Asking isn’t easy

It feels a little bit premature to talk about the lessons I’ve learned during the Kickstarter (FYI: 3 days left to raise $195. Achievable but looming). Normally, I try to give myself a few days after any experience to settle down before reviewing and analyzing it. But there’s an ongoing lesson that I’m wading through right now, and I want to talk about it here.

Just like the blog title says, asking isn’t easy. It takes a considerable amount of self-esteem and a resilient ego to create something and present it to the world.”Look at this thing I made, universe! Everyone, stop your activities and pay attention to me!”. And your ego takes a real knock when the world, except for your immediate circle of wonderful friends and family, responds with a disinterested ‘meh’. But you soldier on.

On top of that, I’m now asking for the world’s support in cold, hard cash. Repeatedly. Every day. Confession: By this point in the kickstarter, I’ve run out of ideas on how to continue promoting it, other than “MONEY=YES. MORE!”. The lesson here is about planning your promotion well ahead of time, and having some of the promotional content ready to go live in advance. Coming up with a new sales pitch everyday is just a tad fatiguing.

And yes, there were days that I didn’t do any promoting at all. Some mornings, the prospect of harassing my friends and family for the umpteenth time was too much to handle. The last thing in the world that I want is for my circle of support to feel like I only love them for their money. While it’s nice to have money, I really love their unconditional support and enthusiasm.

At our regular Friday night board game night, I get questions about the book, about the kickstarter and about the next project on the horizon. I know that the crowd around the table are rooting for me and that is more important than anything else. So thanks Dan, Toad, Jeff, Andrea, Gord and Carol : you’re a great gang of nerds.

While I’m at it, thanks to Emily, Paul, Leanne, Nick & Kelsey, Roy, Brad, Jesse, Mike, Kevin, and every friendly face that’s given me encouragement over the last few weeks.

And as always, my number one fan, my love, the foundation of everything good I have built, my darling wife Kristen, thank you for believing in me completely.

To wrap up: Go go go! Less than 200 bucks left! Let’s finish this thing off! Yay team! (Here’s the link. GO GO GO)

Developing characters

The world is full of interesting characters. The trick is asking the right questions.

I’m a people watcher. Whenever I’m out in public, I can’t help noticing the interesting people living their lives around me, and wondering how they got to where they are. It’s a habit that I try to restrain most of the time, especially for the women in the room. The last thing I want to do is make anyone feel creeped out and uncomfortable because of my glances and curiosity. There’s really no explanation that sounds plausible when you’ve accidentally been staring at a woman during her workout, so it’s best to avert mine eyes.

The gym is really the worst place for my curious creative brain. It’s a venue with an increased likelihood of lechery, and my brutish features don’t help convince anyone that I’m not up to no good. Nor does my habit of staring blankly off to space as I work through a creative idea. So far, I’ve avoided any disastrous misunderstandings, but the danger is always on the horizon. I spend a lot of time looking down at the floor between sets.

But there are so many interesting people at the gym! So many men and women with unique appearances and mannerisms who choose to spend hours working the machines and sweating profusely. There’s a fellow who works out with a speed and intensity that frightens me to watch. He focuses on quick, explosive movements and agility. He shadow boxes between sets. He can do more pull-ups in 30 seconds than I could muster in a day. My first guess is that he fights, either MMA or boxing. But he’s also entirely bereft of body hair, so maybe he’s a competitive body builder. On the other hand, he is as pale as a ghost, and you’d expect most body builders to sport a leathery ultra-tan.

Another example of a story waiting to be told: a woman with mountains of bright blond curly hair piled high atop her head pumps away determinedly on the stairmaster. Her overly ample bosom is restrained tightly enough to eliminate almost all uncomfortable exercise jiggling, and the disproportion of her cleavage to the rest of her body hints at artificial enhancement. Her arms, ankles and collarbone are covered with tattoo work, faded by the years of intense tanning. Her eye makeup is dark and dramatic, and her fingernails are long and shiny with polish. The severe look of her nose and jaw has a masculine quality to it. So why did she choose to make these choices? How did she end up here? These are the questions that run through my brain as I huff and puff my way through my own workout routine, questions that I could never walk up to a stranger and ask.

So I keep the questions inside of my own head and I begin to invent answers to them. That’s why I have a steady supply of ‘new’ characters to put into my stories: I’m harvesting my ‘wonder why’ file of invented stranger profiles.

