comments or do it on their own blog ;) Read any of the books on this list? Agree or disagree?

Bookcase.Club Unboxing! #BCCUnboxing

I was in Atlanta for business for the first half of this week (SC floods haven’t affected me, but I have several friends-of-friends who lost a great deal and one friend who lost their workplace. Keep them in your thoughts, if you would…) and when I returned, this lovely Bookcase Club Box was waiting for me!

I mentioned before that I subscribed to Bookcase.Club, which sends you two surprise books a month for $15. There are six genres to choose from, and I picked their “Strange Worlds” science-fiction and fantasy box.

I also mentioned in my last post that I hoped for Earth-grounded fantasy fiction, and boy did they deliver!

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Their goodies for this month are Halloween candy and a googly-eyed pumpkin bookmark (cute!). I think they normally come with journals as a “bonus item”, but this is something appropriately festive.

The books included are Daughter of The Sword by Steve Bein and Omega Days by John L. Campbell. They are paperbacks in perfect condition.  I will admit, I’m a little jealous of everyone unboxing on Twitter, because it seems like most people got Ready Player One instead of Daughter of The Sword, which is a book I’ve been dying to read for awhile. But that’s okay –  I already know about Ready Player One and have it on my TBR list. Daughter of The Sword is something I’ve never heard of, so the subscription did its job of introducing me to titles I wouldn’t otherwise find ;)

As for the books, I ripped the summaries off Amazon, and included some of my thoughts.

  • Daughter of The Sword: As the only female detective in Tokyo’s most elite police unit, Mariko Oshiro has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. But when he gives her the least promising case possible—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—it proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined. The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it.

First of all, THIS is the urban fantasy I like. I enjoy urban/modern fantasy based in mysticism rather than creatures (vampires, werewolves, insert your furry flavor here). The fact that the sword is the “magical” element of the story is neat to me, if a bit contrived. I also haven’t seen complaints about how the white male author portrayed a Japanese female officer, except that he may have actually exaggerated the oppression she would realistically face, so this one has true diversity points (Steve Bein is a professional philosopher, particularly with Asian philosophy, and has black belts in two martial arts.)

I also think that would be a realistic scenario in Japan; a female cop in America facing brutal sexism is a little stretched, because there are a million female cops out there and it’s not so odd to see in 2015. But Japanese women are held to even higher standards of modesty than American women, so I believe Mariko would have a tough time.

  • Omega Days: In San Francisco, California, Father Xavier Church has spent his life ministering to unfortunate souls, but he has never witnessed horror like this. After he forsakes his vows in the most heartrending of ways, he watches helplessly as a zombie nun takes a bite out of a fellow priest’s face……At University of California, Berkeley. Skye Dennison is moving into her college dorm for the first time, simultaneously excited to be leaving the nest and terrified to be on her own. When her mother and father are eaten alive in front of her, she realizes the terror has just begun…and at Alameda, California. Angie West made millions off her family’s reality gun show on the History Channel. But after she is cornered by the swarming undead, her knowledge of heavy artillery is called into play like never before. Within weeks, the world is overrun by the walking dead. Only the quick and the smart, the strong and the determined, will survive—for now.

Obviously, Omega Days is a zombie book. I am not normally fond of zombies. However, these characters demonstrate the rare talent of capturing my interest in the summary and that is what sells a book for me. This book is also marketed as an action ensemble, a la The Stand or Heroes, where everyone starts separately and eventually bands together. I LOVE THOSE SORTS OF STORIES. I am really excited to read get to this one.

The only complaint I’ve seen is that this book ends right as the action gets going, and has a huge cliffhanger – kind of a pet peeve of mine. I strongly feel like good books stand on their own, especially if they’re first in a series. But that doesn’t mean Omega Days will be unenjoyable, and the sequels are already out. So I don’t have to wait to resolve the cliffhanger. ^_^

Overall, both are very highly rated, safely obscure, and have several sequels (I think Daughter has two sequels and two companion novellas. Omega has three sequels). So if I enjoy these worlds, there is more adventure out there!

