The Endless struggle between Money and Community Building

Exclusivity is the bane of the industry.

I've spent the last couple days wrestling with what to do on March 16th. What is so special about that day? that is the day the exclusivity period with Amazon for several of my books comes up. I have the choice to reenroll them for another 90 days or take them out of exclusivity. I lose a lot by not giving Amazon exclusive rights to my work. The two most important are:

  1. My royalty rates drop
  2. The books are pulled from Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

What's the upside? I can do whatever I want with my books. Things I feel like would be better for them and would help me build a community around my worlds.

Essentially, what it boils down to is that I make most of my money through Kindle Unlimited, but I don't have an opportunity to make a connection with my readers.

I would rather have a community...

In my heart, I know that is true, but it is hard to give up a known revenue stream on the hopes I can build a following on Patreon. It isn't that I doubt the power of the community. I love my fans, and they have gone out of their way over the years to show me they care. My problem is with me.

How does an introvert build community?

Every time I say that I am an introvert, people who know me from conventions call bullshit. I am. I live a very solitary life, and never know what to share on social media. It is hard enough for me to write this post.

Truth is: I feel most at home when I am writing.It is all the afterwards and in betweens that I struggle with. I like to think I am getting better about it, but I am still not sharing regularly. That is the first thing that I have to change.

I didn't write this to share some grand plan or to make an announcement. I really need some help here. What do you think I should do? If you have any ideas about how, I would love to hear them too.

Please don't talk about this right now

Anxiety is a demon living in the corner of our minds waiting for the right moment to jump out and devour us.  It is always hungry, always on the prowl.  Worst of all, it is patient.  The house creaks in the wind, it peeks its head up to see if this is the time to pounce.  The ring of the phone wakes you up.  It sees it's opportunity.  It strikes.

Its many tentacled arms wrap themselves around you in its familiar if not welcomed embrace. That is when you realize the horrible truth.  The beast cradling you in its empty arms is trying to swaddle you, not suffocate you.  It doesn't know its own strength.  It holds you like a mother protecting her baby from the attacker at the gate.  It squeezes the life out of you because it wants to save you.  You aren't the victim, the prey.  You are the beloved that will be destroyed rather than lost.

"I can't breathe," the words are weak, the air in your lungs so precious.  "You're hurting me."  Your words are barely a squeak.

The arms tighten.  The beast is afraid to loose you.  You are all it has.  Without you, it is nothing.  Its only purpose is to keep you safe.

A faint sound breaks the suffocating silence.

"The danger shall pass, sweet child.  This too shall pass.  Until it does, I have you.  I will not let you fall.  I will hold you here, close to my heart.  I will never let you go.  I will never let them have you."

Your bulging eyes search the darkness for the unseen threat.  Nothing.

The creature, once a monster, now your only companion in this murky shadow realm.  The breathless pain is safety.  The shortness of breath, the cold stabbing pains racking your body, they are signs of the beasts protection.  So long as the beast holds you, what can get through.  This isn't misery, it is security.

Cold sweat gathers like morning dew on your forehead,  Ice greets the tips of your fingers. Badges of the struggle.  The beast isn't yours to fight.  It is your only true friend.  In those crushing arms, the world is so, so far away.  Distance is safety.  Safety is all that matters.  Everything else which once seemed so important are but memories of a foolish childhood from a time when you didn't really understand the horror of the world.

Gasping, you sink deeper into the darkness.  The beast's sweet voice sings lullabies in your ears.  The pain is easy.  The aches, a close friend you could never imagine ever leaving. They remind you that you are alive.  If they wen't away, how would you know that?  How did you ever know before the beast cradled you so close to her cold heart?

A single pin prick of light shines in the ever present night sky.  A lone star so fragile and small.  Once you, set your ship to sail by that star.  It guided you through the turbulent waters. The memories are vague, like a past life remembered in this one quite out of place. Why risk the voyage? Everything is better in the loving straightjacket of the beast, but you can't take your eyes off the star.

Something out there calls to you.  Is it a siren song luring sailors to their doom? Why does it call so persistently? Why can't it just leave you alone? Why can't everything just leave you alone?

Breath catches in the back of your throat. You struggle to breathe. The beast has an arm wrapped tight around your neck. It is choking you. Life struggles within you to get away from the beast.  The more you struggle, the tighter the grip.  It is impossible to breathe,

In a single moment, time stretches out into an endless eternity beyond all your expectations. The harder you fight; the tighter the grip.  

Eyes lock on the distant star.

The pain creeps into every fiber of your being.

For some reason, you let go.

The beast roars in anger.

A single moment of clarity floods your mind.  None of this matters.  Everything the beast's stifling grasp holds you so far away from is nothing real. Illusory fears are empty, without substance.  The danger itself is a lie.

Why hadn't you seen it before? Why do you see it now?

Your eyes lock on the tiny point of light.

Let go. Clenched fists release.

The beast's tentacles quiver.  Its hold lightens.

"You need me!" The beast cries out.

"I know," your voice soft and trembling. "Don't leave me, but stand to my side. Alert me, but don't entrap me.  I cannot get through the waves without you, but I have to breathe."

The beast lets go, and curls up at your side.  Eyes on the star, you realize it is only one of millions.

Inhale. Exhale. Deep breaths. Life is hard. Anxiety is not the enemy. It is not a pet. It is a wild beast that walks by our side to alert of danger, but if we are not mindful, it can and will consume us whole.

World Building Online and the Writerly Text

What is a story?

For years I have studied and tried to wrap my head around what constitutes a story now, since the kinds of stories I read, watch, and listen to have changed a lot.  Blog novels, Twitter stories, Audiobooks, Webcomics, Podfiction...  I could go on listing things forever.

Over the years, as my taste in fiction has developed and changed, I find myself wondering what my fiction should look like.  I write short stories and novels.  They are available on the web and in ebook format, but is that really what I write?

It might sound like a strange question, but the truth is, the vast majority of my time is spent working on backstory and world building.  Isn't that story too?  It might sound simple, but I am one of those people who likes to overthink things, so let's dig into this.

