Friday, December 30, 2016

Would You License Fan Fiction of Your Work?

The hearsay on the street is that Amazon has now purchased rights to have fan fiction on its site for several television shows such as Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. This means that a fan fiction writer could get paid for their work without risk of a copyright lawsuit.

Under copyright laws currently, fan fiction is considered plagiarism. It, in pure simplicity, takes the idea of another artist. But in most cases, no one pursues legal action against it. For one, people don’t try to profit from their stories, rather share and post them online for free. This makes it difficult to enforce copyright law, it being more of a financial concept. If you don’t like the existence of fan fiction but it’s not making any money, you’ll do best with a cease and desist letter. You don’t hear a lot of authors or publishers going after fan fiction writers because they’re not making any money, but also it would be really bad P.R.

Most big publishers discourage authors from encouraging fan fiction, however.

All works are protected under copyright, even if you have not gotten an official copyright. (You send a manuscript with a form and a fee—35 to 55 dollars—to the U.S. copyright office.) You, however, must prove with evidence that you wrote the work first and that the “theft” has taken significant parts of your piece, and sometimes even proof they had the opportunity to steal it. (How did they see the manuscript?) This is where the “Poor man’s copyright,” comes into play, in which you send a sealed envelope to yourself through the postal service, giving it a legal date and proof of its existence. However, it isn’t necessarily going to hold up in court. Another option, is to have the manuscript notarized, along with a list of any parties you sent it out to.

So why do works like Fifty Shades of Grey and the Immortal Instruments—books that the authors admitted to originating as fan fiction—get away with it?

Two possibilities: One, the copyright holders are the ones to enforce the law. They can choose who to pursue or not to pursue. If the authors/publishers aren’t bothered by fan fiction making money, you’re free to do so. (Getting written permission first can bypass the problem). Two, because the stories are completely rewritten with new plots, characters, and text, only the faintest of ideas still influenced, it crosses the line of plagiarism to inspired by. The work is still majorly the writer’s own, even if it had a foundation on someone else’s.

Copyright law is actually vague and poorly stated. Satire and spoofs are perfectly legal, meaning I could use the idea of Twilight and “make fun of it” for financial benefit. And, the burden of proof is on the copyright holder to show that it isn’t a satire, but actual plagiarism. It’s somewhat of a “I’ll know it when I see it law,” meaning that we don’t have strict, blanket definitions, but rather use context to judge each individual circumstance. Evidence that it subtracted from the original author financially is the best bet.

But the main point is that while many authors allow fan fiction of their work to exist, even cheerleading it unofficially, it exists predominantly now as just a fun pastime. Writers and publishers will sometimes license individual pieces of fan fiction to be produced into a profitable book, but having the online site of Amazon purchase rights so that its freelance writers can blitz out anything they think of… that’s a different story.

I have no moral problem with this—the copyright holder still has to agree to it, and it actually enables a little more control over having fan fiction created of your work. However, it leads to another question: If this becomes a popular tactic for Amazon and successful authors, would I license my work out?

Right now fan fiction has a more “blind eye” policy. The author of the original does not necessarily agree to it be written, but it’s not being placed side by side with its remakes. There’s not really a fan fiction section in the bookstore. It’s more like porn; hidden away from the public eye, but readily available on the internet for those who chose to look for it.

And I kind of like it that way. I admire fan fiction writers a great deal because taking other people’s ideas and maintaining continuity and a genuine sense of the original is extraordinarily difficult, especially for me. But having fan fiction come out as an official story seems to unnerve me.

In my mind, fan fiction is an inevitable response to any successful work. It doesn’t matter if you want people to reimagine your idea. In this day and age, it will happen, and trying to chase down any fan fiction writer is just bringing down wrath on a, by definition, true fan. Plus, it’s like trying to kill an infestation by squashing a few ants. You will never prevent people from doing it, unless you want to develop a reputation as the insane author with a vendetta against his own readers.

Yet there is a difference between allowing something to happen and actually giving permission. Once you actually inform a person he is allowed to do something, he begins to cross boundaries. His comfort in his permission takes away the natural subtly and caution brought by the uncertainty. It’s like, I know you’re doing it, you know I know you’re doing it, but because I haven’t exactly said it’s okay, you’re not going to push your luck. I don’t have it shoved in my face the whole time.

If blanket licensing of a title becomes standard, allowing anyone to sell any fan fiction they write through a specific third-party seller (Amazon), would you license your book?

The benefits are the same as any fan fiction. You keep people talking about you, keep them excited about your work, give your fans more joy, and now you get the added benefit of getting paid—although I doubt it is as much as it would be if you licensed individually.

On the other hand, you’ve lost control of the reputation of the source material and the saturation of the market.

Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, has always been my greatest hero. For a long time he fought with syndication for the rights not to sell Calvin and Hobbes merchandise. While he retained final say as to whether or not someone could license the right to make t-shirts, there was a great amount of pressure from those around him to do so.

His reasons he didn’t want a movie, stuff animals, mugs, backpacks, or any of the like was because he believed it would affect the reputation of the source material.

“The visual sophistication of Pixar blows me away, but I have zero interest in animating Calvin and Hobbes. If you’ve ever compared a film to a novel it’s based on, you know the novel gets bludgeoned. It’s inevitable, because different media have different strengths and needs, and when you make a movie, the movie’s needs get served. As a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes works exactly the way I intended it to. There’s no upside for me in adapting it,” he says.

And on sequels, reboots, and other continuations… “You can’t really blame people for preferring more of what they already know and like. The trade-off, of course, is that predictability is boring. Repetition is the death of magic.”

Lastly… “Every artist learns through imitation, but I rather doubt the aim of these things is artistic development. I assume they’re either homages or satiric riffs, and are not intended to be taken too seriously as works in their own right. Otherwise I should be talking to a copyright lawyer.”

We can easily over saturate the market, making something lose its original umph. It can look mainstream, or just start to get on people’s nerves.

And then there’s the issue of continuity and what’s the “real” story. Even if fan fiction was obviously labeled as such on the cover, I could see there being a loss of control over the rules of the world if too many fans enjoyed the fan’s work as well. The writer’s careful heed of maintain the reality—many points of which are solely in the author’s head—can be destroyed by a barrage of other stories that disobey the guidelines. Hearsay alone can damage the perceived continuity—and thereby “realness” of the book.

The thought of actually giving official licensing to any fan fiction sold through a specific site is terrifying to me. I always believed in its right to exist, but I’m not sure I would be willing to give out my official approval.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

The End of a Difficult Year

In January 2016, I debated extending my visitor’s visa in Australia. I had left the States to return with my then-boyfriend to his home country and had been living south of Perth for a few months. I knew it hadn’t been enough time to settle, but the depression and stress were getting to me.

Australia is a beautiful, friendly country, the people real and down to earth, the weather nice and hot. The food was to be lacking, their absence of corn syrup and poor selection of everything from cereals to soda pop making me eat healthier (there are no brand names in grapefruits!) but this combined with my mood made my appetite nearly non-existent.

I, however, wasn’t lonely, despite being in a country literally halfway around the world from my family. I loved being with my boyfriend, and his mother and step-father were friendly, supportive, and caring. But I knew living there would mean giving up on things:

I would never live in New York City. There was definitely a ceiling on careers in Australia, everyone ambitious going to U.S. or the U.K. The majority of books and movies were American and more expensive. I could find very few Australian novels, and it seemed that you worked backwards—become successful in the U.S. you’d be in bookstores all around Australia. Be successful in the outback and you might get a chance to get an offer by an American publisher. Course, that is according to my limited knowledge on the subject after spending only six months down under, but every artist I spoke to mentioned how they wanted to move to the States to further their careers.

I would no longer have an easy chance to take a motorcycle and go on a book tour around my home country. I would not easily see the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, travel to Los Angeles, New Orleans, and, of course, NYC.

I won’t air the details of my love life as it is not only my business, but as anyone who follows me knows, I was growing far more certain that my relationship would forever lack certain aspects I had imagined in my lifetime partner. I realize now that those “little things” were actually pretty big, and sacrificing so much was never a good idea, but I cared deeply about him. It was hard and against everything I’d worked for to be “selfish."

My then-boyfriend and I moved into a beautiful home and got an even more beautiful dog. I didn’t talk about him much, for a lot of reasons, but I think about him often. He died last June, after I had left.

It wasn’t until my family came and we had the first real vacation we had ever gone on that things changed. As I pulled myself away from a bad environment, I found a breath of relief. I realized both how depressed I had truly been, as well as my love for travel. My mother, father, and brother all headed out to the middle of Australia, took a train ride north to south, and saw some once in a life time sights. I felt good for the first time in a while, and I knew I had to make my decision.

It was hard. Harder than you’d believe—unless, of course, you’ve gone through it yourself. But when my extended visa ran out early May, I returned home, heartbroken. We hadn’t broken up immediately, but when he made no effort to contact me during that time, despite our discussions about how much our lack of communication hurt me, it proved to me once and for all I needed to go.

Dead broke after the last six months of expensive plane tickets and moving, I lived throughout the summer in my parents’ R.V. in our parking lot—a huge dirt area with a great view of Grand Teton National Park. I took a job at a restaurant close to home and found the labor to be fulfilling and distracting. I received a raise early on for my hard work, plus a hundred dollar tip from the boss, which benefited my confidence—smarting for the first time after the poor relationship.

