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.

 

 

Seid ihr das Essen? Nein, wir sind der Jäger!

(Revo - Attack on Titan Opening)

So, a few weeks back I started seeing a lot of hubbub in my circles about sensitivity readers. And before we get into it, you should really check out Kameron Hurley’s take on the matter because she wrote about it much better than I could and also she’s got a lot more credibility than I do. Mary Robinette Kowal also wrote a piece last year getting into sensitivity readers that's worth a look.

But if you don’t want to read Ms. Hurley’s take and want to just read mine (OR MAYBE YOU WANT TO DO BOTH) read on ahead.

The tl;dr is some in the publishing industry (and it’s becoming more and more) hire sensitivity readers. A sensitivity reader, for all intents and purposes, is an editorial consultant who reads through a work to flag any potentially contentious stuff. I’m talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

Predictably, the reaction from a bunch of people was:

Predictably, the threads concerning this matter in the groups I frequent read like this:

Person 1: UGH I DON’T CARE FOR THIS NONSENSE! I’M GOING TO WRITE WHAT I WANT AND DO WHAT I WANT.

Also Person 1: UGH HOW DARE A PUBLISHING COMPANY DO WHAT THEY WANT.

There were also some people bringing up the First Amendment as if that had anything to do with the subject at hand.. (It doesn't. At all.)

If you’re vehemently against the idea of a sensitivity reader: How would you feel if the term was “Editorial Consultant”? I honestly think this whole shit-show wouldn’t even be a shit-show if the people coming up with the term had picked that instead.

 “Alright, Jim Bob Rafferty, our editor, has signed off on this. Now we take it to the sensit—“
“WHAT? NO! I REFUSE TO CATER TO THE PC CROWD.”
“Er, sorry, I think we misspoke, we meant the editorial consultant.”
“Oh okay, yeah, that’s cool.”

It's not censorship. It's not fascism. It's your editor taking the extra step to help your ass out so that several months from now when you get published you don't get known as the racist writer because you included (unironically) a really racist characterization. That being said, like Ms. Hurley pointed out in the article above, YOU CAN ALWAYS SAY NO TO THE EDITOR. I mean it's not like there's something in the contract (shouldn't be, anyway) that says you can't have a say in the book that's getting published. You control the narrative. You can say no.

Another thing she talked about is that she talked to a doctor when she was doing research for her novel. A lot of people consult with police, with military, etc. I mean, Tom Clancy was good at military thrillers (even if it got hammy towards the end of his life) because his research on the US Armed Forces was super meticulous and he talked to everyone that had a military uniform on. If there's no outcry over that, why should there be outcry over hiring an ethnic (or any other kind of) minority to review something?

You are also free to completely disregard the advice that's offered and go your own way or keep trudging forward. 

Ask questions, don't be afraid of that. There are some people, I grant you, who will roll their eyes and tell you to do your research. If you're asking out of genuine curiosity and not out of being a dick, I don't mind answering. I also don't mind pointing you to places that can go into better detail than I could. .

Now, if you ask a question and get feedback, please, for the love of God, don't get defensive. I've witnessed the following conversation a depressing amount of times:

Author: hey, so why is it offensive to say this about POC
POC: Well, the reason why is because of this, and this, and this other link with citations. You can do the research, too, it'd only make your story better!
Author: omg are you trying to censor me
POC: What? No, but you asked--
Author: I don't get it! I can't write black characters at all! I'm being told I can't. So either I write them or I don't write them. 
POC: We said you should research.
Author: I can never win! It's a lose-lose situation! I just want to be told whether I should write those characters in or not! 
POC: Well, if you don't think that you'd do a good job with representation, maybe just don't write that at all.
Author: SEE! Trying to censor me, I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't!

I'm not even joking. 

A little research goes a long way and it only strengthens your story. A sensitivity reader would help you with that.

I'll give you an example.

Not too long ago, I happened to read a story involving Mexico. If you're just tuning in to this blog, I'll have you know I was born and raised in Mexico and spent the first 15 years of my life there.

So when I got to this story, I was already on high alert.

And the writer set the story in a dusty Mexican town. Okay. Overplayed. Tropey-as-all-hell. Let's give him a chance. Then he introduced the setting, and it was one focusing on one of our national pastimes. 

The writer then pretty much showed that they had not the faintest idea what the pastime was really like and did not bother to do even the most cursory of Wikipedia searches. Didn't even bother to YouTube the pastime.  At that point, their story was dead on the water to me.  The writer could have had the most fantastic plot (they didn't) but because of the blatant caricatures, it wouldn't have mattered.

