Confederate, Game of Thrones, sensitivity readers and a writer's debt

Wading into the controversy again.

But that's what writers do, no?

If you're wondering, I take Roxane Gay's side on the issue and I think the Game of Thrones showrunners missed her point completely when they responded to the backlash. 

But here's where I stand on these controversial things, as an immigrant writer of color: People can write whatever the hell they want. The huge BUT though, is that they should be conscious of whatever the hell they're doing.

I'll give you an example. I was in a writing group and someone asked a question. "Is [offensive thing] offensive if I write about it? Why?"
Me and several others: um...yeah, it kinda is.
would-be writer: stop telling me how to write! A writer should have freedom to write what they want.
Me and several others: right...we're not telling you what to write.
would-be writer: yes you are, you're telling me it's offensive! I am being victimized!"

When you hire sensitivity readers you're not hiring censors. You're hiring people who will keep the egg off your face and your books on the shelves. It's not telling you what to write, it's telling you "sure, go ahead and write that but don't be surprised if people have a problem with it."

That's how I feel about Confederate. It's a bad idea. I don't think the execution's going to be there. I understand what the writers want to convey. But honestly, there's going to be a lot of people that are going to miss the point entirely and immediately laud whoever the baddies are as heroes. Calling it now, that's 1) going to happen and 2) the showrunners and writers will put out a statement denouncing that particular portion of the fanbase and express surprise that people took it the wrong way.

But I'll stop short from telling them not to write something. I think if you're part of the #NoConfederate crowd, you have every right to be angry and upset that this is happening. But you know what would be even better? Aaron McGruder (creator of The Boondocks) is coming out with his own Amazon series called Black America which talks about an AU where instead of the South winning the war, they instead lost huge chunks of land to provide freed slaves with reparations and this land became its own country. If you're #NoConfederate, promote the shit out of Black America. Host watch parties. Get an Amazon Prime account. Watch it. Talk to people about it. Promote difference. The same applies to what we read. Yeah, definitely call out the lack of diversity in fiction, but why not also support diverse authors?  When I first started to address diversity, I knew I had to begin with me. How could I tell someone, hey, support this, when I wasn't doing it? 

So last year, of 26 books read, 13 were by women or minorities. This year so far--

Read:

1. Junot Diaz - Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
2. James SA Corey - Nemesis Games
3. John Steinbeck - The Pearl
4. Brandon Sanderson - Steelheart
5. Barry Goldwater - Conscience of a Conservative
6. Paul Krugman - Conscience of a Liberal
7. David Weber - On Basilisk Station
8. Octavia Butler - Kindred
9. Emma Perez - Gulf Dreams
10. K.B. Wagers - Behind the Throne
11. Junot Diaz - Drown

READING
Lidia Zylowska, MD - The mindfulness prescription for Adult ADHD
Terry Pratchett - The colour of magic
Harriet Washington - Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation
Ann Leckie - Ancillary Justice
Steven L. Erikson - Malazan Book of the Fallen 1

I'm probably not going to watch Confederate, but I will watch Black America and tell as many people as I can about it. But I pull back just short of telling the Confederate writers what they should write. They write to their own truth, just like I write to mine.  

Support Malu on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/malukah Join me on Twitch for weekly live music! http://www.malukah.com Hey guys! Thank you for suggesting this song! :D The original song from Dragon Age: Origins (Bioware/EA) is beautifully performed by Aubrey Ashburn, written by Inon Zur. Lyrics below.

 

And that leads me to Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin, and A Song of Ice and Fire. The in thing is to give the man shit for not putting out the last books of the series. And this came up in conversation with some of my friends recently. Only one of them read the book and so he's been a fan of the series while another has the advantage of lording over things in the series that haven't happened (or will not happen) in the books. And so the conversation turned to whether or not Martin owed his readers anything.

One argument was, yes, he does, in much the same way that if Tolkien had given up on writing a conclusion after Two Towers.

My argument was no, he is under no obligation to finish. I was extremely frustrated when I finished the books in 2009 and realized the series wasn't over yet. That was almost a decade ago. 

The argument ended as usual on a stalemate but the question was left hanging: Is GRRM a writer or an author? I subscribe to the idea that authors write for themselves while writers write for an audience.  In either case, Martin doesn't owe anyone anything; but depending on what his definition of writer is, there is a perceived disservice to the audience.

But I'm not going to tell him what to write or how fast. For starters, he's forgotten more about writing genre fiction than I'll learn but also because he is a talented writer who's provided with a lot of people multiple hours of enjoyment. I'd say he deserves a bit of a break.

 

Dealing with rejection or how I learned to stop worrying and love the no

Picture me. Teenager. Freshman in high school. Talking to girl. Hormones flaring. Years away from knowing what a hail mary pass is and about to throw one.

"I...uh...like you."

Her eyes widen. She's taken aback.

"Um...wow...that was unexpected. I appreciate it. But...I mean I see you as a friend."

Freeze frame. I look down at the concrete and desperately wish it to suddenly give way and swallow me whole.

