Thursday, December 25, 2014

New Year, New Podcasts

I was going to release this one on New Years, but I might even have more to report by then. Anyway, if this blog has a format, I'm going to break it for a moment in fear of / respect for / finding gratification in my podcast obsession. I mentioned a few of my old standbys a while ago (bottom of the post). Those are all still great, still appointment listening without the unsavory appointment element, which is one of the things that makes the podcast medium great. However, I've picked up (and, fairly, dropped) a number of them since then, and I have a core few I can't leave unmentioned any longer.

On that: I won't bore you with the ones you'll hear about without my help. I do follow The Nerdist, Serial, This American Life, and Freakonomics Radio and all have my endorsement (not that they'd want or need it), but I feel a little stronger about these few below. They're still growing their audiences and are really unlike anything else out there.

  • The Gist 
    • Mike Pesca, the show's host, is a fast-talking, alliterative, incisive, incredibly talented machine of language put to good use. The show is semi-topical and veers in and out of politics, pop culture, science and whatever else he can edit himself down to for roughly 25-30 minutes every weekday. This is the only podcast I regularly check my phone for around its regular release time. I highly recommend listening to an entire week's worth of episodes at a stretch to get the idea. You know, binge. It's The Holidays.* 
  • Startup 
    • A podcast documenting the starting-up of a podcast company. If you've ever dealt with startups, or new small businesses, or maybe just foundering small businesses in general, you're going to hear things in here you've always wanted to: recruiting and negotiating with partners, pitching to venture capitalists, advertisers... it goes on and on. Alex Blumberg is an old pro from public radio so the show is put together masterfully, and he goes out on limb after limb in the name of transparency both for the show and his new company. 
  • Writers' Bloc 
    • This is a little niche-y, but I'm a sucker both for comedians and comedy writers. They do something I've always wanted (and failed miserably) to do, so whenever I happen upon a window into one of these brains, I look. That's mostly what this show is. J.R. Havlan, who won Emmys as Head Writer on The Daily Show, interviews TV writers and showrunners. It's big-time inside baseball, but if that's your bag (and it is mine), this is a huge, glistening hidden gem. 
I have more of these. A lot more. It's a sickness, but in a good way. I think. When I decide I'll highlight a few more.

Anyway, Happy Holidays! May your indulgences be many and hangovers be light.


*I may have mentioned: I hate the fucking Holidays.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Holidays, or, Interlude

Bite me, Holidays.
Never been a fan of The Holidays, or even holidays in general. My reasons are the same as most of the cynical bastards you know, so I won't bother to enumerate them here except that (1) I'm a broke, self-employed type and the holidays (capitalized or no) tend do to little other than cost me billable hours and make me work harder to get anything out of the people I deal with in the days surrounding them, and (2) every vice I have gets drenched, fed after midnight and unleashed on me from all sides.

I like that metaphor because it's tantamount to what I do.

Thing is, a couple of weeks ago I started on a new story. It was one of those things where there's only a flicker and it's gone before you can get enough of it on the page to keep it alive. That happens a lot to the ones born of insomnia bouts, as that one was. I forgot about it a couple days later. But then two nights ago, I was flipping through my bad starts (a habit I have when nothing I look at holds my attention) and that one jumped out at me. I got a little more of the thread of it as I read it over, and added another 1000 words to it, which is better than average in these dark days. Then last night I did the same. There's a story there, but hell if I can tell you what it is.

Not knowing isn't what bothers me; it's not knowing if I can keep the thread. Momentum means a lot to the first draft of any story, and this is a bad time of the year to be needing momentum.

It also strikes me that I haven't been able to make much progress lately on any of my writing projects, and it corresponds with the general fucking up of my train I bitched about in a whiny previous post. I've got about two weeks in of cleaner diet, no alcohol and regular gym attendance, and what do you know? A new story comes to life.

One of my favorite things.
It's funny. When I was a kid, I was always kind of a tight-ass about drugs, alcohol... vices in general. When I hit my twenties that didn't change much and I was working really hard all the time. Now in my thirties, I've looked back over that and wondered what the payoff was. Most of the great writers, artists, musicians and performers of pretty much any stripe went through or are still going through some major shit with excess and addiction. I never did that and it always made me wonder if I missed something there.

I feel like I've put that question to rest. The effects of my greatest vices (sweets, carbs, craft beer and Scotch, in that order) are quantifiable and immediate, even when enjoyed in moderation. The contrast between the time I was really living clean and now just makes it too obvious to be denied: I have to live without these things. It's not life-and-death, but it is life-and-no-life.

Which makes The Holidays complicated. I'll be spending Christmas with my extended family, who I adore but who exhaust me entirely. I generally duck behind beer and sweets and lob short, noncommittal quips back into the melee they think of as light conversation. I don't know how to do it without these defenses, and I'm not sure I'm inclined to try just yet.

Also, I mentioned this change of lifestyle to a close friend, who immediately wished he'd known that before he and his girlfriend got me whatever they did for Christmas. Whelp, as I told him, I'm going to enjoy whatever it is just as I would have and damn the consequences. Cuz Holidays.

I'm conflicted about how far to take this concept. Part of me wants to make it sort of a last hurrah, but I think the rest knows better. Last year I went big because my 35th birthday hit right along with everything and I was still very excited to be in a new place. What that ended up meaning was almost two solid weeks of eating and drinking hearty, and I didn't recover until March.

So I'll probably split the difference, erring on the side of asceticism. By next time around, barring anything too terrible, I've have been living clean for a year. Maybe by then my focus will be better and I won't be so worried about momentum.

Maybe by then I'll be on to better things.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

PICKS on Kindle Countdown!

JUST in time for the Holidays, ladies and gentlemen it gives me great honor and enormous pleasure to present to you... A Kindle Countdown SALE!

Heh. Sorry.

But seriously, if you're somehow reading this blog and somehow in possession of a Kindle without my short collection Picks on it... who the hell are you anyway and why are you stalking me? I'm, like, the most boring dude ever.

On the other hand, if you've just been waiting for the right moment, this is it. The Holidays are upon us, so in that highly commercial spirit I'm running a Kindle Countdown deal for the next seven days. That means the Kindle price is rock-bottom today and will slowly increment its way back up over the course of the week. So whenever you're seeing this, get there now! It won't get any better than NOW!!!

I know; I hate it too. But I need a few more Amazon reviews (even though I'm killing it there). Also, if you're a member of Goodreads and have or will soon enjoy my work, I could use some reviews there as well (since I'm getting killed there).

If you're still unsure, I'll let you in on a little somem-somem: "Addie" will be FREE for Kindle Monday to Friday this week. A little taste. But remember: the sooner the better.

If you're into the real thing, there's still good news for you too. Picks is also available in paperback, and eligible for free shipping via Amazon Prime!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Escaping

I dearly hope nobody reads this, particularly people I know personally. It's something more or less between a public diary entry and an update to the few unfortunate individuals interested in the progress of my writing. There's not much good to be relayed here, but if nothing else it may be an interesting mile marker later, when I finally lighten the fuck up.

