Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Professional Envy

I'm fired up. Not in a bad way, mind you, but in a very positive manner. First, a good friend and peer from my writing group announced the sale of her novella today. No one works harder than she does, and she's beginning the see the fruits of her labor. She is the third associate of mine in recent weeks to get their first sale.

Steven King once wrote that you needed talent to succeed as a writer. He then said that you would know if you were talented if someone were willing to pay you for your work.

I'm not jealous of their success, completely the opposite as a matter of fact. I'm excited for their success. For two of them, I provided critiques or betas for their stories before they went to final draft and sale. There's a great deal of satisfaction to be taken from getting a teammate across the finish.

My envy, frustration, or whatever you call it, stems from my disappointment in my progress over the last few months. From a writing aspect, I feel stalled. My obligations to the Army are at an all time high. I get up and five in the morning and come home at seven or eight at night. The family responsibilities kick in, and sometimes I have to sleep. Next thing you know, several days travel by with no progress made on any writing projects.

This wasn't a surprise. I'm an Iron Major. It's the nickname we give officers in similar positions expected to pull the lion's share of an organizations load. It's the busiest time of my career. Doing well in this job is critical to my long range goals and retirement.

So I knew back in January when I took this job that I wouldn't get as much writing done as I'd like. Goals were scaled back. Expectations, lowered. This year's singular objective: get paid for a piece of work. Any work. As stated earlier, meet Stephen King's definition of talented.

My professional envy comes from respect. This isn't a case of thinking my kung fu is stronger than theirs. This is about me sitting on my thumbs and biting my lip because I know I'm capable of moving to the head of the class.

It does get harder watching the success of good friend, knowing I'm intentionally throttling back while they move forward. I want them to keep moving forward. The more success my peers experience, the more I burn to meet them at the ladder.

My time will come.

So, this next week. Vacation. Not really. We're putting in a new kitchen and bathrooms. Plus, I'm the Iron Major; getting yanked back into the office to pull someone's bacon out of the fire is inevitable. Don't feel bad for me, remember, I asked for this.

But, by Saturday, 15,000 new words on the YA rewrite. FIFTEEN THOUSAND. I'm calling it here. I'm motivated. Blame Julie.

See you next week.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rewrite Hell

A month ago I resolved to rewrite my YA novel, EMANARE. At the time, the momentum was there. It was coming of a half-decent ABNA showing. I had a couple very solid betas. I had likable characters and villains, a timely plot, and some great dialogue (albeit a little stiff). Technically, I knew what the structure lacked and I figured a rewrite would be a snap. Uh-huh.

So why can't I get going? Well, the first obstacle is work. The second, third, and fourth, is well, life. Family stuff, father stuff, stuff around the house. Stuff, stuff, stuff...

Yeah, right.

Truth is, I've been procrastinating the hell out of a rewrite because, frankly, I don't know how to do one. The more I peel back the layers of the first manuscript, the more I find that not even a massive re-edit will do. In order to sync up the plot, sub-plot, and emotional arcs and craft them into into a symphony, I have to throw out a lot of the first book. About half.

I'll have to chuck maybe about the middle third to completely restructure the story the way I envision it. Before that, the first act will stand mostly intact, albeit with some sequence, dialogue, and character revisions. So a few good characters will become bad, while some of the original bad-guys will become a bit more sympathetic.

Momentum. I'm a Newtonian-style writer. (Objects in motion tend to stay...blah, blah) That is to say, once I get going, I can chew up massive amounts of ground. The kicker is, I have to get going. There's some vacation coming up, so the plan is to use the time to focus on the actual writing, putting the nuts on the bolts.

Until them, I'm planning and plotting, improving on the original story and characters' mythology and back-story. I'll get it done, I promise.

Hello, my name is Ken, and I'm a writer.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Go appreciate a literary agent

The title's an imperative. I think agent appreciation day was back in December, so I missed the boat, but recently I've come to the conclusion that this group of professionals is forced to deal with more than an unfair share of BS. If you know or have a literary agent, do a favor for me, and shake their hand, tell them thank-you for providing us with avenues and opportunity, and for putting up with loads of crap.

There's a fairly simple vertical hierarchy to the publishing industry: Writers, Agents, and Publishers. Authors create the material, Agents represent it, and Publishers buy it and sell it to the masses. For now we'll toss aside the marketing, distribution, and sales. Make no mistake about it, that hierarchy is still very much alive and kicking. If you want to get a book to market, you still have to pay the toll.

Now, while the industry structure remains rigid and tall, the communication landscape is anything but. My Command & General Staff College buddies know what a huge fan I am of Thomas L. Friedman and his metaphors in The World is Flat. It's his fourth 'flattener', Open Source, which brings me to the title of today's entry.

Friedman's Open Source tenet is all about access. Blogs, websites, social-networking, all of which make it possible for aspiring authors to communicate with experts, learn, and improve. However, communication isn't one way.

I sent my first round of queries out late last year. At first, I viewed agents as adversaries, gatekeepers to a secret world. Since then, thanks to social-networks, blogs, and websites, I've learned there are no secrets. I've also learned that these are decent people. They put their shoes on the same way we do, are always on the lookout for a decent restaurant, and even get excited when they find a marked-down purse or BluRay player.

