Monday, May 22, 2017

On Approved Social Media Behavior


So, if you've been living in a cave for the past thirty years, there's this thing called the "Internet." On it, you can look up just about anything (not always such a great thing). On the Internet, there's this thing called "social media." Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Reddit, Ello, Goodreads, Tumblr....the list goes on. You know the drill. You "add" people and enter into/build a community in which you share just about everything: ups and downs in your life, books you're reading, what you're eating, cat memes....just about everything and anything (again, not always such a good thing).

Creative folks jumped right on social media, especially those of the younger generation. It's become, in many ways, the go-to way to spread work about whatever creative work a person is engaged with. If you're a writer, or a fan of writers, you know this drill, also. Authors have websites, they have Facebook Fan Pages, Group Pages, some still have personal pages, they use Twitter, Goodreads, Tumblr, Instagram....you name it.

Just recently, my publisher asked for whatever pictures I had of me at conventions, signing books or doing "writerly things" for their Instagram account. Yesterday, I interacted with a fellow author's Facebook thread about the importance/effectiveness of Twitter, and how big publishers are very concerned/focused on what social media platforms potential authors utilize. Even more interesting, I was invited to a book-signing at our local Barnes & Noble, and had to fill out a questionnaire, and one of the questions asked about my social media platform, how many followers I had, etc. 

It's all a little mind-boggling. I'm part of this "younger generation" of writers, I guess, (which sounds weird saying at age 43), and I've no problem sharing my work on social media, understanding that an active web presence is important in growing a reader base. However, what often gets frustrating is all the "noise" about how one is supposed to best use social media to grow your reader base, all the 'do's' and 'don'ts'. I remember one article, in particular, with a title reading something like this (I'm paraphrasing from memory): Stop Posting About Your Book Because No One Cares and It Doesn't Help Sales Anyway. Basically, the whole point of the article was that if you're an author and want readers and sales, don't dare post reviews or links to your book, or anything remotely related to your book. Post cat memes and foodies or whatever, and that's all.

Okay, snark aside: there's was some good logic to that article. Basically, your social media presence probably shouldn't be one big "buy my books" stream. Be a real person, basically. Share your interests. Likes and dislikes. The movie you just watched. But it did kinda go hardcore about how sharing your book or reviews doesn't matter, that it was something you shouldn't do.

I see well-regarded, excellent writers posting excerpts of their work. Then I see well-regarded, respected writers mocking those who post excerpts of their work. This is the nature of the social media beast for writers: there are rules, I suppose, but they don't necessarily apply to everyone, yet the folks who have developed these rules for themselves and have been successful following them think we should all abide by them, too.

Facebook Fan Page to avoid stalkers and such, or just use a Facebook personal profile? Should I have created a private Facebook for friends and family, and a separate one for my writing? And who has time to manage all this and still write, especially when I work full time, have a family I'd like to actually be a part of, a wife who needs me, and a special needs son to consider?

Am I supposed to post reviews of my books? I mean, is it okay to get excited when someone likes your work, and share that? I will say I only share the substantial reviews these days, and pass on sharing the one line "Best book evah!" reviews. But even so - do they matter? Do they generate sales? Does it annoy people and make them delete me? I mean, it shouldn't. It says "writer" on my bio. Stands to reason if you add a "writer" you'll get posts about writing, occassionally. And should I care if someone doesn't like it when I post reviews? Wring my hands over potential lost Facebook friends? Who's got the energy or time for that?

And do big publishers and agents care about how I act on social media? I mean, I don't ever talk much about politics on Facebook, because it's too easy for folks to retreat behind their avatars and not enter into an actual discussion, (conservative, liberal, libertarians alike), and I only share the personal elements of my faith (another blog for another time). I don't get into heavy religious matters because, again, FB makes it too easy for folks to shout at each other. Also, I'm not a dogmatic, argumentative person by nature. I have no desire to prove anything to anyone (except that I'm at least an "okay" writer), nor do I have any desire to prove anyone "wrong" or "win" an argument. 

