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Work-in-Progress Update

Years ago, many more than I care to admit, I began developing an idea for a steampunkish novel. I eventually sent three sample chapters to my friend Marco Palmieri, editor extraordinaire, who gave me some great feedback. I started revising the chapters and outline to his notes, but kept letting the project be sidetracked for various reasons, some good and understandable, and others questionable and neurotic. I finished revising the first three chapters, but bogged down in the synopsis of the rest of the book. I began referring to the manuscript as “my long-suffering steampunk novel.”

Recently, as I’ve dedicated myself anew to my writing, I plunged back in, hoping to quickly finish the revised synopsis and then get some beta readers to make sure I was on the right track. Revisions got sidetracked again as my part-time day job and various freelance writing and editing gigs took up most of my time. It was all slipping away again. I stalled just a few chapters short of finishing this round of revisions.

As mentioned in my previous post, however, I’ve reduced my work hours and have gotten back to the novel. Once again I thought I would quickly finish the synopsis and move forward. Instead, I realized that all the cool changes I’d made to the current events of the novel had made a confusing mess of the back story. Characters’ comings and goings no longer made sense in the bigger picture. The causal relationship between the back story and the events that unfold in the novel were a complete hash.

I knew I had to get that stuff sorted out before continuing, but it was frustrating. When you’re moving forward in chapters, you have a sense of accomplishment. When I had to go back to my notes and chronology of events prior to chapter one, I felt like I was spinning in place at best, maybe even sliding backward, even though I knew it was important work in the long run. This would be the difference between a tightly constructed story and a manuscript full of plot holes.

Then something exciting happened. As I made the necessary changes to the pre-novel chronology, new plot points started popping up out of the blue. As I rearranged certain events, new connections appeared between the characters. The back story became more complex. Not only was I making sense of this novel, I was laying the groundwork for the next two! I’d always thought of this manuscript as the start of a world I’d like to revisit, and now I’ve got layers built into the back story that might not even come up in the first novel.

With this work done, I can now get back to the story at hand. After fixing whatever’s necessary to accommodate revised chronology, I can finally wrap up this synopsis!

Writing is Not My Hobby

I’m a neurotic writer. I know, I know, “neurotic writer” is redundant, like “crooked politician.” But still. Anyway, because my quiver of neuroses has so very many arrows in it, I’m only going to focus on one in this post.

Although I have every right to lay claim to the label of “writer” by virtue of having been published several times over the course of my glacially advancing career, I almost always feel like a poseur when I refer to myself as a writer. What’s up with that?

Ever since deciding I wanted to be a writer in the seventh grade, I’ve always referred to any job I had as a “day job.” I wanted to make it clear that I had a different focus. But one of the problems with day jobs is that they can easily become just “the job,” especially if full time. You’re completely reliant on that job for income, and your writing ends up as an afterthought.

Remember that painfully awkward scene in Friends when they play an old videotape from prom night, and Ross says that he wants to work “on his music”? I’ve often felt that the audience’s reaction to that line is the same thing people think when I mention “my writing.“ Yep, I really am that neurotic. And it was even worse when I would say, “I’m working on my novel.” Even though sometimes it was literally true that I was working on a novel that was contracted for publication.

I was talking with someone recently about my struggle to make time for writing, and she nodded in solidarity, mentioning her own attempts to get creative projects done on her days off. She was being sympathetic, but in my head I couldn’t help but think, “Those are your hobbies. Hobbies are great, but writing is not my hobby.”

But perhaps that’s the real problem here, that I have inadvertently let it become a hobby: it’s been shoved to the sidelines, the back burner, it’s the person with a paper cut on the bottom of the triage list. I’m endeavoring to change that.

I’ve reduced hours at my current part-time job, which will henceforth be known as my hobby job. My additional time at home allows more writing time (as well as more time for freelance editing gigs to help fill the coffers). I’m devoting a lot of attention to—wait for it—my novel.

So my writing is no longer the person with a paper cut, it’s a guy with a head wound. Okay, maybe not the most inspiring metaphor, but I can work on that. After all … I’m a writer.