A sensitivity reader would have stopped the writer in their tracks and told him to do some basic research.

For those of you wanting to write about Mexico, please keep in mind that not every town is a dusty pueblo. There's so much biodiversity: forests, canyons, jungles, snow-capped peaks, desert, beaches, mountain ranges, high plains. There are sprawling urban centers a scant 149 miles from the United States border.

I feel the same about writing centered in Texas. If you're going to write about dusty towns and cowboys horseback and assume that's all of Texas, I'm not going to like your story.

A lot of my stories are set in Houston. Not a single horse involved! 

(Although to be fair, the Houston Police does have a Mounted Patrol)

h/t Free Press

h/t Free Press

 

I can only imagine there are many writers out there who are doing things like that and not having a gatekeeper tell them, yo bro this comes off as extremely deluded. This isn't reserved for lit fic, mind you, you can be extremely racist or have super racist allegories that make you go like:

To reiterate, I think that opting to call sensitivity readers was a bad move when publishers should have just called them editorial consultants or some other thing like that because there's a substantial amount of people who get incredibly flustered by the word "sensitivity" even when this S-word is used by a lot of people, including Fortune 100 companies when they assign sensitivity training.

 

 

 

 

 

They call them rogues / they travel fast and alone

(Brand New – Play Crack the Sky)

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Lone Star College – Kingwood and give a talk about my craft and about writing flash fiction, to kick off professor Icess Fernandez Rojas’ master lecture series in her Creative Witing class. Her students are working on a manuscript that’s going to include work from the class and work they come up with on their own. Man, it was an amazing experience. The lines they came up with in the exercise I had them do were straight up exquisite.

(Shout out to professor Pamela Painter for her essay in The Rose Metal Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction)

I felt I did a good job teaching the class, and I hope that I’ll see their work in journals and even published in the near future. Man, I wasn’t that good when I was their age!

It was a humbling experience.

Plus, thanks to prompting by the students I was able to talk about fanfiction and wrestling and dungeons and dragons. 

That week, I had been thinking about, hey, as much as I hate top 10 things to do as a writer posts, wouldn't it be so meta for me to have my OWN top 10 things to do as a writer post?!

But how to say what I want to say without saying things that haven't already been said a thousand times over a hundred thousand different blogs?

That same week, I had the idea pop into my head. A friend linked me to a post by an author that I'm not going to name here because, it might seem petty, but I don't want to give [them] extra views. It was painful. The sheer arrogance, man. Paraphrasing: "I'm better than people who publish traditionally. Also, I'm just as good as [top names in fantasy]" another, paraphrasing "traditional publishing is in the past, the only way to go, talking down to another writer who had been published by one of the Big 5. 

And then, just like that, I got it.

DOSAGUILAS - TEN THINGS YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN'T DO AS A WRITER BUT REALLY YOU DON'T REALLY HAVE TO LISTEN TO ME SINCE IT'S YOUR LIFE, MAN

 

(1) Don't be a dick

You know, this is the easiest rule and yet the hardest rule for people to follow.  First off, you shouldn't generally be a dick, period. Please, thank you, yes sir, no sir, yes ma'am, no ma'am, go a long way. .You don't know what that other person's going through. I'm a big fan of David Foster Wallace's This is Water commencement speech. You don't know what's going on with the other person. You also don't know if you're ever going to see them again, so why be a total dick? I live in Houston, third-largest city in the United States, and there are times when I run into multiple strangers I've seen before. And in the writing industry, people have long memories. Agents will remember a writer who attacked their physical features after rejecting a manuscript. People will remember writers who call themselves the greatest thing since sliced bread and have seventeen grammar mistakes in the first page and three in the Amazon blurb.
 

(2) Don't hit send/post/publish if you're mad

I feel this one should be included in the above but at the same time it needs its own thing. One thing my old boss used to tell me: It's better to be right than first. It's also better to be level-headed when you're tweeting something. The internet will not forget. Another thing about "don't hit send or post" is that you really gotta think things through. There was that PR executive who tweeted out "I'm going to Africa, I hope I don't get AIDS! LOL!" before landing across the ocean to find out that in the 10 hours she had been airborne she was now a meme and had also lost her job. There was the former Gawker Media writer who gave all the fuel to fence-straddlers on the Gamergate situation when he said "Nerds deserve to be bullied." Wait a bit. Cool down. 
 

