Learning From the Front of the Class

The latest in my series of unique adventures put me in front of a room full of writers, to give a talk about science fiction and paranormal fiction as a part of a writer’s workshop series. I’ll admit, the vague and massive topic made me a touch nervous. I had a fear that somewhere there was a detailed note describing what I was actually supposed to talk about, and the class would sit and watch me with puzzlement as I talked about exactly the wrong thing. Continue reading

Best way to build your audience

The continuing quest for new readers is at times very tiring. It’s no easy feat to convince hordes of strangers to invest time (and a little bit of money) in your writing. But you have to do it,  because writers need audiences.

Oh sure, storytelling is a self-fulfilling pursuit to an extent. So is daybecauesdreaming. If internal satisfaction was enough, then most books would stay unwritten, floating in their author’s head in a nebulous cloud of possibility. Committing those ideas to concrete form on paper is driven by a need to share that story.

So, with a song in my heart and some promotional material in my hand, I set up a table at our local Comicon (Forest City Comicon) and gently hawked my wares to the attendees. Some people stopped to chat, many smiled nervously and walked on, and a bunch took a promotional bookmark that me and my tablemate foisted upon them. (Here’s what the fancy bookmark looked like)


But there was one interaction in particular that made the day worthwhile. I was sitting at the table munching away at a mediocre hot dog in a very stale bun when a young girl, probably around 9 years old, came up to the table with her little sister in tow. The older girl was in a Sailor Jupiter costume and had a very serious and earnest look on her face. She locked eyes with me in a feat of rare bravery for someone so small and said “your book sounds interesting and I think I might like it,. Can you tell me more about it please?”

My dad instincts wanted me to hug her and praise her for being so brave and well spoken, but I wisely chose not to hug the tiny stranger across the table. Instead I gave her a quick summary of the books. It was an interesting challenge to condense my normal rambling explanation into something a child could absorb on the spot, even a bright child like the girl in front of me. She listened closely with her attention unbroken throughout the whole exchange, and when I finished, she thanked me and walked off with her sister. Less than 5 minutes later, she returned with the rest of her family. Her dad asked her “are you sure that this is what you want?” and she nodded fiercely. Dad handed over the last of her allowance and she promptly handed it to me to buy her own copy of WitchKids.

And that was the best sale I have ever made. Thanks, Sailor Jupiter.

Scarcity confusion

I sat around last night envisioning myself on death’s door. What? Oh, sure, like I’m the only one who plays out morbid scenarios in their mind occasionally. Every once in a while, my subconscious shouts “hey, we’re gonna die someday. Wonder how that’ll play out?” and, being the overly creative fellow that I am, I oblige my psyche by fleshing out the grisly details. Did you know that Anthony Burgess, the author of “A Clockwork Orange”, was once diagnosed with terminal cancer and wrote 5 books in ONE YEAR so that his wife would have some kind of money after he kicked off. (As an aside, he got better from the terminal cancer). With that story for source material, and my ongoing unhappiness with my own work ethic, my imagination took off.

Last night’s mortality scenario included a prolonged stay in a hospital room where I was feverishly churning out new writing in a race against the clock. The small sense of pride that came from the idea of working hard in the face of death was an awkward sensation. Have to find the upside to everything,

But then I paused my daydream to give myself a reality check. Maybe, I’d be a little bit happier in the here and now if I put a little more effort into working while I wasn’t on my deathbed. To use an automotive metaphor, I am a car in 1st gear trying to go up a hill. Other cars are passing me because they are working harder. I’m content to putter up the hill because the road isn’t collapsing behind me, and the light at the top of the hill is going to stay green forever. But it’s not.

I know, I know, “time is short” is not a revelatory statement. You have to make do with what you have and get your priorities straight. That’s where my troubles lie. I’m wired to prioritize pleasure and comfort instead of meaningful work. Something from a long time ago, probably during childhood, convinced me that happiness and nice things are going to disappear, so I gorge on them. I eat every meal like a fatter, hungrier man is on his way to eat my food. I hate to pause a video game and leave the room for fear of it vanishing before I return.