Since the last post, I've had a number of things go wrong. Most were my fault, a few were indirectly my fault and a few were almost opportunistically out of left field. The first and most major was allowing the rough schedule I'd built for myself to blow up in the name of a couple extra billing hours. By habit (and by nature, as far as I can tell), I don't do well with structure, so anything resembling it in my life tends to be tenuous and fragile. And very, very brittle. Over a stretch of about three weeks I underwent an eat-and-drink (mostly eat) binge culminating in the dumbest of all American holidays, Thanksgiving.

Being of Italian descent, I think I get to say that.

I gained 25 lbs over that period and have scattered my sleep patterns to all points of the clock. I've started and stopped and started again exercising, partly because my conditioning had deteriorated so quickly and partly because I caught a bug somewhere in there that hung on for weeks. The couple of times I did make it to the gym the first time, I left early and almost puked in the parking lot.

On the health thing, I do have a takeaway though: my suspicions about carbs seem to have proven out. Trying to save some money, I bought a 10 lb bag of white rice and tried to make it my staple. Sweet Jesus, people, don't ever do that. My old sugar cravings came back with a vengeance and my energy levels got so spiky and weird that I actually started reacting viscerally to caffeine, to the point where I gave it up for a week completely to detox. I went back off of carbs at the same time, and though I'm far from back to normal, I'm way better than I was.

It looks like the theme of the next two months or so is going to be finding what little discipline I have and re-instituting it. Some vices need to go, chief among them bad food, good drink and stupid little time-sucks.

And background noise. That one's big.

Lately, I've avoided my own thoughts to the point of exhaustion -- there are too many squeaky wheels in there and I have no grease. Or that's what I think, when I accidentally give myself a second. Then, a couple of nights ago, I tweeted this:


I remember doing this. I'd been out with friends (all married or close enough to it), it was a good night, and every word of this was absolutely true at that moment. I was settled into my good chair, eyes half-lidded,  giggling at stupid shit on Twitter. It was a solitary moment of bliss I can't compare to anything in the last couple of years. The singularity of it even struck me at the time, but I was, thankfully, to far-gone to deconstruct it.

I saved that pleasure for the moment I woke up the next day. Yesterday morning.

Now, I was a little whipped, but not sick. I very rarely drink to the point of hangover, probably because it's always had dire consequences for me when I did. So the emotional recoil was certainly partly artificial, but not, I don't think, most of it. As hard as I've tried to justify the background noise by making it mostly science and politics and current events, the simplest, happiest moment I can remember for years was one in drunken escape. It made me realize how primary a component escape has become for me, and I'm not proud of it. I've lately come to think I'm just slowing down, feeling closer to 40 than 20 and all of that, but there's a dual-edged truth here that has nothing to do with that: I didn't used to have as much fun, but I was better at everything I did. I was better at what I was.

I go back and forth between pushing way too hard and letting go completely. I've never been a very consistent or balanced person. I do think I lack the magnetic North I knew in my youth -- it's got to be better to know when you've over- or under-corrected than to just randomly spin the wheel and swing from the rigging. I've learned a lot of things and even occasionally put them to real use, but for the last two years or so, I've had a deepening sense of missing something really big, right in front of me. I wonder what I might have missed while I wouldn't let myself think.

Normally, when I've spent a fair amount of time away from writing, I agonize over all I could have gotten done. It's a little different this time. I really tried every time I had a free hour and even a little energy, but for the most part there was nothing doing. That's always precarious when it happens, but, as with the over-arching sense that I'm missing something I shouldn't be, I also think I could be putting words to page if I can sack up and quit drowning myself out.

As always, I'm searching for a way to tie this little rant/introspection/whine off, but I'm not sure what I plan to do, let alone what I actually will do. I know it'll involve some working out, some long and unsatiated sugar cravings, and some stumbling around in the silent dark. At least now I know this, though: I can probably talk about it. That's something.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Respect the Process

Up late, delirious and trying to get the hang of promoting this blog, I accidentally blasted a bunch of posts to G+ the other night. Weirdly, that took me back through a few of them and I noticed a running theme of pointing out personal taboos I'm breaking. Like, in defense of the breaking, the taboo, or both. I'm not a fan, and even if that happens to be what I'm doing, I'll try not to mention it as much in future posts.

But not this one. Sorry.

Turns out, I'm little interested in how other writers do what they do, so I have no idea how many of them hubristically maintain blogs or diaries of their efforts. As that goes, I'm not that certain I find my own process all that interesting, other than in that it might one day bear fruit. I'm hoping I find something I don't expect here. Whether I do or not, I hope it's of some value to somebody either now or down the road. There could be DOs and DON'Ts or more subtle nuggets buried in here. I don't know. But like I said, I don't strictly want to do it, and so, in the spirit of almost everything else in this blog, I'm gonna give it a whirl.

This last week has been a thunderclap of nothing happening. I got back on the caffeine (see the previous post), made it to the gym exactly once, conceived of a business deal that would have eaten at least a year of my life but now will never see the light of day after a few conversations with people smarter than me, and, though I sat down to it every day, almost no writing happened.

That last thing is the only one striking any kind of cord, but not a deep one. Everybody's been here before. Of the two books I'm working on, I've been trying to focus on the oldest, which I'm now convinced is the first in a long series even though that's not how I wrote what I've got so far. It reads like a graphic novel with no pictures and lots of unnecessary exposition and summary. Only a couple of the characters don't suck. There's no real plot, other than "this is a long story where fantasy things happen."

So it's pretty good so far. The longer a given story is, the longer the list of problems like this. A month ago I would have sounded even worse, only I didn't really bother getting into it with anybody except an interview in Indie Writers Monthly, and that was a format that didn't really warrant a long, drawn-out discussion of hating my own work. It's part of the process.

Here's what I mean, broken down by just those complaints:

  • It reads like a graphic novel with no pictures and lots of unnecessary exposition and summary.

A long, long time ago (2001) in a galaxy far, far away (thankfully, as I mean Fresno), I wrote about 130,000 words that will serve as the first draft of the last book in this series. Maybe. A couple of years later, in a less-distant galaxy (Concord, CA) I wrote about half of what I thought would be a prequel. Over the next tennish years, I poked and prodded at it, but I just wasn't writing too much of the time. It's always deviled me because I do like things about it, but it's never really found a voice. I summarize things I should either only allude to or fully expand, and I'm constantly explaining why somebody did or said something. These are, by definition, bad. 

So I need to find a tone, which is tricky because for some reason I keep wanting to fall back on fantasy tropes whenever I don't know which way to go. I guess it's just a weak signal, but the picture is big and dark with a lot of sexy lines and I really want to see the whole thing.
  • Only a couple of the characters don't suck.
I've got a discombobulating antihero, a confusing ring of paper doll debutantes, an okay villain,  a hero I like a lot, and a mixed bag of good, bad and indifferent supporting players. Almost all of these characters are used badly, popping in only as foils to advance a languishing plot with mouthy dialogue and drifting back into shadow with varying degrees of fanfare. It's bullshit. Some deserve better and most deserve to be gone or transfigured. 
  • There's no real plot, other than "this is a long story where fantasy things happen."
Okay, this is partly frustration talking. It really stems from breaking a rule I usually don't, which is Don't Write The Fucking End First. It's okay to have loose plot points I'd like to hit -- sometimes they're the ideas that got me going to begin with. But I can love them too much. I'm beginning to suspect I love that ending too much and I'm letting it pull the rest of the plot into purgatory. I find myself tempted over and over to scrap the whole thing and start over, but I really hope that's not the way either.

