Friday, January 26, 2018

Taking it to the People

Hey, I didn't know they had laptops back then!!
Of all public figures and benefactors of mankind, no one is loved by history more than the literary patron. The patron creates 'literature through altruism,' something not even the greatest genius can do with a pen. 
Roman Payne

A couple of years back I did a post on writers using Patreon. Or, more exactly, I asked readers what they thought about writers using Patreon. My own feelings were mixed. Okay, honestly? My own feelings were biased. Though logic told me reader patronage was probably the wave of the future, I just couldn't help feeling that professional writers ought to be able to support themselves off their writing. Wasn't it an admission of failure to have to ask for sponsorship?

Some 50+ reader comments opened my eyes. Not only was reader patronage a tiny bit of a safety net for what has always been a precarious profession, developing, nurturing a community of your most invested fans offered the chance to build an incredible resource.

Since then, I've watched with interest as other authors moved to the Patreon model. Some were more successful than others, but that's true of everything in life. A lot of my initial concerns: the pressure of creating tons of new stuff on a tight schedule, undue influence from a select group of readers, other readers feeling left out or cheated don't seem to be issues for most of the successful artists I follow.

There are some really interesting--in fact, inspirational--Patreon accounts here -- though they're not writers:

There seems to be a danger with really successful Patreon writers starting to focus all their energy on their Patreon accounts, and I don't want to do that. I don't want to deny my regular readers all the things I typically give them either (the Advent Calendar, for example) and regular book releases across all publishing platforms.

There are also a lot of completely ignored or all but abandoned Patreon writer accounts--writers may be one of the smallest creator groups on Patreon--so that's not encouraging.

But yes, you guessed it. I'm starting a Patreon account.


(I can hear you all the way over here.)

I'll be happy to explain.

Partly it's about breaking the stranglehold Amazon has on nearly all of us these days. Currently seventy percent of all books are sold through Amazon. That's...worrying. On a personal level, eighty percent of my sales currently come from Amazon or an Amazon-owned affiliate like Audible or Createspace. This total dependency is both frightening and frustrating--for a lot of reasons. Amazon controls everything: visibility, pricing, distribution, who is permitted to review my work, and whether or not I'm allowed to do preorders. They control my royalty rate; if I'm willing to be exclusive to Amazon, I get a higher rate on many foreign distributors. If I refuse to give exclusive rights (and I do), I pay for it with lessened visibility and lower royalties.

Amazon controls both my creative output and how I'm allowed to interact with my customer base.

It gets worse.

Remember how when Amazon swallowed up Audible and dropped the royalty rate from 50-90% to a flat 40%? Well, a few weeks ago Amazon "mistakenly" posted a revised royalty schedule for authors that indicated some authors would be seeing a twenty percent reduction in the royalties they're paid monthly. This unplanned reveal on Amazon's part brought home to me how really vulnerable my position as a freelance artist is. I didn't sleep that night. Or even the following night--despite reassurances from Amazon that the posted royalty rates were just a mistake (that was a whole lot of website coding to have happened by mistake).

Make no mistake, Amazon is about to change the publishing paradigm yet again--and I don't believe this change will be driven by doing what's best for authors or literature.

But my decision to set up a Patreon account isn't just about Amazon. The main reason is to give myself some breathing room. Again and again the pressure to produce something ANYTHING by a certain date has resulted in juggling projects or paring down the original scope of a work or not writing things at all because I know they won't be as lucrative as something else. This publishing environment is NOT conducive to producing the best work. It's also not conducive to a healthy and creative life.
Healthy and creative life in progress

I'm fortunate in that I actually am able to earn my living through my writing--I don't forget that for a moment--but it's not a steady income and there's absolutely no safety net for those periods when I'm ill or running behind schedule. I'm afraid to commit to hiring a full-time assistant. I don't dare take extra time for long-dreamed-of projects like a video series on writing male/male mystery. I can't do anything but write...and when I fall behind in the writing (which has been the situation for the last two years) I feel paralyzed, overwhelmed... sometimes even unable to write.

My goal in setting up a Patreon account is to take back control of my creative life. I've tried to come up with a lot of hopefully very cool rewards for every level of patronage--stuff that would be fun for you but also useful for me in crafting stories or in my marketing campaigns--but the real return on your investment is more and better books from me.

I believe we share the same ultimate goal.

To find out more, check out my Patreon page here.

