Publication Is a Question Generating Machine

Prior to publishing my first book, I spent five years writing. My goal was not publication; in fact, in the entire half decade of practicing, I sent a paltry seven short story submissions to literary magazines. My goal was to write. That’s it. To write was both the means and the ends. Back then the question everyone asked was, “Have you published?” My answer was a short, happy “No.”

Most of the time, I didn’t even share my stories with anyone. A few of my works were read by select handful of temporally and geographically disparate readers. In almost all cases, those occurrences can be linked back to participation in a workshop or online critique group. The online critiques helped, paradoxically, by providing too much help! The deluge of criticism initially led me to stray from my own intuition. I began to revise stories to take everyone’s suggestions. Can you imagine the steaming mess? A trusted critique partner, IrishJohnJohn, told me that he wept when he read a revised version of a story I had revamped to gain (of all things!) higher critique ratings. He was the one who told me to trust my voice – not by shutting out comments, but by learning how to evaluate all suggestions from the perspective of what I was trying to do with any given piece. The experience taught me that I cannot take a conglomeration of suggestions that may or may not be contradictory, incorporate all of them, and expect the resulting mash to read like something that is authentically mine. My friend, Jonathan Allen, discusses his experience learning this lesson in a recent blog post. I think he’s correct in saying a conscientious writer should “incorporat[e] feedback in an active, intelligent manner.”

During my five years of ‘going to the mountain,’ I wasn’t hiding that I was a writer, but I didn’t mention it often, either. The same old question would always rear its curlicue of a head: “Are you published?” By the end of the fifth year, my “No” began to feel hollow. I’d done good work. Not perfect, but I’d put in the time, practiced, and come out of it with increased skill and a completed novel.

Well, I thought it was complete.

Revision is a beautiful, time-devouring beast. Hereby amend the record!  Five and a half, not five, years elapsed before I had a work I felt was worthy of readers.

What I’ve learned in my one month post-publication interval is that where there once was one question, now there is a horde:

Who published it? Do you have an agent? Can I read it on my Nook/Kindle/Smartphone/PC? Why do you write horror? Did you try to run me over in the parking lot as a plot device? How are sales? How much does the book cost? Did publication cost anything? Did you hire an editor? Who is the person on the cover? Can I have an autographed copy?  Will you be using this in your next book? What is your next book? When will it be ready?

Do you want to know the answer to these questions? Do you have any of your own? I’d love to answer them!

You can leave your question in the comments, tweet @anikocarmean, or send an email to anikocarmean at gmail dot com. The plan is for me to record a video where I divulge all the secrets… um, answers to your questions. I’ll post the video here on my blog.

Feel free to be creative! In fact, feel free to try and stump me. You never know, I might be a Blade Runner replicant!

 

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Updates & To Dos

Friends, hi!

I’m writing a series! I’m code naming it Cerberus because it will have three parts. Three howling, screaming, ill-dispositioned, delightfully hellish sci-fi/horror hybrids! I did not know Cerberus was a huge, three-headed monster when I started writing; this caused a bit of nervous consternation when I realized that I needed to build a complete story out of what I thought was the rising-action of the initially conceived book. When the panic, er, consternation set in, I took a piece of green-tinted spiral notebook paper and a teal pen and just started scribbling a few premises about what I would need to tell a complete story. The entire exercise went better than expected. It not only calmed my frenzied consternation, but also gave me a very broad road map to follow during the final stages of writing. I’m not sticking to it exactly, which is partly why this lil’ growler is growing past the original goal of 80K. I’ve written to the end of the story, and am in the process of back-filling chapters, ideas, and characters. I cannot tell you how jazzed I am to be thiiiis close to finishing the first draft! Or, I could tell you, but it would have to be over dinner and with some really nice Sancerre wine. Let me know when; we’ll make a date.

Without further ado, here’s where I am with Fluffy (Book I):

81000 / 90000 words. 90% done!

It’s possible I’ll blow past 90K, too, but we’ll see. When I get the first draft done, I’m going to roll right into some limited writing for Fido (Book II), but will focus most of my time on revising Fluffy. My goal is to publish Fluffy by the end of 2012, Fido early 2013, and Chainsaw (Book III) mid-2013. This is an aggressive time-frame. How can it not be, given this is a pack of Hell dogs?