Now, I wouldn't just bitch about this and let it float off into the ether. I really am still working on it. Here they are again, with corrective measures:
  • It reads like a graphic novel with no pictures and lots of unnecessary exposition and summarizing.
On a first draft, exposition is often a sort of note-to-self. It means you've failed to show something or you're afraid you'll forget to show it later. In a story that's going well, a couple of drafts later you can just clip it out and the narrative improves. In one that's going less well, you have to find a way to show it or remove the reason you thought you needed it. The option always exists to leave it in, but it'd better be succinct and add something on its own other than information, like a character divulging something they shouldn't have or a note turning up from a character thought to be dead. Or illiterate. Or something. 

The missing graphic novel pictures are the back story and surrounding world, and the summarizing is the acknowledgement of that. They need to be fleshed out rather than referenced as if understood the way they are in my head. Maybe... I have to go back even further on the timeline and write that. If I have to I will, but not this year.
  • There's no real plot, other than "this is a long story where fantasy things happen."
This is more related to the first point than I thought originally. In this particular story, I get the sense, again, of having a destination and trying desperately to get there at break-neck speed. That's probably because I want that ending so badly and some part of me probably knows that if I do this right, I'm not getting it. It's frustrating to know this and still have to fight myself, but here we are.

So the approach I've been taking lately is breaking the parts down that I need to flesh out into smaller chunks, and writing them almost as if they were standalone short stories. It's working a little, but it's slow. A lot of times, it just takes going over the whole story again and again before you see the light, and I've been doing that too... but it's getting to be more and more of a chore I dread at the end of my day, and I'm finding more and more excuses to check Twitter, play a game on my phone or look something up. More on that after this point:
  • Only a couple of the characters don't suck.
This is the most frustrating part for me. Good, strong characters will drive a story no matter what you do or how badly you do it. However, a good, defined tone will better define characters organically, both for their harmony and their clashes with it. If they've got nothing to definitively harmonize or clash with, what you've got at best is a dogpile of characters with artificial quirks and mannerisms no more interesting than your average Family Circus strip. It's not always clear which creates the other (tone or character), but the answer can't be neither. Both, yes, but not neither. 

This is the one point I'm really stuck on. As I mentioned, I have a few characters I do like and I know what they're about, but this isn't something I normally struggle with. The natural approach would be to sit down and think backward through their individual back stories, and though this sometimes works, it has to be informed by that goddamn missing tone. So really, I'm putting a lot on my approaches to the first two points, hoping this one works itself out to some extent when I find the overall thread. I think it will, but to me that's not an answer. At least, until it is. 

The other way to deal with a really good block is to let the work go; go and do something else. In the last five or six months I've been ping-ponging between this story (let's call it "P" just for distinction) and another one ("H"). That one's closer to being finished in some ways (particularly in that it's much shorter, has solid characters and a defined plot), but has other problems. I guess the idea is that if I'm going to be driven to distraction, I might as well be distracted by some other work. I'm not sure how this is going to go, but that's where we're heading. Tomorrow I'm going to dive into H again, but here's a little preview of what I'm working through with that one:
  • Yet again, the tone and narrative are all over the place. 
This comes from a different framing. Originally this story was all visual for me, complete with actors I wanted in the parts and pieces of a soundtrack. I actually wrote a hundred pages of screenplay but then decided I would never do anything with it if I didn't get it back into a form I could publish. It's a novella now, complete with a literary device as a narrator, which is why the tone is wonky. I was trying to preserve the visual aspects I liked so much, which work in their own right but don't flow as cleanly as they did in the screenplay because it can't decide on a POV. 

So my spiffy new narrator either has to go, or has to get further into everybody's heads, at which point he becomes either something more or something much less. I can't tell which, and it's got me a little stymied. But again, with a couple of fresh read-throughs, I should get an idea. 
  • The pace is fast but there are a couple of time jumps.
Not plot holes, just blank spots where I'm not sure what happens, if anything... and if nothing, why not. Righting the narrative should help, but so too will thinking back through the back story and figuring out where everybody is, what they're doing and why. Could be that some of the bit players aren't quite being given their due too, so something might be said for expanding on them.

That'll be my next couple of days. I'll try to report back, even if there isn't much to tell. It'll probably get a little more specific as we go, but I'm trying not to let too many of the story details into the wild. That's actually for two reasons: it doesn't seem right to start people anticipating things that might or might not happen, and I really, really don't like feedback on stories that aren't finished. I used to make the mistake of showing first drafts to people, and that was not good. But I do think I can talk about the process and problems themselves without getting into story specifics, and anyway, if nothing else it'll make me think it through from a different angle, and that can't be all bad.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Hey Everybody. So Like, My Name's Rocci, and I'm Caffeinated.

I'm reporting to you today from my workstation, which I never do. I think it's got to do with being too scattered to sit still in my proper writing chair, which reclines fully and is overstuffed but does not swivel. The reason is venti. I did without caffeine for a couple of weeks, but today I went venti.

Credit: Josh Hara / @yoyoha / www.squirtgunhero.com
This is going to be a bit of an ode to caffeine and some other tangentially related things like sleep, work and weight loss, both to better answer questions I've been getting lately and to get some of it straight in my own head. [Disclaimer: Little to no scientific data to follow. ]

Once upon a time, I was twenty-two and immortal. I worked in a print shop in Concord, CA by day and played poker by night, mostly in a seedy but somehow venerable old card room called The Oaks in Emeryville. I ate about a pound of processed sugar a day and enjoyed a more-than-occasional craft beer, but had a real suspicion of over-the-counter pills and mood-altering substances like caffeine. Those are bad for you.

Being twenty-two and immortal, I often went directly from the job I was quickly discovering I'd always been wrong to want to the card room, where I would play all night and often drive back just in time to grab a breakfast sandwich from the shop next door to my job. I might sleep that night, but I might also might go back and play again.

I've always had an abrasive, maybe even abusive, relationship with sleep.

Somewhere into the year I was twenty-three, my immortality started showing surface cracks. I couldn't make it through work on the second day and I was packing on some pounds. I've always been biggish, but it was taking on a scary tone with back and lower-extremity joint pain. I was having a harder time focusing both at work and at the poker table,, so I did the logical thing: I got a new job in Oakland and and moved to Emeryville.

The new job was more physical and had longer hours, which lead to two quick discoveries. One: processed sugar is evil and possibly the root of most physical ailments in the western world, and Two: in a pinch, energy drinks will definitely do something.

Ah, energy drinks. I could write a really outdated book on those now, but it basically comes down to how caffeine affects you, how B-vitamins affect you, and how a random smattering of other supplements like carnitine and various aminos affect you. Getting the right combination kicks you up about one gentle notch and lasts for a while. Getting the wrong one probably means a glaring spike and a crash that isn't near fatal but you wish it was.