Friday, January 19, 2018


As I mentioned on Goodreads, I'm having a HELL of a time writing this story.

Partly the problem is my ongoing panic over running behind schedule and missing deadlines. I am so sick and tired of this situation (and you're probably tired of hearing about it). The truth is I don't write as fast as I used to. I can't because, frankly, there's just so much more to deal with now from a business and marketing standpoint. Plus, where I once used to feel energized and competitive in the face of insurmountable obstacles (like two books due in one month) I now just feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Having to plow through the work is not conducive to the best work--even if I could do it, I won't. Which means...missing more deadlines, which adds to the stress (not to mention financial pressure).

And so on and so forth.

The other problem with this project is I wrote THE GHOST WORE YELLOW SOCKS a very long time ago. And I'd started the manuscript several years before that, so it hasn't been easy to recapture the characters and the mood. I've rewritten the first three chapters four times now. I'm finally happy with what I've got--I'm confident most fans of the first book will be too--but it took some time. Time, frankly, that should have been spent on the first chapters of The Magician Murders.


Which is my lengthy and convoluted way of getting to my point, which is THE GHOST HAD AN EARLY CHECK-OUT is running behind but it is coming. I don't even want to discuss release dates at this point.

That said, here's the first chapter (unedited and unexpurgated) ;-)

Chapter One

A scream split the hot summer afternoon.

Perry, precariously perched on the twisted limb of a dying oak tree, lost his balance, dropped his sketchpad, and nearly followed its fluttering descent into the tall, yellowing grass growing on the other side of the chain-link fence that was supposed to keep people like himself from trespassing on the grounds of the former Angel’s Rest hotel.

“Help! Help!”

The voice was thin and hoarse, sexless. There was no sign of anyone, but the cries bounced off the chipped gargoyles, crumbling stairs and broken fountains, echoed off the pointed towers and mansard rooftops of the eight-story building. 

Recovering his balance, Perry scooted along the thick branch until he was safely over the barbed top of the fence, and then jumped down into the waist-high weeds and grass.


Heart pounding, Perry ran toward the voice—or at least where he guessed the voice was coming from. He still couldn’t see anyone.

This back section of the property had never been landscaped. Thirsty scrub oaks, bramble bushes, webs of potentially ankle-snapping weeds covered a couple of sunbaked acres.

When he reached the wall of towering—mostly dead—hedges, he covered his mouth and nose with the crook of his arm and shoved his way through, trying not to inhale dust or pollen.

Small, sharp dead leaves whispered as they scratched his bare skin, crumbling against his clothes. He scraped through and found himself in the ruins of the actual hotel garden.

Which meant he was…where in relation to the voice?

Without his leafy vantage point, he had no clue. Rusted lanterns hung from dead tree branches. A couple of short stone staircases led nowhere. An ornate, but oxidized, iron patio chair was shoved into the hedge, and a little farther on, an overturned patio table, lay on its back, four legs sticking straight up out of the tall weeds like a dead animal. A black and white check cement square was carpeted in dead branches and debris. A giant gameboard? More likely an outdoors dance floor.

Too bad there was no time to get some of this derelict grandeur down on paper…

Finally, he spotted an overgrown path leading through a pair of dead Japanese cedars--so ossified they looked like wood carvings--and jogged on toward the hotel.

The voice had fallen silent.

Perry slowed to an uneasy stop, listening. His breathing was the loudest sound in the artificial glade. Should he go on? You couldn’t—shouldn’t--ignore a cry for help, but maybe the emergency was over?

Or maybe the emergency had gotten so much worse, whoever had been yelling was now unconscious.
Far overhead, the tops of the trees made a distant rustling sound, though there was no breeze down here in the petrified forest.  He could see broken beer bottles along the path, dead cigarette butts, and something that appeared to be a used condom.


The hotel would be a magnet for vagrants and delinquents alike. His heart was still pounding in that adrenaline rush, and he was breathing hard, but it was simply normal exertion. He was uneasy, of course, but there was no reason he couldn’t go on. He was not the one in distress.

One thing for sure. Nick would not hesitate one instant to offer help to someone in need—although he also would not be crazy about Perry charging into potential trouble.

Perry continued down the path. Actually, it was more of a trail, and it abruptly ended at the top of terraced hillside. There didn’t seem to be another way down, so he just plowed through the dead brush, trying not to lose his footing amidst the loose earth and broken stones.

