Alchemy. Otherwise Known As “A Life.”

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I’m alive. Or (rather) I’m focused and am very productive. I feel like I’ve neglected to mention that there’s a bevy of intangible things every writer needs in order to have a foundation to stand on. Confidence in yourself and your work is only a small part of the equation, because it’s not an all or nothing scenario. What you need is something much grander than that — boundaries. Those invisible lines in the sand where you say: “I’m not going to waste time on that.” Or, sometimes more importantly: “I’m not going to bother spending the emotional energy on ‘X'” whatever “X” happens to be.

To get to that point, to not be desperate for every publisher’s/editor’s whim, we need support in some shape or form. Or, to be more blunt, a life. There, I said it. And, I’ll say it again. We need to have a life. Spending all your vested interest in an online persona or book sales or mentions or bad mojo or whatever is not healthy for you or your work. I’ve heard *all* the excuses before. I can’t. I have to. I can’t. Years ago, I was that way. And you know what I did? Dealt with my own b.s. to get here, and here is exactly where I want to be. I have relapses. I had one not too long ago, but I’m out of it now. And I never, ever plan on ever being “there” again.

Now, normally I’m of the “to each his own” mind. Sure, I’ll buy that for a dollar, but I also believe in something else – moderation. Balance. Being healthy. Not pouring all your efforts into “x” and forgetting that you’re human. Yet, are we really doing that? Try going offline unannounced for a couple of weeks. Find out how many people think something’s wrong just because you weren’t on Facebook. It might surprise you.

For writers, I think being an alchemist for your own life is crucial because of our need to relate to characters and unravel plots. By alchemist, I mean that I feel you choose what you want in it, what you’ll mix together, and how you’ll react to those things. I know I need to be happy and excited to create. By “happy” I don’t mean that’s the only time I create, but I know that being an emotional wreck dealing with drama is so time-consuming and dramatic it negatively effects my work. I deal with problems when they come up for that reason. If there’s something I can’t resolve and it’s damaging to me and mine? I let it go. Not always easy, and I’m not perfect in that regard, but that’s where a support group comes into play.

You can’t get an immersive experience (e.g. sight, sound, touch, feel, smell) from the internet. You can get some visuals and sound from a movie, sure, but even then it’s not the same as walking down the street and just observing life. That little old lady next door. Your neighbor’s dog. The crotchety guy down the street. Talk to strangers. (Yes, even the dog counts.) Get to know these people. Listen to their stories. Study their faces. Learn how to be a good friend. Be inspired by their humanity and buffer yourself against a couple of windbags dying to get your attention for advertising dollars.

Out in the brick-and-mortar world, this is where stories are born — even genre ones. I’m talking about real people, real emotions, and real events. That concert you’ve been dying to go to. That volunteer gig you’ve been thinking about but can’t seem to find the time. That hobby you’ve been putting off that all your friends are asking you to do.

Do these things. Do them, because no amount of opinions or friends or cat pictures online will ever make you happy. You can think that it will, and no doubt there’s some people that feel this way, but here’s what this comes down to (and why I’m sooooooooo opinionated about this): you are not just a writer. You, my friend and fellow author, are an effing GOD. You create; others consume. Gambling on what shoulda/coulda/woulda isn’t going to pay the bills, help you achieve your goals, or make your dreams come true. If you’re happy with that? Then good on you. I’m not. Good on me.

I learned this many years ago: you cannot create if you are always consuming. The internet isn’t just a distraction tool, it requires your attention, but there are other tools that do the same thing. I write. Well and badly. Revise and toss. Submit and table. I don’t read, I study the books I pick up. While I can enjoy a film, I think about it’s structure and what I can do to apply that first physically, then internally, to my own work. I make jewelry now, sometimes I cook, and I’m definitely making Art. I have a few consumption things that I do (video games) but I have to do those in moderation. I’ve ingrained these habits into my lifestyle because I want to make things other people will enjoy. To do that, I have to study the form, and there’s no better way to do that then to see what’s already out there.

Recently, though, I’ve been reminded of something else and that “something” is motivating me. A concept that’s so very important, incredibly simple, and so hard to remember: Creativity is limitless. It doesn’t judge, it’s always there, and it’s accessible. Our humanity, however, is finite.

So no, I don’t respond to every flame war and I’ve stopped sharing inflammatory posts or buying into political commentary, too. I’m limiting my connectivity and tested out my productivity using two versus one monitor. I’ve stopped gambling on what I can’t control, ditched the paraphernalia, and am focusing on what I can – getting back to fundamentals, establishing boundaries, and paying attention to what matters to me so I can have a great life in addition to my work.

All the rest? All the things I don’t know about and have no idea exist? That’s part of your story. And, if so, I want to hear about it next time we meet face-to-face.

