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Emmie’s Everest

This post will deal a lot with my writing career, so I reckon I’ll esplain right off the bat why I’m putting it here instead of over at my um…writing blog.

The first reason is because that there blog is for writing about urban fantasy and the business side of my career. Though I might make the occasional foray into the personal there when the occasion demands, this little leafy blog is where my personal meanderings (hence the name) occur. The second is because I got homework today, and I decided to share the concrete bits with whoever feels like reading them.

Without further ado, I give you………*drumroll*………..Emmie’s Not-Top-Secret Goals for Her Writing Career in 2012 and Beyond!

That title needs some work. Cut me some slack.

My assignment was to assess my personal goals for my writing career. Who do I want to be? Where do I want to be in five years? Ten? Three? What do I want out of my writing? Who do I want to reach? What is my definition of success for my career, and how on earth will I know when I get there? What kind of income do I want to get from it? What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Let’s start with the introspection.

Who do I want to be as a writer? As Forrest Gump might say, “Aren’t I going  to be me?” Well, yes. Essentially, I’m not aiming to be the next Stephen King or Jo Rowling or Stephenie Meyer or “the next” anyone. I want to pave my own way and establish my own niche in my market.

I know that’s a cop-out answer. I hope this one is a little better: I want to be a best-selling urban fantasy author who turns out new books, each better than the ones that came before them. I want a writing career where I am always striving to be better, bolder, and unique.

Who do I want to reach? I want to reach the lovers of magic and the supernatural. People who love vampires and shapeshifters and twists on our world. People who love human stories in the midst of all that. My ideal audience is people who love the grittiness of Buffy — or Twilight fans after some of the glitter has worn off the vampires. People who aren’t afraid to get down and dirty and like their sweet with a touch of bitter.

What is my definition of success? I will consider myself successful when I can amply provide for myself and my family by the sole means of my writing. When I can quit my day job and still have wiggle room after the squeak of the bills grinds to a halt, I’ll know I got there.

Where do I want to be in three years? In three years, I want to have a book somewhere on the New York Times or Amazon.com bestseller lists. I want to be planning a migration to Scotland and maybe thinking of building our home. Maybe even thinking of spawning some little Emmies.

Where do I want to be in five years? In five years, I would like my family to be ensconced in our home in Scotland with a charming husky and a fluffy orange cat that meows a lot. I want to spend my days writing in my library and continuing to hone my craft. I’d like to have filled another passport up with stamps from all over the world.

I’d also like to have met an elephant by then.

In TEN YEARS?! Ten years from now, I’d like to be done popping out kids so I can make my husband get a vasectomy and stop having to deal with foreign hormones clogging up my body. I want to write every day. I want to teach my children to love books and that they can be whoever they want to be. I want to show them the world. I want to share what I have with others and give back as much as possible. Some dreams I have in that sense are to make hefty donations to cancer research (I’ve lost several loved ones to that cursed disease), to Eve Ensler‘s heroic work for V-Day to stop violence against women, and to find some little girls that remind me of myself and make some of their dreams come true.

What kind of income do I want to make? I would love to have enough to build our dream home (which, by the way, is NOT 10,000 square feet, nor does it have a pool or any columns or more than 5 bedrooms or any other such nonsense), pay off all my debt (including the debt of my immediate family, of which there is quite a lot), and make the aforementioned hefty donations as possible. I don’t care about millions per year. One thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of never having enough of it is that money does not buy “happiness,” but it can alleviate a great deal of stress and improve quality of life. I want my children to have more than I did, but still to know the value of their own work and to take joy in earning something for themselves. I don’t have a specific number of how much money I want to make, just that I want to be able to pay for the things I value: family, books (ha), travel, and causes that matter to me.

That is my Everest. Right now I’m at base camp, starting the trek. Took a long time to get prepared for even this leg of the journey, now I’m about to begin my ascent.

