Author, Writer, Novelist, Wannabe?

Yesterday, Author Michael Shean posted an engaging article about the Myth of the “Real Writer.” In fact, you should probably run over there and catch up before I go on. I’ll wait here.

All set? Awesome!

Last night over dinner, my neighbor and I continued this conversation in detail. The central question: “When do you call yourself an author?” It wasn’t long before we realized this wasn’t a simple discussion of semantics.

Though the semantics do matter. What is the distinction between a “writer,” an “author,” and a “novelist?” Are these distinctions meaningful enough to merit clarification? Perhaps more importantly, are these distinctions agreed upon by enough people at large to actually serve a purpose?

One might easily categorize the three terms in orders of descending specificity. All novelists are authors, but not all authors are novelists. Likewise, all authors are writers, but not all writers are authors. As a writer might be defined as “one who writes,” and a novelist as “one who writes novels”… what then is our definition of “author?”

It’s a legitimate question, and one that is not served by looking up Merriam-Webster. People have a sense in their minds as to what an author is. And when a person self-identifies as an author, we immediately prescribe a set of assumptions upon that person based on this sense. And the point becomes relevant when a stranger asks the classic get-to-know-you question: “What do you do?”

It’s a very short, very sticky question to ask anyone. Particularly in the States, we tend to categorize people by their vocation, making the question “what do you do (for a living)?” But what if one self-identifies as an author, yet does not earn enough from writing to pay the bills? Is it fraudulent to represent oneself as an author when one doesn’t yet (and may never) possess the means to support a lifestyle strictly through writing?

Because the odds are that’s the assumption. Movies and TV shows have penned this artificial sense of what an author does. There’s this myth of the “Book Deal” that changes a life overnight, and that once a person gets this “Book Deal”, they are immediately shifted into a full-time position of writing for a living.

That’s fantasy, but it’s a fantasy many people hold as fact. Thus, when someone asks me “what do you do,” I have to weigh in my own mind to what extent I’m violating their assumptions of what an author is. They may consider me a “wannabe.” Is that fair?

Honest truth… I don’t care. It’s the way social interactions work. We all deal with filters from others all the time. We work to navigate around them at times, other times choosing to stampede through them.

But my takeaway from last night’s conversation is this: Most people won’t recognize my lifestyle as that of an author. When I self-identify as an author, I’ll need to brace myself should they eventually contradict that assertion, simply because I’m not sitting at a desk all day whipping out pages, talking to agents and editors, receiving advances and/or royalty checks, and packing crates of hardbacks to my latest book signing.

And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Update: Curse Servant Release Delayed

Hey there, you ghosts and goblins…

First, some business. The release of The Curse Servant will be delayed. Before you panic, allow me to assure you this is for a very positive reason! I can’t really talk about that reason at the moment, but things are developing which could end up drizzled in awesomesauce. Thank you for your patience, in the meantime!

Second, I had a blast last weekend for my birthday. I ate lobster for the first time. It was, like, just a giant-sized crawfish, as far as I could tell. I also discovered the amazing life-changing properties of tequila and limeade. Thanks to everyone who sent me well-wishing!

Third, HOLY CRAP IT’S ALMOST HALLOWEEN! I don’t think I’ll ever get over Halloween. It’s just the cat’s balls, really.

And fourth, as I completed my last copy-edits for Curse Servant, I realize just how much commas are my kryptonite. It’s not that I keep forgetting the rules for commas… I seem to have a full-blown mental blank. The rules shift in my head. They make sense one moment, but not the next.

Commas are Congress.

Be safe out there tomorrow night, whether walking with kids, whether you are a kid, or whether you’re just kidding yourself. Enjoy some dress-up. Indulge in some dark fantasy. And remember your ancestry.

And don't forget the pumpkin pi.

And don’t forget the pumpkin pi.

Cover Reveal – The Curse Servant

Today’s the day, friends!

First of all, I’d like to thank Travis Miles for continuing to provide awesome covers for the Dark Choir series. Also for being patient with a persnickety indie author such as myself.

