Sometimes failing is good

What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?

The quote above is my favourite and it’s from Robert Schuller.

I’ve been thinking about two unrelated things today.  Relating them.  Yup, that’s how my mind works.

My daughter went for her G license today (the final one) and, unfortunately, didn’t get it.  She was told she knew how to drive well, and did everything right, but didn’t check her blind spots enough.  So, she didn’t pass and will now likely have to wait until next summer to get it.

And my first reaction was, well that friggin’ sucks.

But the more I thought about it, it sort of became less sucky than I originally thought.  Before I explain, let me talk a touch about that second unrelated thing.

I’ve been trying for years to get published.  I’ve been writing for a lot of years.  Hell, I’ve been teaching for a lot of years.  And trust me, for every one of the twelve-ish years I’ve taught Creative Writing, there’s always a surreal couple of minutes near the beginning of the first class where I introduce myself and I have to admit that I’m not a published author.  I mean, who the heck has the stones to tell other people how to write when he’s not even been able to get something worthwhile published himself?

Apparently me.  Anyway…

If I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s that you learn more from your mistakes than anything else.  And God knows, I’ve made a million mistakes over the years.  I have no idea why the company I work for still employs me with all the stupid things I’ve done, aside from the fact that they encourage you to push yourself.  And if you do that, you will fail at times.

Same with the writing thing.  I’ve written a lot of stuff now, not all of it good.  Okay, let’s be honest, a vast majority of it that isn’t good.  And it’s stuff that I’ve pushed out to editors and publishers thinking that it was good.  Over the years, I’ve learned differently.  Over the years, I’ve failed enough to start understanding a little more about what it takes to succeed.

I wouldn’t have learned that if I’d succeeded on my first go.  I’m sure I still would have learned what I needed.  Heck, might have even learned it sooner in some cases.  But when I think about what I’ve experienced in the last week or so, having my first published work now out there and the awesome response to it…

Well, it just makes it that much higher, this success after all that failure.  But I also know that failure still lurks just around the corner, waiting to kick my ass again.

So, this is why I don’t think it’s all that horrible that my daughter didn’t get her license today.  It likely hasn’t taught her anything quite yet, but down the line she’ll start to realize that not everything comes easy.  That sometimes you work your brains out and still don’t get the reward.  That sometimes, you’re best at the time isn’t good enough.  That there’s times when others make the decision and no amount of talent or inspiration can change their point of view.

And yeah, there’s all those cliched expressions…If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…Winners never quit, quitters never win…and so on and so on.

But the damn thing is, they really are true.  Whether it’s a driver’s license exam or publishing a book or interviewing for a job or learning to cook or anything else you can think of that takes a little effort (and really, what doesn’t take some effort?), you have to keep trying, but you have to learn from the mistakes you made along the way.  Because another truth is, those that forget history are doomed to repeat it.

And though it’s another cliche, it’s still true.  What doesn’t kill you does leave you stronger.  You may not think so immediately, maybe you’ll never think it.

But it’s true, nonetheless.  So as you’re looking at your most recent failure, check those blind spots.  They’ll point you toward future success.

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Why is all this Hope Vanishing?

It’s actually quite appropriate that Vanishing Hope is being released during FanExpo.

I guess I should explain something about FanExpo. I’ve been using this term because it’s probably a little more well known that the Festival of Fear. But it’s really Rue Morgue magazine’s Festival of Fear that attracted me. If you haven’t read Rue Morgue magazine, you just ain’t down with horror. So, I’m going to use Festival of Fear (or FoF) going forward. FanExpo/FoF…same thing.

So, back to the blog…what was I saying? Oh yeah, it’s actually quite appropriate that Vanishing Hope is being released during FoF. Why is that? Because I got the offer to be published at FoF about three years ago.

Monica had been editing No Hope off and on for a couple of years. I’d been volunteering at the Festival of Fear since 2005. Monica also works at Rue Morgue magazine, the major sponsor of the FoF. See how it all nicely connects?

