Sunday, November 8, 2015

a hiatus

I've finally cobbled together enough spare minutes to type all this out, and now I'm scared to begin. So let's just rip the bandaid off and say it outright: Book III is going to come out much later than anticipated. Possibly a year or two late. As in, like, 2017.

I know. I KNOW.

I love writing Vessel. Like I've said before, I can't even conceive of not finishing it, and I won't stop until the series is done. These characters have been an enormous part of my inner life for so long now. The story itself is a trusted friend at this point, a refuge, a place to go instantly when I am bored or angry or elated, to tinker around and work my shit out, and feel the thrill of conveying a scene exactly as I see it in my head. And best of all, publishing it, sharing it, has forged an instant and incredible link with a sprinkling of people across the continent, people who love this story as much as I do, people who move me to make it the best it can be.

One thing Vessel doesn't do, however, is generate income. I write it because I love to, because, as Elizabeth Reyes put it, I must. And for five years or more, I was fortunate enough to find jobs that allowed me plenty of writing time, knowing all the while that one day this holiday would end. That a more viable career, or another trip to school, would one day become a necessity I could no longer put off. Well, that day came along in the middle of September, in the form of an opportunity I couldn't pass up: namely, the rare chance to apprentice under a master tattoo artist.

Tattooing has long topped the list of careers I give enough fucks to actually strive toward. Drawing was always my first love, not to mention the thing I happen to be best at; tattoos, my vice whenever I have the extra cash. I love the artwork, the styles, the people, the culture, the intimacy, the challenge of pain, the ritual and tradition, the colorful balance between reverence and irreverence. Given a totally unexpected shot at breaking into this notoriously difficult-to-enter industry, to learn skills that will allow me to one day earn a better living (and hopefully more time for Vessel) doing something that satisfies me every bit as much as writing . . . well, I hope you can understand why I couldn't walk away from that.

Obviously my heart is over the moon for this new opportunity, but it also breaks that Vessel has to take a back seat for a while. If it were humanly possible, you know I'd claw out the time to write. Between the apprenticeship and my day job, however, I'm now working 75-90 hours a week. That is not a typo. Most days I consider it an honest to god miracle if I'm able to take a shower. And this madness will go on for some time. A year or more, easily. You can appreciate, then, the agonizing Sophie's choice I now make. This might be the only chance I ever have to claim a more secure and enjoyable future for myself, but it comes at the cost of setting aside that which I hold fiercely dear, that which I have poured myself into for nearly a decade. I feel like I'm leaving my children at an orphanage. I feel . . . like this is the hardest thing I've ever done, and it's only beginning. This is the fight of my life, friends.

Just know this. Know that I mean it when I say that for as long as I am able to compose words, Vessel will remain a major priority in my life. The series will be completed. All five books. Maybe more. You'll see. Double-pinky kiss-kiss.

Boys. Jordan. Hang in there. I'm coming back for you.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

quick post: Book II Giveaway!

I'm moving to yet another too-expensive studio so I'm cleaning house. Still need a copy of Book II? Know someone who'd love Vessel? Good news! I'm giving away 20 copies of Exodus with another goodreads giveaway! Ends September 22nd--enter now!

Don't forget: Book I is still available for free as ebook on any device! 



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Vessel prayer candles are here! (sort of)

Hey, remember when I wanted to make Vessel prayer candles for the shop but it never happened because the packaging and shipping would've been too costly?

SOLUTION: I'm just selling the decals! At cost. For fun. Sized to fit perfectly on the 8" jar candles you can find at any Dollar Store, Dollar Tree, and most drug stores and grocers (for about $1 each)--and of course anything else you want to stick them on. Your laptop, your accordion case, your cat, go nuts! The world is your sexy, sexy shrine. Priced at $6 for a set of 5, with free shipping, because who doesn't love cheap stickers? Here's the purchase page. Light 'em up, friends! 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Belated: The Vessel finally have a sigil.

Today in "Well that took long enough", we finally have a design for the Vessel's pentagonal sigil, along with their individual glyphs. You know, the pretty logo found all over Elysium? The image etched on Jordan's handy Hollow-detecting necklace? Several previous versions exist, like the hideous one on the cocktail e-book that must now be replaced, and let's never forget the fact that my symmetrical fire glyphs always end up looking vaginal, but that's all behind us now. I've finally come up with a ringer...

Wanna guess which glyph is which?
Answers are at the end of the post. 