Why do I enjoy Alt Shift X and CivilizationEx more than ASOIAF or GOT?

I have reached a strange place in my entertainment.  I find myself enjoying the videos of channels like Alt Shift X and CivilizationEx more than the primary Game of Thrones or A Song of Ice and Fire.  Why?

When you think about it, simple art like that on these channels shouldn't be able to compete with the millions of dollars spent on the HBO series, but they do.  Why?  Is is because they spend so much time on the minutia of the series?  Is it because they paint a more interesting world to me than either the books or the series, even though they are really derivative works?

I've started to wonder if it isn't just that stories get better with the retelling.  James Bonnet in his wonderful book, Stealing Fire from the Gods discusses a method for baking the qualities of a oral tradition into your world.  I wonder if there might not be a middle ground between his method and Roland Barthes theory of the readerly and writerly text.

Readerly Text

A readerly text, to simplify the idea, is a straight forward story that a reader can just pick up and follow the text without having to put effort into figuring out the story.  The story presents itself.  That is an overly simplification of the idea, but it is useful for this discussion.

The last step in Bonnet's method is to create a "sugar coat" so all the elements and metaphors are easy to digest by the reader and the work becomes a cohesive whole.  It would be possible to see this sugar coat as the production of a readerly text.

What if the novels, novellas, and short story collections are the readerly texts per se.  In other words, those texts were crafted in a way that they technically don't require anything other than themselves to follow the story, but the are also part of a larger writerly text.

Writerly Text

Again, this is another gross simplification, but a writerly text is work that requires the reader to produce the meaning of the text on their own.  While I am taking these terms out of Barthes original context, they are useful in understanding the nature of an online work.

What I enjoy so much about those youtube videos as opposed to the source material is that they are distilling a series (of books or shows) into their basic elements, translating them into an almost purely writerly text.  The video posits several possible meanings or simply focuses on a particular element in hopes of finding meaning.

The question is: if an author creates their own mystery texts as an exploration of the setting, stories, and characters as a way to better understand the world they are writing, how is that content presented in a way a reader can play with it in the same way?

Nothing new to see here...

I know I am far from the first person to build a website around a story or setting that I am working on.  My problem is that I can't find much if any public thought about the method and means of storytelling.

I like to have a method and guidelines to keep me on track.  I don't have them yet, but this is a step in that direction.  I will share more as I learn more.  As always music expresses the way I feel about this.  Enjoy:

If you have any thoughts on the subject, I would love to hear them.

Shouting in a Void: Loneliness and Writing

The last couple years haven't been easy.  After falling into the darkest depths of depression, I withdrew from everything,  By everything, I mean everything.  I stopped going out.  I stopped podcasting.  I stopped blogging. I stopped everything...

Things got better.  I got better.  I started blogging again.  I started podcasting again.  I started writing again, and that is where my problems started up again.

Writing is a lonely process.

That is my experience.  I started writing as a kid because I lived in the middle of no where.  All I had was my TV, my dog, and my imagination.  Creativity was a way for me to entertain myself.  I drew my own He-man and Transformers comics.  I wrote school plays based on my favorite books.  I even wrote poems for my elementary school graduation.  I loved to write.

After we moved to Maryland, I continued writing.  My storytelling flowed into AD&D, then into Vampire: The Masquerade.  I continued writing stories and wrote my first two novels. Through all that, my fiction was a private thing, just for me.  I may have shared one or two stories with a couple of friends, but I wrote for me, and didn't really share it with anyone.

Liquid Sky was really the first thing I ever wrote with readers in mind.  I wrote profiles of prospective readers, and tried to keep them in mind, but that didn't make the experience anymore isolating.  That isolation has always been a fundamental part of my process.

So, after the worse depression I have ever suffered.  I started reconnecting with friends, interests, and life itself.  I started podcasting again, which is something I love to do.  Then, I started working on a new book and universe...

I stopped using social media.  I stopped hanging out with my friends. I stopped podcasting...  I even stopped watching the series I love!

This has to change!

My life is a lonely one.  I live in a place I don't like.  The weather and allergies knock me out regularly.  I don't have a lot of friends around here because my cultures are not represented well in the area.  My husband works a lot, which leaves me home alone most of the time.  It might sound like I am complaining about that, but it is just how my life is.  My life is a lonely one right now.  I can't allow myself to fall back into my isolating habits I've built over the years.

When I was surrounded by friends and family, and regularly went to cons, time alone was a just a part of my life.  That isn't how I live right now.  Whether I am writing or not, I am alone most of the time.  Further isolation isn't healthy for me right now.

I have to change my relationship to words.

That is a lot easier said than done, especially when I'm not sure what that new relationship should be.  I have set many high minded goals in the past only to be thwarted by technology or time constraints.  Damn time.  I can't keep letting these weird things hold me back.

1. Stop holding everything in.

With everything going on in the world, I find it difficult to go on about the things that I love or that I am interested in.  That may be the stupidest thing holding me down.  Love and excitement are really the only cures for the hate, ennui, and cynicism of the world.  Staying silent is just giving in to the forces arrayed against us.  Besides, I have never really cared about what people thought about me or my opinions.  So, what is really holding me back?

I feel an obscene amount of pressure to produce content... to hell with that.  I need to just follow my own heart and do the things that make me happy.  Wow, that sentence almost hurt to type.  That is something I need to work on.

2. My world is my story.

While, yes, I need to be careful about sharing spoilers, I love world building.  Sharing that world building should be a big part of what I do.

3. If I didn't know something, others might not have known that either.

I have gotten this strange idea in my head that everyone probably already knows about the musicians, series, or trivia I find interesting.  Well, if I didn't know about it, there is a good chance that others didn't know about it either.  Besides, it never hurts to be reminded about awesome things.

4. Writing things out helps me things things through.

Posts like this might not interest anyone other than me, but they help me think things through. That is worth more than anything to me.  I just need to breathe and be myself.  It is hard to shut me up when I feel at home.  I just need to be that guy again.

