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Virtual Workshop: Principles of Storytelling

Like many others, I had an event canceled due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19.  It was to be a workshop at a local library on writing, intended for teens involved in the library’s summer reading program.  In lieu of an in-person event, I produced a video instead, which the library shared on their Facebook page, and which I’ve embedded below.

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What Musical Tension Teaches Us about Storytelling

Like many other creatives during the age of physical distancing and semi-quarantine, I’ve been dabbling in a smattering of creative hobbies.  Among these is music – I have a couple of guitars, but it had been a while since picking up one.  Along the way, I also grabbed a book from Kindle Unlimited on music theory (Music Theory: From Absolute Beginner to Expert by Nicolas Carter) .  Lo and behold, in between all of the stuff about the chromatic scale, extended cords, and diatonic modes was an unexpected connection to storytelling:

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Reading Blog: June Edition

Summer reading time!

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so this won’t be a perfectly sequential account.  Instead, I’m going to give you some of my favorite books that I’ve read so far this year (by and large not new releases, but whatever), including a couple that I’m reading right now.  One of my goals for this year has been to read more broadly, including non-fiction, and I’ve tried to reflect that here.  But don’t worry, there’s still something for my fellow sci-fi and fantasy nerds.

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Quarantine Story Time

Lots of people are posting Coronavirus thought pieces.  This is not that.  Far from being a post on politics and infectious diseases, I felt motivated to write about the wonderful things you can do with the extra time we have during self-isolation – even if the reasons for it suck.

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Goals for 2020

It is a sad truth that 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by March.  So in the spirit of being contrary I am here to sprinkle some fairy dust on my resolutions, assign them the rather blase moniker “goals” and commence in defiance of statistics.  I never liked that statistics class in college anyway.

Goal #1: Finish Four Projects in Limbo

I aim to finish four projects this year that are in various stages.  The first, a new science fiction project, is about halfway through its third draft, but was first written in 2015.  Another is the long-awaited sequel to A Gray Crusade.  Others I am choosing to keep hidden for now, but all four of these I hope to have “editor-ready” by the end of the year.  This does not mean that all of these will be published this year, of course, but it *does* mean that they will be ready as soon as the resources and appropriate plans are in place.

Goal #2: Read 52 Books

This is, by my estimation, a rather modest reading goal.  50 books is a pretty comfortable annual reading goal for me, but I’m sad to say that I didn’t hit it in 2019.  There are a few reasons for this, one being that my work life was much busier than I’ve been accustomed to.  But after some adjustments in my schedule, I think that a book a week is perfectly reasonable, especially considering the fact that I’ve had a head start in finishing three “currently reading” books in the first three days of January.  I’ve always said that avid writers are also avid readers, and it’s time to put my time where my mouth is – often a more challenging and important prospect than mere dollars and cents.

Goal #3: Launch a Kickstarter Campaign for Captain Liam

The aforementioned first project that I intend to finish this year is tentatively titled “Captian Liam and the Three-Eyed Space Pirate.”  This was originally a NaNoWriMo project, and has gone through a heavy editing phase since November, which I hope to put a bow on by the end of February.  At that point, I hope to try something I have not yet tried – Kickstarter – which could help me to gain the resources needed to put a real marketing plan behind the book.  And while, yes, I did just say that time is often more important than dollars and cents, Facebook and Google sadly do not allow bartering as a method of payment (but if you’re a cover artist who will design for eggs, then let me know and I’ll pick up some chickens and a coop-building book).  Because I want to do this properly, there are a few pieces that still need to be in place before I can truly launch a crowdfunding campaign the right way.  But I’m putting this here as a goal because this is always something I’ve said is a good idea, and even said I should do, but never have actually gotten done.  2020 is the year.