Finally, my box included a handwritten letter, which was a nice touch.

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I will definitely stick with Bookcase Club next month, because these were great selections. It’s also worth mentioning that a new paperback for Omega Days sells for $13.50 on Amazon, and a new paperback for Daughter sells for $11.77. That’s over a $25 retail value that I received for $15 without leaving my house. On top of that, they throw in goodies like bookmarks and journals for more value. And for every month I’m subscribed, they donate a book to charity.

Through December, they’re offering a special promotion where you can get two months – aka four surprise books – for only $25! If the value holds from month to month, that could amount to $50 worth of books for half the retail price. Go on their website and select the Happy Holidays Gift Set for yourself or a friend. It’s a fun, cheap way to discover new books and support literacy.

Have you read either of the books they sent me? What do you think of Bookcase Club? Let me know in the comments!

I Need “Real Life” In My Fantasy

This topic’s occurred to me a few times, particularly as I enrolled in the Bookcase Club subscription service for the “Strange Worlds” science fiction and fantasy box. For $15/month, Bookcase Club mails you two books in a genre you select, along with a journal (sometimes even fancy ones like Wreck This Journal). I will definitely do a post about what books I receive when they come in the mail next week. I thought it was one of the best priced book sub services, as the books price out to $6-$7 a copy, which is about what I would pay at my local bookstore.

But I do dread getting one particular thing in my box that may make the subscription less than stellar for me – high fantasy. Or epic fantasy. Or really, any fantasy that takes place in a distant, made-up, totally fabricated world that makes me learn the constitution of UnpronouncableLand before I can even get into the plot. Or the magic system. Oh, the dreaded magic system.

But Michelle! You’re a fantasy author! How can you say that?

Because I like Narnia. I like Harry Potter. I like Once Upon A Time. If we’re going with urban fantasy, I like Lost Girl and I’m intrigued by the premise of The Mortal Instruments. All of these fantasy stories use Earth characters, even if they aren’t necessarily normal or human. And most sci-fi takes place in a far flung future in which Earth exists, but is perhaps not the focus of the story. Even if it’s not explicitly stated, you can assume it’s there.

Game of Thrones (TV) is the only fully fictional fantasy world I enjoy. And it gets away with that because there is little to no magic in the series, especially in early seasons. As far as I remember, there are no elves, dwarves, trolls, etc. Most of GOT is based on Earth history, so GOT world has a sense of familiarity about it. Most importantly, the characters behave just as bawdily as real humans, instead of the weird sense of Arthurian propriety that hovers over most high fantasy. You can almost conceive that Westeros is an alternate history more than a completely new universe. Aside from the White Walkers, there’s not much that couldn’t have happened in our own history (dragons don’t count for me, as dinosaurs did exist *g*).

On the other hand, I find Lord of The Rings was far too dense and removed from reality, despite being Middle Earth. I could never get into Eragon. I never liked Redwall. I couldn’t care less about high fantasy games (I’m a Fallout girl much more than a Skyrim girl). Even when tropes are subverted, when new species are introduced, etc, I look at such books with a sense of exhaustion. I know, it’s not fair of me. I know there are probably original cool books out there that don’t involve elves and wizards and have totally pronounceable kingdoms. Maybe they’re very down to Earth and don’t even have magic – or maybe the magic is proper and makes sense instead of being there for no reason. I know. But I am tired.

Perhaps this is a sign of my waning intelligence. It seems as though I don’t want books that challenge me to keep up. Often, these are the books that are 800 pages long, and I feel they’d be half that length if the world didn’t need to be so explained. But I read postmodernism – S, House of Leaves, Infinite Jest. I’m interested in dense, challenging works. I am not interested in struggling to process or care about a world that is entirely fabricated, and that ultimately has no relatable stakes because of that. I’m often left with the question – why should I care? – when the story seems to be taking place a million miles away in a parallel dimension that never happened. Perhaps it’s the fact that I can’t suspend my disbelief that the story could be happening somewhere, in some time? I don’t know. It’s quite hard to articulate my disinterest, and it’s certainly not meant to be a bash on people who write or read this genre. I envy you, actually, and I’m struggling to figure out why I’m not one of you. I definitely don’t like pure realism, so why shouldn’t I like pure fantasy?