What do you think I should do?  Have you ever had to reconnect with your life and loves?  I would love to talk about this in the comments.

Casting out the darkness

This weekend was a challenge.  The world has taken on such a dark and twisted aura since November.  I spent most of my time talking people out of their despair... There is too much despair right now.

There is NO time for Despair!

Despair is self-defeating.  It is a corrupting energy that erodes our strength. Sometimes it feels right, but it never is. Despair means you have already given up.

We have no reason to give up, and every reason to stand up.

Rise up!

Stand up.  Speak out.  Be counted as a person who will not allow this hatred and discrimination against others to be done in your name. Get active. Find a group or start one.  Write your representatives. Call them.  March.

This is our time to step up and be heard by the minority party who has taken control of our government. Don't ever believe the hype that they are the majority. 

Just dance!

Keep your spirits up.  Don't let all of this drag you down.  It has been bad before, but the voice of justice broke the chains.  All we can do is dance.  Sing if you have a song.  Empower yourself. Know you are not alone.

The drum beat of progress cannot be drown out by hate speech. Dance!  Celebrate life.  Celebrate the Spirit of America rising up against these divisive actions. A house divided cannot stand. Their hate shall fall.  

Keep joy in your hearts my sisters and brothers. We will be victorious in the end.

So, now what

Today, the forces of hate have won.  Bigotry, cruelty, and lies have won.  Red States have knelt before their dear leader, and the future of our country and the world are on the brink of chaos.

This is not the End

The moment I realized my country chose bigotry and hate.

No matter what happens now, the world will continue to spin with or without us.  We have to remember that.  The world doesn't stop moving just because the Red States voted for time to go backwards to a time when LGBT people had no personhood, Black People couldn't vote, Freedom of Religion didn't exist, and Immigrants were persecuted and suspected because of the nation of their birth, life will go on.  Those who felt left behind before will only fall further behind.

The instinct of so many in our country not to take responsibility for their own lives is breathtaking.  If you feel abandoned by the world, it is because you gave up on life.  Stop feeling like a victim and take responsibility for your own life. Remember the lesson your parents should have taught you, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

Silence = Nonexistence

We are no longer at a crossroads.  No matter how we voted, we have chosen a path and we all have to walk it together.  Whatever comes, don't lose your voice. Don't lose the best of yourself, even when others around you have.

What we learned from the election this year is that white people are afraid of change. They benefited from the status quo of the 1950's, and dream of returning to a time lost forever.

This is not the time to feel fear, on either side. Now is the moment to show the world the power of compassion to erode the forces of hate and division.  

Don't be one of those people who lies to themselves and says, "Donald Trump is not my president."  He is.

Donald Trump is Our President

That means we have to hold his feet to the fire.  We have to organize and speak up. In many ways, nothing has changed. Regardless of who won the Presidency, we were going to have to work hard on our local, state, and federal representatives and senators to ensure a better world.  We may have to work harder, but we would have had to do this work either way.

Don't think for a minute that I am in denial or that I think any of this will be easy. It was never going to be easy, but now we know where the real problem is.  

Combatting Fear

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
— Frank Herbert, Dune

The election taught us that the biggest problem our country has is fear.  We have to stand up and against the fear, but we have to see a way to diffuse the fear in others.

The only way to fight fear is with compassion, and that is something the Red States have too little of. Not only in their hearts, but in their lives.  We have not treated them right.  That does not mean we accede to their demands, but we have to see their pain and alleviate it.

The Beating Heart of Fandom

Today is T-14 days until my 40th birthday, and the Reconnection Project has empowered me more than I ever thought it would. Today, I start the process of moving beyond me... Let the games begin.

Fandom is an action and a community.

The Last Air Bender from Shore Leave 32

When I say fandom is an action, it is a bunch of actions.

  • Reading and writing Fan fiction
  • Creating, sharing, and discussing Fan theories
  • Listening to, writing, and singing Filk
  • Sharing, making, and viewing Fan Art
  • Fan Vids
  • Fan films
  • Cosplay
  • Costuming
  • Roleplaying
  • Fan games
  • etc...

Every fan has their own way of participating in fandom. I used to participate a lot more than I do now. And that changes today.

When I stopped everything in the depths of my depression, I stopped playing in the fandoms I love.  I cut myself off from the fan communities I used to not only participate in, but I cut myself off from the people I used to interact with.

Community and fanac (fan activities) go hand in hand, especially now in this age of the internet.

We are defined by our actions

I cannot say that enough to myself or to you.

Ideas in your head stay in your head and if you aren't careful, they will cage you in there.

Life is action. If you want to live a life of compassion, you have to engage in acts of compassion or you are not compassionate. The same is true with everything.

If you want to define yourself by what you love, you have to engage in loving actions.

In fandom, that means, we have to share what we love and promote it. Don't let yourself be passive. Passivity is silence, and silence is nonexistence.

Take your voice back! Take your life back! Share your love with the world. 

Some people might think this is a silly or trivial thing, but it isn't.

My love for Yoda says something about me. He represents wisdom, inner strength, and the ability to find humor in any situation. These are all qualities I admire and desire in myself. When I see my Yodas around the house, it works as a symbol which draws up all these connections in my unconscious mind and strengthens those qualities within me.

Some people might think that is taking all this too seriously, but that is how mythology works.  It is a subtile effect on us, but it effects us all the same. By choosing to surround myself with these images, seeking them out, and sharing them, I am participating in the mythos. Ever time I quote Yoda, I am participate in the mythos and strengthen those qualities in me. 

Don't think that these are some kind of solemn acts. Solemnity isn't required for actions to have effects on our selves. Sometimes they are moments of catharsis, and sometimes they are pure frivolity.  

Today's Task: 

Find at least one thing you love and participate in it.  Share a picture, a video, read some fanfic, watch a fanfilm, or at the very least watch or listen to something you love.

Let me know how you are participating in the things you love.

