For the past few days I’ve been in Virginia Beach attending the Hampton Roads Conference. While there, I met up with some very great people and attended some useful panel discussions about writing and the publishing industry. Never did I think this would be the conference that would make me seriously think about my career and ponder it in a way that could affect my place in the writing world.
When I first started writing, I wanted to traditionally publish. I wrote The Storm, then rewrote it, then submitted it out to a few agents for consideration. One I never heard back from, one denied, and one is still considering. The bad thing about The Storm is that it was written over two years ago and when I look at it now, I just see a big pile of crap. I’m a better writer now than I was then and I’ll be a better writer two years from now than I am right now. I don’t want to reach a point with my writing that I’m not always improving…but I don’t want to write inferior work either. I’ll be damned if I put some worthless piece of junk out there with my name on it. But my definition of a worthless piece of junk is different than all those who read The Storm.
Immediately after I wrote The Storm, I put it aside and began working on The Dark Layer. The Dark Layer took almost two full years to write and is still considered a work in progress, but it’s the one I consider the most finished. It’s an exciting book with an interesting concept and I worked really hard on it. It has problems but what book doesn’t? No one submits perfection and even after books are published, you can still find issues. Good writing is subjective, just as good stories and good characters are. And the problems it has aren’t terminal-they’re totally fixable and I’m capable of fixing them.
While waiting for The Dark Layer’s draft to mellow, I began outlining/writing a new sci-fi/horror possible trilogy. I’m very excited about this project because every day I get new ideas for scenes. I also have a pretty awesome idea of how it might end. Actually, it’s more than awesome; it’s biblical.
*I’m upset because WP did not save the rest of my draft. It sucks because it was really good too.*
When nothing began to pan out for The Storm, I decided I was going to self-publish The Dark Layer. The cover was done by a professional, it was proofread, beta-read, edited, all of the above. And over this past weekend, something changed. I decided that The Dark Layer isn’t quite finished yet.
I’m not sure what to do. I think The Dark Layer may go on indefinite hiatus. The Storm as well because it needs a really good thorough rewrite. Unfortunately I’m hesitant about tackling these jobs without having a professional to work with. I don’t want to devote hours and hours and hours to something and then post it without having a professional to tell me where the real problems are. Yet I also don’t like the idea of sitting on my hands and waiting for an agent and publishing deal to fall out of the sky and into my lap. It’s hard to tell what to do, what the right decisions are, where my best interests lie. I’m famous for making bad decisions and when it comes to my career, I definitely don’t want to fuck this up.
To be continued…?
I read a fantastic blog post today from my World Fantasy Convention friend Livia Blackburne about self-promotion. If you’re a writer, then I suggest you take five minutes out of your day and read her blog post, which you can find here.
If you’re a smart writer, then you’ll subscribe to her blog and read her posts religiously.
Anyhow, this blog got me thinking. I HATE self-promotion. Hate. Hate. I hate it more than the average person. Attention has never been something I’ve been comfortable with, however, I do fake it rather well. The wall-flower child, that’s me. I’m passive and quiet by nature, so whenever someone asks me about my writing, my muscles clench all the way down to my inner eye. I almost lost a job because I refused to pimp the company’s products. It’s not me. When the book of Gina was being written, the chapter on extrovertedness ended up in the editor’s trash can.
This isn’t the way it works in the book world. I can write books all day long. I can bend your ear until it breaks off with a terrific yarn, leaving you satisfied yet wanting more. I love every process of writing books; some I favor more than others but I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences for all the quid in England. Yet, when it comes to this one part, this one, tiny, itty-bitty, teeny, miniscule piece, I cower like a nerd who has offended the school bully. “Please, officer, I’ll tell you anything you want to know, anything at all, but please don’t make me tell you about my book!”
Any agent reading this post has now clicked away.