I am a genre bending sort of person, and I don’t like entrenching myself into any genre all the way. I can’t handle full on literary fiction, or full on historical, or full on romance. But if those genres are crossed in some way – if it’s literary fiction with a sci-fi bent, or a time travel romance, or a historical novel that steals from the thriller handbook – I’m intrigued. I think epic fantasy is what we automatically envision when we see the fantasy label, and maybe being that deep into one category is not to my taste. If you can blend a noir or a thriller or an action story with fantasy elements, like many urban/modern Earth fantasies do, you’re much more likely to have my attention.

Are you guys as picky about this as I am? Are there some subgenres you feel you should like but they fail to interest you?

Stuff To Be Proud Of: Looking Back on August

August was the first month of putting my new work system into action. It began in June when I outlined all the major projects I want to tackle in the next 4-5 years, across a variety of mediums. In July, I mapped out a general timeline for each of these projects and plotted all the little goals I would need to get there (they say that breaking big tasks into smaller ones is a hallmark of productivity.) In August, I abided by a daily schedule, which would accumulate in 8-10 goals I wanted to achieve by the end of the month. So how did I do?

On a task-to-task basis, if you count up all the items on my August calendar, I completed about 75% of my tasks. Not bad for a newb, I think. If you look at my actual goals, I only achieved about 2/10 fully – although many were partially completed. Overall…

Things I Did Great At:

Editing my web series, Dead Air. This web series was originally realized in my sophomore year of high school, and I filmed a lot of my Broadcast Journalism class goofing around in order to create it. Eight years later, Dead Air has remained a dream. I decided to tackle it now in order to give my videography background another credit. I wanted to finish one episode by the end of the month, and I am about 95% of the way there. I really enjoy editing, but I especially enjoy tinkering with this footage. I don’t have any doubts that all five episodes will be complete by January, which is the big picture goal.

– Writing Paradisa. I wanted to finish the entirety of Draft Six, and came about 8000 words short. I did write  13,000 words for Paradisa this month though. Part of the reason I fell short was a purposeful priority shuffle, considering that I’m starting a 9 day vacation at the end of this week ;) I knew I’d have plenty of free time over Labor Day to pump out those last 8k, so I diverted my sputtering August energy to short stories instead.

Outlining my Kindle business. This is also super fun, so I had no problem tackling it. I want to start selling Kindle erotica next year for some extra money, and coming up with all the different pseudonyms, storylines, etc., is oddly enjoyable. Don’t worry – when I start publishing in January, you guys will be with me every step of the way! I will be very open about the financial results of my little Kindle experiment. I will also try publishing some nonfiction next year, but I’ll talk more about that when we get there.

Reading. I finished The Disaster Artist this month, which I will reflect on during my end-of-year book post. I also started J.J. Abram’s S, I read a few stories from a Vladimir Nabokov short story collection, I skimmed through some mythological books…so I’m pretty satisfied! This is way more reading than I’ve accomplished in a while, and I feel like it’s not taking any extra time. I’m mostly replacing “scrolling through Facebook” with reading, and I now read 30 minutes before bed. That’s it. In September, I will continue with S, and will read The Martian and The Maze Runner books.

Things I Did Okay At:

– Short Stories.  I wrote 5500 words of a story called Ambrosia, and about 1000 words on a story about workplace harassment. I also wrote a poem called In The Event of My Death, and I revised an older piece from college. Still, I missed about 4 deadlines that I wanted to hit because I didn’t finish my two main stories. Part of this is because of all the work I did on Paradisa. Part of it was lack of inspiration, as I’m not really a great short author. I’m not going to be too down on myself about August’s progress, but I do hope to improve my short story turnaround times in the future.