Let your light Shine

Today is T-15 to my 40th Birthday and I feel like wrapping up in a blanket and ignoring everything because my allergies struck back. A trivial problem, but when you are trying to build up momentum any stumbling block can knock you back down.

One of the biggest problems we face is when we are judged for what we feel is a problem in our lives that when compared to other problems in the world seem trivial. Our problems are ours, and we have to deal with them as they face us.

Now, don't misunderstand me.  I am not saying it is ok to whine about our state in life or wallow in your own misery.  In fact, we have to do the exact opposite.


Whether big or small, obstacles will always crop up. Their severity is all too often dictated by our mood when we stumble upon them.  If we are at a particularly low point even the smallest thing can throw us completely off our game.

What is your light?

Our light is a combination of things.

Light Empowers

Whatever empowers you is part of your light.  Whether it is music, dancing, drawing, writing, cooking, baking, knitting, it is important for you to know it and have it at hand when the time comes.

One of my biggest recharging stations is music.  I love to listen to it, and even more to sing along. I don't have a good singing voice, but I don't care.  I love it. As I write this, I feel lucky by Mary Chapin Carpenter came on.  I am not a big Country music fan, but I love that song.  I had to stop typing and just sing along. Here's the video if you want to join in.

Now that feels a lot better.  I don't exclusively listen to happy go lucky music.  Right now, Reptile by Creaming Jesus is on and I am singing along to it too.

Both songs work for me, but I have always been a Goth at heart.  Neither of these may work for you, and that's fine.  Find what works for you, and embrace it.  We have to take moments to refuel or we can't complain when we inevitably run out of gas.

Light from Within

Light also comes from within us. This isn't where I tell you that you have an ineffable light deep down inside you and you have to let it shine.  You do, we all do, but that isn't what I am talking about right now.

There are things you do that are uniquely you that can fight back the darkness when it comes for you.

It might be your sense of humor, or wit, or a quirk in your perspective that comes from a very honest and vulnerable place.  This light can be the hardest to find and harness, but it is key to fighting off the darkness.

For me, this is my imagination. Whether I let myself day dream for a minute, rework a old myth into a new story, or just wander through some old memories, I find strength in the words and images arising from my unconscious mind.  That is why the first thing that I struggle with in dark times is my ability to imagine.

When you find that unique thing inside you, learn how to harness it to make yourself stronger.

Today's Task

Find one thing that refuels you and makes you feel alive and do it for no less than 15 minutes.

I am going to give a private concert to my dog and cat, and to his chagrin my husband who is working out of the house today.  What are you going to do?

There's not enough Love and Understanding

It is now T-16 to my 40th Birthday, and it happens to be Brian's Birthday today.  As I write this, he is playing Civ VI, his present with the biggest smile on his face.  It is hard to express how much I love him.

Love is such a strange thing.  I never thought this would be a part of my life, yet still here it is.  Our story is as strange and bizarre as it would have to be to get people like us together.  My life has taught me the most important thing anyone could ever know about love:

Love sneaks up on you

By that, I mean every kind of love. Romantic, friendly, familial, or just simple compassion, it just sneaks up on you. It doesn't come when you seek it out.  It seems to hide when you look for it, but when you least suspect it, there it is.  I was in a relationship when I met Brian.  I wasn't looking for anything else, but it happen anyway.

Friends from Shore Leave.

Romantic love isn't the only kind of love that sneaks up on you. Friends do as well. I never expected to make so many friends from New York, especially since I haven't been to the state since 1996, but now I have a circle of friends there that are as supportive, if not more, than any of the friends I have in the town where I live. How did that happen? 

Honestly Honesty

After an event I am not going to go into a lot of detail about took place in 1998-99, many people I thought were friends stole every THING that I had including my sense of self and how the world works. After that, I decided just be bluntly and blatantly who and what I am.

While I wouldn't recommend for everyone to be as open about their lives as I am, I will say that you have to be yourself.  

Stop caring about what others think about you

I am just me, and you should be you. If you spend any amount of time worrying about what other people think about you, that is just a waste of time.

The one thing most lacking in this world is honesty or integrity or however you want to name it.  Society will always pressure individuals to play a role, because it is a machine like everything else.  It packages, names, and grinds people down until they fit into the role it needs them to fill.

What is important to remember is that Society is made up of many subcultures, and those subcultures empower Society to behave the way it does.  If you are in a subculture that doesn't want you, find another that does.

I left the mainstream or popular subculture years ago because I am not the Cisgendered, Heteronormalized, Centrist demanded my the currant cadre of subcultures that make up the present coalition we call Pop Culture.  

I am not Cisgendered, so I identify as genderqueer, or more specifically as androgynous.  I planted a flag there, and made a home in a community that accepted me as I am.

I could never live a Heteronormalized life, so I found myself in the feminist and LGBT communities.

I am not a centrist, so I called myself out as a liberal.

So what subculture do I live in? Fandom. I love a subculture that defines itself by what it loves rather than what it hates (which is how fandom should be defined, even though sometimes people push the edges of that definition).

To me, that is the secret of life and how everyone should act.  When you focus on the things you love, you attract a loving community around you.  This is a how you attract love in every form.

Brian and I connected through fan activities, and we have now been together for almost 20 years.  All of the friends I have, I met through our mutual fandoms.  Love gives meaning to life.  Love gives us strength.  Love is all that matters.

Task for Today

Share something you love with a partner, friend, or a stranger.  Connect with those closest to you over your mutual love for something: music, shows, movies, games, etc.

Let me know what your results are.

Take back your life one thing at a time

It is T-17 days until I turn 40, and I am surprised at how that base 10 number is affecting me.  It is not that I feel old, it is more that I am looking back on my life to this point and wondering what (if anything) I have done with it.

This is a self portrait I made May 13, 2014, I think you can see how I felt.

I would never say that I have wasted my life, but the last several years have been empty and devoid of meaning and purpose.  I lost myself.  This isn't a midlife crisis or anything of the sort. A couple years ago I fell into the deepest depression I have ever experienced.  Through it, I disconnected from everything and everyone I ever loved.  I lost almost all of my friends, and I don't blame them. I was not a good person to be around.