So that’s where the scarcity confusion is, and where I need to put in some work. No one is coming to take my happiness away. There will be plenty of time for fun, I promise, but there are books to write first.(and laundry and dishes and vacuuming and volunteering).

Opportunity Costs and saying ‘no thanks’

Opportunity Cost: the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

What an interesting last 5 years it has been for me. You’ve been able to follow along my adventure here in the blog, as I discovered new possibilities and chased what must have seen at times as wildly divergent goals. It’s like I woke up after decades of dozing to realize that I had a lot more to offer the world than I thought, and still had time to do something about it.

So I started jumping at every chance that came by. I wanted to make a difference wherever anyone would let me. That’s an important distinction to make: I still felt, deep down, that I wasn’t really that useful (thanks, shoddy self-esteem) so I had to desperately leap at every opportunity.

I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that I haven’t found most of these volunteer efforts rewarding and educational, though. I have met fantastic people and experienced some real revelatory moments during the 5 year ‘say yes to everything’ binge. I’ve been part of some great teams, and I’ve finally become comfortable in the knowledge that my contribution to the team makes a difference.

But there have been a few less than stellar moments of frustration and fatigue. I’ve found myself in a few meetings torn between a guilty sense of not doing enough, and a profound desire to not take on any more work. It isn’t a fun internal conflict to manage. I felt pulled in a million directions without and sense of making progress. I was tired and unenthusiastic about my commitments.

The problem recently extended into my creative life. I had a handful of projects I could work on, and I started picking away at all of them, seemingly at random. One of the projects was a one-act play that I intended to stage in our Fringe festival next year. I wrote it up and did a read through with a friend of mine. later that night, as I started to compile the full list of all the work necessary to bring the script to the stage, I finally asked myself an important question: is producing this play going to move me closer to my goals? More importantly, what are my goals?

And lo! A bright light shone in my mind,  and clarity came storming in. As soon as I chose a goal (actually, a couple of them) I could now measure each opportunity against the cost to my progression. I stopped saying yes just because I could do it. I sat down and reviewed all of my standing commitments and asked “does this move me towards my goals? Is it a good fit for my life and am I a good fit for the organization?”. It was surprisingly hard to be so ruthlessly objective. I hate quitting anything, and I doubly hate letting anyone down. But I made a cut list, and I narrowed down my efforts. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll start looking at a couple of new opportunities, and they will have to meet the same criteria. I’m a talented guy but time is short and I have to make the most of it.

A very happy birthday

Birthdays have not traditionally been an enjoyable event for me. There has been a consistent sense of anxiety as the day approaches, a feeling that only intensified once the actual day started. It would all begin to escalate with a simple question “what do you want for your birthday?” This question honestly flummoxed me each and every time. In my heart of hearts, I didn’t know what actions or gifts would give me a happy birthday. I wanted to be happy, I really did, but I could not identify how to make that happen. Cue the stress, the irritation, and the depression.

There was a change this year. I found out how to be happy on my birthday (and possibly happy all the time). I can’t put my finger on the exact catalyst for this change, but there were a few things that stuck in my mind. The public (social media) birthday wishes from a few of my dear family members made mention of how creative I was and how they were excited for what I would create in upcoming year: my wife’s message was the perfect example of this. And my sister-in-law in Thunder Bay let me know that her 9-year-old had confiscated my novels from his mom so that he could read them himself, and he was chewing through the books with a voracious literary appetite.

