Come now, all ye critics

Criticism can be a creative’s worst nightmare. Even if you’re aren’t of the creative mindset, you can still relate at some level. There’s a specific kind of hurt reserved for the one who hears his work is garbage; or crap; or downright putrid. That hurts. That hurts right in the “feels”. Yet, criticism is a part of the deal. The unwritten contract every artist / writer / author enters into. Be it knowingly or unknowingly.

I’ve been writing for a while now and I can honestly say that the “early days” of getting critiques were the hardest for me. Before that time, and when I was still under the protective hood of public school, I got patted on the back quite often for my penmanship. “You write well”; “You have great voice”; “You ought to consider doing this for a living someday” – yeah, I heard it all. And believed it too. And why not? It’s great getting noticed for something you enjoy doing. That’s a wonderful feeling. So, when I made the decision to pursue that passion, I found myself struck by a fascinating revelation: not everyone is going to like what you do (shocking news, isn’t it?).

Well, for an aspiring scribe, it can be a major jolt. Ego and all.Critics_Prep

Much later, I was listening in on a writer’s podcast and heard how a lot of writers are only interested in being discovered. They aren’t necessarily interested in getting better. They just want someone to tell them how good they are. Show’em some love. Make’em feel good. And after hearing this, I couldn’t agree more. Because that’s the place I was coming from. By now, I realize there are plenty of talented writers out there. I know this to be a fact. But, are they willing to do the work to get better? That’s the real question. And part of that “getting better” process is learning how to take criticism.

This trade off, this price to be paid if you ever intend to get paid, can make or break the deal. And what’s more, not everyone’s creative pace is the same. Last year, I bumped into a woman at a writer’s convention who told me she’d spent 11 years finishing her first book. Eleven years. I couldn’t even imagine. By comparison, it took me a year and a half to finally release The Road to Mars and that felt like an eternity! Yet, in hearing her story, it made see another grim truth: spending too much time in creating can keep you from ever finishing what you started. Which, in turn, can make a person dread the day a fair critique comes along. The payoff may never come. And that’s a pretty damn scary thing to think about.

But, I know myself. And I know that I’d rather get a fair critique than an empty pat on the back. That’s the greatest service any writer can get. Well, aside from a few purchases. That’s always cool too.

 

 

Are You Not Convinced?

It’s been said that you can have a great idea, but if your execution is bad, then your idea is sunk. Or rather, it’s worth less than nothing. Writing survives on the passing of ideas. From one person to another. So on and so forth. Which is what brings any writer – such as myself – to that unholy place of conundrum: is my idea good? Can it be passed around like a hot potato, yet leave people wanting that potato to come back around again?

Mars_GuyObviously, my own answer to that question is yes. Of course, I think my idea is good. Of course, I think my book is good. That’s why I wrote it. But, the big question remains: who else will think it’s good? Who else is going to like what I did? And who else will like how I did it? That’s the pertinent question. The purpose of this post, really. Who can I convince that my idea is good and do it well?

The Road to Mars was an ambitious work for me – at 372 pages, that’s pretty darn ambitious – so I took a lot of time trying to make it look and “sound” attractive. That means analyzing and editing. Writing and rewriting paragraphs. Reading and re-reading. It was a process that made me evaluate not only my writing style, but my idea itself. Was it cool enough? Did the world I invented suspend disbelief or was it just flat out unbelievable? It may sound maddening – especially after 372 pages in – but it was actually quite sobering. It forced me to reaffirm my earliest convictions: that yes, I think I had a good idea. And that yes, I needed to present it well, too (unlike the guy in this picture).

So, about that story of mine….

The Book’s Out! Now About Those Expectations….

Sure, I’ve released books in the past. And yes, I’ve told people about it. And yes, I’ve worked hard to tell those people to tell even more people about my book. That’s all well and good. But, that doesn’t change what comes next – the expectations. I have expectations for my work just like anyone would. The only difference now is that I’m a little older, a little wiser, and a little better prepared. For instance…

If you self-publish, don’t expect to quit your day job. Not right away anyway. It’s probably one of the biggest myths about self-publishing. Ask anyone in the publishing industry and they’ll tell you the same: don’t quit your day job. Not until you can financially provide for yourself. Or in my case, for a familOne Does Not Simplyy. A lot of folks get into publishing and think they’ll sell books like Stephen King. Well, you may be able to write great thrillers like Mr. King, but does anyone actually know you? Do you have a dedicated base of ready-and-waiting readers? These are questions you need to ask yourself before you hand in that two-week notice. Pay the bills first. Then, ride off into the sunset with book in hand.

