Thursday, December 29, 2011

So... Why Pulp: Looking Forward While Looking Behind

It’s that end-of-the-year time again where we’ll be saying goodbye to 2011 and welcoming in 2012. There’s something about a fresh start and new calendar that brings out the urge to do things differently; to change our lives in ways that are healthier for mind, body, and spirit. Many people will be making New Year’s resolutions, and intentions are always best to keep them—at least until January is over. Then in most cases, the month slides by and life manages to get in the way, and so we’re done with that stuff until next year. At least, that’s the way it always worked for me, which is why some years ago I decided not to make any more sweeping New Year’s Day declarations. So far, that is the one resolution I have actually kept.

The month of January is named for the Roman god Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward and the other one behind. Janus presided over time, doorways, gates, transitions, beginnings, and endings, which is perfect for this time of year. I too am looking forward and backward, because to know where you are going, it’s helpful to see where you’ve been and what has been accomplished. That’s doubly important for us busy writers, who often have to juggle home and outside job responsibilities along with deadlines and commitments. Looking ahead is great and healthy, but recalling what happened in the past year is just as important. It’s much easier to plan for the future when you know for sure what worked well, and what was just a trifle too overwhelming, so that not much got accomplished.

No matter what else you are doing, writing takes planning and preparation. Some days, just making the time to write is a chore. Give yourself a pat on the back if you managed to write regularly, especially if you have a full time occupation and/or young children. That shows real commitment, and I salute you.

I am fortunate in not having to hold down a day job, and I’m currently living alone on a second property we purchased last May. That was one positive change we made for 2011, buying this old farm, which has a rustic house that is all on one floor, far better for us aging boomers and my mother, who is approaching 80 now. Less upkeep, less people in and out all day long… It will be easier for me to combine family life and my writing, though harder to concentrate without the seclusion my upstairs office used to afford. I think I will be using those headphones with my writing music much more often.

Since the new place needs renovation, we can’t move everyone in immediately, though someone has to remain here full time. I jumped at the chance to do that, because I knew I had a book to work on, and the solitude of living alone is very conducive to writing. One of my better moves was to slip out of the bustling atmosphere of the old homestead and off by myself, and that was nothing I would have imagined on January 1st!

As it turned out, 2011 was a very busy and transitional year for me career-wise, as I’ve moved from being a writer of short stories to finally having my first book, FORTUNE’S PAWN, published and becoming at least a modest success. As the year played out, I hit more of my stride, putting into everyday practice those habits and tricks of the trade I learned over the previous two decades as a devoted writer. Looking back, 2011 has been a very pivotal twelve months. Looking forward, 2012 is going to be even busier!

One of the things I do when I think back over the writing year is assess what works and what doesn’t. For me, what worked this past year is that I spent most of 2010 writing fantasy pulp short stories, sort of ‘banking’ them up against a possible future time deficit. That came in very handy, freeing up the weeks I needed for taking FORTUNE’S PAWN from a raw chunk cut out of a larger manuscript into a completed novel of its own in a publishable format. I got a lot of positive and helpful feedback on the book, and actually signed a couple dozen copies. I wrote a couple of short stories along the way too, which introduced two new series, though that is nothing like what I churned out the previous year. Having that backlog gave me more time for editing and working with other writers, something I really do enjoy, and I contributed a couple of charity writing pieces that I am very proud of.

I attended PULP ARK in May 2011, my first convention, and had an absolute blast! It was so much fun spending time with the people I had previously only known as avatars and story/art generators, to swap war stories and meet families. The best thing that came out of those days together was the sharing of ideas and the camaraderie of likeminded souls. Writing is a lonely business, and networking with others makes it seem less so. It was great meeting some of the loved ones of fellow writers as well and good that they got a chance to see that their household scribe, artist or vendor is not the only pulp fanatic in the world. In a broader sense now, we are all one big zany family. PULP ARK 2012 is definitely on my New Year agenda, though it is likely the only con I’ll be able to afford to attend.

The writing pace in 2011 was slower for me, giving me time to get to packing, for moving back and forth between domiciles #1 and #2 as necessary, setting up the livable parts of the farm house, and even planting a garden here. As the summer spun into fall, I picked up steam again, and added some extra writing and editing assignments to my schedule. I am now about ¾ of the way through the first draft of the sequel to FORTUNE’S PAWN and hope to finish that before the end of February. On sort of a dare, I branched out from writing strictly fantasy pulp and pounded out a story each in a superhero and private eye genres, and debuted a mixed genre series. I even wrote a couple of poems, and some reviews. Oh, and I now have this bi-weekly column you’re reading… So yeah, it’s been a very interesting and upbeat year with some brand new commitments.

Right now 2012 appears that it will be extremely busy for me, likely the most ambitious writing year I’ve ever had. I am already looking at what I can move out of my daily life to add even more time for writing. Besides the ongoing book and short story projects, I’ve agreed to take on a few larger ones. I can’t detail all of them yet, but news will be forthcoming.

One project added to 2012 is my involvement in Pulp Obscura, a partnership that Pro Se has with Altus Press. Altus has been doing reprints of classic pulp as well as issuing new work based upon existing characters. Pro Se has agreed to produce some newly written collections based on those classics that Altus is releasing or has previously released. When there was a call for writers, I signed on, even though I don’t have a strong background in the classic pulps. It will require a lot of reading and study on my part to emulate that original style and get the settings right, and that is something I am already working on. That’s as much as I can divulge right now, but look for ongoing announcements as 2012 unfolds. My name will be in there now and then. Something new and exciting to take on for sure!

I’ll still be a contributor to Pro Se Presents magazine. I also have some independent reviewing to do. So yep, 2012 will be packed. But looking back over 2011 from here in late December, it was a darn good writing year for me under the circumstances, and I feel that I got plenty done.

Well so far, this has all been all hurray for me, and that wasn’t the intention of this column at all. The point here is that the end of the year and beginning of the next is a good time to reflect and take stock in what you have accomplished, what needs to be done differently in the future, as well as how to handle what is coming up. If you had a rough go of it, and didn’t get much done, now is a good time to sit back and figure out why, and what can be changed. You also might be pleasantly surprised at how much you did actually get done, and that’s really good incentive to get right back to work after the holidays.

I’m not the world’s most organized person but this year I am going to have to get better at that. I’ll likely do what my friend and writing pal Lee Houston has done, and get myself a small desk calendar. That way those pressing deadlines will be written down in front of me. It’s a nice, low tech solution to staying organized that doesn’t need batteries or electricity, and it’s very portable. We do that for appointments, why not for writing as well?

Looking forward while looking back is going to help you a whole lot more in organizing your writing year than a bunch of general statement resolutions will. To have some idea of where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been, and how much actually got done on those projects you promised to do weeks and months ago. Anybody can say, “In 2012 I want to write more.” A more focused goal might be, “Because I did so many short stories in 2011, this year I need to get a book out.” Now you have a solid direction to head in, which is going to help immensely when you things get busy—which they will!

Go celebrate the passing year, and ring in the new one with all kinds of hope and merry making. Every calendar change is a chance to begin anew again.

Happy writing year to you, and may your days be filled pulpy delights!


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