The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Trying to Start the Next One

Well, here I am again, hiding from my novel. I’m ready to start my next one, I guess, but I’m… not ready.

Today I didn’t really write. Just checked my e-mail, dinked around on Reddit, copied a few tips about writing the opening scene. You couldn’t even call it phoning it in. I wasn’t anywhere near the phone.

It’s a lot of commitment to make a novel. It takes about 3-4 months to make one (~1,000 words a day for 90,000 words = 90 days – weekends and days off and bad writing days and so on). Is this one going to work? Or is it going to be another failure like the seven others I’ve written. Each time I write something I am a little less motivated to write it because I haven’t sold a damn thing in so long. And now even Replaneted, which I thought was going to be my best one, hasn’t even gotten a partial request yet.

But if I don’t write, what am I going to do with my lunch hours? Am I going to play video games all day. Just sit on fat unproductive ass, never giving anything back to the world to make myself remembered?

I’m just so frustrated at putting in all this work and not getting anything for it. It feels like playing handball against the curtains. And I feel like I’ve reached a plateau in my story-telling ability. The last three works I made felt so similar in terms of quality, I’m not sure I’m improving as a writer. I need to learn to write “beautifully”, but how am I supposed to learn that. Where is the class on “writing beautifully”?

Getting Too Old For This…

bite computer frustrated

It’s hard writing around the Christmas season. Besides being pulled in a bunch of different directions, I’m in a bit of a transition phase. Replaneted‘s submission package is done being prepped. But I’ve been disappointed in the response. Essentially speaking, IT’S FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE TO WRITE A QUERY LETTER AND SYNOPSIS. You leave out so much. In a novel, it’s not big events that lead to motivations. It’s subtle stuff.

For example, one critique that’s really bothering me says that my protagonist doesn’t sound like she has a lot of volition. That’s a fundamental problem, but it’s a fundamental part of the story. Because she’s a victim to her circumstances. But it’s not about her being a “strong female protagonist”. It’s about the little things she does to make the relationship work.

But that doesn’t come out in the synopsis. Synopses are for the big events. Big events draw people in, I guess, like the action set pieces in movies. But they don’t motivate characters. It’s the little things that do that. It’s a romance, isn’t it all right to be swept off your feet? Don’t women want that sometimes? I know I did. Wasn’t that the original appeal of “Making of a Lady”? It’s a Cinderella story. People like those. Isn’t this going to appeal to anyone? The hundreds of romance novels don’t all have Ripleys and Buffys (what’s the plural of Buffy? Buffies?).

So I’ve been frustrated lately. I finished working on my submission packages, and now I’m not sure I want to go back to The Fairy War. I’m afraid it’s still not following the same story structure that fits neatly into queries and synopses. I don’t want to start on Medusa yet because… I don’t know, maybe I’m afraid of starting something that might not be as commercial. Or that I can’t do the idea justice. I’d like to write some short stories, but I’m going through my ideas notebook and nothing is jumping out at me at what could be a short story or not.

I started writing seriously in 2007, and now it’s fifteen years later and I’ve got nothing to show for it. I was twenty-five when I started, but now I’m forty. Am I going to be struggling with queries and synopses when I’m sixty? Am I going to live that long?

Goddamn Grocery Store Wasting My Time

grocery store checkout

Today I was in the grocery store (something I can do in the middle of the day having no job and all) and since it was the middle of the day that means it’s all old ladies. Both servicing and being serviced. I was in the checkout line, and got behind two old wrinkled blue hairs. And they’ve all got their specialty items like organic frozen yogurt and non-GMO chicken and three boxes of Pagoda won tons. And they’re all slow about it because they’re old ladies. Slowly swiping stuff across the scanner. Slowly getting out the savings card. Slowly putting items in the bag. Slowly opening the bag. Slowly rolling the cart out of the door.

Anyway the first blue hair wasn’t the problem. But the second had some item that couldn’t be scanned. So the senior citizen checkout lady hands it off to the senior citizen bagger lady who hands it off to the service counter lady. Nothing happens there, so the lady’s got to go all the way back to frozen foods because it’s a damn bag of peas they can’t ring up. Meanwhile, I’m standing there getting more and more pissed off. The bagger lady suggests I might try another lane or the service counter, but I’m like “dammit, just hurry up”.

So we wait while she goes all the way across the store and then she comes back with nothing because I guess she had to hand them off to the store manager who must be the only person in the world who must give a damn about these peas. And I’m thinking “dammit, just ring up $3 in frozen. Is your precious ‘shrink’ worth an angry customer?” And the store manager that came back looked like she was twenty years old.