Anyway, around 2008, Monica approached me with a proposition. She told me that Burning Effigy was looking into publishing longer works…novels. And she wanted to publish mine. It was very surreal, sitting in the scabby Food Court area of FanExpo being offered something I was really beginning to believe would never happen.

And I was so flummoxed (gotta love that word, huh?) that when it was over, my daughter, who had been sitting with us as we talked, turned to me and said, “Did I hear that right? She’s gonna publish your book?” I did a slow nod and felt the grin spread across my face.

But of course, in the best story tradition, there’s always hurdles to overcome and suspense to…uh…be experienced.

So, remember, this was August 2008. General Motors imploded June 2009 and took the North American economy with it. It especially affected smaller businesses, of which, of course, Burning Effigy was one. So, the book was pushed off for at least a year.

Then it was pushed off a little longer. I want to be clear, Monica was absolutely amazing through the entire thing. Completely honest, completely upfront and as frustrated as I was.

Then, around mid-2009, we had another conversation and she suggested a second option. Would I be interested in writing something a little shorter that would introduce readers to not only my writing, but also to the world of the Book.

Sure I can, I said. Had no freaking clue what I would write, but hell yeah, I could do that.

Then, over the next couple of months, I totally blanked. I’d spent so much time building that world, delving into the lives of the characters of No Hope, I just couldn’t come up with anything that might serve as an introduction. I was clear on what I wanted to accomplish, I wanted the story to happen chronologically prior to the events of No Hope. But how could I do that, incorporate the Book when none of the NH characters had seen or heard of it previously?

So yeah, I blanked.

Then, about two months in, when I was starting to freak a bit, I was organizing my files so I could actually find stuff easier on the computer (because this is the shit I do when I can’t come up with something to write…I do stuff with my past writing to fool myself into thinking I’m actually doing something that actually has to do with writing) when I found a story I’d written a few years earlier.

A story of a very young girl with a horrible power. It’s a short piece that involved the mother frantically searching for her lost child, while the lost child found a new playmate in a squirrel while sitting under a tree.

All I’ll say is, it doesn’t end well for the squirrel.

I re-read that story, and my mind got into that place that I love…the “what if?” place where the stories actually come from. And then the what if’s started. What if the girl got her power from the Book. Could I make that work? I thought I could.

But it was way too short. Less than 1400 words, about 6 pages. I needed to bulk it up to at least 20K words…80ish pages minimum.

So, this was a start, But I really had to do some more world-building here. So a story that really only had two characters started to build. And that little girl? Well, she ended up with some anger issues.

I built up what I thought was a decent story. I worked up a decent outline. There was a minor glitch, but I figured it would work itself out.

Then, in November, I began the story. I actually made remarkable progress, considering it was me, possibly one of the slowest writers in the world. I pounded that baby out over November and the Christmas break. I had a deadline of end of January. I was gonna make it.

And then I stalled out. Issues at work. Issues at home. Sucked the creativity right out of me. I tried, but I didn’t finish it. That minor glitch? The one that was supposed to work itself out? Yeah, well, it was the ending. I didn’t know how to end it.

In fact, I couldn’t even see how I was even close to getting from here to there. I stalled completely.

I talked to Monica again. I wasn’t gonna make the deadline. That was okay, apparently she had some bad mojo shit happening too. So, hey, things sucked all around.

But could I maybe have it done for May? Yeah, I could do that.

I now hadn’t looked at the story for a couple of months. Which turned out to actually be a good thing. I read what I had and—surprise, surprise—actually liked what I’d written. Even better? The ending presented itself to me like a long lost friend. I knew exactly how it would finish up. I knew the changes (thankfully minor) I needed to make.

And I was able to pound the whole thing out in a couple of weeks. Then I sent it off to Monica and she began doing her magic.

And so, three years after that first “I’d like to publish you” conversation…three years almost to the day, here I am, back at FoF. And in 90 minutes (as I write this), I’ll be sitting down at the Burning Effigy booth. And my own book will be on display and up for sale.

It’s been a long three years, but man, it was worth every second.

