Breaking Down Success

Fire She-Ra Avatar

I realize I owe you a post about ways to combat burnout, and another one about essentialism versus mutual respect…but I’m on deadline. The end of this month marks a milestone for me that I can hopefully share with you at one point. Instead, today I want to talk about yesterday and why I feel it’s important.

A lot of people wonder what it takes to be successful. I hear a lot of talk about getting published, or the right vs. wrong way to tell a story, etc. etc. etc. To me, unless you’re looking to fulfill a specific goal, all that can get in the way of productivity because you start worrying about what you should be doing than focusing on what you’re actually doing. I get into trouble, sometimes, because I tend to oversimplify complex concepts. I remove the flotsam and jetsam because as a creative, I have to be conscious about what I’m putting in my head and what’s coming out of it. (I’ll talk about more about that in my post about burnout.) Part of that, too, is not worry about what success is or isn’t, but focusing on what matters to me.

My world is very simple when I’m staring at my keyboard. I have a deadline. Did I meet that? If not, why and what can I do to be better about achieving it? I have people I work with. How can I be a better collaborator, leader, and co-worker? I have bills to pay. Did I pay them? If not, what do I need to do to pay them? If I don’t have a deadline, how do I get another one? How do I assign deadlines to my spec work so I’m pushing myself further? Then, when my novels come out, with any luck I’ll be focused on engaging readers, too.

When I look “up”, however, there’s a whole ‘nother world out there. There’s a world where I am judged by fans, by people I don’t work with, by potential publishers, etc. That world doesn’t know what I’m doing on my keyboard, or what I’ve done that hasn’t seen the light of day, or any of my experiences in business or music, etc. That world doesn’t care about what I did in the distant past or what I’m doing right now because it’s not out yet. That world? Only cares about what I did yesterday. Or, more specifically, what I released yesterday.

Again, I realize I’m oversimplifying here… I do think about (and plan for) what I want in the future, but that impacts what I work on rather than how other people perceive me. My point is that it doesn’t do me any good to worry about anything other than creating more “yesterdays,” because that’s the only thing I can control. There are so, so, so many writers out there who are hustling–and they’re unknown–making a full-time living at this. Are they any less successful than the writer who writes an award-winning story? Does that really even matter? Sometimes, I think we get so worked up about defining what is and isn’t successful, that it winds up hurting us because that word–success–is incredibly subjective.

I try to worry about what I can control and what I can learn from my mistakes. (Like my terrible comma usage in this post, for example.) I don’t aim to be perfect, because that’s not realistic. Over time, I realized I can’t make up a publisher’s mind by talking about what I haven’t finished yet, and it hurts me to stop writing because I’m “waiting” for a release to happen or for anyone else to validate my work. Yes, awards will help my career, but I’d much rather focus on putting out work I’m proud of, because I feel that’s better for my definition of success and to serve readers, fans, etc. If I haven’t hit that sweet spot yet where readers are happy? That means I have to do something new and fresh that will, and I will keep doing that. In a way, I hope they never are, because I can’t imagine not writing or not trying to make something happen.

In order for me to be productive, I feel it’s more important to care about what I can focus on right now, the readers and the fans and the people I know right now, so I can continue to make a living and have more yesterdays. I cannot, and will not, be able to control what other people think. (I wouldn’t want to, anyway.) That way lies madness, and crafting a careful marketing image/persona is secondary to my work. The work has to come first. Being “popular” is not my focus, because I am not a celebrity who is honing my image based on “who” I am. Being a celebrity is a job, and very few writers are also actual celebrities. That’s not how I get paid, and everything I do in public feeds the work.

Time to hustle!

    Mood: F-f-f-f-f-f-feisty
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: On my third cup
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: There was walking!
    In My Ears: White noise.
    Game Last Played: Kingdoms of Amalur: Age of Reckoning
    Book Last Read: Commedia della Morte by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo
    Movie Last Viewed: Can’t remember…
    Latest Artistic Project: Chainmaille!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Gothic Icons and Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim
    What I’m Working On: Read my latest project update.