I’m so sick of these corporate rules handed down by someone eighteen seats away who hasn’t been in a real grocery store for years. Is it good customer service that you make the guy wait because there was some computer error sixteen weeks ago that made it so you can’t scan a bag of peas? Why do I have to suffer for the mistakes of others? Is that the corporate policy now? So that $3 worth of peas shows up on your registry?

Maudlin Should Be an “-ing” Verb

maudlin crying baby

I guess I am kinda doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m not keeping track of my word count. There’s not really a point. I started late, since I was outlining for the first week. But I am in the middle of writing a novel in this November. I’m not really feeling it yet, but I’m hoping that’s because the personalities aren’t established yet. Or the main characters aren’t supposed to have chemistry in this first act.

Been feeling real low lately. Lots of down-spiraling things in my life just making it crappy. Most of all is work. Now there’s nothing wrong with my work, it’s just stuck in a rut. It’s boring, it’s repetitive, and I hate the people I work with. That’s the thing they didn’t teach me in Software Engineering class, that all your co-workers would be Indians, either living here on a Visa or still in India.

I’m working with people for whom English is a second language, not the first. So I can’t identify with them. I can’t make jokes because they never make jokes. They can’t risk saying anything controversial or they’ll get deported. They’re contractors, they’re slaves. They’re all real quiet or mumbly, have accents, have a “quicker over quality” attitude, because deliverables get them paid. I can’t imagine how many wrong things they get taught about Americans in “contractor school”.

They moved me to a different team, so now half my team is offshore. And the half that is here are these tiny soft-spoken girls. They must grow them like carrots in India, because they all behave the same. I wonder how they got their men to even let them go to school in the first place, they’re so submissive. They probably get told that we Americans are big and loud and full of bluster and to ignore when they have any intense emotions.

I spend so much time doing nothing. It’s like all chance of work stops at 8 AM because that’s when all the offshore people go home. And if I have a question I have to wait until the next day to get it answered. So yay for progress. This is why nothing’s on time, because everyone blows the whistle at times. You’d think you could coordinate the teams better. I can’t look at Reddit or any image sites because they block those (they keep YouTube and Twitter open though, not sure why. Go figure big corporate proxy software).

And I see all these nice people at the elevators and the lobby, important people having important conversations and laughing and I wonder why that isn’t me. Why am I stuck in a sort of cubicle prison with co-workers without an ounce of charisma and they sit from on high and get to manage it all. They don’t do actual work, they have meetings, they make friends, they go to happy hours. I went to my kids’ parent-teacher conferences and all those teachers have such energy and likability. I have no one like that at my work. We’re all dead inside.

Finished Naga Story

naga slit eyes

Well, I finished naga story. No title yet (besides “Naga Hide” which is a bit too heady of a pun still). I’m not sure when I started (sometime in June?) but I was getting down 1700-1800 words per day consistently in the last quarter of it. It’s a full manuscript, rough draft as it is. 90,061 words. Just barely squeaked over that 90K mark, even though I had 70+ scenes.

And it’s shite. It’s just shite, all of it.

Remember how I said every word sounded juvenile and unsophisticated and disposable. Yeah, that never got better. Shite’s the only word I can call it, it’s the most appropriate. I don’t know why I kept going.

Well, that’s not true. I kept going because I remember Neil Gaiman’s words: Great artists finish things. And if I didn’t like what I was writing, at least I had to tools to see it to completion. So I can say it’s complete crap with emphasis on “complete”.

I find myself not caring so much about being a writer anymore. It seems my bubble of who I’m doing this for is shrinking every day. Now it’s just me, and I become less important as I grow older. I don’t even have any fans. I wrote Reprise and that barely got any feedback. People aren’t buying the erotica. And my own love for the work is waning as the response I get is pitiful. Why write jokes if I’m the only one who finds them funny? If I’m the only one who finds them.

butterfly book

The story was doomed from the start, writing the beginning felt energizing and fun. But then I got to the main story and everything felt dead in the water. It felt like I had gone backwards in quality. My only hope is that this is the last of my “million bad words” and maybe the next thing will be that thing.

If I’m going to be a writer, I need to step up my game. I’m tired of these rejections. I’m not writing anything that’s commercially viable. All my story ideas are just stories that I’d want to read. No one reads about snake-women or Indiana Jones saving a mermaid or a misogynist Harry Potter.