Goal #4: Appear at Three In-Person Events

Local author events were at one time one of my favorite parts of being an author.  In the past couple of years, I have sought out less of those opportunities.  The reasons for this are myriad, but a lot of it has to do with time and becoming more plugged in to my day job.  This is not something I regret in itself, but I do regret that I allowed an outgrowth of that to be a reduction in these in-person author events.  So in 2020, I want to carve out the time to become more involved in the local author community in Greater Lafayette, Indiana, and to discover more opportunities to partner with local bookstores, coffee shops, and the like.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even migrate out of Tippecanoe County.

 

And that’s that!  If you’d like to follow along as I tackle these goals, you can join my newsletter (and get a free ebook while you’re at it).  Have a good year!

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Joker, Ellen, and Civility

Todd Phillips’ Joker film is exactly what genre critics say these films never can be.  It’s a character-focused drama that sinks its teeth into meaty themes like mental illness, abuse, isolation, and the relation of all of those to violence.  It certainly evokes Scorcese (who was once speculated to direct, and even made some visits to the set), and is perhaps not as original as I’m apt to give it credit for.  But that said, it still exhibits something I think is really important: Phillips has used a character from a big-budget popcorn franchise to ask serious questions about how people become violent.  And I think he’s right on the money.
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A Reading Diary Entry or, The Importance of Community

I don’t have a particular philosophy for how I pick my reading list. I start with the very vaguest of plans, and frequently indulge in impulses. And yet, at times, certain patterns emerge anyway.

As the title suggests, I’ve been thinking a lot about community. There are reasons for this in my private life, but in terms of my media consumption, it starts with Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant. I had little context for Grant himself, other than knowing his prestige as a general, and I’ve been quite surprised. It turns out he wasn’t always confident and self-assured. In fact, prior to the civil war, he was frequently assailed by bouts of loneliness and depression. Mostly bereft of close friends other than his wife, Grant’s struggles with alcohol were much pronounced when lonely, something I suspect many (though not all) of those with the same struggle would identify with.

Next came a new release by Senator Ben Sasse, Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal, which I picked up impulsively from a display at my local library. In it, Sasse argues that we’re so angry because we’re so disconnected from a sense of shared community, especially locally, and people who disagree with me become an avatar on a screen instead of Jake from PTA meetings. “In the midst of extraordinary prosperity,” he says, “we’re also living through a crisis. Our communities are collapsing, and people are feeling more isolated, adrift, and purposeless than ever before.”

Isolation.  Purposelessness.

Then most unexpectedly, when reading the science fiction graphic novel Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan (mostly well known as the writer of Saga), I came across this theme again, although it’s admittedly not the foremost theme of the story.  Amidst some crazy timey-wimey scifi stuff (because, you know, spoilers), a character says her only regret is being too afraid of the “coolness” of other girls to form friendships with them.  Loneliness, it turns out, is the behind some regrets, as well as depression and alcohol addiction.

I don’t necessarily have a “so what,” except to say that loneliness and the need for community are experiences central to being human, which is why we find them across genres.  Biography, quasi-politica nonfiction, and sci-fi graphic novel casts quite the spread. But good stories speak to the human experience, even if the genre window-dressing varies.

Other stuff I’m consuming:

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (excellent!), Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesteron (quite good), and of course, the return of the Attack on Titan anime.

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An Exalted Depravity Now on Kindle Unlimited!

I’m proud to announce that my most recent novel, An Exalted Depravity (2016, but hey, more recent than my other books) is now available on Kindle Unlimited!  So if you’re a subscriber to KU, go ahead and download it now!  It’s probably the project I’m most passionate about, a sort of YA take on A Brave New World that asks what the cost of living an openly chaste life in a depraved society looks like.  Grab it now, and be sure to leave an honest review with your thoughts afterward!

 

 

 

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Upcoming Events

I bet you thought authors only existed in Stephen King’s mansion and the basements of parents, right?  Well, that would be wrong!  I’m venturing out into the public eye for a couple of upcoming events.