A little while later, I quit the new job to play online poker full time. That was when I really first began to hone my caffeine, diet and fitness strategy, mostly because my schedule was flexible for the first time in my life. I started to get in better shape around that time, and even kept it up for a little while when I went back to work because poker changed in a way that made it a lot less profitable for me.

Then the work went away. This was 2009, which would make me thirty. The poundage had gotten more stubborn and the attention span more nebulous. I came back to Concord and an old friend got me back into another print shop. I got fat and hateful again, and doubled my caffeine intake, which really didn't help so I drank more beer. You get the picture.

I went on like that for... I don't really know how long. Must have been a couple of years. Eventually I stumbled back into the gym, adjusted my poker game, and took another run at it. It was starting to go okay. At some point during all of this, I discovered the closest thing to a perfect energy shot there is, and I started stocking up and rationing in line with my workout and poker schedules.

I'm not going to say which one, but I will point out that I tried a pre-workout energy supplement and had about the worst reaction since ephedra was taken off the shelves. Can't say I recommend those, but to each his own.

I got into the swing just in time for the DOJ, shitheads that they are, to shut down rather than regulate and tax, a multi-billion dollar revenue stream the federal government desperately needed. Online poker in America went poof* overnight on tax day, 2011. Right around this time, my dad landed in the hospital and it was bad for a while. When he got out he was going to need physical assistance and then surgery and some more physical assistance. I was handy, broke and, not least, happy to do it, so I got free room and board while the shop I worked at slowly starved, as print shops are wont to do in this day and age. It eventually sold to a bigger shop that was consolidating similarly-situated shops, and I stayed on as a consultant, trying to wrangle a gazillion different processes into something that looked like a pipeline.

I'm the asshole with the pony tail and the straining 44" waistband.
Thankfully, Dad got better, and pretty fast. That was good, because when I finally looked around, I was a fucking mess. I went to a craft brew festival and somebody with a camera documented me, looking the worst I ever have. I'm pretty sure I'd broken 300 ell-bees by that time. 

I started walking because that was all I could do. For the first couple of months, I hauled a camera around the Martinez Marina Park, mostly as an excuse to get out and around after work. I got some fair-to-middling shots, and it felt good to move a little. The first time I weighed I was 293, and that finally scared me. I started tracking everything, but it didn't occur to me to take progress pics until I'd already gotten a little under way. I should have done more and kept a log or diary (or maybe -- and this is crazy -- a blog), but I was also branching out in my consulting business and I just didn't have the energy.

Ugh. I haven't wanted to get into this because it would eventually mean breaking more personal taboos. Oh well, I guess that's a big part of what this blog is about. 

If it's actually about anything. 

NSFW WARNING: Photos below depict a fat guy without a shirt. And then a skinnier guy, still no shirt.


Here are dates and milestones. I don't think this progression will see many more updates as I've pretty much attained all I can without going completely off the deep end. It really took going off to accomplish this anyway, and I don't know if I have another run like that in me. I still want to see if I can get under 200 (I set the goal at 190 when I was about 290, knowing I would never get under 230), but that's mostly just to do it. There's no real urgency and I need to spend more time working and writing.** 

People I know have been asking me what I did. That's a whole other post and probably a few spin-offs, but here are the broad strokes:

[Disclaimer II: This is what I did. DO NOT take this as advice.]

Diet

I used to live on fast food and candy bars. That's not hyperbole; I really ate little else. The sick thing is, I can cook and when I do, it's usually pretty healthy. I was given something of a gift in this category when my dad got better, as he's a hell of a cook and loves to do it besides. It wasn't perfect for dieting, but it was a good segue away from the drive-thru and into food worth eating. Plus, he almost always makes a salad with a vinaigrette dressing, which gave me something to fill up on and save the heavier stuff for lunch the next day.

When I made the move to Reno (right after I got down to 260), I lived almost totally on variations of that salad, Korean kimchi dishes and random ground beef, chicken and egg concoctions. NO processed sugar if I could avoid it, and the only dense carbs came on cheat days, like kimchi fried rice or some kind of ramen stir fry. 

The only number I watched was calories. At the start, I just shot for a 1000-1500 calorie deficit according to my pedometer, but a few weeks with a heart rate monitor showed me that it, like cardio equipment, way overestimated the calories I was burning. I switched to a hard line of 2000 calories in per day, and really aimed at about 1200. 

All that said, it seems like the biggest help was cutting sugar, starches and carbs, and alcohol out almost completely.


Exercise I

Walking / Hiking 


Like I mentioned above, it started as a photography hobby. Then it was cramming in a few extra miles at night to keep the pedometer happy. Then it was six or seven miles in the hills at a park by my dad's place. Every day.

Resistance Training


This started (again) about the time I started doing hills. After the hike, I hit my bench and adjustable dumbbells for about 35-45 minutes with short rests, 4-5 times a week, doing one of four muscle groups each day.


Exercise II

Intense Cardio


I started mixing in a mile or two of running in the hills, but my joints didn't like it. I tried to do roadwork, but they didn't like that either. I figured I was still too heavy at 260ish, but I joined a gym when I moved to Reno and running on a treadmill was better. Once I could do a couple of miles in under 20 minutes, I started mixing in intervals a couple of days a week. That, combined with a minimum 20 minutes of moderate cardio after weights every day made a HUGE difference.

More Resistance Training


My strategy didn't change that much, but the variety available did. I don't have much to add to this except that variation is good, in weights, specific exercises and sets/repetitions. Also, doing some kind of core (abs and lower back) threeish times a week is critical if you're not a fan staring at your ceiling with your feet up on a laundry hamper for days on end. I stand by that statement whether you do any or none of the above. 

***

Okay, that all got more granular than I meant it to. If you remember how this got started (a long, long time ago), I was talking about caffeine and the roles it's played for me. I took a couple of weeks off lately, both as a control now that I've attained a reasonable state of fitness and shirked most of my bad habits, and because it's an expense I would cut out if I could.

Basically, I limit my (regular) caffeine intake to the energy shots I take to get up in the morning, and occasionally for an extra bit of pep in the afternoon. They're not that heavy on it, and in fact, most coffee drinkers get more of it than I do. But, to get my workout schedule to line up with my work schedule, I have to get up at 5 am. Were I religious, I would compare that to heresy, sadism and a multitude of other sins that often euphemistically replace "unpleasant." If I can get an energy shot into my system within seconds of my alarm going off, I have a chance at fighting through. If I can't, it's a toss-up. 

Particularly on days I've managed this feat, one of those shots may also mean the difference between completing a project that afternoon and zoning out to a podcast or a baseball game. 

Sleep has always been a bitch for me. The best control I've ever had has been when I fall into a pattern of get up at five, slam an energy shot, go to the gym, clean up, work, take another shot if my ass is dragging no later than 2 pm, work some more, hopefully write a little, fall asleep to the news. Rinse, repeat, skip the shots on Sunday. That went all to hell on my caffeine-out, sleeping erratically and unsatisfactorily the whole time.

