Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

FINISHED!!!

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After two years and nine months, a professional developmental AND line edit, five complete rewrites and gods knows how many thousands of edits, today I put the final touches on my first novel, “Lost On the Wilder Shores,” and saved it with the word FINISHED tacked on the end like a bow.

To say this is a red letter day might be an understatement.

Mind you, if an agent or editor expresses interest in the book, they will most certainly want more editing done, and I’m fine with that.

But the loose plan as of now is to query agents for representation, and after 100 rejections self-publish. If that is indeed the case, the book I finished today is the book I’ll put up for sale—and I can unequivocally say it’s a good one.

Am I Too Lucky?

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Maybe. I have a beautiful wife who loves me, my health, and a fully functioning brain. I’ve survived cancer and sepsis and physically still feel pretty robust.

Whenever I feel as if my life is too good, though, I like to remind myself that it’s running out. Not to bring me down—on the contrary, because focusing on its impermanence makes me feel gratitude.

I mean, if you have a limited amount of time left, then each day is kind of a little miracle, right?

Why Write?

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Because it’s fun. More fun than you can possibly imagine. How so?

Well, if you’re a certain type of person, you live more in your head than you do in the real world. There’s just all kinds of crazy shit happening up there. Writing is a way to dive in and give that craziness form, to really examine what’s going on in your mind and try to make sense out of it.

Short stories are great for drilling down into an idea and looking for meaning, but if you want to create entire worlds, and populate them with three dimensional, unpredictable people, novels are the way to go.

Any way you cut it, if you write fiction, you get to carry this show around in your head 24/7. The best part is, you never really know how it all turns out until you’ve written it.

I’m about to start a new one and can’t wait to dive in. Why write? To see how it ends.

But How Do You Know if It’s Any Good?

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Whether it’s music or writing, here’s my metric: If you’ve been working on the thing in a disciplined fashion for a long time and you still think it’s good, it is.

I don’t know about you, but I’m generally not that impressed with myself, so for me to even come up with something that I think is cool takes some work. Sure, I can generate lots of creative ideas, but ideas aren’t works. At least not yet.

But once you’ve actually got something—a book, an album, a play—the real challenge is in the long haul.

Does it hold up after you’ve been working on it for a year? What about two years? How about after it was met with condescending derision by not one, but two editors, both of whom you paid what was, for you, a significant chunk of change?

Well, I’m about to finish a novel I’ve been working on for over two and a half years, and I can honestly say that it is, indeed, good. It doesn’t fit neatly into any box, but it’s very much alive and exists in a messy world of its own.

I’m happy with it, and maybe even a little sad it’s coming to an end. But I want to remember this feeling, because I’m about to send it out into the world where it’s going to face a crushing amount of rejection. Lots of people are not going to share my opinion. I’m a writer, so I know that up front.

But know matter what anyone else thinks, at the end of the day I know that it’s good. It grew up and became something special, something better than its author. It may never meet the audience that needs it, but they’re out there, and I can honestly say I’m going to do my best to help them find it.

Now let’s see if I make something even better.

Editors: A Question of Perspective

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Let’s be clear: what you’re really paying an editor for is to tell you what’s wrong with your manuscript. Doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right; that’s for you to decide. And it’s okay to disagree…

But if you do, it would be wise to think long and hard about their suggestions, because the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Make no mistake—what you want is cold, brutal honesty. It’s just a painful but necessary part of the process. And you’re not getting your money’s worth if they just tell you how great you are, because the truth is that everything can be better. It just takes someone with no skin in the game to see it.

Always remember: a fighter gets better by getting beat up.

How To Change the World

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In a world where human decency seems to be devolving, it turns out that we have more power than one might think.

How so?

Whether you believe this to be true or not, everything you do influences the people within your sphere because humans are wired to pay attention to their environment. And, because we are social animals, we subconsciously mimic what we see.

So hold your head up and be kind. It’s more powerful than you might think.

Stacking the Deck

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”There’s a famous study from James Fries from Stanford, where he looked at the habits of a large cohort of people and he found that those who kept their ideal body weight, didn’t smoke, and exercised lived long healthy lives and died quickly, painlessly, and cheaply, whereas those who didn’t follow those behaviors had sort of long, slow declines and died long, expensive, painful deaths.”

– Mark Hyman, MD

Too Good Not to Share

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In 2004, George Harrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The show ended with an all-star band playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” led by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, and they killed. Marc Mann played Eric Clapton’s solo spot-on, nailing the feel.