Get the word out. I laugh when I think of how my first book release went down. My book went to the market and after it did, I think I checked my sales rank on Amazon about twice every 15-30 minutes. Up I’d go, then I’d be down again. Up, then down, up, then down… you get the picture. It was maddening. But then again, I was totally new to this publishing thing. And remarkably impatient. So there were some lessons to be learned before I could call myself a true “author.” Namely, I had to be more conscious of marketing myself. Do I have a Facebook page now? Yep. Twitter? That too. A blog to talk about this stuff? Self-explanatory. And lastly (and perhaps most important of all) was I reaching out beyond my own social circles? Or was I content getting a thumbs up from my aunts and uncles? Well, that’s another item I can check off these days. Guest blogging, for instance, is something I’ve been fortunate to do as of late (you can check’em out here and here for the latest). So I’m becoming less and less afraid of telling people about what I do. Because in the early going, the books just won’t sell themselves.

road-to-mars-cover-6x9-bleedThe Road to Mars is a fictional novel, not a non-fiction or a short story. My first two books were non-fiction works. And in addition to that, they were satirical in approach and delivery. That’s a stark contrast to what I’ve done recently. But in order to make that transition possible, I started a little project where I’d try to write a short story every month. I tentatively called it #12Months12Books and I did this for much of 2014 and 2015. It was probably one of the most difficult – and asinine – things I’ve ever taken upon myself to accomplish. Not only was I under the delusion that I could write a short story every month, I also thought I could polish, edit, and release said short story in a timely fashion (without staying up all night wondering if I’d done right). In hindsight, that was a really difficult undertaking. But, I got through it. Till about June. Which is where reality sank in and I had to stop. But as always, there’s something to learn from the experience. Namely, writing short stories are like writing miniature novels. They force a storyteller to break down the mechanics of storytelling as a whole. Character, plot, setting, motivations – the works. All of these elements have to be trimmed down so that when you’re ready for the “big leagues”, you can have something to work with.

Reviews, reviews…and hey, more reviews. If there’s one thing an artist appreciates, it’s feedback. Whether it’s showering praise or having tomatoes being flung (does anyone still do that?), the result is the same: it’s a response. A reaction. An opinion to what the author has put out there for the enjoyment – or disenchantment – of his audience. Which is why I am humbly asking any and all who read my book, to please review my book too. Five stars? Four stars? No stars? Well, I suppose that’s up to you to decide if it deserves a “zero” rating. In which case, I might offer an apology. Or cry for a while. I just won’t write about that part if it happens.

The Road to Mars is out and only available on Amazon so by all means, check it out if you haven’t already! Have a great weekend, folks.

 

 

 

Okay, It’s Here! #TheRoadToMars

Enough with the hype already! My book is available. And you can check it out here. Or by clicking on the picture. road-to-mars-cover-6x9-bleed

First off, what a process this has been! Lots of learning and lots of time I didn’t foresee having to work through, but hey, I won’t bore anybody with those details. That’s probably best served for another day. Or maybe never. Either way, the wait is finally over.

And as a special bonus – yes, a bonus – I have included the first few pages of the sequel, The Shadow of Mars, at the end. So, if you’re like me and love to spoil the endings of things, you may feel free to skip ahead. And thus, spoil some of The Road to Mars. But hey, that’s your call!

Happy reading, folks. And don’t forget to comment and leave me notes telling me how much you love (or hate) the story. I appreciate it!

And another big thank you to my friend, Immanuel Mullen, for designing the cover and back. Thanks again!

 

 

A Year’s Worth of Persistence

Last year – around this time – I was writing about persistence. And how important persistence would be in the coming year.

Self-fulfilling prophecy or not, this year has been exactly that: a major test in persistence.

For starters, 2015 been the most difficult year for me, personally, than any other year I can remember. 2015 challenged every aspect of me, my character, and goals I set for myself and my family. As proud and excited as I was to become a father (I think I was literally leaking joy for a while) I felt the burden of fatherhood rushing upon me. My son was born in June so from January till day of birth, my mind was set on all things fatherly: reading books, getting advice from parents, reading books advised by parents, and making space for my son’s arrival. These these were the things I had to do. These were the things I felt compelled to do.

But even after many moons of prep, I found myself feeling no more prepared than the day before.

Truthfully, there is little you can do to prepare for parenthood. It is simply an experience like no other. Reading a book about middle-of-the-night crying is wholly different than experiencing middle-of-the-night crying. I found myself sympathizing with so many parents who appear to be at their wit’s end, especially when they are out in public. Thankfully, our little guy hasn’t had too many meltdowns. So we’ve been blessed in that regard. However, that’s not to say it hasn’t happened at home. And when it happens at home, you still have to operate within the notion that somebody – someone – is watching you.