Firefly RPG and the Origins Awards!

Firefly RPG Front Cover

Today, I am pleased to share with you that the Firefly RPG is nominated for Best RPG in the 2015 Origins Awards. The list of 2015 nominees includes a TON of great games created by a lot of awesome people.

Congrats to everyone who was nominated, to my entire Firefly RPG team past and present, and to fans like you for supporting us. Thanks so much, and good luck to all!

Announcing Codex Infernus: a Savage Guide to Hell Kickstarter

Codex Infernus Demon

Today, I am pleased to announce I am one of the writers contributing to Codex Infernus: a Savage Guide to Hell. The Kickstarter for Codex Infernus launched today, and I’m pretty excited about this cool supplement. In the coming weeks, you’ll hear a little bit more about my work on the setting for Codex Infernus through a few Kickstarter updates. ‘Til then!

The Other Side of Ciao

There's a trojan on your computer

In preparation for a few posts about my writing process as it relates to my original work and projects like Dark Eras, I wanted to talk (eep!) a little bit more about me. To be perfectly honest with you, this is the part I hate. I don’t like talking about me half the time, because I feel there’s a certain level of complexity that human beings have, that cannot come across via the internet in writing. Too, I’m fairly private as well, because I tend to deal with my own b.s. and then move on as best I can. Today I’m going to try, because this will relate to a future post about my work and my research process that I’ve honed over several years when writing about other cultures.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a cross-cultural household, and that I’ve never really felt that I fit in to “a” specific culture. When I went to London a few years ago now, one of my friends noticed how I really was of two worlds, the old and the new. Though I’m not a hundred percent Italian, the culture (regionally, this would be northern Italy) dominated my formative years. If you are not already aware, like many countries there’s no such thing as Italy being “one” culture and there’s often a lot of assumptions made about Italian-Americans thanks to shows like Jersey Shore or The Godfather movies. Often, when people haven’t run into Italians before, whatever the popular media has shown them is what they assume and it’s not always good.

I remember being of two minds on the subject of my heritage. Proud and angry. Proud, because while other families forgot how their great-great grandparents came to this country, the idea of “where we came from” was more immediate and present. It made me appreciate being in America, and I fell in love with the idea of the melting pot to the point where I idealized it. Oh, I did. I wanted to know about everyone. (Still do.) I wanted to know about all the different cultures, all the beautiful people with the different ways they practiced their faith or what they had for dinner or what they wore or what books they read or what have you. As a child, I thought America was a place where everyone was welcome, and I was ready to meet everybody.

This is where the anger part comes in. I’ve always been pushed and pulled into this idea that there’s “the one true way” to live, to be, that whatever the dominate culture is happens to be the one that’s “right”, or that the culture you’re born with has to be the only one. (A belief that I fight with every breath I take.) What’s so “wrong” about not discovering popcorn until I was 12? What’s so “wrong” about not having blonde hair? (Yes, I do now. This is called “obfuscation” as I’ve been going grey since I was a teenager. Considering purple!) Or the right nose? Or body shape? Or… For me, I also had an added layer of angst as a teen. I am a very passionate person, and even something as simple the display of emotion can generate comments and rumors. I also talk with my hands as well, and being expressive can cause raised eyebrows, too. And it did. Even beyond personal expression, there’s also issues I had with personal space. I remember how I was helping a friend home who was utterly wasted, and I had my arm around her to keep her upright, and kids driving by shouted gay slurs at us simply because we were touching.