Where the story started

I cast a spell over the west to make you think of me, the same way I think of you

The “Spellbound Railway” series started back in November 2010. I decided to break the rules of the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) by taking a pre-existing story idea and writing past the 30 day deadline. I knew that I could write a 30 day, 50 000 word story, but I wanted this one to have the room to go longer and take more time than that.

I started with the idea of high school kids finding out that they could manipulate the world around them with their new magical abilities. It’s magic at the quantum level, nudging probabilities to create the effect they wanted. And if you try to explain exactly how your spell works or what your casting process is, your magic will stop working that way. This is loosely based on the quantum mechanics ideas : the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Observer Effect. And when I say loosely, I mean very loosely, because I am in no way a physicist.

The inspiration for the plot of the book came from the song lyric at the top of the blog post. I had the image of a very sad boy, standing on a rooftop with his eyes closed shut, desperately wishing for love in the way only a heartsick high school kid can. The end result of that process was WitchKids.

And the first book opened up a bigger set of questions. It brought in another quantum mechanics theory, the many-worlds interpretation. As I wrote the second book “Kingmaker” I began to map out the manifestation of many-worlds in my narrative universe, how the realities were structured and connected, and the effect that actions in one could have on the others. But even with the cosmic events in the background, there were still very pressing, immediate issues the heroes had to deal with, things that couldn’t get fixed with magic, like dysfunctional families and unstable romances.

And now we’re at the new novel “The patchwork Boy”. The heroes are reaching their final days in high school, teetering on the brink of being full-blown adults. And adult life is messy and unfair. I’m really in love with the story and I’m excited for everyone to get a chance to read it.

I hesitate to even think about the future of the series while I’m still slogging away trying to raise the cash to get the current book printed (here’s the link to the kickstarter, if you haven’t had a chance to back it yet to get your own copy of the new book pre-ordered). But I can tell you I know where the story is going, and it’s going to be a very bumpy ride for everyone involved.

About Art

When we dream of being more than what we are

A couple of things reminded me of the importance of art in our lives today. First, I was listening to the live tracks from The Hold Steady​’s 4 night stand at the Horsehoe tavern. When the crowd roared out as the songs began, I realized a live show isn’t about how successfully the artist reproduces the recorded version of the song. When it’s live, there will be missed notes, raspy vocals out of key, and unintended noise. But that doesn’t matter. A live show is about being in a room full of people who feel the same love for a song that you do. To be able to make eye contact with a stranger as the first few notes reach you, the tingling feeling shoots up through your body and the smile covers your face

The other one is sad but important. I hopped back on to twitter this morning and found out that the actor Leonard Nimoy had died. I was surprised that I felt a sense of loss from his passing, because he was “just a tv actor”. I struggled with finding the right words for my own moment of remembrance, because I was so dismissive of his contribution to pop culture and my life. But the way he brought Mr. Spock to life, the empathy and emotion he displayed in his character’s struggle, gave people, gave me, inspiration. The actor brings life to the words and makes something in their portrayal recognizable to us.

There’s no ranking system for passion and inspiration. If it moves you, encourages you, makes you think about being more than you are, it’s art and it is important.

My next adventure in independent publishing

Learning to swim by jumping in the deep end

I’m happy to announce that the third novel in my “Spellbound Railway” series is now complete and almost ready to hit the shelves. It’s called “The Patchwork Boy” and I’m immensely proud of it. Now that the creative part is done, I have to switch gears and focus on the publishing side of things. And this time, I’m trying something a little different. I’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to pay for the first order of printed copies.

What’s Kickstarter, you ask? Good question! It’s a website that allows you to raise money for a specific project from a large group of people. If the crowd believes in your project enough to contribute enough to reach your goal, then the money is collected and you’re off to the races. If you don’t reach your goal, then no money is collected and you’re back where you started.

The good news is that failing to meet the goal doesn’t cost you anything, but let’s not talk about failure. I’m already nervous enough as it is. Asking all of your friends, family, casual acquaintances and internet strangers to spend their money on your wild idea is a nerve-wracking experience. You’d think that I would be used to it, after selling my first two books in much the same way, but evidently that’s not the case. So, if I seem to be a little distracted, that’s because I am.

I’m sorely tempted to spend the next 28 days perched on the edge of my seat, constantly refreshing the project page as I wait for the next backer to sign up. That’s probably not the best use of my time.

