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 :)

 

A thousand clever lines / unread on clever napkins

[Taking Back Sunday – Cute without the ‘E’ (Cut from the team)]

For the most part, I tend to avoid being a walking cliché of what people think of when they think of writers. GIS for ‘writer’ gives me the following results:

Let’s see how that holds up when compared to me:

1.       I’m uh…not white
2.       I don’t wear those thick-rimmed glasses. Even when I wore them (pre-2006, when I got lasik) I never wore that thick of a rim. However, I did have what my friends called lentes de fondo de botella (bottle-glasses, since I was as close to legally blind as I could have been).
3.       Unless I’m at a wedding or a job interview, you won’t catch me wearing a tie.
4.       I don’t smoke
5.       I don’t use typewriters
6.       Dude in the second picture looks like his pen is unscrewed. <shakes head sadly> I never do that because I have ballpoint Pilot G-2s .07 or 1.0 and 95% of the time I’m writing with those
7.       I’m a lefty

But there’s one cliché I kind of dig and that’s the “writer at a coffeehouse” and before I started being a FOR SERIOUS GUISE writer, I talked mad shit about this particular stereotype. Now I live it. BUT, in my defense, I also talked shit about that writer stereotype using a macbook and I’m still a proud anti-macbook person. I have a beat-up Toshiba from 2006 that still works.

(It’s not the one I use for my writing. I use a Samsung now)

Anyway, so, in Brownsville, where I spent my formative teenage years, these were the options (2003-2006) if you wanted to get some studying done with a group of by yourself outside somebody’s home:

1.       The Brownsville Public Library (before its super-fancy redesign)

2.       Starbucks, FM 802

3.       Starbucks, Boca Chica Boulevard

4.       Starbucks, UT-Brownsville Campus

5.       U-Mix (A smoothie place)

In college, the selection didn’t change much. My options were the above, but now I counted with the addition of a few select places on campus: The Oliveira Library, Scorpion Café, and the occasional hidey-hole on campus. If you were lucky enough to have a job on campus, you could also use those offices to study for the most part.

And don’t think these were the fancy spoiled-ass Starbucks that are more common in the big cities. These Starbucks were small. And if you didn’t get a seat, pues te jodiste. So when I left for Houston, I got to discover the coffee houses I had heard so much about on the interwebs.

And I looooooved them.

There was one in particular I love, and still love, and heartily recommend to anyone looking for a coffee shop: Inversion Coffeehouse on Montrose Boulevard. Montrose, for those not familiar with Houston, is the city’s counterculture/gay district and home to the largest Pride parade in the Southwest. So it was no surprise there’d be coffee shops here that were just like the ones I envisioned before I left.

I loved that people would go, set their laptop alongside the wall-to-wall window, and start typing away. Some would have medical or legal textbooks and strewn highlighters about them. I find that inspiring because I feel like other people are there being productive so if I go there I should also be pulling my weight, too. The first few times I started going I’d be going with a friend of mine who was working on her master’s thesis. As she wrote, I worked on my own homework for my MFA and provided some emotional support. 

It was only fitting, then, that three years later I’d end up spending every other Friday there, and I finished the bulk of my thesis there. To the extent where I include the coffeehouse in the acknowledgments section.

Another one I’m fond of is Black Hole Coffee, off of Graustark street. Although parking can be a pain in the ass here sometimes, the layout of the inside of the coffee house is pretty comfortable. Feels more casual and loungy than Inversion does.

Both places have fantastic coffee, too, and kolaches, and little snack tidbits here and there and I highly recommend them. Inversion, for instance, has the Honey Badger, which is a hyper-caffeinated drink that’s also perilously tasty. Black Hole has a pretty good (for a coffeehouse, anyway) selection of sandwiches.

But before I’m accused of being a hipster (is that even a thing anymore?) I can tell you guys that I find myself going to Starbucks because of how ubiquitous they are. I mean, I’m not even talking about the THREE STARBUCKS WITHIN 30 YARDS OF EACH OTHER on W. Gray, but elsewhere? On my commute from my house to work there’s 5 Starbucks just off the highway. I don’t really have a favorite, to be honest, because the service is uniformly great but I’ve been frequenting Starbucks more often because both Inversion and Black Hole are way inside the loop. For the non-Houstonians reading this blog, I’m talking about this here.

I won’t eat their sandwiches, though. About a decade ago I was dealing with a high-grade fever that made it impossible to keep anything down. One day, I felt better, and purchased a Starbucks sandwich that I ate at my office break room, with my hands hovering over the trash can.

