Someone to Remember Me: Anniversary Edition

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It has been a long time coming but I’m ecstatic to finally unveil the next major revision to my novel SOMEONE TO REMEMBER ME. In my rush to meet my self-imposed publishing deadline last year I left a healthy amount of content on the cutting-room floor. I felt that, given the flexible nature of an ebook, I could always add new content if and when the time came. After months of intense revisions to content that was forcibly omitted, I’m preparing the Anniversary Edition (henceforth known as the AE) for release later this year.

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Far From Home

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It seems that the more time that passes, the further away from home I manage to go. Of course, these stints are rare and exceedingly short but they never cease to challenge my courage or determination. Until recently, really within the last two years, the furthest away from home I’d ever gotten was likely somewhere in Mexico (and I live in Southern California so, in reality, Mexico’s like my backyard…) or maybe in Texas.

Fascinating, am I right?

I attribute my very-possibly-unhealthy obsession with traveling to my parents, who are globe trotters if for no other reason than because someone promised them delicious, delicious wine in other parts of the world. And growing up in vivid world history and striking European history classes certainly didn’t help stem my wide-eyed awe either, especially not with my parents goading me along at home; whispering in my ear about how big and impressive the rest of the world is if only you carve out a chance for yourself to go see it.

About a year ago I was at a big event with lots of people from across the world. For the first time I felt “worldly” which was a hitherto indescribable feeling to me, but it was intoxicating to speak with people from the U.K., France, Germany, and Italy about their views and experiences and opinions. That was when it hit me, when the resolve to visit at least some of these places smacked into me like an truck, and I began plotting what is still, five months later, the furthest away from home that I’ve ever gone.

In my opinion the worst part about traveling is the planning. I had to plan for hotels, for transportation in the cities, for meals, for transportation between the cities, for costs of all the touristy activities, planning for getting to and from the airports, etc, etc, etc, until my brain wanted to explode and I nearly didn’t want to go anymore. And the planning persists even after you’ve gotten where you’re going because being somewhere you aren’t native to is the basest definition of uncertainty.

Despite the mind-numbing process of buying plane tickets and making hotel reservations and vainly squabbling to plan for a thousand seen and unforeseen variables, I got to London which was where I spent five wonderful, amazing days exploiting arguably one of the most impressive cities in the world. For five woefully short days, I was the furthest from home that I’d ever been.

Big Ben

Victoria Memorial

Westminster Abbey

Then I went to France.

France was paradoxically easy and hard. I don’t speak a lick of French, but memorized “Parle vous angle?” for all the tough spots. Luckily, I spent the first four days with my aunt in Orleans, which made visiting significantly easier. Almost all of my favorite photos are from France, especially this one of Chateau Chambord.

Chateau Chambord Roof

Chateau Chambord

Or this one take from the second story of the the Louvre.

Louvre Statue

All too late came the realization that, in France, I was the furthest from home that I had ever been. Oddly enough, it didn’t feel like I didn’t belong there. Certainly, I felt like a visitor, a status that was magnified by the language barrier. But in a very bohemian, very hippy sense, it really felt like my world too. I had, after all, put in the effort to get to Western Europe from Southern California (that time change is a bitch, by the way) and the world had become my playground.

Coming back wasn’t nearly as terrible as I thought it would be. Traveling, as amazing as it is, has the strange effect of reminding a person how much they love and appreciate whatever place is lucky enough to be home. After two weeks of being the furthest away from home that I’d ever been, I felt ready to be home. That’s one of the best benefits of being worldly, of traveling abroad far from home—you simultaneously appreciate where you are and where you came from.

Eventually, I suspect, it won’t matter how far away I go. One day I’ll step on that dot that marks the furthest away from home that it’s possible to get (which, incidentally for anyone in the continental United States, would be somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean) and, I have no doubt, I’ll be thinking of home as I do it. I suspect that the love of traveling, and being away from home, is more of a peculiar state of mind than anything else, but until I can close my eyes and wish myself back to Paris in an instant—I guess I’ll have to keep chugging along.