I wanted something crude and prehistoric, rune-like, simpler than more elegant elemental glyphs like those beauties featured on Avatar. And more distinguishable from one another than the symbols of Wicca, which become easily confused when rotated. The designer in me also required them to be similar in weight and style, so after doodling dozens of little circular symbols, I tried using only straight lines to achieve some sense of unity. ViolĂ !

Have you made your guesses yet? Okay, answer time! One goal was to make the glyphs as intuitive as possible, but symbol design is hard! Let's see if I did well enough to get the point across to you, dear reader.

The crossed lines on top represent Ghi, of course: light, sun, stars, cosmos, a spark, the heavens, etc.
The two vertical lines are for Jesse: a column of air or an upward path.

The horizontal line is for Corin: a river or stream, or the horizon over the water.

The upward peak is for Jackson: a crag of earth, a hill or mountain.

Last but not least, the forked lines are for Khan: representing flame, fire (and hey, it finally doesn't look like a vagina!).

Behold the fiery vaginas of yore.

So, how did you do?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Yes, I know how it ends: Story building without getting stuck.

The first thing people ask when you tell them you're writing fiction, especially a series, is usually: Do you know how it ends? This is often followed by: Do you have it all written down, or is it all in your mind? How do you keep up with it all?

The answers, respectively, are YES and HAHAHAHAHA. As Zadie Smith so beautifully illustrates in one of my favorite author pep talks, story building can be as organized or haphazard as one needs it to be to move forward. My story building method often involves listening to lots of embarrassing music while exercising, staring into space at length, starting outlines that mean nothing by the time I finish them, and finding completely obsolete notes to myself tucked away in every drawer, notebook, and text file I touch. If my apartment strikes you as neat, know that I am compensating for the tangled heap of fantasy parts that occupies the better part of my brain at all times. Weirdly, and I'm sure many an author will agree, I know where it's all going. I swear I do. Yes, I inevitably have to rip up and re-lay more than half the tracks, but the big picture--as well as all the juicy bits--motors right along in a never-ending playback reel in my head. Strange cargo faithfully appears when I get stuck, story manna, magically making jagged bits fall into place and sending the book along its way again. Characters and scenes that once seemed vitally important to me get booted. Brilliant solutions that wake me in the night get misplaced, and occasionally I do have to pull the brakes and organize things, but in general, I don't worry about forgetting key elements. The ideas that show up and stick are the ones that don't get left in the dust. Sounds reckless, but that's how it is. That's how I write. Your mileage may vary. But if you find yourself stranded in the middle of your own novel, here are three things I'd tell anyone to remember when checking under the hood. 

1. Kill, kill, kill . . .
Given 15 years to brew in my head, Vessel has certainly changed, in leaps and bounds, over time. The entire series morphed from one end to another, ten times over, before I was truly ready to write and publish it as it exists today. Characters, names, vital scenes, entire story arcs, so many beloved components are forever falling by the wayside, for any number of reasons. The importance doesn't translate to the reader, the rest of the story changed and this character or that revelation no longer fits, or it just looks plain stupid once it's written down. Put simply, don't just kill your darlings. Slaughter them by the truckload. If the work you finish today in no way relates to what you wrote two years ago, your story is probably better for it. You've dropped unnecessary baggage and transformed it into something lean and delicious. It's impossible not to get attached to your words, but whip out that scalpel anyway. If a line feels cheesy, lose it--no matter how much you love it. If a scene feels more like a speed bump, dump it into a scrap file. Trust me: you'll find those words a few years down the road and be glad they didn't make the cut. If you have to fight the rest of your novel just to accommodate them, then they aren't worth keeping. Conversely . . . 

2. Give in.
. . . Occasionally the ideas you feel like ignoring at first are the ones who belong. I have no clue how this happens, but it does. Sometimes an idea comes along unbidden, an idea that would require huge efforts to incorporate. A new setting presents itself--and will entail lots of wardrobe and equipment changes. A character insists on evolving in a direction you never anticipated. A new twist occurs to you, one that doesn't quite jive with what's already published, something nearly impossible to knit in within what remains of the series. And yet it simply must be so, and there you are, eating Lucky Charms dry out of a coffee mug at 3am and wondering how you're going to make Character A completely unaware of Character B's existence, even though they conversed in Book I. You might even loathe the idea, but if it keeps nagging at you in juuuust the right way, you'll know. Find some way to work the idea in, and your story will benefit. (Warning, Vessel Book I spoiler ahead.) Jordan's amputation is a prime example. I thought it too dark and dramatic for the kind of series I wanted Vessel to be, and yet . . . once the idea came to me, her fate was as good as sealed. I fought it. I battled with that decision throughout the writing of Advent. "But Tom!" you say, "The book starts with the line My name is Jordan Murphy and I'm the fastest one-armed bartender in the world." Yes it does, my pretties, but the writing certainly didn't start there. Which brings me to . . .  

