Ending the Self-Doubt Excuses

It has been years since I've posted here, though not years since I've written anything. I have written less, mostly scientific essays, but that is changing. Thank goodness. What began as a career shift has turned into a life altering move that is both exciting and frightening. Many things led up to this moment, much work, many tears, bloody fists of frustration, self-doubt, elated moments, disbelief, and vast joy. I regret nothing. What I have come to discover in most recent weeks is that I don't have to leave one dream behind in order to pursue another. I just have to change.

In the Fall of 2010 I went back to college to finish my degree in Biology. I left my full time management job, quit teaching martial arts, and stopped writing every day because of a shift in priorities. I keep myself to high standards, and even though one can get a degree with a vast array of grades, I refused to allow myself to do that. So I studied rigorously and obsessively. I got a job in a lab, at first to help with finances, but then to give myself experience to better my chances once I graduated.

What suffered most was my creative writing. I missed it every day. At times I would attempt to edit one of my books, but that never lasted. I was too overwhelmed with coursework, and I was not consistent with an editing regimen. As time wore on, my motivation towards maintaining my books slid further away. It saddened me, but I began to consider that maybe this was a part of me I just had to let go of. I was becoming a scientist. I was into academics now. There was no time to write like I used to. The one luxury that the "starving artist" lifestyle of retail management had afforded me was the freedom in the evenings and on weekends to spend hours immersing myself in my own creative endeavors. Now that career was gone, and I had to move on.

I had planned on becoming a lab tech with a Bachelor's degree. After working alongside one, however, I realized I wouldn't be any better off financially than I had been in retail management, so I reconsidered my options. A PhD in biomedical sciences was an option, and it would allow me to continue my education with a full stipend while helping me increase my options for better employment. Getting into a PhD program, however, was extremely difficult as there were few positions open, and thousands of students competed for them. My stubbornness prevailed, and after two years of rigorous applications, additional coursework, and research, I was accepted into a program. My sacrifices paid off! I readied myself for five more years of intense studying and training in genetics.

And then I pulled an all-nighter at my lab. I had little to do but take samples, so I thought, "What the heck, I'll pick at 'The Vein to Gainsay'.". ('Vein' is the sequel to 'Zurigan's Child'.) Thirty pages later at 4am I was wondering what all my excuses had been. I could have been working on this a chapter a week. A chapter a MONTH! I could have been done editing it! I'd originally written and edited this book within a year after writing 'Zurigan's Child' (over a decade ago), and I had planned on editing it one final time before formatting it to self-publish on Amazon, so WHAT THE HELL TOOK SO LONG?!

It's difficult to not be hard on myself because of the expectations I set for my own goals. It's easy to look back over the last 3 years and say, "I had plenty of time to work on this! I couldn't have been studying ALL the time! Surely I had at least an hour of free time every once in a while!". Then I remember when I had those hours of free time, and how Tarl would plead with me to please rest and take care of myself. I remember how exhausted and stressed I was trying to meet deadline after deadline and never having enough time or energy to get things done. I remember what is typical of an overachieving undergraduate lifestyle because I had to prove something. I had to prove that giving up my expensive apartment, my "top dog" management position, my "Sensei" title, my writing obsession, I had to prove that I had made the right decision and that I could do this. At 36 years old, I could do this.

I also remember the excuses. When I had time, and I was rested, I remember thinking the downer thoughts. "No one will read these books anyway." "I only really ever wrote them for me, so what does it matter if the series is ever finished?" "I might die tomorrow, so what's the big deal? I should enjoy life instead of pushing myself so hard." I forgot that part of my enjoyment in life WAS writing. It wasn't all about others reading my work, or getting published, or selling copies on Amazon, or even finishing a series. It was writing itself, creating worlds, becoming characters and designing their minds, surprising myself with what happens even though I am the omniscient presence in the realm of these beings that I can't even seem to puppeteer. The enjoyment was in imagining the story while driving to work, hearing a particular song and being inspired to pen a scene, lulling myself to sleep by running through portions of a book in my mind to trigger dreams. No excuse was worth putting that off any longer.