And oh, yeah…

What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? This depends on whether it is an African swallow, or a European swallow. It’s unlikely that either variety of swallow would be capable of carrying a large burden, such as a coconut, over any distance, but perhaps if the swallow were being chased by a large horde of zombie swallows it might have enough adrenaline to do so. Though why it would want to is a question for a greater mind than mine. Perhaps for one known as…Tim?

English: Eve Ensler

Eve Ensler is my hero for too many reasons to name here, but to give you two: she is a champion for women around the world, and she kicked cancer's ass. Image via Wikipedia

Flexing the Brain Muscle

Today I got off work around 2:30 in the afternoon for my break between shifts. As I waited at the bar for my cash out, I struck up a conversation with a guy sitting there. We ended up chatting for a half an hour about politics and religion (yes, in a bar!) — but not the way you think.

You see, we spent a half an hour discussing the ways people approach these things through their own respective biases. Our conversation rarely showed any red or blue, crosses or crescents, or any other indication of our own views. We discussed the way people think about politics based on their own religions. How the inherent irony in works like The Terminator and my current read Robopocalypse manifests itself — like how the technology we have all come to rely on so fully eventually turns against us and thinks for itself.

We discussed books, and how his favorite six-book collection of Winston Churchill’s recollections of the Second World War is loved in part because of the coffee stains on some of the pages. We discussed quantum physics and string theory and how physicists sometimes consult philosophers as they reach their arms toward the upper echelons of the universe’s mysteries.

I realized something profound as I left my restaurant to spend my couple hours at Starbucks blogging and reading.

I miss learning. I miss my brain.

I miss learning languages and struggling to meet each threshold of understanding. I miss conversations like the one I had today, where two or more minds just talk about life and history and science and evolution and faith and religion and all those subjects. I miss the stimulation of being surrounded by others who push my mind in new directions, who force me to analyze and evaluate instead of regurgitate and accept.

I don’t have any funny quips or bits of wisdom to offer. Only a yearning to find that kind of camaraderie again. I have so many interests, from microbiology to art to String Theory to philosophy. Language. Not just my own.

As I walked in the discordant warm December rain, I found my life wanting. I love my husband. I love our home. But I think if you were to ask him, he’d say something is missing as well. Neither of our careers are where we want them right now, and though I can usually get through a day or a week or a month chugging away paying my dues, today reared its head to show me that change is coming soon, and soon indeed.

This isn’t to say I’m foretelling my imminent success as an urban fantasist. This is not even to say I’m foretelling my imminent piddling attempt at urban fantasy. What I am saying is that no matter what my writing career holds in terms of the c-word (career), something must change soon.

Whether it means I go back to university and hire a Caterpillar to dig me into another mountain of debt to get my Ph.D or start building a freelance career in non-fiction isn’t the issue. One of those things will probably happen.

About the future I know three things:

1. I want to move to Scotland and raise a family with my husband.

2. I will write no matter what I do to pay the bills.

3. If I am to have a long-term career, it must be an intellectually stimulating one.

Those are evident in my every day life. While I have the occasional enlightening moment with my tables as I wait on them, it doesn’t change the fact that Sunday when a guest was looking for me to order dessert, she couldn’t so much as describe me by my fiery red hair. To most of the people I serve on a daily basis, I am faceless. Nameless as soon as they walk out the door. No amount of cooing over their babies will change that for many of them. As much as I love the regulars who do treat me like a worthwhile person, I know this isn’t my place forever.

And so I find myself today contemplating the future and what it might hold.  I know I’m getting close to something big, but I feel that it lies just around the bend in the mountainside. It’s coming, and I don’t know what it is.

If I were to be run off the road on the way home, what would I regret?

I would feel like I was being a bit wasted where I am. I can do more than waiting tables, I know I can. This is not to be down on people who do this for a living — I chose this job. It didn’t choose me. There are aspects I enjoy, but ultimately this job does not challenge me.

I would feel like I got stuck somewhere that wasn’t the end goal. I would wonder why I didn’t try just a little bit harder to do what I want to do with this life.

