The Business of Writing

Well, it's that time of the year again.  It's time for me to do more with my writing than simply getting drunk in front of my computer.

To be fair, it's not an annual thing, this whole trying to do something with the work I've created.  It's an ongoing process, particularly with regards to my short stories.  But I'm not just dealing with short stories right now, I'm dealing with my YA book, "Master of the House."

I've talked about MotH a decent amount on this blog.  I wrote the original draft a little over 3 years ago.  About six months ago I sent a query letter out to a few agents and got a few nibbles, but nothing worked out.  I realized that was in part because the book wasn't ready.  Specifically, the first few chapters weren't ready (actually, the first few chapters weren't the first few chapters, as the real first few chapters hadn't been written yet).

I spent a lot of time adding chapters, cleaning up the book, even getting professional editing done.  I think MotH is ready.

I even updated my query letter based upon yet another professional critique.  And I finished the painful process of writing a one page synopsis.

I spent most of the last two days researching agents.  I remember back in the day when I would make a list of agents that consisted of anyone who was still accepting unsolicited query letters.  Over the years I've learned that it makes more sense to target specific agents for specific reasons.  I mean, I'm sending a query letter to an agent who says in her bio that she's looking for YA books about haunted mansions.  That's pretty money right there (please see the description for "Master of the House" for why).

The whole process is ultimately a crap shoot.  I would imagine the average agent receives dozens of query letters every day, and the whole point of a query letter is to make it easier to disregard a writer and his or her work.  It's not meant to be mean, of course, just realistic.  I can't imagine what it must be like to be buried under piles of aspiring writers.

The process has become simpler as more agents and literary journals take advantage of the internet.  But even then, I find myself asking ridiculous questions, like "which day of the week is the best day to send this?"  People are generally grumpy on Mondays, right?  So is a Tuesday better?  Are Thursday and Friday too late
in the week, meaning my query/short story will sit in their inbox, getting buried by e-mails until the following Friday?  It never ends.

I just have to hope that my single page of information gets through to one of them.

It's actually worse for short stories.  There's no buffer for literary journals.  The person reading your short story is the same person who will decide to publish it.  With agents, at least, there's a step in between.  Even if an agent decides to take on your project, he or she will then need to sell it to a publisher.  An agent is probably less quick to dismiss your work.

But here I go, once more unto the breach.  Here I go, putting my fragile ego out there for destruction.  It's a tedious process that usually ends in heart break, but those few successes make it worth it.

Fortunately, I'm buoyed by the fact that I've done this before.  I bypassed the agent and went directly to a publisher for "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At."  My short story, "Young Zombies in Love" made the short list for Best New Writing's Eric Hoffer Award.

I have momentum.

Time Killing Time

A writer's greatest ally is also his/her worst enemy: time.

About six weeks ago, I "finished" drafts of 3 different short stories.  I was on that high that only comes with such a moment.  I was eager to give these stories to my in-house editor, Nicole.  I was positive that she'd love them and praise me as the greatest writer in the history of the world, or at least one who's good enough to keep giving away his time to this insane endeavor.

But Nicole is busy.  She works long hours.  And I had more essential things I needed her to read, like the query letter and synopsis for "Master of the House."  Sometimes the "business" end of writing is the priority.

And thank god.

Over the last few days, I've gone back and read those 3 stories and they are not in a good way.  They're not bad -- far from it.  But they are definitely not ready for human consumption.  The problems were glaring, as were the solutions.  I am thrilled that I never gave them to Nicole because I want her to see the best possible versions.  By next week (hopefully), she will.

Had you told me any of that six weeks ago, I would have gotten defensive.  It's a cliche, but the "hurry up and wait" aspect of writing is infuriating.  We put so much time and effort into our creations that we want some kind of pay off.  I want to be able to sit down at my computer and think to myself "a month from now this story will be done," but that's not possible.

Like it or not, we are slaves to the story, and it will do with us what it wants.  It drives me absolutely insane.

But the other side of that coin is the fact that, when given space and time, our stories take on new forms.

The frustrating part for me is that I want to send my stories out into the world.  I've made the mistake of sending them out before they were ready and it's disheartening.  I sent out my YA book before it was ready and I really regret doing that, particularly given how much better the new version is.

Waiting takes on an entirely different set of problems with regards to short stories.  I've talked about it before, but short stories lend themselves to infinite revision.  It's entirely possible for me to keep reworking the same short story for months, but it's not unlike trying to revive someone who's died: if it doesn't happen within a certain amount of time, it's probably not going to happen at all.

Funny enough, this is the kind of thing that used to drive me nuts when I was in a band.  I felt like revisiting songs was pointless when we could just write new ones.  But writing songs was always much easier for me than writing stories, mostly because the songs I wrote were always pretty simple.  My stories are, by default, much more complicated, so they usually require more time, and in turn become that much more personal.

Anyway, I've got 3 short stories in the editing phase now and I feel pretty good about all of them being "done" in the next few weeks.  We'll see how I feel about them a few months from now.

Reliquary aka My First Novel

I recently had a short story accepted for publication in a really cool literary journal.  I'll give more information on that closer to when it will be released.

Anyway, the editor who selected my short story told me that she also works for a publishing house who are looking for novels, and that if I had one I should send it their way.  The publisher she works for generally publishes literary fiction, with a smattering of what I would call intellectual non-fiction.  To the point, I could rule out "Master of the House," as it's a YA book.

I do have a literary fiction book, though.  It's called "Reliquary."  I wrote the first draft ten years ago.

"Reliquary" has gotten polishes from me here and there throughout the years.  In fact, the last set of edits I did to it I never bothered to actually make, they just remained as marks on the pages, never making it to the computer.  At one point I changed the title, until I mentioned it to someone and they proclaimed my original title to be wonderfully unique, so I changed it back (truth be told, I never really wanted to change it, but felt that I had to for whatever reason).

When I found out that the aforementioned publishing house was looking for novels, I pulled out "Reliquary."  I knew that, aside from making those edits that had gone unchanged, I would need to read through the whole thing again, because it had been a few years since I'd read through it.  A few weeks ago, I started in on the 284 page manuscript... was awful.  Well, the first sixty pages or so were awful.  It's gotten progressively less awful (I'm only 150 pages in as of this writing), but that doesn't say much.

It's melodramatic.  It's self-important.  On a line level, the writing is often very bad.  It absolutely destroyed me to read it.