One of the main reasons why I hate promoting my work is because I’m filled with self-doubt. I’m very fortunate and unfortunate to have a slew of extremely talented friends that are writers and when you’re surrounded by that much talent all the time, you feel like Forrest Gump at an M.I.T. party. Stephen King could tell me my writing is great and I still wouldn’t believe him. This self-doubt isn’t singular to me and I know it-lots of writers have this crippling anxiety-but it keeps me from getting my work out there and getting noticed by potential readers.
Part of me is okay with this. I’m not about the money. I don’t live extravagantly and I don’t aspire to. Sure, the money is a nice side-effect but it’s not the goal. I just want to have fun.
But the other part, after reading Livia’s blog, now feels a little bad about this. Personally, I would be a little upset if a great book was out there and I didn’t know about it simply because the writer was too chickenshit to tell me about it. I know that I should get out there and scream about my books on the tallest building on the highest mountain in Colorado but I like the Bartleby defense: I prefer not to (shame on you if you don’t get the reference, especially if you’re a writer). In my perfect world, those who would enjoy my work would stumble upon it purely by accident, or by word of mouth, or accidental word of mouth. But it’s not a perfect world and a lot of people could be missing out. That I can’t have.
I am going to work on supporting the stuff that is baked fresh from my brain and onto the page. I am going to try to be more confident, even when green-eyed lurkers in my life have nothing better to do than post fake reviews about me. I won’t tweet about them 24/7, I absolutely abhor people who do that but I will make a point to talk about them more often.
Now, go to the links at the top and buy my books, dammit!
A boy, an old man, and a donkey were walking through a town. The boy rode on the donkey while the old man walked beside it. As they passed the people of the town, they remarked what a shame it was that the energetic young boy rode while the old man walked. The boy and the old man thought that the critics were right, so they switched and the old man rode the donkey while the boy walked.
As they continued, they rode past more people in the town. The people remarked what a shame it was that the old man was making that poor little boy walk as he rode on the donkey. The old man and the boy thought their critics were right, so they decided that they both could walk.
They continued and as they passed more people, they heard remarks about how silly it was that both the man and the boy were walking when they had a perfectly good donkey to ride. The old man and the boy decided they were right so they both rode the donkey.
As they rode through the town, more people said how sad it was that the poor donkey was being made to carry such a load. The boy and the man thought they were probably right so they decided to carry the donkey. But as they crossed a bridge, they lost their footing and the donkey fell into the river and drowned.
The moral of the story? If you try to please everyone, you’re going to lose your ass.
Never lose your way.
It is a misconception to assume that an indie writer doesn’t work hard. On the contrary, we work extremely hard.
That’s not to say that all indie writers work hard. We’re no different from traditionally published writers. There are those who work very hard and those who do not. Since storytelling is so subjective, it is almost impossible to judge who works harder than who. There is no yardstick to measure who’s been spending time molding their craft into perfection and who simply dabbles, which, to the lazy writer, can make writing for a living seem like a pretty sweet deal. Sure, we have the Chicago Style Guide and the dictionary to tell us who’s getting it technically right. But is the English language really so technical? If we lived in England, I would be inclined to say yes. But we don’t, at least I don’t, and my English language has a scruffy charm that I expect to come out just right in the books that I read. If it doesn’t, I put it down fast.
Technically right all the time = boring! If I wanted to read something that didn’t take any chances, I’d read an instruction manual.
Lately, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reading indie books. Some are great and some not so great. For me, there are a lot of reasons why a book might not be so great. Maybe the story is unoriginal. Maybe the characters aren’t becoming meaningful to me, maybe the conflict isn’t resonating. I can ignore a few grammatical errors, passive voice, and bad commas without it interrupting the flow of the story. But these problems are not solely an issue with indies. I’ve found that the more indie books I read, and the more I compare them with gatekeeper books, that I prefer the indie characters over the ones that the gatekeepers let through.
Why? Because indie authors can take chances.