Parenthood, despite what any sitcom or cheesy commercial may play it up to be, is a gloriously, amazing challenge. It tests more than just patience; it tests resolve and selfishness. As a writer, I need time to think and be alone in my thoughts. I need space to breathe for my mind. But, when you have a baby, that time becomes extremely limited. And no, this is not a moment to complain. Or to promote not having children – no, I am merely stating how much my own life had to be readjusted for the sake of my son. No longer can I come home and dig into a new book or head off to Starbucks for some therapeutic journaling. No, my responsibilities now lie with the little life I helped create. Throw in the fact that my wife and I have been married for little more than a year and you have an even greater recipe for learning how to serve someone other than one’s self. Talk about being humbled!

So parenthood was the biggest adjustment. But, there were other twists and turns I did not expect in this year of persistence: new work. New books. New friendships (and the parting of old ones). And perhaps, most unexpectedly, the doubt.

Doubt is truly one of the human experience’s biggest enemies. To a writer, it’s paralyzing. It’s immobilizing. It makes you feel like you’re the only one going through the aches and pains of a failed draft. And another failed draft. And another. And no matter how many uplifting essays you read. No matter how many email lists you find yourself a member of; or fortune cookies with inspirational messages you find – none of these things do much for learning to deal with doubt.

Like a first time parent experiencing middle-of-the-night crying, learning to overcome doubt is simply something you have go through.

And it’s something I look forward to crushing further in 2016.

See you all in the new year.

#TheRoadToMars – a little info to chew on

So now that the word is out, it’d probably a good idea to give some details on my new book. That being said, here goes. The title itself, The Road to Mars, comes from a concept I had about four years ago. Back when I was still exploring the notion of getting published (wow, that was a while ago!). The story was meant to be a post-apocalyptic tale, but with a twist. The twist being that I wasn’t attempting to write about zombies, a killer outbreak, or a killer outbreak which causes the zombies. Rather, I wanted a post-apocalyptic tale where all the light is slowly being “eaten.” Hence, that’s where the Pulse came into play.

As you can read on the back cover, I give a hint as to what the “Pulse” truly is. And what’s causing it. In my story, Mars has already been colonized and has slowly formed itself into a quasi-utopian society. By the time The Road to Mars is underway, Mars has eclipsed the Earth in technology, wealth, and overall human welfare. There are no murders. There is only prosperity. And there is peace. 

Naturally, Mars’ leaders – being the visionaries and proud people they are – decide it would be a good idea to share with the Earth what’s made them so powerful. And of course, this is where everything goes haywire. Or should I say, “explodes in their faces.”

I’ll leave the rest of the explanation for the faithful who will be reading it. I’d prefer not to give away too much on the topic. Just rest assured that this particular backstory will be delved into with greater detail.

Be back with (a little) more at a later date. Till then, enjoy the weekend!

So…about that announcement.

Yesterday, I shared why I’ve been MIA for a few weeks. The month of November was not kind to me. From a health perspective, that is. Nor was it kind to my 5-month old son and my wife. Again, from a health perspective. However, I had to endure it the longest. And I’d rather be the one who’s sick than my wife or son (moms aren’t allowed to TheRoadToMars_Coverget sick, right?).

Anyway, I said I had an announcement coming and guess what – I do. It’s pretty darn exciting. But, it’s also incredibly nerve racking. You see, I was MIA for the past month, but I’ve also been MIA from publication for about the last six. Or rather, I’ve been absent from anything more than a shorty story for more than a year.

The reason being, I’ve been steadily working towards my first full-scale novel. Called The Road to Mars, it’s a science fiction work and something I’ve had on my mind and my heart for a long time. It’s equally exciting due to a lot of the press Mars has been getting lately (what timing, eh?). So after more than a year of working / reworking / throwing it out / starting over / convincing-myself-I’m-not-crazy, I can finally say it’s done. And here’s a quick glimpse of the cover (thanks in part to my good friend, Immanuel Mullen). 

The release date is TBD as I’m not ready to “go live” with it just yet. However, I didn’t want to sit and not share the news either. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be giving away more tidbits about the book and what to expect – and when to expect it.

Until then, here’s the cover.

Month of Sickness

So, this post is mainly to serve as a reminder that I’m still alive. This past month I was hit with a monster sickness. I’ll spare everyone the details. Just know that it was enough to keep me from sleeping. And created a mountain of Kleenex high enough to see from bed level height.

But hey, I’m not here to complain. I have some good news coming. On the 1st of December. So until then, stay healthy.

And see you all soon.

Imagining Reality…Or Realizing the Imaginary?

Often, Hollywood (or some literary mastermind) comes up with something interesting. An idea. A concept that screams, “Hey, we could be experiencing this someday.” In my last post, I talked about our cosmic neighbor, Mars, and how we found some water there. Again, that was big news. But, to anyone who has been reading science fiction for the past 100 years, it should have come as no surprise. Or rather, it was to be expected. Or maybe it was exciting / expected / holy-cow-those-sci-fi-nuts-were-right? Well, either way, I felt the need to look into it further.