Nothing made me laugh. Everything made me cry.  I couldn't feel anything at all.  I didn't/couldn't care about any aspect of my or anyone else's life.  It is hard for me to explain to someone who hasn't gone there what a black hole my life was.  I hope no one reading this has ever been in a place like that.  It was a vacuous pain no one ever needs to feel.

Since I came back, it has been really hard for me to reconnect to my life. Everything seems distant. Those connections didn't magically reform, and I don't expect them to.  I have to do the work, and that is what this series is about.

11 Years ago was my first Book Launch Party...

My Book Launch Party at the Wine Rack/Java Stop for Liquid Sky.

My first and only Book Launch Party was 11 years ago today...  When I think about it, it was my only book launch party.  Liquid Sky, my first novel had just come out.  You can see how happy I am in the picture.

If the depression I just talked about was the lowest I have ever felt, this was probably the best.  After years of writing, the fourth book I had written was right there in print for anyone to read.  Even now, when I think about it, I can't help but smile.

I don't know why I didn't celebrate the release of any of my other books. In fact, I hadn't realized that I hadn't until I started writing this.  That is something that has to change.

8 years after this, we bought the Wine Rack... Everything should have been great, but by January the next year I tweeted:

By July, I had completely fallen off the cliff.  It's not like everything was all good before that.  All this had built up for years, and the collapse took years away from me.  

Stopping Everything Stops Everything

Leading up to this depression, I had stopped podcasting, because I didn't enjoy doing it by myself.  I stopped blogging because I couldn't see the point of it.  I stopped writing because the stories weren't perfect.  I stopped going out because it felt pointless.  I stopped everything then everything stopped.

I am not saying my depression was my fault.  Depression isn't something that can be blamed on its victim.  What I am saying is that the problems mounted one on another until I was buried so deep I couldn't breathe.  I didn't see it coming. I couldn't see it from the inside.

Now that I am on the other side, putting my life back together has been more of a challenge than I want it to be.  Not like life cares.  Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

Starting One thing at a time.

To get my life back, I realize that I am going to have to start up one thing at a time.

For me that means I have to start with my first love, writing.

I love to tell stories.  I don't care if they are books, short stories, podcasts, or prose poems.  I just love to tell stories.  Even in my darkest moments, I tried to write, but I allowed the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  I wrote nothing because the stories weren't the greatest thing ever.  How stupid is that?!

My stories are my stories.  They are my heart.  Whether or not anyone likes them other than me, they are my stories.  I don't have to care what anyone else thinks about them.  All that matters is that I like them.

That is where I have to start.  You might have a different starting point, and you probably will, but each and every one of us has something in our lives that gives us a sense of purpose or meaning. I have to write something, anything every day until that connection comes back strong in my life.

Every day, leading up to my 40th birthday, I am going to find one thing to celebrate or reconnect to.  I hope you join me on my journey.  I am taking my life back, and I urge you to do the same.

Please share your journey with me.  Let's walk this road together.

Write with your voice, not another's

When I read this article on the University Times, I shouted, booed, and cheered at my computer.  I am not going to respond to it directly or to almost anything said in it.  I just want to share my thoughts on the subject since it's something I have thought a lot about.

As a gender queer gay writer, my biggest fear when I got started was that I would be called or classified as a gay writer.  Needless to say, all of my fears came true while the Fate's Harrow serial was coming out.  I was cast off to the LGBT panels, and seemingly all of my fears came true... or did they.

I embraced the categorization, and my next two books, and found an audience that I didn't expect.  Admittedly, it wasn't a large audience, but it is so supportive.  Now, I have to ask myself, what was I afraid of?

Closeted Writer or Honest Stories

The real choice I faced in my writing was whether to be honest about the types of characters I wanted to write about or to stay in a closet of my own making and tell stories I thought other people wanted to read about.  While the latter may be a better strategy for my business, it was a betrayal of everything in me to write.

Not all of my characters are gay or gender queer, but that is my voice as a writer.  It is how I see the world and understand it.  To write any other way would be dishonest to my experience of life.

I am not saying this to judge other writers for their choices.  I understand what a personal decision this is, but if you are struggling with this question, I hope my experience helps you.

Write in your voice, not someone else's

Whatever state you are in, write in your unique voice.  That voice is flavored by your gender, sexuality, beliefs, and experiences.  Your voice isn't the same as your favorite writers', and that is a beautiful thing.

No one talks like you.  No one sees the world like you.  No one imagines the things you imagine.  If you are a writer, it is your duty to tell your own stories in your own voice which will always be colored by your own experiences.

Embrace your uniqueness and don't compare you work to the work of others.  If you were meant to write their book, you would have, and it would sound nothing like their book does.

Be strong in your own stories, and be open to the worlds bursting forth from within you.  They are your challenge alone.  


Creative Storms and the building of Worlds

Many worlds live behind my eyes, and each and every one claws at the edges of my mind to come into being through word and art.  I have played with them, dancing through the night.  I have tried to prioritize them so I can work on one world at a time, but the others shout and scream to the point where I can no longer hear the chosen one...

This year, I have been trying to change my relationship with my fiction and my career.  I want to write more short stories, prose poems, and vignettes, but I still want to work on novels, novellas, and novelettes.  The problem comes in when I try to choose one world over another.  

I used to think this was a problem with disciple, but I don't think it is.  Not really.

Sometime I am in the mood to reread Harry Potter (I am on book 6 btw), and sometime I want to watch Star Trek, and other times I want to continue reading the Pillars of Reality.  If my choice for entertainment can flip around from genre to genre, why would I expect that my imagination would fixate on just one thing?

Why should I feel guilty for loving many genres?

Because it feeds my resistance to keeps me from writing...

There is so much pressure on writers to conduct their business in a certain way.  Every writer who has achieved even a little bit of success, has a formula to follow.  They all have the same talking points.