My Lost Star Trek Sidebar

TrekUnauthBack in 2011, the ever-ebullient Bob Greenberger was contracted to write Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History for Voyageur Press. He solicited sidebar contributions from several other Star Trek writers and fans, including myself. I was excited to be able to contribute to the book. In fact, I’d actually helped the book happen behind the scenes. At the time I worked for Zenith Press, another imprint for the same publishing company that owned Voyageur Press. One of their acquiring editors had asked me, as the company’s resident Trek fanatic, if I thought they should do a Trek book. My response was probably something along the lines of, “Uh . . . YEAH!” We kicked some ideas back and forth, and I dropped Bob’s name as a possible author for the book. Happily, it all came together, which is never guaranteed in the publishing industry.

Then things took a twist. One day I was in my cube working on one of my projects, probably a World War II book, which was a specialty of Zenith Press, when Voyageur’s publisher dropped by. He said that it would probably make sense to have the company’s resident Trek fanatic be the editor for Bob’s manuscript, if I was interested in doing it. My response was probably something along the lines of, “Uh . . . YEAH!” So I took on the project (and suggested adding the silhouettes and Vasquez Rocks to the cover). But now that I’d become the editor, my previously contracted sidebar got a little weird. I would essentially be submitting something to myself. It seemed awkward, but I wrote the sidebar. When the manuscript went to the copyeditor, I explained the situation and said, “Be ruthless on mine.”

The copyeditor took that to heart and responded that some of the stuff I covered in my piece was similar to the other sidebars, and since I already felt uncomfortable about it, his suggestion was to simply cut mine from the manuscript. That was absolutely the right call, so Bob and I cut my sidebar and I didn’t have to feel weird about it any longer.

I stumbled across the piece in my computer files recently and thought that the sidebar, and the story behind it, might be of some passing interest to my fellow Trek fans. So here it is. (Side note: as the book was unauthorized, we generally couldn’t use official photography from the franchise, so much of the book is illustrated with photos of my personal memorabilia collection!)

Old Fans, New Fans

Tucked away somewhere in a box in the basement is a get-well card I received from a classmate in the third grade which reads along the lines of “Get well soon so you can come back to school and play Star Trek.” That would have been about 1972, so I’ve been a Star Trek fan for four decades. Not as long as some, but it still easily qualifies me as an old fan.

Flash forward from my childhood adventures aboard the Enterprise to about thirty years later, the early 2000s. My daughter, Ella, asked me, “What’s this Star Trek thing you’re always talking about?” I decided to introduce her through the animated version, thinking the cartoons might draw her in more easily than the original series. I figured she’d like it, but I didn’t foresee that she would love it and instantly become a fan. But even though she started about the same age I did, her experience of Star Trek is wildly different than mine.

For fans who came to the franchise in the twenty-first century, there is a wide-ranging body of TV series and movies that already existed when they started watching. That’s a completely different way of exploring the Trek universe compared to those of us who experienced its growth in real time, especially those of us who lived through the decades of a single show being the whole universe. In those pre-VCR years, you had to have a channel that syndicated the show or you had no Star Trek. I grew up out in the country with just four TV stations. There were whole years when I had to go without Star Trek on the screen. I once went to a family reunion, which required an uncomfortable overnight Greyhound bus ride, largely for the off chance that I might get to see some Trek. Indeed, it was on in Colorado, and I got a fix. But now Ella can sit down in a coffee shop with her Wi-Fi iPad and stream any of the series from Netflix.

A side effect of this is that Ella accepts all these shows as Star Trek without pause. While I’ve embraced the new entries in the franchise as it grew, I can still understand why some people are devoted to just the original series or how people who started by watching The Next Generation in the 1980s can have a different view that doesn’t quite embrace the show from the 1960s. When you’re a more recent fan, however, it’s all there at once. You can watch an episode here and there from across the Trek timeline whenever you want, instant gratification instead of investing seven years in finding out if Voyager got home or not. I think this makes it easier for new fans to embrace everything, while old fans experience “you ruined my childhood” moments while watching a new incarnation.