The sandwich stayed in my stomach for maybe 30 seconds before it came right back out and ever since then I have a mental block against eating Starbucks sandwiches or wraps. (I also have similar blocks with rum and green tea)

So on to the writing aspect: if you’re going to hole yourself up at a coffeehouse, whether it’s a hipster joint or the only Starbucks in town, be sure to mind some very basic etiquette. I found two blog sites here and here

But, I’ve got my own spin on the lists above

1.       Don’t be a dick

Funny how this rule seems to pop up often…almost as if it’s a good tip for life in general. Now, there’s plenty of ways of being a dick in coffee shops. Like, not tipping, or not ordering anything. I mean, maybe the coffee house isn’t getting much business that day but if you’re going to spend six hours there studying you better buy something more substantial than a small, cheap, coffee.

2.       Mind your boundaries

One chair = one seat. Your laptop bag goes in the floor. Your purse goes in the floor. All things considered, you should really only have space for your laptop and an open book or two. This is not the ideal space to have an entire Celtic Cross spread of notebooks and books and your laptop. Also try not to air-guitar or headbang. This is the one marked advantage writing from my home office has over coffeehouses: I really get into the music.

3.       Dress comfortably but…remember you’re in public

This means, keep your personal grooming to the car or at home. Keep your shoes on. Make sure you’ve showered sometime in the last week. I’m comfortable in basketball shorts/pajama bottoms and an undershirt at home. I’m not going to be wearing that at a coffeehouse.

4.       Headphones

I do enjoy the casual quiet hubbub of coffeehouse sounds (and I’m not the only one, considering both Songza and Spotify have playlists of this exact thing) but sometimes I really just want to rock out and I doubt that Inversion’s going to start blasting Sabaton, so headphones are appropriate.

Oh, and be sure they’re properly plugged into the headphone jack or you end up accidentally blasting Sabaton throughout Inversion.

5.       Order something!

I mentioned it as part of 1) don’t be a dick, but it bears repeating: You’re taking up space. Places like Inversion or Black Hole get quite busy at some points during the day. If you’re just holed up in a table and just drinking water, you’re costing them money. Tip, too, by the way. It’s a nice gesture, and you leave someone with the impression that that person typing away at Word on the corner is a nice person.

6.       Take all phone conversations outside

Seriously. I’m not going to be bothered by the couple sitting a table over discussing about getting matching tattoos. I am going to be bothered by the person next to me yelling loudly to his roommate in the middle of the coffee house. And I’m going to give that person the dirtiest stink eye. On this same note, it should go without saying that this applies to Skype conversations and going on Facebook live or Periscope. If you’ve cleared it with the coffeehouse, cool, if not, the door is literally six strides away.

7.       Tell people about the coffeehouse

Starbucks won’t mind you not telling others about Starbucks because at this point I’m half expecting there’s going to be a Starbucks opening up in my attic this coming weekend. But the local coffee shops? Put them on blast! Yelp, Google reviews, tell your friends, bring your friends. I’ve said the word Inversion multiple times in this blog post to the point that some of you might suspect I’ve been sponsored by them. I haven’t. But like I said, I did write a hell of a lot of my thesis at Inversion and I am appropriately grateful for them giving me the time and space to work.

(Tell me, mechanist, is it true?)

(Delain - The Mechanist)

I’ve made a reference a couple of times in the (almost a year of) running this blog to “this business” meaning writing. It’s what I do, so, it’s kinda my business, and that is the context I write in. However, I also see a lot of people coming out with “the business of writing” and going on long blog posts about how to quantify this or monetize that and how to get this particular sale better and…

Y’know, mad props if you’re the kind of writer that does that. I don’t have the mental RAM to do that on top of my writing. The funny thing is, I do love excel/google spreadsheets. Quantifying everything and seeing the little graphs is kind of neat. I used to do that for work and I currently have a running spreadsheet for my fantasy football league. It’s there for bragging rights more than anything, but it’s still pretty fun to input my data and watch the sorcerous formula do its thing.

However, when it comes to writing, I just really can’t do that. I wrote about the arbitrary nature of word counts and my own dislike for them last week. This is more of the same.

And again, this is not a dig at you indie authors that make this look easy. It’s just my Process TEE EM.

I’m going to let the whole nature of “sales” be determined by my publisher and my agent. They can tell me, hey DosAguilas, you’ve now sold 100,000 copies of your book. Cool. I can dig that.

But it’s part of the business to do this, and this part of the business is why I’d be a terrible indie author if I had to shove my self-marketing down people's throats. I'm not good at that.. Several months back I was talking to April Bradley, friend and colleague at Bartleby Snopes and very talented writer and yes I’m name-dropping because she’s awesome and she was giving me grief about not letting her know that I had been published in X magazine and I shot back with, well, you didn’t tell me you had this other thing published! I’m a terrible self-promoter. So is she.

What I do try to do, though, is to make people remember me for me and not for an arbitrary number of books sold or novels written. I am a person. I am not my sales. I am not the stories I’ve written. I am not the times I’ve been published. If you ask me off the top of my head how many stories I’ve gotten out in lit mags, I wouldn’t be able to tell you without pulling out my phone to double-check on this site.