(3) Don't assume that there are only two choices: self-publishing or the Big 5.

This is something I've seen with some people in the indie author crowd. Again, not a lot of them are like that. I've met several who see writing and success the same way I do: that there's no money in this field and we're doing it for the love of writing. But there are some who feel that the only way to get out there is ONLY by having Penguin or Random House offer you a contract or going through CreateSpace and nothing inbetween. That's just now how it is. I'm saying this as someone with a contract through a small press, and as someone who was querying every press I could find on ManuscriptWishlist that fit what I was looking for. Now, granted, you should be on the lookout for scams and for shitty deals (like, year-old publishers who expect you to pay for your own books), but that doesn't mean you go back to that either-or choice.  
 

(4) Don’t feel entitled

 

The fact that I have an MFA doesn’t entitle me to publication. I could have gotten one from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and I would have been as entitled to respect and recognition as if I had earned one from Full Sailing Governor Phoenix Online University.

The fact that you wrote a book doesn’t entitle you to an agent.

The fact that you wrote a short story doesn’t entitle you to immediate publication.

Good sales don’t entitle you to be free from criticism.

The world owes you nothing.

4. Don't go into this field to make money

Writing, like art, can be very lucrative if you're lucky. If you want to tell stories, that's great. If you want to tell stories and expect someone to suddenly show up at your doorstep and give you all the dollarydoos.

This won't be you unless you're extremely lucky:

 

"Yeah, but what about--"

No, the exceptions prove the rule. There's a lot of luck involved alongside the hard work. There's no science to being in the right time and place because there is no way to accurately predict which way the writing market will go. 

5. Don't write for the market, write for yourself

Some of you indie authors might disagree with me and tell me, no, man, you have to constantly write series to keep your Amazon numbers up and here's the math and--

I get it. 

But it also feels dishonest. 

Like, when Twilight came out, there was a rash of Paranormal Romance novels wanting to be the next twilight because people were like, oh hey, they're super into this! I'm going to market myself and see if I can get all them moneys!

And then they don't sell.

Now, I've written before about how there's nothing wrong with trying to make a buck. (I have a non-writing related day job, after all)  However, readers who were finished with Twilight and saw Not Twilight: A story about the vampire Fredward and the love of his life Ella they'd immediately see it as a cheap knockoff.

Now, if you want to write paranormal romance involving vampires because you happen to truly love paranormal romance involving vampires, then go right ahead. You're still not guaranteed anything BUT you'd feel a lot better inside.

 

6. Don’t take yourself too seriously

(i.e., don’t be these people)

I think this should apply to any profession, by the way. We’re all humans. We all poop and fart. Learn to appreciate the ridiculousness of what writing is: you sitting in front of a computer or a notebook writing words that make people see things in their heads. We’re not in rarefied air.

6. Don’t be afraid of feedback

Flashback: Mid-August, 2006, Student Union 1.28, Brownsville, Texas. An 18-year old DosAguilas turns in his first assignment for edits. It is a short piece on the university’s welcome week. The draft is ready. Young DosAguilas thinks he’s hot shit, after all, he thinks he’s on his way to being one of the best writers to ever come out of the Rio Grande Valley.

The editor prints it out, makes a few suggestions, and then says to show it to the staff moderator, a hands-on woman who cut her teeth working the copy-editor pool at the Chicago Sun-Times. She tears the draft apart. Red ink EVERYWHERE.

It stung.

But then I realized…wait…this is part of the process, and I have to get used to it. I mean, how else do you grow? Three and a half years there and I never turned in anything that was a perfect first draft. Fast forward several years later and I’ve still got the same ambition, and now I’m equipped with the ability to process feedback. I believe that I sometimes freak out/surprise some of my editors (and my publisher) because of my sometimes-too-eager desire to get feedback. YES, THANK YOU SIR/MA’AM MAY I HAVE ANOTHER.

Now, this is not to say you shouldn’t be able to get even a little bit defensive of your work. I think if you worked on something and really put in the effort, you should feel proud and want to defend it. However, there’s a line between defending it and being unnecessarily stubborn. If someone’s telling you something needs fixing, evaluate where they’re coming from and maybe consider fixing it. I have seen writers post things in forums requesting feedback, and when they receive that feedback, they react with annoyance and anger. Fast forward a few weeks and they’re back in the same forums, complaining they’re getting negative reviews that they probably wouldn’t have gotten had they listened to the feedback generously offered before.