  1. Write a series of books.
  2. Write them fast, releasing several books a year.
  3. Start an email newsletter.
  4. Sale, Sale, SALE!

So, how does a writer with too many ideas work?

I want to tell stories, and yes, I want to make money off my work, but I should not have to conform to how other writers do their work.

Writing is a craft.  Yes, it is a business, but I think we spend too much time, energy, and effort focusing on how to make money, and not enough time on our craft.

We have to tell the stories that are in us to tell.

For writers like me, the community consensus that I should be all about the money distracts me from the real purpose of my career.  I have stories in me that want to be told, and I need to spend my time, energy, and effort on telling those stories in the most well crafted ways I can, and then figure out a way to monetize that.

Stories must come before money.

If you are a writer like me with too many ideas and worlds in you fighting to get out, find a way to tell those stories before everything else.  

Our stories matter more than our income.

I have been here before.  I get to this point, and then slowly, I get sucked down the business road and worry more about money than craft.  I can only hope that I will not fall down that path again.

Join me.  

  • Tell your stories as I tell mine.  
  • Allow your imagination to carry you to where you need to be.
  • Put the stories and craft first, then monetize that.
  • Don't lock yourself into a system that is self/soul defeating.

I have faith in my craft, my stories, and my characters.  You should too.

Share the message:

One way to change the world is to act as if it’s already changed.

While I am still on the fence about the new Doctor Who spinoff, Class, showrunner Patrick Ness said something that made me smile:

Ness added: “Kind of astounded that having a gay lead on Class has been such big news. One day it won’t be, one day soon.

“BECAUSE IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL. One way to change the world is to act as if it’s already changed. That’s how I roll, that’s how Class rolls
— Patrick Ness

I hope he is right.  After the events over the weekend, I fear that day may be further away than we want it to be.

This approach to writing is one that I adopted many years ago, and it is one I wan to see many other writers take up.  While a story about the struggle can be entertaining, after a while, they really do start feeling like the same story over and over again.

When I was a kid, I looked up to characters like Frank N Furter from Rocky Horror because he was the only genderqueer LGBT character I had ever seen.  The world amazed me because no one cared about Frank's gender or sexuality.  Everyone was delightfully bisexual. No one was judged for they gender expression.

Today, there are more role models for kids, but there can always be more.  When we create or experience a world without prejudice or that is already beyond it like the original Star Trek, it gives us not only something to aspire to, but an escape from the hate and abuse present in the world.

Hooray for class.  You earned my support.

What scares me about writing?

While going through my Twitter feed, I came across this question:

The question struck me in a very emotional way, and it made me think that I am not alone in the strange fear that has overshadowed my writing lately.

Am I creative enough or do I go too far?

That might sound like a paradox, and it is.  9 times out of 10, that is the one thing that stops me in my tracks.

Creativity is a strange thing.  To some it is that spooky hand of inspiration that rarely condescends upon us mortals and grants us the glorious gift of inspiration and writing flow.  That is not what I am scared of.

Creativity and the Illusion of Originality

It isn't rare that I have an idea for a story, but what follows is pure FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).  While the plots are never identical, it is hard to come up with a story that doesn't feel like something I have read before.  That shouldn't be a hindrance, but lately, it tends to stop me dead in my tracks.

Why do I care?  I don't know.  I really don't.  I understand that there is only one story that has ever been told, and that every story fits into that mode.  If you are generous, you can widen that out to 12, 20, or 36, but the fact is the number of possible stories is impossibly small.  But like all writers, I want to stand out.  I want people to not only like my fiction, but to love it.

I am trying to push myself to get past this and just write stories that I love, but it is hard to get through this block.

Creativity and the Curse of Too Many Ingredients

The other side of the coin is the question about how simple or complex should a story be.  When I let myself go, I get reviews that call my work dense and hard to get into.  When I simplify, I get reviews that say I didn't go far enough.

Maybe I am looking for that Goldilocks zone where I include just the right about of complexity while neither being too hot, or too cold.

I don't think that is the answer at all.  There is a difference between developing my craft as a writer, and conforming my work to an unseen audience.

Creativity and the Pure Joy of Writing

The one thing I have learned over my career is that I have to write stories I love.  Those are the stories my readers love too.  That passion flows from me into the words and worlds, and resonates with the readers.

The path beyond fear is in the stories I love to tell and sharing that passion with the world.  Only then can I write a fun story, and if they find an audience, that is a wondrous thing, but (as writers) we have to separate the audience from the work.

I would rather be unread for stories that I love than loved for a story I hate.  That is really important.

I get my fulfillment in life from telling these stories.  A fulfilling life is success greater than any other.  That is where I have to keep my eyes focused.  That is the real prize.

If you are having these same problems, let me know how you are getting through.  Are you afraid of something else?  How do you overcome your fears to find a better life?

It's time to break the chains (2016 Objectives)

I know you all are probably tired of hearing me say this, but the last couple years have been hard for me.  Depression is a thing.  As we start 2016, it is time for me to do something that I haven't done in a while, I need to set some objectives for the new year.

The break down I went through taught me a couple things.

  1. I am stronger than I thought I was (and so are we all).
  2. You all really do care about not only what we built here, but about me. (That helped me get through more than you know.)
  3. Fandom is what I am, not just something I do.

That third one might sound strange.  In my darkest moments, I found strength not only in my faith, but in Spock, the Doctor, and my love for all things Henson.  When I didn't feel like doing anything, I would listen to Rainbow Connection, and find the strength to keep going.  BTW, I have amassed quite a collection of covers of that song.  I think my favorite is by Amanda Palmer.  She also helped more than she will ever know.  I have never met her, and I probably never will, but her book The Art of Asking, and her music was a big help.

So, having said all that, I have some objectives for this year.

Objective 1. I want to Write more

That might sound overly simple.  I am a writer after all, but with everything that has been going on, I haven't been able to write nearly as much, as I wanted.  I tied myself down with planning, and did very little writing.  I am not going to keep it that vague.