Resume time. I smile and give some awkward "haha nah it's cool haha lolz xDDDDD"  and move on.

The story repeats itself several times in high school. Sometimes my reactions are like that. Other times I am sent into a spiral of depression and shitty AOL Instant Messenger away message poetry/song lyrics and passive-aggressive MSN Messenger status messages.

Rejection.

As a teenage boy who liked reading, MMORPGS and was a huge all-around dork, rejection was familiar. It was also familiar because when I was a teenager I exhibited some downright embarrassing Nice GuyTM characteristics and I 100% deserved that rejection. 

Rejection is as part of life as getting popped in the face is part of boxing. It's going to happen. The first time it happens is arguably the worst, I think. When I enrolled in college and landed a job at the campus newspaper, I thought I was a big deal. Stellar writer, co-editor of my HS newspaper, writing was going to be easy like Sunday morning.

Turned in my first story, leaned back, and cushioned my ego with a cloud of smug.

An hour later, editor comes back and my draft is all red ink.

Freeze frame. Do I say to hell with this, I am better than my editor. How dare they? Or do I shut the hell up and listen to someone who knows more than me?

Resume time. I follow option B because I knew this was going to be a constant thing. Every story that was copy-edited was in many ways a rejection, but also an invitation. Try harder. Get better.

I did. I clawed my way up to being a sports editor and eventually netted myself some statewide recognitions that I wouldn't have earned had I not been told "what the fuck is this shit? Do better" one early August summer in the Rio Grande Valley.

 

Tim Duncan, the greatest basketball player of all time, spent his entire career (that involved championships in three decades) living by the quote:

Good, better, best. Never let it rest. 'Til your good is better and your better is best.

Having that experience made me stronger because every rejection was an invitation. I am at the point now where I just about crave rejections. God bless the broken road.

And that's where you want to be. Yeah, feel shitty the first time your first submission gets rejected. Wallow in the unpleasant feeling. Embrace it. Take your time. Then get back up. You are a saiyan and every defeat makes you stronger. Every rejection makes you harder and better.

Let's say you submit to 100 magazines over the course of a year and you get accepted in 5. I guaranTEE you're not going to be thinking about the 95 nos. You will be thinking about the 5 yeses.

Take the hits. Learn. Revise. Keep moving. Even if you're crawling you've still got forward progress.

On the road to Viridian City, and by Viridian City I actually mean traditional publishing

This post won't be about why one avenue of publication is better than another. I have a few links on my recursos page that talk about indie publishing more in detail if you're interested. I'm also going to be adding a few links about traditionally publishing there from other people not named Chuck Wendig in the coming few weeks. 

A writer is a writer. A writer is someone who writes. A person who has 15 self-published novels on Amazon KDP isn't any better or worse than the person who just has one novel through a traditional publisher.

I wanted to talk about my process for those considering this avenue. Full disclosure: My process is my own and it's not in any way an indicator of how your process should or should not work. Some writers spend 10 years before getting their first book deal signed. Others spend 10 weeks.

Let's talk about square one, which is you having an honest-to-deity-of-your-choice manuscript in your hands and deciding you want to go the traditional route.  This process can be as frustrating as getting stuck in traffic for hours. If you're in Texas, picture 290 on a bad day.

So here's what you need to start:

1. Query Letter
2. Research
3. Sample chapters
4. Tough skin
5. Willingness to embrace rejection.

I'm going to start with number five because I think this is key for writers. I'm extremely fortunate that I have a background in journalism and so when I started writing creatively and sending my shit (short stories and poems) out in 2014 I had a built in tolerance for rejection. But it's not always easy if you don't. I remember how I felt when I turned in my first piece for my editor one August day in 2006. She tore that ish UP. I thought i was a good writer but when she returned the edits it looked like my paper had attempted to give a bath to a cat.

But I got better. Every rejection, to use a Dragonball Z analogy, makes you stronger. There's no cap to self-betterment. And you're going to get a lot of rejections as a writer, and worse, when you start querying, you'll be lucky to even get that much. During my querying process, which lasted approximately from March 2016 to late January 2017, I sent out around 70 different query letters. I had a 10% response rate, and of the response rate, 10% of that was an actually personalized letter. If you're counting: 70 rejections, 7 responses, 1 response that wasn't "Hello, AUTHORNAME, thank you for your submission but unfortunately at this time.."

and I was THRILLED I even got that one.

So, accepting that, next step comes knowing who you're submitting to. If you write YA romance, don't send your piece to an agent who's only looking for hard sci-fi. Even if you think your piece is the greatest thing since Jesus walked on sliced bread with the Beatles. Don't get cute. See what the agent posts, see what their submission requirements state and for the love of the aforementioned deity of your choice, STICK TO THE REQUIREMENTS. If the agent wants an email submission with 10 point times new roman font on a .txt file, you don't send them a .doc with Calibri 11 point font. The logic is simple, and it's a logic readers and editors in lit mags stick to as well: If the author's not going to have the simplest regard for following the directions, then they're not going to be people we want to work with.