I’ve got Felicia Day’s new book, her guide to creativity, and I’ve got Neil Gaiman’s masterclass on the art of story telling and I’ve got Brandon Sanderson’s lecture series still to watch. I’m not going to write my next novel right away. It’s still outline-less anyway. I need to get back to basics. I’ve got to do like Rocky and retrain myself. Go up to the mountains and chase chickens. I think that’s what he did.

rocky meat
It involves a lot of beating my meat, as you might imagine…

Am I Losing My Touch?

touch mirror hands fingers

So, I’m hard at work composing Naga Hide and I’m sending query letters for Dwarves of Katie Elder. I don’t know what to expect on that–it’s an unusal concept and short for swords-and-sorcery (and there’s little of either on the bookshelf). Writing on Naga Hide is going really fast — I can write 1400-1700 of prose in my lunch hour. I’m set to make 90,000 words easy. Does that mean I’m getting better at writing commercially?

Problem is, nothing feels right. It all feels juvenile. Like I can’t write higher than middle school style prose. It’s a lot of dialogue, but really light on the imagery, on the internal thoughts, stuff that makes writing writing. I don’t know if the plot is evolving or it’s just wandering. It’s nothing like what I usually read, except for John Scalzi’s stuff.

I just finished Malice of Crows and I’m in the middle of The Art of Racing in the Rain. These have long periods of narration, like real books should. Ones that set the scene, that explore the characters’ emotions, that don’t use cliches. And it’s not as fun anymore. Not because it’s a slog, but because nothing’s fun anymore.

I am on so many medications. At this point, I’ve taken a gene test to see which medications I can metabolize and which ones I can’t. And I’ve started anti-psychotic medications now, because the anti-depressants just don’t make feel happy. In fact, I can’t feel anything. I can’t laugh anymore, can’t cry. I went to see “Guys & Dolls” at the Guthrie — didn’t even crack a smile. It was amusing, but all the times people were laughing out loud, I stayed silent. And that was a hilarious play. But did I react? At all?

I feel like I’ve lost my sense of humor, sense of sympathy, sense of fear. And you need those to write. At least, with any passion you do. I feel like I’m just going through the motions, following the path I made in my outline. An outline that’s a few years old at this point. So you can imagine it’s not as “fresh” and “exciting” as when I first came up with the story. It’s not that I’ve lost my taste for writing, it’s that, more times these days, I get the dreads before I write. But when I sit in the chair, it all goes away, maybe because I’m hammering out words as fast as I can, heedless of whether or not they’re good words. But I gotta complete drafts, I gotta word vomit.

These days I’m thinking more about my terraforming romance, going back to that. It’s mature, it’s commercial. It’s perfect… because it’s not written yet. It’s in my head and when I put it on paper, it will cease to be perfect, because it will no longer be in the medium in which it all works. But it has to go into that medium to be communicable to an audience, for other people to enjoy it. Will people get more joy out of that than this one? Am I trying to convince myself of that? Am I even good at outlining anymore? Should I finish what I started first? Should I bother finishing anything anymore?

I Don’t Do Well in Talk Therapy

cartoon therapy

Revision progress:
Pages complete: 26%
Word count reduction: 7.6%

I do not do well in talk therapy. I just don’t open up. I am not cool with strangers, and it takes a lot of time and trust for me to open up like that. It’s a miracle I ever got married. My wife is a very understanding and patient soul. But I digress. Psychologists aren’t an option for me. It would be a waste of time.

Oh, I’ve tried it. It didn’t work. I can’t do the face-to-face eye contact thing. Nobody uses a couch anymore, and I think that would work a lot better for me, if I was talking to the ceiling. But also, I just can’t get over the insincerity of the therapist. I know their intentions might be good, but the fact remains — they are getting paid to do this. They don’t have a personal investment in me. I’d be just as well off talking to a prostitute. (Heck, maybe that might be better. I don’t have to worry about being judged because no matter what I’ve got, she’s seen way worse. Worked for the guy in “Paying for It”)

I can’t even tell if I’m more comfortable with a boy or girl. One was a constantly smiling woman who reminded me more of an HR representative than psychologist. I’ve had an extremely soft-voiced man who looked like James Taylor ask me if I liked movies. That’s like asking if you like music. Or food. Another man tried to endear himself to me by talking about his family. And they always t a l k e d s l o w. I can’t stand that. Especially in a timed session. Not to mention the inconvenience of making appointments, keeping them, and the years it would take to make any kind of breakthrough.