I’m skipping a lot here, including the bullying, but hopefully the gist of what I’m trying to say is coming across. For a lot of people, even though my skin tone was white, and we were blue collar/middle class, I was still “different” and different isn’t always good, nor is it celebrated. That? That crushed me at first. As a teenager, because of my experiences, I went from believing in the melting pot, to convincing myself I had to fit in. I had to wear the latest fashion or dumb myself down or change my hair or do all the things that weren’t necessarily me because this was the way to get people to back off and stop ridiculing me or accept me. In other words, I felt forced to pretend I was unquestionably just like everybody else who was considered to be part of the majority culture, and it never quite seemed to work. I wanted to be invisible, because that seemed easier than the alternative.

No, the story of where I came from cannot possibly be condensed into a simple post, nor are the reasons for the way I was treated in my formative years straightforward. They’re not. To me, though, none of that matters and I am certainly not trying to get into any kind of contest about whose pain is greater. That’s not the point here. None of my terrible past experiences matter anymore. Why? Because while I still struggle with living between worlds sometimes, I am hyper-focused on turning those experiences into something positive, and then channeling that into my work. I’ve said this before, but music saved my life and writing gave me a reason to live it. Without the arts, I’m not sure where I’d be today.

Shortly after leaving home for college, I realized I wanted the dream back, because I didn’t feel that what I’d been told or shown was true. I desperately hoped for the melting pot, the rainbow, and the beautiful people–all of them–back in my head. To that end, and I remember this very clearly, I refused to sit down and be quiet and accept the way things were. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. And, being young and stupid, oh I’m sure I made my fair share of mistakes trying to figure out the answers to my questions, too.

Over time, I’ve come to understand that there’s a lot of people in pain simply because they are considered to be “different.” While their pain is theirs to deal with, the best I can do is listen and either keep listening or, when appropriate, say: “I will try to understand.” The best I can do, is be there for them because I know what it means to be in a position where no one is there for you. To me, this has nothing to do with being liberal of conservative; I care about what I can do to be a decent human being. Being a good person, I feel, should not be politicized, because that dehumanizes us and reduces us into another pile of stereotypes.

Despite how the media sometimes simplifies it, culture is not a linear, flat shape that encompasses the entire U.S. It ebbs and flows and grows and changes all the damn time, depending upon where you live and who you’re with and where you come from and where you’re going. There’s a lot of things that happen in the popular culture due to propaganda or half-truths being shared, misunderstandings, global events, inventions, popular movies/TV, turns of the season, political leaders, basic internet connectivity, money, etc. Taking all of these things into consideration, the American culture fascinates me, because it’s the most complex, organic structure I have ever encountered, just like how most people fascinate me.

To me, especially now, America is still the melting pot, a mixture of beautiful people who’ll inspire me to write better characters and design more visceral settings. A potpourri of all kinds of people who (thankfully) aren’t just like me. I feel this is cause for celebration despite this country’s horrific past, despite the ways we seek to isolate, separate, and condemn one another now because of the fear of the unknown, because the world is changing. The question that I often ask is: what unites us? This often leads to more questions. What does it mean to be human? What do we all share? What’s the positive side to being unique? How can we come together and have great discussions despite being different people? How can we work together and respect our differences instead of condemn them? These questions, to me, are infinitely more interesting because the answers bring me hope and joy.

Next time, I’ll talk about how these experiences have led me to address writing about other cultures from a position of mutual respect. That post will have a stronger writing focus than this one did, and I’m hoping that my stance on this topic will make more sense now that you have a general idea where my head is at.

Comments are open on this post as well. I’m more than a little neurotic about opening up, so please be kind.

    Mood: Did I do this right?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I counted four.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: There was walking!
    In My Ears: White noise.
    Game Last Played: Sonic: All Stars Racing
    Book Last Read: Commedia della Morte by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo
    Movie Last Viewed: Painted Skin: the Resurrection
    Latest Artistic Project: Beading!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Gothic Icons and Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim
    What I’m Working On: Read my latest project update.