Some people suggest having query letter templates. I don't like the idea because there's a lot of room for mistakes. I know because I made them and burnt two bridges by accident. That being said, it's handy having 2-3 sentence pitch, word count, and genre written somewhere that you can just copy and paste.

Again, pay attention to what you're doing, pay attention to what the agent wants. There's a database off in Manuscript Wishlist that gives you good pointers on this. And please, don't get cute. Don't think you're better than the agent. Don't tell them that your book is the best book they'll read on the topic of Belmont Horse Jockey Erotica. That just adds obstacles on yourself. If i tell someone, wow, I think [redacted] is the best anime, check it out, then that someone's going to go into it thinking, well, let's see, COMPARISON MODE!

If I recommend things, I tend to go with "I really enjoyed this, and here is why." then there's no expectation.

The agents, by the way, are human beings. Don't be a dick to them. Don't take their rejections personally. Thank them. I did the math and it literally costs $0.00 to reply to a rejection with "Thank you so much for taking the time to read! I appreciate it!"

I have seen cases where an author who felt slighted that an agent rejected him went on an online tirade attacking the agent and her appearance. I can confidently say that that man will never be traditionally published.

Back to the trenches: It's going to be a slog. This is going to take patience and commitment and there's no guarantee of an actual payoff. It's an incredibly frustrating process. It also doesn't help that you're surrounded by others' instant-gratification. "You're -waiting- for an agent? Lol, I'm publishing my book through [redacted]! I have a book launch and I'm going to make a lot of money and be a best-selling Amazon author, haha!"

I've made about $15 from my writing directly. (Two short stories sold) and I've made $350 due to creative writing-related things (the honorarium for three lectures). $365 in three years. There are indie pubbers out there who make that in a month, a week, a day! And because I write literary fiction, the idea of me ever making enough money for a comfortable and young retirement is a pipe dream's pipe dream.

But here's the fun thing about success: You get to define the parameters of what the word means and to hell with someone who tries to define them for you. I favor a live and let live attitude, but the second you cross my personal boundary and try to belittle me for my choice, then my claws are going to come out.

I remember during one of my busy querying months, i was listening to a podcast by [well-known indie podcaster] and [pronoun] had a guest on [pronoun] who was accusing traditional authors of being elitist and literally said the words "living in an ivory tower" and all because this person queried for 2 years and didn't get a bite. That to me, is insulting. So I was like, 1) screw you and the horse you rode in on and 2) this is about COMMITMENT.

I was willing to wait as long as I had to to be traditionally published, and I took every query I sent out as a chance to re-evaluate the sample chapters I was sending, and look through the manuscript again. There are writers making more money than I am. Does it matter? No. I have friends who made $90,000 right out of college and I never heard "haha, well you should've gone into this or that if you wanted to make money"

One final note on agents: Money flows to the writer, not the other way around. AVOID the "pay me and then we'll get your stuff out"

And one last thing about the querying process, don't discount a little bit of luck. Keep your eyes open for opportunity. Ask. Be bold. Worst thing someone can tell you is no. I had the fortune of having someone tell me, "hey, have you considered this particular publisher?"

Would I have found that publisher regardless? Maybe. We had similar acquaintances in common and at one point had work published by the same company. But a little bit of luck helped, and I'm a big believer that hustle increases your odds.

I had crippling social anxiety as a teenager. The idea of approaching complete strangers ANYWHERE was an ice-cold dagger in my spine. But I had to adapt because it was the only way for me to achieve what my parameters defined success as.

So, to close: The question should be there: Why do I put myself through all that? What's the real appeal of traditional publishing?

I'm a writer. I want to change things. I want to change entire established systems. There are few Latinos in the literary world and in -my- mind if I go indie, I take myself out of the equation. I resolved, early in my career, that I was going to break into the traditional literary world, one way or another. If a door was locked when I kicked it in, I was going to kick harder. I was going to find a window and break in. If I went indie, in my mind it would only validate the naysayers who get pearl-clutchy when you try to bring up diversity. "WELL, LATINO WRITERS JUST DON'T WANT TO WRITE FOR THE MAIN LITERARY WORLD"

that'd be a lie, but the numbers would give credence to the lie.

If you take 20 POC writers, and 19 of them go indie for whatever justified-or-unjustified reason, then the statistics show that 1 POC writer out of 20 wants to query agents.

So I'm going to hold the door open and infiltrate, rather than segregate. Going traditional will also give me the PrestigeTM clout if I want to teach at the university level or get my books into the spaces I want to get them in.

Music time!

I will neither confirm nor deny that I still know this entire soundtrack by heart.

Quieting the storm: Meditation and headspace in writing

After three interesting months, I'm back to the blog. 

