If it’s true that we rise by lifting others, then I want to make sure I’m doing my part. Two artists caught my eye this week – Hobo Johnson and Jacek Pilarski – both independent makers doing amazing work in their particular genre.
Jacek Pilarski is a matte and VFX artist. He makes wonderfully realistic paintings of fantastic locations. I was particularly drawn in by his London 2033 painting:
You’ll probably dig some of his concept art, as well. Continue reading
I’m in that low period of creation. Everything seems wrong. Nothing seems right. Every instinct I have about writing, storytelling is being put to the test as I edit Mesh.
Googling for inspiration, I ran across this quote by Guy Kawasaki. He was the original marketer for Mac back in the eighties and he’s been behind several monolithic Silicon Valley inspirations since then.
I respect his story because like him, my journey is a series of efforts in pursuit of a larger goal. Will Mesh be the book I want it to be? Will it find the readers I want it to find? I have no idea. I do know that I have to try and so until my destiny arrives, I have to keep grinding.
I hope you have found something worth grinding out, too.
Now you can build your own Upside Down, thanks to IKEA! Some assembly required …
Welcome to March. Here’s another free wallpaper – this one’s been sized to work with your favorite mobile device. Been working on this one a while. I’ll see a free picture on Unsplash and reimagine it in a sci-fi context.
|I started out with this picture:
||and now it looks like this:
From the very beginning – the boy looked like he was getting abducted by aliens or something – so I ran with that idea. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it. Welcome to March, 2018.
I was about three chapters into ‘Ready Player One’ when it hit me: Ernie Cline is the Dave Grohl of authors. As in, I love the guy, but I’m not a fan of his work. Logical dichotomies invited my geek-auteur brain to divide by zero. Thankfully, Reddit was there to help me out. I created a thread on /r/writing to talk about it. This is about everything that happened next.
Before I say anything else, let me say this: I love Ernie Cline. Been a fan of his since 2002 or so, when I fell in love with his spoken-word performances about dorky topics. Cline has a brilliant knack for tapping into nerdly zeitgeist into a Robin Williams-style stream of consciousness. You can’t help but respect that.
It should be no surprise then, that I’m happy for him and the success of Ready Player One. Seriously, isn’t that every author’s dream? Your debut novel turns into a Spielberg project. Who wouldn’t love to trade places with Ernie Cline for a day, to experience that level of ‘you’ve arrived,’ in your life?
“But you said you didn’t like Ready Player One,” you might be saying. Yes, that’s true … but that’s not the point. As one Redditor put it: “as a writer myself I know how much easier it is to trash a book than to write one. Completing a novel is a huge accomplishment.” So make no mistake: this post isn’t about trashing Ready Player One (RPO). This is about what RPO’s success can teach us. Continue reading
Wait, don’t run off yet. Hear me out: this is something you need to know.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I won’t be liking your Facebook page. Like you, I get three or four requests per week, authors and other creative people asking me to Like their Facebook page. I love my online friends, but I ignore the requests, and I go through a little guilt-trip every single time.
It’s nothing personal. In fact, it’s the culmination of a decision based on years of being a social media manager before starting over as a writer:
Facebook is the Worst Social Media Platform for Authors, Ever
No, seriously. Facebook sucks if you’re an author. Don’t take my word for it: Look at all the numbers. Even if people weren’t actively going elsewhere for their social media, you’re never going to get anywhere if you use Facebook to find new readers. People are getting tired of Facebook and it shows. Even social media marketers actively debate the efficacy of Facebook promotions.
“But I’ve figured out how to get more likes,” you’ll say. Really? Do you plan to be more successful than George Takei? Even Mr. Sulu took to the screen to slam FB’s policies of pay-to-see. Just because they Like your page doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually get shown on their feeds. It’s a bottomless pit and I don’t feel good about participating in that charade any more.
That’s not to say that Facebook doesn’t have its uses. Heck, I want to engage with other creative people on a professional level; Facebook is still useful for that. But as far as marketing myself, my books, or my new projects, Facebook is useless.
So, it’s nothing personal. I just don’t use Facebook that way. Don’t ask me to waste your time, because I won’t do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Blade Runner 2049. However, I can’t ignore the wisdom of Rutger Hauer on display in this Hollywood Reporter interview posted a couple of days ago. Even though he hated BR2049, he put a finger on why reboots and sequels aren’t working for me anymore. While everyone seems to agree that the recent trend of sequel reboots and franchises are killing original sci-fi, it really boils down to this:
Don’t lean with one elbow on the success that was earned over 30 years in the underground.
