Peeking behind the curtain (just a little)

I have always been a bit fascinated (and awed) by true creators - those artists who can make something original out of nothing.  Whether it be writers creating characters and worlds out of the ether, or composers creating a new and original melody.  Artists who create pictures and sculptures that capture an essence that has never been shown in quite the same way before.


I don't consider myself one of them.  While (I guess) putting down a few words here twice a week and pushing the electrons out into the interwebs classifies me as a "blogger", I have never felt that I am a writer.

Back in college, I took creative writing four times.  I got an A the first time, but took it every spring again to get a little better at my poetry, and finally to just get it out.  It worked, and after struggling the final semester (and writing some of the best poems (which isn't saying much) of my seven year 'stint' as a poet) I worked out that itch - and have never written another poem.

(It was weird - sitting in Biology my sophomore year of high school, I just wrote a poem.  I still have them somewhere.  Most are such pure crap - the teen age equivalent of slashing my wrists and letting them bleed on a page.  So much feeling, so little worth.  Nearly forty years later, there are just a few lines or bits that I remember now, and am still proud of.  (I actually had a half dozen or so 'published'.  One in a compilation - you sent in your entry for a contest, then were told you won and were going to be published - but you had to buy the book.  I did it once - it was several hundred pages of three column single spaces poems - several hundred, crammed together.  I realized that everyone who sent anything in 'won' just to sell these overpriced books.  The others were in my college literary magazine they put out every year).

I did learn that it is important, if not crucial, to be able to paint a picture with words - allowing the reader to see what it is you were talking about.  The line I always remember because I felt it did that was in a poem about pollution - "where fish, one-eyed, greet the sun".  At least to me it helped to really evoke the image of a dead fish floating on the water.  I also really liked FisHuntSki - but I used that, I didn't create it.

But I digress (of course if you have read many of my furtive scribbles on the electron wall, you know that is so unlike me :-) ).

There are two things that stuck with me from the four years of turning in bad poetry and analyzing mine and others work to try to make it better.  The first was that the biggest source of inspiration was the application of a butt to a chair.  The other was his definition of a writer.  "A writer," he said, "is someone who writes."  It isn't about being published, or the format, or even having anyone read it - a writer is driven to write.

However even though I fit under that hugely broad definition, I am thinking more of "real" writers, and the little bit of behind the scenes I've had the privilege to see / be involved in.

Over the past few months, I've gotten pre-published access to five books.  One for just being a wonderful and great guy (or maybe because I signed my life away as a Mantic Pathfinder), a second to proof-read before it goes to press, and three novels (and I'm expecting a fourth soon as well) to review.

It is an interesting job proof-reading - because you are looking for errors and typos, not content.  It isn't about the meaning (though if the meaning isn't clear that can be an error as well). It is an eye for detail on even the tiniest things, like a comma out of place, or finding a number that is bolded in text when it shouldn't be.    When I contributed to the Clash of Kings 2016 book, it was interesting seeing all the iterations it went through before becoming final - and each one needs to be checked because errors have a way of creeping in.  And I find it very difficult to proof read my own stuff (same thing with testing computer programs) because I am too close to it, and don't see things that may be obvious to others (especially my oldest son, who is very quick to point out errors and typos in my blogs (thanks Jon!)).

When I received the invitation to volunteer as a reviewer for JS Morin, I wasn't quite sure what it would all entail.  It was pretty cool to get an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of a book, so that I could read it before it came out, and post a review once it went public.  I didn't anticipate that I would get three books in a month to review (and I honestly now expect the fourth about a week after the one I'm currently reading comes out).  Having a deadline definitely acts as inspiration, forcing my butt into the chair to read if not write it up.

Many times, I have started to ask a question beginning "Is it just me or does everyone . . .".  I now stop myself, because the answer seems to ALWAYS be "no, it is just you".  I know my brain is wired a bit different than others, and I tend to have a more unique world view (twisted and demented have also been used to describe it).  I am one of the few that actually enjoys reading out about how the books I enjoy are created - be it an author's preface or afterword.  Even so much that I still remember enjoying Stephen King's Danse Macabre, which is a history of horror.  (Seeing how old that is now just makes me feel that much older).


Gene Doucette, another of my favorite writers, is a bit open about the business of writing, putting out a blog about it that I quite enjoy.  I've also enjoyed that I've gotten into brief conversations online with him about his books (and my review of one of them).


I only know one active novelist outside of his writing, and when I see Tim Akers at Kings of War tournaments I try to talk with him a bit about what he does because that creative process is just so fascinating to me (and I very much enjoyed the chance to give feedback on a pre-pre-pre-release of a project that he asked me to look at - and I totally and completely missed on my guess as to where it was going beyond the few pages I read).


I like getting autographed copies of books (the one drawback to reading on a kindle - you can't get it signed!). I just think they are cool.  It is fun going to signings when the author talks about themselves and what they are working on.   I remember seeing Orson Scott Card many years ago at Books & Co. But when I got it signed, I didn't really have anything to say to him beyond the obligatory "I like your work".  I did mention to his wife (sitting next to him) that I actually likes his short stories a bit better than his novels, and regretted losing my copy of Unaccompanied Sonata and Other Stories (one of many books I lost in the divorce) because, beyond Ender's Game, it included my two favorite stories of his - the eponymous story giving the name to the collection, and Fat Farm.  And she said that Fat Farm was one of her favorites as well.


It is a bit of a mystery why some stories stick with you forever, and others just drift by.  Back in high school I loved reading Omni magazine, and loved George R R Martin's story "Sandkings" from it.  Apparently he wrote something else that a few people have liked recently, and had it adapted to a tv show or something (but I haven't read it, and couldn't get through the first episode, and currently don't have HBO).

Anyway, while I meant to talk about getting to see a little of how "real" writers work, I may have just given you a little peek behind the curtain of my own twisted mind.  I promise I'll get back to gaming and miniatures as soon as I get my Vanguard Kickstarter from Mantic!

Because it is all fun and games . . .