Dealing with Negativity and Preventing Burnout Part 1

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Haven’t blogged for a while, so today I wanted to get back to talking about process. The topic of my post today is a long-ish essay about dealing with negativity and preventing burnout. As it turns out, I have so much to say on the topic that I need to cut this off at “part one.” However, I do wish to be clear and reemphasize that this is not a post advising you what to do, but how I deal and view this stuff. I believe very strongly in doing what works for you, and I feel there’s a lot more to being online and engaging with people than at first glance.

I am a full-time writer, so my purpose for being online might be different from yours. There is a lot of pressure, in general, to be online because this is a way to network and get gigs, engage with fans, and allow people to get to know you. When my work falls more into the realm of administrivia, I can finish some tasks while having both monitors open, which allows me to scroll through my feeds. Others, I can’t because I need to focus. When I need to write, however, the only time I pop open Twitter or Facebook is when I’m at a stopping point and I need a break. Except, even that’s changing as my productivity, travel, and time outside increases. Generally, I’m limited to a total of an hour a day across multiple sites, and when I’m at a convention it’s intermittent.

Assessing the Level of Negativity

Let me start by explaining that I feel there are many reasons why someone posts an emotion-filled rant or criticism. (I’m oversimplifying to avoid pinpointing specific subjects, so please forgive me on that last.) Sometimes, it’s to say: “Please, acknowledge that this terrible thing has happened.” Other times, it comes down to: “You must respond to the fact I’m upset or else.” Or “You must change this because I don’t like what you did.” Or, which is often the case for me: “Let me blow off steam so I can discharge this negativity I’m feeling and get back to the task at hand.” I am more likely to respond to someone if the tone of the post shows me that I can engage in conversation with them, to speak from a position of mutual respect. (You’ll hear me talk more about that at a later date. Thank you, Victor Raymond.) So, I often filter posts based on tone without realizing it.

When I read people ranting or swearing or getting up on a soapbox, I imagine their voice in my head is yelling at the reader. Yell at me in real life? I have two choices: either I walk away, or I yell back. Online, it is easier to walk away because I can physically shut it off by hitting the block button or unfriend or what have you. Often, it’s not the comment that pisses me off. Nope. It’s the fact that I got suckered into spending my emotions and investing time in a (usually) total stranger’s rant or accusations designed to push everybody’s buttons. That’s an emotional investment I don’t need to make, because that distracts me from my work and too much of that is not healthy. When the rant or negativity comes from someone I do trust, then I tend to regard that comment differently because I have a connection to that person. However, usually? People know me well enough to e-mail me and deal with any issues we might have, than to address them in a public forum. Key words here: public forum. After all, the reader doesn’t know I have a history with that particular person and that, too, can lead to a lot of misunderstanding. (See also: why cracking jokes online is F-Bomb’ing hard!)

The thing I’ve found, is that the reason why all these arguments are happening is because we lose the art of conversation when we cannot detect semantic meaning or emotional inflection and we only have the bucket, the container to focus on. Words. How many times have I tried to start a conversation with a question, and instead I get “educated” as if I know absolutely nothing? Words we speak don’t always translate well on the internet; nor do the words in our head. That, to me, is what posting on the internet is. Facebook and Twitter… Unless people are curating your Tweets or thinking about them ahead of time, it’s the flotsam and jetsam originating from your brain and being dumped into a computer screen, because there’s no filter there other than the one we all make yourselves. And, make no mistake about it, there are people who are specifically and intentionally trying to start a fire for whatever reason.

Personal Attack vs. Personal Agenda

When the negativity is personal, either about me or my work, then I assess whether or not it’s worth dealing with. In my experience, regardless of how that post comes across, the vast majority of the time comments are not personal. Even with extreme cases, trolls are using a public persona as an excuse to be “heard” for whatever point they need to make–and they’re not always emotionally mature. This is a way to silence voices that have been quiet for so long and are just now daring to speak up.