Of course, there are even newer fans now, who started with the Abrams reboot and only know Chris Pine as Captain Kirk. (Cue sound of older fans gasping.) Recently, Ella was stunned that one of her eighth grade classmates didn’t know who William Shatner was. But there’s no way around this for a franchise that’s been chugging along for nearly fifty years. And without new fans, where would Trek be? Still rerunning those same original episodes? This old fan and his new fan offspring—as much as we love the Shat—are glad that Trek keeps growing. We can’t wait to see what new versions await us in the future, and we hope that those new versions introduce even more new fans to this universe that we love.

Okay, it wasn’t a bar, it was just me at the computer with a glass of wine. But anyhoo . . .

So I’ve got this short story I’m fond of, “The Sad Rains of Mars,” an homage to the late, great Ray Bradbury. It had a couple beta readers during the first few drafts, and I was happy with it. Over the last year I’ve been sending it to various markets. I started out big, sending it to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, then to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. After a form rejection from both of them, I had another friend read it, and she had some nice comments that led to a few minor tweaks.

Next it went over to Tor.com. Then Clarkesworld after that. Two more strikes. Yeah, that’s up to four strikes now, pardon the sloppy baseball metaphor. I took another look at it and restructured the first page or two a bit. It struck me that those opening paragraphs were a bit back-story heavy, and I think I achieved a better balance between the dialogue and the exposition necessary to set up the world for the reader.

At this point I should mention that I don’t advocate rewriting after every rejection. That way madness lies. On the other hand, if a story isn’t getting placed you should be open to the idea that there might be good reasons for that. You have to find the right time to double down for your art and when to admit that your manuscript isn’t the shiny stack of awesome and rainbows you first thought it was.

With the repolished opening, I once again felt pretty good about the story. But I needed to pick a new market. I started going through some old bookmarks I had in my browser. Wow, that was depressing. Several cool markets, both print and online, had gone out of business over the last couple years. The URL for Lissette’s Tales of the Imagination now takes you to a Japanese porn site. Either that or Lissette’s has substantially changed its format and target audience.

The other thing I noticed was how many of the remaining markets I had bookmarked paid quite low rates or minimal flat fees. Like, say, $50 for a short story. That’s the business model that keeps these periodicals going, and I recognize that’s the cold reality of a lot of small markets. I am not dismissing them as a group; there are a lot of fine publications and publishers that work on that level, and they’re publishing great stories. (Of course, there are also others who take advantage of eager beginners desperate for publishing credits, young writers willing to essentially give away their work to see it in print.)

As I clicked through more markets, I realized that simply getting another publishing credit isn’t important enough to me to justify handing over a story for a few bucks. At this point, I’d rather sit on a story or self-publish than get underpaid. I eventually found a market that pays a reputable six cents a word, which is the rate that the Science Fiction Writers of America uses in its definition of a professional sale.

So off the manuscript went. We shall see what happens.

So. Last blog post dated July 29, 2014. Today’s date January 25, 2015. What the heck? Well, things just got away from me. I got busy. Last fall my freelance work started picking up after several months of silence. After a mountain of metaphorical tumbleweeds rolling past though empty streets, with only Vincent Price, Charlton Heston, and Will Smith wandering about during daylight hours (Boom! Geek reference!), I started getting work.

Simon & Schuster called (well, emailed). Would I like to copyedit Ken Lui’s epic first fantasy novel Grace of Kings? Uh, yes, please. Then would I like to copyedit his collection of short stories, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories? Yes, I’ll have some more. Those two are forthcoming this year from the Saga Press imprint. Meanwhile, their Pocket Books imprint also dropped a dime on me (well, emailed). Would I like to copyedit Star Trek novels? Uh, would I?! Just last week I sent in the fifth novel I’ve copyedited in the Trek line. The first one I worked on, John Jackson Miller’s Next Generation novel Takedown, hits the stands any day now.

Then came work-for-hire writing. My former boss at my former day job at Zenith Press, gave me a jingle (well, emailed). Would I be interested in working with Piers Bizony on the 2015 brochure for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex? Uh, get paid to visit KSC and write about it? Mmm, yeah! Then a former coworker from my former day job—yeah, okay, he emailed, let’s just go with that. Would I be interested in writing some science-themed books for kids? Sure, why not? I’m a jack-of-all-trades, bring it.