For example, the smiling woman I mentioned before was a CBT specialist. She wanted to know my goals and set up some tasks to accomplish them. I wanted to make friends. I wanted to talk to people. I wanted to be able to pee at a urinal. Did I accomplish any of those goals? No. Why? Because no consequences for failure. You want to know how I really handled it? I finally accepted that I was a severe introvert. That I hated and could not make small talk so don’t try. That no one was like me and never would be. And that I never would be comfortable around people and do what I need to do to feel comfortable. At the party, go where people aren’t. Make an Irish exit. Fall into your iPhone. Send e-mails and IMs instead of approaching the person. Use short sentences–yes or no. Make no follow-up. Never talk about yourself–it prevents anyone from learning information about you and using it against you, and it doesn’t bore people. Stay home. And don’t forget the importance of body language.

TBH, the only thing that helped me was medication. It didn’t let me achieve my goal, it just helped me not titter and worry about how I am, how the world thinks I should be (see “Quiet”). It took away the mental block. The fear, anxiety, freeze response, which results in the inability to think of anything to say. From being nervous about all the bad and awkward things that could happen, and have happened in the past. The negative self-talk. It still happens, and awkward events in the past still make me cringe. But new ones don’t form.

And it’s only gotten better as the dosage gets increased. Right now I’m on 150 mg of Venlafaxine (a.k.a. generic Effexor) and 300 mg of Wellbutrin. This is after some trial and error for something that doesn’t take away my libido or give me nightmares where I yell in my sleep.

But it’s not perfect. Medication doesn’t fix everything. It’s stasis, not an improvement. But I don’t know when/if I’ll ever be able to get off medication. I don’t feel as passionate about things as I used to, like not as excited about a good story or getting a new book from the library. But that also means I don’t get as low as I used to, and I think that’s a worthy trade-off. Cause those lows get pretty damn low. And I can’t afford that if I’m raising a family. But I wouldn’t mind going back to my old self once people aren’t dependent on me for money and upbringing.

Also, with the neglection of my facehole, the only real way I have to vent is writing. And since ranting and raving is generally discouraged in commercial fiction, you readers are the unfortunate victims of me sorting out my head. I have a 6700 word rant at the bottom of my scratch pad about my dysfunctional relationship to work and the professional sector. But I don’t want to publish it because it names names and does nothing for anybody except for me. And then, not even that. I mean, what am I going to do? Not work? I can’t just sit and play “Breath of the Wild” all day.

My point is, I am a severe introvert. I am the guy who doesn’t talk. I’m the guy the news typifies as the kind to shoot up his workplace. I’m the kind of guy who’ll never get top marks in his performance evaluations because he “doesn’t speak up” or “needs to learn to interact more with the team”. It’d be easier being green.

kermit in therapy couch

Do I Want It Enough?

polititcal cartoon loans

Pardon me while I show my straight white male privilege.

One thing holding me back from being a true writer (with a capital “A”… I mean “W”) is that I am well-off. By day, I am a computer programmer. That’s an in-demand position. I get a near $100K salary and comfy benefits. And the reason I’m a computer programmer is because I went to college. And the reason I went to college is because my parents paid for it (so add “no student loan debt” to that list of reasons to hate me). And the reason they paid for it is because they could, by saving and being smart with money and having no external thing to pay for. All this translates to the fact I have no base need for money.

But someone who writes for a living, they get the chops becasue they have no choice but to be good. Or they die. Neil Gaiman says that his motivation/inspiration came from needing to feed his children. Seanan McGuire came from a trailer. You don’t live like that and think “When I grow up, I want the comfortable financial stability of a writer.” I imagine she spent her life reading books one after the other (because they were cheap), then became a writer because it was the only thing she saw herself doing. Like Chinese gymnasts that start at two years old and do nothing but, then are thrown away at sixteen.

The short version of this can be explained in this parable: A Zen master was out for a walk with one of his students when they noticed a fox chasing a rabbit. “According to an ancient saying the rabbit will escape,” said the master. “Not so,” replied the student, “the fox is faster.” “Never-the-less, the rabbit will elude the fox,” the master stated. “How can you be so certain?” asked the student. “The fox is running for its dinner. The rabbit is running for its life.”

In computer programming, you start off with a well-paying job out of college. Because you took that time gaining those skills. You are the computer whisperer. You can make it sing and dance the way companies want you to. You know how to make the lightning brain think.

In writing, you don’t start off in any sort of job. First, you get a little work. Then a little more. Seanan McGuire had to keep writing and writing and writing because she had to. Otherwise she would earn no money.

You create art and hope someone purchases it. And the big hurdle is people purchase art because they want it, not because they need it. Companies don’t need art, they need results. They need profit margins and cost-benefit analyses. And they pay the people who can provide that, because it takes special skills.