Cuing off of that… I’ve heard a criticism that silence is consent. Oh, but do I ever disagree with this, because the people who say that are assuming that all readers know what’s happening at all times. So, sometimes silence means that reader is ignorant of what is happening. Nine times out of ten I’m finding out about kerfluffles after the fact, which then means I have to read up on what actually happened which again, is another time sink. Then, another writer (usually John Scalzi or Chuck Wendig) addresses the issue so I don’t feel there’s a point to me discussing that particular subject. Too, silence can also be a form of self-insulation to protect oneself, it can be a way to protect other people and, which is usually the case with bullies, a sign of fear and intimidation as well. It can also happen for the simple fact that crafting a response with a solution that works best for all parties involved takes time. I realize that the internet is instantaneous, and while writing a response might seem like it’s not a big time investment? Figuring out a solution often is–especially when there is money and/or legal implications involved.

Not being able to see people’s faces or connecting that person to a human being means there’s a certain level of anonymity that allows a lot of crappy things to happen. Does the Invisible Human syndrome matter? To me it does, because I am not online to talk to robots or engage with people that are assholes. I’m visibly here and I am putting myself out there, because I want to connect to readers, to people I do find something in common with or, which is the case with open development or online critiques, hear critical feedback that’s about the work after the reader has read it. Those things? Are the exact opposite of the negativity that’s so rampant online. And, in my opinion, the quick, stupid, offhanded comments are getting worse as mobile phone engagement goes up.

In general, people aren’t thinking as deeply as broadly when they post as I might want them to, because their usage isn’t as deep or in the same context as mine. I have seen, over and over again, people post without actually reading the thing they are posting about. Why should I overreact to a stupid comment by analyzing it to death and engaging? Again, it goes back to that time investment, and the bulk of my time has to be spent on writing, pitching, revising, etc. otherwise I lose money because I only have so many hours in the day. That’s not to say I don’t make waves or care about issues or suggest ideas or discuss heady matters to find solutions. Simply, the way I choose to be a human being on planet earth, to make my corner of the universe a better place, isn’t the same way somebody else might. I feel very limited by the internet medium, so my choice is to focus on the people I do know or come into contact with.

Limitations on Responses

I realize that there’s a need to blow off steam, swear, rant, and be completely negative, especially in response to something that happened. The occasional venting I get. I really, really do. I almost got killed last week because a driver thought a crosswalk was “optional,” for example. However? Some people don’t “get” to even do that. I certainly feel I can’t rant on any sort of regular basis. It’s not because I don’t have the ability to. It’s because I have a public profile and I am online, primarily, for work.

In a lot of ways, I feel that the assholes take advantage of people they feel are untouchable or have boundaries–which is why some writers insulate them with fans. (Sure, I’d love that, too, but I’m not going to get “fans” by being an internet celebrity. I care more about readers.) Or, alternatively, I’ve seen trolls attack people who they believe don’t “belong” in the public sphere primarily because they don’t want to hear about that person anymore, so why should anyone else? Their targets don’t “deserve” success (whatever that means), thereby taking the whole concept of “my internet” to the extreme. Usually, which is the saddest part about this, it’s because that particular person didn’t get the acclaim they feel they deserve, or they didn’t get picked for that role or what have you.

I’m primarily online to connect with my peers–people who don’t know me very well–and I mentioned my time is limited. If the time I do spend online is negative, then there’s nothing to counterbalance that and I will collapse upon myself and not work. Being too negative has real world consequences on my health, my career, etc. Also, I find it’s not the trolls or the people responding to me that I need to worry about, it’s the people who are silent–and there are many of them–because what I post is public and permanent. Two weeks from now, five years from now… Sheesh. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the conversation about what I’ve posted online–and that’s me, with my limited reach! People take snippets of what’s written out of context all the damn time. For all these reasons and more, this is why I feel most of my rants hurt rather than help me. Sometimes, the occasional rant does show that I am a human being, and not a robot. That part is great! (As I reluctantly must admit that I am, indeed, human.) But, the purpose of my rant is to blow off steam, and in all honesty I really don’t need to post on Facebook to do that so I try to limit how much I do that.