And my friend Tony Dierckins called (no, really, on the actual phone). Would I like to cowrite his new history book on the Glensheen mansion in Duluth, Minnesota? Sure, buddy, sign me up!

IMG_2489Then things started getting a little wobbly. Some projects came in later than expected. Some projects came in sooner than expected. Deadlines started crashing together. Holiday scheduling at my part-time day job edged closer to full time. In October a couple weeks after getting back from my trip to Florida, I fell asleep at the wheel in broad daylight after the best night of sleep I’d had in weeks. My daughter, my only passenger, yelled at me, but as I woke up I still lost control of the car. We fishtailed wildly across the freeway before sliding off the pavement and rolling over once. That was the end of the car, but we walked away unscathed.

And now it’s 2015. After downgrading from coauthor to copyeditor on the history book and getting some deadline extensions during a scourge of a cold in early January, I was able to make it through the whole tangle of jobs. The schedule at my day job is getting lighter. I’m no longer saying yes to every freelance offer I get. I’m still behind on the podcast I do with my daughter, Generations Geek, but should get that back on track soon enough. I’m finally getting some of my own writing done, which had gotten backburnered to the point of falling off the stovetop during all this other stuff.

So . . . time to just dig back into my own projects. Irons in the fire. Stuff happening. Networking. Hope for some interesting things to happen this year. Be back soon. Yadda yadda yadda.

Parsec

A couple years ago I noticed that a lot of writers, both in general and people I knew personally, were involved in podcasts. I started thinking that perhaps I should have one but wondered what new angle I could come up with. I settled upon the idea of doing a monthly podcast with my equally geeky teenage daughter. She was game for it, and thus Generations Geek was born. (See “The Birth of Generations Geek: A Father/Daughter Nerdcast” back in September 2012.)

Flash forward to the present. Our twenty-third episode, “The War of the War of the Worlds,” has just gone up, and we’re looking forward to wrapping up our second year of podcasting in September with “Sizzler on Comics,” which will feature special guest Alan “Sizzler” Kistler, comic book historian and noted geek about town.

We’re pleased with the show and feel like we’ve found our groove. Our download numbers have been rising, and we’re enjoying ourselves. It was great fun when we were recently interviewed by the fine podcasting peoples from the Skiffy and Fanty Show, which was nominated for a 2014 Hugo Award. Interviewers Shaun Duke and Paul Weimer thought a father/daughter podcast was quite a unique animal. Similarly, when I mentioned doing a podcast with my daughter while I was on an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. panel at CONvergence, we got a spontaneous “Awwwww” from the packed room.

So now comes the latest development: Generations Geek is a finalist in the 2014 Parsec Awards! We were nominated in the category “Best Speculative Fiction Fan or News Podcast (General),” which is a fancy way of saying we talk about all kinds of geeky stuff.

Congrats to all our fellow finalists at the podcasts Geek Radio Daily, PodCulture: Equal Opportunity Geekness, SpecFicMedia.com Presents: Consumption, and Sword & Laser. It’s a cliché because it’s true: it’s an honor just to be included in this group of hard-working geeks.

Parsec Award winners will be announced over Labor Day weekend at the long-running Dragon Con in Atlanta. Wish us luck!

IMG_2016I’m in that weird post-con mood, somewhere between melancholy reminiscence on one hand and the joy of returning to regularly timed meals on the other. CONvergence was a blast of geek power that was both energizing and draining over four days at the DoubleTree Hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just a short drive across the mighty Mississippi River from my lair in St. Paul. My daughter Ella came with, as did a friend of hers who did some mighty cosplay, five costumes in four days: Daryl from The Walking Dead, Peggy Carter from Captain America, Castiel and Dean from Supernatural, and a Hogwarts student from Harry Potter (I forget which house).

My Thursday started with attending the panel “Mainstreaming of Geekdom” on how geek culture has come into the limelight from the fringes of yesteryear. It was an interesting panel, including insightful commentary from panelist Michael R. Underwood. My first panel of the con, “Walking Dead: Comics or TV?” was next. In preparation, I read the comics from the first issue up through the issues corresponding roughly to the first half of the last season. For those who haven’t read the comics, I say “roughly” because the TV adaptation takes some diversions from the source material so it doesn’t line up exactly. The panel compared and contrasted the two versions of the story and made me excited for the upcoming season and reading more of the comics.