At last—well, it felt like at last, but it was actually probably no more than two or three minutes—he reached the bottom of the first of three wide, shallow flights of steps leading to the back entrance of the hotel.

 Now what?

Aside from his own footfalls and raspy breathing, it was eerily silent.

He began to feel a little foolish.

Had he misunderstood those cries? Maybe he’d been fooled by the noise of a bunch of kids roughhousing. Maybe what he’d heard had been the rantings of a crazy homeless person. There was a lot of that in LA.

Maybe there had been real trouble, but the situation was now resolved.

He’d been sketching Angel’s Rest for the past week—ever since he’d seen photos of it during his friend Dorians’s exhibition the previous Saturday—so he knew that technically there were several tenants (or maybe just squatters) in the old hotel. In which case maybe someone had already rushed to the rescue.

Then again, maybe someone was dying while he stood here trying to make his mind up.

“Just do it,” Perry muttered, and started up the steps toward the hotel.

The back entrance to the building had to be up there somewhere. The pool was over to the left behind another wall of dying hedges, but it was nearly empty and if someone had fallen off the side of that, they would probably be dead. The conservatory, vines growing out the top and broken glass winking in the sun, was to the right behind still more hedges. That was another potential deathtrap, but he’d never seen anyone out there either. In fact, he had never seen anyone outside the hotel at all. The only reason he knew the place was inhabited because of the scattered lights that went on at dusk and the occasional scent of cooking food on the breeze.

Halfway up the first flight, a scrape of sound—footsteps on pavement--reached him. Perry raised his head as three figures crested the top. He froze. His breath caught. His heart seemed to tumble through his empty chest as he stared in disbelief.

Three figures. They wore long black capes and skeleton masks. They carried swords.


It was…unexpected.

Okay, fucking terrifying. Skeleton men carrying swords was definitely an unexpected and unnerving sight.

His thoughts were jumbled. Was someone filming a movie? Pretty much everywhere you went in LA someone was filming something. Was this a trial run for Halloween? Were they bank robbers? He had some experience of bank robbers, so the thought wasn’t as random as it might seem.

Was he dreaming?

No. He could feel the sun beating down on his head, smell the dust and pollen rising from the cement. Perspiration trickled slowly down his spine to his tailbone. His heart banged against his ribs. His breathing was too fast and getting shallow. He was definitely not dreaming.

The fact that it was broad daylight made it worse somehow. Surreal. The blaze of sunlight lancing off pale stone, the dark fireball shadows thrown by the towering palm trees, the tall black and white figures sweeping down the stairs toward him…

It should have been a dream. If felt like a dream.

Hey!” Perry shouted. He was a little surprised by his own ferocity. Mostly that was him trying to get past his own apprehension with a show of force. Plus, he had to say something.

The skeleton men were also running and did not notice Perry until he yelled. By then they were almost on top of him. They didn’t speak, but he had an impression of surprised alarm. Being an artist, he automatically paid attention to movement, to body language, to facial expressions. Well, there was no facial expression on those grinning, gaping skeleton faces, but three different sets of body language revealed varying degrees of shock. One of the skeletons veered left, the other veered right. 

The middle skeleton who was a few steps behind the other two, raised his sword and charged straight at Perry.

No. This is not happening. This cannot be happening…

But the point of that sword was headed straight for his chest.

For a stricken instant, Perry couldn’t seem to process, but getting skewered for trespassing was not something he wanted to explain to Nick, and the thought galvanized him. Instinctively, he dived and tackled the other around his legs.

The skeleton man pitched forward, his hand locking on the collar of Perry’s t-shirt, dragging Perry with him. Perry ducked his head protectively against his shoulder, still trying to hang onto his assailant.

Hard muscles bunched beneath his hands. The other grunted but did not speak as they bumped their way down the steps, turning over and over. As they rolled, Perry got flashes of blue sky, sparkling bits of broken limestone step, a razor burned throat, dead leaves, clouds, scuffed army boots…
He could smell BO and cigarettes and musty wool.

The sword clattered noisily in front of them. It sounded like wood.

He’d heard Nick talk about how time seemed to both speed up and move in slow motion when you were in a fight, and that was exactly how it felt. He had time to register the little details of sight, smell, sound, but they went past in a confused rush, like a racing freight train.

Nick had been right about something else too. He was already exhausted. His heart clamored in his chest, his lungs burned, his muscles shook. Punches thumped down on his shoulder and back, but that pain felt more distant than his own instant and immediate physical distress.