My mental acuity also went to hell. Harder to focus, shorter attention span, less mental stamina. It was a little like being back in grade school -- if I got really into something I was fine, but everything else was a stupor-inducing struggle. I'm not sure if that makes me an addict or just somebody who's a little dumber without direct intellectual stimulation, but it seems to be solid evidence. 

Not that this rambling post does much to argue for it, other than existing. I tried to write another one on the whole NFL debacle earlier in the week, but it was so disjointed and aimless I scrapped it. Now, it's true that that happens all the time, but it was the only thing I even managed to start on during this whole experiment. Not good.

The expanse question is also self-answering. I can usually find these energy shots for about $1.50 a pop, so best case, lets say I take one in the morning six days a week and one in the afternoon twice a week (the average before this was down to more like once, which was half the reason I tried this at all). That's 8 x $1.50 = $12. My retail rate is currently $65/hr, so if I average an extra fifteen billable minutes I've already made money on the proposition. Worst case would be if I pulled an all-nighter on a Saturday on a week where I'd already used two/day every day (they say don't exceed that and I don't, ever), for 14 x $1.50 = $21. By definition, those bad boys are way paid for if I'm under that kind of a load.

I guess the point of all this started out to be how central caffeine itself is to my health and general well-being, but now that I look at it, the whole picture was a big one that took a long time to get right. It's complex and interdependent on a lot of outside forces, but I'm at the point where I don't think I can do it much better. That feels pretty freaking good. 

_______________________
*There were still technically ways to play online, but they really, really sucked. There are more now, and yes, they still suck very much.
**I don't get into it here, but there was actually about a six-week span where I was doing two-a-days at the gym, averaging nine or ten visits/week. I might have done that more but I hated the night crowds almost as much as taking trouble calls in the middle of a cardio set.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

IWM Interview and a Picks Update

A couple of cool things are happening at once. First, I did an interview for the September issue of Indie Writers Monthly. Back in July, my short story "The Egg Timer" was featured in IWM's time-travel-themed anthology, so if you haven't read it there, you can check it out in this issue right after the interview.

Next, The Bonus Edition of Picks is now available both in print and on Kindle, and is enrolled in Matchbook. That means if you purchase the paperback edition from Amazon, you can also download it to your Kindle for free. Also, I punched up the front cover just a smidge, and, as I've heard I should over and over, added a jacket photo to the back cover. I shaved my sacred chin whiskers for this, people, so my chiseled jawline and haunting, rugged look had better move some copies. Tell everybody.

Actually don't. Instead, tell them as of this writing reviews continue to trickle in and Picks: Some Things I Dug Up is still five solid stars (★★★★★!) on Amazon. Tell them to check it out!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Everybody UP

I've always envied various forms of genius, even though I know it tends to ride shotgun with tenuous mental health. We even used to celebrate that. Now we know a little better -- we don't usually goad people we know are swinging manic, and we don't generally smack people drowning in depression and tell them to man up anymore. We try to get them help. Sometimes they get it themselves. Sometimes, it even takes.

Most people that remember any part of the past millennium (which is still, thankfully, most people) know about Robin Williams and his demons.  He got help and he beat them back for a long time. We thought he was okay. This is where we go wrong -- we can't ever know that. Bipolar, depression, addiction, OCD and any number of other common disorders are more or less permanent. They can be managed but never really cured. If we ever needed proof of this, consider a man whose entire existence was wrapped up in bringing people joy and who did it in ways no one even dares imitate. They're saying that husband and father of three took his own life last night.

We've lost some good ones in the last couple of years, many far too young. I won't get into listing them here but you can't have missed it -- particularly James Gandolfini and Philip Seymour Hoffman. For some reason, though, this one affects me so deeply I'm writing this post just to work it out. Thanks for indulging me.

@BostonTweet: A memorial for Robin Williams at the "Good Will Hunting"
  bench in the Boston Public Garden. (pic @rabbitnutz
A million tributes flooded my Twitter timeline, alongside images of cops using excessive force against a crowd infuriated by cops using excessive force, shit blowing up all over the Middle East as per usual and a couple of soldiers somewhere in Ukraine propping up hunks of a downed commercial airliner for a roadblock. That's not cherry-picked; it's just a glimmer of current events. It's also why we need these people, not to escape over and over into a comic or adventurous or unreasonably bright version of the world around us, but just so we know we can.

I'll confess I started this post last night, and I went a little darker here. Hey, I was already tired when I got the news. I just want to offer two things:


  1. If you've ever wanted more of a straight-up Robin Williams, something deeper than he was ever going to give you while he was in character on Carson or whatever, you have got to check out this re-posting of Marc Maron interviewing him on WTF. If you're unfamiliar with Maron, he's a great, great stand-up that went through all the swings of the nineties comedy scene like a whole bunch that never made it out, and the two of them knew each other a little back then. You'll never hear anything else like it.
  2. I'm hearing a lot of people say something to the effect of "I don't get it" or "I don't understand why." There's worse, too, but people loved him enough to slap those assholes back into their chairs. So here's what I can't stop myself from saying --just this once -- to folks that doesn't get it: That's just fine. Now stop talking.
If you don't get it, you're lucky enough not to be afflicted with this, and believe me, if you're not afflicted with this, you will never get it. Please accept that and don't try to reason it out, especially out loud. Reason had nothing to do with it, his family had nothing to do with it, his career, his success, his house in Marin had nothing to fucking do with it. It's got nothing to do with strength or weakness, magnanimity or selfishness. It's death by disease, as easy as having a heart attack or toting an oxygen tank around for thirty years and finally falling asleep against the tube one night.

If I sound a little heated, I guess it's because "I don't get it" is Reality-TV-Watcher for "I would never do that." It's sloppy thought. Robin Williams was no fucking Kardashian. We knew him for all the reasons we shouldn't know them. 

I can't imagine what it would mean to have such prodigious talent, but for whatever reason, all signs point to "It's pretty hard." So let's focus a little more on what he gave us; none of us know what we would do if we were him. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

And the Winners Are.....

I sat on my dopey ass just like this for quite a while. Signer's block.
 ...listed on Goodreads here. Thanks to them and all of the participants; this was fun.

The winners' geography was interesting, too. Two copies went to boxes in the same Washington post office, and one to Louisiana, one to Canada, and one all the way to Germany.

The Germans are winning everything these days.

Anyway, I found out I'm piss-poor at signing books. Calling my scrawl chicken-scratch is an insult to our favorite feathered food -- it's been so long since I took a handwritten note longer than a phone number that I actually had to practice before I destroyed all of my promo copies. There used to be a distinction between my upper- and lower-case K, for example, but I no longer know what it was.

Karen, you have my apologies.

I also found out that my habit of hovering the shift key and accidentally capitalizing things quasi-randomly (I seem to want to do this for emphasis sometimes) translates just fine to pen and paper. I signed one extra copy for the intrepid young lady at the UPS store that helped me get these into the post because she was a godsend and I'm a shameless-self-promoter-in-training. I actually wrote Godsend in the inscription, which I guess is still technically correct but implies a certain theological enthusiasm I lack. Oh well. Added shock value when -- if -- she makes it through dinner with Jove.