When Storm died, I couldn’t look at other dogs. I couldn’t look at other relationships either. In a way, I had lost everything I had been working towards. I was getting harassed by guys every time I went out into public (it was as if they could smell the failure on me), and my attempts to overcome social anxiety and work on my people skills garnered me a lot of attention I truly didn’t want.

There was just something about the timing. Some months into the summer, a high school friend started an Aussie dog-breeder business, asking me to like his page filled with the cutest puppies you could find. Had I not already decided to move to New York City, I would have snatched one up then and there, damned my parents’ distaste of the animal on their property, damned the difficulty of finding rent. The only reason I didn’t was due to the unfairness of trying to keep an animal inside a closet-sized room which I could only picture I’d have.

At the same time, I went to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. As some of you may remember, I was nervous about the newest version of my beginning. It was a last minute overhaul in which I believed would fix the majority of the problems, but I was worried. I liked it, but hadn’t sat on it long enough to have my opinions settle. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Combined with the sinking feeling consuming me at that time—I’m not good enough—I couldn’t take another hit to my esteem. If they tore it apart, the little excitement and inspiration that I hadn’t had in months would be gone.

But that’s not what happened. The writers conference proved extremely enjoyable. I was in my comfort zone, I knew people, I understood how things worked, and three out of four critique partners told me they thought it was time to send out my eleventh draft, that they couldn’t think of much more to do with it. (The fourth informed me I had adverbs.)

Since then, I have found several solutions to the larger problems in the manuscript, the ones I have been struggling with since its incarnation. Though I have been distracted with the move since September, I am banking on sending it out to the first batch of agents on the 15th of January. Outside of one attempt on my fourth manuscript back in 2008, this is the first time I’ve actively pursued publishing. I’m confident that, even if the book doesn’t get picked up, I’m still proud of what my 13th manuscript has become.

In August, a mentor of mine died.

He was young. Far too young. I hadn’t realized how much he had an effect on me until he was gone, but he truly did impact me. I think about him often as well, despite that he wasn’t entrenched in my life, “no more” than a peer who I would end up working with from time to time. It comes to me in flashes; whenever I sweep I remember the time he yanked a broom out of my hand saying, “Oh for God’s sake.” When I think of classes I want to take in NYC, I remember the stories he told me about stage combat. He was always friendly and accommodating, and I had no idea that he would be gone and all of those times I thought I would have another chance to take his class or go to his movie nights, I had been wrong.

This is the first year I’ve faced my mortality: that I might not live until I’m seventy, or even if I do, I will make choices that could prevent me from doing something I always thought I’d have the option on.

During the summer, I felt stagnant. I decided from the moment I wouldn’t be returning to Australia that I would move to New York like my dream, if only to be sure that’s not what I want. I didn’t develop friendships, knowing I would be gone in a few months, didn’t have a space to call my own, didn’t think about my career long term, and could only really focus on my art, which, honestly, I was struggling with. I didn’t have a great amount of concentration in my heartbreak and stress. I hadn’t written, not really written, in years. Yes, bits and pieces, but the manuscripts were slow coming.

October came my day to leave. I had a flush bank account, a car, but no real plan. My mother and I ran across the country on a road trip, and I got to see Chicago for the first time, as well as the location of my Great-Aunt Ara’s store back in the 1930s (now a minimart.) While in Boston, I spent time with my cousins who went above and beyond helping me to find an apartment that was safe and within my price range.

For the two months I was mooching off them, I still struggled with stress. I struggled to get out of bed, to eat, to force myself to search for apartments and work. I still didn’t write much.

Then the day came where I signed my lease. My roommate was bubbly and grounded, my room quiet, affordable, and in a great location. The second I had something solid to sit back on, a lot of tension released.

I was able to eat again, which solved a lot of my pains. (Not all, as I’ve been in chronic pain for the last six years, but good meals obviously helped.) I started writing again, and am anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words away from the end of at least one book, plus many others that are in a variety of sizes and states.

I’m in a headspace to look back on everything that I’ve done, and realize that I wasn’t as much of an invalid as I thought. As scared as I am for the future, having no idea where to go from here, when I will find a job, or what I will do long term—financially, locationally, familially—the fact is, I am living in a city I’d dreamed of for years with a polished manuscript I’m proud of and a whole set of skills I’ve struggled with for years.

I’m home for Christmas, visiting with my cat (who my parents told me not to get because he would end up living with them). I miss him quite a bit, but realize that my New York closet is not a place for him. I hope that in two years’ time to move somewhere he’d be happy, and we’d be united once again, until I get a puppy and then he can hate me.

We trekked out into the woods last week to cut down our tree, facing the cold as a family unit. I’ve made some poorly crafted gingerbread that I have no idea how I’ve wonked up, we managed to find the stockings and Christmas placemats, and so far, it has proven to be a wonderful holiday.