I'd like to announce some changes. The first is we'll be moving over to Sunday for the blog publication date. The Patreon-only posts will come on Mondays. The song lyric references will also go away in order to make the content of the posts easier to search for. One of my planned projects for this site will be to come up with a proper indexing for the last year's worth of posts, much like the index I have for the reference section

Over the next few weeks I will also be revisiting some old topics so that new readers don't have to play a guessing game as to what the hell I'm talking about in a particular post.

I'll be keeping the music, though, because I love music and I think every post should have that musical element to it.

So let's begin with the idea of quieting the raging storm.

I've been quite open about my struggles with ADD and how I've managed to still be successful while having it. I also recently came across a fantastic TEDx talk on the subject that I'll reflect more on in a later post. 

The reason why I bring up ADD is to segue into something I've started doing recently: meditation.

Now, if you're like I was about the subject, you'd be inclined to laugh or roll your eyes. I never saw the value in it; and while I could sit in one place for a long period of time, the idea that I would be able to quiet all these racing thoughts in my head appeared preposterous. Then I had a few conversations with a friend of mine. About a month or so ago he told our group of friends that he had started meditating. I kind of looked at the screen with the chat message weird because my friend's the furthest thing from a meditation type kind of guy. A few weeks later, he brought it up again and I thought, alright, let's look into it. I mean, what do I lose? A few minutes of not staring at a computer screen?

So I looked up some guided meditations, and you know what? They've helped!

I think the key thing for me was coming to the realization that I didn't have to clear my mind entirely. I could let thoughts kick in and then just let them float away. One of the guided meditations brought up that particular point and it's helped me along.

It's given me, weirdly, more energy. I say weirdly because I didn't expect it. I mean, I'm 98.5% positive there's a whole host of studies available that can back this up, but just experiencing it was the good kind of baffling. I've since started incorporating non-guided meditations in addition to the guided ones just for whenever I have some quiet time, like when I'm showering. 

Has it helped my writing? It hasn't, yet, but it's because I've been using that newfound energy to face other things I need to take care of first. I highly recommend it. I'm using an app called 'Insight Timer' and it's been the best. All the other ones you have to pay for.

So, back to the headspace.

I saw a really important comic the other day:

Now, happiness is an interesting concept. Like, I would prefer contentedness. You have to be in a good headspace in order to write. If you're tired, frustrated, burnt out, you're not going to write as well. Just like there are physical limits, there are also mental limits and that you can't realistically write past. 

It's okay to have them. Just keep the idea in the head and work it out in your mind.

There's never a perfect time to write, especially as adults. There's always something to do. But you can find a "good enough" time to just write, some time, an hour, that you can be like, alright, I'm going to write.  But it's not research. It's not brainstorming. It's writing. Ideally, you've done the brainstorming beforehand so when you actually sit down and write you're just writing. It's common sense, really, you're setting yourself up for success. 

In college, whenever I had a story assigned, the first thing I would do was bring up my template, file save as, slugname publication date, and in the event of a "this is going to be going on" story, I could draft a nut graph (32-50 words explaining the relevance of the story) and have that ready to go. So by the time I conducted my interviews and did my research, I didn't waste any time getting started. 

I try to do that with my writing. If I want to say, add a good transition or an ending in a story. My writing time will elapse and I won't get a chance to write until the day after. So I turn over the idea in my mind and expose its weaknesses, shore them up, address flaws, all that so when I write I'm just writing and not kicking myself over something I didn't see.

Song of the week:

cause when the lightning flashes sweet electricity

(311 - Come Original)

I really shouldn't be talking about working for free.

Again.

But I GUESS I'M GONNA.

I came across a comment somewhere that read something along the lines of (I'm being a bit vague to protect the person): "Hey, so, I'm broke, but I want to build my presence, but you'll get exposure. Also, I'm not going to pay you but I expect you to adhere to strict deadlines."

To quote Childish Gambino: "Fuck you, pay me."

If you're broke, well, cool. Say that. Say I'm broke, and I'm not going to be able to pay you. If you tell me that, I'm 100x more likely to help you because you're being completely honest. When you add the "well, you get exposure!" then you're insulting me. 

Wil Wheaton wrote a piece not too long ago.Okay, a bit ago. 2015? Here.

Can you pay a plumber in exposure? No. 

(Insert butt-crack reference here)

So why should someone pay you in that?

Fair warning, I'm not talking about working for literary mags or submitting your poems. A lot of that work is unpaid. And I'm okay with that. Just like I'm completely okay with not paying literary magazines submission fees.

But freelance work? Oh boy, you better charge. 

In this LitReactor article, there's one particular phrase I like: If you settle for nothing, you make nothing the standard.

Let's turn our attention to what's been going on with the world of journalism overt the last several years. There's been a shift from paying journalists a fair wage to...well, not doing that. From a business and completely amoral standpoint, it makes sense: If I'm a big newspaper, why am I spending $35,000 on one journalist (plus whatever his insurance cost) who's bound to an 8-hour work schedule when I can spend that much money for five or six freelancers.

Taking it a step further, why even spend THAT when I can just tell the freelancers they get to see their bylines on a site that gets god-knows-how-many clicks a day. Boom, I just saved the paper $35,000. 