Local Author Fair

Tippecanoe County Public Library | 4/14/2018

For the third year running, I will appear at the Tippecanoe County Public Library’s Local Author Fair in Lafayette, IN.  I’ll have discounted (and signed!) paperbacks available for purchase, and I’ll also be giving a presentation entitled, “Why Do We Love Superheroes?”  This is an event I look forward to every year, and this year is no exception.  I hope to see you there!

 

Writing Workshop

Orleans Public Library | 6/8/2018 (tentative)

It turns out that more people from my hometown than just my grandma want to meet me.  I’ll be returning to the Orleans Public Library in Orleans, IN to do a writing workshop (primarily aimed at teens).  Join us to hear some of my favorite writing tips and tricks to help you finish that ever-elusive first draft.

 

I may add more events here in the future, so be sure to check back.

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2018 New Year’s Resolutions

Editor’s Note: Yes, I know this is ridiculously late.  But I finished writing the wretched thing so I’m posting it, cool?  Cool.

People are infamously flaky about New Year’s Resolutions.  If your gym membership card is already gathering dust, then you know what I mean.  Here’s to a fat and ice cream-filled year, eh?

But because I’m apparently a masochist who anticipates disappointment with bated breath, I made New Year’s Resolutions anyway.  I have based my instruments of torture off of the “SMART” goals formula, which I hear was penned by the angel Gabriel before his promotion:

S pecific
M easurable
A chievable
R ealistic
T imely

At first, I thought it might be best to give my characters resolutions, and then celebrate when they met their goals in imagined scenarios.  But Eli has a nasty stink-eye, so here are my real-life authorly resolutions for 2018:

1. Read 50 Books

This one always eludes me.  2018 is the third consecutive year I have set this goal, and I’ve yet to get closer than 36.  But because I’m not insane, I’m slightly changing my approach, and aiming for a book a week, which allows me to plan out how many pages I need to get through each day.  This has already made a big difference – I read five books in January.  And already, the habit of reading so much more is teaching me a lot about story – which will hopefully produce a slew of blog material.

2. Spend No More than 30 Minutes/Day on Social Media

Aside from the fact that I don’t want a cyborg Arnie to hunt down everyone named “John” in my friends list, there are many reasons to cut down on social media time.  For one, some of that time (like, theoretically speaking, when one is on the John) can be spent reading ebooks.  But also, there’s a point of diminishing returns with social media, where instead of engaging with friends and groups in meaningful ways, I’m mindlessly scrolling.  Kind of like that five-year-old addicted to the iPad on the poster of every media alarmist documentary ever.

3. Finish Two Novel First Drafts

Before you ask, yes, one of these will be the third book in the Rogue series.  The second project I have planned is an epic fantasy novel about Draconians (sometimes called “dragonborn,” not in the Skyrim sense, but in the Dungeons & Dragons sense).  I’ve written enough books to know that my first drafts tend to be around 50k – 60k words, so this allows me to plan ahead what I need to get done each month.

4. From a Twice Weekly Exercise Habit (by March)

Speaking of flaky and torturous resolutions, here’s our obligatory exercise goal!  But in all seriousness, writing is a sedimentary lifestyle.  Even though I’m not yet a full-time author, my day job has me strapped to a desk as well.  And as a bonus, exercise allows me to get more reading time in via audiobooks, and the happy hormones it releases helps motivate me to get things done.  Things like writing.

5. Watch 10 Foreign Films & 10 Silent Films

I can just image in the foamy-mouthed “MOVIES ARE EVIL BOOKS ARE ANGELIC” responses being lobbed at saliva-splattered screens.  But film, like literature, is a story-telling medium.  It has something to teachw riters about the mechanics of story, especially foreign and silent films, which will force me out of my 21st century blockbuster box.  This is the same reason writers should read classics, but different artforms can spread a storyteller’s wingspan as well.

And just like that, I have been sentenced.  What say you?  Do you have story- or writing-related resolutions?