As a Major, I'm number three in an organization of about five hundred. On a regular basis, part of the job is telling people their work needs correction, isn't good enough, or just needs to be flat-out redone. Sometimes, rarely, I even need to tell people they're just not suited for my line of work. I've seen the disappointment in their eye when someone tells them their stuff isn't good enough. What protects me from reprisal is a system that does not allow my subordinates to send me nasty emails or post about me on Twitter, Facebook, or blogs.

But literary agents don't get that protection. Anybody with a computer and connection can fire off retaliatory hate mail at will. In spite of that, agents stick their necks out there further, promoting themselves, their clients, and the business.

For agents, it's about relevancy. They can't afford to hide. They must represent their writers and at the same time attract the best talent. My point: they're vulnerable. No thin skins, easy targets for frustrated writers who view themselves the victim of unfair rejection.

Via social networking, I've learned tons about the industry and the profession. My personal experiences with agents were brief, but positive. The one who rejected my full-manuscript only provided a singular comment, but it was a remark that changed the direction of my writing in a very positive way.

Certainly, the bad-apples among the aspiring-author crowd are few. I cannot imagine any of my peers in the writing group replying to a rejection letter with strings of angry F-bombs. Nor, to my knowledge, have any of them built websites lambasting the evils of the literary agent profession.

But those people remain out there. So, I wanted to say thanks, I appreciate what agents do. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am, or know where I wanted to go. Without them, there would be no target to shoot for, or a mountain to climb. Writers, don't give me any crap, I'm not trying to kiss anyone's ass. This will be an only-time deal. One of these days, I'll get my agent. Maybe, we'll even share a beer.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Place to Write

"Lemme see your writing space!"

Except to the tune of R. Lee Ermy's line in Stanley Kubrick's 1987 war epic, Full Metal Jack, "Lemme see your war face!"

Yeah, it's a stretch. Lame.

When I attended the Army's Command and General Staff College a couple years ago, my instructor said we needed to create a space where we could read and contemplate in quiet. We needed somewhere away from raging kids and other home-driven distractions, somewhere we could focus on learning and expanding our view of the world.

We bought a new place back in January, first time we purchased a home since 1995. It's taken a few months, but the house is finally starting to come together. Between work, school, and extended family stuff, we only had time to seriously work on the place on every three or four other Saturdays. A pain. But I did finally got around to putting together my little workspace in the back bedroom. The way our floor plan is designed, the only thing better would be a basement or cave (it's Texas, everything is slab).

So I figured a picture was in order.

Let's break it down guy-style:

Apple 13" Macbook Pro Intel 2.53 GHz Core 2 Duo ($1,400 USD), 4 GB RAM, 320 GB 7,200 rpm HDD. The 24" Apple LED Cinema Display ($849 USD) lets me tile my work across dual monitors, simplifying all my cutting, pasting, blogging, twitting, and critting.

I'm ADD, it works for me.

The Time Machine backup program goes to two external HDD's, a 320 GB Western Digital My Book and a 320 GB Western Digital Passport Elite (both available everywhere online for under $100 USD). When my laptop went down last week with a bad motherboard and RAM, the Apple Store ended up replacing the entire interior, HDD included. If I didn't have timely backups, I would have been screwed. Fortunately, I keep two, in case either external drive decides to fail (and sometimes, they do).

We all know music is critical for our writing, so hiding behind the big monitor is a pair of Audioengine A2s ($200). Designed with critical listeners in mind, these little dudes bring the Boom, Boom, Pow to your desktop, throwing more bass than anything this small should be entitled.

If speakers aren't your fare, of if you're trying to hide you tunage from a sleeping spouse or baby, hiding in my drawer is a pair of Grado Labs SR225i headphones. The 'cans', made in New York ($225), bring true high fidelity to my iTunes collection. If you've never been introduced to this level of listening, even in familiar music there would be detail you didn't know existed .

The Apple Magic Mouse. If you have an Apple, and you have one of these, you know how cool they are. If you're a PC, and you don't, well, you don't.

Software weapon of choice: Literature & Latte's Scrivener. Word processing and formatting by writers for writers. If you haven't experienced the pain of uniquely formatting your manuscript for different agents, editors, publishers, contests, etc..., save yourself the trouble and drop the $40 on this. A click of the mouse and Scrivener will compile to any acceptable standard for Novels, Short Stories, Screenplays, and more. Oh, it's only available for Mac.

If you're a PC, I'm sorry. (Catch the theme yet?)

Desk, a cappuccino-contemporary piece from WalMart, about $90 USD. Chair, an oak dining special from the original Corps of Cadets Duncan Dining Facility, Texas A&M University, circa 1930's. The candle-stick thingy with colored glass? No clue; wife stuck it there because is looked cute.

Later in the month I'm throwing out the guest bed from the room and installing my Consonance tube amps and Sonus Fabers to add some real warmth to the room. If you can't already tell, I'm a bit of an audiophile nut.

If I were doing it again, I would have added an iMac rather than the Cinema Display. The difference in price and size between the two aren't all that much, and there's an adapter that would allow my laptop to dual-screen with the iMac's monitor, adding a cool computer that the kids could use when the Macbook was travelling with Dad.

So, that's it; my place to create. What y'all got? Anyone? Anyone?