Then you add the whole "well, I'll pay you but you have to have a certain output" theme that encourages people to cut corners in the name of journalistic integrity.  I remembered really believing in the whole "better to be best than first" and that's not the case anymore. Why bother, when you can add a A previous version of this article stated that... at the bottom? 

I can say a lot more on that but what I'm trying to get at is that this deluge of work-for-free individuals who'll settle for a byline are part of that problem.

When you settle for nothing, you make nothing the standard.

Don't contribute to the problem, not for the pennies they're going to give you, not for the exposure. Yeah, I get it, seeing a byline is amazing, and if you have streaks of vanity you're going to get that rush. But that rush stays in your head and won't feed you; nor will anyone offer you a job or fall all over themselves when you tell them you've written for the Breitffington Post. 

I came across this article while I was prepping for this one...unsurprisingly from HuffPo.

Right off the bat, we’re running into issues and I’m not going to edit the quotes, just leaving them as they were from the article:

“For starters, this was a blog; not a published journalism piece. It was a blog that he felt passionately enough about to post for free on his own site and then, by his own admission, submitted to Medium; again with no anticipation of compensation. And while I didn’t research it myself, I’m guessing he also posted it to his Twitter and Facebook accounts. And he didn’t seem morally compromised by his fans sharing it without offering him payment. Why was the Huffington Post asking so offensive?”

What I’m reading here is “how dare he want to be compensated” ?

Just because you can do something for free doesn’t mean you have to. I don’t get paid for this blog. I don’t get paid for writing. When someone wants me to write, that’s another matter entirely. That’s not to say I’m some sort of mercenary when it comes to money. I just like the freedom to choose when or where to charge. If one of my mentors or friends asks me to write a piece for them, sure, I’d love to. If it’s someone else, well, who are they? Can they afford to toss in a few bucks my way? If so, I’m much less picky about charging.

“The other thing that bothered me is that Wil Wheaton is famous. He was on Star Trek: The Next Generation, starred in the films, Stand by Me and Toy Soldiers, and actually has a recurring role as himself on The Big Bang Theory. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but as he stated on his blog, “I’m very lucky to not need exposure or “reach” or anything like that, at least not right now and not this way. I’m also very lucky to be able to walk away from things like this because I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

He’s right. He is very lucky that he doesn’t need the exposure. Unfortunately he has a legion of followers who just translated that idea into, “exposure equals selling out.” Which unless you are Wil Wheaton is not the case at all!”

I’m really not the person to defend celebrities but just because doesn’t mean they’re entitled to not getting compensated for their labor. Here’s the thing, whether your net worth is $0.50 cents or $500,000 (which is what Wil Wheaton’s net worth is, according to Google), you’re STILL ENTITLED TO GETTING PAID FOR YOUR WORK. And it’s not like it’s automatically going to be that. They’ll have charity appearances, or sometimes celebrities will say, well, you know what, I really feel like showing up randomly at this place for free!

“Exposure and advertising are the same thing. It just depends on how you look at it. I knew going in that there was no financial compensation but I thought I would be insane not jump at the opportunity to have my work seen on a platform like this. And it has paid off in spades.”

Let the record show this blogger apparently believes the plural of anecdote is data.

“Because of it, I’ve connected with and helped people around the world, not to mention been paid very well for other writing jobs and even speaking publicly. And being a blogger for the Huffington Post has certainly not hurt my reputation.”

No one’s arguing wanting to get compensated hurts your reputation, what people like me argue is not wanting to work for free.  

“And it’s not just the blogging aspect that has me fired up. I’m actually considered pretty successful here in Nashville as a photographer and filmmaker. I’ve worked with Dolly Parton, Grace Slick, Billy Joel, Barry Gibb, Paul Shaffer, Buddy Guy, Loretta Lynn, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame... and I could go on and on. I know that sounds like I’m namedropping or just flat out lucky, but I’m not and I’m not lucky. I worked my tail off. I hustled like nobody’s business for over a decade. And I shot anything, for anyone willing to ask me for years. No matter what the paycheck or lack thereof. Still do a lot of the time.”

I wonder if she was really willing to shoot “anything, for anyone willing to ask”. She’s right that hustle and hard work pays off, but you are allowed to be judicious.

“I was, however, lucky enough to have spent seven years as the Director of Marketing and PR for a large scale event firm before I moved to Nashville, so I absolutely understood the value of all that “exposure.” “

I wholeheartedly believe she got that position by working her ass off, but let’s also keep in mind that she started her writing and speaking career as an offshoot of an already-successful artistic career. Would she have penned this article 20 years ago when she was burning the midnight oil as a photographer? Would she pen this article if she was just starting her career today and having to compete in the era of social media when the most random phone camera shot can go viral?