Oh yeah, in case you’re wondering, that damn squirrel still didn’t make it.

Increasing Hope

It’s happened.  As of this Thursday, I’m officially a published author.

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, talked about a lot, dreamed about a lot, and yes, even fantasized about a lot.  And it’s something that, as I got older and older, I also wondered about a lot too.

Would I ever get published?  Would someone ever like something I wrote enough to commit their time, resources, money and dedication to?  Turns out, the answer to that is a yes.

In two more days, I will be holding a copy of a book with my name on the cover, courtesy of Burning Effigy Press.

Burning Effigy is a micropress, so I’m telling you now you’re not going to be able to go to your local megalithic franchise bookstore and find my book.  As they say on their site:

Burning Effigy Press was founded in 1999 as a way to bring fringe poetry, prose and fiction out from the trenches and onto the pages of chapbooks and anthologies. The driving force of Burning Effigy has always been that we are writers publishing writers. That said, we ain’t in this shit for the bucks, we’re in it because we love books and we love the scene. More so, we love writing that moves, frightens or forces us to think in different ways. We love words that scream and bleed from the page and demand to be heard.

In March 2007, Burning Effigy Press relaunched with a new brand new genre focus and many big surprises in store. Since then, we’ve published some fine horror scribes such as Gemma Files, Richard Gavin, Lee Thomas, and Ian Rogers, and garnered Bram Stoker Award nominations in the Long-Form Fiction category with Nicholas Kaufmann’s 2007 novella General Slocum’s Gold and Weston Ochse’s 2008 novella Redemption Roadshow.

The line I like the most?  “…we ain’t in this shit for the bucks, we’re in it because we love books…”

It’s very much in line with a response I got from my editor, Monica, when I asked her today what would constitute a book that bombed versus one that exceeded expectations.  She gave me some numbers, which is good, you need to know your tipping point.  But I loved what she followed it up with.  She said, “…numbers matter little to me in the end…it’s the stories that matter the most.”

So I found a publisher that, while not one of the giant ones that sell books in the numbers John Grisham, Danielle Steele and Stephen King are used to, took me on because they believed in my writing.   That means a lot to me.

It also means a lot because I know how much effort has gone into this book.  I know the absolute painstaking care that BE, and Monica in particular, put into ensuring the right word choices were there, the layout was perfect, the cover was attention-grabbing.

Not that I had any doubt on any of this.  When Monica initially offered to publish me, she set me up with a few of the books she’d already published.  The first thing that struck me was the incredible loving care that went into each one of these books.  I’ve seen a lot of chapbooks in my time.  Carelessly thrown together things, covers that barely approximate, let alone complement the story inside.  Terrible writing, little or no editing.

Most of the chapbooks I’d seen published prior to this showed no pride of ownership, from the author or the publisher.

Burning Effigy’s on the other hand.  Man, these were works of art.  A lot of thought obviously went into the covers.  But more importantly, the stories themselves were fantastic.  Not the same old stuff.  Engaging, creative stories.

So I had no concerns signing up with BE.  And I had high expectations for the look and feel of my book, under their guidance.  Monica initially reached out and told me to start thinking about the cover.  Considering this is a couple of years of the life of Talia, a roughly nine-year-old little girl who comes across as fairly nice, but has dark, hidden depths of darkness in her, I gave her some of my ideas and she took them away.

Later, she helped me shape that idea a little more.  I looked over some photos and found something that I thought might work okay.  So, I did some quick messing around and sent her my ideas.

My story, without giving too much away, has this little girl doing some very, very nasty things to some animals and some people.  Some deserve it.  Some don’t.  She’s not too picky about that.  And in the end, this is what I got as the cover image.

And as far as I’m concerned, this is Talia.  No question.  I’ve been looking at this image now for a few days.  It never fails to creep me out a bit.  But it goes beyond that.  The type is simple, clean and understated and doesn’t detract from the main strength of the image.

By the way, I haven’t had a chance to thank either of them yet, but the photo is by Belovodchenko Anton, and the manipulation and cover design is by Justin Erickson.  I owe you both, big time.