Their characters are rich and unsupervised. Unfiltered and unsung. Their voices are real. Pure street poetry. Greatness has to start somewhere and it isn’t as meaningful if it begins institutionally. I won’t deny that some of the greatest literary characters ever written were traditionally published-of course they were-but I often wonder what they might have said had they been allowed to say it.
Big publishing is like censored ABC. Indie is like uncensored HBO.
Would you rather see a sunrise on a movie screen or does it pack a bigger punch when viewed in real life in raw nature?
This isn’t to say I completely shun structure and correctness. There are a lot of things that indie writers can be doing to up their game. I’m not perfect either, not by half, but I’ll do everything within my power to get it right the first time.
As the tide starts to turn and indies are viewed in a more positive light by those that choose to trudge the traditional path, (what’s so abhorrent about indie musicians? or indie movies?) we will face quite a lot of tyranny from the other side on our way. There’s room for all of us in this ocean of a book world. So you go ahead and make money.
I’ll make history.
Care for a tasty bite?
“Listen,” he said. “I ain’t trying to find no trouble. Those two ding-bats might not recognize you but I do. I know who you are and I know your name ain’t Al.”
Jonathan felt his skin crawl. He was sure his stomach was about to give and the beer he’d been drinking would come burning back up his windpipe. He only nodded.
The bartender gestured around the bar with a short little wave of his hand. “This place ain’t much but it’s a job. You see, I been in prison a few times myself. Armed robbery. Assault. One more and I’m a three time loser. Cops don’t like my face; they give me a hard time whenever I see them. So your best bet is to pay a visit to the little boy’s room. It’s right down that hall over there. When you’re done, go through the door in the middle. That one will take you through the kitchen and if you go straight, you’ll see the back door. And if you don’t give me no problems, you might find a meatloaf sandwich on a plate. I wouldn’t miss it if it happened to disappear.”
Jonathan took the wad of cash out of his pocket and pulled out a five. He slid it on the bar toward the man. “Thanks.”
The bartender shook his head. “Keep it. You need it more than I do.”
At first, Jonathan felt a little insulted that the bartender wouldn’t accept his money. But then he realized that this man was right. He took it back and stuffed it in his pocket.
“You know a place where I can lay low for a while?”
“Plenty of abandoned houses and boarded up businesses around here,” the bartender said. “Too many for the cops to monitor. Hell, there’s a park not far from here. Plenty of trees to hide behind. Just stay the hell away from people. And keep going south, if you can.”
Jonathan nodded but he didn’t want to leave the bar. It was still early evening and he didn’t feel comfortable exposing himself outside just yet. But he had no choice.
“Thanks, man. I really appreciate it, Mr…?”
“Gauldin,” the bartender said, extending his hand to shake. “Bobby Gauldin.”
They shook. Jonathan took another long pull off the beer bottle in front of him and then stood and headed in the direction of the men’s room. After he finished taking a piss, he went through the door in the middle and found his way into the kitchen. A plastic grocery bag with two meatloaf sandwiches, two Cokes, and a small brown sack stuffed with French fries sat waiting for him on the counter by the sink. At the sight of that bag, Jonathan actually felt a sting of tears. It had been a long time since someone had selflessly helped him out in any way. If asked, he would have said that no such people existed in the world anymore. And he would have believed that. But as he took the bag and opened the back door (he half expected to see pulsing red and blue lights and a team of cops with their guns drawn, waiting for him) he realized that a simple bartender with a checkered past named Bobby Gauldin had proved him wrong.
It was a mad world, indeed.
From Chapter 7 of The Other Sky-Book One-Earth
It’s no secret that I love the man’s stories. Trying to choose a favorite would be no easier than picking a favorite pet. There are certain books of his that I tend to turn to the most in times of distress but at any given time, I’m reading at least one Stephen King book.
What am I reading right now? Full Dark, No Stars. Again.