“10. Exposure is Everything! ~ There’s an old saying in the artistic community, “You can die from exposure” I hate that line. I hate it because you can also wither and die from lack of it. Just like life, find a healthy balance of not whoring yourself out but accepting opportunities that will give you reasonable exposure. It’s no different than sending out press releases or buying advertising space or hiring an agent or manager. You’re paying for exposure. One way or another exposure is going to cost you something. How the hell is anyone supposed to find you if they don’t know you exist? We are not all Wil Wheaton’s.”

Yeah, you’re right, sometimes getting exposure’s going to cost you. In my case, it has cost me sleep and the wear-and-tear of gas money. And a lot of time. But I’ve done it out of love and I’ve done it with the backing of multiple jobs that have allowed me the liberty of doing things for exposure. That’s a position of privilege.

“9. Branding is a Good Thing ~ If people are asking you to donate a good or service in trade for exposure, whether that be in person, your name on a flyer, or a written piece that could be seen by millions, you are a brand. And while you might not get a phone call from that one thing you do for trade, the people who attended or viewed it saw you or your name. And the next time they see it they might remember it and if not, by the third time, they will. And the more places you have your name the better the chance of that happening.

That’s called branding. And that person may never call you for anything but the next time someone asks for the name of a, “fill in the blank here___________” they might just mention that they’ve seen your name a lot.”

100,000 bloggers write for HuffPo, for instance. You’re telling me there’s 100,000 brands? Now, of course, there’s some wiggle room in the literary world where we’re AUTHOR-BRAND, rather than just brand.

And it's kind of rude to assume that the writers don't want to get paid, by the way.

“8. Credibility is Important ~ Doing the right kind of trade agreements or “for exposure” gigs or donations of your time or work to the right kind of organizations will give you credibility. If you are affiliated with reputable companies that people know, they feel they can trust you as a professional. It’s one thing to have and offer something of real value but it’s entirely different to try and convince other people of that. Credibility among your peers and their affiliates can set you apart and possibly alter the choice in your favor for a first time client.”

It’s now common knowledge that many sites do follow the example of “hey, we just take this random off the street” and that means that you’re adding an unnecessary line to your resume that’ll make future employers just roll their eyes.

“7. Networking Rules ~ Anytime you get approached by someone or you reach out to someone you’ve just made a connection. You might not know it or need it at the time but that person might be the missing thread somewhere down the line. The more people you can affiliate yourself with the better. The more people you know the better. There is another old saying, “It’s who you know.” And let me tell you bothers and sisters, that is the truth. I would say of my overall business, 80% percent is referral. And I promise you this, the ones I donated my services to are sometimes the first to recommend me and have absolutely led to some of my most lucrative shoots.”

But that’s not a guarantee, and the writer is operating under the assumption it is. People would be just as likely to go, “Hey, I heard you were looking to hire X person to do Y thing, let me save you a few dollars. I have Z person, she’ll do it for free.”

Could it pay off? Sure.

Could it also lead to a few dozen hours with nothing to show for it? Absolutely.

The bigger the person wanting to hire you is, the more likely they are to be able to pay, and the less excuses they have to avoid doing so.

“6. R& R Baby; Resume and References ~ Every time you work with or for someone, whether you are paid or not you just added a reference to your rolodex and resume. No one ever needs to know what your financial arrangements are with anyone. But the larger your clientele list, the more in demand you become for clients with real budgets. That’s just psychology and math and stuff.”

This also applies when wanting to occasionally get paid.

“5. Taxes Suck ~ Don’t taxes suck? Totally. I suppose one of the financial upsides to working for free is the tax write off. Either in donation if you can get the receipt or in hard costs, which in this day and age includes stuff like hard drive space. If you’re an independent contractor, every penny helps.”

Every. Penny. Helps.

Exactly. So what’s the problem?

To quote Chuck Wendig: "Pay the fucking writers."

“4. You Get to be the Hero ~ Yeah sure. Most of the offers aren’t of any dire nature and sometimes they are just a pain in the ass. But sometimes you get to be a part of something really special. Sometimes you get to affiliate with groups or organizations that you believe in and get to use your talent to help them. Sometimes you meet people that change your life. Sometimes you get to help other people change theirs. And sometimes you just get to do cool stuff that no one else gets to do. Adventure awaits with every yes. This I promise!”

And none of this stops just from wanting to occasionally get paid. ANECDOTE: I had the opportunity to do that when I was a freelancer. I was paid for every article I wrote, and because I was paid, my editor told me that she respected me and my work. So if she would have asked me to write something for free down the line, I would have said yes. If Texas Children's Hospital, just down the road from me, gives me a call tomorrow morning and asks me to write something for free for them, I'd do it, but it is and remains MY choice.

“3. Practice Makes Perfect ~ I don’t care who you are or what you do, you can be getting better at it. What better way to push yourself and try new ideas or step outside your comfort zone than with a client who sort of has to give you that freedom? And even if you don’t get to stretch your wings and it’s just the same old thing, every time you do it, you get better. And there is no place to get better than in front of a live audience.”

Or, start a blog. Make blog entries. Update. Update again. Learn. Explore. Grow your own brand. 