As I said, I had high expectations coming into this project.  What I’ve seen so far?  Blows away anything I might have expected.

In two days I’m going to be a published author.  I’ve been riding a high all week, friends and co-workers have been crazy supportive.  I figured I’d try and drum up a little local publicity for myself, so today I reached out to the local paper to see if they maybe wanted to do a piece on the publication.

Ah yes, when you get too high, there’s got to be something that brings you back down to earth.  And my crash landing was courtesy of our local paper.  His response to my request?  Very polite, but then he went on to say, “I hate to be discouraging but I have a fairly lengthy list of local authors who have released books.”

Huh.  “Fairly lengthy…”

Ah well, I bet none of them have as killer a cover as I have.  And I’m fairly certain they aren’t backed by a feisty publisher like mine either.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk a little more about the book itself.

Are they really this stupid? Why, yes! They are!

Oct 26, 2009, Ontario instituted a ban on using cell phones while driving, unless using a hands-free device.

Which isn’t a hard thing to do, there’s a lot of good, cheap Bluetooth earsets out there, or a speaker device that clips to you sunvisor.  Hell, a lot of newer cars have it built right into the radio (though the one in our truck kinda sucks).  Get email or texts a lot?  There’s a lot of apps that will read them for you out loud so you don’t have to read.  They’ll even do it as they come in, so you don’t even have to fiddle with the phone.

C’mon, admit it…If you dug Star Trek, you’ll buy into this.  Captain Kirk had the first flip phone, but Lt. Uhura had the first Bluetooth.  So who’s cooler?

So why in the hell do I constantly see morons with phones to their ears, babbling away as they swerve drunkenly over the same roads my family uses?  Why do I see idiots happily holding their phone at eye-level as they tippy-tap their obviously earth-shaking messages out to recipients instead of, you know, watching where the hell they’re going?  Or even better, the ones that keep it low so the cops don’t see them, but completely give themselves away by occasionally glancing at the road while devoting the bulk of the time they’re navigating a speeding two-ton chunk of metal to looking down.  Even better at night.  Let me give all you morons a free piece of advice…you’re not fooling anyone when the glow from your cell phone is illuminating your entire face.

Dickhead.

And then, just when you think you’ve heard it all…just when you’ve yelled at a person (my favourite is, “It’s illegal, dickhead!”) and gotten a what-are-you-yelling-at-me-for-I’m-totally-not-doing-anything-wrong-or-dangerous-or-stupid-you’re-just-being-an-asshole-for-no-reason look…just when all that has come to pass, you hear about someone like David Secker.

Who’s David Secker?  Only the guy that was pulled over in Blofield, near Norwich, England for talking on his cell phone.  And texting on his other cell phone.  While doing 75 m/h (120 km/h).  While steering with his knees (of course, because he had no freakin’ hands left to drive with!).

When he was pulled over, he insisted on finishing his phone call before dealing with the police.  Lucky he wasn’t in L.A. or something.  They would have shot or, at the very least, tased his ass.

Instead, he got fined about $250 and got his licence suspended for a year.  And really, why does anyone need two cell phones, let alone David Secker, who’s unemployed?  One has to wonder how someone with such mad multitasking skills manages to remain sans job.

Oh yeah.  It’s because he’s a dickhead.

And then…and then…I thought that was bad…until I watched this.

I’ll warn ya, the f-bomb is dropped, but quite honestly, I can understand why.  Please, watch the video before reading on…I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun.

So, yeah…you saw it with your own eyes.

What kind of audacity does it take to do this?  What kind of I-really-don’t-give-a-shit-who-I-kill-as-long-as-I-get-to-do-any-dumbass-thing-I-want attitude do you need to have to even attempt this?

I mean, drunk drivers?  Don’t get me started.  But at least they can blame the alcohol for impairing their judgement.

This dude?  Not so much.

Can we just make a new law?  Whenever we see somebody doing something this life-threateningly stupid, we can pull them from their vehicles, drop their keys down the nearest sewer grate, and beat the living shit out of them?