What Does “Writing” Mean?

I used to beat myself up over the fact that I didn’t actually write words on paper as often as I thought one was required to do in order to call oneself a writer. The simplest advice anyone offers when faced with the question “how do you become a writer?” is to say “write.” They imply that it should be done every day, that you can’t BE something unless you DO that thing regularly. I mean, sure, you can call yourself an astronaut, but unless you’re in outer space, you’re just a person in a funny suit.

Writing, they say, requires repetition and volume and schedule. Writing professionally takes practice. Writing is an acquired process, it doesn’t just happen.

This last part is the biggest truth out there: WRITING DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN.

 

When I sat down to write my first book back in 2011, I had no idea what I was doing. I had a main character and a vague plot with a rickety outline. I wrote the thing like I was talking to a guy at a bar who had a vague interest in what I was saying. I tried to describe action movie scenes on paper. I figured as long as I wrote two or three pages a day, I was being a writer.

Granted, that first book got me an agent, but it didn’t get published. The second book got a bit of attention, but it didn’t get published either. The third book excited my agent but I couldn’t get through the rewrites. Finally, even I lost interest in the fourth book, with its nonexistent conflict and unsympathetic characters.

 

A month or two ago, I sat down to start book #5 (though, honestly, it might as well be called book #1 at this point). I’m nearly 40 pages into it and it doesn’t even have a title yet. I wrote out character histories nearly two years ago. Scenes were scribbled out on index cards over a year ago. Bits of dialogue and ancillary character names and suggested quirks and idiosyncrasies were jotted down on backs of scrap paper and other paper-clipped forms. I even wrote the first page a while back.

Then I chucked it all.

Why? Because I wanted to slow down. I wanted my writing to take up more space. I didn’t want to rush from one thing to the next simply for the sake of getting it done. This book is going to be written on my terms, no schedule, no outline, no pressure.

Sometimes, I go to the library and sit there for an hour, scrolling through Instagram photos until something inspires me. Sometimes I hop on the treadmill and run a couple miles, singing songs in my head, stirring emotions that can be harnessed. Sometimes I’ll chop up vegetables for a salad, the rhythm of the knife knocking ideas loose. EVERYTHING I DO IS WRITING.

 

I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

My new book, the nameless one, deals with a Hollywood has-been trying to get his groove back. He’s offered the job of a lifetime and tries his hardest to screw it up. He’s the proverbial square peg being jammed in a round hole, except in this case, the round hole is life itself and he’s had enough of it.

Pressure and expectations and self-loathing are powerful forces. Sometimes you just need to do it your own way.

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Snowballs vs. Tumbleweeds

WIFE: “I’m glad you finally got some of those ideas out of your head. Now maybe one of them will tumbleweed into something.”

ME: “Snowball, dear. SNOWBALL. I don’t want any more tumbleweeds. They just drift aimlessly, solitarily across vast deserts.”

And this is the problem.

I’ve been visibly frustrated the past week or so. The rewrites on Book #3 went swimmingly through the first 120 pages. Now I’m at the hack-and-slash phase where there are bits I can keep, but a whole lot more I need to resect, revamp, and redo. I sat down and tried to map out a new outline, tried to figure out what these characters were going to do to each other with all that other plot stuff now out of the picture. I tried to slow it down, to find spaces for each of them. I tried to play it safe.

Now I realize I can’t do that.

I need an idea that I can push off a cliff and watch it flail for its life. I need an idea that is willing to jump into a fire for me, to take a bullet and still finish the job.

I started reading Sean Howe’s great book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story last weekend. Coupled with the podcast I’ve been doing with a friend, and an overall reinvigoration between myself and the medium, I’m thinking about comics again, not only what they stand for, but how they’re made, how they’re perceived. I’m appreciating the art in tandem with the writing, the concepts. I’m trying to visualize some of these artists putting my words into shapes.

For those who don’t know, I used to own a comic book store. It didn’t end well. I don’t really like dealing with people, especially people who expect things from me. I think it was my way of getting into that world – sneaking in the back door. My wife tells me that she always thought I should get into comic book writing, that it was a better fit for the types of ideas I usually come up with…more cinematic than literary (which I think is a nice way of saying I’m shallow).

I started really getting into titles from Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer, and Ales Kot. In some ways, I saw them as parallels to my previous love of fiction from Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Bill Mantlo…some “out there” ideas grounded in a not too distant future.

Then I got mad at myself for not being able to match those ideas. I realized I have fragments in my head and, once I think about them, they disappear. They’re little squiggly bits at the corner of my eye that I can’t look at directly. They’re shadows. They’re fairy dust. And they’re clogging my sinuses like ragweed in deep April.

So I’ve started writing these tidbits down, bullet-pointed, in one of those steno pads like court reporters use. They’re all train of thought, unrelated, chaotic. Some are two words. Some are paragraphs. Some are job descriptions, or colors, or funny locations. But they’re all tumbleweeds.

