Pardon The Dust

Every time I pick a WordPress theme, I tell myself that this time it’s going to be permanent. There’s no way this theme could ever look dated, I think. And then a few years go by and I realize time has moved on and the thing I thought was cool now looks outdated and lame.

So then I have to spend two hours tweaking settings and playing with previews until I find something that feels not lame. And all the while, a little voice whispers in my ear that it’s time to get out of the bush league and buy a professional theme for real money dollars because the lack of professional theme is the only thing that’s keeping me from realizing my dream of being an author. And then I start to think, you know, maybe that’s a good point; 80 or 100 bucks for a theme isn’t an extravagance, it’s an investmentIn my FUTURE CAREER.

And then I see a perfectly good free theme that meets my needs and I go with that, because otherwise I have to justify to my wife (and to myself) why I spent 150 bucks on what basically amounts to a different usage of white space and a different font choice.

Yeah. Better stick to the free themes. When I find a good one, I play around with it until I’m happy and then I tell myself that this is the one, this look is timeless and will never, ever look lame.

So anyway, if you’ve been trying to read anything over the past few hours, that’s probably why things keep shifting. It’s not just you. Unless your graphics card is starting to fail, in which case it might be you.

Taking Creative Risks, Or, Matt Considers Giving Away His Book

I started writing when I was about fourteen. I decided I wanted to write a novel and made two of the half-hearted attempts a young teenager makes when attempting a lofty goal. First, there was a horror novel about a serial killer who skins people alive that I called The Fur Trapper. I hadn’t yet seen Silence of the Lambs, so the comments about how it sounds just like that movie mystified me at the time. I think I wrote about two chapters, with each chapter being under five pages. Then there was a fantasy novel titled The Dragon’s Amulet that I never actually got beyond the conceptual stage, but I assure you, had it been written it would have included all the clichés and tropes of the high fantasy genre since that’s exactly what I would later do when I did write a book.

In the summer of 2002, I was deeply addicted to the video game Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The game had such a deep and complex lore that I couldn’t help but be inspired; I wanted to tell my own stories in that universe. I started writing about the backstory of my character, the dark elf assassin Ardryn (although, in the interest of honesty, the name Ardryn came later; originally he was Jango, having just seen Star Wars Episode II. What can I say, I was a teenage boy at the time). I worked on my story until it hit about fifty or sixty pages, which was far longer than anything I’d ever created. I wanted to do something more with it. I wanted it to be more than just fan fiction. I wanted it to be my own novel.

So I went back and took out all the details from the world of Morrowind and replaced them with a fantasy world of my own devising. It still ended up looking exactly like every other fantasy world, as it was a world of magic and wilderness with a snowy, inhospitable northern realm ruled by the evil frost elves who were constantly at war with the forest elves of the south. There was also an evil artifact and a good artifact that were in constant opposition to one another. And a prophecy. And a love interest. And so on.

That story became my first novel, Of Dawn and Dusk, (which, yes, sounds more like a romance novel than a fantasy book). I actually completed a roughly 90,000 word manuscript and sent it to exactly one publisher. It was rejected, of course. I wrote about 70,000 words of a sequel and had some notes and rough chapters for a prequel, but the years wore on and the story that I wrote when I was fifteen no longer enamored me as it once did. So I decided to abandon it.

Eventually, I would pick up NaNoWriMo as a thing and on my second attempt, I completed a 50,000 word draft that I would then spend another six months working on until I had a 125,000 word completed story. This novel is my story of fallen angels and the Apocalypse and the title is Unrepentant. Because it began life as a NaNoWriMo, however, large parts of it were completely terrible and I spent the next few years revising that draft while working on other NaNo projects and basically continuing a tradition of starting projects but never seeing them through to completion.

Why am I telling you all of this? There are a few reasons.

First, it occurred to me that, outside of the critiques I did during my Creative Writing degree, I can count the number of people who’ve read any of my novels on less than two hands, and that sounds impressive until I mention that the total number is about six, so I’m really not even using that second-hand. I’d like to say that my reason for showing so few people my work is because I don’t like showing work before it’s done; certainly, my many drafts and projects are in rough shape and need proper editing before they deserve to be shown.

Except that’s not entirely true, either.

I finished Unrepentant last summer. I completely rewrote the novel and stripped out tons of stuff that was messy, wandering, or just plain bad. I streamlined the text, trimmed up the story, honed it as best I could and sliced down my 125,000 word first draft into a trim, sleek 90,000 word second draft. I finally considered it worthy of trying to publish and so I’ve been sending it off to agents ever since. My last submission before I lost momentum was in January or February and it was the tenth time it’s been sent out. Since I’m not currently plugging a book deal here, you can surmise that it was never picked up.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know if I have it in me to publish Unrepentant. Publishing a book is hard. It’s really, really hard. You need to know a lot about who you’re writing to, who the market is, how to sell it, who might like to read it, and so on. And that’s the thing; I don’t really know who Unrepentant is for. It’s a book about angels and demons and fallen angels and the Apocalypse, but it’s not a Christian Fiction book, because I don’t talk about Jesus. But I also started it during a time when I was fascinated by Paradise Lost and John Milton, so it has those vibes far more than it does an urban fantasy or paranormal romance. I don’t know who’d want to buy it, even though I think it’s pretty good.