Apparently, the show’s producer had asked Prince (who played earlier in the show) if he wanted to sit in. He agreed, but declined to play in the rehearsal, letting Marc handle the solos. So there was a bit of confusion when the band starts the tune.

Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful, heart-rending version, complete with George’s son Dhani on acoustic guitar. Halfway through, Prince appears on stage right holding a guitar, but not playing. The band gets to the outro, and he steps forward to play the closing solo…

I just happened to come upon this video blindly, and remember thinking “I hope he doesn’t fuck this up.” What follows is one of the most astonishing guitar solos I’ve ever heard, and I’m a musician who’s heard a lot.

So without further ado, please enjoy!

The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

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I’d love to say that I came up with this line, but all credit must go to Jamelle Bouie, staff writer for the New York Times. It’s hidden deep in an article today covering our political “situation” here in America. You know, the one leading up to the 2024 Presidential election.

Wow – the soft bigotry of low expectations. It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Asking the reader to think about its meaning is devastating by itself; putting it in the context of our political landscape is a kind of grim poetry.

For gods sake, let’s raise those expectations, people.

Buckle Up

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Okay, let’s get gratitude out of the way first. So what, pray tell, am I grateful for? Quite a lot, actually. At the top of the list would have to be my wife, who I’ve had the privilege of sharing my life with for the past forty years. Forty good ones, I might add. Everything else is kind of a distant second.

It’s been a while since my last post, but since I’m writing this for myself, there’s really no need to go into it. Things are good, let’s just leave it at that.

I’m dusting off the machinery here, getting things ready for, wait, ready for what, exactly?

Why, life of course. Join me, won’t you?

Accepted!

Today I received an acceptance for one of my short stories I always loved. “Grace Comes At Nightfall” will be printed in the May 2024 Issue of Black Sheep Magazine.

Thank you to the editors for giving my baby a home.

Now, back to work on my next novel…

Read This After Your 100th Rejection

“Writers are actually the most powerful party in the equation, because they are the sole creators of the golden eggs. The rest of us just build infrastructures. Agents and publishers curate, tweak, and manipulate; and readers consume. All of that matters, but the power to create is the supreme element. Without writers, there’s no edifice or sustenance for anyone else in the publishing world. Always honor your precious individuality without cleaving yourself from the esteemed collective to which you belong by choice. No one can remove you from your given destiny unless you let go.”

– Jeff Herman, Agent

New Short Story Published in Mystery Tribune

This is a short story I’m very proud of — thank you to the editors at Mystery Tribune for giving it a home!

Damaged

A lonely, neglected sixteen-year-old boy finds a man who seems to care about him. Desperate for an encouraging father figure, he’d do anything to please this man, even if it meant hurting a stranger. But humans are complicated, and even for skilled predatory adults, outcomes can be unpredictable. Sometimes unimaginably so.

It’s Going to Be OK (Part 1)

I think it’s safe to assume that most writers are sensitive people. I mean, without a sensitivity to the human condition, how could anyone write insightful characters living in a fictional world? And who’d want to read it?

Me? I’m one of those people who are sensitive but willing to suffer and absorb significant punishment to achieve whatever I’m trying to do. I expect life to be hard, but I’m not immune to pain. Not everyone can keep getting punched in the mouth and drag themselves off the canvas for more.

So, I sometimes wonder how many writers just check out at some point. How much rejection can any one person take before it begins to suck all the fun out of writing? Whenever I start thinking like this, I remind myself of a few things.

One — the actual writing part, the part where you’re sitting down and creating a world with characters who begin to reveal themselves as the story progresses — that part is like the best drug in the world. Seriously. It’s so much fun I actually feel sorry for people who don’t get to experience it.

Two — if you can focus on that, everything else doesn’t matter. Sure, every writer wants someone to read their work, to fall in love with these flawed people who live in this fictive world, but it turns out there are apparently more writers than there are readers. If supply outstrips demand, the product’s value diminishes. And if you want to sell a book, that means it’s a product, whether you like it or not. Welcome to that sticky nexus between art and commerce. Mind your step — it’s easy to get hurt in this god-forsaken place.

Here’s the point: The only thing you can control is the actual process of creating art. Turns out that’s also where the fun is.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Reality Check

When the world seems like it’s going to shit and starts to weigh you down, stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself one question.

Have I done something for someone else today?

Just to be clear – being kind counts.