So I dove back in. I am editing every day, at least a chapter a day. In the Fall I'm going to follow the advice of my graduate peers when they say, "Make sure you have something to do that you love outside of school. It will keep you sane." I will keep myself sane. I will keep writing, but I'll be realistic about it.  If I need "rest time", I'll take it.  If it's more of "excuse time", then the laptop will come out.  I feel now I can recognize the difference, and not be so hard on myself.  I feel like I have honest and realistic expectations of my dreams, and can enjoy what should be enjoyed on this path I've chosen.  Whether or not others want to partake is up to them.  I'm still a little sad that my career isn't as a professional writer, but, heck, now I'm getting a PhD in molecular genetics!  



ZC Playlist and the Writing Score

From since I was about twelve years old, music has been an essential part of my writing. I have used it to inspire scenes, to trigger visual elements, to lull me to sleep while imagining a favorite storyline, even to block out background noise so I could concentrate. While living with my parents, I would often leave a ten hour shift at the bookstore and drive around for at least a half an hour listening to particular songs to get myself into what I lovingly termed "writing mode" before arriving home and immediately heading to the computer. Specific songs would help me visualize the scenes I had planned out. They would pull me into the emotions of the characters I would utilize that night. Sometimes they would even be there to give me the characters' background stories, the information that no one but I would ever know, the super-secret details that would forever be mine alone.

It's become such an essential part of my writing that I can't create my stories without some sort of music playing in the background. Unfortunately for Tarl, my husband, it sometimes means a single song on endless repeat for hours on end, but...well...such are the sacrifices of living with creative types, eh? One learns to cope, and in his case it has meant noise cancelling headphones (not for him, mind you, but for me).

Where did all of this come from? Initially, it probably started because when I was a kid I used to listen to LP's of Disney movies. Yes, I realize many youngsters out there don't even know what the heck LP's are. (They're like oversized CD's with 2 sides that makes cool scratchy noises when played.) I would listen to the records and imagine the movies...over...and over...and over. You know how kids are. My favorite was "The Fox and the Hound". Out of that came the "Star Wars" soundtrack on record. I'd never seen the film, so came up with my own version of the movie based on the pictures on the album and the music. It was really strange, and it was different every time I listened to it. All I remember is that I used to break out into a really bizarre, epileptic-like dance whenever that cantina song came on. (Give me a break! I was, like, six years old!)

So after graduating from the "Star Wars" seizures, I made tapes wherein I acted out storylines, complete with soundtracks nabbed from the stereo. My sister partook in one that we titled "Nightmare" in which we were two sisters (surprise, surprise) who got lost in a cave and had to find our way out, all the while struggling against our mother re-marrying some evil new boyfriend who was trying to kill us. We even did our own sound effects. I remember some really bad friendship song coming on the radio that we thought was perfect for the end and we hit the record button just in time to get it. We ended up laughing and making running noises like we were tumbling through a field of flowers in complete bliss for foilling the evil boyfriend's scheme and escaping the horrific cave. How sad that the tape was lost.

My next real soundtrack experience was the score for "Edward Scissorhands". I snagged songs from that and completely remade them into my own stories, many of which worked their way into my film "Black" as Phear's storyline over 12 years later. First, however, they made their way into a short story called "Phear". That story is incomplete and ends with her mother shouting, "Run, Phear! Run away!". For those of you who have seen "Black"...gee...I wonder what part THAT is...