Could I die today and be content? No. I couldn’t. There would be that something missing.

In one area of my life I am fulfilled, and that is love. I could not ask for a better family, a better husband, or better and truer friends than the ones I have. In this one area, I know that I am content.

But the others need some work.

I will close with a quote from one of my all-time favorite authors, a man who helped me discover epic fantasy and showed me that it doesn’t have to be high prose full of doom and gloom — that you could build a fantastical world full of humor and laughter and real people who eat and sometimes discuss bathroom breaks. David Eddings passed away two and a half years ago, shamefully outside my notice. His passing did not make headlines that reached my eyes. I thought of him just the other day and wondered how he was getting on. The question got answered much by accident.

This man will not be forgotten, and I will ensure that his words endure, if only in a tiny library owned by a redhead writer.

This is what I was talking about earlier when I suggested most aspiring fantasists will lose heart fairly early on. I was in my mid-teens when I discovered that I was a writer. Notice that I didn’t say “wanted to be a writer.” “Want” has almost nothing to do with it. It’s either there or it isn’t. If you happen to be one, you’re stuck with it. You’ll write whether you get paid for it or not. You won’t be able to help yourself. When it’s going well, it’s like reaching up into heaven and pulling down fire. It’s better than any dope you can buy. When it’s not going well, it’s much like giving birth to a baby elephant.

-David Eddings, from The Rivan Codex

Just Before Dawn

Oh, hello there. It’s been a while. Do forgive me. I’m afraid I’ve been pursuing hours in the day that do not exist for some time now, and it’s left me a wee bit…absent.

I’ve spent the last two months with my face buried in paper, up to my neck in ink, and just generally writing until my fingers fall off more days than not. This is a good thing, but it has left my other past times by the wayside. You know. By that side waaaaay over there. It’s just a little speck to me right now. Wave at them.

Words have ever been a giant central gear that my life revolves around. They propel me, fill me, spill out of me. They suck me into other worlds where planets spin through shining colorful galaxies filled with ultraviolet sparkles and dark grimy alleys where something really does want to eat you. They do it, and they do it often. I’ve occupied my imagination so fully lately that I haven’t had the chance to turn it to other things.

I want to sit under an oak tree and feel it live against my back. I want to watch the turning of fiery leaves and run my hands across velvet grass. I want to lay on my back and watch planets and stars appear in a cerulean sky. I want to look into the eyes of an elephant and have her reach out her trunk toward me. I want to soar above oceans again and smell peat and loam and heather. I want to climb up into the branches of a tree and read a book.

It is so easy to get caught up in things. I’m newly married. We both work and have passions and try to eat normal food at our abnormal times. We still haven’t gotten our thank you notes out.

As the world darkens and the sun stretches farther away for the winter months, I feel the return of a new year. I always sort of celebrate the Celtic new year, Samhain. It’s a day of the dead, yes, but it also marks rebirth. It marks the time of year when the earth slows to sleep, where all becomes still, and where hibernation occurs awaiting the return of the light and the burgeoning buds and blossoms. I can’t help but feel like something is…gestating in my life, for lack of a better word. Not in my body; no, there’s no life inside me forming. What I feel is that I’m frantically growing something. That these words I nurture every day are multiplying into something big, something that will soon be born to the world.

The leaves turn and fall to the ground, and the earth slumbers until spring. I will continue to create, to harbor the life of these words until they are ready to be shared. And I believe they will be shared. My husband believes in me. He brings me bright fall roses and dahlias and daisies to add cheer to our home and to comfort me while my body responds to the changing of the seasons. For every winter, there is a spring. So I will keep working, keep writing, keep hoping all through this long night of the earth.

I will write through the darkest hour.

The MacGuffin

In writing and film, a MacGuffin is a plot device that gives the characters a catalyst for action. It can be an object to quest after or a nebulous concept, but it makes them go. It’s like my gorse bush.