Speaking of shock value, feedback from friends and family is starting to trickle in. Most of it's been positive in a startled sort of way, which, when you think about it, is a pretty cool reaction to get. It's honest. Abject horror and / or revulsion would be too, and though it isn't exactly that I look forward to that, sooner or later it's coming. I'm a little (okay morbidly) fascinated to see what it looks and sounds like.

Thanks one more time to Goodreads and all of the participants in the drawing. It's good to know there are still so many readers out there, and even better to know so many are looking for something new.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

PICKS Giveaway on Goodreads!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Picks by Rocci Doria

Picks

by Rocci Doria

Giveaway ends August 05, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
If you're not familiar with Goodreads, it's essentially a place to keep track of your book collection, review books, discover books, and, only if you like, interact with other readers and authors via message boards and a loose, semi-crunchy social networking framework. They do have an email newsletter you can opt out of, but I skim it.

I'll only actually get information for the five winners (so I can ship them the signed, glossy-covered 6" x 9" Print Bonus Editon for FREE), and I'll be scrapping it once the books are delivered. That's it!

"But Roc, wait! Why are you giving away your books?"

Glad you asked. Reviews! Picks is running a little short on them on Goodreads (like, it has none) and though the two it has on Amazon are great, it's still only two.

But no pressure.

It's actually been a lot of fun just introducing people to my stuff in hard copy, and I'm hearing things in person I never thought I would. It looks like the ride is getting ready to start, so everybody please grab a seat, lower your shoulder harness, keep hands and feet inside the conveyance at all times and take a deep breath... this one feels like it's gonna be a good one.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Holmesing

Curious as we are, humans have created a another addiction I've recently had to come to grips with, and I'm having a harder time fighting this one off. It's the datastream, the torrent you can dip a toe into when you need, but of course you just dive in instead and ride it out until... whenever.

I've heard more than a few very smart people say our brains aren't designed to deal with this much information and content. I'd say that's lucky, or we'd all be repositories of cat videos, screaming baby memes and inane pop star quotes we don't even want in our heads. Worse, we'd have no choice but to inflict it upon those closest to us. Some do this anyway, right at the point of glancing impact with our consciousness, so as to seize the fleeting opportunity. It's one of a few reasons I am not and will never be on Facebook, but I won't be casting the first stone at the nearest over-sharer either.

I think I'm like a lot of people in that I take in current events as a form of entertainment masquerading as the noble pursuit of knowledge and awareness. It's easily exposed, though - no matter how much time I waste on political and tech blogs, podcasts and Twitter (my favorite news feed and semi-idle-time-suck), I always know just enough of a story to get myself into trouble with somebody who knows more. I often remember hearing the rest, but I wasn't able to summon it, no matter how many times I'd heard it before.

On the other hand, if I've had to ferret out a technical answer or I run across something I can apply to one project or other I'm already on, it tends to stick the first time, even if I don't get around to using it for months.

Distressingly, I've caught myself thinking of this as Holmesing, after Sherlock Holmes deciding the knowledge that the earth travels around the sun, and not vice-versa, is irrelevant to him and so ignores it to save space for information he may actually need later. It'd be great if the process were this conscious and utilitarian in my head, but it isn't.

It'd also be great if I wasn't starting to make words like this up. I really hope I just read it somewhere.

Anyway, abandon all faith etc. etc. because I'm about to range into another vice-masquerading-as-virtue here in the self-contradictory concept of Time Management, a hookah in that great opium den marketed as Self Help. I can only say that it might be worth it.

For me, the trick seems to be to forget managing time. Manage attention instead. Recently, I've heard a lot of talking heads advocating a digital detox day once every so often - no internet, no devices, etc. This is impossible for me as I currently live on-call, but it did get me thinking. Even if our brains aren't designed to absorb the infinite information on offer all day every day, they are designed to try. They were built for an environment where new information was limited, often difficult to recognize, and valuable beyond measure. Now it's everywhere, obvious and mostly useless. It's easier to recognize this if you get a chance to think about what you're taking in, and whether you really got anything you wanted.

One thing I've been trying out with at least a little success lately is (loosely) categorizing information I want to stay on top of, and sticking (somewhat) within that. Since I live on a PC, that means giving my net surfing a little structure. Here's what my typical tab set looks like:


This is my little one from my laptop. The big one on my workstation has a couple more news-related tabs and my fantasy golf league because it's on Yahoo, and Yahoo likes their features to be impossible to find. Also, I tend to leave tabs up for things I'm working through or articles I don't have time to finish at the moment.

It's a double-edged sword, but mostly this enables me to check things quickly I would otherwise have floating in the back of my mind, and know for later if a video or article I'll want to check out is up already. The other stuff with a low signal:noise ratio like Twitter, Tumblr, Google News, etc. get relegated to rarer and rarer dead spots in my day, like as I'm eating lunch or waiting in line at the grocery store. 

Podcasts and audiobooks hold a unique and precarious position in this discipline because the passive nature of listening to them is deceptively active. If I'm doing something tedious and/or mindless, it's not a problem until I have to do something else, but two pressures emerge here: first, I don't want to lose the thread of something I've been listening to, and second, content in these mediums have a way of stacking up in a huge to-do pile. This is more true of podcasts since they're usually free and distributed on a regular basis, but if you've ever had trouble putting down a book, you'll likely have that same trouble with an audiobook. So even though I can listen and do other things, I've had to learn to let them pile up for a time I'll get a chance to go through several at a stretch, and maybe just put music on when I'm not going to have the time or attention span to get through a whole episode or chapter. Storage on your phone is cheap these days; storage in your brain isn't.

All that said, it's a work in progress. I still hold disjointed conversations about news and reblog the occasional incredibly stupid gif on Tumblr, but that exhausting feeling of knowing a million headlines and no actual stories is starting to fade. It's also bringing back a clearer, less jittery hand to my writing, which is going to matter a lot over the next few years. 

Or until we come up with the next big distraction.
_________________________________
P.S. 
If you're not distracted enough and yet somehow made it through this entire post, here are some podcasts I cannot recommend highly enough:
  • BBC World Update: Daily Commute
    • I wake up with this every morning. Well produced, wide-reaching and possessed of a morning-friendly tone.
  • Political Wire Podcast
    • More or less non-partisan examination of current political events, with good, non-shouty guests of every political stripe.
  • Fresh Air
    • Something I wish I'd known about years ago. Really good interviews and features.
  • Planet Money
    • Stories deep inside business and economics. They're not all like this, but a great example was about a six week project on the T-shirt industry, from growing the cotton to selling them on their site. Most features are one episode and most are pretty fascinating.
  • Wait, Wait
    • Funny and prescient panel show with comedians and humorists riffing on the news. Can occasionally be hit or miss, so if you do get one that misses, give it another chance the next week.
  • Commonwealth Club
    • TED talks from back when they were just "talks." Generally the format is a guest speaker and a Q&A. It's ostensibly non-partisan but it does take place in San Francisco, so...
  • Star Talk Radio 
    • Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, not TMZ. Probably most famous for the reboot of Carl Sagan's Cosmos show airing on Fox now, he's been a force in the nerd and hobby-nerd communities for years now. I could listen to this guy talk science for hours on end.