Anyway, so for every book I've written, there is a playlist. I now offer up the one for "Zurigan's Child". Some songs were used for specific scenes, and some for ambience. Some were used in conjunction with others, and some only briefly. Maybe some day I'll give more details, but for now, here is the whole for you to do with as you wish:

1. More Than This- The Cure (The X-Files: The Album)

2. Can't Run But- Paul Simon (Rhythm of the Saints)

3. Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove- Dead Can Dance (Into the Labyrinth)

4. Two Step- Dave Matthews Band (Crash)

5. Like Cockatoos- The Cure (Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me)

6. Fish Out of Water- Tears For Fears (Elemental)

7. Spark- Tori Amos (From the Choirgirl Hotel)

8. You Look So Fine- Garbage (Version 2.0)

9. Fragile (Reprise)- Sting (The Living Sea)

10. Wash Jones- Squirrel Nut Zippers (The Inevitable)

11. Never There- Cake (Prolonging the Magic)

12. To Have and Not To Hold- Madonna (Ray of Light)

13. Morning Breaks- Nellee Hooper (Romeo + Juliet Volume 2)

14. Little Blonde in the Park of Attractions- Tangerine Dream (Tyranny of Beauty)

15. Big My Secret- Michael Nyman (The Piano)

16. Iiee- Tori Amos (From the Choirgirl Hotel)

17. Can't See (Useless)- Oingo Boingo (Boingo)

18. Laura Palmer's Theme- Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks)

19. Where Would I Be?- Cake (Prolonging the Magic)

20. Selina Transforms (Part 2)- Danny Elfman (Batman Returns)

21. You Are the Pan- John Williams (Hook- Original Soundtrack)

22. 16 Horses- Soul Coughing (The X-Files: The Album)

As far as I know all of these songs can be had via itunes, so have at it. I found them all to be great for my writing, so maybe you'll feel the same. I have no idea what they might be like to listen to while reading ZC, so if you have comments on that, or any others, feel free to post. Ta!


Things I've Learned as a Modern Author

   Coming into writing as a youngling, I had many preconceived notions.  Some of those are very common.  For one, I thought I would become a renouned besteseller after submitting one query to a publisher.  I believed my words would inspire the downtrodden, and weary consumerist driven individual to exclaim, "Holy crap!  I have never seen such words strewn forth upon a page!  Why! This shall be greater than Tolkien!  This will be greater than everything!".  Who hasn't had such dreams?  Needless to say these were just that: dreams. 

    I began my journey to publication at the age of twenty-one.  I had just finished my first novel, a fantasy entitled (and, yes, I am using the word entitled despite some embittered agent's recommendation that I not use it because "it makes it seems like one is entitled to something in return"...sheesh!) "Zurigan's Child".  Summoning every ounce of courage I had (which wasn't much at the time), I wrote and re-wrote query after query, synopses after synopses to present at conference after conference.  Alas, to no avail.  Most often I was told, "What an interesting story, but it's not what we're looking for right now.", or "We don't buy fantasy, only science fiction." even though they were agents listed as scifi/fantasy agents in the catalogue.  Many a time I was even openly mocked in front of agents I paid to have time in front of.  Such is the life of a young, aspiring author. 

    I turned then to the "Writer's Market Guide" book, and spent the better part of two years writing short stories and fine tuning my queries to suit the markets wherein, all the while continuing the saga of Caroline in the Assaudian War series.  Again, no avail.  I amassed a great deal of "We love your story, but it doesn't fit our market right now" rejection letters (what the heck does that mean anyway?!), and found myself doubting my talent.  This happened for a long, long while.  It wasn't even a matter of the feedback being negative because it wasn't.  It wasn't as though the editors and publishers were saying, "Hey, your work sucks and there is nothing we can do with it." or, "Get yourself a copyeditor." or, "Get a day job.".  They had positive things to say.  The worst they said was, "It's not what we're looking for."  So vague.  It was like they expected me to read their minds, or be part of their club, or screw their publicists for tips.  I didn't get it.  I still don't.  I felt like an idiot.  It was like I was missing this one mystical key that would open the door to everything, and no matter how hard I tried over the years, I just did not get it.  Over and over, I did not get it. 