"Reliquary" was written in the first person and it's very much a reflection of who I was ten years ago.  It's far more fiction than non, but there are strong elements of real life at play.  The problem is that I'm not that person anymore.  I'm not sad and angry.  I'm actually pretty damn happy.

But the story in "Reliquary" is solid.  I've often struggled with plots and this book has one that is in great shape.  Nothing at all about the point A to point B business needs to be changed.  I stand by the events in the book and the order in which they happen.

The bones are good.  The meat and muscle need a lot of work.

I resigned myself to more or less rewriting it using the current version as a framework.  Last night I took it a step further.  Last night I decided that the entire thing should be written in the 3rd person.

At first, I thought switching from 1st person to 3rd would be relatively easy.  I was already planning on rewriting most of the book, so switching POV wasn't a big deal.  But, of course, as I started writing it I realized that the new narrative required changes in structure.  You can deliver an awful lot of exposition in subtle ways when you're writing in the 1st person because it doesn't come across as exposition, at least not if you're careful.  You can give details of your life in a single paragraph in the 1st person, but if you try the same thing in the 3rd person, it comes off as tedious exposition.

The appeal of switching POVs is that 1st person lends itself to melodrama.  I figured telling the same story from a subjective 3rd person would allow me to keep the story and lose the melodrama, leaving me with exactly what I wanted.  But the main character spends an awful lot of time by himself, and those scenes are going to become really, really tedious if he's not narrating them.

But damn if melodrama isn't my biggest concern.  I feel like first person accounts of love and relationships, blah blah blah, etc. are the kiss of death.  I feel like they're almost immediately disposable.  Hey, this guy wants to be Holden Caufield and this writer wants to be JD Salinger!

At it's core, though, "Reliquary" is a love story.  And maybe it's the whiskey talking, but I think I have my answer.  I know it's possible to write in the 1st person and not be melodramatic.  I'd like to think I've done that in a few short stories recently.  They're certainly much less melodramatic than this book.

"Reliquary" is uniquely me at a specific point in my life and I think there's value in that.

First person it is.

Blog Writing

There's a weird level of confession in blogs.

I don't think I've ever written a blog entry that didn't include some kind of comment about my life.  I like to think that a certain part of the appeal of reading this thing comes from my voice, and I realize as I'm typing that just how egotistical that sounds.  But I write about a wide variety of things, and the only thing they have in common is that I'm the one who wrote them.

It's the same way with my non-blog writing.

There's a part of me that's always wanted to be one of those brutally honest writers, although they seem to only really exist in fiction.  The idea of writing whatever I want without worrying about how it would affect others is appealing.  More importantly, the idea of writing whatever I want without worrying about how it would affect me is appealing.

I also don't like the idea that I pull my punches when I write.

But the fact remains that I do, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I've found that attempts at being brutally honest when you write involve placing emphasis on the former and not the latter.  Once you decide that you have a free pass to say what you want, you suddenly start framing things in the most shocking and inappropriate manner.  Looking through some of the older things I've written, this was definitely the case.

With fiction, however, you can try to hide a lot of that.  I think people who really know you will be able to see through any disguise, but at least the option is there.

Blogs, in general, are different.

They're weird creatures.  I would say 90% of them are confessional, virtual diaries that are censored for public consumption.  They're not fiction, but they're not truthful non-fiction, either.  They're half-truths and snippets of ideas.  It's well polished, written vomit.  Mull that one over.

That actually leads perfectly to the bigger issue: blogs are immediate, which means they're also hastily written.  I just said that blogs are well polished, written vomit, and if I had more time to think about it, I don't know that that's a phrase I'd stick with.  But I don't have more time.  This blog is going to be published tomorrow.  Even blogs I published a few weeks in advance don't get rewrites so much as polishes, and those are generally of the typo variety (and as many of you have probably noticed, I even miss those).

How much honesty is there in a blog?  I would argue that it's 100% honest, but that there are things I won't talk about, even if I want to.

So blog writing is confessional, but not to the extent of a diary, and it's created for public consumption, but not deliberated over to make sure that it's, well, any good.  This then begs the question as to whether or not writing a blog is actually a good way to get people interested in your writing.

I have no idea.  I like to think that the bits and pieces I put on this blog are enticing in some way, but I've yet to hear from anyone who has bought a copy of anything I've written because of reading this thing.  Then again, the free stories that I've posted on this blog have gotten a steady stream of downloads.  People generally take anything if it's free, though.

And if there is a greater example than this entry of how blogging can, more often than not, end up a rambling mess, I would be shocked.

Beyond This Blog (Lie Great Things!)

According to the fine folks at Google Analytics, this blog has seen a steady increase in traffic over the last couple of months.  This is no doubt due to the fact that I've start adhering to the number one rule of blogging: always update.

These days, I have a new blog up three times a week.  On Monday, you get my lovely "Abusing Nostalgia" series, which is often more embarrassing for me than anything else.  On Tuesday, I try to post general interest and writing content.  I am, after all a writer.  And I save up my nerdy posts for Thursday, so expect to see things about comic books, television, and baseball.

At this point, I've got roughly a three week cushion on content, so that's nice.

Anyway, the increased traffic hasn't really translated into increased sales, but to be honest that's not as important to me as you might think.  But I'm going to to just a tiny bit of pimping.

First, though, here's a link to a blog entry from about a month ago that gives a nice break down of all the free stories by me that you can find online.

Joss Whedon, the Complete Companion
Honestly, this is probably the book that gets the most attention.  I have an essay in this collection of works about Joss Whedon and his various productions.  My essay is called "Failure of the Every Man," and it's about Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I don't know that anyone actually discovers me or my writing because of this book, but I would hazard a guess that more people have read my essay than anything else I've ever written.  It's available from Titan Books.  The picture above will take you to Amazon.

I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At
While the Whedon book has probably gotten the most views, "Pray" is the book I'm perhaps best known for, if I 'm actually known for anything.  It's my first published book, available from Hellgate Press, which is, surprisingly enough, not a made up publisher, but a real one that was kind enough to put out my book.  You can find out more about "Pray" on its page over there on the right.  The picture above will take you to Amazon so you can read some reviews and maybe buy a copy.

Falling Into Place
This is a strange little compilation from the people at Scars Publications.  It features a short story by me and work by a bunch of other fine folk, most of whom are unknowns like myself.  Yet again, you can click the link to go to the Amazon page for the book.