The year 2017 starts on a Sunday, which is a good sign to me. Of course, we’ll have Trump for president, so I guess we’re really going to learn more about the political system this year. But as for me, I think that I’ve set it up to be a good one. No matter what happens, I have agency over my life, and I plan to live this next year to the fullest. For me, 2016 was just a stepping stone.

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Friday, December 23, 2016

I Faked It ‘Till I Broke It

I didn’t fake it very well, mind you. I’m not a good liar—not really experienced in it, rarely see the reason for it—but when you have anxiety and feel inhibited by a non-credible face, being “true to yourself” would be screaming until you passed out. Sometimes you have to pretend to feel comfortable to ever get comfortable.

As a young child, I had a fibbing problem and my mother never let me forget it. Even into adulthood she assumes I’m lying, or worse, misinterpreting reality every time I bring a problem to her attention.

In high school, my teachers would never offer me responsibility. Sure, I would have less work to do, but I was never one of the students entrusted with something important. I was a slacker, a rogue agent, and couldn't be trusted with keys or leadership, or important opportunities.

In college, my professors would have departmentals in which the first week of class they forced all the freshmen to get up and audition before the entire department. There was no real reason for this—they were trying to mimic other schools in California, better schools, where you needed to apply specifically to major in theatre—and they used it to judge you for the rest of your days. The seniors hazed freshmen by giving them unflattering nicknames during this time (I wasn't even important enough to get one), while the faculty decided then and there how good of an actor you are for the rest of your life. To them, acting was a natural talent, not a skill trained with practice—an extremely problematic thing for a teacher to believe.

In my career, I’d be a young professional who graduated with a degree in theatre, practicing for over a decade, when some old retired carpenter or lawyer popped in, deciding he was going to take charge despite not knowing one thing about the job. I was baby faced and a small woman; obviously I needed to be instructed and supervised in the proper ways to wrap the wires and paint the set.

Credibility became increasingly important. I’d have na├»ve amateurs be better trusted than me due to age or aggression, delusion, whatever. They played the game. They acted with unfounded confidence. It worked for them. All I wanted to be able to walk into a room and have people not question me on stupid shit.

“You used an adverb!”

Yes. Yes, I did.

When people question me, I want it to be relevant, important to them, a genuine opinion, not one based on retroactively proving what they already want to feel. When I do something different than how they would, I would like it if they took a moment, just a moment, to think, “Why is she doing it that way? What does she know that I don’t?” instead of spouting, “IT’S NOT DONE THAT WAY, FOOL!”

People who bent over backwards to obey the selfish demands of narcissistic amateurs would turn around and question every trivial decision I made, none of which had anything to do with them, many of which had nothing to do with anything. I felt prematurely judged, my credibility based far more on what someone wanted to think than what I had actually done.

I tell the story about the agent and author who, reading the same pages, gave me the best compliment of my life: “I know you know what you’re doing,” while a third author that same day said, “This is obviously a first draft.” This story genuinely makes me laugh, (hysteria) the huge discrepancy behind their reactions to the same pages (at that time the fourth draft of my thirteenth? Fifteenth? manuscript). It happens frequently enough it just cements my belief there is no such thing as a “good” book, only one that works for a certain number of people.

It’s a struggle. In high school, I merely assumed I was going to do well in my life, like everyone. When college came around, I, like everyone, had a bit of a reality check. Getting what you want requires critical evaluation—of you, of those around you, of history, or your work, and pretty much everything you could possibly be effected by. You can’t just exist and have God or destiny do the rest of the work.

I was sick of having concepts that people loved while being held back by my half-bakery. But there was a contradictory problem in that the extra steps of polishing are often achieved by meeting expectation while the concepts were good because they defied it. Can someone “learn the rules to learn to break them?” Of course, but at times, I started to realize it’s less about how you break them and far more about already having trust.

Context matters. Reputation matters. Even if it’s not an end-all, no one will deny those things are influential.

I asked my professors, “How do you know if a play is just different from what you expect and you should give it a second chance, or when it’s just a load of bullshit?”

“That’s just something you learn with time.”

What do you learn with time? How do you know, you, my professor, that Beckett is ‘just over my head,’ and my fellow student is just writing a blob of gibberish? What if he's really the next Ionesco and we're just prematurely judging him? I wouldn't be able to see the merit in Bald Soprano if he was just some unknown writer looking for a break. So how do you know? How, outside of someone telling you?”

They could never answer me, and it seemed their hypocrisy was prolific. Masters could break the so-called rules, but masters were defined by someone important claiming that’s what they were. In other words, you could hand them a script with no name on it, and their reaction would be completely different than if it had awards and accolades, despite doing the exact same thing.