Originally, I’d decided to just shelve it and make it yet another trunk novel. Trunk novels are those works that writers complete but then abandon, locking them in the bottom of the trunk because we can’t bear to delete or throw away something that we worked so hard on, but also can’t or won’t try to release. Sometimes, trunk novels are better than their author’s give them credit for and end up getting published later on; Stephen King penned a trunk novel under his pseudonym Richard Bachman that was eventually published as Blaze, which was really good.

So Unrepentant is a trunk novel. And I’m off to new things; I’m really focused on my cyberpunk novel because I feel like I have a lot to say and I have a lot of knowledge about what I’m talking about in a way I don’t with fallen angels and such.

But I keep thinking about the fact that no one ever reads what I write, because I don’t give them the opportunity. Because I don’t give anyone the chance to read what I write. And my reason for doing so is based on fear; if you don’t ever get a chance to read my work, you can’t hurt my feelings by hating it. I’m immune from criticism. I’m safe.

I think that safety is one of the enemies of creativity. When people talk about creativity as a scary thing, this is what they mean. It’s putting yourself out there, stripping away all the armor, lowering all the defenses, and allowing people to shit all over something that means a lot to you. And not fighting back. And asking for this to happen over and over again.

Or at least . . . that’s what the Dark Voice tells me. I’ve mentioned the Dark Voice before; he’s the guy that started talking to me around the beginning of middle school and never went away. He’s the person on my shoulder reminding me of every possible insecurity, every possible mistake, every single failure. He’s not my Inner Editor, because the Inner Editor is at least trying to be helpful by making my work better, even if he’s killing it in the process by preventing it from being born.

No, the Dark Voice is mean and hateful and nasty and wants very much to make sure that I fail and that I’m miserable and that I don’t ever listen to anything other than him. He’s all the anxiety and depression I’ve ever felt in my life. It’s the entity that takes root inside your head when you grow up a little strange and you realize you’re not cool or popular and you’ve never going to fit in, not really.

The Dark Voice is the reason that I can be funny around other people; it’s the reason why sarcasm and dry humor are my default responses, because if I make people laugh at something I do, then they can’t laugh at me. Laughing at me only proves that the Dark Voice is right.

I really don’t like the Dark Voice.

And I think that putting Unrepentant in the trunk is listening to the Dark Voice. I think it’s a good book. I learned a lot writing and rewriting it and I put a lot of effort into it. But I also don’t want to focus on the same project forever. I want to move on to new things so that I can keep growing. And right now, that means setting my old work aside.

But here’s the thing: I also have this blog here. And even though I tend to disappear for weeks at a time, my blog is never out of my thoughts. I’m always wishing that I had more to post, more to say, more to do here. And I have a novel that I’d like to allow people to read, if they wish. And slowly, I begin to imagine a solution.

So, here’s what I’m thinking right now: I’m going to start posting chapters of my novel here on my blog every Friday. Since the book is already done, once the updates are scheduled to roll out, I can move on to the next project while these pieces are released. I don’t have to worry about schedule slip (the bane of so many serials and webcomics) because the entire story is already finished.

Originally, I thought about just posting the entire book as one big file and inviting anyone who wants to have at it. But I also know that I wouldn’t read that if someone else did so, because in the past when blogs I do read have released books for free, I didn’t read them. There’s something about seeing the entire work posted all at once and getting intimidated by it, thinking about how much time it will take to get involved. It’s why I’ll never start watching a show on Netflix these days if it has more than two seasons, because the time investment is just too much.

But a chapter a week, released as a blog post? That doesn’t take much effort to dip a toe in. And maybe that will be enough to spark your interest. And if not, that’s okay too. Honestly, I don’t really know why people keep reading this blog, even though WordPress assures me that you’re all out there. It’s not going to hurt my feelings if this doesn’t catch on. It’s just something I’d like to try.

The Patreon account is the second part of this idea. Patreon is a little different from Kickstarter, which you’re probably more familiar with. In Kickstarter, you back a project and pledge some money to help fund it, and you get charged if the project reaches its funding goal. This, then, gives the creator the funds needed to get a project created, the idea being that it couldn’t exist without those funds.