What the fuck was he going to do with this asshole once they reached the bottom?

The skeleton man tried to knee Perry in the groin, tried to bang his head against the steps. Perry, his hands otherwise engaged, tried to head butt him. His forehead collided with the other guys’s chin.


Bad decision.  It seemed pretty straightforward when demonstrated by Nick, but was not so simple in execution. Slamming his forehead into the other’s masked face made him see stars--while having no visible effect on his assailant.

But it also knocked some sense into Perry.

He did not want to land at the feet of the other two skeleton men. That would not be a good plan.
He let go of the skeleton man’s cape and costume, and tried to stop his own rolling descent, which…momentum was not his friend. He did manage to shove the guy off and come to a stop. Shakily, he started to pick himself up, watching warily as the other tumbled the rest of the way to the foot of the steps.

Perry’s arms wobbled and he was having difficulty catching his breath. That was fatigue not asthma, although with the number of stressors he was experiencing, that situation might change any minute.
He had worse problems. His sprawled foe crawled around on his knees, scrabbling for his fallen sword.

Perry’s stomach did an unhappy flop. Really? More? He was not ready for round two.

As the skeleton’s hand closed around the hilt, he was dragged to his feet by his cohorts, one of whom panted, “Forget it, man. Leave him.”

It seemed touch and go, but then the skeleton man jabbed his hand at Perry. Even without words, the message was clearly, You’re dead!

Before he could make good on the threat, he was hustled away and the three took off running, disappearing into the overgrown jungle of dead rosebushes and run-amuck ornamental grasses.
For a few shocked moments Perry stared after them, not moving, simply trying to catch his breath. What the hell had just happened?

At the sound of low moans coming from the top of the stairs, he pushed upright and limped hurriedly up the stairs.

There was an arched entrance at the top of the steps. The archway led into the ruins of a walled garden. Dead vines hung like draperies. In the center of the courtyard was a cracked and dirty fountain. Curved benches ringed it. On the far side of the yard were tall Palladian style doors which must open into what would once have been the hotel foyer.

An elderly man slumped against the base of the fountain, clutching his midriff and quietly groaning. He wore blue jeans and a white shirt. His hair was silver and shoulder-length. His beard was also silver and worn van dyke style.

Perry stumbled forward, expecting to see blood gushing from beneath the clasped hands. “Are you all right?” he gulped. “Did they get you?”

The old man’s eyes shot open and he partially sat up. To Perry’s relief there did not appear to be any sign of gore on his hands or clothes.

“Who are you?” The voice sounded much stronger than the moans indicated. “Where did you come from?”

“Perry Foster. I heard you yelling for help.”


“Are you badly hurt?” Perry asked. “Do you need an ambulance?”

The old man was staring at him as though Perry was an apparition. He had very blue eyes. Not the deep marine blue of Nick. A pale, glittery blue like gemstones. With that high, elegant bone structure he had probably been very, very handsome in his youth. He was still striking even as he gawked wide-eyed at Perry.

“Did you see them?” he demanded.

“Yes. I saw them. Do you want me to call someone? Should I call the police?”

“You saw them?”

They would have been hard to miss, wouldn’t they?

“Yes,” Perry said. “We ran into each other on the stairs.”

Still clutching his midsection, the old man struggled to stand. Perry went to his aid. A bony hand fastened on his shoulder and the old man peered into his eyes.

“Who are you?” he asked again. 

“Perry,” Perry repeated. “Perry Foster.”

“Do I know you?”

“Well, no.”

The old man continued to peer at him. “Perry, you said?”

“Perry Foster.”

“And you say you saw them. What did you see?”

Old though he was, he had a beautiful, deep voice. A commanding voice. A trained voice?

Perry answered obediently, “I saw three figures—male. At least, I’m sure two of them were male--dressed up in skeleton costumes and capes. They had swords.” He recalled the clatter of the sword bouncing down the steps. “Wooden swords, I think.”

“Oh, thank God.” The old man shut his eyes and swayed. “Thank. God.”

“Here, you better sit down.” Perry helped him to one of the marble benches. He was tall, taller than Perry, but willowy. All at once he seemed very frail.

The old man rested his face in his hands and shook his head. He raised his head. “You don’t understand.” He shook his head again. Tears shimmered in his eyes. He covered his face.

Perry looked around for help, but there was no sign of anyone. He waited for a couple of moments while the old guy tried to compose himself.