“2. You get to choose ~ Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should take every offer, and you definitely should not get taken advantage of. I’m not talking about giving it away for free or being manipulated or any of that bad shit that definitely happens. But am I on crazy pills here or is a website that has millions of viewers asking to repost something you’ve written and already put out there for free not the worst thing that can happen to an artist? You’re a smart bunch, you’ve made it 1500 words into this sucker. You know bullshit from a possibility. Say yes when it’s right and “hell no” whenever you want too!”

This really serves to underscore my point.

“1. Because You Love It ~ The one thing in the thousands of comments on Wil’s blog that seemed to recur was that most of his biggest supporters were artists; of all kinds. And I understand. Lawd have mercy, child, I understand! We as artist are under appreciated, undervalued, overlooked, pillaged, humiliated, embarrassed, taken advantage of and even scorned by some. Choosing the artists life is not an easy one. I don’t know about you, but I do what I do because I love it. It is what my soul calls me to do. That sounds so corny and cliché but its true. I love every single shoot I do. No matter how big or small or what effect it has on my bank account. Maybe that’s naive, but I look at it this way. Every time I fire a frame I was just given the opportunity to be my most authentic self. I was just given the chance to do the thing that make me the happiest. Some of my most powerful reactions, most beautiful shots, most career defining moments paid zero cash dollars. That is why I do it. If I was in it for the dough, I would go back to marketing and PR.”

Emphasis mine.

If the author of this piece truly believes artists of all shape and form are underappreciated, undervalued, overlooked, pillaged?, humiliated, embarrassed, and taken advantage of, then she should be right there with Wheaton’s side of things.

I do what I do for love, too, but the thing is, I love having the choice. I love valuing my work. I don’t even think my work’s worth thousands of dollars, but I think it’s definitely worth compensation for my time.

Deep into the past / follow the aeon path

(Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful)

I crowdsourced the topic for this week's blog from a writer's group I belong to and one of the topics was to talk about a widely-beloved lit classic that I hate and/or a widely-panned classic that I liked that everyone hated.

The other biggest suggestion was describing my life in memes. But I've been real busy this last week so I'm behind (by a week) in my scheduled posts and didn't have time to look for memes that represent my life.

That'll be fun to figure out though.

 But first, some housekeeping.

I've re-vamped my Patreon now with a more feasible reward system and a "Tip Jar" level ($2) where I'll be posting the Eagle Updates that were once hosted here. 

That's it, that's the big news.

On to the topic at hand.

I may have mentioned this before, but I was never a big fan of any of my English classes in HS. I remember a few teachers fondly, but all in all, only maybe two English/Language Arts classes in my entire academic career  would crack my top 10 favorite classes ever.

(By the way, that's not including my MFA classes because according to the state of Texas, aren't English classes.)

So one of those classes was in 2006, my senior year in high school. I was in the regular English class because of a combination of...no, I'm kidding. The only reason I was in that class is because I forgot to turn in my application for AP English the summer before, and the only reason I did that was because I forgot it in my backpack. In hindsight, I don't think it would have made that much of a difference in the long run as I wasn't a fan of the AP English teacher to begin with.

During one semester, we had to read Pride and Prejudice. I hated the book. I didn't like the stuffiness of the characters. I didn't like the dialogue. The only sympathetic character (Mr. Bennet, I think it was?) gets only a few lines of gold. But of course, it's now a widely-beloved book. I also wasn't a fan of the whole tut-tut-oh-social-graces theme. Yes, I know it was written two centuries ago, it doesn't mean I'm going to enjoy it now. 

Another reason why I hated the book was because we had to write a research paper on it with not a whole lot of guidance and too much time spent on note cards/flashcards as part of the research/gathering data part of the project. I still don't understand the logic behind that.

Didn't bother with flashcards before then, didn't bother with flashcards throughout college. Only in prepping for the LSAT did I discover that used right, they could be of great help. 

Another book that's widely-beloved by everyone except this here DosAguilas: Lord of the Rings.

Granted, I've only read The Two Towers but I just really couldn't handle Tolkien's rather-dry style. It's weird, though. Tolkien is one of chief figures in the world of fantasy, which is a genre I've always wanted to write in...but I just couldn't get through the prose. Spending 16029 pages on how the ents talked didn't help matters either.

As far as books I like that are panned by a lot of people? It's probably going to have to be Tom Clancy's Ryanverse. It's a mindless political/techno-thriller with a Mary Sue-ish main character but I loved those books. Granted, the last books were absolutely terrible in comparison but those first several books were amazing to me, the budding writer.

Now for something completely different:

I would rather fight 100 duck-sized horses than 1 horse-sized duck. Horses are rather frail creatures so fighting 100 of them wouldn't be much of an issue. Now the horse-sized duck? I'm running from that one. Ducks are mean.  

GIRE: Mass Effect: Andromeda

At the time of this writing it’ll be two weeks since Mass Effect: Andromeda came out and yes, I did indeed buy it. Impressions so far?

Oh.

My.

God.