– Literary submissions. I wanted to send out 20 stories. I only sent out 8, mostly because I didn’t finish any of my short stories, so I ran out of pieces to submit. Additionally, I’m running out of publications that accept flash fiction and/or simultaneous submissions. Most of what I’m sending out now is flash. *shrug* If I manage to finish Ambrosia in the next week, I’ll be able to catch up a bit. I’m sure I will get much closer to 20 in September.

Animation Tutorials – Planned to do 4, only did 2. I’m remedying this by setting aside an hour a day for animation and modeling practice in 3Ds Max, rather than an hour every Tuesday. I know I have the time, and I do quite enjoy it. It’s just a matter of making sure the timing is manageable.

My Writing Journal – Granted, I didn’t start this til the 16th. I think I’ve written four entries between then and now. I’d like to make this a daily, or at least every-other-day thing.

Things I Sucked At:

– Motion Capture. I pretty much tanked at this. I didn’t work on my motion capture site, I didn’t work on my email list, I didn’t get my Kinect set up. Luckily, none of this was urgent. It needs to get done in September, though. I’m trying to brainstorm and schedule mocap stuff in a way that encourages me to actually do it this month.

– Working on Saturdays. No more of that. I need Saturdays to rest. I assumed all this creative stuff would be fun and wouldn’t feel like work, but it does feel like work sometimes. Especially fiction writing. So if I fully take off Saturdays, I hope I will  have the energy to use Sundays as a truly productive work day.

It’s not perfect, but it’s progress. I think that setting really high goals is a great way to be productive, because even if you fall short, you still end up miles ahead of where you’d be otherwise. Yeah, I was a little short on finishing Paradisa Draft Six, but it looks like I’ll have that 40,000 word rewrite done with only 2.5 months of work. That’s crazy, considering it took me 7 months to do the same amount of work on Draft Five! And the fact that I’ve nearly finished a web series episode, I’ve written 6k+ worth of short story, I’ve put my work out there to 8 places….yeah, I may have fallen short of the goals, but 80% of “awesome” is still “pretty great” ;)

Breaking The Stigma of Commercial Fiction: Why Writing “to Entertain” is Not A Lesser Aim

Recently, I picked up a copy of The Creative Writer’s Handbook from the used bookstore a sort of college textbook on creative writing. It is dense, detailed, and contains several short story and poetry samples from well-respected authors.

But in the opening chapter, that was a line that made me put the book down a second and just…stare at the wall, shaking my head. It went something like “when a writer’s goal is to encapsulate the whole of human experience, or more modestly, to entertain…”

This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed a gentle, condescending pat-on-the-head towards those who write primarily to entertain. John Gardner didn’t even bother with formalities when it came to genre fiction, calling most types of sci-fi or fantasy “junk” in his guide, The Art of Fiction.

Over and over again, usually in writing books or writing classes or journal submission pages or perhaps even writing circles, I see the stigma attached to entertainment: If you write to entertain, you are lesser. You are less talented, you are less motivated, you are less creative. You’ll probably end up richer, because you’re a “sell out.” But you’re not an artist so much as you are a clown, serving as nothing more than a distraction to the sheep masses while the starving literary types plow through humanity’s preconceived notions and actually change the world.

I would even hazard to say that the word entertainment is portrayed shallowly in general, from television to video games, in the eyes of those who have ~better things to do~ than be entertained.

What bull.

Entertainment inspires. Entertainment saves lives. Entertainment makes us love. Entertainment connects us with lifelong friends. Entertainment makes dreams come true. Entertainment erases our prejudices. Entertainment causes social change.

How many people have changed their minds about gay marriage because of Will and Grace, or Ellen DeGeneres, or Glee? How many people have made new friends at a bar because they both liked Game of Thrones? How many actors, directors, writers, and video game designers are now living their dreams because we pay them to? How many Millenials are grateful to have grown up during the Golden Age of Disney? How would we have Lost or Battlestar Galactica or Guardians of the Galaxy if there was no Star Wars? How would we have Star Wars if there was no Seven Samurai? How many writing careers started with a teenage girl writing fanfiction? How many suicides have been averted, how many bouts of depression vanquished, how many lives enriched and given purpose because someone wanted to be alive to read the next Harry Potter book?

