Archive for the 'Greg van Eekhout' Category


The mirror don’t lie

Pretty much, I’m the luckiest guy on the planet. Because when I pick my nose, I get diamonds!!!

No, that’s not true. But I am lucky, because I get to wake up on Monday mornings and instead of going to the cubicle, I get to stay home and write.

You can hate me. I’m used to the hate. I don’t mind the hate.

There’s plenty of stuff on the webbertoobs telling writers to be very, very, very cautious about quitting the Day Job, and they’re all correct and you should listen to them.

That being said, I quit my Day Job some years ago. My partner and I were both making healthy full-time incomes while living cheaply, and with her generous support, we figured we could afford to live off just the one income for a while while I tried to be a full-time writer.

It was Failure. Not financial failure, not even career failure, but emotional failure. I felt I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t writing enough. I wasn’t achieving enough. I wasn’t getting good enough. I was just slacking, squandering, frittering, wasting, taking. Without sufficient publishing successes, and without sufficient determination and good self-image, I came to hate myself a little bit.

That’s the thing I don’t see enough in discussions about quitting the Day Job. You might be reading this now and rolling your eyes and thinking if you could quit your job and focus on writing you’d be wearing the cat’s pajamas and the dog’s too. But  are you sure you know what you need to make you happy? How much success will it take to keep you from the spiraling-toilet feeling that you are a sucking drain? You should at least seriously consider the question while you’re spreadsheeting things like health insurance and retirement and grocery bills.

Quitting the Day Job was the wrong choice for me. I was writing a lot, working hard at it, but I felt my self-esteem grow dimmer with every passing day. It just wasn’t emotionally sustainable. So I went back to my 9-5 (and I was very lucky that they took me back, even gave me a raise and a promotion), and even though I hated going to the cubicle on Monday mornings, I got back to the point where I could look myself in the mirror.

And then, a while later, I quit again. And this time I wrote my ass off (and I also taught part-time and did contract work to help make up some of the income loss). Not that I hadn’t written a lot the first time, but this time felt different. I was writing for my very life. I didn’t know whether this would be a year-long opportunity or a month-long, but I was determined to wring every drop of joy and passion out of this opportunity.  I don’t think it’s an accident that I sold my first novel soon after this point, and then my second and third. This year I’ll earn a full-time income from writing for the very first time in my life. Not a great full-time income, but one that materially contributes to the household and doesn’t offend me.

I’m still on a see-how-this-goes basis. Every six months, at least, we sit down and talk over our financial status and goals and decide if this is still working. But just as important as the money stuff, I give myself a good, hard, sustained look in the mirror. A spreadsheet can’t reveal everything.

by Greg van Eekhout


Bacon power

You have power. You’re fairly bristling with it. It sizzles off your flesh like bacon in a pan. You like power, don’t you? You like bacon? Here’re a few ways you can exert it this week.

1. Buy a book from an independent bookseller.

Last week, San Diego’s oldest bookstore abruptly closed its doors after 74 years of business. This kind of thing is happening a lot, unfortunately. The American Booksellers Association reports its membership roster declining from 4700 independent bookstores to 1900 last year. One need not launch a screed against chains and big-box retailing to see the loss as a bad thing. When you buy from a local independent, you’re keeping tax dollars in your community. When you buy from any independent, you’re giving the power of deciding what books get sold to thousands of individuals rather than concentrating it in the hands of a very few number of corporate buyers.

If you don’t have a local independent bookstore, try one in another city. Many of them have websites these days and do online sales. Don’t know where to start? Try IndieBound, a network of independent bookstores. The IndieBound site lets you search for a title, and then it’ll ask you for your zip code to locate an indie shop near you where you can either pick up the book or order it. Many of them handle e-book sales as well.

I’m not saying you should support crappy bookstores, but most of the very best are indies.

2. Support Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons is the longest-operating SF online short fiction magazine. A lot of writers, including some of those here at the Magic District, got started by publishing short fiction at Strange Horizons and places like Strange Horizons. They’re a SFWA pro-market, operated by a large cabal of volunteers, and they’re solely funded by reader donations. They’ve just started their 2009 fund drive, and donors get entered in a drawing to win fabulous prizes, like books or services or original art.

3. Tell an author you liked their book or story or article or poem or whatever.

Because when a reader takes the time and trouble to tell me they liked something I wrote? That’s really powerful bacon.


Never too stressed to hype


That’s pretty much been my life the last couple of weeks. Writing is a great job when you only have to write when you feel like it. But when you’re under deadline pressure? Well, actually it’s still a great job, just a bit more stressful, maybe.

Wanna hear what I sound like when I’m stressed? Wanna hear me talk about writing short stories and losing the Nebula Award and from whence my interest in Norse mythology came and what it’s like to be an author with a debut novel during a lousy economy and other things?

I blab on these topics and other things with podcaster/writer Shaun Farrell on Adventures of SciFi Publishing.

Shaun’s also running a Norse Code giveaway contest. Details here.