So there you go -- work by me that doesn't live on this blog!  If you like this blog, please consider purchasing one of these fine publications.  I think you can get them digitally, too.

Thanks for reading!

Begin Again

As torturous as writing short stories can be for me, there is one aspect that surpasses all other forms of the written word: beginnings.  Writing an opening to a short story is always the easiest thing for me.

Sadly, this skill does not translate to longer works.

The first time I ran into this problem was with "Pray," but it was, thankfully, brought to my attention at a writers' conference.  I think I did a pretty good job with the beginning of that book.  I know it's much better than it was originally.

With short stories, you can leave some mystery.  You're not asking the reader to invest a big chunk of their time, so it's okay if you don't tell them everything up front.  Each sentence carries more weight than in a book, so exposition in any form becomes problematic.  It's okay if your readers don't know what the story is about right away.

Books are different.  Books require some kind of set-up.  You are asking someone to invest days of their life to your written word, so you need to give them some reason to part with their precious free time.  You have to put the majority of your cards out on the table.

The tricky part is finding the balance between an interesting opening that hooks the reader while still establishing what the book is going to be about.

I have found that the beginnings of books never reveal themselves until I've written a few drafts...and have been rejected by a few agents.

In the case of my first YA book, "Master of the House," I had an agent request the first 25 pages.  She passed on the book based upon what she read.  I know the book itself is good, just as I know it has a great hook.  The problem, then, had to be with those first 25 pages.

My wife had always maintained that the book started too quickly and didn't give enough set-up, but my short story writing-self had a hard time wrapping my brain around that, even if I had run into the same problem with "Pray."

Stories don't start from the beginning.  There's always back story, and much of that back story is important to the story at hand.  The problem, then, is in figuring out how much set up to, well, set up.  So I did what any smart writer would do: I looked at similar books for ideas.

I ended up adding two new chapters to the beginning of the book, then giving the first 25 pages to my wife to look over.  She liked my new chapters, but she had lots of issues with them, issues that were more or less solved with one move: I switched them around.

I now had what was probably the 4th or 5th different beginning to "Master of the House."  But I think this new one works.

My initial impulse will always be to open a story with a moment, not necessarily a chapter.  But I think I'm becoming better at finding the happy medium between the two.

Now I just have to worry about my endings.

Free Stories for All Tastes (by me)

It's been a while since I posted to the free stories I have up online.  Since traffic to my blog seems to be growing lately, I figured it would be a good idea to let people know where they can find actual stories from me -- and for free, no less!

A few years ago, I self-published a collection of short stories.  I later published the first story in that collection, "Unrequited," as it's own ebook.  "Unrequited" is probably one of the best things I've ever written, and is easily the story I've gotten the most positive feedback on.  It's also a bit on the long side, which automatically disqualified it from publication in most literary journals.

"Unrequited" is about internet dating and the end of the world.  It's a love story...with zombies.

In that collection, I matched "Unrequited" up with two other short stories that literary journals had deemed unpublishable.  The first is Mercurial, which is non-linear and cyclical and about relationships.  Honest to god, it got rejected an awful lot because it's too weird, and I submitted it to a lot of weird places.

Author Francois Camoin referred to "Mercurial" as "the story that reads like it was written on drugs."

The third and final story in that collection is "Grimm."  It was also far too long for publication in any literarly journal and, as such, I never bothered submitting it anywhere.  Perhaps I could have cut it down to a more digestible form, and would instead be pointing you towards a well known literary magazine to read it, but for some reason that never occurred to me.

"Grimm" is connected to my first book, "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At."

The first story I ever had published by someone other than myself was "Weight."  This story was something of a turning point for me, as it represented the last short story I would ever write with my bizarre need to use only one word in the title.  It was published by the Ginosko Literary Journal.

All of my short stories are connected, and "Weight" features the back story of a character who plays a prominent role in every thing I've written.

You can find "Gateway Drug" in a literary journal called Children, Churches, and Daddies, which is a mouthful.  They have mastered the art of repackaging, though, so there are currently three different anthologies that feature this story.  It is probably the only flat out humorous story I've ever written.

Most of what happens in "Gateway Drug" actually happened to me.

I recently had a short story, "Young Zombies in Love," accept by Best New Writing, for what I'm assuming is their 2014 edition (as it's an annual publication).  I don't want to step on any toes by just giving it away for free -- not yet, anyway.

It occurred to me lately that my portfolio of short stories has gotten lean.  There's the six that I mentioned above, half of which are stuck in self-publishing purgatory.  I have probably a dozen more (at least), but none of them are where they need to be.

Then again, I don't know if I thought "Weight" or "Gateway Drug" were where they needed to be, either, but apparently other people liked them well enough.

Short stories are a funny business.

You can, of course, find my first, full length book anywhere they sell books, thanks to the fine folks at Hellgate Press.  It's called "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At," and if you like anything I've ever written, you'll like it, and vice versa.

Oh, I'm also really nerdy and contributed an essay for "Joss Whedon" the Complete Companion."

In the near future, I'll share some of my YA book, "Master of the House."

I think it's actually getting pretty good.

Grad School Part II: Pretending

My second year of grad school was glorious.

Most of the graduate students in the English department were TAs, which stands for Teaching Assistant.  But at OU, that was something of a misnomer.  We didn't assist professors, we actually taught classes.  For the most part, that was English 101: Freshman Composition, although in our second years we were able to branch out a bit more into things like Intro to Short Stories or Intro to Poetry.

After my first year, I was able to convince my teaching adviser that I wanted to do a study of the difference between teaching composition in a traditional classroom and teaching composition in a computer classroom (Ohio University had installed computers in a few, select classrooms n the English building).  I suggested that I could even write a paper about the differences.  That did not happen.  Basically, I just wanted the extra money that came with teaching a second class so that I could quit my job at the gas station (to be described in detail in another blog post, I'm sure).

I worked at one of these.
I was no longer in a band during my second year of grad school.  The Local Arm (as we were known) had broken up at the end of the previous year with the graduation of our drummer.  And as much as I missed being in a band, all the ridiculous amounts of time that I'd spent on that was suddenly appropriated actual grad school related things.  I spent more time with my fellow grad students.  I worked on the literary journal.  I went to the big writers conference.  I acclimated.

And I wrote.

I won't say that it was particularly good writing, but it was necessary writing.  It was the next step in my evolution of a writer, an evolution that ultimately never ends.  But all those vaguely profound, emotional things that I'd been (poorly) singing about the year before were now coming through on the page.  I think I'm a decent songwriter.  I'm a much better writer.