How many people have felt less alone because of characters they related to and loved?

To call entertainment a “modest” pursuit is dismissive and pretentious. There is a false perception that escapism is as toxic for people as high fructose corn syrup or smoking (you know the old one about TV and video games “rotting your mind,” right?). I would argue the opposite –  that escapism is as essential for the human mind as a good night’s sleep. Particularly in America, the modern human being leads an incredibly stressful life. Almost 7% of Americans, about 15 million adults, suffer from major depressive disorder. I’m assuming that’s just the people who are diagnosed. 52.3% of Americans are unhappy at work. Of course there is a place for dark, down to earth literary works – the sort of books that shed light on illness, human trafficking, social injustice, or mental disorders. Some people find it cathartic to read about their own problems, and we do need serious authors to sound the alarm on the world’s problems in order to draw visibility towards them.

Equally, I am not usually a fan of vapid entertainment, but everyone has different tastes. If someone feels their life is enriched in some way by 50 Shades of Grey, or an Adam Sandler movie, or the latest formulaic crime novel, who am I to judge?

But I think hybrid works – those that impact us on a deep level while primarily written to entertain, are probably my favorite stories. Harry Potter was certainly written to entertain, but it has deeper themes of anti-racism, anti-bigotry, self-acceptance, and feminism. You could acknowledge these themes and let them impact you, or you could ignore them and simply enjoy a story about wizards. Both make for a good read, and I appreciate the accessibility that JKR left with the reader in this regard. Stories that can appeal to those who want fun escapism, but also contain something beneath the surface for any literary types out there, are the most masterful of works in my opinion.

Literary genre fiction is also pretty great, as it aims to tell an exciting story in a beautifully written way. Although I will fight tooth and nail for entertaining stories, escapism stories, and commercial stories, I do not advocate for clunky, lazy writing. Quality writing is still a priority. Those who can adequately blend both are some of my favorite authors, including Jeff Vandermeer and Neil Gaiman.

So phooey I say to those who would degrade entertainment as a lesser form of creation. We can squabble all day about what defines art, but I can promise it doesn’t need to contain the universal bredth of human experience to qualify. Usually, people say that art should evoke some response, or emotion. And I don’t find joy or laughter or fun or suspense or social engagement to be modest responses at all.

Would You Rather – Writer and Reader Addition (from aspiringwriter22)

Questions taken from asipiringwriter22‘s blog this week. Check her out to see what she said, and feel free to answer these questions on your own blog! These were taken from both her “for writers” and “for readers” posts.

Would you rather only write standalones or trilogies?

Trilogies, probably. I have a few standalones in me, but I’m just more passionate about my  universes that have series potential.

Would you rather be a professional writer or a professional blogger?

I said “pro writer” at first, but I think pro blogger would be more fun because it would allow me to work from home and do something interesting without interfering with my passion projects. Never do a passion project for money, unless you want to ruin it for yourself.

Would you rather hand write or have to type for the rest of your life?

Type! No question.

Would you rather be forced to write everything in uppercase or lowercase letters?

Lowercase. I’ve known a few people who only wrote in lowercase, actually.

Would you rather only write 2 pages per day or 250 pages per week?

250 would certainly make me more productive.

Would you rather be traditionally published or self published?

It depends on the project, honestly. I’ve been doing a lot of research on starting a self-published erotica and nonfiction business. I think self-publishing benefits those markets and will yield the biggest returns. But for novel-lengthed fiction, traditional publishing is still king. The audience is just not there for it in the self-published market right now. Even in the self-publishing manual I was reading this weekend, the guy admits that his methodologies would probably not work well with novels.

Would you rather only write in pen or pencil?

I adore pens. Especially colored pens.

Would you rather only be allowed to write at your desk or anywhere else in the world?

I could happily spend the rest of my life writing exclusively at my desk.