Early 20th century writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (author of Tarzan), wrote a series of books about a character named, “John Carter.” You may recognize the name as it was made into a film a few years ago. Unfortunately, John Carter was not the mega-hit Disney had hoped for (I still liked it and am hoping for a follow up, personally). However, that’s not as important as this: Carter’s tale takes place on Mars. A Mars in which the author, Burroughs, imagined to be devoid of toxic wasteland and instead, be flowing with – hey, you guessed it – water. Now, was Burroughs taking secret trips back and forth to Mars? Discerning there was salt water on the red planet? No, that’s insane. But, he did have the creative sense to think outside the box. He imagined it. And he went for it. Turns out, that presumption was correct.

As for all the green aliens and people with red skin walking around? Yeah, that wasn’t exactly spot on. But, hey, that water though….

Sometimes, like in Mr. Burroughs’ case, imagination meets reality on a collision course. I recently finished reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender series and made another interesting discovery. One of Card’s main characters is a computer program named, “Jane.” Doesn’t sound groundbreaking to have a computer program with a female name, but here’s the deal: “Jane” speaks via a device implanted in one’s ear. Sound familiar? Yeah, it sounds like a bluetooth device. And Siri, too. But again, Card’s books were written before we took bluetooths seriously. Or had Siri answering questions like, “Do you love me?”

Now, does sci-fi always get it right? No, not exactly. I’m sure there are plenty examples out there. And I’m sure we could name them. But, point is: sometimes our imaginations point to what could be. While in other cases, our imagination exceeds anything we could possibly do. At least for now anyway. The Star Wars franchise is synonymous with hyper drives and lightspeed travel. Can it be done? Well, the answer is unequivocally, undeniably….maybe?

Perhaps my kids will see it. Or their kids will. At which point, I’m fine with that generation having a go at it. I’ll be happy watching from the sidelines.

 

Mars and Science Fiction

Wow. It’s been a while. Let’s get right to it.

Being a sci-fi enthusiast, I found myself anxiously awaiting NASA’s big Mars announcement this week. I mean, come on, we’re talking about Martians here. Did we find’em? They out there? Every book that’s ever been written about the red planet would be turned on its head if so. But, as we know, that wasn’t the big news NASA had for us. Make no mistake though, what we got was still big news: flowing salt water. Water. Flowing freely. That’s pretty cool, right? I mean, water is a precursor for life. And though there are slim chances of a Mars shark or a Mars dolphin swimming about the water highways of Mars, there’s always that slim chance something with a heartbeat could be on the red planet. Right?

Or as so many science fiction minds have imagined in the past: absolutely. 

From a literary perspective, Mars has been a source of inspiration for more than a handful of stories over the years. Perhaps most well-known is H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds; one of modern literature’s first attempts at the alien invasion genreFirst published in 1898 (hard to imagine), Wells’ classic detailed a battle between Earth and Mars’ inhabitants, the technologically advanced “Martians.” The book was received well and consequently influenced several other science fiction writers. Most notably, perhaps, was Edgar Rice Burroughs; the man behind the John Carter series, who wrote a series of books on Mars and his fictional race of people who lived there.

But, that’s not all we got from Mars over the years.

There was the trippy and engaging film, Total Recall, that took us to a Mars where people were trying to make the air on Mars “breathable.” Oh, and there’s mutant people in it, too. Then there was Mission to Mars, a film that tried to explain the theories of the universe through the eyes of highly intelligent alien life form (I guess that’s like having mutant people?). And there was the unfortunate box office flop, Red Planet, that tried to convince us of Martian “nematodes” that eat people. No mutants, just yikes. And for the less-than-serious takers, there was the satirical Mars Attacks! A film made to intentionally mock old school alien invasion movies while poking fun at its cast throughout. Jack Nicholson is in it. Pierce Brosnan is in it. Natalie Portman is in it. And so is… well, that’s all you need to know. Mars has been host to more than a few stories where alien life is bent on our destruction. And naturally, the general public loves it. Even if it’s coming from brother Mars.

But, what about now? Does the discovery of flowing water change much? I’d be reluctant to say that it hasn’t. If nothing else, it’s provided even more inspiration for us Earthen folk. And with Matt Damon’s The Martian coming out this year, it seems like the timing couldn’t have been better. We may not be dreaming of terrifying tentacles or tripods with ray guns (well, not as much) but we do have that much more to work with. Ice miners on Mars? Rivers filled with Martian fish?

As I said earlier, I’m eager to see what’s next.