Goal 1.1 I want to post 4 Short Stories a month to Medium

There are a lot of stories in me, and I just need to tell them.  I need to stop worrying if this story or that should be a novel, a serial, a novella, novelette, or a short story.  I should tell the stories that are in my head, and then listen to you all.  If you all want me to elaborate on or extend a story, then that is probably my next novel.  After all, what good is all my writing if no one wants to read it, right?

At any rate, I feel like that will be a good way to collaborate more closely with you all.  I like the idea, and we'll see how it works out.

Goal 1.2 I want to blog more, at least 5 times a week

This is a bit harder for me.  I am so tired of the nonsense hype cycle, and I don't want to be a part of it any more, but there are a lot of things I want to share with you all and discuss.  I am going to do my best to take the time to share those thoughts.  I have to stop keeping it all inside.

Objective 2.  I want to Podcast more

I love podcasting.  I really do.  So I want to set aside the time to do it more.  I even talked Brian into joining me on the podcast again. (insert appropriate happy dance emoji here).

Goal 2.1 Record 5 podcasts a week 22-45 minutes each

Project: Shadow lives again.  More themed episodes, but I will try to have a headline section for things that are actually interesting.  I am going to need your help with this.  I have a lot of things I want to talk about, but could always use your suggestions for show topics.

Two objectives that give me three goals.  It might not sound like a lot, but that should keep me busy in 2016.  I would really like to know what you think.  What are you doing this year?  Let me know in the comments.

The Big Friendly Giant and Seed of Creativity

Steven Spielberg is making a movie of The Big Friendly Giant. (squee)

The BFG was one of my favorite books when I was a kid.  It is hard to explain how much this book means to me. 

I grew fast.  I was almost always the tallest kid in my class.  When I read this book for the first time, I found two characters I could identify with, but so much more than that, I found a world that I wanted to spend more time in.  I pretended I was the giant, and acted out not only scenes from the book, but I invented new ones.

When I was in the third grade, I volunteered to write our class play, and of course, I based it on The BFG.  It was the first thing I ever wrote.  I even starred as the BFG, and I directed the play.  I even set up a foley artist (though I didn't know that word at the time) to do sound effects off stage.

This is one of those books that had such an effect on my life that I can say I would be who I am or doing what I do without it.

Igniting your child's imagination

Books like this one have a special power over our imaginations.  They are important for children, but in many ways, they are even more important for adults.

Somewhere along the way, many of us are taught to stop playing, stop using our imagination.  We are all lessened by this.  Imagination and play are tools to not only help us relax, but also to grapple with abstract concepts and work over problems in different ways.  Play is important.

I plan to see The BFG when it comes out, and I hope it awakens parts of me that went dormant long ago.  What reawakens your sense of childlike wonder and play?  If you can't think of something, what are you going to do to try to bring it back?

What can the Skeleton Warriors of Papua New Guinea teach us about Christmas.

I didn't expect to be blown away by the sheer beauty of a people that paint themselves as skeletons, but it happened.

What is it about these men that took my breath away?

They embrace life.  To paint your body with the visage of death reminds us of the precious and fleeting nature of life.  More than that, their willingness to play with their traditional art form.  This is a quality we have lost in the us vs them culture we adopted over the last several decades.

This is most evident this time of year with some people's reaction to Christmas.

Culture, tradition, and religion

It is undeniable that Christmas has a special significance to Christians, but it is also an American cultural institution.  Movies like Elf, The Santa Clause, and Miracle on 34th Street, not to mention Rudolf, the Night Before Christmas, and A Christmas Carol, all provide secular images that have become cultural fixtures over the years.  Don't even get me started with How the Grinch stole Christmas.

My point being, while, yes, there are some cultural institutions that should be abandoned in the name of inclusion and diversity, we as a culture need to learn to play with the images we have inherited, rather than reject them all blindly.

We have lost too much of our culture to hostile copyright laws to trash what little of the public domain we have left.

If a cultural image bothers you, ask what about it is so troubling.  Is it something inherent in the image, or is it baggage you are carrying with you.

There is too much either/or thinking.

Santa Claus can be both a Christian reminder of St Nicolas of Myra, and a secular figure who sells Coca-cola.  He doesn't have to be one or the other.

If we don't learn how to reconcile the contradictions facing us in these images, we will never be able to cope with more fundamental ones like how all life is sustained by death.  Hydrogen must die to give light to the plants.  Plants and animals must die to sustain our lives.  We ignore these issues by telling ourselves that plants can't feel or think, but they still have to die.

Truth often presents itself through paradoxes.  The sooner we get comfortable with that, the sooner we will start to find peace in our hearts.

Play with your culture

If we don't play with the images we have inherited, they will go away, and if we don't make new ones, we will follow soon after.  We like to think that we are rational creatures, but we are also emotional ones.  Logic speaks to our reason, but images speak to our emotions.  For too long, we have abandoned our emotional natures to fend for themselves, gleaning what little nourishment they can from pop culture.

We are the agents of our culture.  It doesn't belong to us. It has only been entrusted to us until we leave it to the generations after.  Leave it better than it was when it was handed down to you.  Don't short circuit the culture out of some short sighted need to react to the past rather than create the future.


Are Pen and Dice RPGs Dead?

I hate to ask the question, but I feel like it is something I need to know.  I recently started up an Earthdawn game.  It was very impromptu.  I had an idea, I asked Brian and some friends, we rolled up characters, and away we went.

We have played three sessions, and I have to say, I am not having fun like I used to, and I am not sure if that is the problem, or if it is a sign of the problem.

The Problem is Engagement.

Isn't that always the problem...  This is the first time I have run a game since people became so addicted to their smartphones.  I have had one player watch videos on their phone during a game, and another player who was so into what he was doing on his phone he missed a major event that has changed the story for everyone.

I was a little apprehensive about writing this post.  I haven't really talked to them about it because I don't know how.  I feel like if I say anything it will sound like, "How can you not find me so entertaining that you devote all your attention to me?"   That is not how I feel and not what I want to say.