It’s gorgeous.

It’s everything I thought it’d be and some more.

Spoiler-free review, if you could call my early impressions a formal review.

I only knew the very basics heading into the game because I wanted it to be as close as a total surprise as it could be when I got it. I knew that you were going to have a choice between two playable characters; that it was going to take place in an entirely different place and time than the original; and that it was not going to be scored by either Jack Wall or Sam Hulick.

That’s literally all I knew.

Which is a bit of a deviation from how I usually approach new games. I research story, characters, trailers, wikis, everything. But because I love Mass Effect so much and BioWare hasn’t disappointed me, I was going to embrace it as it was. Yes, I’m one of those in the minority that was completely okay with the way the original trilogy ended, with AND without the additional oopsie-daisy DLC.

But that was a few years ago. Let’s talk about Mass Effect Andromeda.

Story recap:

You’re part of the Andromeda Initiative and you’re exploring a new galaxy far, far, far away from the Milky Way.

Things I’m liking so far:

-          The characters are fleshed out and I’m enjoying the back and forth between a chunk of them.
-          The soundtrack is beautiful. It feels totally Mass Effect but there’s something different about it. Not better, not worse, just unique in its own right. I mean, I recognize the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack was aural perfection, so I won’t compare Andromeda’s to it completely yet, but I will say it’s very good.
-          The story is great so far.
-          You have a scanner on you that you’re supposed to use to…well…scan things since you’re pretty much getting all new data for your systems. I thought it’d be annoying to use but I find myself scanning thing, even baddies in the middle of a damn battle.
-          You can hover-jump and dash now, which comes very handy in hairy situations.
-          I feel the difficulty has scaled comfortably to the point where the combat feels familiar but the challenge has been upped a bit. It’s no Dark Souls but it presents a good enough challenge that I'm not just tearing through everything as a Vanguard.
-          The side missions are addicting and diverse. It’s not like in Mass Effect 1 anymore where it was, land on a planet, investigate anomaly, kill geth, and scan the crashed probe for asari writing/UNC insignias.  While it keeps me from progressing in the main mission, I like doing these because it doesn’t feel like I’m grinding for no reason. I’m getting better equipment, more credits, more loot, from doing the side missions.
-          I’m really loving the terraforming aspect of the game, the ideals of first contact, how you react, what you do, it’s a novel approach. Someone on a friend’s wall said it’s basically Mass Effect meets Star Trek. Which seems appropriate. (Disclosure: I’ve never seen Star Trek beyond a few episodes of the Picard Series)
-          Multiplayer’s the fun kind of challenging, but I haven’t really explored it much yet.
-          It’s a different game. Like I said above, it’s still Mass Effect, but it’s different enough from the rest that it’ll have that appeal to both Mass Effect veterans and newcomers to the series (with a few Easter eggs)

Things I’m ambivalent about so far

-          The item development system. It’s very…dragon age-y. Basically, you have to buy or loot weapon/armor/consumable schematics, then have the proper metals (which are easy enough to get) and then you craft the item to get it. I kinda liked the whole, buy a weapon, then just mod it as you see fit from past games. But…narrative wise, it makes sense.

Things I’m not liking so far

-          There is a learning curve to Nomad AKA Mako Reloaded. You can switch from fast mode or all-wheel-drive mode that you can use to get over the harder obstacles. Also…it doesn’t have weapons.
-          The organization of the Tempest (your ship).  Maybe I’m just used to the time spent on the Normandy Maybe it’s because I’m so used to three games and a lot of hours on both iterations of the Normandy but I am not a huge fan of how the ship’s laid out.
-          Save points during ‘priority’ missions are rarer and there’s no quick save options. For instance, I was clearing out [a thing] and when I got killed, I was right at the entrance to [the thing]. It’s only like 2-3 minutes lost, sure, but still a bit annoying.
-          Tracking things on the radar. Sometimes it feels as if the waypoint I mark doesn’t really stand out and if there’s a flagged quest, the circle-indicator isn’t super obvious and you have to use the map a lot to re-orient yourself.
-          I don’t like the [redacted] puzzles. It’s goddamn Sudoku. I hate Sudoku.

Now to address the elephant in the room.

One of the things that started hitting the blogg-o-sphere was the facial animation being like crap. The way everyone and their mother made it seem was that the animations were somewhere along the lines of Superman 64 and Money for Nothing. They’re not, not to me. It’s a great game. I don’t think the issues stand out. I’ve seen some reviews stating that the animations are of lesser quality than the ones in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Having played DA recently, I’ll be honest when I say that I can’t tell the difference. It’s not because I’m an unrepentant Mass Effect fanboy (I am), but it’s because I really don’t have the eye to tell the difference.

I think honestly, the big deal made over the facial animations helped set my expectations from the game a little lower and thus helped avoid any disappointment. But in all honesty, Bioware has not disappointed me in every one of their games that I’ve bought.

If you're wavering, I hope that this is good enough to convince you to get it. If not, hey, you do what you want :)