Would you rather only read trilogies or only read standalones?

When it comes to reading, I’m fine with both, although most trilogies/series these days are overbloated stories that could have been accomplished in one or two books. I find that standalone books usually leave me wanting more, and series books leave me wishing the author would just get to the point.

Would you rather only read male or female authors?

I don’t really have a preference, although I think supporting female authors is important.

Would you rather shop at Barnes and Noble or Amazon?

Amazon is where I buy pretty much everything. I love browsing in B&N, but everything is way too expensive to buy. I get most of my books from the local used book store.

Would you rather books were made into TV shows or movies?

Movies. Again, I find TV shows often have bloat. Most books don’t translate well to a serial format either. Unless you’ve got a series the length of A Song of Ice and Fire to work with, I don’t see how long a TV Show could last with much things. However, I am super excited about the A Series of Unfortunate Events series that Netflix released a trailer for today. I wonder if they’re going to simply cover the relatively short series, or expand beyond the books and come up with new stories to tell post-“The End.”

Would you rather read only 5 pages per day or 5 books per week?

5 books a week would definitely be more productive.

Would you rather be a professional author or reviewer?

Professional author. My opinions are probably too unpopular to be a good reviewer.

Would you rather be a librarian or a bookseller?

Hmm. A librarian probably has better pay/benefits.

Would you rather read only your favorite genre, or every other genre but your favorite?

I think it’s important to have variety, so every other genre. I’ve also found that I’m really picky when it comes to my favorite genre (fantasy), and I’m more in tuned to the tropes, clichés, etc. of it. It’s actually more difficult for me to enjoy fantasy novels, despite it being my favorite thing to write.

Would you rather only read ebooks or physical books?

I could give up ebooks.

Eight Ways I’m A Not A “Real” Writer (And One Way I Am)

There are a lot of clichés about how similarly writers behave, and I’m not sure I respond to all of them positively. Every “You Know You’re A Writer If You Do This Stuff!” list never seems to resound with me. Sometimes it actually makes me wonder if I am a “real” writer, or if my personality isn’t actually suited to this craft. How can I be so disconnected from something I’ve done literally all my life?

1. I don’t care about strangers. You know the image of a writer on a park bench, eyes flitting around and observing people, scribbling character ideas and dialogue in her notebook? It’s not me. At all. It’s so incredibly unlike me that I wonder if such people actually exist. Sorry, I may be a writer since birth but that isn’t going to overcome misanthropy and social anxiety. I don’t like strangers. I definitely don’t want to spend 100,000 words worth of headspace with them, nor do I want to pay any more than passing attention to them. I tend to only find people interesting once I actually know them. Most of my characters are based on things that are familiar to me and that I already care about.

2. I don’t care about tea. Or coffee. Aside from a daily latte to get my butt out of bed at 6:00 AM and awake enough to do chemistry, I have no interest in hot caffeinated drinks. There is no correlation between drinking caffeine and writing/creativity to me. I tried, but I just found it distracting. I was trying too hard to down the coffee before it went cold, which led to about twenty minutes of coffee drinking and zero minutes of actual writing.

3. I can’t write in public. This combines 1 and 2! How can anyone write in a coffee shop when you have both coffee AND strangers to distract you? :P Even with headphones, I can’t help but look over my shoulder, hoping no one is spying on my laptop. This extends to airports, airplanes, lobbies, etc.

4. I don’t like prompts. I’ve actually written a whole post about that one before. I understand that a flash fiction writer will need prompts in order to be prolific. But the whole “writing exercise prompt” thing always felt inorganic to me. If it’s not my idea – something that I elected voluntarily to write about – I’m not going to care. And if I don’t care, the writing will appear forced. My post about prompts offers a pretty decent hypothesis for why I am this way – I’m a plotter and a stewer, and prompts simply don’t give me enough time to build a convincing piece.