I have the same problem when I watch TV Shows with friends.  They play with their phone and let the show just be on in the background.  Then when something happens I want to talk about, they missed it, or were paying so little attention they argue that it didn't happen the way it did.  This has left me feeling like they have voted themselves out of the fandom, and now I don't know why they are there.

This same thing is happening with the game.  I feel like I am wasting my time working on the story and characters, and that I could just phone it in.  I mean, why am I not just hanging out on Twitter and Tumblr like they are.

Don't get me wrong.  This is not a problem with every player, but it is making me feel like writing certain characters out of the game, and to simplify the plot.  I don't want to do that, but the urge is there.

Attention spans aren't shorter, Imagination is thinner.

"But our attention spans are shorter."  I disagree.  While there is some research to show that our attention spans have shrunk from 12 to 8 seconds (see post),  but that isn't enough of a difference to account for this issue.  4 seconds is a large percent of change, but it isn't a lot of time in a face to face interaction.

What feels like the real problem here is that our imaginations are suffering from a drought.  We don't have to use it as much as we used to.  Everything has a picture with it.  Movies, videos, and games are all so much more visually intense. 

Pen and Dice RPGs are imagination games.  That is what makes them fun. You gather around a table with your friends and tell a story together. That is what makes this problem so infuriating. 

The Imagination Drought hits the Game

When my players sat down to make their characters, they didn't talk about what they wanted to play.  They started talking about roles (tank, DPS, healer), and were focused on stats and character sheets rather than fleshing out their characters.  I didn't receive a single Bio for the characters.  Now, I have played with these people before, and they know the kind of games I like to run (character driven), so when they treated the game like it was WoW or some other BS playground game, I just fell apart a little inside.

So the players don't know anything about their characters.  Some took no time to understand their discipline.  I have one player who cannot level up any of his powers because he hasn't taken advantage of any of the opportunities to do so...

Forget this game...

I am not sure if I am going to continue running this game, but I really do what to run a game...  Maybe something on Hangouts... but that is not something I need to be thinking about right now.

I am not even sure if I am going to be running any game any time soon.  We need to find a way to deal with this imagination deficit.  It is neither good, nor healthy for us as a species to be running around in either a rational haze or an imaginationless funk.

We have to take more time to connect with that creative spark we all have in us.  That is the only way we can grow, learn, and improve.

I refuse to believe that Pen and Dice RPGs are dead.  They will always have a devoted audience, even if it is small.  What is dead, or at the very least stagnate, are the pools of inspiration we used to draw from to fill our lives with interesting moments.

Do you think I have diagnosed the problem?  What do you think is the future of pen and dice RPGs?

What's in a name? Are they sometimes sheer vanity?

Lately, I've been having a bit of an identity crisis. Not about who I am, but about what my name should be.  

Me on my 4th Birthday

I was born Charles Eric Dorsett. For much of my early life, I bounced between Charles and Eric. Eric was the obvious choice because Charles was the name of my father and Grandfather, so people calling me Eric in the family prevented confusion.  

In school, I switched back and forth, but in middle school I switched to Eric, and have stuck with that ever since.  

Over the last couple years though, a lot has changed. I have learned to accept myself, even finally admitting to myself that I am genderqueer. Maybe it's that, or maybe it is because I am closing in on 40, but I have started to feel like Eric is someone I used to know, and not the person I am now.  

Is this just vanity?

There is a part of me that feels like it is.  I have fought so hard all my life not to care what people call me that to find myself obsessing over whether people call me Eric or Charlie strikes me as vane.  It isn't though.

The only real power we have in this world is to decide how we want to present ourselves to the world.  I won't be offended if people call me either name.  This is something I need to do for me, regardless of whether or not anyone chooses to call me Charlie or not.  This is about the label I put on myself, and how I feel about that label.

How is Charlie different from ERic?

To the people who know me, there really isn't a difference.  I have grown and changed so much, especially over the last few years, that anyone I haven't seen for a while would notice a huge difference.

I am no longer as fearful and angry.  I have found some measure of peace in my life and comfort in my own skin.  I smile more.  My sense of humor is no longer based on making fun of myself.

More than anything, I am no longer the self-destructive person I used to me.  That, more than anything else, is probably why I have been thinking about this so much lately.

This is a metamorphoses more than a reinvention.

The changes I have gone through have been slow, but steady.  I am not deciding to change who I am, I am just naming a change that has already happened.

There is nothing wrong with reinvention.  I have had a few of those in my life, but this is something different.  This is just me naming myself more honestly.

Do you understand what I am going through?  Have you ever been through something similar?  Let me know it the comments.

Firing someone for being a bigot does not violate religious liberty.

Thomas Banks is suing Ford Motor because they fired him over a homophobic tirade.  He claims that his religious freedom was violated.  He is wrong.

He wasn't fired for his beliefs, he was fired for attacking Ford Motor for being an equal opportunity employer that refused to discriminate against its employees based on sexual orientation.  This was a violation of the companies anti-harassment policy.

As a Christian, I am unaware of any commandment of Jesus for his followers to be hateful or hostile or discriminatory.  There is no justification within the faith to be uncivil.

Banks is free to believe whatever he wants.  He is free to practice his religion.  He is not free to harass fellow employees. 

I am not sure what happened to civility.  When I was growing up, I was told to be respectful to other people, and not to do anything that would hurt other people.  It breaks my heart to see this value fall out of favor, or be labeled as "political correctness."

Democracy requires an open, honest, fact-based discussion of policy.  We cannot pretend that inconvenient facts don't exist.  Homophobia has no scientific or factual basis.  There are no facts left to put on the table.  It can be upsetting when an opinion fails under the weight of the facts, but when it happens we have to accept the well reasoned case, and either change our opinions or at least understand that we have no valid argument to make anymore.

I am not sure what to do about all this.  I hope there is a path we can take back to civil public discourse, but right now I just cannot see what it is.  Do you have any thoughts?