I've spent all my time today catching up with all the things I've wanted to put into my blog over the last few weeks, but haven't had the time or energy to complete. This is the last bit of the Catching Up Trilogy, soon to be a major motion picture starring Jack Black as the cab driver, Jimmy Kimmel's Cousin as Wil Wheaton, and a special appearance by William Fucking Shatner, as himself.
"I wrote earlier today about not having time, and feeling like there isn't enough time for things, and I think the conclusion I've reached from this already-too-long post is that we have to give ourselves permission to make time for the things we really want to do. In my case, I need to have full access to my creative brain. Fear is the enemy of creativity, and I have to just stop being afraid of not providing for my family enough, so I can write some creative things that will provide for them."
More Than This
I have to say this, so I can get over it once and for all: Most of my experience with the release of Just A Geek completely sucked. Rather than building on the momentum I created with Dancing Barefoot, I felt like I was right back where I started, when the whole thing was finally over. I felt taken advantage of, mislead, and ultimately just discarded. That book was really my baby, and the damn publisher handled it (and me) so poorly, it was just devastating to me.
When it became apparent to me that the publisher wasn't going to market it correctly, and when I realized that the company was never interested in doing more with it than just cashing in on my blog and the audience I'd worked so hard to create, I felt like a total chump. I worked harder on Just A Geek, and spent more time and energy on promoting it and making sure it was as good as it could be, and I actually earned less, and sold fewer with a major publisher than I did with Dancing Barefoot, publishing it on my own. In fact, the only real publicity efforts or signings that had any impact on sales were ones I set up myself, or came to me because of my blog. Yeah, that was really worth the huge nightmare of constantly begging them not to promote it as a Sci-Fi book or a Star Trek bio, only to be ignored or dismissed. Never again will I rely upon a publisher to do what they said they would do, and never again will I ignore the instincts I've spent a lifetime developing when they warn me that something just isn't right.
"You have to do another book like Dancing Barefoot," Anne told me last summer, "because we had such a good time with it, and you're too stubborn and passionate to work for anyone, anyway. Then you'll feel better about the whole thing."
She was right, of course, and the idea for Do You Want Kids With That? to be another small book very similar to Dancing Barefoot was born.
The entire process of working on that manuscript was very similar to the Barefoot experience: I spent long hours on my Debian machine, cutting and pasting stuff from my blog and editing it in OpenOffice.org, and sending tons of files back and forth with my friend Andrew, who edited almost all of Dancing Barefoot, and the first two drafts of Just A Geek with me.
Our goal was to have it out by November of last year, but in the early weeks of October, I realized that it wasn't going to work. The problem was easy to identify: though it was a collection of several short stories all relating to my experiences as a stepfather, it was essentially the same story over and over again: I love my stepkids, and I love it so much when I can feel them accept me and I see myself reflected in them. It's hard to be a stepparent, but it's totally worth all the extra work. That's great for about three short stories, and the occasional blog entry, but anything longer than that is just too much, and it gets old. I know how to fix it, but I am just not willing to tear the curtains back on Ryan and Nolan's lives the same way I'm willing to do it on my own, and without doing that, I can't write additional stories that will give the final draft the ebb and flow it needs to truly work. I also don't want to spend a whole lot of time and energy talking about what a jerk Anne's ex-husband is, and how hard he's worked (and continues to work) to drive a wedge between the kids and me, which is very important context to understand just how remarkable it is that I have any relationship with them at all, let alone the fantastic, loving, trusting, bonded one we do have.
But I had material that was written and edited, and it seemed foolish to let it go to waste, so I pulled together three of the stories that I liked the most, and Andrew helped me edit them into the chapbook More Than This.
Every step of the way, from the selection of material, to the re-writing and editing, to the layout and printing and release, made me insanely happy. I felt like I was in charge of my life, and helping to support my family by doing something I love, and don't totally suck at. (Yes, I realize the irony of saying that I don't suck at writing while ending a sentence in a preposition. With. At. Of.)
