I’ve talked a little bit about milestones before, those little markers that tell you that you’re making progress. Your first actual rejection (easy to get, but it shows that at least you finished something). Your first personal rejection. Your first actual sale. Your first…well, whatever. One of the beauties of the system is that you get to pick your own milestones. That’s the thing about milestones—by their very nature, they are personal.
The picture above represents one of mine, though at this point it might also qualify for a bucket list. So what is it? It is two copies of Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter on sale at our local B&N. Granted, I’ve been able to walk into a local bookseller and buy my own work for years, but only in the context of a magazine or anthology. This is the first time I can walking into a brick and mortar and buy a real live book that was entirely written by me. A reader living in New York or L.A. or Washington can walk into their B&N and find this. Books often succeed or fail for reasons other than the content, but that won’t matter. My name is on the cover, and whether it stands or falls, it’s on me. That’s a little scary and, imo, long f%$*#ing overdue. But it’s a milestone I wasn’t sure I was ever going to reach. Took me long enough, but I finally got there.
So where’s there, which is now here? The same place it always is—the place where the work is done on the way to the next milestone. Which, as I’ve said before, is not a destination. Do you ever pull onto the highway with thoughts of visiting the 334 mile marker, maybe camping out, take a few photos? I’m pretty sure you don’t. More like “I made it this far, only so many miles left to where I’m actually going.” Which is where?
Which is onward.
Passed 20,000 words last week on the new book. Which is not a milestone, but at the moment it is something much better–it is progress. I try not to confuse the two.
This was a working weekend, and I don’t mean mowing the yard, even though it does need it badly. I spent the past two days at the Mississippi Petrified Forest in Flora. For those who don’t know, this is a privately owned park at a spot where, about 300,000 years ago, some really large trees got swept down a river in some past deluge and deposited to turn into stone. There’s a stone and fossil museum, gift shop, and a nature trail that takes you past some of the logs that have eroded out of the loess cliffs over the centuries. If you’re at all interested in such things—I am—it makes for an interesting walk.
This weekend they were having their 50th Anniversary and celebrated with crawfish, live music, and…book signings? Yep. Part of the eclectic assemblage of all day events. Along with flint-knapping demos, geode cracking, and sessions with metaphysical and holistic healers. I was dubious of course. I always am, about pretty much anything. It’s my nature and annoys my wife no end. But she was participating and I was invited too and I thought, why not?
Okay, for those who have not done this before, a signing can take many forms, but usually it will involve you, in a more or less trafficked spot, behind a table piled with your books—a small pile or a large pile, depending—being friendly and talking to people, two things that everyone who knows me will concede are not my inclinations. It doesn’t even necessarily involve selling and signing books, though that’s the premise and the way it tends to work with the right venue and the right crowd. I knew going in that this was not my venue or crowd, but I didn’t mind. I figured that the worst that could happen was that I’d have a couple days to catch up on my reading, and at least I’d get some practice at self-promotion under less than ideal conditions.
I thought I’d ordered a pizza, but this will do. Brand spanking new author copies of Weird Detectives, edited by Paula Guran. It’s out, it’s live, it’s full of authors who aren’t me, aside from me.
“Paranormal investigators. Occult detectives. Ghost hunters. Monster fighters. Humans who unravel uncanny crimes and solve psychic puzzles; sleuths with supernatural powers of their own who provide services far beyond those normal gumshoes, shamuses, and Sherlocks can. When vampires, werewolves, and things that go “bump” in the night are part of your world, criminals can be as inhuman as the crimes they commit, and magic can seep into the mundane – those who solve the mysteries, bring justice, or even save the world itself, might utter spells, wield wands as well as firearms, or simply use their powers of deduction. Some of the best tales of the last decade from top authors of the 21st century’s most popular genres take you down mean streets and into strange crime scenes in this fantastic compilation.”
Mild spoiler alerts–mostly for those who have not yet read the Yamada book.
I’m an observer. By that I mean I try to pay attention to what’s happening around me. What people say, how they say it, what they do. How what they say often conflicts with what they do. That’s a natural state for me. People seldom become fiction writers if they don’t, at least to some degree, find their fellow human beings fascinating creatures. I don’t pretend to have any great insights, mind, but sometimes a story or book is just me thinking out loud about the subject of people, and why they do the things they do. Of course, it also means that I tend to keep my mouth shut in most social situations, which makes me very dull company. Yet even I know that sometimes you gotta face down the dog in his own junkyard.
So is this a blog post about my abundant shortcomings? In a way, yes. Or at least the perception of one. See, the reader response to Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter is, except for the volume of it, pretty much what I expected. A great many readers like it a lot or a little. Some think it’s a waste of paper. One or two think I’m a waste of perfectly good carbon. The usual. One thing I did not expect—though to be fair, I should have seen it coming—was the criticism of the women in Yamada’s world, or rather my portrayal of them. As one reader/reviewer pointed out, they tend to be demons like Lady Kuzunoha and Lady Abe or conniving schemers like Princess Teiko. And I thought about that for a little while and came to the conclusion that the reviewer was absolutely right. Yes, Lady Kuzunoha is a fox-demon. Yes, Princess Teiko is a schemer, and she did ruthlessly use Lord Yamada and her own brother to achieve her goal. But even as I conceded those obvious facts, my overall reaction remained something like, “And your point is?” Continue reading →
As do I. The Yamada novel progresses, not as quickly as I’d like, but then I’m never satisfied with my progress this early in the game. This to me is the “follow the novel where you think it’s going, stop for a bit when it throws you, try to judge the new direction, and whether it actually is a new direction or a different way of going where you thought all along, then proceed and find out.” Rinse. Repeat. At some point the feints and red herrings are going to…well, not go away, but there comes a point where they no longer fool me. The time will come when I know the book, whether it wants me to or not, and it can’t shake me. Then come the burst days when the words just fall from the jetstream of me zooming past. I like those days. Takes a while to get there, though.
Regardless, I passed the 10,000 word mark last week, so I’m reasonably mollified, if not actually content. We’ll see how I do this week. Not that I’ll necessarily tell you or you’ll necessarily want to know. But it’s on. It is so on.
In the meantime, and if anyone’s interested, SFSignal.com has published an interview with me conducted by Kristin Centorcelli. She asked some good questions, mostly about the Yamada series and where all that came from, and if I ran on a little, well, the questions made me do it. You can read the whole thing here.