After three or four pages, and twenty-some internet sites and cross-references and research, the last idea on the last page turned into a tiny snowball.

Now I will carefully shove it downhill and see what builds up…

Let Me Explain.

I started this blog, like, seven or eight years ago as a repository for my pop culture musings while I was doing government work. It ebbed and flowed with activity as the years progressed, mostly resembling a dried up creek bed experiencing sudden flash floods. Things picked up when I turned my focus towards a burgeoning writing career. Then, somewhere towards the end of 2013, it ground to a halt.

The summer of 2013 hit me hard on the personal front. A lot of my relationships with people changed. Friends died. Others left. Everything suddenly fell apart.

It took a little over a year to piece myself back together. During that time, I didn’t write a word. I barely left the house. I drank a lot. Watched some soccer. Took to running and yoga fairly consistently. Slowly, and carefully, things gained some normalcy. My wife took the same job as me and we now work together every day. Our kids got a year older and more capable, more independent. I started caring what my home looked like. And I picked up a pencil again.

Before I go any further, here’s a quick cheat sheet for new readers:

  • Wrote Book #1 and got an agent.
  • Wrote Book #2 and got the attention of some Hollywood folks.
  • Wrote Book #3 and…my agent wanted me to rewrite the second half.
  • Tried to rewrite, then gave up, then tried again, then gave up.
  • Tried to write Book #4 and gave up after one page.
  • Tried to rewrite Book #3 again and gave up.
  • Started writing a different Book #4, got halfway through, and hit a wall.

NOW, I’m going back to rewriting Book #3 and…so far so good. It’s amazing what a little time and distance can do. The characters feel alive again. The setting feels like home.

I’ve also started reading more and doing a biweekly comic book podcast with an old friend. If that’s your thing, check out Super Comic Disco Party Time!

With things back on track, I hope to provide more consistent updates for that scant handful of people who read this. I’d also like to offer some quick advice: PERSEVERE. Things can get difficult. Life is full of obstacles. Just keep going. You can do it.

 

Writing and Talking.

While nearly halfway into scribbling out my fourth novel, I’ve shared some attention with my other hobby: COMIC BOOKS. Though I only really read them in trade paperback collections now (aside from the occasional 1970’s back issue), I’m clearly still influenced by and opinionated about them.

To that end, my friend John and I have launched a new podcast called Super Comic Disco Party Time! that you can find on our website and also on iTunes. Our first episode went up last week and we’re recording #2 this Thursday. We basically talk about characters and storylines, both good and bad, and what we would do differently with them. We’re so humble.

Please take a listen. If you like it, let us know by email (SCDPTshow@gmail.com) or on Twitter (@SCDPTshow).

Meanwhile, I will continue writing this book and hopefully have some cool publsihing news to share later this summer…

My Amazon Addiction – 2013

Saw a post on Gawker this weekend where someone detailed all the things they had purchased off Amazon in the past year and thought it might be an interesting experiment for me. There was a point where I was spending $40-50 every two weeks or so on books and DVDs and things that mostly went unread and unwatched as they piled up at an alarming rate.

The wife and I made a trip to IKEA (our third in the past month) so we could buy some more shelves and it finally hit me that I’m an idiot. Well, I mean, I already KNEW that, but still.

I actually stopped buying things, other than gifts and Kindle apps for the kids, sometime around Labor Day. Granted, this coincided with a necessary shift in funding towards beer for the college football season, but it also had to do with the fact that there was a stack of a dozen books on my nightstand with a quarter inch of dust accumulated on them. I’m fairly certain my 3 year-old scrawled “REDRUM” on top of them with her strawberry jelly tipped fingers.

Anyway, here’s a list of all the things I bought for myself on Amazon in 2013, with appropriately sad commentary…

JANUARY

Busy Monsters – William Giraldi
Gun Machine – Warren Ellis
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
Truth in Advertising – John Kenney

Yep…right off the bat, the unread pile of novels begins. I was so excited for each of these books, in its own right, yet haven’t managed to even crack the cover on any of them.

One Trick Rip-Off/Deep Cuts HC – Paul Pope

I’m a HUGE, like, completely GIANT-SIZED Paul Pope fan, so this was a no-brainer. However, it just sits on the shelf, unread. I’m a Pope completist to the point of spending hundreds on old posters and dealing with Mr. Pope himself to secure some things I couldn’t track down otherwise. I have a bit of Batman Year 100 preliminary artwork and the pre-press digital proofs of his Pulphope book. Hell, I even named my cat after him.

The Prince of Cats – Ron Wimberley

Speaking of cats, I heard this was a pretty cool comic book hip-hop retelling of Romeo & Juliet. Maybe one day I’ll actually read it.