“Is there someone inside?” Perry asked finally. “Is there someone I can get for you?”

“No, no.” The old man raised his head. He wiped his eyes without self-consciousness. “How did you get here, Perry? Where did you come from?”

Oh, that. Perry grimaced. The moment of truth. “Well, you see… I’ve been sketching Angel’s Rest. The building.”

There was no comprehension on the face in front of him—and why would there be?

Perry persisted. “Maybe I should have asked permission. I didn’t really think about it until now. There’s an oak tree in the back on the other side of the property line. The branches grow over the fence, and I was sitting up there.”

The old man frowned. “What do you mean you were sketching the building? Why?”

“Because it’s…beautiful. The bones of the structure, I mean. The architecture.”

Instead of replying, the old man once more dropped his head to his hands.

Perry glanced back at the tall, dark windows of the hotel. Why was no one coming out? How was it possible that no one had heard any of this commotion?

The man raised his head, and glared at Perry with unexpectedly hard blue eyes.

“If you’re an artist, where are your paints or pencils? Where is your easel or your sketchbook?”

The sudden suspicion was startling. Why would he lie about sketching the property? He could have come up with all kinds of fake excuses for being on the grounds, after all, if that’s what the old guy was hinting at.

Perry said, “I dropped my gear when you yelled.”

“I see. Then it will still be where you left it.” The distrust was still there, bright and shining.

“Yes. It should still be lying there in the grass.” Then again, the way things were going? Perry added, “I hope.”

“Show me.”

Perry stepped back warily as his rescuee rose. “Okay, but wouldn’t it make more sense to call the police?”

The old man gave a short, bitter laugh. “Would it? No. Show me where you left your things when you raced to my rescue.”

Not like Perry was looking for a big thank you, but the hint of sarcasm in “when you raced to my rescue” was strange and troubling. So too was the other’s obvious paranoia. An already very weird situation seemed to be getting weirder by the minute.

“Sure.” Perry turned to lead the way. He was suddenly, painfully conscious of his own bumps and bruises. He hadn’t fallen far, but it had been a hard landing. He’d banged his elbow, his knee, his shoulder. He was very lucky he hadn’t broken anything.

They walked down the three flights of steps in silence, but when Perry started toward the terraced hillside, the old man said, “What are you doing? There’s a walkway right here.”

Sure enough, beneath the dead leaves and pine needles, a brick walk wound through the black iron pick-up sticks of what had once been an ornate gate. Perry hadn’t noticed the walkway in his earlier haste.

“Oh. Right. Okay.” He changed course obligingly. The old man gave him a sideways look.

“I suppose you think I’m ungrateful?”

“Well, I guess you’re pretty shaken up.” He felt pretty shaken himself, and he hadn’t been the target of that attack.

The old man made an unappeased sound. “I have to wonder. How would you happen to be here at just the right moment to see them? Hm? That timing is a little too convenient.”

Perry tried to read his face, tried to make sense of the open disbelief. Not just disbelief. Antipathy. Like the old guy thought he was…what? What was he implying? That Perry had been with the skeleton men? That he was part of a gang of Halloween-costumed hooligans who went around beating up old people?

“I’ve been here all week,” Perry said.

“All week? You’ve been trespassing all week?”  

Old people could be cranky, that was a fact. Perry tried to hang onto his patience. “If I was trespassing on your property, it was only today when I heard you yelling.”

“Yet how could you hear anything from this distance?”

This was getting kind of ridiculous. “I guess the breeze was blowing in the right direction.”

The old man made an unconvinced noise.

Well, he could think what he liked. He seemed as unhurt as he was ungrateful, so really Perry’s responsibility—assuming he had any in this situation—was at an end. He’d grab his gear and show this old coot that he was exactly what he said he was, and then climb back over the fence and head home. He had plenty of sketches of Angel’s Rest by now. He could paint from those. Or find another project. He wouldn’t be returning here again, that was for sure.

The brick path took them past the checkerboard dance floor and up the path with the broken bottles and trash. The old man made a sound of disgust as he noted the discarded condom.

“Kind of a weird place for romance,” Perry offered. It was not his nature to hang onto irritation.


Though he was also limping, Perry’s companion didn’t really move like an old person. He was old though. Seventy at least. Perry had spent a lot of time with elderly people, both when he worked at the library in Fox Run and when he’d lived on the Alston Estate. He was used to their quirks and general crankiness, and the last of his exasperation faded.