But for me, the blog is already online and the book is already written. So I don’t need funding to make anything. Instead, it’s a way for me to find out if it’s worthwhile to release fiction in this manner. For so many years, I’ve had my eye on the traditional publishing route as the only way to release my stories. And don’t get me wrong, I still desperately want to secure a traditional publishing deal, at least once in my life. But I also want to focus more on creating and sharing work, even if only five people ever read any of it.

The Patreon model is, as its name suggests, a patronage system. A patron who wants to support a creator pledges a small amount of money each month (I’m imagining something like a dollar a month, with the book’s run taking about two or three months to be released fully). At the end of the run, if there’s been any interest in this model, I’m thinking about doing some more stuff, such as recording the book as an audiobook or releasing it as an e-book on my own. A lot of this is me thinking out loud right now, coming up with ideas as I type. But here’s the bottom line: think of it as a tip jar. I’m going to release my novel here on my blog for free, for everyone. If you read it, if you like it, if you think it’s worth it, consider pitching me a dollar.

This won’t create the kind of money that will allow me to skip having a day job. But if I make a dollar off this, I’ll consider it a success. If I make fifty dollars, my story will have paid for my website costs for an entire year (domain registration and keeping my blog ad free, which is something very important to me as a personal and philosophical point). That’s enough of an enticement for me to try.

And if it doesn’t work? I’ll have the knowledge of knowing that I took a risk, tried something new, and didn’t let the Dark Voice win for a while. And that’s a win for me no matter what the Dark Voice says.

So look for details for the Patreon account in a day or two, once everything is all set up. And get ready for the first chapter (or chapters) of my novel to go up on Friday.

Taking creative risks. That’s what it’s all about.

Thanks for reading.

On Reading Signed Copies

I really, really like getting signed copies of books. At this point, I have enough signed copies that it constitutes an actual collection. Best of all, I have signed copies of books by most of my favorite authors: George R. R. Martin, Jim Butcher, John Scalzi, and many, many others. At some point, I plan to reorganize my shelves to keep all my signed books together so I can look at them while working on my Gollum impression.

But.

You knew that was coming. I would never write a blog post like this unless there was a but.

I love my signed copies. In fact, I love them so much that I hate reading them.

Here’s the thing about me and books. When I’m in a book, I take it with me everywhere I go. My current book becomes my teddy bear; it’s with my all the time. It goes with me from home to work and back. I carry it on my lunch break and read it during lunch, which is especially dangerous to the book because I walk a mile or so during my lunch break which means much manhandling along the way.

This is one of the reasons why I will get library copies of books I already own, or buy copies of books that I’ve already read at the library. Reading a library book takes away the pressure and the anxiety. Now, wait just a goddamned minute, you might be thinking indignantly to yourself. Matthew Ciarvella, don’t you work in a library? Are you saying you don’t care about what happens to your library books?

I do work in a library, hypothetical blog reader. And that means I see the inner workings of the public library system. It means I have a library collection I maintain. And that means that, to be honest, I’m not as worried about the condition of my library books because I know the fate that awaits all library books.

That’s the thing about library copies: they’re finite. If you’ll pardon the expression, they have a shelf life. No library book lasts forever, because if it’s popular, enough handling will destroy it. How many times do you think a book can be checked out and read before it disintegrates? Well, depends on the book. I’ve seen hardcovers that survived ten years and roughly 100 check-outs before they had to be retired and I’ve seen paperbacks that destroyed themselves after five check-outs.

That doesn’t mean I’ll mistreat a library copy. It’s not mine, after all, and even we library workers have to pay for a book when we lose or destroy it. One of my life’s greatest shames is the fact that I lost a brand new copy of The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. I still have no idea what happened to it.

When I read a library book, I know at some point that little book will be removed from circulation. It’s not meant to last forever. If it was, it would be in an archive. Or, as you’ll see now that I’m returning to my main point, in a private collection.

My signed copies are books that I want to keep with me for the rest of my life. Each one is special. It represents an experience I had both in reading it and taking the time to meet the person who wrote it; if I have a signed copy of your book, that means you’re part of my personal Pantheon of Writers. It’s not the greatest pantheon, all things considered, but how many people ever get to say they’re part of a pantheon in the first place? That has to count for something.

Signed copies are valuable and special things to me and while I know that part of a well-worn and tattered book is the mark of a book that’s been read and enjoyed, there’s enough of a draconic-hoarding tendency in me that I want my books to remain pristine. Which makes it tricky when I really, really want to read a book that I have a signed copy of and can’t easily get from the library due to the fact that it has a waiting list on it. When that happens, I have to make a hard choice.

In this particular instance, I’m going to be reading my signed copy of Faerie After because don’t want to wait for the library copy to come in.

But you can be certain I will be reading it very carefully. Possibly with gloves on.

I realize that this probably means I am a crazy person.