After a couple hours wandering around, I attended the panel “Many Faces of Dracula,” which included local horror author Joel Arnold, a friend of mine. The panel discussed many cinematic versions of the famous bloodsucker, including Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, and more. Fun stuff.

Next I was back on stage for a Sherlock panel, focusing on the third season. We talked about what we loved and what we didn’t, touching upon Sherlock’s “return from the dead,” the fate of Moriarty, and the tone of a season that left a lot of fans divided. I left the con for a while to meet up with fellow Trek writer Bill Leisner, who kindly supplied, on consignment, a small box of the ReDeus anthologies (which we had both contributed to) for my signing the next day. After we had a bite to eat, I went back to the con for a bit and was able to drag the kids away from all the fun.

Friday kicked off with my time at the signing table. I shared the table with the super-personable Wesley Chu, who was a great guy to chat with when we weren’t talking with people dropping by the table. I sold just one book, and that was to Joel, but I had fun and did plenty of PR for my new Trek eBook, The More Things Change. Now I’ve got to get Bill’s books back to him.

Following my signing, I wandered around and stumbled into an unscheduled signing by Marina Sirtis, Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I took advantage of the opportunity to give her a signed copy of The Sky’s the Limit, the TNG twentieth-anniversary anthology in which I have a story. I told her my daughter would be furious that I had met her on my own, but Marina told me to bring her back later and she would give Ella a signed photo in trade for the book I’d given her. Cool! Then we all went to Marina’s first talk at the con, a hilarious hour of snark and attitude, and then quickly got in the autograph line so Ella got to meet Marina as well. Marina commented on Ella’s friend’s Peggy Carter cosplay. Marina was laughing and smiling on stage all the time, it seemed, but every time I snapped a photo, she looked so serious, as above.

The rest of Friday night is a blur . . . I attended one panel that never quite came together, and then wandered a bit with the kids before calling it a night.

Saturday was a busy day. I had a panel right away at 9:30 in the morning, “Cartoons You Can Watch With Your Kids.” This was a lot of fun, and one of my fellow panelists was animator Greg Guler, who has worked on, among many other things, Phineas and Ferb, a favorite of ours. He had great insider stories from his years in the business.

I dropped by the signing table when it was Joel’s turn and picked up his novel Northwoods Deep. I got a little something to eat and soon was on my next panel, “The Hobbit: That Wasn’t in the Book!” We talked about the changes Peter Jackson and Co. made in adapting the book into a trilogy of films, including which additional scenes were extrapolated from Tolkien’s writings and which were made up entirely outside canon. This was held in one of the bigger rooms and was well attended. It gave me the perfect opportunity to mention Middle-earth Envisioned: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings On Screen, On Stage, and Beyond, to which I contributed a sidebar. One of my fellow panelists was David Lenander, a Tolkien scholar long active in the Rivendell Group, a local chapter of the Mythopoeic Society.

I had another panel right away, “Agents of SHIELD.” This played to a packed room, there were even people who had to stand in back. We reviewed the first season, its hits and misses, its relation to the Marvel films, and what we hope for in season two. We’d done an episode on this topic for Generations Geek, the podcast I do with Ella, so I felt well prepared, and it seemed to go well, especially with the help of publisher/writer Lee Harris as moderator. He closed the panel by saying, “If you liked this panel, I’m Lee Harris. If you didn’t, I’m Paul Cornell.”

I met up with Joel after that and went to the hotel bar for a burger, fries, and a glass of cabernet. It’s nice to have a sit-down chat with a fellow writer. We then attended a panel, “Cover Art for Your eBook,” which covered a lot of the pitfalls inexperienced self-publishers fall into when they slap together a cover and gave advice on how to do a better job. The panelists included Lee Harris. After that I called it a night.