So, I'm not likely to be a scandal risk for big publishers on social media. But do I act "professional" enough? "Authorly" enough? My Dad is on my Facebook ( Hi, Dad!) and on my page he posts pictures of us as kids, or pictures of my Mom (she passed last year), or race car modeling pages. I think it's totally cool. But is it too personal for someone who wants to write in the big time? Maybe publishers won't take me seriously with that stuff on my Facebook page? Is it even worth worrying about it? Maybe it would be, if I got offered a contract? (It should be noted:  I have a Facebook Author Page. If I was asked to use it more by a big publisher who was considering my work, I would.)

And here's the thing: the more energy I spend on these questions, the less energy I have to write. Who wants to write while considering all these things? Who has the time to write something good while creating a huge social media presence? Maybe my reluctance to grapple with these things is just more proof the world of Big Boy Publishing isn't for me (this is, again, assuming I'm good enough to write at that level to begin with).

What's my answer?

I don't know. Basically, I figure, like I said before: it says "writer" on my Facebook bio. So if you add me, I'll talk about writing some. But, I'm a dad, and a husband, a Christian, and a high school English teacher, a rabid reader, someone who tinkers with modeling in the winter, a basketball fan (of my daughter, mostly) a former athlete, an amateur gardener,  a lover of all things genre, (did I mention rabid reader?), and a very random person. You add me on social media, you get all that. You get me, for better or for worse, and I've got just about enough energy for that, and my family, and my job, and my writing. So for now...that'll have to do.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Why Do Some Writers "Make it" and Others Don't?

I have no idea.

And it's not like this is a new question. The same question can be applied to all walks of life, all forms of artistic expression, sports, performance pursuits....anything. Also, it's not like I've never asked that question before, here on this blog. 

But as I've said several times, for some reason I find myself brimming with questions about writing and life anew, so here I am again, once more spewing lots of navel-gazing questions on my blog. Hopefully some folks will find all this interesting, probably most won't, and that's okay. Way back when blogging was the "in" thing to do, I realized the only thing I felt like blogging about was stuff I was wrestling with, things with no easy answers to. I wasn't ever going to generate hundreds of blog comments, and sometimes I wonder how many folks actually read my blogs. Whatever - it serves its purpose as a form of catharsis.

Anyway.

Back to the question at hand.

It's something I probably spend way too much time thinking about, obviously because of my own anxieties and insecurities about me "making it" or not. And of course, what does "making it" mean? Writing full time? Receiving popular and critical acclaim? Landing a deal with a big publishing house? Getting an agent? Getting my work optioned for film? Receiving awards galore? Having thousands of readers versus hundreds, or versus dozens, or versus five?

Regardless, the whole thing can seem random, sometimes. Kiss of fate. Granted, there's lots of good, solid advice to follow, pitfalls to avoid, traps to steer clear of. Of course, focus on your craft first. Become a better writer. Word of mouth is the best kind of press, the best marketing. People will talk about what they like.

There's that to consider, too. Talent, I mean. How much better can folks get? I know it's not a popular view these days, but I sorta think Stephen King was right in On Writing: you can make a bad writer fair, a fair writer good, and a good writer great. You probably can't take a fair writer to great, or a bad writer to good, generally.

(ducks to avoid thrown rocks and rotten fruit)

 And there's advice about publishing. Avoid the small press, submit only to agents and big publishers. Start in the small press, but challenge yourself upward. Don't submit to 4theluv or token pay markets, only submit to pro-pay (5 cents a word) markets. Whatever you do with your career is written in stone, and you're screwed otherwise.

Of course, then I always like to think of author Ronald Malfi. His first novel The Space Between was self-published through PublishAmerica. Since then, he's focused solely on the writing - getting better, pushing oneself, writing, writing, writing. He recently finished off a three book deal with Kennsington, one of the big houses. You can't ever hope to copy someone's success, but more than any other author, Ron has served as model to me about what's most important in a writing career: writing and the story. 