I had plenty of fodder.  The on again, off again relationship of the previous year ended for good, although it was not without its after shocks.  I found myself embracing sadness over anger, because anger doesn't translate well to the written page.  I had plenty of sadness, and in many ways sadness gave me perspective.

My name is inside this.
I partied.  I partied with a flagrant disregard for my own well being.  I partied with the reckless abandon of someone who wanted to experience new things, who started each night genuinely excited about where it might take him.  There was sex and there were drugs and there was rock n' roll and it was all material.

When I finally committed to grad school and submerged myself in the culture, I realized just how insane it was, particularly for those engaged in "creative" majors.  At no other point in your life are you given such a perfect balance of structure and freedom.  We had to produce to pass our classes, but we also had nothing else to do but produce.  We had 20 hours out of a 24 hour day to write and that writing would then fulfill the only real responsibilities we had.

That second year of grad school was surreal in all the right ways.

I'll admit to some regrets.  I regret that I wasn't more focused, which has been a problem for pretty much entire life.  I may have been writing to fulfill my school obligations, but I had no vision beyond that.  It never occurred to me that I should be preparing these short stories for submission to literary magazines, or that I should be read said literary magazines to get an idea about what was out there.  For all my submersion in the English department, I was still operating in a bubble.

I suppose that's to be expected.  It was a bubble.  It was about writing without consequence, writing without pretense of something more.  It was writing for the sake of writing, writing because that's what we were there for, no more and no less.  There was no greater goal beyond producing stories that we felt were important, even if perhaps they weren't.

I hadn't realized it until just this moment, but I wish I could get back to that place.  I don't wish I was back in grad school (not really), but I do wish I could go back to the frame of mind, when nothing mattered about the words on the page other than the fact that they were there.

It makes me appreciate exactly why so many writers stay in academia; it's a safe place.  Teaching is your bread and butter in academia.  Writing is gravy.  Writing out here among the regular folk is harder.  You don't have the luxury to write for writing's sake.

Or maybe you do.  Maybe I just need to figure that out.

Grad School Part I: Resistance

Glorious Ellis Hall (home of the English Dept. @Ohio U)
At some point during my senior year of college, I realized that I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.

I knew what I wanted to do with my life -- I wanted to be in a band.  I can remember being at a party and talking two these two guys I knew who were two years younger than me and in a band of their own about how we'd all be happy working at gas stations as long as we could be in a band.  At that point, I'd already been accepted into the graduate program at Ohio University, so I told them I'd have to be the manager of the gas station, what with my Master's degree in Creative Writing and all.

I applied to graduate school because I didn't know what else to do.  I would imagine a lot of people do that.  I only applied to a hand full of schools.  I was willing to go to grad school for pretty much anything in the realm of English, which meant I applied to literature programs which, if you know me, is insane.

Part of my problem was that I had no where to go.  I've more or less just gone wherever the wind blows me, but there was no wind to speak of.  I couldn't stay in Athens, Ohio, because there was no real reason to.  I didn't want to go back to my home town of Kent, Ohio, because that felt not unlike failure.  I wanted to strike out on my own, but I had no idea how.

I was going to OU when they adopted the "Attack Cat"
I will admit that there was a part of me that was sad that my college career was coming to an end, and I mean that from an educational standpoint, believe it or not.  I felt that I'd finally hit my the sweet spot of learning.  I felt like I was a part of the English department community, which is something I couldn't have said in the years previous.  I knew all the professors.  I was friends with other English majors.  I spent time at Ellis hall recreationally.  I had become part of something and it was ending just as it was beginning.

I don't know why Ohio University decided to accepted me into the graduate program.  I know that they generally frown upon accepting students from their own undergrad program.  I know that the only reason I was given a teaching position, stipend, and tuition waiver was because someone on the list ahead of me had turned them down.  I'm sure the recommendation letter from Dan Chaon didn't hurt, either (my one claim to fame).

While much of my desire to become a successful writer is selfish, there is a percentage that wants to do well by Ohio University.  I feel like they invested in me and I've yet to pay off.

My first year of graduate school was everything it shouldn't have been.  While I enjoyed being in The Local Arm (the band I was in at the time), it distracted me from all things graduate school.  The fact that I lived in a house with five undergrads didn't help, either.  That had nothing to do with them, it's just that I literally didn't have to leave the house to be social.  We had parties nearly every weekend, and some of those parties involved bands playing in our basement.  I only wrote sparingly, I was taking required classes, and I never went to any department functions.  The few times I tried to get involved, I bailed.

For a guy who was so desperate to get into grad school, I held on to my undergraduate life as if I would die without it.

Ellis Hall without snow, which was how I liked it.
An extension of that was a rather ridiculous long distance relationship with the girl I'd been with since my sophomore year.  We spent more than a year unable to completely move on mostly because we were afraid to.  We had completely separate lives on nearly every conceivable level, yet we kept going back and forth, even when we would officially break up.

I remember, at the end of my first quarter of grad school (we were on quarters back then), I actually decided to be social with the rest of my class.  We all met up at a bar and realized that all of us had begun the year with long distance significant others, and were now broken up with all of them.  I do believe I was the only one who refused to cut the cord completely.

That first year of grad school wasn't a good one, at least not for the right reasons.  I can't even claim that I got the full, graduate school experience that year.  I was just so far removed from it.

At the end of the first quarter, I was on academic probation.  My tuition waiver demanded a B average and I'd gotten a B and a B- in the two classes I had taken.  They were required classes that had little to do with creative writing and, as usual, I was obstinate; I was there to write, not take classes about literature.  But that's what I got for getting an MA and not an MFA, not that I knew the difference back then.

While I don't regret being in The Local Arm, I regret pretty much everything else about my first year of grad school.

Thankfully, there was a second year and a second chance to do it right.

The Sequel

I'm sporadically working on a sequel to "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At."

For those of you who don't know (and, if you don't, why the hell not?  It's the only book I've ever had published by an actual publishing company, so throw me a bone and buy it, won't you?), "Pray" was the story of my grandfather, a three war veteran and retired Major, although much of the book was about his wife, my grandmother, and even more of the book was about the relationship between my then-girlfriend-now-wife Nicole and I as I wrote the thing.