Second, I’d like to comment briefly on the two Dark Choir novels. The Curse Merchant began as a near-reality urban fantasy, drenched in mood and tone. The noir elements were almost inadvertent, a product more of the character and the city in which the story was set than an active choice.

Once again, a surprise came bundled up in The Curse Servant. This book is perhaps darker in mood than Curse Merchant , but the plot is heavily peppered with politics and social commentary. Again, I feel this is a consequence of the city of Baltimore as a stage for the story. Ultimately the near-reality of this universe shall, by design, unravel to reveal more and more of what lies beneath. We’ll take a tiny peek behind the curtain in The Curse Servant.

Okay, enough talk… here’s the cover:

CURSE-SERVANT-MEDThe Curse Servant will be available for purchase in eBook format both from Amazon and Smashwords on October 31st. Keen-eyed readers will recognize this as the one year anniversary of The Curse Merchant’s release. (it might also be a horror-themed holiday)

Please share and spread the word. If you haven’t read The Curse Merchant, it’s available for only $0.99. So go catch up on the intrigues of Dorian Lake and see you guys on the 31st!

Curse Servant Update & Autumn Anticipation

Here in the Mid-Atlantic, we’ve enjoyed a very mild summer. Last weekend, for example, we had a few days with highs in the low 70′s. We’re looking at another such weekend coming up just in time for our county fair. All of this to trumpet the coming of autumn, easily my favorite season. Everything changes into something that feels, at least to me, more comforting and reminiscent of youth. Last night I made some pumpkin gnocchi and curried butternut squash soup. My beer choices have shifted from the summery blondes and wheats to the malty festbiers and brown ales. Soon the leaves will change and the first wisps of chilled air will blow over the Catoctin ridge into my back yard.

I’ve always wondered why it is that my senses seem to come alive during the autumn. I figured it may be because I was born in late October. My son was born in the middle of summertime, and he still prefers the heat of summertime. I don’t know… correlation may not mean causation, but I’m thoroughly jazzed. (not to mention I have a birthday coming, as does my wife, and we have an anniversary… all in the same two-week space)

Another thing to be jazzed about? I’ll be revealing the cover of The Curse Servant on Monday. Yep, this Monday, the 16th. It’s an awesome little piece of art, and I feel it really captures the darker tone this book has taken. Speaking of which, the final revisions are complete on Curse Servant, and it’s in the hands of an editor for one last spit-polish. I may be announcing my release date Monday, as well… but that sort of depends on the editor’s schedule.

In other news I have begun my next project. After putting Top Secret Manuscript ™ on indefinite hold until I figure out how to satisfactorily voice a sixteen year old, I began outlining my latest project. It, too, is independent of the Dark Choir series… and from what I hear from my wife and my critique group, it’s kind of ambitious. We shall see if I can pull this off. If I can, I think it will rock faces!

See you guys right here on Monday for the cover reveal!

The Complete Lack of Pause Between My Projects

After two solid months of key-hammering, the first draft of Curse Servant is complete, and has been subjected to a thorough acid-wash of revisions. The second draft is now in the hands of my alpha reader (read: my wife), who is adept at picking out loose threads, plot holes, and other embarrassing yet inescapable elements of early drafts. Once that’s done and I have a third draft in-hand, I’ll be farming it out to beta readers. It’s a lot of tire-kicking, and once that’s complete I’m still going to secure the services of a professional editor. Why? Because this is serious business to me, and I want the product to be as ship-shape and Bristol-fashion as I can manage.

In the meantime, I find myself in the lull during which the readers do their thing and I, as the author, do my thing. Typically this includes some down-time, perhaps catching up on my brewing or convincing our new dog not to chew my fingers directly off.

"Don't hold your breath, pal..."

“Don’t hold your breath, pal…”

This time, however, I’ve skipped that between-projects-pause entirely. Why? Well, the astute blog follower will recall something I’ve been obtusely referring to as Top Secret Manuscript. This is the novel I began last year shortly after I wrapped up Curse Merchant. I had to put it on pause once the marketing push for Merchant began. Then, when the plot of Curse Servant landed in my frontal lobes, I elected to continue said pause in order to push on with Dorian’s sequel.