I think I'm also pondering all this not only because my own career, but because of my new column Revelations at Cemetery Dance, which examines some of the authors who have been influential in my development and growth as a writer. Some of them hit "the big time" and are still there, some of them were there for awhile and have since receded quietly into the distance (or in some cases, passed on to Brian Keene's Con in the Sky). Some of them "almost" made it to the "big time" and didn't, while others didn't quite - depending on your standards - "make it" at all.

Why?

I know it's not necessarily talent. Oh, don't get me wrong - talent is a huge, and by far, one of the biggest reasons for success. There is no "Buddy System" or a cabal  publishing only certain people. Basically, if you write well and hang around long enough, and if word of mouth catches fire....BOOM.

But for some folks, that word of mouth never quite caught. Or maybe they bowed out after only a few novels. Or maybe they more than proved themselves in their short fiction, but never quite wrote a novel that "stuck." Who knows?

Was it by random chance?

Or was it meant to be? In many ways, I feel like I missed the boat. I wrote for years in a closet, never sharing my work or offering it up for critique. I sold one short story in college, and instead of following that up, I didn't submit another short story for nine years. I kept re-writing the first half of a novel for six to seven years. I didn't submit. I didn't get critique. I didn't travel to conventions because in college I wasn't good with money, and never had the money to travel. I think, if I wanted to write full-time, I should've been more committed, and saved my money and traveled to conventions, and made that a goal from the start.

But would I really trade the life I have now for that of a full-time writer? Years of enjoyment teaching, my wife, my kids? I've made no secret of how I believe some things are "meant to be." Maybe that's how things should be for me. Maybe I need that grounding of a full time job, family and kids, and writing full-time wouldn't be a good thing for me.

Or, maybe, I'm just not good enough.

Or savvy enough.

Or committed enough.

Maybe I don't "act right" on social media (another blog for another time). Maybe I don't project the right image for "full time writer."

Heck if I know.

I know I'm fairly happy teaching. I love my wife and kids. I'm happy with my publishing success so far, but want to push it forward and upward.

Will I ever "make it?"

I dunno.

Does it matter?

Some days, no. Other days, however...

I dunno. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Our Continuing Journey on the Spectrum: Kirch Medical Center

* For new followers, my son, Zackary, was diagnosed as severely autistic at age two. Since then, he's been downgraded to moderately autistic, with an added diagnosis this past year of ADHD and Unspecified Anxiety Disorder. For a brief history, visit these posts.

Today we're visiting the Kirch Medical Center in Rochester. One of the resources we've always lacked in Zack's development has been a Developmental Pediatrician specialized in autism. Our family pediatrician has been wonderful and open-minded, and recently helped us in our decision in selecting medication for Zack. However, if it's one thing we've learned in the past ten years, it's that there's no such thing as too many resources as the parent of a special needs child.

The past three years have been filled with struggle, featuring many peaks and valleys. To be fair, we've seen lots of peaks in regards to Zack's personal development. There was a time when we feared he'd never be able to communicate at all. We wondered if he'd ever be able to interact with family and peers. We wondered if we'd ever see a unique and vibrant personality develop. Over the past few years, we have definitely seen that. Zack can be, by turns, witty and smart, caring and empathetic, and he approaches the world from a simple perspective which cuts through all the sometimes mindboggling complications of an adult world. He makes us see and experience the world in ways we probably never would've if he'd be been born "normal."

He's also frightfully intelligent, especially verbally. I'm amazed at the concepts and language he picks up from television, how he contextualizes it and turns around and uses it appropriately in conversation. He knows how to do things with the TV and the iPad WE haven't discovered how to do, yet.

And he loves his family. He interacts with them, plays with them, and knows them. This is perhaps the thing we value most.