Learning to fly solo

I never thought of myself as a workshop junky. Not that I have anything against workshops or workshop junkies. I might have been very happy to have gone to Clarion or Clarion West, but my life and my writing development never coincided in such a way that it  made sense to go, and by the time I’d reached a point where a six-week workshop might have been beneficial, I was enmeshed in a full-time job that I quite liked but didn’t afford me six weeks of leave.

Instead, I went to Viable Paradise, the one-week workshop held every year on Martha’s Vineyard. There, I made good contacts, got great writing feedback at a time when I was pretty sure I knew how to write sentences but sucked at stories, and my first professional story sale resulted from that workshop. Viable Paradise obviously had a big impact on my life.

But the workshop that’s given me an even bigger boost than VP has been Blue Heaven, a peer-run workshop founded by C.C. Finlay focusing on novels. I’d written a little practice novel before coming to Blue Heaven, but that was after giving up on the novel I’d really wanted to write, which was Norse Code. Preparing for Blue Heaven three years ago, I decided to give Norse Code another try.  Eleven other writers told me everything that was wrong with the book. And they also told me what was right about it. And they helped me find the hard little raisin stone my faith had become and filled it with liquor and juice and turned it into a big moist plum, and by the time I stepped off the ferry from Kelly’s Island, OH, I was ready to tackle Norse Code again.

I’m streamlining  a little here, because there were some other bumps and curves, but that’s the gist of it. Before Blue Heaven, I wasn’t a professional writer. Now I feel like I am. I’m not talking about sizes of advances or whether or not I’m in SFWA (I’m not). I’m talking about being someone who can write books and get paid for them and do it more than once. Not the pinnacle of professionalism, but it’s a start.

This past weekend I returned from Starry Heaven, a workshop modeled after Blue Heaven. It was a tremendously good and useful time. I got valuable feedback from my colleagues, and I connected with old friends and made new ones in the pleasant thin air of Flagstaff, Arizona. I’m very happy I went, and I’d certainly do it again. I loved being there. I’m so happy to have had the privilege. But I realized I’d be writing the book with or without the workshop. Did I need the workshop? Do I need Blue Heaven? I’m starting to think that maybe I don’t any more. I think, maybe, I could get this job done without the workshop stage. I think that’s normal and healthy. I think it’s a natural part of my growth.

Which is not to say the workshops don’t still fulfill a very critical need for me. There’re still workshop deadlines to motivate me and feedback to help me avoid suckage and help me untie knotted storylines. But honestly, if I never went to another workshop, I’d still get these books written. I couldn’t say that three years ago.


Post-release Insanity

This is the post in which I reveal how cool I am. Because I had a novel come out a few weeks ago, my very first. Normally for a writer in my position, this is a time to be crazy and fretful and obsessed. If I’m to act true to form, I should be checking my Amazon rankings and monitoring bookstores that display stock on-hand, like Mysterious Galaxy and Powells. I should be twitch-googling for new reviews or even the most passing-est of mentions of my name or the title of my book. I should be keeping up a rapid-fire click rotation between Goodreads and Shelfari and Librarything to see who loves me, who hates me, who’s recommending me to their friends.

In other words, I should be doing all those things that my fellow writers who’ve gone down this path before told me not to do. Even threatened me with bodily harm and maiming, in some cases.

So, I’m not doing those things.

Except for I’m lying, because I totally am.

I’ve even seen my BookScan numbers for the first two weeks. They look pretty good. Encouraging. But my Amazon rankings have dipped since yesterday. I wonder if I should e-mail my publisher and ask them what went wrong.

Oh, by the way, the title of this blog entry is Post-release Insanity.

I’m going to go type that in the title field of the blog editor, his the little Publish button, and then go stick my head in a bucket of ice.


How does it feel?

I feel numb. Dizzy. Kind of swimmy in the head and a little bit ferswoonish in the gut. Because my book comes out tomorrow (that’s Norse Code, for you search engine bots), and I know of at least one person who’s already bought it at a bookstore, and that means it’s probably too late for another revision pass.

I went to a Catholic school for one year, first grade, and was taught that erasing equalled cheating. If you put down the wrong answer, then you have sinned, and that’s between you and God and Father Hoben or if you’re lucky Father Bond who’s nicer. An eraser cannot absolve you. We had a math quiz, and I put down a wrong answer (let’s say it was 5 in answer to 4 + 2). Realizing my mistake before handing my paper in, but lacking an eraser, I did the only logical thing I could think of: lick finger, rub away my sin, and absolve myself with a confidentally written 6.

So, tomorrow, as my book hits the shelves, that’s what I’ll be doing: Smearing saliva over every copy of my book I can find and penciling in corrections to all the egregiously poor choices of language and story I made.

I know this entry doesn’t make a lot of sense. I blame the ferswoonishness.