Paying the Assholes

Some people, the ten percent of the population who are assholes, are bolstered by the fact that they now have an audience when in real life? They don’t and no one cares. (And yes, I feel very comfortable saying that assholes exist and that there will always be assholes.) I cannot, despite how hard I try, convince or explain to someone who doesn’t understand that all the -ists and -isms and -phobias out there that you can think of actually do exist–because they don’t care about other people, they only care about themselves. The trolls, the extreme version of what it means to be negative, are not online to learn. They are online to be right, and to have an audience that shares those views. This is the law of numbers. No one might listen to them in the real world, but every f-bomb’ing time someone shares a post, that encourages them to continue. They get “paid” more for being a jerk online than they do in real life, because there’s no consequences to that online act just yet.

So what do I do? Well, the only thing I can control then is how I respond when a comment applies or I read one. I can either shine the spotlight, which is a choice, or I can go on with my day. Or, alternatively, I can actively counteract that trollness by understanding my connections aren’t just following me. The more connected my readers get, the more people they follow, the more my posts are read alongside Game of Thrones spoilers and fan squeeing about Star Wars and the latest kerfluffle and what have you. If I keep paying the assholes, over and over again, then they will get louder–and that’s often the case. Too, then I become known as the person who outs the assholes, but for me I feel that does not benefit my work in any fashion whatsoever. But there’s the flip side to this, too. I hear so often about what people are doing wrong. What about the writers and game designers and artists and etc. who are doing “it” right? I want to hear about them, promote them, engage with them! Trying to find people who are positive sometimes is difficult when negativity is more rewarded than the big shiny.

I feel there are plenty of people who are already boosting negative signals, analyzing them, and creating discussion platforms for people to engage. Thank the stars for them. At the same time, I cringe every time I see someone link to the latest asshole, because engagement is the commerce of the internet–getting “paid” in clicks, links, page views, RT’s and shares. That is how the trolls get paid and validated, and this is why our media is so inflammatory right now. This is, too, why sites are targeted with a Denial-of-Service attack, as a way to stop “paying” those sites and silence them. It’s ironic, really, because the intent is often: “Here’s what this jerk had to say, don’t listen to them!” Only it turns into: “Here’s what this jerk had to say, you must read what they wrote before you ignore or condemn them.” I’ve spent a lot of time in eCommerce-land with an emphasis on analytics. Positive news doesn’t get the same level of engagement as negative, and when the internet is geared to reward negativity, then that’s what people are gonna focus on. Me? I’m pretty stubborn, so F-Bomb that.

To wrap up part one, I want to share with you something I think about often. What I worry about, is not what the trolls are doing. What I worry about? Is the effect of the full enchilada. The bitter taco. What impact does all this negativity have on myself and other people–especially new-or-midlist writers? Because what happens is this: people only have so much time for negativity, and there are plenty of horrible problems to care about online and in the real world. The negativity that relates to us, however, in genre and gaming makes it more difficult to be excited to become a part of the overall community. The harder it is to work? The easier it is to throw in the towel, or avoid conventions, or ignore the discussions that have to happen in some fashion. After all, what’s the point of putting up with that amount of vitriol if the rewards aren’t equally as great? Ergo… Burnout.

Comments are open on this post. I am moderating them. Part Two will happen either later this week or next week. ‘Til then…

    Mood: Waxing Philosophical
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Surprisingly? One pot of coffee.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Convention recovery.
    In My Ears: Compy fan. White noise. Zzzzzz…
    Game Last Played: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
    Book Last Read: The Scar by China Mieville
    Movie Last Viewed: Pacific Rim
    Latest Artistic Project: Beading!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Gothic Icons and Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim
    What I’m Working On: Read my latest project update.

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