We've also experienced peaks in his services. Two years ago, Zack received funding for a community habitation worker - someone who picks Zack up after school and takes him on after school activities. Zack goes bowling, swimming, visits our local Discovery Center and Science Museum, and plays on the playground. He's participated in Special Olympics volleyball, basketball, and bowling. WE can take him bowling now. He loves to shoot around and play HORSE with us. These are things we feared wouldn't be possible eight years ago.

School has been another matter, however, Three years ago, at our district's public school, we started seeing the first incidents of aggression and unfocused anger. At first, we simply thought it was because he needed to be in a more autistic-focused program. So, he switched schools and attended an autism intervention program last year in a different district. Suffice to say, after a decent start, the end of the year devolved into chaos. We clashed with the administration in their discipline choices, his teacher seemed far more concerned about him meeting Common Core standards than intervening regarding his behaviors, and, to put it bluntly, something in that room seemed to be triggering him.

It didn't help that Zack is the size of a burly fourteen year old. When he gets upset, desks get tipped over and things get thrown. People, unfortunately, get hit. Zack had to be restrained several times last year. As someone who used to work with that population and actually did that kind of restraining, I understood. Abby struggled with it, as a mother, especially. She feared for her son's safety.

Another problem: Zack had begun exhibiting additional symptoms not consistent with strict autism, more in line with ADHD and anxiety. This, it seemed, led to his aggression and anger.  We had him reevaluated over the summer, and now ADHD and Unspecified Anxiety has been added to his diagnosis.

Regardless, less year turned slowly into a nightmare. Our final CSE meeting ended with myself and the principal lighting into each other, and Zack's teacher leaving the room in tears. It was decided Zack would move to the Oak Tree center on campus at BOCES. Despite the fact we believed this to be the best choice, we couldn't help thinking this was a step backward.

However, after a much better, calmer, progressive year, we're in a much different place. Zack still struggles with his anger and obstinate behavior, but this year has shown a progression instead of regression, and unlike last year, we have complete confidence in his teacher and support staff. In an instant of serendipity: his monitor and I worked together nearly seventeen years ago, when we were both aides in an autism intervention program. We are completely confident Zack is in a good hands.

We've also reevaluated our  feelings about Zack's future. We would love it, someday, if he could live semi-independently, perhaps take a few classes at Broome Community College. But we've had to really think what's best for Zack, and realize a completely different standard for "success" needs to be used to measure him.

Zack now visits a counselor twice a month. This has been extremely beneficial, as we try to work through some of his anxieties. He also now takes Concerta, which has made a dramatic effect on his daily behavior. And today, we travel to Kirch so he can be evaluated by a developmental pediatrician. We don't know what to expect, but we're hoping we can add another "team member" to help us guide Zack in his journey. Maybe we won't learn anything new. Maybe we'll hear things we already know. Regardless...when you're a special needs parent, there is no such thing as too many resources.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Magical Seats of Inspiration and the Dangers of Isolation

I used to love Barnes & Noble.

During college I practically lived there. Back in those carefree days, I spent hours nestled in a solitary corner, writing and reading. It really became my go-to writing and reading place, along with three others: Ponderosa, Taco Bell and Old Country Buffet.

No, seriously.

I didn't lead a very exciting life, quite frankly. Once my college basketball career ended, I pretty much spent all my time reading and writing. I spent most my five years in college single, and if it wasn't basketball season, I was off by myself, nurturing my writing dreams by either scribbling endless chapters of a never-ending novel into composition notebooks, or blowing an hour or so - literally - at those three restaurants, hanging out and reading and writing. 

Even after I was engaged for two years, I would escape to those places for treasured moments of solitude (I guess that I had to escape from my ex-fiance and her family should've told me something, but alas, I was young and stupid). After I got married (to Abby, and not my ex-fiance) and before kids, or when they were very little, I still spent a lot of time in those places. I have very vivid memories of reading my first Leisure Fiction ARC (Fires Rising, by Michael Laimo), and the first few issues of Shroud Magazine at Taco Bell, wondering if I'd ever get to work with them.