Oh, and I’m also going to get a psychological horror story ready for inclusion in anthology! There are some writers in this bunch that I adore! I’m very excited, and this item is both an update and part of my to-do list, as I have yet to edit the story.

See, wasn’t that a lovely transition between updates and to-dos?

When I’m not writing, tweeting, working, sleeping, walking my dogs, hanging out with Mr. Aniko, or dreaming of drinking Sancerre, I’m figuring out marketing for Stolen Climates. I have solicited for reviews, and have had two acceptances; when they are posted, I will link to them on my blog. I am also about to send out another batch of review requests, this time to a different target audience. In the first week of April, the World Literary Cafe will be running a new release campaign. I plan to host a tweet chat to coincide with the WLC event, and will post details of how you can participate. A glaring item on my to-do list is to get involved with the GoodReads Author Program. I was approved earlier this week as an official author (yay!), but I haven’t yet been over to take advantage of the awesome opportunity that presents. I keep reminding myself that I’m in this for the long-run, but sometimes I feel I can’t do enough to get word out fast enough. On my to-do list is to actually post three short reviews I wrote of books I’ve recently read. The reviews are written, just not shared with the world, which doesn’t do a lot of good for either the authors or those readers looking for their next hit of quality fiction. Literary fiends are the worst, too.

What else? I’m still hanging out with The Emissaries of Strange (#TESSpecFic) and enjoying their company. I started a new job. I sent Team Aniko packets to those who have expressed interest in pimpin’ a Stolen Climates poster. I survived the mega-huge thunderstorm that swept Central Texas last night; seriously, guys, I’ve sat through hurricanes that were less intense than that hours-long thunder’n’lightning fest. I’m writing every day. I’m reading less than I’d like, but sticking with my unspoken resolution to write a capsule review (at least) for everything I do read. The days are getting longer, it’s getting warmer and greener outside, and in general, I’m a happy girl.

Writer friends, I’m sending you strength and positive thoughts to make it past your own bouts of consternation.

XOXO,

aniko

PS The alternate spelling of Cerberus is Kerberos, which totally makes me think that particular authentication algorithm is way cooler than I gave it any credit for in the past.

PPS The name ‘Chainsaw’  is deliberate homage to a real-life name of a real-life Pomeranian! Or I think it’s a Pomeranian. She’s small and fluffy… and named Chainsaw!

 

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Fleeting, Lovely

Twitter Code Swarm from Ben Sandofsky on Vimeo.

What you have just witnessed was a code swarm. When a programmer writes code, it is saved in a file. As developers complete tasks, they check in their files, ‘commiting’ them to a repository. Each commit is a historical data point linking the file and the person who changed the file. The animated code swarm is a visualization of that historical data. This is an overly simplistic explanation, but hits the points that matter for the following discussion.

When I watch a code swarm, I’m overcome by existential wonder. I don’t see files or code. I see humanity.

The swarm is a visual representation of the interconnectedness between the developers who shared those files. Their common creative pursuit linked them in ways both beautiful and fleeting. Developers zoom onto the screen, take a central role as files orbit around them. They bob nearer or farther other developers, swapping files, sometimes appearing to be like binary stars breathing each other’s life force. Then, just as unpredictably, they separate. Every now and then, a developer departs the field of vision, their work on that ecosystem done. Their files stay, building new links between the developers who remain. The footsteps of each contributor are stored in the commit history and their voices stay in the code base, echoes of the past. The code swarm is an artifact not so much of programming, but of the very human act of collaboration.

When I watch a code swarm, I am prompted to visualize my life. I picture the various stages of it and the people who would have been influential. My swarm would start with only a few actors: Mo, Poppy, me. Then my sister would join us, and there would be four of us connected by shared habitation, experience, and name. When I went to college, my icon would fly farther from the others, and new friends and professors would gather around me. Sometime in my junior year, Mr. Aniko and I gravitate to one another and here we are still, a universe of two. Thinking of my life swarm makes me realize how tenuous and circumstantial most relationships are. When someone zooms out of my frame of reference, I am left with less than files and timestamps. I’m left with imperfect memory. I’m left with sweet melancholia and an awareness of the fleeting nature of most situational friendships.

Perhaps this is why I love books. In them, relationships never end. If someone zooms off the screen, I need only go back a few pages to have them back again, exactly as they were and without any of the fuzzy imperfection of my own mental camera. There is a permanence that is heartening, a good swift kick to the devouring maw of time and entropy. There is definite order and complete crystallization; the lives in books are, in that sense, more solid than the ones you and I are living.