1,000 Downloads

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I have some exciting news to share with anybody that’s still interested! In early September, after downloads had flatlined around 40 on Kindle and on around 40 on iBooks, I dropped the price of Someone to Remember Me to free just for the hell of it. In my mind, it couldn’t hurt since nobody was downloading the book anyways. I thought there’d be a modest bump in downloads, but Someone to Remember Me instead crossed the one thousand download mark in October on Amazon’s Kindle Store and has pushed further north into the realm of 1,400 downloads as of today.

So that’s really cool in and of itself. It’s mind-boggling to think that 1,400 people have their hands on my writing. I have an exciting update planned for Someone to Remember Me, and when I’ve finalized the details I’ll post more about it here. If you haven’t already, be sure to re-download your copy to receive the updates and corrections I posted back in April.

Thanks again for your support and stay tuned for some exciting news. If you haven’t downloaded Someone to Remember Me, please click here.

The Ecstasy of Creation

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“On the evening of October 1st, 2012—I completed the largest manuscript that I’ve ever written. At 257 single-spaced pages, at 146,322 words, this is the most ambitious project that I’ve ever executed. After almost 7.5 months it is finally finished, and while there’s still so much work to do (editing, revising, editing again), I’m so grateful to everyone who’s asked about the process and posted encouraging comments to Facebook when it seemed like each of my posts was an update on page numbers and word count. Tonight, I rest. And then tomorrow? Back to work.”

 

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On Order and Chaos

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Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done. If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.

— Kurt VonnegutBreakfast of Champions, p. 215

The Next Big Thing

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Shortly after the release of “Someone to Remember Me” I went through the writer’s equivalent of postpartum depression. My baby was out in the world, warmly received by friends and family—though not monstrously successful in that “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” kind of way. In retrospect, I could’ve been a little more generous with the vampires. I pushed out an update back in April that addressed the most glaring editorial shortcomings and I have more planned…eventually. For all intents and purposes, I continued forward in my writing and considered where to go from there. “Someone” marked the first time I’d ever actually finished a project from draft to publication and I was enormously proud of it. I was lost in the immediacy of it’s release and subsequent update. What next? Did I go back to former, existing projects and force them through to completion? I took stock of what was on the drawing board for a few days and nearly went back to work on my space-opera that’s been sitting at the 50 page mark for two years. If any of you are reading this and we’ve had this discussion before, I apologize for the repetition but 50 pages is my personal kiss of death. It’s where the writing typically gets real; where the sheen on the original idea wears off and I have to figure out how to fully, fairly, and enjoyably realize the entire project without losing interest. I don’t know if any other writers have this problem with their manuscripts but I do.

I can’t tell you exactly how I settled on what I’m working on now, which is a wholly new project, but if I had to take a guess I would say that it came as a result of Eight, the lead female character from “Someone to Remember Me.” Eight’s most telling line in the whole book is when she shouts “I’m nobody’s slave!” at the top of her lungs near the book’s end. (Kudos to my stepdad for slogging it through the end. Good on you, champ.) And in the days after letting her into the wild an image of a woman with a gun and a sword popped into my head and I knew she was going to make a ton of trouble for someone. That was the genesis of Sarah al Villete, the main character of my newest book. Unlike so many of the other characters I’ve written, Sarah is an anti-hero in the extreme. She is what we would classify as a terrorist, a person committing hit-and-run attacks against the standing government. In a nutshell, she gets stranded with a bunch of innocent people who are wrongly accused of being her accomplices. So it’s her choice to let them be captured and killed or to take responsibility for them. The best “book blurb” I’ve written is the following:

For two thousand years the Union of Man’s rule has gone uncontested, but now the unthinkable has happened. Sarah al Villete is leading a crusade of revenge against humanity’s last government, and the authorities are desperate to capture her.

When her latest act of terrorism goes awry, Sarah becomes the reluctant steward of innocent fugitives. Fleeing the Union’s overwhelming might, Sarah and her companions are confronted with the mysteries of the Union—secrets that could help Sarah topple an already frail civilization.