Given how "Pray" ended, there was really only one thread available for me to follow-up -- that of our new marriage.  And, honestly, if that's all I had, I doubt that I would really try writing it. After all, people get married all the time, and a large number of those people are writers, and I'd be willing to bet a decent number of them are better writers than me.

Four months before "Pray" was released, Nicole's father died.  Her mother had died two and a half years earlier.

Nicole's dad knew about "Pray."  He knew about it when I was writing it, when I finished it, and when Hellgate Press decided to publish it.  I had shared an awful lot about my family history with him while I was writing the book.

According to two different people (one being the woman who cleaned his house every other week or so, the other being one of his cousins), Nicole's dad had taken my book to heart, so much so that he was in the process of collecting information about his family for the purpose of asking me to write a book about them.

That's a pretty big deal.  Nicole's dad was all about family and the fact that he wanted me to write a book about them said a lot.

I don't know how far I would have taken this idea if it had stopped there.  I am nothing if not bursting with book ideas, so getting me to write about something that wasn't my idea would be difficult.

But at this very moment I am sitting in my home office in the house that Nicole grew up in, the house that we inherited from her parents.  We bought out Nicole's brother, meaning that this house cost us half price.  It's in a great neighborhood in a great school district and it is going to be great for the children we will have one day.  Its' a big house with a pool and our cats have a lot of space to run around.

It's a life changing gift.

To say that I feel like I owe Nicole's dad a lot would be an understatement.  Inheritance aside, he was responsible for bringing Nicole into this world, for which he already had my eternal gratitude.

And, again, I could write an entire book about this, but that doesn't make any of it particularly unique.

The bound, transcribed copy of "An Authentic Wagon Train Journal of 1853" sitting on my desk changed that.

Nicole's great great grandfather led an expedition from Indiana to California in 1853.  He kept a journal about it.  Nicole's great aunt transcribed it and made copies for the family.  It's about a man from the Midwest taking a roundabout journey across country to his eventual home in California.  And when he got here, he ended up starting a family that would grow and grow and would remember him 150 years later.

This story got a whole lot more interesting.

The journal is, as you'd imagine, pretty amazing.  Historical documentation from a personal perspective usually is.  There's a great deal of material in the journal, not to mention a great deal of research that will be necessary in fully explaining it.  But I like that part of it; I like doing research for all the things I write, be they non-fiction or not.

I had a title for "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At" before I ever wrote a single word of it.  It's a direct quote from my grandfather that was just too perfect not to use.  Strangely enough, Nicole's great great grandfather, William Richard Brown, did much the same thing.  There are very few instances in his journal where he emphasizes one statement above any others.  But on May 4, 1853, he underlined three words: whiskey nearly out.

It's like he knew I'd end up reading his journal.

I've been writing "Whiskey Nearly Out" in fits and starts.  Writing non-fiction is generally easier for me than writing fiction simply because it requires less thought with regards to plot.  My big problem with writing non-fiction, and I would have to guess that this is the same for most non-fiction writers, is that you have to answer one very big question: what's the point?

I have found myself with several threads that will, I'm fairly certain, at some point work together.  But right now I'm still feeling it out.  I'm still trying to cover all the things that have happened to Nicole and I since we were married.  I'm still trying to make sense of this house, such an amazing gift, yet so loaded with expectations.  And I'm trying to retrace the steps that William Richard Brown took from Indiana to California.

It's going to be interesting to see where it ends up.  I have a sneaky suspicion that it will end up involving children.

I'd rather be fishing.

Not really.

I am well aware of the fact that the bitching and moaning that I sometimes do in this blog is kind of silly, given that I'm currently sitting in my home office of the house my wife and I just bought on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs.  I have a belly full of food, the heat is on, and I'm drinking whiskey.  Tonight, as every night, I will lie in bed next to my best friend in the entire world, and will also most likely be visited at various points through the evening my two wonderfully affectionate, adorable cats.

It's not like I'm digging ditches.

I have found lately that my desire to always be doing something other than what I'm doing is troublesome.  As I have put it in the past, I always want to be doing something other than what I'm doing, even if what I'm doing is something I want to do.  And part of that is just me being crazy.

Lately at work I've been given more and more responsibility, which is fine.  At the very least, the day goes by faster when I have more to do.  But I've always been reluctant to throw myself fully into any job that I have.  Ultimately, it's because I don't want to put more energy into than I have to, because the focus of my energy has to be/needs to be my writing.

I don't have any discernible career to speak of.  I've been "promoted" three times at my current job.  The last long term job I had was the same way.  But my movement up the corporate ladder is usually a result of my "jack of trades, master of none" skills.  I'm never going to be the VP of anything because there's no one thing that I'm good enough or interested in to be the VP of.  But neither one of those things has to be true.

I'm a quick learner (thus a jack of all trades) and I'm sure I could become pretty adept at a particular thing if I really put my back into it.  But I just don't have that motivation and I really wish I did.

My life would be infinitely easier if I could find some kind of fulfillment in a job.  Don't get me wrong, I like the job I have now and I feel like I'm doing well at it, but it's not where my passions lie -- heck, it's not even where my likes lie.

I will admit that part of my reluctance comes from fear.  Honest to god, nothing scares me more than the idea that one day I might really put some effort into my "career" and find that it ends up taking over my life.  My biggest fear is becoming satisfied with my job.  I'm no good at being satisfied.  I rather like the fact that I'm not, although I'd certainly be willing to give that up for a book and movie deal.

I think people would like me to be, though.  I think people expect me to be like the average person and have some kind of work related goals.  My New Year's resolution for last year was to stay employed; I set the bar low.

It's not all that hard to get me to be enthusiastic about something, it's just that there's always going to be a ceiling on that, at least for most things.

If you're Nicole, our cats, or my writing, sky's the limit.  Now I just need to find a job that involves any of those things.

Growing Up Is Hard to Do

I am of two minds on growing up, which shouldn't be surprising as I am generally of two minds (if not ten) on most things.

There's a part of me that has always liked the idea of growing up, the idea of having a family, having some kind of stability, at least as far as where my priorities lie.  I like the idea of having perspective, and I think having a family gives you that.  I think it would be great if there were more than one other person in this world that I actually think about when I make decisions in life.  I also like the compartmentalization that comes with it.  I think it would make me less self-absorbed.

On the other hand, I hate everything I just typed.  Okay, I don't hate the idea of having a family.  I actually like that an awful lot.  But I have made a life for myself out of trying to make a life for myself.  My neurosis demands that I reconsider most of my life every other week or so, and holding on to the last few vestiges of youth makes that possible.