It meant that no matter what I wrote, I was always going to be a hack in their eyes. They “knew me when.”

Trying to improve your skills is incredibly difficult in that sort of setting, when who they want you to be affects their criticism so drastically. What is good writing? What does it mean when something works?

And in a way, critiques are like Schrodinger’s cat: an idea isn’t bad or good until after you’ve implemented it. Would your novella be improved if you lengthened it? Could you make it better by just tweaking what you have now? Even if your book is good now, could it be enhanced in a different direction?

A book isn’t limited to an original vision, but it also can be hurt by making it what it isn’t. In many cases, it’s more the issue of execution; you never know what will come out until you reach in elbow deep and rework it with bloody hands.

I did not always have anxiety. As a teenager, very little fazed me. I’ve always been sensitive to my emotions, but built up walls since elementary school. I was shy with strangers, but unaware of it due to growing up in a small town. I was dense to other people’s feelings and could be naively callous, but at least things didn’t eat away with me. I wasn’t consumed with worry.

Since college, I focused on making a good first impression, the issue being that judgment comes from wanting to judge. I was being told that my credibility was a harmed by silly little things like adverbs. Hoping to maintain a semblance of self and opinion, knowing full well that it often wasn’t the so-called rule breaking that bothered them—if not adverbs, it’d be the 10 dollar verbs—I struggled with my ego and instinct, combating the question of “How do I look professional while still being creative?”

Today, five years after my complete overhaul of principles, I am a good person and a better writer with a fuller understanding of the rules, playing the game, being true to yourself, and what I actually care about. I like who I am. I just don’t like how I feel. And I find the things I'm creating aren't as impactful, interesting, and different.

I worry a lot. About nothing. When someone gives me criticism that rings untrue, I struggle to let go of it. What if I'm missing something? “Put a pin in it,” I say. While mulling it over for years has gained me great understanding, it does affect my ability to live in the present, take risks, and simply not be bothered by comments I find foolish.

A friend of mine, a gorgeous girl who was idolized by many around her, told me should thought herself broken. I didn’t really understand what she meant at the time, but sometimes I too feel unable to cope with silly things that don’t seem to faze anyone else.

Where did my younger self go? Can I get her back? Can I keep who I am now, still improving my professionalism while not being so worried about what other people are thinking? Those of you who read my blog frequently have heard me say it before, but achieving that balance is my most sought after goal.

There’s something to be said for faking it. People see you as they want to see you, and your presentation of self can strongly influence your creative freedom. But take pleasure in your qualities right now because you might find, after years and years of self-improvement, that you lost a little bit of yourself along the way, and you’ll miss that person from time to time.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

To Thy Own Self Be Less of Prude

Despite my better judgment, I have decided to initiate a lengthy project near and dear to the sort of work I want to be doing.

There is a discrepancy with the yearning I feel for some stories and my judgment of them. I, like some do, have taken exception to the writers who created book after book within the same world. Is it a lack of creativity? A fear of being able to sell it? Stand-alones get more credit than serials, and who’s interested in the same world with separate characters?

This wasn’t a conscious cynicism, which makes it all worse. I have long been aware of my so-called ‘guilty pleasures’—the way that I somewhat look down on something that brings me joy—and am not too happy about it, but it didn’t mean I always logically sit back before judging a book and saying, “Am I just being hypercritical? You’re prone to that, you know.” I realize people aren’t going to give me any more benefit of the doubt than I was capable of.

But the truth is my world building has always been lacking. It was about characters first and foremost, then plot, all set in a moderately interesting but decorative backdrop without an abundance of political intrigue.

I did not write about heroes; I wrote about humans.

And for a while, that was fitting. I wrote about what I cared about, and I’ve never been one to idealize impressive battles or Chosen One abilities. It wasn’t why I was reading those books.

But being honest with myself, the more I accept that my work would be closer to the stories that inspired me if I amped it up, raised the grander stakes, broadened the history, and just made it all the more magical. Yes, it’s still about the characters, but it could be more than just that. Writing in low-density fantasy with only humans and monsters that come from them, it’s sort of limiting me in my visual impact.

I recently started re-reading Girl Genius for the third time, a fantasy web comic that has been ongoing for around 13 years. It’s one of those things that gets better each go through, some of the foreshadowing and historical references not meaning much to you the first time you see them.

Slight spoiler, the protagonist’s parents are heroes of multiple legends and as I read along the more I want to see her father and uncle in action. The more I want to “meet” them, understand their real stories outside of what people are saying. It feels like there’s an entire other comic that exists in the creators’ heads (and maybe there is), and I’d love to see it.

I’ve discussed this idea more and more in recent posts, citing that the commitment is far too great, especially considering my low productivity in recent years along-side the fact that you simply can’t count on selling big scope projects; it’s a better idea to take it one book at a time.