A moment of Zen Parenting

When a cliché becomes a reality, you adapt

I found myself in the middle of a classic parenting crisis a little while ago. We were bundled up and heading out the door to go to the library for a quick visit before dinner. Max was done his pre-trip bathroom pit stop, and I was heading in to do the same.

In the bathroom, I discover one of the world’s worst sights: an overflowing toilet full of human ick. My mind races back to the morning’s conversation:

“Dad, I have to tell you something. The toilet paper roll fell into the toilet.”

“Did you take it out and throw it out?”

“No, it had poop on it.”

“So what did you do?”

“I flushed it down.”

At the time, I had wondered how that had actually happened, but it was 7AM and my critical thinking skills were still offline. I did take a look at the toilet, but didn’t see any sign of something going wrong.

Flash forward to 4:30PM, with something very obviously going wrong. The very normal emotional responses of anger, disgust, and panic rushed towards my brain in a dead heat. But, luckily, a sense of calm stepped in the way. Instead of freaking out (and I so wanted to freak out), I looked at the gross scene in front of me and told myself “this is a thing that is happening. And I will deal with it.”

I calmly worked on plunging the atrocity down the pipes, as Max clarified that he had used the toilet brush to push the soggy toilet paper roll down the flush this morning. When the bowl finally emptied after repeated plunging attempts, I gave a small silent cheer of relief.I suppressed my revulsion as I cleaned up the horrifying water coating the floor, and I doused the area with the most toxic and powerful array of cleaning agents that I could.

Throughout the ordeal, I kept a calm, positive demeanor (with intermittent exclamations of ‘oh this is gross’). Max and I discussed the situation and agreed that, in the future, he should wait until mom or dad are awake before trying to resolve a toilet-based issue. I told him that I did appreciate that he tried to fix a problem himself, and that he had no reason to know that the toilet paper would expand and plug the drain.  And after giving myself a little clean-up, we continued along on our trip to the library.

After it was all said and done, I was struck by the lack of an emotional aftermath, If I had lost my cool and started bellowing, it would have made the rest of the afternoon and evening stressful and negative for both of us. Hopefully, I can start applying this technique to every challenge I face, but I’m still a normal person , and sometimes I’m going to flip right out.

Oh and yes, I did eventually realize while planning this blog post, that the experience could be summed up with the phrase “sh*t happens”. At the heart of every cliché lies a nugget of truth, I suppose.

Navigating without a map

The freedom to chart your own course comes with surprising pitfalls

In December, I uttered the greatest phrase a writer can ever say: “I’m done”. The first draft of my next novel (book three in my “Spellbound Railway” series) was finished. A sense of fatigued elation came over me, and the joy of being able to step away from the desk and emerge from my basement office victorious was immense.

Shortly thereafter, a second phrase bubbled up into my mind. It came in small, nested itself into the back corner of my thoughts, and started to ache. “What’s next?” it asked. My completion elation turned into smoke and blew away in the face of this yawning void of an unanswered question.

In a regular job, you don’t have to ask that question. You show up, pull your assigned levers, grumble about the boring work and your smelly coworker, and go home at the end of the day. A parcel of cash shows up regularly to justify dragging yourself into the dank cubicle farm. When you finish one task, another is put in front of your nose.It may not be spiritually rewarding, but it is predictable.

But in my line of work, there’s no assembly line. There’s a giant unsorted pile of possible tasks in the corner. I finish one step, and then look at the pile and wonder what should happen now. Most of the pieces in that pile are unlikely to produce anything other than more tasks to throw back on the pile.

So I found myself, metaphorically speaking, sitting on the floor and staring in dread at that massive pile. For a week I scrambled around between all of the possibilities: Do I edit this new draft right away? Do I focus on trying to find freelance non-fiction work? Do I pack it in and get a job painting miniature houses? And so on, and so on.

Eventually, I came to a few realizations. I need to write every day. Taking “time off” from writing only makes me more irritable and anxious. And I need to take the small business aspect of independent publishing much more seriously than I have before.

I’m not fully prepared for every “what’s next?” eventuality, but I think I have a better handle on the basics. In this upcoming year, I’ll see if a kickstarter campaign would be a good fit to pay for the first print run of the next book (and for professional editing, if the campaign went very well). I’m also looking at Patreon as a way to release the next story I’m working on as a serial. Of course, if a publisher or agent wanted to swoop down and take care of all of the parts I don’t like so that I can focus on storytelling, I wouldn’t complain a bit.