5. I don’t take rejection personally.  Many of you have submitted queries to agents or publishers and you became disheartened after 5 or 10 of them sent you form rejections. Darlings, do not stop there: you’re just getting warmed up.  Maybe it was a really extensive and frustrating job hunt that hardened me up, but I see any response as positive response. I’d rather cross an avenue off my list than have it sitting open on a spreadsheet, waiting to be confirmed or denied. Plus, I think many writers discount the sheer volume of queries one must make in order to pitch a novel successfully. It took me 60 applications just to find a job in a STEM field – and only 5 of those got ANY response, positive or negative – so I expect it’ll take at least double that to convince an agent to sign me. I can certainly imagine frustration that you’ll never get published after a couple hundred failed submissions – and I’ve felt the sting of beta readers’ comments directly –  but I don’t know why a handful of form letters has such a way of hurting writer feelings.

6. I’m not an avid reader. Out of all these, I’m the least proud to admit this. I do enjoy reading, and I find it informative/inspirational as a writer, but it isn’t like oxygen to me. I don’t need to read a book every week to survive. I’m usually too busy writing to have much time reading. I hope to find a better balance between the two in time, but I will never be the introspective bookworm who’s always curled up with some tea and a blanket. I’m more of a film person, actually – an admission which often earns offended gasps in the writing community.

7. I hate wearing glasses. They may look cute on you, but they don’t on me. They don’t make me look smart or creative. They’re just a veil over a face that needs all the help it can get. Especially because my prescription is so bad that I can’t buy cute frames. And because of my job, I don’t have the option to wear contacts to work. I’m going to a LASIK surgeon as soon as I can afford it.

8. I don’t believe the book is always better than the movie. Sometimes it isn’t.

And the one way I am a real writer?

I love telling stories. That’s it. That’s all the romanticism and reason I need. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a filmmaker in a novelist’s world, or maybe it’s that I have the emotional range of Ron Weasley (aka, a teaspoon). But even if I’m not the stereotypical hipster in a sweater and glasses, with no desires outside of writing and living in a city apartment I can’t afford, the muse for telling stories and creating worlds has burned within me all my life. At the end of it all, I don’t care that I’m not the writer people think I should be – and you shouldn’t care about what people expect of you either. Honestly, I’d say the person that actually is all eight of the above probably doesn’t exist. Or if she does, somehow she’s been made an industry standard :P

What other clichés about writers do you reject? What romanticism would you like to see vanish? What assumptions do people make about you as a writer?

The Fatal Flaw of High Concept Stories

This past weekend, I read Divergent. It was at the recommendation of a friend, because I wasn’t impressed with the movie. Upon reading, I was pleasantly surprised by Veronica Roth’s writing style and I found the world-building smoother than in the movie. But something bothered me about it, as has bothered me about the last few books I’ve read – a high concept that never delivers on its potential.

High concept fiction is all the rage right now and I blame Lost. People older than me could blame Twin Peaks, but I believe Lost is what brought deep mythology and perpetual puzzles to a mainstream audience. Everyone is still clamoring to copy that formula. Much like the abstract era or the postmodern era or the neoclassical era, mainstream art is now in the M. Night Shamalyan Plot Twist era. Everyone wants to read or watch stories which promise original starting concepts, twist endings, huge cliffhangers, and sudden deaths.

Often, such shocking revelations and bizarre world-building relies on mystery. Mystery isn’t new – Agatha Christie and other writers clamped onto human curiosity long ago. But instead of mystery being its own niche, mystery has now infected all genres to outrageous degrees. Who is the killer? Is it all a dream? Is he a clone? What is the monster? Why did the world end? Does this book actually take place in the past?

I like intrigue, but not the way most writers handle it. Lost itself failed on its own formula. For many series-long questions, there was no payout. There rarely can be. If you open up huge questions that have everyone speculating for YEARS, then the actual canonical answer will probably disappoint. People will say “I wish it ended like that guy on that forum said it would” or “*my* answer makes way more sense!” And that’s if you get an answer at all – half the time, high concept only works with smoke and mirrors, where they omit answers “on purpose” in order to cover up plot holes.