Right now what’s making me go is my writing. I feel good about my story and the people who have so graciously volunteered to help me edit my monstrosity of a manuscript and prepare it for submission. I’m coming to the end of draft two, and I’m excited to get it going with the polishing round.

Writing has been a dream of mine for so long, and now that I have a completed novel and another one almost done, I feel like I can move forward. It’s the career I want. I’ve been pretty deliberate about my steps, trying to make sure that I put the effort in on the front end to save some time and heartache later. I don’t know what to expect once my work starts spiraling around the ether, but we shall see.

That’s my MacGuffin right now. The wedding is in two weeks, and I’m starting a life with my fiance. We’re both the classic broke twenty-somethings. We’re both creative types. The driving force for me is getting my writing out there, because at the end of the day, I write for an audience. I want others to read my work.

The past month has been very busy. I’ve been writing in every spare minute. Sometimes in those minutes I can’t actually spare. I’ve been blogging and building, tweeting and grinding my teeth. I’m painstakingly digging a foundation for a career I hope will encompass my life. I want to show agents that I’m worth the risk of taking on a new author. That I’ll make us both money doing what we love: producing new books for people to cuddle up to.

A lot of the past month has been borne with frustration that I have to work fifty hours a week at another job. That’s fifty hours I can’t spend writing and honing my craft. That’s why I want to make writing my career — so that I can focus on getting better, push myself to creating more vivid language, sharper imagery, characters people long to read over and over again.

I remember how I felt when I discovered that by Jo Rowling’s timeline, Harry wouldn’t be the age of Dan Radcliffe — he’d be my age. That all of this took place parallel to my generation. It made it so much more powerful to me to think that Harry was my peer. I will love those books forever. I will never duplicate the Harry Potter phenomenon — nor do I want to — but I want to make that connection to readers. Make a place in their hearts where my characters will live as their friends.

The dream is there. The drive is there. The will and determination are there. Even with the wedding coming up a mere two weeks from now, writing is the pulse of my life.

Perhaps this entry belongs more on my other blog, but perhaps not. It applies to my life. It’s a shift that has occurred subtly over the past few years, and it’s starting to materialize. I’ve gone from sheer terror to hopelessness to confidence to resolve when it comes to my career — now that resolve is moving my feet forward into a new world.

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

A couple days ago, as I pulled out of the driveway of my apartment complex, I almost hit a turtle. He was a small turtle, maybe six inches across. I managed not to hit him, but as I stopped at the light half a block away, I watched him in my rearview mirror as he plodded along, narrowly avoiding the F-250 that followed me out of the drive. Such a little guy, but his hard shell won’t protect him from cars. I wished I could have stopped to pick him up and truck him to the other side.

As I drove to work, I pondered how he even got onto the road. The curb is bigger than he is, and yet somehow he’d already made it across one lane. I hope he is okay and that he made it across the road. The world of Maryland suburbs isn’t made for such a small turtle.

Some days I feel like that turtle. I am trying to cross a road in a big, big world with all these large things that whiz out of nowhere, and it’s all I can do to plod one more dogged step after another. The only real motivation I can think of for a turtle to try and cross a busy road is that he’s looking for food. He needs to survive. If the road is dangerous, well, so is starving. I suppose sometimes we have to take risks if we want to get where we need to be.

I get asked fairly often at work why I’m working “in a place like that” and not doing something else. The underlying meaning of such a question is that I’m wasting my time, intelligence, etc. by being a server, and that I ought to be doing something more “useful.” I resent that question as much as I resent complete strangers asking me if my hair is natural. I don’t go around asking all the platinum blonds that question because it’s rude — but because my hair is red, that somehow makes it okay? Growl. Okay, I digress.

The point is, my current job serves a purpose. I enjoy it, and it suits me for now. I don’t have to get up at an absurd hour of the morning, and I’m making decent money. It’s a means to an end, and I’m happy there. I like my managers, and I get on well with my coworkers, so what’s to complain about? In the meantime, I’m revising my novel, trying to establish a presence in the world of the internet to promote said novel, and generally enjoying life. I’m about to marry a wonderful man. So when people ask me that question, it frustrates me.