And then it was Sunday, the last day. I started off with another 9:30 panel, “Your Child & Geekery.” We shared stories on raising geeky kids, and how we approached sharing our love of things geek with our children at various ages. Unfortunately, given the early hour on the last day of the con, the panel was sparsely attended, but it was an interesting talk nevertheless.

Following that, Ella and I were interviewed for the Skiffy and Fanty Show, a geeky podcast that was nominated for a Hugo Award earlier this year. We seemed to talk as though we knew what we were saying, and Shaun Duke and Paul Weimer were fun to talk with. I’ll post on Facebook and Twitter when I find out when our segment will become available.

That’s pretty much it. I got to talk to the eminently personable Emma Bull for a bit in the lobby, though most of her panels were scheduled opposite of mine, so I missed out on a lot of her con presence. I’ve known Emma since the early nineties when I worked at Barnes & Noble and would have her in for signings. I got to say hello to writer Paul Cornell a couple times as he dashed after his toddler in the corridor; I did a Gerry Anderson panel with him at CONvergence 2013. I introduced myself to comic book artist Christopher Jones, I’m happy to say, since I missed all his appearances as well. There’s always so much going on, there’s no way you can see it all. Also had a lovely chat with Carrie Patel, whose first novel, The Buried Life, comes out the end of July from Angry Robot.

All that remains is a shout out to all the panelists I didn’t name above and all the people at CONvergence, which is fan run, for putting on another great con. The kid and I both look forward to next year.

ImageAnd by “we” I mean “me.” June 23 saw the release of my latest Star Trek novella, The More Things Change, an eBook exclusive for Kindle and Nook and such. It’s been four years (!) since my previous Trek book, Honor in the Night in the Myriad Universes: Shattered Light anthology. 

Where Honor in the Night was my Trek version of Citizen Kane, a hundred-year-long story about Nilz Baris and an alternate timeline of the Federation, The More Things Change is a very focused story only covering a few days of adventure for Christine Chapel and Spock. Here’s a synopsis: 

When Dr. Christine Chapel and Spock have to evacuate Audrid Dax from the Enterprise due to a medical emergency, Chapel is frustrated by Trill customs that don’t allow her to treat her patient. Chapel finds herself questioning her long-term plans while also dealing with Spock’s changing personality following his mind meld with V’ger. Soon, however, they have bigger problems when an unidentified vessel ambushes their shuttlecraft. They are forced into a dangerous cat-and-mouse game to evade their attacker long enough to get Dax to the Trill doctors who can save her life. Along the way, Chapel discovers much about herself, Spock, and the secrets of the Trill. 

This was a fun story to write. The Chapel character wasn’t always served that well by the original series, and so the goal behind this story—thanks to the input of my editor, Margaret Clark—was to redeem her, to make her a strong character and define an arc for her that led from the often insecure nurse of the show through becoming a doctor in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and then on to the responsibilities she shoulders after leaving the Enterprise, as glimpsed in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In addition, I got to play with her feelings for Spock, and how her growth through the years would affect her unrequited love for him, and, in turn, how that would be affected by Spock’s own personal changes. 

That’s a lot of character-driven stuff, but it’s held together by the action of the story, as Spock tries to evade the hostile ship that’s pursuing them. I got to write intimate character scenes between Chapel and Spock as well as tense action scenes as they try to stay alive on a damaged shuttle. Plus, a Dax is in the house! I just hope the readers enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

To be completely self-serving, I now quote one of its first readers, Eric Cone, who posted this on Facebook: “If you want a quick, change-of-pace thrill-ride, get the Star Trek: The More Things Change eBook by Scott Pearson. I finished it in about 3 hrs and literally could not put my Nook down. . . . Fast-paced, funny, and highly-entertaining, this one is a real treat.” 

Your mileage may vary, but thanks Eric!    

ImageWhen I decided I wanted to be a writer, back in the miasmal swamps of prehistory, I was writing on an electric typewriter and using a lot of correction tape, Wite-Out, and erasers. Inevitably I did a lot of retyping when a page became too messy for submission. I also borrowed an idea from Ray Bradbury, who used 3×5 index cards to jot down story and title ideas. When he wanted to start something new, he could simply pull a card out of his little file box and let inspiration strike. I’ll pause a moment to let the kids Google “electric typewriter” and “Wite-Out” and “index cards.” There. Yes, we used to use those things. 