3. Jump around.
Your story will break down at times. You'll find yourself sitting there with no way to move it forward. Get out. Stretch. Walk away. Jump ahead and write another part, something you're excited about. Hell, write the ending. Write three endings. This is how the bulk of Vessel gets written, by the way. Don't worry about how you'll fill in the gaps or get your characters from point A to point B. You will. You might even encounter some means of jump-starting the earlier part while working out the details of the newer part. Or you might write something that will render the earlier part useless, and have to do away with it entirely. Either way, you'll get un-stuck, and getting un-stuck is half the battle of writing.

The other half? Probably back pain. Or remembering not to talk to yourself on the elliptical. Whatever form your battles take, trust your story and you'll make it to the end, I promise!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

One Weird Trick to Improve Productivity

Much to my dismay, we're approaching the 2 year mark since Exodus was published, with nary a release date in site for Deliverance. At my most optimistic, a December or early 2016 release seem possible (but don't quote me on that ;D), far from my promise of completing this book more quickly than the last one. Deliverance is challenging me in a number of ways, but my biggest hurdle by far has nothing to do with its tangled, sometimes brutal plot. You see, I possess the innate ability to do less with more time. Yep. The more time I have, the less I seem to be able to do with it.

I've always been a sucker for organization, a complete office supply fetishist, a lover of to-do lists and planners. During one semester in college, I somehow balanced 19 credit hours, five part-time jobs, two campus organizations, and a relationship. And I loved it. Now, with virtually no obligations beyond my day job, I somehow let weeks go by without getting a single word on a page.

I don't berate myself. Those words aren't going to get written retro-actively, and the best I can do is find ways to make the most of today and tomorrow. Naturally, the Staples freak in me turns to to-do lists and various productivity models when I hit a wall, and I've recently resurrected one method that has worked for me in the past. Since I've found it so effective, I wanted to share it with any of you who are struggling to get shit done

It's called "Don't Break The Chain" and it's so simple you'll almost be mad that it works. I came across the method, which was apparently popularized by Jerry Seinfeld (weird), via this Lifehacker post. Basically, if there's something you need to get done every day, you get one of those year-at-a-glance calendars and stick it on the wall. For every day you do the thing, you mark a big X on that day. Eventually, you'll have a few X's all in a row, a visual representation of your momentum--and an incentive to keep going to avoid "breaking the chain". That's literally it. You can put up multiple calendars for multiple tasks. You can spice it up any way you want. There are countless Don't Break The Chain calendars available to print right from your computer if you want something a little more aesthetically pleasing, and pretty mobile apps of course.

I tend to do better at things when I physically put them together, so I made my own. My goals are to spend significant time writing (or editing) every day, blog once a week, and work out three times a week. So I made one grid representing every day left in the year for writing, and two more representing the weeks left in the year for working out and blogging. It's not a perfect system, and I've already broken my writing chain (hey, how could I write during this particular Pride weekend???), but I've found that it motivates me to get my butt in front of the computer (or to the gym) with serious frequency. Maybe it will work for you, too!

And hey, guess who already has her X for blogging this week...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

itty bitty little update

The blog has been dead all month, BUT the timeline for the entire Vessel series is finished, and so is the complete outline for Book III (the bulk of which is already written). Not exactly as exciting as a excerpt, I know, but as an earlier post mentioned, this was the perfect (and necessary) time to step back and make sure everything in the series is aligned properly before moving ahead. And dudes, let me just say that it's killing me that Book V is still such a ways down the road, because I can't freaking wait for you to see how it all comes together. 

I'll be spending the next weeks incorporating all the changes set forth by the outline and polishing Deliverance into a cohesive first draft before moving forward with the usual gauntlet of edits. Meanwhile, I intend to devise some way to make the content of this blog less diary-like, and more useful and interesting. For now, enjoy this video of a man yelling at ducks, a beautiful metaphor about life. Sometimes, friend, you are the ducks. Sometimes, you are the man. Today, I am the man.

Boss Bitch OUT.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Note to self: Changing up your technique won't wreck your flow.