Every year in the fall months, I eagerly look forward to the latest King book. This year it’s 11/22/63. From what I hear, it’s another monster like Under the Dome but I don’t care. Personally, I prefer the luxury liner experience of a good, long read, one I can really immerse myself into instead of the typically encouraged 80-100,000 word book. These books dwarf my own “Learning To Fly” collection but I have my own massive stars on the way.
The Dark Layer, my upcoming book, ended around 155,000 words. The writers I know screamed that it’s too long. But whenever I ask readers what they think, they don’t seem to care. “If I don’t like a book,” a friend told me once, “then I’ll put it down and it won’t waste any more of my time. But if I do, then I don’t want it to end. So how is being long a bad thing?”
Anyway, I’m getting off target. King’s the man and I’m one of his biggest fans. At eight years old, my horror book virginity was popped by Christine. Eight is rather young but I’m glad I was young when I started adult books. If I had children, it’s something I would encourage for them as well. But these were more than just books with interesting characters and crazy stories. These books were escape hatches.
My childhood was rocky, and being an only child, I had no one else to talk to about what was going on. Few friends and no family that gave a damn so my books became my refuge. Christine, Cujo, The Dead Zone, The Shining, Pet Sematary, and Firestarter were my friends. Actually they were better than friends because not only did I learn from them but they never broke my toys or told lies about me behind my back. The best part? They were always, always there. No phone calls, no embarrassing admissions, no judgments. Just companionship.
I write ebooks now. Currently, I’m outlining a book called “Rainbow in the Dark” and what I hope to accomplish with this book is the same thing that King’s books did for me. I want to provide companionship to someone else out there that might be going through a tough time. I want to give them advice on how to stay strong through trials and tribulations they may be living, or surviving. Most of all, I want to give them hope. Because it can get better. Will get better.
26 years later and I’m still reading King. Here’s to the next 26.
A few people have asked me why I named my short story collection “Learning To Fly”. This is a fair question. The title doesn’t describe the central theme inside and it’s certainly an odd title for a book. Surely there are other names, better names, that are more befitting of such a collection?
Yes, there are. But this title has a certain meaning to me and it isn’t only because I’m a Pink Floyd fan and LTF happens to be my favorite song by them, even though it is. In part, perhaps, but not all.
Ever have a clear memory of childhood? I was 11 years old when “Learning To Fly” was released to video and that was around the age I began writing real stories with real people as characters along with an 11 year old’s definition of substance. It was also the year that Aliens was at the movie theatre and a young Gina Penn began a serious interest in horror as her favorite genre. My clear memory is of me sitting in my living room, watching MTV (back when MTV was worth watching) and seeing this video for the first time. I was writing a story, scribbling it with a pencil on spiral-bound notebook paper when this video caught my eye. It opens with a handsome young man cutting through vast fields of wheat with an enormous sickle. The young man spies a small plane coming toward him and stops. Stopped as I did when I first saw him.
The images of the video are quite powerful. Strong winds blowing tall stalks of wheat. The elegance of the plane as it glides over the man’s head. The peculiar dancing Native American. And the notion that if the young man wants it badly enough, he can jump off a cliff, and fly.
The words to the song are more powerful than the images. They meant something to me as an eleven year old child and have resonated with me throughout the years. The song is about beginnings, the start of something new and exciting.
A fatal attraction, holding me fast, how can I escape this irresistible grasp?
This is what my book, Learning To Fly, means to me. It is my first shaky step into an unknown so ominous that once you go in, you won’t find your way back.
No navigator to find my way home. Unladened, empty and turned to stone.
The writing process is similar to this song. It’s filled with wonderful highs and abysmal lows. The hours are long and the work is stressful. And even when you think it’s perfect, you later discover you’ve missed something; a key sentence, an awkward word, a plot hole.
Ice is forming on the tips of my wings. Unheeded warnings, I thought I thought of everything.
But, as writers, we soldier on. We keep writing. We do it for the love. For me, this song encompasses how I feel about my process, not just with this book but with all my stories. And no matter what, my sights are set for the clouds. Not to go through them but to fly above them.