My problem, as with most things, is that I tend to go to extremes.  I'm either super responsible, together, motivated, and forward thinking, or I am scatter brained, trapped in my own head, apathetic, and unrealistic.  Whenever the pendulum swings one way, it swings farther the other way to make up for it.  It's like having the worst of both worlds.

So last week I decided to take my first step towards being an adult.  I know, big deal, right?  I'm thirty-freaking-six years old, and this is what I'm doing.  But I realized, as Nicole and I were driving to breakfast and we passed one of the roving bands of upper middle class bike riders, that I'm holding on to one aspect of my youth that stands out as being ridiculous.  I am referring, of course, to my longstanding love affair with whiskey.

I like whiskey.  I like it in all its forms.  I like trying different varieties.  I like knowing what I'm talking about when I try a new one.  I like bonding over it.  It has been one of the few constants in my life.

But I drink way too often for a man who will be thirty-seven in a few months.

The reasons why I end up drinking so often are thus:

1) I can.  I know that sounds like a bad reason, but Nicole and I don't have kids yet.  My job isn't soul crushing and I don't have to get up early for a long commute.  In some ways, I'm leading the life of someone much younger than me.  I know that time is finite, so I'm enjoying it as much as I can.

2) I romanticize it.  This is entirely about my writing.  I don't think I've made a secret of the fact that I like to drink when I write.  I also know that it's not really necessary.  Countless big time writers have talked about the fact that 90% of what anyone writes is crap, and that you have to get through that 90% to get the good stuff.  And that takes time.  What alcohol has always done for me is getting me to that golden 10% quicker.  The problem, of course, is that it's a small window; while alcohol helps slow my brain down enough that I can focus, it eventually makes me want to do something that feels less like work.  Besides, if my ultimate goal is to write for a living, then I should really be able to do it without alcohol, or else I'll be in real trouble.  All that said, I wrote the vast majority of Master of the House stone cold sober -- so it can be done.

3) I am a ball of tension.  Call it nature, call it nurture, call it evil curse, but I basically lack the ability to relax.  My insomnia should be a good example of how this can be a problem.  Alcohol is a lot like television in this regard -- it helps me to be passive.  The ability to relax is a gift, but sadly one that I don't have.

4) I can.  Did I mention that one already?

5) I like whiskey.  I think I already covered this.

Nicole and I did the math and any night that I drink I consume 1200 calories.  That's more than 50% of my daily intake! It's kind of hard to get in shape when I'm piling on the calories on a regular basis.  This would really be reason enough to cut back.

But the fact remains that if I'm really serious about writing full time, I'm going to have to be able to do it at any time.  I can't manufacture some perfect writing scenario.  Now, whether that's not being able to drink or having to write on a laptop away from home, or having to write by hand, is irrelevant.  I have to be able to write on a regular basis, and while my current system might have been okay in the past, it's certainly not going to hold in the future.

Besides, at some point Nicole and I are going to start a family, and that transition is already going to be drastic enough.

So, yeah, it's time to start growing up.  Granted, I also just bought an Xbox, but Rome wasn't built in a day.

Free Fridays: Weight

There's one bit in this story that I really love.  I kind of wonder if anyone can tell which part I'm referring to.

Anywho, here's "Weight," a short story that originally appeared in the Ginosko Literary Journal and one I'm thinking of revising (but isn't that the case for everything?).

Weight for your Kindle
Weight for your eReader

Sorry about being MIA all week.  It's not so much that things have been busy lately, just evolving.

Next week, I'm thinking I'll lighten the mood a bit and post the first few pages of Master of the House, the YA book that I'm currently shopping around.  I actually feel pretty good about this book.

Have a good weekend.  I'll be spending most of mine writing and playing my new Xbox360.

Why YA, eh?

I'm sorry, that title is just so awful that I had no choice but to use it.

I recently finished the Serpent's Shadow, the third book in the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan.  It was a great book, perhaps the best in the series.  While reading the book, I came to realize that Riordan is one of my favorite writers.  And, yes, everything I've read by him falls into the YA category (although he's written other things).

For what it's worth, you might know him better by the Percy Jackson series.

Anyway, it got me thinking about my own work (because everything comes back to me) and how it was really Riordan, along with Brandon Mull (author of the wonderful Fablehaven series) that inspired me to take a shot at writing a Young Adult novel.  Sure, Harry Potter was my first foray into that category the same as it was for a lot of people, but it was Percy Jackson and Fablehaven that pulled me in completely.

But I suppose that's not entirely true.  If I really think about it, I've been reading and writing YA since I was a kid.  For now, I'll pass on discussing the fact that comic books are so clearly YA and focus on the fact that, back when I was growing up, all the nerdy kids read fantasy fiction aka Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Shanara, Wheel of Time, etc.

These books weren't specifically tailored for young adults, but it was inherent.  You can't tell me that wizards and dragons were going to appeal to the average adult.  Sure, they probably didn't appeal to the average teenager, either, but those of us lucky (and unlucky) enough to grow up as nerds were obsessive about these things.  How many dorky kids created D&D characters named Drizzt Do'Urden twenty years ago?  How many of us wished we were Tanis Half-Elven or Tasslehoff Burrfoot?

(FYI, I got those last two right without having to look them up.  I forgot the "i" and the "o" in Drizzt's full name, though.)

It's actually kind of amazing to me that, years later, Wizards of the Coast published YA versions of the original Dragonlance Chronicles series, as if the books weren't already YA.

The 2nd and best book in the 1st Dragonlance trilogy.
I wrote a ton of my own fantasy fiction, and thought about a lot more.  I had lists of characters names, lists of titles of trilogies (because all the TSR books back then were trilogies), lists of creatures that inhabited my own, horribly derivative world.  I can remember it as clear as day.  My hobbit/kender/halfling race were called the Telm.

Given that I was raised on a steady diet of comic books and fantasy fiction, it's no surprise that I would end up reading a lot of YA books, and no surprise that I would eventually try my hand at writing them.

The appeal should be obvious: YA books allow you to delve into the supernatural in ways that you can't in adult fiction, unless you're writing genre specific work.  Sure, I realize that YA is a genre (oddly enough), but it's welcoming enough that even those who don't normally read about wizards or vampires or gods or monsters find themselves reading about those things.