We all like to feel like our own way is best, especially in creative endeavors. Sometimes, though, we have to step away from what works for us and try something new. Vessel's first two books were written with very little outlining, relying mostly on character-driven plot development (#JesseTakeTheWheel) and how well I know my own story. At a certain point, I started to shy away from the very notion of outlining, even when it seemed like a good idea, fearful that it would upset my thinky-feely but reliably dope process, or even change the way my writing sounds. But as the Vessel universe's scope increases toward the fifth book, it became necessary for me to stop in the middle of writing Book III and outline it in detail from start to finish, as well as take a page from J.K. Rowling and create a timeline for the entire series. I finished Book III's outline TONIGHT. Holes have been filled, vague details clarified, and while some writing and editing still remains, there is definitely a cohesive book at the end of the tunnel now, and not the swiss-cheese shaped story I've been grappling with for months. Hallelujah! 

I am your despair!

From me to you: Don't be afraid to explore a new approach, no matter how far you've come already using your own system. It's never too late, and you've got nothing to lose. At best, your work will improve. At worst, the new thing won't work for you, and you can return to the comfort of your old familiar ways! 

My old familiar ways? Doodling in the margins 4EVER. Works for outlines, too!

This is what happens when I use a copy of Dinotopia to balance my notebook.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I don't know how to quit you: The inescapable drive to create.

I spoke with a friend recently about personal responsibility, which led to some words you might take to heart if you agonize over long-term projects that aren't exactly profitable. Or if you have a creative person in your life. I told my friend that I enjoy my life--that I'm doing what I love and living comfortably--but that I sometimes can't shake the nagging feeling that I appear irresponsible to others. I work an unskilled job and basically live paycheck-to-paycheck--all to afford myself the time and freedom to write Vessel. And truth be told, I squander a lot of that time. On Netflix series, on sleeping in, on doing nothing at all (more on all that later). In addition, I realize that my numberless projects appear totally half-assed and capricious. From selling on etsy to learning banjo to freelance graphic design, my endeavors, in true Aries fashion, start off with a bang and then quickly fizzle.

All but one.

"Yeah, but what if you don't finish it?" my friend asked.

"What do you mean?"

"The books. What if you lose interest?"

I was silent for a minute. What I wanted to tell him seemed obvious and irrefutable to me, but to someone who doesn't live inside my head? It probably sounds like raving insanity at best--or, at worst, like the impassioned declarations of another self-labeled artiste who will drop everything at the next distraction. What I wanted to tell him is that Vessel, in some form or another, has had a firm foothold in my brain since the age of 12. That's well over half of my life now. To lose interest in it now--or ever--would be like losing interest in eating. In living indoors. In bathing. Losing interest would require a total sea change. To drop Vessel would be no less dramatic a move to me than dropping all my possessions and earthly contacts and trekking to live off the grid in Alaska. I am not being sarcastic. At this point, the thought of dropping Vessel is as alien to me as the concept of pointedly walking away from my family or my closest friend without a word, never to see them again. It's more than just an unlikely or unpleasant possibility. It's a literal impossibility. It just won't happen. I can't even imagine a scenario in which it could happen, besides some apocalyptic reality in which I must spend 100% of my time on survival alone. Maybe then. Maybe.

But that all sounded quite trite and crazy, so after a few minutes of babbling about family, I put it to my friend this way: "Imagine that you've built the perfect house in your head. Your dream house. It has everything you want, and you want to live in it so bad. It's architecturally sound and everything. Now imagine that you have the land, the materials, the labor to build it, all of it free. It will literally cost you nothing to build it. All you have to do is be there, build it. Again, living in this thing is all you want, and you have everything you need to make it happen. So. . . How could you not do it? How could you not?"

That's the closest I can come to explaining it. Sure, Vessel may be amateur genre fiction, perhaps riddled with cliches and irksome POV choices, but it's still the story I need to write. My job is to make it the best that I personally can. I can't promise that I'll do a better job at it than anybody else, or even that I'll do a great job at all. But I can promise that I will do it. I have everything I need, after all, and no one else is going to do it.

How could I not?

To answer Rilke's famous question, and as silly as it sounds set before a backdrop of exploding tour buses and frisky man-gods:
I must. 

So rest assured: if you read and love Vessel, the series will get finished. Have no doubt. I vow to fight my Netflix timesuck demons and get it to you sooner rather than later, but one way or another--so long as I am alive, that is--it will get to you. Now if that pesky apocalypse comes along and wipes the internet out? I'll be in Seattle, subsisting on leftover sauce at the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings. Come find me. I'll tell you how it ends. 

"Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must," then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity."  
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (The First Letter) 

 Take it from here, Inspirational Sloth.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Best of: Books I read in 2014

So this post won't be as long or encompassing as last year's roundup, mostly because the first quarter of my year was spent on one entry alone (the Song of Ice and Fire series). Nothing that I read last year rocketed to My Favorite Books of All Time status quite like Kushiel's Dart or Lies of Locke Lamora, but I did discover a new favorite author and continue a beloved graphic novel series. So without further ado, my favorite reads from 2014:

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
Yes, I am late to the gate on this one. This was my first Atwood. I know. I know. I can't believe I waited this long. Girlfriend is incredible, and Alias Grace, Handmaid's Tale, and Oryx & Crake are already calling to me as I struggle to finish the books I'm currently reading. I can't wait to read more of her. But if you, like I once was, are Without Atwood In Your Life, then Blind Assassin is a great introduction to her effortlessly beautiful but totally accessible and entertaining prose. The book weaves four rather different stories together, culminating at the point where they meet: the apparent suicide of protag Iris's sister Laura. From Iris, we hear the account of the complicated youth and troubled marriage of an industry heiress in post-WWI Canada. We also hear about her freer--but much less glamorous--days as an elderly woman putzing the sidewalks and eating donuts in the town that her family used to own. Interspersed throughout her narratives are chapters of a fiction within a fiction, and a fiction within that fiction: the story of two lovers meeting again and again, continuously building a pulp sci-fi plot together after their lovemaking sessions. It becomes clear that these chapters are pulled from a book very important to Iris: but who wrote it?

A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R. R. Martin.
Endlessly entertaining family drama (and trauma). Excellent fantasy world building, zero flowery fantasy prose. But you've already heard that from every reader in your life. The hype is real. Just read it.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark And The Spending of a Great American Fortune, Bill Dedman
This book examines the long, isolated, totally off-the-wall life of a 20th century heiress with limitless financial resources, courtesy of her father, one W.A. Clark, an American empire builder who can claim the decision to buy the land that Las Vegas sits on to build a maintenance stop for his railroad system (Ever heard of Clark County, NV?) as one of his minor financial moves. Moving on: Huguette was old enough when the Titanic sank to remember it, and died during the beginning of Obama's presidency. THINK ABOUT THAT. And she was unimaginably rich and able-bodied the whole time. So what did she do with her 115 years of lavish wealth and good health? Totes bought a lot of art, got married for like five minutes, commissioned lots and lots of very detailed Japanese dollhouses, donated to her father's charities, hung out with her bff/mom, corresponded with a married Frenchman, lived as a total recluse, and inexplicably spent the last 20 years of her life in a hospital room despite being in great health, giving money to people right and left. Fascinating profile of a one-of-a-kind boss lady. All hail.

Saga: Volume 3, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
In which I return to one of my favorite series! Seriously, if you love graphic novels--or if you like the idea of graphic novels but don't know where to dive in--get on this shit. The artwork is breathtaking and you cannot go wrong with the storytelling. No trite hero struggling between the weight of saving the world and maintaining a personal life, no undead overtaking the earth, no butt-kicking femme fatales (unless you count armless spider lady and all-around perfect being The Stalk). It's just a small family trying to survive on the run in a war-torn galaxy, with a cast of compelling characters on their heels at every turn. And Volume 3 is the best of the bunch so far! So far. I just bought Volume 4 and I am dying to get to it! UPDATE: Volume 4 was superb.

That wraps it up, folks. Enjoy! And for further reference:
Best of: Books I read in 2013
5 Books I found essential in 2010
....Crap. I thought I'd done more of these roundups. Maybe they're mislabeled somewhere on this site. Oh well. Mental note to post more of my untimely book reviews, check.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Another new year, another vow to blog more, be more productive, stay in touch, the usual business. 2014 was a pretty slow year for Vessel--spent deep in the inner guts of Book III, and most of that happened at the tail end of the year during NaNoWriMo. The coveted 50,000 words were written, and with them came a ton of new ideas, new plot lines, satisfying ways to connect existing--and perilously dangling--plot lines, and a few new characters. It's been the toughest book yet, and there's still a lot of work to do--major editing and some serious gap-filling, mainly--but I feel confident in saying that you'll have your hands on Deliverance sometime in 2015. And that character novella as well.

Hey, I'd rather be ambitious and wrong than pessimistic and right. Glasses half full, people. Cheers, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!