    Mood: Gold
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Mercury
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Air
    In My Ears: Water
    Game Last Played: Brimstone
    Movie Last Viewed: Silver
    Latest Artistic Project: Copper
    Latest Release: Fire

Reader’s Preference, Author’s…Loss? Win? What?

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Been a while since I’ve commented on different responses to reviews, but the recent initiative to stalk bad reviewers is worth noting for a few reasons. (You can read a reviewer’s first-hand experience here, by the way.)

I find the website created to “give reviewers a dose of their own medicine” to be abhorrent, so I won’t link to it here. I feel that reviews now are a reflection of the accessibility to content and the ability to reach a broader market. This means, that it’s easier and more likely in today’s market that someone may buy a book, not like it for whatever reason, and post a bad review. There’s a difference, perhaps not so obvious to all, between a critique and a review. Critiques are what I strive to do because I’m not assessing any work for the reasons “I” might be drawn to it, but what the value of that work is for someone “else” who will. Reviews are more personal in nature and, for many professional reasons, I stray from that as much as possible.

The more popular a book becomes, the greater the chance for negative reviews, simply because you’re looking at the law of averages. That does not translate to best-selling. It just means that that book is being talked about.

Reviews are opinions. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are opinions that influence what people might buy. There are popular books with loads of crappy reviews; there are impressive tomes with the same. Reviews can influence someone’s purchase decision but trust me, there are a lot of other reasons why a reader buys (or doesn’t buy) a book. Reviews is just one piece of a larger puzzle.

Because reviews are opinions, when anyone attacks the reviewer, the knee-jerk reaction is (and rightly so) for that reader to get defensive. They’ve bought (or downloaded) the Work. They took the time to review it. They have a right to their opinion and authors have a right to either ignore those views or address them. The difference here, though, is that the author is the Creator of the Work and the reader is the Consumer. Two wholly unique points-of-views that don’t always match up. One person can create Art for thousands, but only hundreds may react positively. Yes, that’s a lot of pressure for any human being to handle, but it goes with the territory. There is no possibly way for anyone to control what anyone else says or does. It just isn’t logical.

Now, here’s the thing that really grates on me. When you bully reviewers to make them feel embarrassed or nervous or scared, you are basically saying: “Well, my book can’t possibly have bad reviews because I wrote it.” There are some fan communities that operate this way as well primarily because they love a property/author so much they can’t fathom anyone else not liking it. Again, all of that has very little to do with the story. That has to do with emotion.

I am fully and wholly against bullying anyone. Period. I am also not a fan of making fun of reviewers because they didn’t like your stories, either. Didn’t enjoy “X”? Well, hope you keep reading. Thanks and have a nice day.

But the question here is: “Why bother?” Why bully reviewers? Well, this goes back to something I’ve said time and time again. Authors not well-versed in marketing books hang their hats on specific avenues they either believe is the end all/be all or because group think said they should focus on “X” so they do. Reviews are part of marketing, yes, but it’s not the only path to take. There are a million different ways to market a book and a million more ways to research your audience and make sure you’re reaching the people who want to read your book. You want to really learn marketing? Then do so, because by the time you’ve caught up to the proverbial leader something (or someone) else will blow right past you. Yes, the field is changing that fast and yes, there’s a *lot* to learn.

Focusing on bad reviews translates to two unintended, negative messages. One: “My readers are too stupid to tell the difference between a good review and a bad one.” I don’t believe that for a second, by the way. And two: “I am so insecure about my books that I will attack anyone who doesn’t like them.”

If you’re that insecure about your work, then I strongly suggest that you hire someone else to do your marketing for you. Focusing on bad opinions is a lose-lose situation. After all, it’s not the vocal (e.g. I LOVE YOU or I HATE YOU) readers you have to worry about. You already know what they think about your work. The ones you should concentrate on? Are the ones who aren’t talking.

I don’t think my post is going to change anyone’s mind about how they treat bad reviews, but I do feel that having to write this seems fairly ironic to me. We’ve all written stories for editors before. Now, the same exact story one editor loves could turn around and be the same exact story another one hates. If we know that, even on a subconscious level, then why waste time on people who aren’t fully vested in your Work? Why bother getting upset over the readers you can’t win over?

    Mood: Zen with a Side of Lemon
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Enough iced tea to float in a small pool
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walkin’, walking’
    In My Ears: ambient noise
    strong>Game Last Played: Battle Nations
    Movie Last Viewed: Sherlock Holmes a Game of Shadows
    Latest Artistic Project: Beaded lace in soft peach
    Latest Release: “Don’t Ignore Your Dead” included in Don’t Read This Book for the Don’t Rest Your Head RPG

At The Heart

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Phew! It has been a whirlwind of a summer. I’ve got multiple conventions coming up. GenCon: Indy. WorldCon in Chicago. Geek*Kon here in town. A trade show in September, and more after that. Convention planning is a lot of work. So much, in fact, that that particular phrase has been stuck in my mind. I even mentioned it in a recent interview with Jennisodes.