I am that turtle in the middle of the road. Yeah, there are other places I could have gone, but this way seemed like a good idea. Each step gets me closer to the other side of the road, and when I get there, I won’t forget how I did. I will establish myself as a writer as a career, and while I might never make buckets of money like Stephen King or Janet Evanovich or JK Rowling (who probably make a teensy bit more than buckets), I will be able to support my family. That’s why this turtle is crossing the road, for god’s sake.

To get to the other side.

Two More Days

And then Friday!

My fingers are cramped up.  If you know me, you know that my right pinky finger is crooked, forever prohibited from straightening by a wonky tendon that decided not to grow.  I’ve just spent an hour and a half writing, and that little deformity of mine is in serious pain (I’m right handed).  I had an idea last fall, something to do as a gift that never came to fruition.  Now I’ve begun, and it really is beautiful so far.  It’ll take quite a while to finish at this rate, but I do have a few months left before it needs to be done.  The exciting thing about it is that it meshes rather perfectly with both a new development from today and also with another idea I had as well.  I would be more specific, but that would be telling.

After being stuck somewhere in the space-time continuum where there were constantly 6 weeks left of school, suddenly we’ve gone through a wormhole and there are only three.  Words cannot describe my joy at this.  I have a lot to do by the end of the year, and I might get into some trouble because this injury has made me miss so much work, but at this point, I can’t do anything about that.  It’s only been six weeks since the accident, and though I am feeling somewhat better now, by the time I’ve gone through half the day, I am a hot mess of ouch.

Well.  Three more weeks, and it will be over forever.  I just wish I could get rid of this horrible sense of trepidation that has plagued me all year.  I never should have taken this job.  Teaching is the perfect job for those who can give 110%.  I can give that to my writing, but not to teaching.  Maybe that’s selfish.  I don’t think it really is, though, any more than I would think it is selfish for people not to join the volunteer fire department or become a police officer.  Jobs like that require certain kinds of people who are willing to live and breathe their job.  I think that most of us have something we’re willing to do that for, but it varies from person to person, and for me, teaching is not that something.  Are musicians being selfish for making music?  Artists?  Accountants?  My thoughts about careers:  find what you love, and do it well.

That’s all I can ask of anyone.  Work is a huge portion of life — if you’re miserable, that just plain sucks.  And I’m miserable.

Sigh.  Time to try and sleep.

Two more days.

Write Until You Can’t See Land

Yes, I’m lazy.  Yes, I am copying this title directly from my other blog.  Am I okay with it?  Yes, yes I am.

I’m okay with it because I have just spent literally ten hours doing virtually nothing but writing.  I have written about 20 pages and well over 11,000 words in one sitting, and so I think that allows me to justify using the same title for two blogs.  So there.

I’m feeling the fire, feeding the desire.  To write, to create, to pursue this dream and follow my bliss.

And after this long night, as the sky brightens and I finish the last seventeen minutes before getting up to go to work on this Friday morning, that’s all I have to say about that.

follow your bliss

This morning, I asked my student to reflect on the following:

“The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are…follow your bliss.   The heroic life is the individual adventure.   There is no security in following the call to adventure.”  (Joseph Campbell)

I figured that since I am trying to keep up my average of words per day, I would complete my own assignment. (I already hit 1,000 working on my novel today, but a bit more never hurt anyone.)

I’m going to break this down sentence by sentence and see what comes pouring out through the cracks.

The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are…follow your bliss.

I heard once that up until about puberty and a few years after, you spend your life trying to fit in, blend with others, be like everyone else.  In high school and the years after is when people become desperate to delineate what separates them from the rest of the world, to be an individual.  But how far do people really go to do that?  So many people spend their lives doing things that make them unhappy or at the very least, bored.  They spend their lives with people who make them unhappy.  They follow the status quo because they feel some sort of obligation to do so or need security in some way.

