Tuesday, January 1, 2013

So... Why Pulp? And That's a Wrap

And That’s A Wrap!

Another year of pulpy goodness has come and just about gone. I’m sitting here writing this, my 30th column, on the 30th of December, wondering just where the heck this past year went. Time-wise, it seems like it just flew on by. Writing-wise, I should have calluses on my fingers and butt. It was a very hardworking year at the Keyboard of Doom.

The end of the year is a good time for taking stock, and figuring out what worked well, and what didn’t and has to be changed. That’s what I am doing right now, both literally on the page, and figuratively, in my head, with next year’s goals in mind.

Every writing year that goes by, you learn something.

Lots of good pulpy stuff happened to me this year. First of all, I debuted my own imprint for Pro Se Press, HANSEN’S WAY. We put out a potential three full length books under that imprint this year: two anthologies of short stories, each featuring specific characters and settings from my little fantasy universe, and the novel sequel to Fortune’s Pawn. Prophecy’s Gambit hasn’t quite hit the market yet, but I keep hoping it will slip under the wire before we bid 2012 adieu. If not, it will hopefully see print sometime early in 2013.

Lesson here was that by getting those big projects completed very early in the year, I had time to take on other challenges. I did turn the big manuscripts in well ahead of schedule and because of that, I was able to add some selected projects to my roster as they occurred. I turned them out in a timely fashion as well, without completely sacrificing my life to writing. My output may not has been as great this past year, but pacing myself and using time efficiently gave me a chance to garden, work at other projects, and enjoy holidays and special occasions without all the fretting.

Along with the imprint, I signed on for three Pulp Obscura stories, in the collaboration between Pro Se and Altus Press. Two of those did get written and turned in, but haven’t seen publication yet. One other was jettisoned for 2012 as Altus is still working on source material. Those were a real writing experience, far outside my comfort zone of epic/heroic fantasy. I did a ton of research and pulled hair out by the roots before they were finished because not only did they have settings I’ve never used, but both were in genres I’ve not read much of, let alone tackled. I’ll admit to being initially intimidated, once I realized what I had gotten myself involved in. These stories had to emulate the style and setting of the original author, and I just didn’t have the knowledge or confidence of either of those gentlemen. In the end though, I was proud of and pleased with how both of them turned out, and I would certainly do it again.

Lesson learned was that even when writing far outside my normal shtick, if I persevere, I will be fine in the long run. A good story is always a tale told in an interesting way, with the trappings of the setting and characters acting like the frosting and decorations on the cake, not dominating the entire recipe.

I also saw my first Private Eye short story hit print this year, and the feedback on that has been very positive. That was something I got dared into doing, and since it’s another genre I seldom read, I had to dig down and cast about for ideas. I’d been challenged to write a female PI, and that’s what I intended, but beyond that I was clueless. I have watched enough TV detective series to at least have a passing familiarity with how the genre works. A few sleepless nights about where and when to set it spurred me on to shake things up and rethink the entire process. I knew I would never convincingly pull off the traditional hardboiled noir tone with the 1940s setting because my heart wasn’t in that, so I decided I had to do something quirky. About then I sat in on a newsgroup discussion on how you can’t write good PI stories anymore in this age of electronic gizmos in the hands of every other citizen, and the little voices of anarchy went off in my brain. They kept saying, “I bet I can pull that off!” Along with that, my homebody heart badly wanted to write something set here in my stomping grounds of Southern New England. That three-way conjunction of possibilities birthed The Keener Eye series, which had its first debut back in June, with another completed story in the queue, and a third one bubbling on the back burner. What I once groaned over now has a cast of characters that whisper their stories to me, in a setting I love and understand well enough to look forward to writing again.

Lesson learned for this one is sometimes you have to stand a tried-and-true genre on its ear and give it your own personal touch. Over time you learn to trust in your ability to pull things off.

Several times this year I was invited to join in on special writing projects. For the first time in my writing career, not only was I being sought after, but I was busy enough that I could afford to be choosy. Two of those that I said yes to were super exciting for me. I thrilled to being offered a chance to join the inaugural SINBAD: THE NEW VOYAGES series for Airship 27, written in the vein of the old Ray Harryhausen FX movies, but with an all new international cast of characters. I adored those movies, so that story flew out of my fingertips. I don’t know when I have written anything that quickly. Sinbad first set sail back in September. A similar impetus was behind my excitement at being tapped for contributing to MONSTER EARTH, the firstborn brainchild of fledgling Mechanoid Press. As someone who sat mesmerized in front of a black and white TV set back in the 60s and 70s every time Godzilla and his Kaiju  compadres stomped across the screen, turning out a story in a world where giant monsters are the weapons of mass destruction was a no-brainer. While MONSTER EARTH likely won’t make a debut until early 2013, I have a story in there I truly enjoyed writing. I’d happily do another tale for either of those anthologies.