      So I stopped submitting.  I said, "Screw it.".  I couldn't figure it out, and it was tormenting me beyond belief to the point where I was doubting my abilities as a writer (which was one of the things that made me truly happy), so for years I submitted absolutely nothing and focused instead on writing more of the novels for the Assaudian War series, a stand alone novel entitled (there's that word again!) "The Scourge of the Bone Cages", one called "Kraysh" which is one of two, and a bunch of shorts...oh!  Plus I made a movie because I got sick of the book bs and decided to try my hand at the movie biz.  I hooked up with an old friend of mine, Billy Garberina, via an old writer author of mine, Bob Vardeman, and got in touch with local indie film guru Scott Phillips.  From that, "Black" was born.

      I am currently self-publishing via Amazon, Lightning Source, and Kindle, and am finally getting my works out for the public to see.  My faith in the old method of submitting to agents is no more.  With more and more of the publishing houses merging together and fewer and fewer of them publishing new authors, the chances of new authors seeing print through them is so slim it's ridiculous.  The chances of seeing a regular income is even more ridiculous. 

      My initial goal was just to see my books in print so people could read my work.  I didn't care if they thought it was like so-and-so's work.  I didn't care if they thought it was too wordy, or too...whatever.  It was mine.  I wasn't trying to cater to a market, or to anyone's tastes, or to inject it with a literary botox.  I was writing to make a statement and express what I wanted.  I believe the same now, and I'm glad that I still can.        

      Much has changed since ten years ago, but not that much.  Publishers are still looking for the next bestseller.  They want who they can tag as "the next so-and-so".  Whoever sells the most is whoever is marketed the most.  Sometimes there is a "runaway", but it is rare, and it is nothing to count on.  It is definitely nothing to bet your career on, and even then, the career is probably fleeting.  Don't sacrifice what you don't have to.  I really don't think it's necessary anymore.     


Addendum to the Goal

   It's easy enough as a teenager or twenty-something to say that a main concern in life is to "do what I want in a career that will make me the most content".  It is a noble want and definitely seems much more practical than, say, wanting to be a millionaire or be famous.  Put up against the desire to make good money and have a stable job, however, the choice becomes a little more difficult, but not so much at an early age. 

    It's not even a matter of work, so laziness does not play in here.  To establish a career as a writer, for example (and I'm going to continue using writing as an example because, well, this is a writing blog after all) takes a tremendous amount of work.  There's not only the time to write the material, but to market yourself and attempt to connect with publishers...the outcome of which is not guaranteed no matter how diligently you try.  (I've argued the statistics on this with many.  If you aren't working among all the variables that will produce publishing success then it will not happen no matter how many times you submit, so sometimes you can't say "Keep trying!  It's bound to happen someday!".  And it may have nothing to do with quality.  The same, I'm sure, can be said of any art which is why some masterpieces only became known after the unfortunate artist died.  Ugh!)

   Alot of times the choice to do what we want while young stems from witnessing those who are older as they look back on their lives with regret.  So many evaluate their present careers which may or may not be producing enough to keep them financially stable (or more so), but don't seem to be keeping them emotionally and spiritually fulfilled.  Some may think, "What if I had continued with my dream of becoming a rock star?" or an actress, or screenwriter, etc. etc.  They may think success would have befallen them in that career, or maybe at least that they would have been more fulfilled.  Heck, sometimes people abandon their current careers and pursue the dreams they left behind.  A few do so with hopes that are too high (ie- I'll become the next Michael Jackson), but most who do so in the middle age are quite a bit more humble and take it on as either a hobby or something a bit more down to earth (ie- opening a modest restaurant to start rather than being the next Gordon Ramsay).  I personally remember, though, remarking on this particular regret and vowing to never experience it.  Thus my own personal choice to pursue a writing career while working retail jobs that allowed the freedom to do so. 