It took me a long time in my life to come to terms with who I am, and in a lot of ways, I’m still on that path.  It has taken a lot of failings in order for me to get to where I am now.  I wrote not long ago in a letter to someone that I feel like years ago, I was perched on the edge of a chasm.  I could see where I wanted to be on the other side of it, but I had to make choices to decide how to get there.  The first route was the tried and true slow descent down one side and up the other, maybe on a burro.  I could plod doggedly down and up and eventually get to the other side, but I knew that if I took that route, I might end up miles down from where I was aiming.

The other route was the most direct geometrically.  And it stretched out directly in front of me, a rickety rope bridge with punky boards full of dry rot and tattered ropes holding it together.  I gritted my teeth and stepped out onto the bridge, with nothing but those flimsy boards between me and a long drop with a sudden stop.  Looking down at the well-trodden safer path below, I could see people’s mouths agape as they watched me take my fumbling steps out on that bridge.  Some even yelled up at me, “You’re crazy!  You’re going to fall!”

I haven’t fallen yet.  Granted, there have been a few close calls.  A couple of those boards were rotted through and disintegrated beneath my feet like crumbling clay.  Occasionally, circling vultures would swoop down and attack, seeing I was vulnerable.  But each time, I clung to the most solid things I could find and held on tight.  I’ve made a large number of big decisions in the last few years, and they have all propelled me forward.  And the farther forward I go, the closer I get to the other side.  I can’t see the other side from where I am; I have to focus too much on putting one foot in front of the other and staying alive to get there, but I know it’s there.  I can sense solid ground in the distance, getting closer every day.  I don’t know how many steps remain before I get there, but I know there is even more adventure awaiting me after my feet touch the earth again.  And the only way I’ll get there is if I keep following my bliss.  This journey truly has been amazing, and making the choices I have made really are the privilege of my lifetime.

The heroic life is living the individual adventure.

I feel like it would be way too arrogant to call my life heroic.  I could say resilient or bold and maybe go as far as intrepid, but regardless, I feel that my life has been full of adventure.  In spite of all the moves (or maybe because of them), I’ve managed to hold onto some semblance of cohesion within myself.  Sometimes I feel stuck within the confines of what society deems normal, namely the need for money (ew), but I have still managed to get where I needed to go, regardless of how rough the road got.  For that I am both proud and thankful.  Proud that I haven’t completely had a nervous breakdown yet (although I’ve gotten close this year…sorry, John) and thankful for the people who have been there along the way to hold out their hands and help me along.  I wouldn’t be here without them.

I’m certainly not done with this adventure yet.  In fact, I might be setting out on another leg of it shortly, depending on what I decide in the next 24 hours.  There is a big wide world out there, and I haven’t seen enough of it yet.

When I think about it, I often tell my friends that they are heroic for following their bliss and doing their thing, so perhaps I ought to do myself the same courtesy and bestow the label upon myself as well.  I do have a tendency to be much harder on myself than others are.   I should be more mindful of that and stop Emmie-bashing.

There is no security in following the call to adventure.

This one rings so true — I think about the people I know who are pursuing the things they truly love, and very few are actually making any money.  Of course, money isn’t the only way to measure security, but I think that is sort of what Joseph Campbell was referring to.  That and the fact that the term “starving artist” did not evolve without some sort of precedent.  I’m okay with being poor.  I’ve never really had any money, so I actually tend to just give it away when I do have it.

Anyway, all in all, I think it’s clear that I have to do some things for myself. Dolly Parton said to find out who you are and do it on purpose.  I’m not one who usually looks to Dollywood for wisdom, but I won’t turn it away when I come across it.  I know a lot about who I am, but I need to make some purposeful strides into really letting that person shine through.

On that note, kiddies, sleep tight.  Bite the bedbugs and smile at your neighbor.