“Have you lived here a long time?” he asked.

The old man gave him look of disbelief and declined to answer.

Perry sighed.

They didn’t speak again until they trudged across the barren back of the property and reached the oak tree. Perry hunted through the dry grass and found his sketch pad. He brushed the foxtails out of the pages and handed it over to his companion. He pointed up into the overhanging branches.

“You can see my backpack up there. Leaning against that Y in the trunk.”

The old man, flipping brusquely through the pages of Perry’s sketch book, did not look up. “My God.” He paused at a sketch of a raven perched on the sill of one of the tower windows. “Where did you learn to draw like this?”

“Art classes and stuff.”

He did look up then. “No.” Pale blue eyes met Perry’s solemnly. “This is…this is a gift. This isn’t training.”

“Well, a lot of it’s training.”

He continued to stare as though seeing Perry clearly for the first time. “It’s a gift from the gods,” he pronounced.

Oh-kay, that was a little dramatic.

“Yeah, but I don’t really…” Believe in the gods? Believe in talent without training? Believe you’re entirely sane, Mr. Angel’s Rest?

“It’s the Muse,” insisted Mr. Angel’s Rest. “It’s fire from heaven.”

Fire from heaven? What did that even mean? This oldster would have been right at home on the Alston Estate with little old Miss Dembecki and creepy Mr. Teagle.

Perry said politely, “I guess some of it’s aptitude.”

The good news was he no longer seemed to be suspected of being in league with the skeleton men.
As though reading his thoughts, the old man flipped closed the sketch book and offered his hand. “I’m Horace Daly. I want to thank you for what you did for me earlier, and I’m sorry I wasn’t more…gracious.”

“That’s okay,” Perry began. He was hoping Horace wasn’t planning on keeping his sketchbook. “Do y—”

“No, it’s really not,” Horace said earnestly. “But it’s difficult to explain without sounding completely mad.”

Mad? Horace Daly seemed to have quite the dramatic turn of phrase. But then he was living in a mostly abandoned hotel and had just been attacked by three guys in skeleton costumes, so maybe drama was his default?

  Perry opened his mouth to, well, he wasn’t sure what. Ask if Horace needed help getting back home? Ask if Horace wanted to file a police report perhaps? Because really that’s what they should be doing right now. Phoning the cops. The longer they waited the less chance they had of—

Who was he kidding? They had zero chance of catching Horace’s attackers at this point.

Horace was still watching him with that blazing-eyed intensity. When he stared like that, he almost… sort of…looked familiar.

Had he seen Horace before? Where? Why did he have the weird inkling it had been in church? Perry hadn’t been to church since he’d left his parents’ home nearly two years ago--and he was pretty sure Horace was no Presbyterian. 

Horace, still following his own thoughts, pronounced in that grand, grave manner, “You see, Perry, someone is trying to kill me.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

What Are You Afraid Of?

For Christmas this year the SO bought me a book titled Around the Writer's Block (Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance*).

I was a little resistant to the very idea of this book, largely because of the words WRITER'S BLOCK. I have little patience with the concept of Writer's Block. IMHO usually what people call writer's block is one of three things: burnout (which is very different--and very real), real life getting in the way of creative endeavors, for example a death in the family (which is inevitable and happens to us all now and then) OR you've hit a wall in your writing and you need to delete everything up to that point and start again.

But the term Writer's Resistance* (the * standing for Writer's Block, Procrastination, Paralysis, Perfectionism, Postponing, Distractions, Self-Sabotage, Excessive Criticism, Overscheduling, and Endlessly Delaying Your Writing) now THAT struck a chord.

Chord as in the opening notes to Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium... when all those voices begin to form that angelic whirlpool of sound and you feel a kind of epiphany...

Because, aside from Writer's Block (as I define it), every other symptom listed above is true of me. Writer Resistance has definitely become a thing in my life, and I'm trying to understand why. And I'm willing to listen to other people's ideas. Rosanne Bane's book is full of them. Ideas, I mean, though I'm only a few pages in.

Already I recognize behaviors in myself (and others) that Bane lays at the door of fear. Now FEAR in writing is another concept I have little patience for. THERE IS NO CRYING IN BASEBALL. But I see now that's because I typically assume what people mean by being "too afraid to write" is fear of success (which is apparently a thing) and fear of failure (which, again, zero patience here). It's not that I'm not sympathetic to fear of failure, but if you're going to leave your bedroom every morning, the possibility of failure exists. And if you refuse to leave your bedroom, you have nothing worth saying to anyone else anyway.

