Monday, August 20, 2018

What Am I Most Proud Of When It Comes To My Writing?

That's about as easy to decide as it is to herd cats at a dog show.

So here's a top ten list, instead. Keep in mind that, as often is the case. Jeffe has beat me to a lot of what I might have said. he's just that good.

1) I am delighted and proud to have collaborated with some amazing people over the years of my career. Seriously. I have worked with a few truly amazing authors.

2) I am extremely proud of the fan letters I've received from people who were moved by my tales. From those who were terrified to those who were touched, I am flattered and humbled.

3) I'm beyond proud to have written in several shared universes. It's like playing in someone else's sandbox and being allowed to play with their toys.  From Aliens, to Hellboy, to Predator, to Clive Barker's Hellraiser and Nightbreed, I have been incredibly fortunate. That doesn't even touch on all of the roleplaying games I got to handle with White Wolf Games and Holistic Designs.

4) I'm proud of the fan art I've received over the years.

5) While I've seldom won an award I have been nominated for several prestigious awards. from the Stokers to the Gemmell and I a remain flattered and honored by each.

6) I'm proud, so proud of every writer I've come across who, for whatever insane reason, took my advice and ran with it and then actually came back and thanked me when they achieved their goals. A far as I'm concerned I offered nothing they couldn't have found on their pwn, but I am delighted for and proud of each and every one of them.

7) I feel a lot of pride when I look at the full list of novels I've had in print. I've been at this for a while now, and I am amazed by the fact that I've been published by many different houses over the years and the notion that I've got over forty-five novels and oen hundred titles titles to my name.

8) I'm proud of the fact that I remain in print.

9) I'm damned delighted to know that my works have been translated into over fifteen languages over the years.

10) I'm proud of the fact that I've done all of that without a college diploma to my name.

There you have it.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Being Proud of Being Different

I'm just back from #WorldCon76, which was a whirlwind of great stuff. I caught a moment of downtime at the lovely Fairmont pool, including a much-needed nap.

This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking "What are you most proud about with regards to your writing?"

It's an interesting question for me, coming out of WorldCon, which is the World Science Fiction convention. While there is some fantasy representation, the con is heavily focused on Science Fiction fandom. It's also an older institution and seems to attract a lot of the "purists" in the field.

SFF fandom can be weird that way, at least to me - and I often feel like an outsider. I sometimes joke that I'm an exoplanet. It's funny to me to discover that I'm as serious a Trekkie as any, though I never got involved in that community. And for me, coming from this blend of SFF and Romance, I'm not really what people who are solidly SSF expect.

And yeah, there's an ongoing perception of Romance Cooties. This one gal came by my autographing table and tried to explain how the romance tropes in Paranormal Romance just hit her all wrong. I explained that I don't write Paranormal Romance - and that it's quite different from Fantasy Romance - and she said "I know, but still."

There's a lot to unpack that way - about reader expectations, internalized misogyny, the perception that positive emotions are less important, that male-gaze sex and romance are fine but the female-gaze versions are "icky" - and none of that is all that relevant to this post. Except to say that it can be easy to from that kind of convention feeling "less than."

Really, any of us can find opportunities to feel that way, right?

Because, the next person to come up to my table said "I didn't know you'd be here or I would've brought all my copies of your books." Then she bought copies of all three that I had so I could sign them for her, and had me sign bookplates for the rest.

It's easy to focus on the negatives and forget the positives. I received a whole lot of positives at WorldCon. People saying I did a fantastic job on a panel, even that I was the best one on it. My fellow SFWA Board members taking time to say how much they appreciate my input on the board. Meetings with friends and fans who think I'm special.

I think that being proud of what we write takes constant reaffirmation. Like renewing vows in a marriage. I've known from the beginning that my choices would make my career more difficult. "Like wading through hip-deep snow," Catherine Asaro told me, way back before I published my first book. I could've tried to change this about myself - or at least about what I write.

I've repeatedly chosen not to. And I am proud of that.

While I'd love to have lines out the door like Seanan McGuire, I also don't want to write what she writes. I love to read her October Daye series. I don't want to write that.

So, what am I most proud of in my writing? I'm proud that I am writing the stories that I really want to tell. I've been called stubborn, but I think my tenacity has paid off and I've found an audience - one that's growing all the time. It's not easy to stand up to the pressure to fit in with the more mainstream, more successful stuff. I feel it in myself all the time. Every time someone says "Romance" with that eye-roll and sneer, I feel it. Every time someone wants to read my books and someone else warns them off because it's too sexy, I feel that pressure to change.

That's part of creating art, whatever kind beckons to us. Creating means bringing something into the world that wasn't there before - so sometimes people don't recognize right away. Or only some do.