I outlined this story with a level of detail that I’ve never attempted before. I created a rough outline of “essential” events in a chronological order. Then I beefed it up with cool and interesting scenes and ideas that occurred to at the time. In the first week alone back in March I wrote 30 pages. About a month later (after the surgery to remove the golf-ball sized cyst from my right wrist) I slammed through the 50 page mark. By May I was at the 80 page mark. That was where I hit my writer’s block that usually occurs around page 50. For whatever reason my creative impulses ground to a halt, none of it seemed interesting anymore, and I wondered what I was doing and if I could make this work. I blame vacation and reading for getting me out of that funk, because here we are at the start of July and I just crossed the 150 page threshold. By comparison, my first novel Someone to Remember Me is close to 110 pages with lots of extra dead/empty space in single space, 12 point Times New Roman font in my manuscript file. (In the ebook format it comes in around 240 pages.)

For this novel I’m experimenting with new formatting. Read as: I don’t use chapter numbers or names, and there is no break in the narrative except for the name of the character in bold that the narrative switches to. I’m describing this book as a crossover between the Game of Throne multi-POV narrative structure and the revenge-centric plot from V for Vendetta in a book that is ultimately a tragedy scifi/fantasy novel. Though, atmospherically it is a much more modern novel than anything else I’ve written, since there are cars and cities and cellphones.

That about does it for this particular update. My blog has been upsettingly empty as of late, so I hope this post kindles some renewed interest on the part of any readers lingering in the shadows. That’s all for now, I’m off to Comic-Con 2012 tomorrow. Pictures, maybe? Definitely.

TED Talks Redux

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A few days ago I gave an extremely impromptu talk about my passion for writing to an audience that deserve a better speaker. After graduation, a promotion, and a flurry of family-related activities the talk was the furthest thing from my mind. I got up in front of 40ish people and rambled, though I’m told I ramble well. What I found as I spoke and answered questions was that three themes emerged. Now that I’ve had some time to think back on these themes I’ve compiled a better examination of them. If I’d prepared for the talk I gave about a week ago, this is what I would’ve said:

Contemplate Your Mortality

Mortality is a subject that I think every writer becomes obsessed with in one way or another. Two years ago my mother spent nearly two months in the hospital and has periodically returned there. A few months later my grandfather passed from complications related to surgery. Last December my 13-year old cousin Ian also passed away unexpectedly. These events have had a transformative effect on my writing and my outlook on life. I try to think that the changes have been for the better but there’re times when I wonder who I’m kidding.

When I was a senior in high school my English teacher, Mr. Caughey, once told me “If you ever really want to freak yourself out at night, just think about how you’re absolutely going to die. It’s a trip.” In the past few months this has become an unescapable nightly ritual for me. In those moments between the waking world and the ethereal realm of sleep I consider how much closer I am to the end. Life is spent preparing for death, though we hardly realize that. We grown, love, and lose—with increasing rapidity as we accelerate into adulthood.

It’s become something of a crutch that I use to remind myself that I’m still alive; that there’s so little time but, infuriatingly enough, so many opportunities. While many famous writers throughout history writers have allowed their mortality to drag them down to the bottom of booze bottles and cigarette cartons (here’s to looking at you, Joyce!), I’ve spun something of an optimistic approach on it all. And also I just don’t have the funds that constant drinking and smoking require. I equate mortality with scarcity; there’s not enough of it, and it can so suddenly disappear anyways, that it has become the spine of my motivation. I’m going to spend my life working. I’m going to spend my life writing.

I had a discussion with a mentor of mine the other day at dinner. She shared with me her growing desire to retire from teaching after decades of work in high school classrooms reminding America’s youth of this country’s checkered history. It was then that I admitted that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to retire. I can’t help but think that I’m going to be one of the poor fools who works until he dies. What’s the point of retirement? What’s the point of admitting that you’re coasting until you die? I know that just about any retired person would argue me on this. Time for travel, time to relax, time for family. But if you’ve spent your whole life putting those things off until the tail end of it; that you’ve boxed your desires into a twenty year span at the end of your life, how do you deserve them? How can you expect that you’ll accomplish them?