Monday, July 14, 2014

In with an Egg Timer

The editor also admonishes us to Intend The Pun
Indie Writers Monthly's inaugural anthology just hit the stands at Amazon, and I'm humbled to be in it alongside some formidable indie talent. The theme is time travel, and as editor Briane Pagel points out in the foreword, nobody had the same take on it.
"The stories in this collection are both above average and amazingly diverse. As I was reading them, I kept thinking how different each person's conception of time travel was..."
It's true. Time floats between rigid construct and trickster's plaything, flowing river and hopelessly tangled knot in a frayed rope. Sometimes people even fall out of time by no doings of their own, sometimes to return, if only infrequently, sometimes not at all. It's refreshing to have my mind bent this way rather than the stock-issued paradoxes involving, for some reason, some version of killing Hitler or (???) your own grandfather.

A while back, I mentioned being late to this party - I only heard about the call for submissions about a week before the deadline - and having to bang something out in a hurry. It's been a while since I wrote to a deadline. Admittedly, it's not something I'd been missing in my life but it was part of an effective formula this time around and I didn't mind so much.

The story is called "The Egg Timer," which is about as specific as I'll get because along with the short deadline came another dose of Kryptonite for me: a 1000 word limit. Or thereabouts. It was loose, for which I was grateful, because I've never been able to squeeze much of anything into less than 3000 words. That being said, I did manage to press and pinch and squeeze something into about 1400, which IWP very graciously accepted.

To give you much more than the opening paragraph would be too much, and that or less would be to mislead you completely so I'll just say this: friggin' read it. It's about the length of this blog post and a hell of a lot more fun, and it currently resides in a trove of good time travel stories by some authors you'll want to know.

So that's my self-promotion for today. Check.

Getting back to the process though: a lot of things happened in writing this that never have before. Though it was little more than happenstance, somehow Briane Pagel (@whyihatepeople) saw me promoting Picks on Twitter, and let me know there was still time to submit.

Allow me to digress one more time: A while back, I went through a period of about six or seven years where I submitted regularly to anthologies and zines small and large, online and off, without moving one story. I got a lot of form rejections and enough personal "thanks-it's-great-but-it's-not-right-for-us" notes that I was done trying to shoehorn my stories in anywhere. I eschewed the very concept of publishing until the moment I discovered KDP. That's worthy of at least one post on it's own, and I may even get around to writing that post someday but for now, suffice it to say it was a span of about six hours from that revelation to downloading Addie as a Kindle book. My first cover really sucked though.

Picks went up a couple of days later. All of that was about a year and a half ago, and outside of tweaking covers a little and getting into the habit of running promos, I didn't really think much about it.

And that's what I was doing when I got this tweet:
There's a HUGE difference between parsing a million different fiction markets and their various requirements, and having an editor send you a link out of the blue. Huge.

I'd never written anything at all involving time travel, which baffled me when I realized it. That, the short deadline and the tiny word limit all made me do something else I've never done before, which was bounce a few ideas off of people I know. Sounding it out that way, I came away with an idea that I knew could never be less than a novel, let alone 1000 words, but I shrugged and sat down to write it.

That's where I broke through the treeline. As soon as I had words on the page, it took on a new form and went in a completely different direction - they always do that. It used to frustrated me but I've learned to trust the rigmarole my brain does. My writing mind (muse, if you like; I personally hate that word) has a mind of its own and it does not like me telling it what to do. I still have a somewhat related idea for a longer story, but the short one was down in a few hours, and, nine or ten drafts later, is on the shelf. Again, if you haven't already, go get it.

This has been a fun and oddly enlightening experience. It's nice to see my name on a byline after so long of, well, not. It's rare I don't catch myself semi-consciously editing something I've marked finished in my head, but it's been a couple of weeks since I submitted "The Egg Timer," and I didn't catch myself doing that this time around in the anthology. I don't know how long the longer idea will continue to incubate while I'm tied up with other things - I'm working on another novel that's been dogging me, on and off and in various forms, for about eight years - but I'm still looking forward to writing it and, knowing me, it'll jump up and wrestle my attention away from everything else sooner or later. I hope it brings a good, sharp set of teeth.

____________
P.S.
Occasionally I'll be posting critical reviews, mostly of popular novels, on this blog. With regard to this or any other publication I take part in, I recuse... it's just too weird. I would only have good things to say in this case  anyway, and editor Briane Pagel does a great job of touching on, without attempting to summarize or weigh against each other, each of the stories in the foreword. That's enough.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Picks in PRINT Part 2

Createspace Paperback Reinforcement
I was tempted to do an unboxing video of this, but that seemed a little over the top. Got my first paperback copy of Picks today, and I'll plug Createspace  one more time because they're scary-good. The cover printing is very high quality (if digital) and quite glossy (though they have a matte option too). The construction and binding looks and feels durable. I went with white pages over cream, and it's a good, opaque, just-bright-enough white.

For some reason, I was completely prepared for this to look like crap. If you can do some or all of the technical work, it's pretty cheap to do and it's got the power of Amazon and a number of other distribution channels behind it, so the quality could easily have taken a back seat.

Another feature is the impressive speed. I uploaded the last of the cover art on Monday night, got the email that it was approved on Tuesday morning, and it was up on Amazon in time for me to order it that night and get it today, Thursday. Now, I've worked in a number of print shops, so with the right toys and processes, this isn't mystical to me... but taken all together, the highly automated yet still fairly flexible process, the speed to market and the size of that market, it's really an incredible thing, particularly for those of us old enough to remember actual typewriters in actual use.

Speaking of incredible things, I wasn't quite prepared for how real this became with a physical copy in my hand. It's elating, but I'm guessing it's a little dangerous in that it feels like a lot more than it actually is. Like I said, I could have run a vanity copy in a print shop, but that wouldn't have put an ISBN on the back -- I actually forgot and left the barcode space out of the original draft of the back cover design. It also wouldn't have gotten it up on Amazon, and it probably would have cost me about $6 if I did the work myself, and roughly $20 if I paid another shop to do it as well as this.

See what I mean? I'm still selling myself the idea.

It's still gotta get copies out. That's the next order of business as I work my day job and work on my next book, which, barring a huge spasm of short stories in the coming months, is going to be a novel. The trickiest part of this is going to be the keeping writing. Having the finished product in my hand is a novelty and one I've looked forward to in a vague way for a very long time, but it's not any sort of end.

I'll say this though: if you have something to print, do it. As I mentioned yesterday, no printed product should impart a feeling like this, at least not to me... but this one does.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Picks in PRINT

Picks Front Cover
Picks front cover
At various times I've been a geek with graphics chops and a graphics guy that can geek, and I went into printing because I enjoyed design. The slow and putrid death of that industry quickly beat that out of me.

So nowadays, I only do design when I feel like it and I've gotta say: some of the fun is back in it. I did the covers for both of my Kindle releases,  Addie and Picks, never thinking there was a chance in hell they'd ever see print, let alone together.

As of today, a print edition of Picks with Addie thrown in as a bonus is live in paperback on Amazon, thanks to their property Createspace. I only really decided to do this a few days ago, so I had to throw together a back cover. I don't know how much sense it makes to actually have blurbs and ad copy for a book that, as far as I know, will only be sold online, but I ran out of stock photo on the front (insert appropriate emoticon here). Nice recovery, eh?