Yet, at the same time, I have been reflecting on the happiness and creative success I felt creating as a teen versus as an adult, and one of my biggest issues is my obsession with not wasting time and matching expectation. I don’t criticize all of that—because of my desire to appear credible, my skills and control have increased greatly—however, you can take it to a certain point where you lose all flavor, inspiration, and spontaneity and come up with an acceptable blotch of homogenization.

Short and short of it, today I sat back and reflected on the kind of writing I wanted to be doing, the work that made me feel best, analyzing my intense jealousy/yearning of wondrous stories and what I could do about it.

I am starting a series of compendiums—stories set in the same world, starting from its incarnation and going down through generations. I make no promises with it, of course, as it will not take over from my other projects, and I imagine it will be years in the making with no hard end in sight. Each novel will be a story into itself, new characters, new problems, but they will affect each other, progress, regress, evolve, making the reader feel like he is watching a child grow up.

The characters will go to an ancient abandoned castle that you will have seen built, lived in, and destroyed. They will discuss the war that a former protagonist initiated, tell the stories of the gods who you know by their real names.

Having a rich history has always appealed to me, and readers who know more than the characters can make you feel like you’re important. The challenge of putting together dropped pieces here and there is fun, and while I know that some of the ways I would like to write is annoying, I have decided that the literary world is too big of a place to worry so much about having someone complain that, “That’s not the way it is done!” or that I’m just a hack who can’t get new ideas.

Do I care about that? Not really, when I think about it. I just know that it will be a perception I have to contend with.

Plus, there will be other books. I have manuscripts that don’t fall into that world, and ideas that won’t fit in. I am still working on several books in progress (including the ever slow manuscript I’ve discussed in my “So, I’m Writing a Novel” posts), and The Stories of the Wyrd, so this won’t be a priority necessarily. I’m not sure it will be able to make it, however, I’m extremely excited about it and already have the beginning of a manuscript perfect for the origin stories.

I’m not a big outliner, but after the gibberish of two first drafts I nuked through in attempts to get me motivated after two years of existential crisis, I sat down and really tried to pinpoint my goals, in which I immediately started getting ideas left and right.

I’ll be spending the next few years posting sketches that better force me to think about the abstract details in my images—locations, fashion, faces. Even if the compendiums never end up anywhere, the designs can be scavenged for other works. Previously I discussed my intentions to create a detailed, creative building that my characters would be limited to in hopes of crafting a better sense of home. The idea itself never got off the ground due to a lack of inspiration, but I took the drawings and included the painstaking labor in another novel.

In any rate, taking on this project has taught me a valuable lesson; sometimes self-control does not create better art, instead inhibits it. It teaches precision, it forces you to think critically, but sometimes, if you’re feeling yourself get dried up, you just need to be honest and not so damn judgmental.

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Friday, December 9, 2016

There is Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself. Literally.

I gotta say, the thought that I put off submitting my manuscript to agents relieves me every day. For the first time in my life, I do not begrudge myself for not meeting a deadline.

When I started reading the eleventh draft back in July, I knew that this was probably it. I had done everything I could, received feedback from everyone I thought to ask, and got to a point where I truly loved what I had done. There were still small mistakes every so often, and I knew I had to do at least one more read before I’d feel safe, but it’s at the place where if I got rejected by millions of agents, I wouldn’t be embarrassed and I would put it to bed safely, knowing I had done all I can. I’m proud of it. There’s reasons it might not succeed, but I’m pretty objective and aware of what those risks are. Confidence isn’t about lacking flaws, just understanding them.

Still, I last summer, I planned on submitting my first round in August, which then turned to September, then turned to the day I left for New York. I ended up not doing that either, and right now, I’m really glad.

If I was waiting on hearing back from housing, jobs, and agents, my head would probably implode.

Getting an apartment was surprisingly painless, but I’m happy. It’s more than I had hoped for from a NYC room. Quiet, safe, with a bathtub, a great roommate, and an incinerator right next door. (You have no idea how exciting to be able to pop your head out and throw away the trash.)

As for money, I’m saved up, and I don’t need a lot. I’ve been budgeting, and my major concern is money for classes I’d like to take.

Two weeks ago, refreshed and back from Thanksgiving in Boston, I started my job search—and it made me physically ill.

I felt this way before I signed my lease too. What do I do? What am I looking for? What are my options?

Someone had sent me a website for jobs in the arts, and there’s a lot of good opportunities out there. Let’s face it though, the requirements are daunting. Everyone wants five years of “NYC” experience. Oddly-specific degrees for strange jobs. Many are offering up flexible, part-time options, and considering we’re all a bunch of actors here, it makes sense.