I contemplate my mortality as a motivational tool, not a tactic of self-inflicted depression. I think that if more people were mindful of their impending deaths then we might, as a race, be happier with ourselves. Whole swaths of us might change professions. Might be more confident. It may be a rose outlook but it’s an outlook nonetheless. My advice is to think about it. To remember it. To accept that one day “you too shall grow old.”

The big question there, though, is how will you reflect on your life looking back?

Do What You’re Meant To Do.

I am lucky.

There’s no easier way to say it than that. I am lucky to have found my passion when I was fifteen years old. I’m lucky to have written something everyday since then, to have practiced and honed my craft to the point that I’m comfortable talking about and sharing my writing with others. I was stunned, during the presentations of the other artists last week, to see the sheer magnitude of passion evinced by other human beings.

Humans are a colorful, passionate race of contradictions and complexity. We aren’t meant to spend our lives doing things that make us miserable. When I think about my job I know I’m thinking about something that I’m good it. Working 9-5 is what I want to do. What I need to do in order to survive. Writing my books, staying up late and outlining the next chapter or story—that’s what I’m meant to do.

Not enough people discern this and spend lives laboring to be productive and fruitful, ultimately falling short of some grand goal. They realize they’ve spent years in the shadow of their one true passion. Coincidentally, our true passions are often the most useless things we’ve ever encountered. Painting doesn’t make the world a safer place. Taking photos doesn’t make it any more or less wretched. Writing doesn’t physically change a damned thing.

At my graduation ceremony retiring Professor Gerald Butler asked why the world questions and devalues the arts when it needs it most. He postulated that the act of sharing is what enriches the human experience, that the creative urges of mankind are what help us escape the eras of dark pragmatism and cruel budget cuts.

I agree. When things get tough humanity switches into survivalist mode. But this isn’t the preindustrial age anymore. We have our civilization, or so we’re taught, and with it we’re meant to achieve great things. Think about Leonardo da Vinci, El Greco, Boticelli—artists whose works continue to shine hundreds of years after their deaths. Each of them contributing to the legacy of humanity. At a certain point we need to back away from survivalism and reevaluate the inherent value of creative wealth we can generate.

We spend so much time doing what we’re told to do that we ignore the desire to discover and do what we’re meant to. I’m lucky to have discovered that I’m meant to be a writer. I’m meant to write my books and read unholy amounts of novels and lead a generally introverted lifestyle. The sooner that we each tap into that realization then the sooner we’ll each feel more fulfilled.

Respect Your Voice

The other night I said “to tamper with your voice is a crime.” That’s a position I maintain because of its authenticity. If you’re doing what you love to do and you tamper with your style then you’re only hurting yourself. I gladly accept edits and comments on my work but at the end of the day I alone decide whether or not to care, or even read, said feedback.

So there is an element of arrogance at work in how you treat your creative pursuits. You have to be arrogant enough to know when something will hurt your work rather than better it. You need to learn to see if you’re asking for feedback because you’re being polite or because you truly desire it.

At the end of the day, nobody gets to be renowned for bending to the desires of other. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead was famously rejected twelve times before it was published and became a staple book of high school literature. J.K. Rowling’s The Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected eight times before it was published.

Not another living soul will defend your voice for you, because we’ve all seen how lonely and antagonistic the world can be when it sets itself against you. I assume, daily, that the only person who finds my writing any good is me. And, therefore, I alone retain absolute control over what stays and what goes—because I am, and was, my first fan.

I wished that I had prepare this that Sunday night instead of the dribble that I offered to such a polite crowd. What it boils down to is that your creative pursuits are the chance to set the tone for your life and your life’s work. Don’t neglect it, don’t put it off and expect it to disappear. Each wasted day is a wasted opportunity. In parting, I offer the following quote from Maurice Sendak:

“I’m clearing the decks for a simple death. You’re done with your work. You’re done with your life. And your life was your work.”