It was all very simple. Write story. Look up markets in the Writer’s Market. Affix appropriate postage to envelopes. Mail story. Get rejection slip. Rinse. Repeat. That’s what you did. Writers who paid a fortune to get a box of hardcovers printed by a vanity press were generally suckers who wound up with a lot of extra insulation in their attic. But now we’re in the twenty-first century, and it’s a whole new ballgame. 

Back in the day you really didn’t have to wonder how to be a writer. You just wrote and submitted. Boom. Now you can spend days surfing the net just researching self-publishing, traditional, hybrid, and what to do or not to do to best pursue each of those labels. Plus, buzzwords: platform, online presence, social media. 

A few months ago, as I pursued freelance editorial work, I contacted an online business that’s a perfect example of the new publishing. A collective of freelancers that helps authors get published in both eBook and print formats, providing editorial and design services. I was hoping I might get some editorial work with them. But their response was “Hey, great resumé for both editing and writing . . . but can you produce eBook files?” 

Ouch. Reality punch in the face. These days, you can’t simply be an editor, you also have to do eBook design. You can’t just be a writer, you also have to be a publisher. Agents are also trying to find their way in this new world, and they find themselves working with writers who aren’t interested in traditional publishers, which used to be the whole purpose for an agent. 

Everyone’s trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. It reminds me of Jack Lemmon’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross, the old-school salesman, Shelley “The Machine” Levine, desperate for some good leads to reenergize his sales and keep his job. Writers, editors, agents . . . we’re all looking for some good leads so we can just get back to what we love doing. 

As for me . . . I’m teaching myself a lot more about eBooks. I’ve got software for creating eBook files. I’m looking at my backlist of stories from two angles: what will I self-pub, and what will I continue to pursue traditionally. Long ago I came up with a name for my own imprint and got a simple logo designed (that’s it, there at the top of this post). We’ll see what happens. I’m working on a short collection of humorous vignettes and other silliness that I’ll self-pub when it’s ready. Stay tuned.

ImageMovies about writing often slather too much Hollywood sizzle onto the process to dress it up for the silver screen. The end result is far-removed from the everyday nuts and bolts of pounding away at the keyboard. But one of the movies that gets it right—as unlikely as this may seem at first—is Throw Momma from the Train

The movie has a number of it’s-funny-because-it’s-painfully-true moments that capture a writer’s life. There’s the hilarious writing class, where Billy Crystal’s character has to listen to the stilted work of student writers. Be honest: if you went back and read your first stories, they wouldn’t be that far removed from the clunkfest delivered by the mistakenly self-assured woman reading from her novel. We’ve all been there. 

But the scene that I always mention as the most realistic depiction of a writer in the history of cinema is during the opening credits when Crystal sits down at his typewriter (yes, it was that long ago) and tries to write. He fidgets. He shoots baskets with wads of paper. He gets a cup of tea. He gets a shot to add to his tea. He cleans his desk. He stretches tape across his face, becoming the “phantom of the novel.” In short, everything but actually hitting those keys. We’ve all been there, part two. 

My second favorite true fictional scene is from a different venue, and it’s not about a writer, but it still ties in nicely. On the sitcom Mad About You, Paul Reiser plays a filmmaker. While researching a documentary, he has to watch some classic comedians. His wife, played by Helen Hunt, is increasingly annoyed by his laughter and does not respond well to being told that he’s working. 

Similarly, any how-to on writing will emphasize the need of a writer to read, but how many people think of it as work when a writer is curled up on the couch reading a new sci-fi novel? If some sort of repair guy is reading manuals or a painter is researching new techniques, I think most people recognize that as part of their trade, but not so much when a writer is reading a novel. Like when a filmmaker is watching a movie. 

I do think it’s hard for people on the outside to recognize writing as actual work. It involves too much sitting. And the truth of it is—although the Crystal character was having bad writer’s block during that opening scene—even sitting at the keyboard not typing can be a part of the process, a priming of the pump. So pass me the tape, I’ve got work to do.

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