Lesson here is, if someone offers you a chance to write something you love and know you will do well at, go for it! I turned down a few other prestigious offers simply because as busy as I have been, I didn’t think I’d do them justice. I thought each one over carefully though. In the end, you have to pick and choose, and a good story told well is always better than something written simply because it should bring the right kind of attention.

I did a lot of editing this past year too, the bulk of it for Pro Se Press, where I have somehow managed to snag the title of Assistant Editor. For the most part, what I do for Pro Se is work with authors who have book manuscripts that have been accepted on content but need help with some tweaking and rewriting. It’s a position I take very seriously, but those who have worked with me also know, with a sense of humor and pathos. As I tell everyone, I am mainly that second pair of eyes that helps you polish your diamond until it sparkles. Not everything I’ve edited got that one-on-one approach, but enough of it did, and so far, no one has threatened to throttle me, so I guess I’m doing OK. That kind of intense editing is exhausting work, because I tend to read slowly, mark up, write notes, and then a send a cover email with suggestions. Frankly it takes several weeks in many cases, but in the long run, we’re all happier for it, and I learn something with every book. I also make myself available online whenever I can so that if authors have questions or just need to chat, they’ll have a sympathetic ear; writing being a lonely business. Now and then when asked nicely by a friend or colleague, I will take a peek at a manuscript or story by someone outside my official status, and at least offer advice and/or encouragement, though my time for doing that is growing shorter as my workload increases and my eyesight worsens. I don’t get to do many reviews anymore, mainly because I haven’t got enough time to read. Unless it’s large, bold print on my big monitor, I can barely take a half hour of reading without my eyes streaming.

Lesson learned: I get as much out of helping others as they do. The bulk of writing well is more than just sitting around making up stories. Knowing how a plot works, what makes great characters, or how to keep timelines straight comes from reading, rereading, and reworking the first drafts. Having to explain all that coherently helps me become a better writer as well. Those are mantras that I pass along to each author I work with. While I might not be able to assist everyone who comes asking to the capacity he or she would prefer, I can at least spend a small amount of time helping others the way I wish someone had helped me, back when I was just beginning my experimentation with fiction.

One of the toughest things that needs to be absorbed in this age of indie publishing is that you are basically on your own with advertising who you are and what you do. Thankfully we have this magical world called ‘The Internet’ where you can go trumpet your wares to the masses without being arrested for not having a permit to sell. The problem is, 10 gazillion other people are doing the same thing, clamoring for the ever-ephemeral attention span of the faceless avatars in the crowds surfing by. And shouting over them are the soapbox standing street corner agenda preachers, the chain petition purveyors, the alarming information peddlers, the amazing gaming opportunists, and the craziest captioned cat pictures you’ll ever see. Besides being a great place to let people know what you have been doing, the internet is also an entire colony of circus sideshows, each one a bit more gaudy and noisier than the last. It’s easy to get caught up in the carnival madhouse atmosphere and start shouting your prevailing views on everything from politics to comic books, pop culture current events to toppings on cheeseburgers. I am one opinionated old broad and I have to continually restrain myself from getting embroiled in discussions where things are going to get contentious. I manage not to do that on most days, and I’m getting better at it too; mainly because I want to sell books, and not just to a particular demographic. As much as we all like to think we are objective and non-judgmental, the truth screams at me every time I open my email inbox or enter a social networking site. So I have learned to refrain from getting involved in most dialogues and discussions that are bound to bog down into back and forth slings and arrows.

Lesson learned: bite your tongue, post what you want them to know about your writing, and then get on with your life. The public doesn’t need to have a ringside seat to my spiritual beliefs, supported social causes, voting record, or what have you to enjoy what I’ve written; and I don’t need to be in everyone’s face 24/7 to share that information either. If I had to choose a way to pass the time, I’d rather do it writing, or promoting what I write, maybe chatting with other creators about what we do and why. Time spent wisely pays dividends; time spent arguing online is time you never get back.

So at least now that we’re bidding goodbye to 2012, I have some things I can look back upon with fondness and recognition for what was achieved, and a clear picture of what I had to let go of and move on from. One of the greatest accomplishments was writing an entire year of this column without missing one single deadline. What’s important about that is not the column itself as much as the positive work habit it enforces of meeting a goal on a regular basis. A writer has got to write, and that I did this year.

Hope you had a great writing year too. The next time we meet, it will be 2013, and we can look ahead to another year of pulpy goodness. For me, this year is a wrap.

Cut & Print,

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