My fiancée tends to be my number one beta reader. It’s important for me that she does this because 1) She’s got an English degree and a proper background in literary theory that far outweighs mine. I mean, her thesis was about toilet humor in literature and how it reflected the human condition AND IT ALL MAKES SENSE. 2) She’s able to see what I’m not seeing or catching because she hasn’t spent the last [X] hours staring at the screen and poring over the text.

(Also, she’s an incredible writer in her own right. Her use of detail is exquisite.)

For what it’s worth, you also have to keep in mind the intent of the reviewer. Are they just focusing on grammar? If so, you should be able to tell them to also scan for content, unless the grammar is so atrocious that it prevents even the simplest form of content editing.

You’re also not going to want someone who’s just going to heap praise on you and blow smoke up your ass. That’s not going to do you or your writing any favors and you’re not going to grow from it. The Super Saiyan analogy is there in plain sight: Every time your writing is roughed up, you get stronger when you recover.

7. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone

At worst, it’s going to be a few hours wasted and maybe a headache or two. At best, you’re going to discover you’re really good at something! I’ve told y’all the story that when I went into my MFA I was stubbornly on the “haha I’m just going to get some +3s to my INT and then go back to being a super cool genre writer” side. Then I got out of the comfort zone (which was swords and sorcery and a lot of Imperial Guard) and I read more literary fiction, I wrote more literary fiction, and then I realized that holy shit, I was really digging writing litfic because I didn’t feel the crippling sluggishness I felt when I tried to write fantasy or sci-fi. It also made me really figure out what was wrong with the way I wrote fantasy!

And honestly, you can take this one and also apply it to things outside of writing because you’re going to get a lot of inspiration from there. I used to hate podcasts but I got so annoyed by the lack of good music stations in Houston that I started listening to them and learning a lot more. I used to hate audiobooks and economics and I just “read” one that was 9 hours long and it felt like I was finished with it in two days (of commuting).

Explore the world outside your comfort zone!


That’s really pretty much it. I could probably come up with more but honestly, all you need is number one: Don’t be a dick to others, don’t be a dick to yourself, don’t be a dick in general.

 

 

 

Si el consul de los cielos ya te dio permiso...

I try not to get into politics too much in this blog, but not in the bury-your-head-in-the-sand kind of way, just more of a “I’m already pretty open about my politics in every other medium” kind of way.  But almost a year ago I pointed out that I am very big on two things: Immigration and education. We can go back and forth over the economy, over gun rights, healthcare, and I’ll argue for and against either side.

However, when it comes to immigration and education, I’m unabashedly left-of-center.

(Of course, if I ever end up teaching, I plan on following the model that 90% of my teachers in HS and college followed: My students won’t find out what my political affiliations are until they come back for their 10 year reunion or become really good at Google)

Recently, there’s been a lot of hubbub concerning President Trump’s, um, “highly questionable” approach to immigration, and establishing a Muslim ban from a bunch of different countries that have killed a total of 0 Americans between 1975 and 2015. ()

That’s not a figure from some NowThis/HuffPo left-leaning media. That’s from the Cato Institute. I realized this a few weeks ago: Not only was I, a normally left-leaning individual, siding with the Cato Institute, we were also on the same side as Michael Moore, the Pope, and former vice president Dick Cheney. That’s how bad the idea is.

We are a nation of immigrants.

Our last president was the son of an immigrant. This past election season we had Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio running for the GOP (Ted Cruz was born in Canada, Marco Rubio in the US to Cuban parents). Without immigrants, we wouldn’t be making the technological and research advancements we’ve been making. Without immigrants, the British would have routed Washington and the Continental Army.  

“But, we’re talking about illegal immigration and refugees from dangerous countries! That’s different, DosAguilas!”

Is it, though?

I don’t think it is.

See, I’m big on what comes three, four, five, steps ahead. Let’s say there’s sound reasoning for this ban even though we already have a very thorough vetting process. What’s stopping them from going even further? If you start making allowances now, where do you stop? Do you stop when the ban covers all the Middle East? Do you stop when the ban is applied across the board? Do you stop when they start going after people? Do you stop when they start stripping permanent residencies or citizenships? How confident are you (and this question is really for pro-ban/pro-wall Latinos) that you or someone you’re close to won’t be next? This isn’t just a “we’ll see if it happens” thing, this has already been happening under Obama.

I’m not talking about someone that just crossed over last week. I’m talking about someone who’s been in the United States since they were three being rounded and up and sent back to a country they have no memory of or attachment to.