Greg’s Sunday Quickie – By the authority of the mystic guardians of the universe

Our Sunday Quickie topic this week is the book or movie or thing that first got us into science fiction and fantasy. I actually can’t remember a time I when I wasn’t into science fiction and fantasy. Maybe it was the syndicated reruns of Filmation superhero cartoons. There was Superman and Batman and Aquaman, but the really cool ones were the “science-y” ones, like Green Lantern (a “cosmic crusader whose magical power ring accomplishes the impossible”),  Hawkman (a “scientific genius from another world”) and The Atom (who owes his powers to the “magic alchemy of nature’s most awesome sources of energy”).

They were pretty bad cartoons, but, hey, I was maybe four.

And then there was The Six Million Dollar Man. And Ark II, and Land of the Lost, and you pretty much couldn’t turn on your TV without bumping up against some goofy and perfectly awesome science fiction and fantasy.

And by the way, as I’m writing this, the Land of the Lost movie trailer just started playing on my TV. And all I want to say about that is this: Screw you, Will Farrell. Screw you. If something like that had been my first exposure to science fiction, I may very well have grown up illiterate.


Greg’s sunday quickie — My favorite mom who never was

She had been a queen. Now she was a fugitive, and her only concern was keeping her twin infants away from their father. Or the thing their father had become.

She stowed away on freighters. She bribed smugglers to help her. She hijacked ships and fought off bounty hunters and Imperials. When she could, she watched her children sleep, for it seemed they could sense when their father was drawing near.

For a time she found safe harbor with the Organas of Alderaan. They offered her refuge, but, no, she couldn’t remain anywhere for long. But she saw the cold necessity of leaving one of her children behind. Each was like a magnet, possessing a force that brought their father inevitably closer, and when they were together, the force was too conspicuous. So she left her daughter in the Organa’s care. She promised her she’d come back, if she could.

And then to the desert planet. She nearly did not make it, for a bounty hunter had picked up her trail. Obi Wan met her there. Hurriedly, she told Kenobi to watch over her boy. One day he would have to confront his father. Kenobi must prepare him for that day. Train him. Teach him. Show him there was still good in the world, everywhere he looked. And if he couldn’t find it, then he would have to be the source of it.

She blasted off the planet to lead the bounty hunter away, but her ship was damaged and couldn’t make the jump to hyperspace. So she turned back towards the pursuing ship, and she fired. To survive, the bounty hunter had no choice but to defend himself. He would have to report back to his master that the queen’s ship and all aboard were destroyed.

And for many years, that is what Vader thought.

Anyway, that’s the version of Amidala that exists in my head. Instead of, you know, what we got.


Damn words

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  ~Mark Twain

I’ve made a conscious effort to curb my use of “very,” but in the 50,000-word manuscript I’m revising, there were still 45 of them. I did a little better on “really,” with only 31. An embarrassing 273 incidents of “that,” almost all of which are unnecessary.

Ninety-four “fish,” which probably isn’t enough for this book. And just a single occurrence each of  “zombie,” “zany,” and “zipper,” all of which could stand a more robust workout.

I always try to fill my books and the world with more love than hate, and in this case “love” won out by a score of 14 to 6.

A jaw-dropping 213 “like”s, which indicates I’ve never met a simile I didn’t like.

What are your crutch words, writers? Readers, are there words that make you wince when you see them repeated?


Greg’s Sunday Quickie — Other storytelling media

First love: prose fiction. Short stories and novels. Definitely.

But if I could work in another storytelling medium, it’d be comics, one of the most versatile playgrounds a writer could ask for. As one of my favorite comic book creators once said (and I just wish I could remember which one) comics are words and pictures, and with words and pictures, you can do almost anything. Long before I saw myself writing novels, and before I even knew what a short story was, I couldn’t imagine a better job than writing and drawing comics. I spent many a summer day designing costumes and secret origins for my own super heroes, entire teams of them. I still remember Mighty Man and Ghost Man, the co-leaders of the super hero team I invented whose name is now lost somewhere in my brain where those things go. Oh, there was also Dragon Fly. She could breathe fire. And fly. She dressed like a dragon.

I still like to draw, but, alas, my skills in that area are such that any comic I drew would have a very limited audience. But writing? I can do that. Last year I found myself with a couple of weeks off between novel projects. Ordinarily I would spend this time writing short stories, but I decided instead to try writing a couple of comic book scripts. Just for practice. Not anything I’d ever submit anywhere. I wrote one Superman script and one Batman script, and I found it challenging.

Everybody always tells prose writers that the big difference between prose and comics is that in comics you have to think visually. Which, you know, well, duh. The bigger challenge, I think, is learning to think in panels and pages, pacing a story out to a limited number of panels and a specific number of pages. It’s not easy. But it’s also hilariously fun.

I’m going to be writing more comic book scripts, and hopefully in the not-too-distant future I’ll feel comfortable trying to get my work seen by people who pay for this sort of thing.

So if  anyone out there would like to offer me a job writing comics, I will entertain all reasonable offers.

(And, yeah, I know comics are even harder to break into than prose fiction. I’m hopeful, not clueless. Not totally clueless, at least.)