The time has come. Top Secret Manuscript is back on track! It’s a strange experience coming back to a work in progress. I typically insist on completing a full draft of a novel before returning to the output with a revising eye, but this was an exception. I had to re-read what was written in order to bring myself back to speed. And in doing so, I found some truly sharp edges that needed a good rasping. One thing led to another, and now I’m back into outlining the novel. It’s all a very good process for me, as I’m hoping this manuscript turns into something I can run past a literary agent.

In the meantime, this dog is eyeballing my ankles with sadistic intensity, so I’m going to hop back into the writing dungeon before I lose another pint of blood.

Why I Stopped Thinking This Week and Started… uh, Thinking.

Sometimes the words simply flow from the fingers like a poorly conceived analogy involving a fire hose. Sometimes those fingers are dead weights, just sitting on the keyboard trying to muster the strength to move. Sometimes it happens all in the same writing session, which is as frustrating as it is baffling.

I’ve suffered some bouts of Scriptus Interruptus this week, not that it’s an unusual occurrence. But what I’d like to share with you today is how I broke through my personal creative log jam and started hammering out pages like a slightly better-conceived power tool analogy.

I’ve stated before, almost exhaustively, what a fan I am of planned writing. I have outlines, spreadsheets (Jesus God, the spreadsheets!), character sketches, even organized playlists to help center my thinking. It’s a left-brained Wonderland in my writing dungeon.

Formatting cells is totally a writing skill, right? RIGHT?!

Formatting cells is totally a writing skill, right? RIGHT?!

I’m elbow-deep in The Curse Servant’s first draft, and by God I’ve got that sucker outlined. Granted, shortly into the third chapter I had to dramatically re-structure my outline thanks to one or two good ideas that popped up. And by Chapter Ten I realized that my entire outline was, in fact, only Act II, and this sucker was ballooning out of control.

All right, I’ll admit it. My outline was useless one week into drafting. I spent more time trying to tie things up on my spreadsheet than I did generating words. This led to spiraling doubt and confusion, the net result of which was unproductive writing sessions and a general sense of doom and dread.

Then Memorial Day weekend happened. I spent my time in the swimming pool, cutting grass, washing off the smell of sunscreen and chlorine, smoking ribs, and noodling around like a feckless layabout who didn’t have a damned novel to write. Here’s the great thing about mindless, repetitive activities such as lawn mowing, tending charcoal, and taking showers. You tend to block out your own brain.

It was a God send.

When I stopped thinking about my book, I started imagining it. And it really sank in this weekend when I specifically set aside time to daydream my way through my story instead of trying to engineer it. I cranked out ten thousand words in three days, which with my life schedule is above average. It seemed the key to getting over the creative lethargy was to reconnect with the right side of my brain.

So, a word of caution to all of the visitors to my blog who check in on my spreadsheets (yes, I see you over there!)… don’t get too hooked on the formula. Invest time doing nothing, opening up that chest of wonders inside your imagination, and just baste in it for an hour or so. Then see what come out!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic | freedigitalphotos.net

A Podcast Conversation with Jason Konopinski

I have something new and interesting for you today.

riffingonwriting

My friend Jason Konopinski and I had a conversation over Skype the other night about writing in general. We discussed the new onus that self-publishing has placed upon the reader to be her own gatekeeper for quality. We also touched on my journey into self-publishing, and perhaps most interestingly how we view ourselves as writers.

If you have fifty minutes to spare over lunch or on your commute home today, you can listen to our convo on his podcast Riffing on Writing.

And since I know there will be some new faces nosing around the old blog, I thought I’d do something special this week. The Curse Merchant is now available at a reduced price of $0.99 via Amazon or Smashwords! If you’ve thought about picking up the first book of the Dark Choir series, now’s a better opportunity than ever before. Spread the word, guys, and hop on over to Jason’s site and catch up on his podcasts!