I am me.

And when I meet strangers, I try to offer a handshake and get their names as soon as I can. I picked this up from my buddy Chris. Now, I may have mentioned him before, Chris, for my first two years in Houston, was a guardian angel/guardian devil of sorts (think a redneck version of the titular creature in Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro) and he helped me see the value in networking and toeing the line of recklessness when it came to approaching strangers.

My distinction between networking in this and networking for, say, sales, is that there’s really no stories coming out of a sales networking kind of meeting between strangers. And I’m a writer. I live for stories. Chris had a way of getting [most] people to open up and then it wasn’t long before there was this hurricane of words around. I’ve since adapted that method into my own approach, which is admittedly a bit more conservative than Chris’ approach (think a Cat 2 vs a Cat 5 hurricane) but the approach brings out the conversation in people.

That’s how I get my story ideas, after all.

And at the end of it, I’m not a businessman. I’m a writer and to me, this business isn’t so much a business as it is an art form. It’s craft. It’s a superpower.

giraffepimp.jpg

 

I don’t want to bog it down with charts and spreadsheets and graphs. I do enough of that. I just want to write for writing’s sake and yeah, I'm not going to say no to tools that can quantify my earnings and all that, but I am going to draw the line at taking the art away from something and making it all stuffy.

Hell, I look good in a suit but it doesn't mean I want to wear one at all times. ;)

Senketsu ni somaru mirai no toki / hageshiku modaeru honnou

(Malice Mizer - Beast of Blood)

The subhed is: On Word Counts

That's not what the song is, though. The translation is: "A future dyed in fresh blood... instincts in intense agony."

It's a great song, though. 

Anyway.

How's everyone doing? 

I'm great!

I've taken on the role of Latinx Features Editor at Rabble Lit, my first collaboration with a magazine since leaving Bartleby Snopes earlier this year.

The other fun update is finishing the first edits to a story that's going to be in my collection, a story involving three different characters and a magical taco truck. It was going to be flash fiction at first...then it turned into a novelette...then it turned into a novella. I'm very proud of myself for it. For starters, it's the longest continuous thing I've ever written. My thesis was around 50,000 words and my NaNo 2015 project was around the same, but they were both collections of short stories. This novella is a single story, and it was around 18,800 words on the first draft. It's...strange going from writing flash fiction to a longer story like that. I mean, This nocturne of misplaced questions was just under 1,000 words. 

There's always pros and cons to writing flash versus writing longer stories. Some people find flash much more challenging because in under 1,000-2,000 words you're supposed to have a story that's engaging and has conflict. I don't find that issue as challenging as I do writing a consistent character over the course of nine times that number of words. I started reading Mercedes Lackey's Arrows of the Queen two weeks ago and the first thing I thought was OH MY GOD WHY ARE THERE SO MANY WORDS IN JUST THIS FIRST SENTENCE.

Reading needs some adjusting ;)

But since we're on the subject of word counts, this is another thing where I'm a bit of a different type of writer than the average ones I see on Facebook. I don't like word counts. The only times word counts have mattered to me were when I competed in NaNoWriMo and when I was drafting query letters. Other than that, I don't do word counts.

And, not that it needs to be said again, but: this is entirely my own opinion and part of my own "process". It's not to say YOUR process is wrong. It's not to say you HAVE to do this. It's to say, this is how I work. Now, if you think that my process is wrong, well...

 

Here is why I don't do word counts:

I don't find them helpful. Let's take the nano example. You have to write 1,667 words a day to have 50,000 by month's end.

When I wrote my NaNo collection, I didn't do that. I'd have days where I'd write 8,000 words across two different stories; and consecutive days when I'd be lucky to string together 15 words at a time. I still won even if it meant I wasn't writing during the Thanksgiving holiday because, let's be realistic, I'm not going to be writing when there's food to be eaten and football to be watched.

I obviously fell short in November 2016 but I had surgery and other events going on kinda depressed me to the level  where I wasn't even writing 100 words a day, let alone 1,667.

Outside of NaNo, though? My stories are short stories, mostly flash with the exception of the most recent novella. When writing flash fiction, the only word count that should matter is 2,000, and that's on the long end. 2,000 is a good number to shoot for because then you have to knock it down to under 1,000 if you're looking for the more common flash fiction magazines.

(Journalist adage: it's easier to strip down a story than it is to add on to a story)

And my approach isn't "just write more" but rather, "just finish the damn thing" but with the little caveat that finishing isn't saying THE END. It's finishing a story the way it's supposed to and not in a rushed, convoluted mess of words so I can go DONE. FINISHED. SOMEONE PLEASE PAT ME ON THE BACK.

It's inefficient. It's lazy, and it's just going to mean more work for me, and that in turn turns into more time spent. As we used to say whenever we got scooped by our competition: Better to be right than first. 