The best YA books are footloose and fancy free.  They're full of energy, be it kinetic energy or potential energy (I like to consider the more angsty elements of YA to be potential energy).  They mix the real world and the fictional world in ways that are just similar enough to make us wonder what it would be like if it were real, yet different enough that it still serves as escapism.

Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy adult fiction.  But part of the enjoyment of adult fiction, for me, is that it challenges me, both mentally and emotionally.  YA fiction is less a challenge and more a luxury.  It allows me to bask in all the things I've always loved about creating stories.  It's stimulating in a completely different way than adult fiction.

Hopefully, some of my passion for YA books will come across in the query letter I'm writing for Master of the House.  Anyone who knows me knows that I'm incredibly loyal to the things I'm passionate about, and I will fight for them with every ounce of strength I possess.

You should really pick up the first book of the Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief.  You'll see a very clear line from Huckleberry Finn to Percy Jackson.  You'll see a line that connects classic adult literature with current young adult stories.  And I think that will tell you everything you need to know.

Query? (or, Update on Kyle's YA Book)

I always want to be doing something other than what I'm doing, even if what I'm doing is something I want to do.

At work today, I wanted nothing more than to come home and write.  More specifically, I was looking forward to coming home and taking a crack at the first query letter for my YA book.

Those of you keeping track have probably realized that, while the fine folks judging the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award thought my YA manuscript was one of the best 250 they received (out of 5000), it was not one of the best 50.  And while they destroyed one of the more prominent fantasies in my head these days, it was still nice to make it as far as I did.

I also got some wonderful feedback, and since I am horribly self-absorbed and in constant need of validation, I will share some of it with you:

This book has excellent pacing, and the story will sell itself to those who like suspense books. I thought the high school scenes were well written, and also think the author does a good job of describing without being overwhelming in the description.

 I thought this was a compelling read. I enjoyed the pacing and the aura of uncertainty that surrounded the events of the visit to the house. I would definitely read more, and would also recommend this to my 13 and 16 year old sons.

This was a very good excerpt with all the elements being well done. The work reads well, polished and professional.

 I got a longer review from someone at Publisher's Weekly, who had a few minor complaints, but in general enjoyed the book, although apparently not enough to push it along to the next round.  In my defense, "Master of the House" isn't remotely dystopian, and that seems to be the flavor du jour in YA books these days.

The upside to being eliminated from the competition is that I can now start sending my book out to agents and publishers.  The downside is that I don't know that I really made it far enough to brag about it in a query letter.

This is unfortunate, because query letters are evil.

I suppose, in some sense, query letters are the literary equivalent of a resume and a cover letter in one.  You have a single page to say what you are selling, why it's worth buying, and who the hell you are.

Saying what I'm selling is probably the hardest part, because you basically need to lead with a hook, and more often than not an agent or publisher will decided whether or not they will keep reading based entirely upon your opening.  And given the number of aspiring writers in the world, it's hard to come up with something that would be considered unique.

Talking about why "Master of the House" is worth selling doesn't pose nearly the challenge to me as it would have in the past.  If you'll allow me to put on my pretentious hat for a second (the correct response to that is "wait, you mean there are times when you take that hat off?"), having a book published -- by someone other than me, no less -- has taught me a lot about what sells and what doesn't.  And, let's face facts, agents and publishers want to know if what you're selling them, they can sell to others.

As for who the hell I am, well, thanks to the aforementioned published book, at least I can claim that someone out there with the finances to run a publishing company thought enough of my work to send it out to the masses.  I wish I had a few more published short stories to my name, but I should be thankful for what I've gotten so far.

 It's an awful lot of pressure to put on one piece of paper/e-mail, and awfully hard to write.

So here I am, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing just a few hours ago, but instead writing in this blog.


Go Fictionalize Yourself

I prefer writing fiction to writing non-fiction.  I realize that's a strange statement coming from a guy whose only published book is non-fiction and who has a blog that consists almost entirely of true stories.

My difficulty with writing non-fiction is that I get bored easily.  Most of the negative reviews I've gotten for "Pray" focused on the fact that the book is the story of the story, and that I've got three separate timelines going at once.  That's how I keep myself entertained.

I take a lot of material out of my life, but invariably twist the hell out of it to serve my purposes.  This has gotten me in trouble a few times because people sometimes assume that if one thing in my story is true, then all of it must be true, which is never the case for any writer ever in the history of the world, unless all they write is non-fiction -- and even then, it might not be true.

Last Friday (assuming it worked), I posted a short story called "Unrequited."  I've gotten nearly as much feedback on that story as I have on "Pray," and substantially fewer people have read "Unrequited."  All of that feedback has been positive; even people who dislike the ending still enjoyed the story.

I wrote another short story not too long ago that is connected to "Unrequited."  I'll withhold information on how, exactly, it's connected, because I don't want to ruin it for you.  But it turned out really well, and it made me realize that there's a certain amount of juice to "Unrequited," and that everything that stems from it seems to inherit some of its energy.

So I decided to put together a collection of short stories that are all somehow connected to "Unrequited."

One of these stories has a familiar theme: the story of the story.  I'm going back and writing a fictionalized version of how I wrote "Unrequited" nearly ten years ago.  This, of course, affords me the luxury of mixing and matching which parts of my life I pull from, and how much I change them to suit my purposes.

It's a strange thing, to write about yourself as a fictional character.  I actually do it an awful lot.  I would imagine a reasonable argument could be made that all of my characters are pieces of me in some way.

I've said in the past that I use a pen name because my life as a writer is different than my life as a regular person.  Basically, there's the stupid part of me and the responsible part of me.  The former would stay up late writing every night if the latter didn't tell him we have to go to work the next day.

But working on this new short story, I've started thinking that perhaps there's a third Kyle -- the fictional one.  Or, I suppose, the many fictional ones.

I have found that when I write about a fictional version of myself, I tend to take parts of my personality to the extreme, because in a story that's tolerable, while in real life I would have no friends.  I enjoy whiskey, but fictional me drinks pretty much all the time.  I over think everything, but fictional Kyle thinks to the point of debilitation.  I'm a reformed hopeless romantic (because, in the end, it turned out to not be hopeless), but that guy I write about who is a lot like me spends way too much time thinking about girls.

It will be interesting to see how this new short story turns out, and how people who know me respond to it.  Fortunately, most of them will probably read this blog post first.

Degrees of Storytelling

My wife works at Pixar.  It's basically as cool as you might think.