Anyway, I spent many hours in those places, fanning the feeble flames of my dreams. Especially in Barnes & Noble. Back before it remodeled about 18 years ago, they only played quiet classical music and offered plenty of tables to write at it. I had a corner one, as I said...and it was mine. If I showed up to write and someone was sitting there, I'd circle the place like a Great White Shark (okay, a little creepy, I know), until they finally left. For my first book review gig - which paid in contributor copies of the kind of periodical you line cat liter boxes with - I was poor, so I read books at Barnes & Noble for review. I read my very first Stephen King  novel there, Desperation.

After they remodeled they started playing jazz and pop music, but I didn't mind so much (though I liked the classical music better) because they had these WONDERFUL couches and plush leather chairs. You remember those, right? I spent hours in them, reading and writing, and lots of times gave in and bought what I was reading. The summer I wrote the first draft of Hiram Grange and the Chosen One, I split time between Barnes & Noble and the library at my Alma mater, Broome Community College.

And then, one day....

The couches, chairs, and tables....were gone.

Sounds crazy, but this muted my love of Barnes &  Noble. The only place to write were the small little tables in the Starbucks Cafe, and honestly, I've never been that happy with them. They're small, everything's crowded, and it's just not a great space. Ironically, because I've spend much less time there the last few years, I've spent less money there, too.

Of course, I've had to really think about what a "writing space" means the last few years. I realize that in many ways I got a little finicky. Before kids, I "needed" a "special" place to write; usually those places I mentioned. After kids, the need for office space developed. I ended up creating one in my basement, and I wrote there for many years.

The problem was...

I was still escaping.

I didn't realize it, but little by little, I was escaping from my family, from Abby, Madi, and Zack, and hiding out in my office. It was putting a strain on Abby - a subtle one, which I'm not sure she even realized - because it left her alone to deal with Zack, while I was holed up downstairs in my office, writing and reading. This is one the things which came to light when Abby and I decided in August 2015 some serious changes needed to be made.

I took some time off writing.

Separated from my office. And the funny thing is, when I started writing again and the mojo came back,  I realized I no longer needed a "special" place to write, nor did I need to write in my office. I now write every day on the living room couch at 5 AM in the morning, while Abby does her morning devotions in the recliner next to me. I steal bits of writing time at school during library studyhall duty. I'll sometimes scribble some bits down before bed, once again, with Abby by my side.

Writing is a solitary endeavor. It needs to be. The problem with that, of course, is that it's very easy to drift away from those you love most because you've become so absorbed in your solitary writing. 

That doesn't mean I don't get back out to my special places occasionally. But I realize now I don't need those places to write anymore, and I don't need my "office" - although I plan on doing some writing there this summer while Abby's at work and Zack's at summer school. What I need most for my writing is my family - my wife and kids. I love writing. But I love my family more. I need my quiet time to write, but I need to be connected to my family in order to live.

I still read, and write, and dream. But I do it with one hand connected to my family, so I won't drift away, again.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Next Step

Two weeks ago I talked about short stories, some recent sales, about what I've got coming out. I left off talking about a self-imposed publishing hiatus. For anyone who may or may not be following along, this is where I'm going....

I'm eternally grateful for everything which has transpired so far. Ten years ago I sold my first "short" story (read: a 10K novelette) for a flat payment of $100. I followed that up with some enthusiastic but perhaps misguided submissions to token pay/4theluv collections and magazines which, while they didn't exactly help my career, I can't say they hurt, either. I then sold a few stories for semi-pro rates. Right around that time, I also - for a token advance - wrote my first standalone book, Hiram Grange & The Chosen One. Never saw any royalties for that, but hey - I had my first book which didn't suck, which I could peddle at conventions.

I had lots of novel ideas after that. I sat down several times and tried to write them. They fell apart. I tried to sell a few more short stories....

And nothing. After a nice little start (maybe not flashy or impressive, but certainly fun and exciting) I hit a dry spell. Couldn't finish a novel or novella to save my life. Rejection on the short stories all around.