    It's easy enough to continue this lifestyle for a while, and some can maintain it for their entire lives.  What passion fulfills us is definitely worth alot, but sometimes many of us who made this decision do not end up obtaining the "American Dream".  We aren't the rock stars or Stephen Kings.  We make choices that keep us within our own moral boundaries, but sacrifice opportunity, and others that open doors to exceptional experiences, but may pull us back financially.  Not having this ideal "American Dream" may make some feel like failures.  Others may not care at all, for they're doing what they love.  Regardless, there is one thing that beckons to everyone at some point or another, and it has nothing to do with stardom.  It even has little to do with success on a broad level.  It's all about financial stability.

   On my own personal level, I was fine with what I earned in retail for years.  In my early twenties, earning anything above minimum wage was fantastic.  It meant I was exceptional.  If I got a dollar above it...Holy crap!  I was living the high life!  Obviously I had no understanding of economics at all.  (What they don't teach you in school: wage comparison and what income is allocated for.)  Of course, I didn't really need money for much.  I shared an apartment.  I didn't get sick much.  (Who needs health insurance?!  I'll just cross my fingers that nothing happens to me.)  I didn't get much time off, so vacations were out of the question.  I didn't have children.  Savings account?  (I still ask, "Wtf is that for?".)  And debt...well...I just figured that since I had no kids it would just poof! into oblivion when I died. 

   That, however, was in my early twenties.  Later on when I started watching my friends buy houses, multiple cars, go on expensive trips, buy tons of new shit...then I started thinking, "Hmmm.  Maybe this starving artist lifestyle isn't so great after all.".  A couple of years of financial crises later and I really started re-evaluating my situation.  I started thinking a few very pertitent things like, "I really enjoy having functional teeth.", "It's great having a reliable vehicle.", "I am getting tired of hearing my apt. neighbor's singing in the shower at 6am.", "It would be nice to afford new furniture instead of always having to get hand-me-downs.", "Why is everyone telling me I'm too skinny?", "I'd like to not have to save up to go to the movies.", and most importantly, "I'm just pretty damn sick of dead-end retail jobs.".  Now some people may enjoy the starving artist lifestyle.  More power to them.  It's really not for me, though.  I'd like to not have to take out a loan to pay for a root canal and crown...and new tires for my car.  That kind of sucks in my book. 

  So although the initial dream of doing what would fulfill me sounded great, and it was, there was an additional part to that dream that didn't fulfill.  It was the actual job part.  I might not be a famous author, but I'm still working at the writing part.  Zurigan's Child is an ebook, and I've just submitted the form to Ligntning Source that they have to approve so I can get it available in physical format without having to spend thousands of dollars.  The only thing I'm changing is the second part that I discovered I was so unhappy with.  That, unfortunately, involves the arduous task of going back to college for a degree in Biology.  Then there's an even more arduous task of grad school for a more specific degree in...well...I'm still trying to decide.  It'll have something to do with genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, and/or neurology.  I've got a bit of time.  Maybe a year before I'm no longer an undergrad anymore. 

  Either way I'll have a different "real job" in the end.  Maybe then I can get better dental care.  Or maybe I'll just go to dental school instead and do my own damn teeth. 


Question For All: Fictional Character Made Real

   If given the choice to bring one fictional character to life tomorrow, who would it be and why?  This character does not have to be human.  S/he or it, if incapable of surviving on this planet alone would be assumed to have assistance so s/he or it could.  If incapable of communicating with humans, s/he or it would also have assistance.  I have no idea what people will pick, so I'm just throwing these out there. 

  My answer: Oddly enough, the character I can't get out of my mind is Artemis P. Gone from "The Maxx" comic series.  Sure he was a rapist and kind of a psychopath early on, but he had some amazing psychological talent and interesting powers.  In helping Julie remember the trauma that she repressed and that caused her to have the overlap with the real world and Outback realms, he was pulling some major therapy.  If that kind of universe existed, it's definitely something I would want to discuss with him as well, especially since he could wander between both realms at will.  He did have remorse for his prior "evil ways", so it's not like one would have to worry about him running amuck.  Intelligent, concerned, talented, intriguing...all good reasons to bring a character into being.  I want to know more about this guy.