Remember to know your rights.

Our own elected officials use that to further divide the Latino community. “Hey, Miguel. You’re not like those people. You’re one of us. You got here the right way, so you should vote for our guy!”

And we fall for it.

I tell people to consider what these refugees are doing, it doesn’t matter from what country they’re from: Their situation at their home country is so bad they’re willing to risk everything to make it here. It feels stupid to argue “they’re cutting in line” as if the refugee jumped you by a person to get some Marble Slab ice cream. Just put yourself in their place: How would you feel if you were forced to leave your home and move to another country where no one speaks your language or understands your culture?

Now, before I’m accused of wanting open borders, I have to clarify that I don’t want that. I don’t think any human being is illegal and I’ll maintain that immigration violations are civil violations and not criminal offenses. But concerning border security: I want a compassionate immigration system. I want families to not be torn apart. I want a process that is welcoming. I want CBP and ICE officers to be well-trained and well-funded and provided with the technological support they need.

WALLS AREN’T TECHNOLOGICAL SUPPORT. THEY’RE WALLS. THEY DON’T DO ANYTHING.

So, yeah, support immigrants’ rights. If you want to really get a handle on the subject, I can’t recommend Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey enough. 

That being said, I’m going to make this writing-related.

Immigration is part of everyone immigrant’s narrative. Whether they’re refugees or naturalized American citizens.

However, last week I said I was going to stray away from the immigrant narrative, and this is because I am still determining what my own voice is like and how it fits therein. I've spoken about my association with the Librotraficante movement and the movement to keep Mexican-American Studies in schools. I confess to sometimes feeling like a fraud. Like la causa doesn't apply to me. And part of that is my own upbringing in comparative, middle class privilege. My own immigrant narrative is not one of harrowing travels through the desert or being chased by nefarious CBP and ICE agents. I did have to wait a long time for the opportunity to be an LPR, but we had the opportunity to wait. And when we did move, we went from one city in the border to another city in the border. Although there was culture shock, for the most part, I was moving into a homogenous environment.

Speaking for myself, nothing inside really changed. I read the same books. Celebrated the same holidays. Ate the same food. Spoke the same language at home. External things did change: moving from a gas to an electric stove, moving from a house to an apartment, a lot more Hot Pockets, everything getting real quiet at 10 p.m. But because the Valley is so Latino, my transition was simplified. This is not to say “no, pity me, I had a blessed childhood!”, it’s not. I know it’s good for writers to have that dark and suffer-y (boom, #AlternativeWords) but I didn’t. I am very fortunate and very thankful for the support system I’ve had my entire life.

Here is a snapshot of a random Friday in 2005:

7:45 a.m. – dropped off at school because I had inexplicably developed severe driving anxiety that didn’t fade until the following fall.

8:00 a.m. -3:18 p.m. – go to school.

3:18-4:00 p.m. – spend time after school arguing over what movie we would watch

4:00-7:30 p.m. – go to mall, hang out, eat at the food court, watch movie since we weren’t going to go to the football game (2edgy4you)

7:30-9:30 p.m. – catch another movie at home or just hang out at someone’s place (A variant here was going to Chilli’s since we couldn’t agree on a place to go eat and settled on the place we all equally disliked)

9:30 p.m. -3:00 a.m. – waste time on the internet either talking to an unrequited crush/internet friends, reading a book, or writing on my livejournal/xanga/myspace blog.

That’s the same Friday millions of American teenagers have. 

When I arrived in Houston, my transition wasn’t that of a new immigrant to the United States. I was already, as some might say, Americanized. 

My transition wasn’t Mexican - > American. My transition was moving from point A to point B. It was the transition of a small-town boy into the big city. It was a transition mirrored by my then-girlfriend as she moved from the rural Midwest to Houston. Point A to Point B.

(Although I had an advantage since Houston summer felt just like home to me)

So my decision to step away from the immigration narrative comes from all of that. Come talk to me and I’ll point you in the direction of writers who integrate that narrative in beautiful prose. I’ll point you to writers who will talk about the nature and the struggle of being bicultural and finding their place. I'll give you one example: Benjamin Alire Saenz's Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club that's a great example and one of the most powerful books I've ever read.

I have decided to chart my own path, and if people want to follow, cool, if they don't, that's also cool. I'm doing my own thing, not to rebel, not to be eccentric, but just because it's who I am.

(Lyrics from Ricardo Arjona and Intocable - Mojado)