I’m not saying all threads must be tightened. Ambiguity can be good. But Cobb’s top spinning at the end of Inception is only fine because “Is this all a dream?” wasn’t a question you asked yourself for the entire movie. Instead, the damning question bad high concept stories pose is “What does it all mean?” That is a tremendous question that summarizes a whole novel – it should not come down to one twist.

What does this have to do with Divergent? Well, the characters are fine and there are no particularly burning questions propelling the reader through the novel. It’s not The Maze Runner, which works entirely off the manipulation of “What the heck is going on? I have to keep reading to find out!” So for that, Divergent is barely guilty of the high concept sins I’ve spoken about. But it still leaves its world so thinly sketched that the reader is left asking many questions about the origins and the villain’s motivation. And of course, those answers are promised in the sequels.

I…don’t like this. Basically, the only reason I’m reading the sequel is to get some more clarity. I want to find out if Veronica Roth has new ideas to bring to the universe she’s written. I don’t really care enough about Tris and her friends. I don’t really care about the message of the book. Divergent, like so many others, is nothing more than a carrot hanging at the end of a treadmill. From a marketing point of view, I guess it works. I’m still reading her book. But if I get my answers in book 2, who knows if I’ll bother reading book 3? And I certainly won’t bother recommending this series to friends as it currently stands.

And this wouldn’t be so bad if such stories truly used mind-blowing revelations that change how you see the world. Gone Girl is a rare and fantastic example of one that does because the twist was just the beginning. The twist was used as an artistic tool to cleverly manipulate the reader into making fun of themselves, or to manipulate the reader into realizing their own prejudices. Yes, I plowed through the first 100 pages looking for an answer. And once I got there, I kept reading because the answer was so interesting.

Don’t use mystery to bait and switch your readers, my friends. It will leave a bad taste in their mouths. You can be ambiguous and you can plant seeds for future installments, but neither of these things should be the biggest, most crucial thread of the entire book. Unless you’re doing postmodernism, ambiguity should not be the point of your book. There is nothing more unsatisfying to me than huge questions that are answered with a handwave – or never answered at all.

Especially when that question is “Why is this happening?”

What do you think, folks? Have you ever been let down when a story failed to work on concept alone? Or do you think overwhelming ambiguity and/or unexpected plot twists are usually a good thing?

New Year Updates To Aether House

I’m baaaaaaack! I don’t have a shiny new header or layout, but I have some new features and plans for Aether House in 2015 ;)

+ See that countdown on the sidebar? That’s how many scenes I have left to finish in Draft Five of Paradisa. I’m nearing the end, folks! Hopefully by the end of January, that number will be 0. I feel like displaying progress for all to see will be a good motivator. Give me a shove if you don’t see it descend every few days ;)

+ Check out my 2015 Reading List! I’m not setting a numerical goal, as I feel that’s a bit…strange, for me. I want quality over quantity. So I’ve picked out a dozen or so books that I truly feel I should read ASAP. Infinite Jest and the H.P. Lovecraft book are both over 1000 pages, so it’s plenty to keep me busy this year. I’ve scheduled time to read 30 min-1 hr each day, but I also have to clean, write, edit, cook dinner, exercise, budget, and practice the drums too (not to mention that 40 hr a week job and, heh, sleep!). There are only so many hours in a day.

+ I’ve also made a “favorites” list for my WordPress Reader, where I can easily find the blogs I interact with the most. I think this will help make me a better blog friend. ;) Instead of backtracking through several days and dozens of newsy posts, I can quickly see your recent updates.

+ I want to get back to posting at least 2 times a week. When I started my blog, I wrote a post every day. I had a lot to say ;) Recently, as my writing has lulled into casual editing, I’m at a loss for quality topics. I do not blog just to blog. I only blog when I have something thoughtful to talk about, something different from typical writing blogs. Luckily I have a decent idea list to go by until Draft Five is complete (and I start finishing books on the To Read list), at which point my brain should get interesting again.

Thanks for sticking it out with me. Hope everyone has a great start to 2015!