I could've got depressed. Burned out. Defeated. I could've given up. But I didn't. I took stock of where I was, and thought about where I wanted to publish, and where I wanted my short stories to appear. I didn't quit writing and submitting, you understand...I kept right at it, every single day. But I decided I wasn't satisfied where I was. I wanted to aspire to something higher.

So I accepted a submissions reading position with Cemetery Dance Magazine. Started podcasting for Tales to Terrify. Kept writing. And GORGED myself on fiction written by the masters, especially short fiction.

Something happened.

I'm not sure what.

But roughly three years later, I pitched a short story for a collection being put together by a new publishing company named Crystal Lake Publishing. They bought it, and Joe Myndhardt said he loved my story, and expressed interest in publishing a collection of my short work.

I thought about it. They were new, but when I looked at some of the writers they were gathering in their collections and as authors - William Meikle, Gary Braunbeck, Gary McMahon - I decided YES. I pitched my longstanding idea for a linked collection ALA The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine, and Things Slip Through was born. 

I was blown away by the response. Working on that collection was quite labor-intensive. Many of the stories had to be written from the ground up, and they were very much external stories: blatant attempts to write "horror" stories. Even so, they were good, I thought. They didn't suck. I was unprepared, however, for the strong response to Things and its siblings, Devourer of Souls and Through A Mirror, Darkly

However, Through A Mirror was published in June 2015. Devourer, after switching publishers, Spring 2016, and it did pretty well for a re-release. But sales are dropping, and reviews have slowed to a standstill. And I'm not depressed or anything, or suddenly worried about my future. My novella Mystery Road is forthcoming from Cemetery Dance in limited edition hardcover, as is another short story collection from Crystal Lake, Things You Need

But I wonder. A  lot, lately. Is it time to strike onward and upward? Make no mistake, I love Crystal Lake and would be happy to publish with them for the rest of my career, so long as they want me, if I'm never able to land a book elsewhere. It's just that I'm starting to really think about that. Writing a novel exclusively for submission to an agent. Sending my next submission to Kennsignton, or Medallion. 

I'm currently in the final stages of the first draft of my first novel, The Mighty Dead. A limited edition hardcover publisher was initially interested. That was two years ago. I haven't contacted them to check if they  still are, because I don't want to email them again until the novel is done DONE. I already know Joe at Crystal Lake wants it, and to be honest, it will probably end up there. It's too referential to my other works to stand much of a chance at a bigger publisher.

And there's an in-progress novella quartet, Long Night in the Valley, that I'd like to submit to Cemetery Dance's ebook line. 

But after that?

I'm toying with a new novel. A novel I'm think that, more and more, should be written for an agent or bigger publisher only. I'm in a good position to do so. I've got two books coming out next year. Maybe two short stories (one for sure, in the Random House/Cemetery Dance collection). Finish The Mighty Dead and Long Night in the Valley, and I've got a buffer.

So it might be time.

To go away for awhile (not really away, of course) write a novel or two for submission to agents and bigger publishers. Is it an ego thing? A desire for more money? Will I stop writing if I can't sell something to the big boys?

Of course not. But, more and more, I want to try. If I try and it doesn't work out, I can be content where I am. If I don't ever try...more and more, I have a feeling that'll always haunt me. And I'll always wonder.

I'd rather try and find out it was not meant to be, rather than realize I never sucked it up and tried to begin with.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Short Stories

Recently, I made the "biggest" sale of my career - my short story "The Rage of Achilles" to Halloween Carnival, a weekly ebook series which will be released weekly October 2017 from Random House/Hydra, and eventually collected in limited edition hardcover from Cemetery Dance Publishing.  That in itself was pretty mind-blowing, but even better? I'll be featured alongside one of my favorite authors, Robert McCammon....