Harsh, I know. But true. It is the fear to leave one's bedroom that results in so many truly terrible romance novels written by people who know nothing about other humans or their interactions. But that's a post for another day.

Anyway, as I began to read the opening pages of Bane's book, I couldn't help noticing (and wincing) over some of her observations. Like how fear manifests itself in different ways depending on the personality type. Writing horrible reviews of your peers. Getting into online brawls over political and social issues with people who basically agree with you. Obsessing over other authors' perceived success. Okay, that's not me, but I see those behaviors in others. And I kind of always sort of put it down to fear, well, frustration, but it's nice to have confirmation from an objective source.

Losing files. Starting other projects in the middle of your current project. Deciding NOW is the moment you must reorganize your desktop. Missing deadlines, having accidents... WAIT. WHAT?

Having accidents.

Yeah. Things began to get very interesting.

Because Bane is focused on science (or at least psychology) the book has a more practical focus, which appeals to me. My tendency is to get mad at myself for not performing. When I can't deliver what I have promised (often over-promised) I begin to call myself names: lazy, undisciplined, etc. It never occurred to me maybe something else was going on there.

I also realized that my idea of "fear" is not realistic. Fear does not come in one size and one color.

There are plenty of reasons to be resistant to writing. First of all, that extended mental focus is exhausting. Imagine being an accountant during tax season--only tax season never ends. Now you've got an inkling of the focus required for writing fiction.

And hanging onto that focus for twenty even more challenging. By now I've used up all my original ideas and themes. Not that I don't have more ideas, but yeah, there will inevitably be a sameness to my work. For me and for readers. Now, granted, that sameness goes to branding, and if you like what I do, it's not a problem, it's a selling point. If you don't like what I do, the fact that I continue to do it is irrelevant anyway.

Writing is physically hard on the body too. I'm always battling carpal tunnel and writer's butt. And more serious stuff like sitting being the new smoking.

Writing doesn't pay as well as it used to.  You can take a look here (okay, that's the Irish, but still look here and here and here. To add to which, authors do not have the security of a fixed income. Nor a retirement plan. Nor, in most cases, health insurance.

Any creative endeavor is going to generate resistance and negativity from some quarters. Not everyone is going to like what you do. Not everyone is going to get what you do. Even the people who do get you will not always like what you do. That's art. Any art. The difference now days versus being a writer in days gone by, is you can receive the negative response even before you've begun the creation. At Goodreads, for example, the moment you announce a title, you can expect to receive a couple of hostile "ratings." These are people who are worked up about the very idea of you producing something new. :-D  You can laugh about it (which I usually do) but it doesn't change the fact that there is a lot more awareness and feedback than writers in the past had to deal with. That immediacy has an influence. If people are excited, there is pressure. If people are hostile, there is pressure. There is a lot of pressure now days for writers.

So there are reasons to be resistant to writing. Writing is work, and work--even when you love the work--can be draining. We've all had to call in sick now and again even when we weren't officially contagious. Right?

When I began to analyze the whole concept that I might unconsciously be resistant to writing, might even occasionally be unknowingly sabotaging myself--and that there might be sensible reasons for that (despite my love for writing and the creative process) resistance I began to see my way through what has become a kind of forest of challenges and obstacles.

I don't pretend that I'm out of the woods, but I do see the sunlight filtering through the canopy of leaves. I also see how this resistance could be true of many aspects in someone's life, which makes me wonder how many of us deal with unconscious fear -- call it resistance -- getting in the way of doing the things we most love and want to do.

What about you? What are you afraid of? What keeps you from doing the things you long to do?


Friday, January 5, 2018

Lessons from 2017

Yes, a crazy burst of inspiration led to this story
Isn't it crazy how long ago 2017 sounds? :-D

I'm really excited about this brand new shiny New Year. My goal is a healthier and more productive year, and I think that's a reasonably realistic goal.

By the standards of when I began writing (back in year one), last year was a reasonably productive year. I wrote two novels (The Monet Murders and Murder Takes the High Road) and three short stories ("Plenty of Fish," "Halloween is Murder," "The Boy Next Door").  I put together a couple of print collections (If Only in My Dreams and the two Boy Meets Body collections) a couple of audio books (The Monet Murders, the Point Blank box set) and a slew of translations and box sets. I experimented with Kindle Unlimited (which I will blog on, but let's cut to the chase--HELL NO). I hosted a fan/writer retreat on Catalina Island, I attended Bouchercon mystery conference, visited the SO's homeland (Canada, but really Montreal), got a puppy. And that's just the stuff I remember off the top of my head. Once upon a time, yes, that would have been considered a busy and productive year!