(Flashback vindication: In the three and a half years that I was a part-time journalist, we maybe printed two retractions.)

Rushing to finish means that at some point in the editing stage I'm going to have to stop and switch gears violently and go from EDIT MODE to OH RIGHT I NEED TO WRITE THIS PART BECAUSE I RUSHED MODE.

So because of the changing gears, I'm going to have to stop all editing progress right at the point where I had to make the changes, and then start over. For instance, when I was coming up near the end of the novella, I realized that there were some inconsistencies in one of the scenes. Rather than just adding 'PLACEHOLDER TEXT TO EXPLAIN THIS'. I went back, found the inconsistencies, fixed them, and was able to finish the story. So now when I work on the editing, I'm just editing. Grammar edits, content edits, etc.  Whatever writing I do falls squarely in the scope of editing.

There'll be AT LEAST two content edits, AT LEAST two grammar edits, before I can take it out of my hands and hand it over to a beta reader, and then when I get it back, I'll add another content edit and another grammar edit, and then lock it in. 

If I were to be writing novels I'd take the same approach. I mean, different books have different word counts and different chapter lengths. 3,000 words for Jim Butcher may not be the same as 3,000 words for Brandon Sanderson or 3,000 words for the James S.A. Corey duo or 3,000 words for John Scalzi. 

3,000 words for George R.R. Martin is half a chapter in the ASoIaF series

The story I mentioned earlier (This nocturne...) can fit six times into a single one of the man's chapters.

That's my focus. My focus isn't on word counts. My focus is making sure the process continues and that I am progressing on whatever story I'm working on. 

 

I'm on the edge of glory

(Lady Gaga - The Edge of Glory)

In a rather dramatic departure from my usual writing stuff...

okay, it's not really dramatic, I just want to tell you guys about the best sandwich ever.

I started thinking about this like, last month because I went semi-vegetarian (one meat meal a week) to prove a point. I began craving a sandwich.

I didn't end up getting a sandwich because I wasn't really drawn into the sandwich places that were open. And that's when I thought of this blog post.

So, sandwiches. A basic staple. I used to eat them for lunch. During my college years, once a week we'd make a Subway run because there was one inside a gas station off International and US77. There was also a Jason's Deli on the other side of town but the only time I tried their sandwiches I tried their reuben, didn't like it, and then proceeded to swear off reubens and Jason's Deli. I would also occasionally eat a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich at the school's cafeteria before getting to discover the wonder of philly cheesesteaks with cheez whiz when a place called Philly's opened. 

When I moved to Houston in 2011, I had a Quizno's close to my apartment. I was fascinated by this slow-toasting machine that made really tasty sandwiches. It got old, though, and 2012 introduced me to Jimmy John's and Potbelly (one for its lighting-fast delivery and the other for having a location inside the tunnels that criss-cross underneath downtown Houston). Great sandwiches, too, even if they were kind of heavy. In 2013, new job, new apartment, old habits: going back to Jimmy John's and Subway only to realize that oh my god Subway sandwiches had gotten real bad. 

Ever since then, I don't really eat a lot of sandwiches. An occasional PB&J or black forest ham sandwich that I can only make a couple of times before I run through the ham on my own. 

If we're going to talk grilled cheese, that's another matter, and I make some pretty epic grilled cheese sandwiches.

But they will never rival the best sandwich I ever had.

I was a sophomore in high school, and we had gone to a friend's house for a party. For some reason, I had neglected to feed myself earlier in the day. Might have been nerves, who knows, we were young. It was a big deal for me to hang out with people outside my normal circle of friends (even though my small circle of friends was there). We end up just hanging out with this girl and her friends and a bunch of other people I would never run into again in my life (the girl we were there for, I ran into her once at a bar several years later and enver since). 

We watch Kill Bill Vol. 1 and midway through the movie I get this horrible headache. The kind of hunger-headache where you can't really function. And I wasn't about to ask my host "Hey, do you have anything to eat?" 

There are norms, you know. 

The movie eventually ended and my buddy dropped me off at home because he had a car and I had crippling driving anxiety that wouldn't resolve itself until three years later. I stumbled into my apartment, my parents were out, and I was hurting real bad. I had to eat something.

Went into the kitchen and evaluated what I had.

I had...bread.

I had butter.

I had...wait, I had lemon chips!

And cooked ham.

I love ham, you guys. 

So what I did was, toast some bread, placed some butter on it, slapped on the cooked ham, smashed lemon chips into it, then enveloped those with another slice of cooked ham and toast, and took a bite.

It was glorious.

I know y'all were thinking I was going to go into some really explicit detail about getting some au jus from somewhere and some camembert and...nah. This simple sandwich made the headache go completely away and ever since then I've considered it my favorite sandwich.