I prefer podcasting to written interviews sometimes because I can nerd it up. I understand why people have things like personas and images they hide behind online, but I’ve never been a very good liar. I yam who I yam who I yam. (Yes, that was a Popeye quote. And yes, the randomness is also completely me.)

Being genuine has its advantages and disadvantages like anything else. While I have to be “on” at a show, there are places where I can relax. That place this year was CONvergence, for sure.

I think the hardest thing to express is how much I love what I do. All I have are my words, and sometimes those fail me. I’m taking creative risks this year and we’ll see how those pan out. It’s a weird place to be for any author I suppose. You’re writing like mad, you don’t know who else cares about your work (besides yourself) unless they speak up, and you’re shooting for some way to crack a proverbial ceiling you don’t *think* is there but everyone else seems to believe exists. (It doesn’t, by the way. Luck and timing are nothing without the Work (or the ability to create the Work) itself. You always need that to stand on first, in my opinion, because this is where confidence comes from.)

I know that many of you have told me in person how much you appreciate me “sharing the ride” so to speak. I hope, regardless of what happens, I’ll always be able to do that. I think it’s important to know that every author rises and falls regardless of where they are.

I’m not afraid to talk about the rollercoaster. Can’t always be up. And won’t, definitely, be down all the time, either. But that, for me, is not what being an author is all about. To be able to live and love and write and make all kinds of art is a dream unto itself. To make a career out of this (even part-time) is wonderful, sure, but even that is not my rock. The ability to do what I do and feel such joy every time I’m in that zone? That’s what grounds me.

I suppose, before I get too philosophical and teary-eyed, I’ll leave you now. I’m in love with my Work. How ’bout you?

    Mood: Creative
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I had this thing called “green coffee.” Not sure how I feel about that.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some, but the heat is making me crappy.
    In My Ears: Nuts and Honey
    Game Last Played: Star Wars Battlefront
    Movie Last Viewed: Sherlock Holmes a Game of Shadows
    Latest Artistic Project: A grey and aqua bracelet
    Latest Release: “Don’t Ignore Your Dead” included in Don’t Read This Book for the Don’t Rest Your Head RPG

The Minis Fantastic

Just wanted to let you know that my very *first* miniature game is now up on Kickstarter. I worked on the setting development for War Echoes and got to do a ton of world building for different scenarios in action, mystery, and conspiratorial themes.

One of the coolest things I’ve seen here are the miniatures. It’s a very strange (if not wonderful) feeling to see the signature character you wrote about in a physical form.

If you want to jump in on this one, the Kickstarter for War Echoes by Battle Bunker Games just launched last night.

Simplifying Speak Out with your Geek Out

I updated the description for Speak Out With Your Geek Out.

It reads:

    Take a positive stance against baiting nerd rage, geek elitism, negative stereotypes of geeks, and yellow journalism.

    Post about how much you love your geeky hobbies or vocation from Monday, September 10th, 2012 to Friday, September 14th on your blog, website, social media account or in a forum somewhere. Then come here and tell us about it. We’ll have a kick-off post where you can stand and be counted.

    Let’s show the world who we really are — passionate people who love a hobby so much we are willing to share it in a positive way with other people. This week, we will show our best side to remind others of that, too, and will actively avoid negativity and cheer each other on, instead.

Last year was a learning experience because people were fixated on specific words or phrases. Then there were the discussions of “I don’t want to read this.” or “I don’t think there’s a problem.” That’s fine, people. That’s your choice. But there is a problem whenever someone is passionate enough about “X” to want to say or do something about it. We get laughed at. Bullied. Shoved to the side. Embarrassed. On a high level, being more respectful of one another is what accepting geeks boils down to. That is also why I didn’t define what “geek” is, because many people feel ostracized regardless of whether or not they’re typecast as a comics/gaming/knitting/cooking/etc. sort of geek, too. We’re supposed to be about inclusion, not exclusion.

I cannot stress enough how simple this is supposed to be. This is not a corporate thing, a money-making scheme, or a movement to be manipulated. We live in a world of near-constant criticism and, all too often, we are baited into that negativity. All Speak Out With Your Geek Out really is? A week of happy. Of shiny. Of supporting one another and acknowledging that passion. Of not taking the bait and recognizing that sometimes we are the worst offenders because by defending our own interests we wind up putting other people down without realizing it.

Can we be happy for a week? Can we be cheerful on the internet for five days? Can we have a positive impact in spite of so much negativity?

We’ll find out. Guidelines next week.

Next Posts

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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