Picks Back Cover
Picks back cover
Anyway, I can't wait to get my hands on the physical copy of this book. Having this kind of anticipation over a printed item is a little weird, given all the angst printed items have caused me over the years. As a consumer, I personally gave up physical books years ago, but it turns out most of my family and friends and everybody else have yet to make the leap. In fact, according to Pew Research only 4% of American readers have gone e-book-only, and only about three in ten actually read an e-book in the last year. That was one of those echo-chamber shocks for me, but it's got little to do with actually printing the book.

When you're at the stage of making, let's say zero-to-negligible money for all of the sweat you've poured into the page, you probably have a hard time talking to people about it. You get a lot of polite listens and the odd, half-hearted solicitation to read your stuff, but how does that pan out if you're a Kindle author? You give out cards with web addresses, you text and email links (even waiting for promos)... and they don't have a Kindle or even the app. Or they do, but they just never quite get around to it. Again, you can't put this on them -- everybody's got too much happening these days. I think this is one of the major reasons for writing workshops, Facebook groups and Twitter chats like #amwriting. Yeah, I know ostensibly they're about critical input, craft-work and the like, but they wouldn't be so marketing-heavy if they were very effective at these things.

If anybody ever reads this, I'll probably catch a mountain of shit for that. Preemptively, I answer all comers thusly:
"Meh."

But I'm interested to see what happens when I can slap a copy of the book in a potential reader's hand. I've got no illusions about making even half a living at this, so why am I doing it but to put my stories in other people's heads, any way I can?

Friday, July 4, 2014

On Being Reviewed

I didn't think this would make it out of my Tumblr drafts folder, but I’m compelled to get something down that I have trouble expressing. A funny thing happened to me on the way to bed the other night: I got a review. I got a really good Amazon review. And yes, I will be exploiting that in all of my social media timelines, but that’s not what this particular post is about.

I've really only loved to do three things in my entire life. One was graphic design, specifically print graphics, which depended heavily on the print medium’s continued existence and a more reserved, more aesthetically discerning working public than I think we may ever see again. Hence, the discipline as I understood it imploded and mixed it’s smoldering, leaden pellets with various forms of programming in order to continue to exist at all. I wasn't down. Please, please don’t make me code.

Another is snowboarding, which I fortunately didn't discover that until my 30th birthday or I’d likely be dead or worse by now.

Through it all (as every cliché goes), there was writing. It was there first and it’s still there now. You’d think I’d have done more with it in all that time, but in truth I've run from it most of my adult life, content to craft a really solid email on demand, or pen a very sound and physically existent letter to my grandparents. I mean, yeah, occasionally a story would flutter into my headlights and splatter across my field of vision, leaving me no choice but to sit down and bang out a bad draft just to squeegee it off… and yes, that did feel good… but that’s exactly what I was running from.

I got the notion pretty young that the whole "do what you love" trope was just that, a trope. I tested this theory of negation against my deep desire to work as a designer, and, with the help of a little inductive reasoning, it proved out. The balance of my working life has been a pinball’s journey of "sure I know how to do that" and learning on the fly… or not. It’s weird what people believe when you say it with properly ordered buzzwords and a pair of thin-rimmed glasses.

So now what? I’m still technically young (bring your own air quotes), as in not yet middle-aged. I've acquired a ramshackle, rusty pile of skills — the bulk of which currently command little demand and even less pay — and a few stories I either drunkenly poke at or feverishly rewrite whenever the mood hits. Other than that, I’m as wealthy as the first day I collected a paycheck from Bozwell’s Party Supply: I was fifteen and still couldn't afford a bike.

Time to stop running, I guess.

Last year I randomly threw a few stories up on Amazon in a collection I called Picks. I expected little and got even less, but I was okay with that; over the years I’d amassed fair stack of rejection letters and I just wanted somebody I didn't know — a reader, not a submissions editor — to read my shit. I figured if I even got reviews, they’d be tepid, like the tone of the form rejections to which I’d grown so very accustomed. For a year Picks didn't even get that, or actually anything, and I quit looking.

Not forgot, just quit looking. I missed the first review when it came in. It was good, and when I finally saw it, I was in the right frame of mind for it to change me a little.

Almost immediately after that, Indy Writers Monthly invited me to submit an original short for an anthology. I've never written anything so short, so tight, and in such short order that I liked at all, let alone how much I liked "The Egg Timer," which I submitted almost at the last second. More on that at a later date. Maybe.

This gets us back to the review. I was half asleep but I got a Twitter alert on my phone, which doesn't happen a lot. A reader tweeted this at me:

This shocked me awake. Not cogent, but awake. I tried to reply graciously but probably just sounded addled.

I don't know if anybody else does this, but on Amazon, you don't get any kind of notification when a review comes in, so you just have to look, either at the product page or at your author page. I did this incessantly when I first put the collection up, I generally do it when I'm running a promo, and, usually, I find time to do it in between. I have a few OCD ticks like this, but none quite so pronounced.

Anyway, I hadn't seen it, so after the tweet there was absolutely no choice in my universe but to go and look.


5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT writing; great stories. Weird stuff. July 1, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was an amazingly good collection of short stories in what could arguably be called the "literary horror" genre. It's literary, it's weird, it's well-written, it's really an outstanding showcase of this writer's talent, since the stories are each so different from one another.

(I picked this up based on its description. I don't know the author, and was not compensated in any way for this review.)

I love that this was so positive it needed a disclaimer.

I'm going to break some personal taboos of mine and admit a few things here. The tone of this blew my mind. To describe it how I read it wouldn't be fair to anybody and least of all Mz. Niehaus-Hard, but I will say that this is exactly the tone in which I personally want readers talking about my work. I didn't know it until I read it, but I fucking live for this.

Also, I never in my life expected to hear the word 'literary' applied to anything I'd written. I dig English, and pop culture and colloquialism have always been fun places to play, but I'm as woefully under-educated for writing as I am for the rest of the work I've faked my way through my whole life. I recognize that I probably shouldn't be calling attention to this if it does mean that much to me (particularly in cyberspace), but if intend to go down this road, I don't think I have a choice.

I'm kind of a private guy. I don't talk about myself or my own thoughts much without prompting, but if this blog isn't busy, it will at least be honest.

In a similar vein, I'm not currently all that prolific as a fiction writer, but I do think what I write is true.

There's room to improve in both departments if I want to keep getting better and stay creative. It's funny: I've been bending further and further away from my current career but toward nothing in particular. Now, a few words from a few strangers and I know where to go and damn the consequences. It's not just validation; it's truth, and the precise thing I've always striven for in my various occupations when I should have been ignoring it and striving for money. I mean, that's why I was there, and why I mostly gave this up.

So my deepest thanks to everyone that's read and enjoyed my work, and especially to those brave souls taking chances on us unknowns. To those very few who've reviewed my work so favorably, well, "thank you" doesn't really get us there, but seriously, thank you. I'm back where I belong, for better or worse, and I won't be looking back any time soon.