I ignore the requirements if I’m interested, to be honest. The worst that can happen? I’ve inconvenienced someone who has to delete my email. I severely doubt someone’s going to end up screaming at me due to my unusual resume.

And it is pretty unusual. The good part is I can pretty much tailor it to anything, the bad news is that I’m never going to look as qualified as someone more focused.

The fear is insane though. Irrational. What am I afraid of? Getting lectured for doing something when I knew better, that’s what. “Your five years of stage managing is NOT five years of being an assistant. What’s wrong with you?!” Shrug. Transferable skills, I figure. I’d be good at it, if you want to pass up the assumed infinite number of New Yorkers with better resumes.

I’m not actually reaching here. My experiences let me pick up a lot fairly quickly. I’m a pretty capable person. People like working with me, and I like working with most, so the short time frame it’ll take me to adapt I genuinely believe is worth the wait.

But I can’t prove that, and I certainly don’t ask anyone to believe me on my word alone. I might be a lunatic for all they know. I’m certainly neurotic.

What am I afraid of? I can’t say actually. Making decisions is exhausting, especially when I’m trying to see myself through the eyes of someone(s) who I don’t even know. I’m not really afraid of rejection. It rarely means much of anything. I’ve had to hire people before and a lot of times you’re going off a vibe and a chance. I’m not really afraid of a miserable job. I enjoy most work and have a knack for healing bad attitudes. I have pretty good flexibility for how much I need to make and how long I can be unemployed for too, so I’m not terrified of being left in the lurch.

I’ve just started and I don’t have to figure out everything now. I don’t have to believe what the internet says about the market or dating or anything yet. Still, I feel like I might puke.

Consumed by fear, I did what any woman of modern values would do—I Googled. Anxiety came up immediately—there’s that word again—and then a blog on what to do about it.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” was the first question, but requesting the actual answer, stating that going through the fears and pinpointing the cause of the problems will help you face them. So I thought about it. I’m not scared of anything, not in particular. What am I truly, actually afraid of? I examined myself for a moment, really examined what I was thinking, and I realized the answer underlying theme between all my fears.

Making decisions exhausted me. What to say in my cover letter, what not to say, who to apply to, what to look for, what redflags were there? It took a lot of mental exercise to answer questions I really didn’t have enough information for.

So I Googled “making decisions” and found a forum about anxiety. Huff. We seriously need a vacation, don’t we, my fellow Americans. Why are we afraid of making decisions?

“Because every choice has consequences,” someone said.

And that hit the nail on the head. No, they don’t! I shouted to myself, exasperated. Certainly they’ll all have an effect on your life and that’s not always going to be pleasant, but not every choice is going to screw us over. We just THINK it is because we’re a bunch of Chicken Littles having watched one too many sitcoms.

That’s what causes anxiety, my friends. It’s the belief that every little choice will make or break us, that that one adverb is going to get our manuscript rejected. That asking that company how much they pay will make them send us packing. That applying to this one job you’re not sure you’re qualified for will irrevocably burn a bridge and name you an idiot.

And it might. Sadly enough. But “this too shall pass.” Despite tremendous fear that I would end up living in a Dumpster in New Jersey, robbed by a child with a .44, things turned out really great so far.

Mostly, I just don’t want to feel this way. I have things to do and I can’t be stuck trying to calm myself by reading horror stories of what it’s like to try and survive in New York City. So far, they’ve proven to be grossly exaggerated.

When I was a teenager, I was pretty happy. I also just kind of did stuff. I thought I was invincible—reputation-wise mostly—and I half assed a lot, but I did some pretty impressive stuff for someone that age. I was many things, but a coward wasn’t one of them. I felt fear, certainly, but it was pretty easy to push aside and do what I wanted.

Truth is, antagonizing over a decision too long won’t inform you better than just going for it, and you’ll probably end up the better for it. It yielded me far better results than sitting here trying to distract myself videos of cats.

I was worried about whether or not to submit in December being right after National Novel Writing Month and therefore often the time when the slush pile is truly filled with slush, but I’ve decided to take my time. I don’t want to be worried about two things at once, so I can take December to job hunt and finish up one final copy, and perhaps start submitting in January so that I can perpetuate this feeling of uncertainty for an entire year! It’s hard being a writer because it’s so easy to turn “take your time” into “NEVER DO IT EVER!” but there’s nothing wrong with focusing on the moment at hand and to lay off with the pressure.

The good thing about New York City is while there are myriads of options, it’s easier to find them again when you mistakenly passed one by. With exception, of course, but in the few weeks I’ve been here, I’ve found myself making decisions a great deal easier because I know it’s not going to be as hard to change my mind when I realize I’ve made the ‘wrong’ one.