Yet books don’t exist in vacuums. They are their own universe. They talk to each other, conversing across centuries, language divides, and cultural differences. Allusion is magic. Stolen Climates talks to Calvino’s The Agentine Ant, Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and Salinger’s A Perfect Day for Bananafish. It is homage and a recognition that I do not come first and could not have built what I did without their precedent. I am honored by my timeless meeting of those authors, just as much as I am honored by the people I have met at school, work, or on this blog. We are a perfect and fleeting ecosystem.

Be thankful, but without any grasping at that which must pass away. Experience the perfection of the friendships you have now. Don’t put off that lunch with your co-workers because time is fast and soon, you’ll be just people who used to work together. Oh, you can LinkedIn and Facebook ad infinitum, but life’s not like a book. You can’t just turn back a few pages and restore the connection you had. You have this moment, this day, these people. Go to them.

This post is dedicated to Mr. Aniko, my husband of eleven years and my best friend for fourteen. I love you, Mr. Aniko! You are my perfect other.

 

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There’s a light, what light!

What was once mine, is everyone’s from now on .

I thought I knew what that meant. I did not. I am sure I still haven’t felt the full force of the transition from super-private introvert to a published author; my journey is just begun. Already, though, things are different. My author persona is seeping into my daily life. She’s more bold than I ever was. She knows what she wants and I don’t plan to stand in her way. She’s tough and funny and – despite being a horror writer – a pretty nice person. Ballsy, but polite.

In some very real sense, not only is my book everyone’s from now on, so is my public persona. My authorial presence was engineered to be separate from my office and family life; I published under my middle name, but I do not live my life under my middle name. This choice was intentional and carefully considered.

Aniko is a great deal more approachable and easier to spell than my first name. I like the sound of Aniko Carmean, where Aniko is pronounced Ahn-ik-o, with the stress on Ahn. Aniko was a branding decision. A branding decision that has become a catalyst for real change. Indeed, the separation between how I thought of myself ‘out in the world’ and how I could choose to be ‘as an author’ gave me the courage to start a blog, to network with other writers and readers, and to launch my writing career. The daily me is (or was?) too retiring and private to ever engage the world so openly. The leap from that level of solitude to being out there took exposing a facet of my personality that would embrace community rather than skirt the edges of it. To have any hope of success as a writer, I had to become a digital extrovert.

The launch of Stolen Climates was like a wedding reception: both sides mingling in merriment. People who knew nothing about my writer-self found my blog. More than one person observed, and not without the tiniest bit of shock, that I “have a whole other life out there.” Another friend told me that seeing me in person after reading my blog was like meeting my “alter ego.” I never anticipated my illusory bifurcation would have an effect on people who know me out here in the mundane reaches of meat and nine-to-fives. Of course, I never anticipated it would have any real effect on me, either. After all, I’m not fabricating an imaginary person, but instead focusing on largely untapped aspects of who I have always been. This experience illustrates how very easy it is for us to be typecast as one particular version of ourselves. It is a reminder that I am, even at this moment of awareness, defining someone I know too narrowly. As magical as names are, they can become cages. Free your friends, free yourself: go by a new name!

For example:

Aniko Carmean. She’s shaking things up. Her demands require more focus on writing, less sleep, more white wine, and a Twitter account. She insists on writing daily, on making it through the first draft in months, rather than the lollygagging, loafing years acceptable to my non-author self. There was a six month period between completing Stolen Climates and deciding what I was going to do next where the not-Aniko-me learned to love excess sleep. Aniko doesn’t have time for that; she gets exactly the amount of sleep she needs to function, but not a minute more. Fare thee well, long Saturday snoozes. And white wine? I was always a red wine drinker. Let’s just say Aniko and I don’t see eye to eye on Twitter, either.

In some way, choosing to be brave has made me brave. It’s given me the courage to look at the structure of my life and make substantial changes. As a result:

  • I start a new job next week
  • I have this blog
  • I’ve found a network of supportive writers
  • I write more prolifically and with less self-doubt
  • I believe in my potential
  • I live my passion.

Aniko has always been here, I know, but I’m finally acknowledging her. She is me. Me, with a laser focus on spending energy on pursuits integral to the core of my being.

You can get in on this action – join Team Aniko

 

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