There’s no sensation to compare with this.
Suspended animation, a state of bliss.
Can’t keep my eyes from the circling skies. Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earthbound misfit, I.
An Interview with Gina Penn by Gina Penn
I decided to have a little fun and interview myself.
Gina: All right, tell me a little about yourself.
Gina: Well, I’ve lived in Ohio all my life, am the proud parent of some very clingy but adorable pets, and I’m a writer.
Gina: How long have you been writing?
Gina: Since I was old enough to pick up a pencil.
Gina: So, you started writing before you could read? That doesn’t sound possible.
Gina: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing or telling stories in some form, be it pictures with crayons or on a computer. It basically boils down to the same thing, just a different form.
Gina: Okay, I get it. What did you used to write about?
Gina: The very first book I ever wrote was in the fourth grade and it was about a rock group on tour. I handed it in for an assignment and the teacher didn’t give it back. To this day, I have no idea if that’s a good or bad thing. I hope I’ve improved a little since then but I sometimes have my doubts.
Gina: What’s your favorite story you’ve ever written?
Gina: That’s tough because they’re all my children. “The Storm” pulled me out of my writer’s block so that one holds a special place in my heart. I’m currently working on what may turn out to be a trilogy called “The Other Sky-Book One-Earth”. It’s a mix of sci-fi and horror and I’m really excited about it because I get cool ideas for it every day. I’m finding ways to explore character development in this book that I’ve never done before and it’s so much fun to play.
Gina: Any people you know in real life making an appearance in this new trilogy?
Gina: Yes. Lots of people. But remember I write horror. (smiles wickedly)
Gina: I’m not even going to ask. What else do you like besides writing?
Gina: I like horseback riding. Reading, of course. I love trivia and am an avid watcher of Jeopardy and the Discovery channel. I love shows about disasters. I’m also interested in religion although I don’t consider myself to be a terribly religious person.
Gina: Since you write horror, I gotta ask; are you afraid of anything?
Gina: Oh yeah, you bet. A good horror writer has to have fears and know what it feels like to be scared of something, otherwise, what are they drawing from? I’m deathly afraid of clowns; the technical term is coulrophobia and I’ve had a nasty case of it since childhood. I can probably thank Poltergeist and It for that. Also, I’m scared of going to the dentist.
Gina: Anything else you want to say before we close?
Gina: Here are a few things about me that people might not know:
I prefer my dog’s company over that of humans.
Occasionally, I go on info binges. One week I’m obsessed with serial killers and the next week I might obsess over learning how to cultivate the perfect rose.
I could literally eat Mexican food every day and be happy for the rest of my life.
I suffer from crippling shyness even though I don’t come off that way. It’s so crippling that sometimes I can’t maintain eye contact with someone while having a conversation with them. This may lead to the person I’m conversing with to think that I’m a bitch and not interested in what they’re saying but nothing could be further from the truth. My body literally clenches up to where my neck won’t support my head anymore. It’s a real, physical reaction.
I’m not a morning person but that’s my best writing time. I hate my body for choosing this dumb schedule.
I grew up an only child and require alone time to myself every single day to keep from going nuts.
Stephen King is my idol and for a long time I didn’t read any other author. It was only within the last decade or so that I discovered other authors could write almost as good as he can.
Gina: That’s a great list! Now, what say we get a burrito?
Gina: Let’s go.
I need to thank my friend Kara for asking me to do a blog about seven things people may not know about me. This was a lot of fun! Here’s the small print:
I’m feeling magnanimous today so I thought I’d offer a coupon to anyone that wants to take a look at my book but the .99 price tag is too steep (I’m being a little disdainful here but you can forgive me for giving you a free book).
This coupon is good for today only. And it’s only good on the Smashwords website. After that, there’s no crying in baseball.
Let me know if you have any problems.
Get it while you can.
It doesn’t seem like it, but that’s a big word.