Now, I know the deal. "Strange Candy" is a reprint, from McCammon's collection Blue World. Still, it's pretty cool. The only author left I want to be featured alongside is Stephen King. We'll see how that goes. For now - and, mind you,  I'm fully aware these stories are all reprints - I've been published next to Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, David Morrell, Clive Barker and Robert McCammon. Not bad for a kid who never thought he'd write short stories at all.

Because I initially thought of myself as being a "novelist" only. Of course, that was back when I was young and stupid, and imagined myself living in a cabin, writing a bestselling novel whenever I felt like it. Of course, after re-writing the first half of a novel over and over again, I realized the problem: I had no idea how to end a story.  Around that same time, I read King's  On Writing for the first time. One of the ideas it proposed: picking up freelance nonfiction writing gigs, writing short stories, reviews...anything you could find. 

So I started writing short stories, if for nothing else than to figure out how to end something. One character, one POV, one plot line to resolve. Several were rejected, which stung, of course, but like Bradbury said once, "You figure they're (editors) all idiots, of course, and don't recognize your genius, so you keep on writing." I eventually sold my first short story "Way Station" (of 10,000 words) for $100 to The Midnight Diner

I placed several stories after that in "4theluv" or token pay anthologies. Along the way, I wrote my first solo book-length work, a novella, Hiram Grange and The Chosen One. Then, a few solicited stories, still token rate, but folks asking me for a change. Eventually, I sold a few for semi-pro rates.  And slowly, for some reason, the guy who'd only ever wanted to be a novelist become focused on writing short fiction, reading short stories like a junkie mainlines crack.  

During this time I experienced a little publishing dry-spell, but kept writing but most importantly, reading. In one mind-blowing summer I discovered the Whispers, Shadows, Borderlands anthologies and the Year's Best Horror series edited by Karl Edward Wagner, and read 198 Bradbury short stories, two or three each day (I'm an English teacher by trade, so this is what I call "Summer Professional Development").

And then I sold my first pro-pay short story, "Scavenging" to Chiral Mad 2. For the first time, my work was appearing with folks I considered mentors. Then, lighting struck twice: I received my first pro-pay solicitation, which I nailed in "The Black Pyramid" for Shadows Over Main Street. The following summer, I experimented with writing a story a week. I produced eight stories, but ironically, all of them turned out to be novellas except for one, "Out of Field Theory", which was solicited for Shock Totem Magazine's Halloween Special. Those other novellas eventually became my third book, Through A Mirror, Darkly.

And then, I received my second pro-pay solicitation, which I landed after a requested re-write, "When We All Meet at the Ofrenda" for Gutted: Beautiful Horror StoriesAfter that, I wrote a short story called "The Office" and managed to sell that for semi-pro pay to Beauty of Death. My third pro-pay solicitation was the Cemetery Dance/Random House gig, and I'm waiting to hear back on my fourth pro-pay solicitation.

Here's the thing: I don't really consider myself that good at short stories. On my own - sit down, think up a story, write it - I'm okay. I'm solid. Decent. But the stories of mine which seem to "spark" are the ones which were solicited. I don't know why. Maybe there's an increased level of confidence, knowing someone wants my work. Maybe my writing is sharper when I've been solicited to write a certain type of story for  a certain type of anthology. I dunno. But I rarely sit down and write short stories for the sake of doing so, and even when I try - like that one summer - they always end up being novellas. I only do it when I've been solicited.

Which is cool with me. I have two more on the docket - one due next September, the other the  following March.  I'll pretty much write whatever, so long as it's something I can make into a "Kevin Lucia Kind of Story" (whatever that means).  Of course, there's also the fear that, once I've been solicited....what if I blow it? What if I submit a story, and it's  not what the editor is looking for? I never assumed a solicitation meant a guarantee, but as I've been fortunate enough never to have a solicited story rejected...it just never occurred to me it might.

Which leads me to next week's blog post: writing THAT novel. The one you send to an agent, or submit higher up the ladder. I have a book coming out Fall 2017 and and another in Spring 2018. I have a short story coming out October 2017, and hopefully another this summer. It may be time for another publishing dryspell, this one self initiated, to see if I can make a jump to the next step.