I felt like I could finally feel good about writing and publishing again, and a lot of the unhappiness and frustration and depression that tainted and then ruined the Just A Geek experience was washed away. It was like Dancing Barefoot all over again, and I couldn't have been happier:
When I picked up my chapbooks from the printer, I had the same happiness and sense of fulfillment that I had when Dancing Barefoot first arrived at my house almost exactly three years ago.
When I took them to the Grand Slam convention, and people expressed an interest in reading them, I felt the same excitement that I felt when people picked up the first pre-release, I-made-them-at-Kinko's copies of Dancing Barefoot at the same convention in 2003.
When I created the blog entry about the chapbook, and orders started to come in, I felt the same surprise, excitement, happiness and joy I felt when Dancing Barefoot was first accepting orders. In fact, I saw a lot of names that I recognized from back then, and felt doubly happy that so many of you reading this have continued to come back for so many years. (There are a lot of places you can visit on the Internets, and there's a lot of media competing for your time and attention; that you choose to spend some of it with me makes me feel very, very happy, and I'll continue to do my very best to earn your time and honor your support.)
When I filled the orders for the chapbook, and Anne and Ryan helped me put them into envelopes and apply the stamps, I felt the same happiness and excitement that I felt during the summer of Dancing Barefoot's first release, when Anne and I sat in our living room with our friends and stuffed envelopes, applied postage and mailing labels, and took them to the post office for shipping.
Man, the summer of 2003 was so much fun: Anne and I took our ultra-awesome road trip to Tulsa for the Trek Expo, where Dancing Barefoot sold out, I did signings at Powell's in Portland and Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, and I couldn't wait to get Just A Geek (which was already in production at the time) finished, so I could build upon all that momentum. It's the happiest I think I've been since we got married, which remains the happiest day of my life (as cliche as that sounds.) Everything was working back then; my writing was clear and interesting (to me, anyway) and everything was coming up Millhouse. I expected the same success and excitement -- better, even -- with Just A Geek, and when it became painfully clear that it wasn't coming, and in fact was designed not to come, it made the crash from the Dancing Barefoot high that much more painful (obviously, as I still lingers a little bit today.)
The More Than This experience is like Dancing Barefoot, only smaller and more intimate this time. I really, really like that. I sincerely hope that those of you who ordered copies (the first shipment is arriving, according to e-mail, and the second shipment is going out as soon as I post this and drive to the post office) feel like your time and money is well-spent.
I don't know what will come next on the literary front. I've been working so hard to keep my head above water with my "for hire" work, I haven't had the time to just take a long walk up the mountain and see what I bring back. I have some fiction ideas, one in particular that is very exciting to me and may get out of the "wouldn't it be cool if . . ." stage and enter the "I'm working on a story about . . ." stage. I've also thought about collecting the best of my blog twice a year, and doing limited print runs like More Than This, with added commentary and a few other things that should make it worth your time. I am also going to take the material that would have been in Do You Want Kids With That? and turn it into an audiobook, unlike anything else that's out there right now (to the best of my knowledge) and release that in the near future, sort of like Just A Geek: The Audiobook.
I told my friend Shane a couple of days ago, "starting tonight, i vow to spend less time online, less time playing poker, and more time reading books, listening to music, exercising, and enjoying the things in life that are worth enjoying -- it's just not worth it to be tied to the fucking computer all day, every day."
I think that's good advice for tracking down my inspiration and finding my writing muse again. I can't expect to hit a single home run if I don't take batting practice, you know?
Here's an interesting bonus result from my blogging today: in the process of catching up, I feel like I've purged a ton of stuff that's been clogging me up for a long time, and I was able to sit down at my dining room table, pull out a pen and a piece of paper, and sketch out a WWdN 2.0 layout for my friend Russ to work on. He says it's awesome, and can have the new design ready really soon. I may just get to leave Exile before Duke Nuke 'Em Forever ships. Everything happens for a reason . . . maybe I needed to get all this out so I could go home, and pack up for that long walk up the mountain.