One so big that I’ve avoided writing this blog by dusting my office, cleaning my bathroom and cooking lunch.
Say too much and you’re a blabbermouth windbag. Say too little and you’re not being “positive” enough.
Where is the happy medium?
I don’t know. And despite the fact that it’s already almost April, a fact I still cannot wrap my brain around (where in the heck has this year gone ALREADY?) I’m going to set some goals for myself to attain by the end of the year. Because if I don’t accomplish something, the next time I blink I’ll be ten years older with nothing more accomplished.
There’s a saying for this type of conundrum: shit or get off the pot.
I have to assume that anyone reading this blog has some interest in my life and what I’m doing lately. To these people I say thank you because without you, I’d be a bodiless voice quacking in the void.
I suppose my number one goal should be to write more.
All writers say this. “I’m going to get more writing done this year.” And yet, in the same breath of having said this, they Tweet it, Facebook it, post it on Linked In, text it, email it, blog it and etc… Well, all those things are great, wonderful, superb. However, those things are also the biggest hindrances to writing! If you’re too busy Tweeting and all that, that means you’re not writing. I’m all about participation and social networking. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t belong to about a thousand writing groups and all the social networking sites known to man. But there was a time, not so long ago, I recall not belonging to many of those groups and had a lot of time to kill. What did I do with that time? I wrote. Social networking sells books and whatever other wares you’re attempting to peddle but it sure as hell isn’t good for your unfinished manuscript. I also understand that I should practice what I preach since I’m sitting here blogging instead of writing.
I have a few awesomely awesome ideas in my head involving dead bodies, crazy viruses and aliens. I’ve also tossed around the idea of a series, since serial books are highly beloved by fans because reading about your favorite characters is like coming home (being a fan of the Dark Tower series, I’m qualified to say this-I love you, Roland Deschain!). I’ve also really wanted to write a book with a sprawling cast of characters-sort of like The Stand or Under The Dome. Right now, the sky’s the limit.
Another goal I want is to publish at least two more books, maybe more, this year through Kindle, Barnes and Noble, etc…
The above leads me to another goal and this one is the most important. I really, really, really need to stop stressing about what other people think of my writing. On the surface, I don’t care but deep, deep, deep down, I kinda do. I’ve been writing for a very long time, as long as I can remember, I’ve put serious overtime into the hell that is writer’s block, I’ve written crap stories, good stories and I’ve had people say they love my stories and people say they’re boring. If there’s a writer’s spectrum, I’ve lived on both ends and traveled through the middle. I’ve been told by teachers that I have natural talent and I’ve been told by teachers that I should give it up. Am I trying to be as good as Stephen King? No. Am I expecting to be as successful as Amanda Hocking? No again. But I would like to carve a tiny niche for myself somewhere in the writing world. And I need to come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to impress everyone and no matter how tightly I edit my stuff, people are going to find errors, a dreaded adverb here and there and maybe a misspelled word. I’m both fortunate and unfortunate that I know a lot of fantastic writers, ones a helluva lot better than me and the thought that something I write might make them cringe terrifies me so.
But again, I need to get over that.
And while I’m hoping for support from everyone, I have to remind myself that I may not get it. Athletes always lose fans whenever they change teams.
There is so much unknown that it gives me heartburn.
Welcome to my blog! We have a lot going on, so let’s get started.
Currently, I’m getting my short story collection, Learning To Fly, together for an April 1 release date. I’m pretty
excited nervous scared about it too so sometime in April, if you see some posts that have multiple misspellings and some blog rage, it’s probably me blogging while intoxicated.
Anyway, if you want to learn more about my books, then this’ll be the place to go. I have another blog that I use but that one serves another purpose. This is the one where I’ll post info about my stories, contest information, coupons and any news about me, my books or anything else that might be coming up, such as conferences and etc.
For now, subscribe to this blog or bookmark it if you want to. I hope you’ll follow me on this journey!