And that's okay, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

When Your Deadline Involves Chasing a Planet


When you’ve spent millions of dollars building a robot rover to explore Mars and the planets will only be in the right alignment to launch during one small window of time every two years, now THAT is a deadline not to be missed.

If you saw the movie 'The Martian,' you'll recall all the conversation and tension around the launch windows and when supplies could be sent and when a rescue mission could be sent...

I supported the business aspects of various real life Mars missions and other projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory during my career there and trust me, the project planning at JPL is intricate and leaves nothing to chance, even building in slack time to handle those unforeseen glitches and gremlins that always arise when trying to do complicated one time trips to other planets. There were literally thousands, if not millions of interim ‘due dates’ in the project plan prior to the actual preferred launch date.

Including dates for all the reviews and other meetings needed to keep an eye on the schedule.

Do I apply all that rigor to my own career as a self-published author? Not really. I still break big jobs into smaller deliverables and keep an eye on my critical path…yeah, and I also still speak the project language, as you can see. I track my deadlines on my Outlook calendar and on a handwritten weekly To Do List that is constantly changing, evolving, scribbled upon and reviewed. (I need that tactile feedback of crossing things off and eventually crumpling up the paper and throwing it away to start a fresh list.) I HATE missing a deadline or causing others to do hurry up work to accommodate my not building in enough slack time.

Bu this applies to the posts I write for USA Today/HEA, AMAZING STORIES and other platforms, including this lovely, well built, friendly gathering spot.

When it comes to my own novels, I have a really rough editorial calendar sketched out, about a year ahead, to make myself see one cannot perform three actions simultaneously, there are not more than twenty four hours in a day and yes, I need to sleep. So that means I CANNOT expect to get the next novel in my bestselling Badari Warriors series released while also completing another ancient Egyptian paranormal romance, much less also writing the long awaited sequel to my one fantasy romance. Not in the same 30-40 days. And my editor has an iron clad thirty days to go over each of my manuscripts and she can’t edit three of them simultaneously either.

I have a bad habit of ‘magical thinking,’ which Wikipedia defines thusly:  the belief that one's thoughts by themselves can bring about effects in the world or that thinking something corresponds with doing it. So I like to believe I can do three things at once!

At least as a self-published author, I’ll never miss any contractually required deadlines. I just have to ensure the flow of words and books keeps going on a regular enough basis to meet that other hard and fast deadline – paying the rent!

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Deadline We All Face

There's precious little I can say about deadlines that hasn't been said already, and I'm going to hush up in observance of the Queen of Soul's passing.

I will note that there's one deadline we all face and it's non-negotiable. So if there's something that matters to you, you'd better get on it because the world needs whatever it is you have to offer.

I leave you with an article (with a  link to the performance audio) about Aretha Franklin singing opera - something I somehow missed. Had actual operas been sung a little more freely, I think I'd have been a much bigger fan. Modern operatic style leaves me cold. This performance didn't. It gave me goose bumps.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Deadlines Looming

Let me tell you something about deadlines.

Or more specifically, let me tell how I don't get what I see other writers do with deadlines.  Like, I will see people be all, "Oh, yeah, I have a novel due next month.  I better get to work on it."  As in, little-to-no work has been done, and now that the deadline approaches, they're planning on weaponizing their panic and going into FULL POWER MODE, knocking out thousands of words each day and having a finished novel in a couple weeks.

I honestly don't understand how to do this.  Like, my brain recoils at the idea.

For me, deadlines are always a long-range thing.  I look at when something is due, and look where I am right now, and ask myself, "What do I need to do to be two months before the deadline?" and start working on that goal.  Because I know things will get in the way, I know there will be setbacks, and it's best to charge in with a plan before even getting to that point. 

I mean, people ask me what the "secret" is to my output, and a big part of that is in the planning.  I know what the core of the next year and a half looks like, writing-wise, and I plan for that.   I don't think I could do it otherwise.

And that takes discipline, and even then, the schedule slips and things get behind.

SPEAKING OF, I'm working hard on finishing The Shield of the People before its deadline, and The Way of the Shield is coming out in just a few weeks, so I might be pretty scarce here in the coming days. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Deadlines: A Haiku

People say a lot of things about deadlines: they're stressful, arbitrary, debilitating, intrusive, confusing, too much. I get it. However, I'm not one of those people. Here are my thoughts on deadlines, in haiku form because odes are too complicated for a summer day when the kids are still not back to school:

I adore deadlines
(not kidding) because they mean
someone wants to read.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Managing Deadlines: 5 Steps to Successful Project Management

Ever work with a project manager? The people whose primary responsibility is to ensure the project moves through the process from concept to customer? They're the ones who keep track of deadlines and deliverables. Communication is the crux of their job, followed very closely by organization. They are arguably the most well-connected people in a company. The bane of their existence is when somebody slips a date and doesn't tell them in advance. (Feature-creep is a wholly different PITA.)