Oh. And I started a number of projects I didn't complete by the end of the year: Blind Side (ARGH), The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out, Seance on a Summer's Night.  Ouch.

Ouch. Ouch. OUCH.

There was ill health and depression (my own and the SO's) and other adventures.

It was not the year I planned on. But that's life, right?

And it's possible that this will not be the year I'm planning either. GULP.

The thing is, I can't really apologize for life (and my brain) being what it is. I won't deny that the angry emails and comments did affect me (not in an encouraging or productive way) with the end result that I've come to the conclusion that I'm not a machine--or a data entry clerk--and the nature of creativity is such that sometimes inspiration and creative impulse--or lack therein--supersede schedules and best laid plans. I'm sorry I didn't produce the stories I'd hoped to produce on schedule, but unfortunately that is not how creativity works. Ill health and depression and stress take a toll. For those who don't get that, there is really nothing more to say.

But it took me a while to get to the place where I could say that with confidence. For a lot of my life I was a people-pleaser. Someone who worked very hard to make everything okay for everyone else, even when that wasn't realistic or healthy for me. And, if I'm honest, I'm still prone to people-pleasing. :-)  Which is fine, so long as it isn't coming at the price of my own creativity and mental health.

I've been a writer--or at least a storyteller--since before I could read. Seriously. As a little kid coloring in my coloring books I regaled the other little kids with stories about what we were coloring. I never viewed writing as a get-rich scheme, and while I understand that it has indeed become that for some, it has never been that for me. Do I earn a living at this? Yes. Is it a comfortable living? Some years it is more comfortable than others--it is always precarious and there is no retirement plan. (If you think that doesn't matter, your spouse is the breadwinner in your family unit.)

I did not become a writer so that I could end up more stressed out and harassed than when I was a corporate overlord--except without the steady paycheck. :-D That's one of the conclusions I came to this year.  I do believe in discipline and commitment and staying on schedule, but the creative life has to allow for deviations, for inspiration, for lack of inspiration. That's another conclusion I came to this year. I'm not driven by market or what's selling or where there's an opening or blah-blah-blah. I write what I am moved to write. It's an awkward thing. I can't just crank out the words like there's no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow and I will still be writing and living with the consequences of that tomorrow. I've been a professional writer since I was sixteen. I'm in it for the long haul, as I've already proved. A lot of what I knew is gone forever. But a lot of what I believe in remains true--and will always remain true--craft matters and heart trumps algorithm. You show respect to the reader by delivering the best book that is in you--and that respect is repaid in reader loyalty.
Yes, there will probably be surprises

My plan for 2018 is still to deliver the stories I was unable to deliver in 2017. Blind Side, The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out, In Other Words Murder-- and the non-fiction Mr and Mrs Murder. To that end I've accepted ZERO contracts with any publisher. The Magician Murders will proceed as planned. The only other scheduled stories are The Haunted Heart: Spring and Slay Ride (and those are not due until the fall of 2018) . That's the plan and while there may be delays or the occasional surprise story, I intend to stick to it to the best of my ability. I read some, frankly, idiotic comments last year about my willful discarding of deadlines. The reality is those long-anticipated books will bring in the most cash for me, so of course I want to do them. I like money as much as the next person--and I need it as much as the next person. But I'm not going to half-ass those stories--or any stories--and I'm not going to force them at the expense of my mental or physical health.

Speaking of which, that's another of the big lessons from 2017. I plan to focus on health in 2018. Writers tend to be...unhealthy. We sit on our asses in our own little world and that creates fat butts and fat brains. I want to maintain the fitness I gained the hard way in 2017.  Both the physical fitness and the mental fitness.

Other plans for 2018? There will be a new website. Mine has become...cumbersome. If I can possibly get in, I'm thinking of going to GRL this year.  And finally, I will never again schedule any projects to be written during the holidays. REMIND ME OF THAT ONE. I HAVE A TENDENCY TO FORGET THAT RULE.

Stuff will happen. That's what I love about every new year.

What did you learn from 2017? What new strategies will you implement in 2018?