The company I work for has an office fairly close to Pixar, so every Wednesday I drive over to have lunch with the Mrs.  And it's great (and not just because of where she works -- getting to have lunch with your wife at least once a week is a pretty nice perk).  It's also a little torturous, because it's a campus full of creative people making stories.

As you can probably imagine, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to work there or in the writers' room on a television show or with an artist on a comic book.  I like the idea, but I also know that it's a completely different type of writing than I'm used to.

It's not so much the collaborative aspect that's foreign to me.  What's weird for me is the ability to access that creativity every day on a regular basis.

Which I guess isn't as hard as I think it is.  There's a new girl in our department at work.  And the other day one of my co-workers told her that I'm funny, and that I make up crazy stories.  While I don't really think of myself as a funny guy, I do make up ridiculous stories pretty much every day at work.  It's just the way my brain works.  Sometimes those stories are a bit too weird to have really been said out loud, but on average they're more or less acceptable for a general audience.

It's always been difficult for me to write.  Part of that is very real, but part of that is rationalization.  I've never really taken to the whole drunk writer mythology, but I'll admit that sometimes I've fallen into it.  For some reason, I have it in my brain that it's often easier for me to write if I have some liquid courage.

I think this stems from the fact that a lot of what I write is extremely personal, even if it's fiction.  And for as much as I might babble on and on about myself, I have always had a hard time of actually getting past the surface.  There are a lot of things that aren't easy for me to get to, which is, honestly, another issue entirely.

So in an effort to get myself to open up, I sometimes get a prescription from what Warren Ellis refers to as Doctor Whiskey.  And it works.  It's worked pretty well for years (although I suppose an argument could be made against that, given how I'm still struggling to get published).  It's pretty damn cool to read something you wrote and see that it's actually really good, which is surprising, both because it's good and because you don't particularly remember writing it.

Like I said, a lot of this is rationalization.  There's no real reason to believe I couldn't get to these places without any chemical assistance.  I've actually written an entire book without any kind of mind altering substances.  It takes longer, sure, but those hidden places are still accessible.  It's also just much harder to get there on my own.  Heck, it's hard regardless.

The thought occurred to me, then, that there are, perhaps, degrees to storytelling.  And if that's the case, then I seem to be writing on only one setting most of the time.  I think that's probably a bad thing.

Then again, I should also mention that the few nights of the week when I have the time to really sit down and write, it's a lot like a vacation.  Instead of a beach and sunshine, I have my office and a single lamp at night.  Instead of Mai Tai's, I have whiskey.  And instead of heading home at the end of the trip, with a lot less money and probably a few extra pounds, I slowly but surely tell stories. 

That seems pretty good to me.

I should stop writing and start doing heroin.

I imagine the people who read this blog are either a) friends of mine, b) have "met" me online, c) have read something of mine, d) and/or are writers of some sort.  I realize not everything I write in this blog appeals to all of you, but I like to think there's at least few gems here and there.

Anyway, I mention all that because those of you who write can probably relate to this entry, but I'm hoping the rest of you will enjoy it, too.

So I got cut from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest.  And as with most of the times I get rejected, it's made me wonder why I'm in the position to be rejected at all.

This isn't a "woe is me, no one appreciates my writing" deal.  This is a "sweet fancy Moses, I'd be so much happier if I didn't write" deal -- because I feel like that a lot.

Every aspect of my life gets divided attention.  I feel a bit weird about the fact that the people at work know I'm a writer, because they also must know that's my ultimate goal -- to write, to only write.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: any job I have is second fiddle, no matter how good it is.  I sometimes wonder if I'd be better at my job, or at least more proactive about it, if my heart was in it, or at least not somewhere else.

There are plenty of times I think about the fact that I don't really make as much money as I should, particularly given how much I've learned over the last few months at my job.  If I really put myself to it, I could probably find a job that paid me more.  But this theoretical job probably won't have the short commute my current job has.  It probably won't have the understanding and entertaining people that I work with now.  It would probably require more of me than I'm currently willing (able?) to give.

A few weeks ago, a cousin-in-law of mine asked me when I found the time to write.  That's a fair question, given that I have a full time job and I now live in a house that requires a certain level of upkeep even when we're not doing things like fixing up the master bedroom.  I told him I write whenever I can, and try to make those writing sessions as long as possible to make up for the days when I don't have the time.

But I do have time, which is something I doubt I'll be able to say when we have kids.  I have no idea what I'll do then.

It's not unreasonable to ask why I continue to do this.  Let's face facts, I haven't really managed to do a whole lot.  Yes, I've got a few things out there in the world, but, again, I still have to have a day job.  And I realize that I'm addressing this as an all or nothing situation, but that's also just the way I am.  Whether correct or not, I define success as being able to write for a living.

At what point do I read the writing on the wall and call it quits?  My life would be much easier if I did.  I sometimes think it's possible I would be happier.  Yet I can't stop.  For some reason, I have to do it, and I wish that wasn't the case, I really do.  I wish I could just be happy with the life I have -- god knows I have plenty of reasons to be happy.

That's the bottom line -- why can't I just be happy with what I have?  I feel like most people can do that.  Why can't I?

Writing is a strange addiction.  I wonder what rehab would be like.  I also wonder if, when I finally have kids, if that's when I'll give it up.  What will it take to get me to stop?  Because constant rejection doesn't seem to be doing it.

I wrote an essay about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it's in a book

I've mentioned it before, I know, but just in case you've forgotten, I have an essay in this book:

Book book of Whedon essays
I received my comp copy of it in the mail today (and, believe me, the thrill of getting a comp in the mail from Random House was pretty great) and it's a killer book.  It's packed to the gills with essays on pretty much everything Whedon has ever done.

I hadn't read my essay since it was originally published on Popmatters a year ago.  I was a little worried.  I probably wrote it over three days, which doesn't seem like enough time for something that's in a book that everyone can read, particularly a book filled with essays by actual scholars.

So, being the self-absorbed person that I am, I read my essay first.  And, surprise surprise, it was actually pretty damn good.

I had some problems with it here and there, but overall I was kind of shocked at how well I spoke "critical essay."  I suddenly realized that all those years of college had actually paid the form of one essay in a 500+ page book, for which sole payment is the copy sitting on my coffee table.

Still, I'm looking forward to reading the other essays.  And I'm thankful Popmatters and Titan Books had the smarts to go with my essay on Xander and not my essay on sex, which I wrote in less than two days while on a cruise ship.

It was a fun project to be a part of -- I think I'd like to do something like that again someday.