John Scalzi says you can quit your day job when you’re making 30% more than your annual salary (to cover healthcare costs and retirement and such). I am going to have to be a superstar writer to match the salary of a software engineer working for one of the biggest companies in the midwest. I suppose it’s a good problem to have, but it means resisting the urge to lay back and be a fat lazy dog.

I Lack Empathy

heads together brains

I lack empathy.

I mean, I don’t think I ever had empathy for people. I don’t give one hoot if they’re here or gone. I always assumed this was because I was bitter and depressed and angry for most of my life. But now that I’m on medication, I’m noticing that this not-caring is not going away.

It’s not like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. I don’t think I have Asperger’s Syndrome or some sort of autism “thing” where just part of my brain is funny. I’m not sure I ever had it. Maybe this is why horror movies don’t affect me in the same why. I never understood why people think “The Exorcist” is the scariest movie ever. I mean, you’d think I’d be all up in that — possessed by a personality not your own. Even more now that I’m a father of a daughter. But it just seems silly to me. “Hello, Reagan, I’m Father Karras-” “-AND I AM THE DEVIL. Now kindly undo these straps.” I mean, isn’t it peculiar that the devil is constrained by leather straps. This is the guy who fought God — the immortal creator of the cosmos. It’d be like me taking on Cthulhu. If I could win against something that turns you mad by looking at it, would straps really be that big a deal? I always thought I wasn’t scared because A) I’m an atheist and B) there’s nothing scary about Regan — all she does is throw up and spin her head. She doesn’t even get up. Someone like Jigsaw is scarier because he manipulates you into doing it yourself.

Oh no. She’s in a bed. Someone save me.

I’m more scared by something like “The Shining” but not for the reasons you’re thinking of. I don’t care one whit whether or not Wendy makes it out of there. I can’t sympathize with her plight. I’m more worried people are going to see me as Jack Torrance. Especially my wife — that’s why I won’t let her watch it (not that she needs any encouragement on my part). We have way too many similarities to make me comfortable — amateur writers who seem to have trouble getting inspired, like being isolated/alone with thoughts, maybe we drink a little more than we really should, bothered by the drudgery of our jobs, thinning hair, creepy smiles, liking the cold (although he liked it a little too much).

Well, I guess there’s worse things than looking like young Jack Nicholson.

 So this lack of empathy makes things difficult sometimes when writing stories. Empathy means you feel for your characters and take them places where they have to triumph or fail. And then make the reader feel the same emotions about those triumphs or failures. Might be why I’ve been having trouble connecting to the main character in naga story, because she’s nothing like me. It’s mostly an action plot. So I guess we’ll have to see what happens when the story becomes fleshed out.

Another Hiatus

knitting hands

So another hiatus. Well, I call it a hiatus, but I should call it not doing my goddamn job. Not that it’s a job, just a hobby. But not committing yourself to the writing means you’re not writing. It’s not like knitting — you follow instructions, twist some yarn, and afterwards you got a cute little amigurumi.

I will call him Squishy and he will be my Squishy.

Writing is something that’s a creative endeavor. It means pulling something out of nothing. It means putting something out there that wasn’t there before. And that’s super hard. Unlike most other arts, it’s 100% sequential. One word has to follow the other. It’s got to be linear (for the most part). It’s not like art where you see it all at once. Everything has to make sense. And you don’t get anything but words to help build the world. You can’t play music to emphasize mood. You don’t get anything visual that demonstrates the architecture or character expressions — no art or illustrations. You’ve got no other tools but words and your brain.

It’s like programming. You put down the code, you debug it, submit for code reviews, debug some more, then release it. But there are no patches. No post-fix releases. No DLC that could explain something. No repairs based on customer feedback. It’s got to be perfect the first time. And that is intimidating. It’s got to be perfect from the initial idea (the strange attractor), it’s got to have flawlessly-written characters, mistake-free plot, and all of it’s got to be interesting at the same time.

I’m still trying to work through that freeze response. But I have made some progress on outlining the next novel and I’ve read enough comic books that I feel I can go back to reading actual books.

Outlining a novel is tough, because it’s like dreaming. For Reprise, I didn’t have much to it. I pretty much imagined the next “section” as I tried to fall asleep. I didn’t give much attention to cohesion or character- or world-building (especially unnecessary since it was fan fiction). And Defender was so long ago, I don’t remember what I did. Stare at a computer? It’s where the perfect image in your head becomes imperfect by putting it on paper. It’s where 100% of the creativity comes from. After that, it’s simply a matter of converting the outline/notes to readable form.