More next week....
 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Forks in the Road


This morning, instead of writing, I decided to take a nap. I mean, why not? I'm finishing a novel that's not on deadline. At one time a limited edition hardcover publisher was interested, but it's been three years because the third act fell apart on me so I put it aside for a year and half, so who knows if they still are. If they aren't, because it's so heavily dependent on my Clifton Heights mythos, I'll offer it to Crystal Lake, who, I'm sure, will take it, so long as it's not trash. 

But no deadline, so why push myself? I was tired this morning. Didn't feel it. And it's not like I've been lazy. I only take a nap break like this morning's every few weeks. Yesterday afternoon I spent working on nonfiction columns with deadlines (though those are admittedly flexible). There's no contract, no publisher waiting on me, and it's not like the masses are clamoring for the first Kevin Lucia novel. So I took a nap instead of writing.

There are other extenuating circumstances, of course. Like having to grade state assessment tests for the next three days at the day job. Having that loom over me made taking a nap this morning preferable to writing. Which, of course, only makes me wonder...

Will I ever be able to write novels on a contract? This is assuming, of course, I ever get the chance. I like to think that, having been paid an advance, and with an obligation, I'd finish. But then, taking the morning off would probably not be an option.

I want to find out, though. Or at least try. If I don't...I'll never know.

*
This morning, I received the lowest royalty statement since Things Slip Through came out, November 2014. It makes sense, of course. Things is four years old. Through A Mirror is two years old. Devourer is three years old. Reviews have slowed to a complete stop. Devourer has finally dropped below the 1K mark on Amazon rankings. Things feel like they've come to a standstill.

Of course, not really. I recently nailed down a huge sale to Halloween Carnival, to be published in ebook installments next October through Hyrda/Random House  and limited edition hardcover through Cemetery Dance. And my next book, Mystery Road, is forthcoming from Cemetery Dance.

Really, it's just time for a new release. Things You Need is waiting at Crystal Lake. They've grown since my last release with them two years ago, their reach expanded. Of course, they're also publishing many more titles. Will that mean less attention for Things You Need? This is not to imply a faltering confidence in my publisher. Crystal Lake and Joe Myndhardt are standouts in the small press, and Joe works harder than just about anyone. But honestly, I would be lying if I said these things haven't been on my mind, lately.

The time has come for a change. An agent? Submitting to a larger publisher? For both those things, however, I need a standalone novel not so reliant on my mythos. That will take time. And I want to make clear: I'm not consumed with big time success. Bottom line is, I've been blessed in that I've reached many of the goals I set for myself when I started all this. Commercial publication is one I haven't. Maybe I'll never reach it. If I try and fall short - well, at least I tried. If I don't ever try? That would bug me, for sure.

*

So the last four short stories I've written have been solicited for pro pay anthologies. I have two more waiting in the wings, due September 2017, March 2018. Definitely a first for me. I've nailed three of those. I'm waiting to hear back on the fourth. I feel moderately confident in the story, but honestly, that's all I ever feel for each story. In my mind, best case scenario is the editor won't reject the story outright and will ask for changes which I'll happily attempt to make.

Which makes me wonder. What happens if the editor does reject the story? That would be another first; having a solicited story turned down. I mean, it must happen, right? An editor requests a story, author turns it in, the story is functionally sound, just not what the editor had in mind? None of this is personal. 

But how will I react? Will I brush it off and keep moving? Will I lick my wounds for a day? Will my very unsteady confidence implode?

To be honest - and this sounds stupid and shortsighted - that a solicited story could get rejected outright never occurred to me. I never assumed they'd be accepted outright, either. But I never thought about them getting rejected.

And that's basically me this morning. Standing at a crossroads which isn't quite as simple as a fork in the road. I'm not complaining, and I'm so happy and thankful for all I've been allowed to accomplish. It is what it is, however. And for the first time in awhile, I feel like talking about it.

More next week.