You know something? He’s absolutely right. Sequels and reboots are absolutely leaning with one elbow on other successes. I know we’re all locked into the mad gauntlet between art and commerce, but flawless execution can only take us so far. Ultimately, we’re looking for stories and ideas that take them to other places. We can only go back to that sequel/reboot well so many times.
What if you like a reboot? Or a sequel? Nothing wrong with that. Some of them are pretty good, and that’s ultimately what I’m looking for and maybe you are, too. Rutger Hauer is simply suggesting we have room in our rodeo for more than one-trick ponies, and I happen to agree.
Bookstores are my lifeblood, both as a reader and as an author. Their survival, therefore, is something I’m keenly interested in and that’s why I found this post on Reddit to be particularly interesting: How Barnes & Noble is killing itself, partially quoted here to save you a click:
“Zero sympathy for sitting on their laurels and refusing to innovate for a decade. Now it’s too late. I only have sympathy for the workers, it’s terrible for them.
But B&N has a horrendously lazy business model. They stopped innovating after adding coffee and their tablet (both great ideas).
But off the top of my head:
Where is there official YouTube channel? Where’s the podcast? They have enough clout to do long form interviews with any author in the world. But they didn’t. Where’s their free online workshops for aspiring writers? Nowhere.
Why didn’t they attempt to have their own knock-off awards ceremony for writers? Best debut novels and all that. They don’t even need to have a ceremony, just a letter in the mail and the books in a curated space in the store. Do you know how many authors would kill for the tiniest amount of recognition and publicity?”
The post has more detail and it’s an interesting breakdown so I encourage you to look into it if you’re interested in the business of bookselling.
The key takeaway is that bookstores are a business, and need to turn a profit to survive. Book stores (and authors!) must continue to innovate their craft to meet the changing needs and interest of their readers. Blaming Amazon is lazy, and also patently untrue. Barnes & Noble has only itself to blame for its success or lack thereof.
I wanted to wait a few days to simmer on Charlie Stross’ ‘Why I barely read SF these days’ blog post. He makes some solid points as to it’s hard to write good science fiction and I encourage anyone who’s trying to create their own sci-fi universe to take note. That said, I wanted to respond to it because my first thought about his post was ‘Is it still okay to write sci-fi, if this is how people feel about it?’
I thought about that for a long time, and then something occurred to me that set my mind at ease. I’m passing it along in case you had the same question:
It’s okay if Charlie Stross doesn’t like my stories. I’m not writing them for him.
Let’s face it: Charlie Stross is an immensely talented author and writer, but he isn’t my ideal reader (see this blog post for more info on who an ‘ideal reader’ is). My idea readers are boys and girls ages 11-13, of various ethnic and economic backgrounds. I remember many happy hours at that age, discovering new worlds and ideas. When I started to write Mesh, I wanted to write a book that kids could enjoy in the same way.
Not everyone will enjoy Mesh, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t expect Mr. Stross to enjoy my reading, just like I wouldn’t expect a child to enjoy ‘The Laundry Files.’ As ambitious as it would be to say ‘I want to write a story for every sci-fi fan,’ that’s silly. That’s saying ‘I want to be the Budweiser of sci-fi’ and we can all imagine how bland a story that might be.
That isn’t to say that his advice isn’t useful for us. Stross gave me a great way to look at world-building in sci-fi and I plan to take it with me as I continue to edit Mesh: “Worldbuilding is like underwear: it needs to be there, but it shouldn’t be on display.” You may find gems of your own that help you develop your storytelling craft and I hope that you do.
Another gem to pass along is the idea behind the picture to the right (->): don’t write for yourself, unless you plan to be the only one that reads it. 99% of storytelling’s fun comes when your words translate into a picture in someone else’s head. Don’t rob yourself of that. Tell stories that others can relate to.
In closing, take Charlie Stross’ essay with as many grains of salt as you need, and then move on. Nobody gatekeeps your awesomeness, except you.
Sometimes you run into an artist who is so good that it makes you question why you’re bothering to make your stuff at all. For me, I had one of those moments when I saw Paul Chadeisson’s work over at Artstation. His work is so detailed and evocative, that it reminds me a lot of Simon Stålenhag, another favorite sci-fi artist.
Artistic envy is nothing new. It’s good sometimes to look out there, beyond your horizon, to see what other people are doing. It reminds you to focus on delivering your best, while constantly refining what your best can be.
And then you get back to work.