It’s very important to note that my friends and family have always been supportive, more so than I’ve ever really acknowledged. And that’s the big change, the present I gave myself: I acknowledged that I have these wonderful people cheering me on. For the first time in my life (or as far as I can remember) I accepted the fact that I am loved and supported. By simply believing that, my birthday became one of real celebration. I didn’t need to spend the day hoping for proof or validation. My emotional foundation was set. My family loves me, my friends care for me, and I’m happy with who I am. The stress that usually haunts every minute of August 20 vanished. It was replaced by a calm optimism and joy. It’s pretty amazing.

Talk about your successes

Self-promotion is hard. For me it is, anyway. I envy anyone who can proudly march around and proclaim “Here is a thing I made! Look at it, experience it, and pay me money for it!”. In my ideal world, I toil away in cloistered quiet, writing one project after another. It sounds wonderful and it’s entirely unrealistic for two reasons.

1)Life costs money. A pile of unsold manuscripts doesn’t bring home the bacon (or the electricity or the roof over your head).

2)I need an audience. I love the stories that I write, but they don’t fully come to life until they are shared. And I need their feedback too,

The good news for me is that I do have an audience. You, the devoted readers of this too infrequently updated blog, are the people who have chosen to tune in and listen to me. Over the last few years, I’ve been able to share my observations, experiences, and general ramblings with all of you. And surprisingly, you keep coming back. So thank you!

So here’s what I would like from you, dear readers. As you know, I self-published my latest novel “The Patchwork Boy” in June. I am incredibly proud of it, and I want your help to promote it. Positive reviews are an independent author’s best friend. Each review on sites like Goodreads.comAmazon, Smashwords.com or iTunes brings more attention and more potential readers to the book. I know that some of you are worried about writing a review, and trust me, I understand. But a review does not have to be as complex and verbose as a PhD thesis. A simple, to the point blurb does more to sell a book than you will ever know.

That’s your mission, should you choose to accept it: go write a quick review at one (or more), and let me know when it’s done. I cannot stress enough how much I value your support and encouragement, and I’m grateful for all the help you’ve given me before and in the future. Thanks again!

Press B to quit (for a little while)

Quietly storming out is so a strategy

I returned from a two-week vacation in the north of Ontario feeling tired but focused and triumphant. As the driver for this 18+ hour trip (each way) I had a clear purpose: keep the car moving. We had direction, we had a destination, we had a well-defined goal. And we reached our family goal, with almost no terror (a slight gas panic the only exception) and in remarkably good spirits. I felt pretty good.

And then I checked my email.

Suddenly, the long list of obligations and irritations came rushing at me, eroding away my peace of mind. Complaints and problems from some of the condo owners (I sit on the condo board). A variety of complications and issues with setting up the campaign office and team for this fall’s Federal election (I’m the association president). A profound lack of book sales during my absence (not surprising, given the nonexistent promotion I did for the book during that time). Negative online comments for a freelance article I did during vacation.I wasn’t writing anything. And on, and on. It felt like every area of my life that I devoted time to was producing nothing but problems. I was failing at a whole variety of tasks and duties.

I lost most of Sunday to this overwhelming feeling of failure. I couldn’t even pick out one part to fix, since working on one would mean ignoring all the others. I desperately wanted to get lost in a new video game, dive in and get immersed in an electronic world where I knew what to do and how to do it. Mental gridlock. Not a fun day.

Monday morning, I decided to do a little bit of quitting. And by that I mean, I quit everything frustrating for one day. Once the boy was off to summer day camp, and the dear wife was off to work, I tuned everything out and wrote. The dishes? Still dirty. The rogue neighbourhood cat? Still menacing gardens and befouling patios. The mysterious water leak that probably comes from our shower? Still unsolved. What I do have is progress on two separate story ideas, and a renewed sense of priorities. I can’t control all of the irritants and complications in life. It is unfair to judge myself by my success (or lack thereof) in resolving those complications.

I’m one guy, and I can only do so much. If I’m overwhelmed, it’s because I’m trying to fix everything at once. The lesson I’m learning today is:Put the to-do list to the side, take a deep breath, and give your passion top spot in your brain.