I also bought the Die Hard 25th Anniversary Collection on Blu-Ray, because it was on sale and also because…DIE HARD.

And I bought a book that I already owned, but this was partly Amazon misleading me in the description and partly me being lazy. Luckily, my dad was more than willing to take the copy off my hands.

FEBRUARY

The Rules of Attraction [Blu-ray]

I have this instant gratification slash nostalgia thing where I have to have something that I just watched on TV because it reminds me that I watched it at some other point in my life on TV and I need to be able to relive that experience whenever I want (even though I just relived it and I’ve never thought about reliving it prior to that…nor will I think about it again now that I own it on Blu-Ray).

We Live in Water: Stories – Jess Walter
The Miniature Wife and Other Stories – Manuel Gonzales

I decided, prior to writing my third novel, that I was going to get into short stories, little bursts of fiction that I could sate myself with while I tried to squeeze out my own scribblings. The Jess Walter book was beyond amazing (leading me to buy Beautiful Ruins…and, subsequently, not read it yet). Oh, and lest it remain unsaid, I haven’t read The Miniature Wife either.

MARCH

Imperial Bedrooms – Bret Easton Ellis
Lunar Park – Bret Easton Ellis

Obviously, seeing Rules of Attraction made me think about my past love of Ellis and how I was missing a few of his books. Of course, the reason for this is that I had outgrown his writing (both content and style). But I never let that stop me when I’m bored at work and trolling Amazon. I still haven’t read these either.

Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon TPB

Read it as soon as I took it out of the box. Love me some Hawkeye.

The Shade TPB

Loved James Robinson’s Starman…or at least what I read of it. I have all 7 hardcovers, but trailed off reading them somewhere around four or five. I was very excited when this Shade project was announced. So excited, in fact, that I took this out of the box when it arrived and promptly shoved it atop my bookshelves for 10 months. I moved it last week when I put the new bookshelf together. I like to think of the dust as a protective cover, like Gorilla Glass.

Great Pacific Volume 1: Trashed! TPB
The Unwritten, Vol. 7: The Wound TPB
The Massive Vol. 1: Black Pacific TPB

I read two out of three. Finally stopped collecting The Unwritten after purchasing but not reading the last 5 trades. It’s a good thing Scalped ended with 10 volumes, otherwise I’d still be buying those.

Numb – Sean Farrell
Battleborn – Claire Vaye Watkins

If ever there was a book that made me hate myself for even pretending to be a writer, this is it. Simply put, it’s a beautiful, effortless collection of stories that had me alternately chuckling and cursing its uniqueness.

Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors – Andrew Shaffer

Pretty good bathroom reading. Writers are a mess.

Samsung BD-E5400 Wi-Fi Blu-ray Player (Black)

Is there any other color? I think I bought this while we were on vacation at Disney World. No idea why. Was it on sale?

APRIL

Slow month. That Disney trip really fucked with our bank account.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation – Michael Pollan

Absolutely LOVED In Defense of Food and enjoyed most of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Saw him on a speaking tour too (as well as Anthony Bourdain). I got really into food politics and cooking for a while when I was writing my first novel. Still enjoy cooking, but reading about food has fallen down my priority list. Haven’t read this one.

SUPERMAG – Jim Rugg

Street Angel is an amazing comic. Jim is a super nice guy. We met when I owned my comic book store. This book is sitting in a drawer in my nightstand, paged through but never really read.

The Rockford Files: Season One DVDs

Blame Matt Fraction. He kept comparing his early Hawkeye run to the Rockford Files. I was aware of the show from growing up in the 70s and 80s, but never really watched it. Decided to buckle down and watched the whole season in one weekend. Totally hooked.

MAY

Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

People still buy CDs?

The Paleo Slow Cooker: Healthy, Gluten-free Meals the Easy Way
You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack: Cartoons – Tom Gauld
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: A Christmas For Shacktown
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Old Castle’s Secret

Two volumes of Fantagraphics’ amazing Carl Barks Library. I bought an Uncle Scrooge volume when I was in New York in 2012 to meet with my agent. I love me some ducks.

The Rockford Files: Season Two DVDs

Yeah, that’s right…

JUNE

The History of Vegas – Jodi Angel

Another short story collection. Gave up on it about three stories in. Didn’t like the voice.

This Is Portland: The City You’ve Heard You Should Like – Alexander Barrett

My wife and I took a trip to Portland at the end of July. This cute little book actually helped us out quite a bit.

The Rockford Files: Seasons Three through Five DVDs

The ‘rents gave me an Amazon gift card for Father’s Day. These box sets are still in the original wrapping. I never finished Season Two.

JULY

Soludos Men’s Dali Shoes, Color: Charcoal, Size: 44

I bought espadrilles for the Portland trip. Comfiest shoes EVER.

Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon  – Chuck Palahniuk
I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains – Chuck Klosterman

Unwritten rule: I never fly anywhere without taking at least one book of essays by a person named Chuck.

AUGUST

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe – Tim Leong
The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air DVDs
Wonder Boys DVD
Get Shorty Blu-Ray

Nostalgia, pure and simple. Dennis Farina had just passed away. The Get Shorty Blu-Ray was less than eight bucks (Unrelated to Farina, I think the Wonder Boys DVD was six).

SEPTEMBER

The Iron Giant (Special Edition) DVD
WWE: Legends of Mid-South Wrestling [Blu-ray]
WWE Presents: The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA DVD
The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling DVD

Decided I needed to do some research for Book #4. Can you tell it may have something to do with professional wrestling? My dad and I just watched the WCCW DVD on New Year’s Eve (only 3 months after buying it!). The others? Unwatched to date.

Oh, I also finally bought an HDMI cable for that “new” Blu-Ray player I got in March. I’m on top of things.

OCTOBER

Nothing! See? Beer money.

NOVEMBER

I got some birthday cash, so…

Cards Against Humanity

I have no friends, but if I did, this would be a fun game to play with them.

The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling – David Shoemaker

Excellent book about mostly dead people. “Memory/All alone in the moonlight/I can smile at the old days/I was beautiful then…”

Redken Clean Brew Extra Cleansing Shampoo for Men, 8.5 Ounce

Beer shampoo!

Motorola Moto X, Black

New smartphone!

DECEMBER

Nothing (for me personally).

And that’s that.

I’ve made a conscious effort to try to catch up on those dusty bedside books, while also reclaiming some sort of workout regimen, cooking more, caring for my three children, satisfying my wife, and (somehow, somewhere, at some time) returning to a regular writing schedule.

I figure, with enough distractions (and illegal internet downloads), I’ll stop buying everything forever!

End of Summer Summary

The trip to Portland was eye-opening. We’d move the family in a second, if we could. A few things need to work out first.

School is back in session. That means my schedule has changed. After surviving high school and doing some creative course selection in college, I never thought I’d be a morning person again. Welcome to adulthood. I hope I won’t be staying in this weird place too long.

As far as writing goes, there’s some bad and worse news…

After my last check-in with the west coast branch of my agency, they decided to close the place down. My book has been relegated to Hollywood limbo, most likely forever. I begged my agent to submit the manuscript to a couple smaller publishers in a last ditch effort for publication. Nothing else to report there right now.

As soon as I’m done here, I’m going to finish typing up the last few pages of Book #3. My agent then asked me to sit on it a month and re-read it to make sure it’s as good as can be before we try to throw it at editors. We’ve surmised that this is the most mainstream thing I’ve written (and plan to write at least for the next two or three books), so it’s best to take our time and perfect it.

In the meantime, I’ve ordered some research materials for Book #4. It’s going to be a fun one, so I want to take my time with it. Always need to have something in the pipeline to distract me from the crushing emptiness of reality, right?

Keeping the Plates Spinning…

One month later and there’s still no word from the West Coast. All I know is that the producer has given the book to the director. From what the agents tell me, this is Step #1 on a list of steps that continues to grow as the days go on. Apparently, from here, the two of them decide if they want to pursue the book as a movie without paying me up front for it. If not, then we’re back to square one and my agents will re-submit it to the next producer on their list.

If, however, this producer fancies it, then we move on to the next step which also does not involve me getting paid. In fact, I’m not exactly sure where on this list of steps that payment to me actually comes into play. It’s the thickest onion, layers-wise, and it’s already making me cry.

From what I can gather, the producer then shakes my script at some studios, some investors, maybe even a famous actor or two, and sees who is willing to throw money at it. Then there’s a screenwriter involved. Some casting decisions. Maybe a caterer. I dunno.

I won’t lie. It’s both a fun process and an infuriating one. When book #3 stalled a bit, the non-action on Sleep Suits Irish was driving me crazy. I have no patience. Now that I’ve gotten back on track and only have about 100 pages left in the new book, my focus has returned and I feel better about things.

Plus, you can’t help but be excited when you know that the producer-director team responsible for one of the most famous late 80’s action-comedy movies is considering adapting your book for the big screen. I mean, the film these two did basically created a new genre when it exploded onto the scene. It was the biggest box office success of the year, even garnering an Academy Award nomination.

We shall see.

In other news, I’ve got pages of notes for book #4 and I’m very excited to start writing it. I’m going to be exploring some new formatting and digging into some of my favorite childhood pasttimes. Book #3 is rounding the last corner and getting ready to hand off the baton.

Also, the wife and I are heading to Portland, Oregon at the end of the month. We’re on a bit of a recon mission, hopefully considering a relocation at some point. If anyone has any places we should check out, please let me know…