I have had my ass schooled by learned from some of the most efficient project managers who mastered herding cats. I've carried those best practices into my author career. If you've followed this blog for a while, then this list will sound very familiar.

5 Steps to Successful Project Management 

  1. Prioritize
    • You are the only one who knows your workload. Don't expect others to intuit all that you've got going on. Your path to sanity is via prioritizing tasks and projects. Even the repetitious ones, like taking the kids to/from school. Anything that demands your time gets prioritized. Note the things that are flexible and those that aren't. You can reschedule a conference call. You can't reschedule the start of a public school day.
  2. Set Realistic Expectations...then add two weeks.
    • So you attracted the interest of a Big Publisher. Congrats! They want to sign you for three books. Awesome! They want those books delivered in six-month intervals. Uh...You only have the first one written and that took you three years to get into a query-ready state. Talk to your agent, be frank with them. It's better to decline an offer than to be in breach. 
    • Always add two weeks to big projects. That's wiggle room in case the flu strikes, equipment fails, or your brain goes on strike.
  3. Confirm Dates and Times
    • Seems logical, but it's amazing how many problems crop up because of ambiguous phrases like "30 days." Is that 30 business days or calendar days? "The end of the month." What if the end of the month falls on a Sunday? Is the deliverable due on the Friday before or the Monday after?  Even "COB " is suspect what with time zone differences, flexible hours, and people who never.stop.working. 
  4. Communicate as Soon as a Bump Appears
    • This is the one that a lot of people resist because they're afraid of the perceptions and the consequences. They think they can "power through" and "slide under the deadline." Worse, some folks stay quiet and hope an elf will magically fix everything for them. Peeps, don't do that to yourselves or your team. The ulcer isn't worth it. Tell your contact/team as soon as you know there's an issue because date slippage has a ripple effect. The sooner the team knows, the faster they can compensate. Missing your date might not be that big a deal...or it means they get someone else to do your piece of the project. Regardless, fess up fast. Don't work yourself into an oozing pustule of anxiety. 
    • See Jeffe's post from Sunday about Big Trouble vs Daily Shit
  5. Reassess & Reset
    • Whenever you complete a project, take a beat and assess the resources and time it took you to finish. Did your accurately estimate what was needed? Do you have similar projects in your schedule? Based on what you learned from the completed project, are there any adjustments you need to make to the future projects? Are there any people who need to be informed about the needed adjustments?
Adulting. Sometimes the hardest part is being honest with yourself. Once you are, it's a lot easier to be upfront with others...even about moving deadlines.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines....

There was a time when I never, ever missed a deadline.

I think it lasted roughly a month.

I try very, very hard to make sure I hit deadlines, but sometimes it simply isn't going to happen.

When I started out I would say "yes" to very nearly impossible deadlines regularly. Why? Because I wanted the work and I was willing to make the sacrifices.  Who needs sleep when you have coffee?

Now and then that philosophy backfired and life got in the way.  The day job required more time (Retail does that), or the family needed some help. Then you have to start weighing what is more important.

Know what else you have to do? You have to communicate. There is usually at least a little flex time in what you are told as a deadline. Maybe not much, but some.

Look on the right side of the screen and you'll see a cover for my Predator novel.  When I was writing that everything that could go wrong did. First, there were changes in the script, They made the movie better in my opinion, but they were there and that meant reevaluating all of the source material before I could start writing my novel. Heck, I had to rewrite my outline before we could proceed. That was a decent slow down, but not crippling.

No. What was crippling was falling the wrong way in ice and tearing two tendons in my shoulder and destroying my rotator cuff. I thought it was a sprain and tried to just power on through, but the pain was actually debilitating, I could not work for several weeks at the day job but I also could no write very much.  My beloved was wise enough to point out that Google Docs has a voice option. I employed it and things got better. But the voice option isn't flawless and a good deal of  clean up was required.

I was a little over a month late.

I did the unthinkable and told my editor the truth. We worked together to make it right. 

There are those situations where a book will be, by God, late. My mother going into hospice? No writing done while she left this world. My wife passing away? No work done while I tried to remember how to breathe, how to walk, how to go through the regular day without losing my mind. How bad was it I only recently pulled out and finished the novel I was writing when she passed away. It took me 8 years to get back to  even looking at that book. It took me a month to finish. but it was the book I worked on while my wife was on dialysis and dying by inches. I set it aside, I came back to it when I could.

Deadlines are flexible. If they weren't there would be no publishing industry.

I had a few deadlines after my wife passed what were delayed because I got lost in grief. I don't torture myself over those. I merely accept them and try to move on. I made it a point to explain to my editors. They were usually understanding. Sometimes I know it was inconvenient for them, but we worked it out.

 I'm a writer. I used my words.