So here’s to the job search and the exciting prospects therein. Sometimes when you’re afraid, you might just be aggravated with the feeling. Take a break and see how you feel in an hour, and realize that sometimes the choices you are most ashamed of actually ended up being a good thing. (I will submit one of these days.)

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Look, Ma, No Mattress!

On November 20, I finally moved into my apartment and fit a massive amount of fabric and art supplies into the size of a NYC room. My new roommate eyed my boxes with skepticism, but I insisted, “I am optimistic!”

I wouldn’t have been, expect that over the course of the last year I’ve learned more and more about how much stuff can fit into a small space. With the exception of my beautiful home in Australia, I’ve only lived in tiny spaces since college, and each time I moved, I had fabric to concern myself with. The good side of it? Most of it can be crammed into tiny crevasses, unnecessary to remove until the one time you actually need it.

Living in New York was mostly a bucket list item for me. I knew that I didn’t want to live in Wyoming—the small town lacking in opportunities—but had no clue what I was looking for, or what the options were. New York had everything I knew I lamented about my hometown, save for the drizzly weather, and so I decided that I would go for the next two years and figure out what I sought out of life, but mostly be able to do things creatively that had been difficult in a low population area.

Now, (at the time of writing this) I’m sitting here, on the floor in a heap of pillows waiting for a mattress delivery, thinking to myself, “Okay, now what?”

It’s easy to decide to face your fears long before you actually have to take action. I haven’t truly organized my budget yet, and part of my goals were to take classes, see the sights, engage with like-minded others. In essence, I wanted to learn, create, and meet people, but a lot of that involves actually going out and engaging with strangers which, to me, would be less preferable to starving to death inside my own personal space. But that’s a big part of the reason I came.

It’s interesting to me how I have no idea what my life will be like in three months. I’ve said I’ve always lived my life in three month increments, but now I have no real plans. Life in New York is noticeably different than in Wyoming, so much so I can’t even speculate what kind of daily routine is expectable.

In Wyoming, there is one large grocery store that has pretty much everything you’d want, or rather, two regular groceries stores and an organic Whole Foods because Jackson is chock full of hippies. If you’re really specific on some items, like the delicious Wickles Pickles, you might run to the ‘far one,’ but typically, no. You wait until you’re out of desperately needed items—like milk in which you stocked up on—then drive a half an hour through the National Park, run all your errands, fill car with 200 dollars worth of groceries and then drive home. You avoid going back in for at least a week if you can help it.

It’s hard getting my mind around it. This morning I stepped out into the street for the first time by myself, hungry and a little confused. Truth is, I haven’t seen a lot of chains here, in any kind, and I feel intimidated by the buffet style delis, even though it looks incredibly obvious what to do… It just involves more talking to strangers.

And here I have no idea what the response will be. Everyone’s smiley and chatty in Wyoming (don’t they know I’m insane?!) while in New York I get widely mixed responses. After I talk to them a minute with a smiley and friendly tone of voice, their moods perk up, but it still startles me (irrationally) when I get barked at, or more so, worsen my nerves in preparation of a perfunctory tone.

In New York, there’s not a lot of space to store food period, and I don’t have a kitchen anyway. The grocery store is on the corner of my street, though I had to go to three to get what I wanted—all right next to each other. I had to carry everything back, and keeping that in mind as I considered what I actually wanted and what was a waste, I suddenly remember that I could just come back for lunch and it wouldn’t inconvenience me the least bit. Instead of planning for a week, I didn’t even necessarily need to figure out what I’d want for the day, which is great considering that my tastes drastically vary in short time and predicting what I’ll eat in two to four hours is impossibly difficult. Not what I’d like, what I’ll be willing to eat.

I planned to go out to buy a few household items, but the weight of my bag and my hunger turned me back around. Are you allowed to bring in purchases from other locations? I suppose yes. Seems like the obvious answer. That was the weirdest aspect of Australia though, having grocery stores inside malls and bringing your milk into Big W. Where I grew up, the distance between everything was far enough that you one, had to have a car, and two, would be incredibly difficult to carrying food from one store to the next. You just didn’t have reason to carry anything into grocery store, so it never occurred to me if it was rude—like bringing outside food into a restaurant.

When I returned home, I thought, I need to be back for the mattress guys, so I can’t go wandering the streets for house supplies. Where would I buy such things? Where would I get them cheap? I Googled Walmart.

“New Jersey.”

Not really surprised, but now I’m at loss for what even to say to Google. I tried, “Home supplies in New York,” but it gave me one ridiculously expensive store with no address. But it was in New York!

I’ll probably ask my roommate when she wakes up and that’ll be the end of it, but it proves to me New York is even more foreign than I initially expected—and I expected it to be fairly different.

Due to the aid of others, I have so far found the transition to be easier than anticipated. Now that I have my apartment and can relax a little, I’m far more concerned that I will not take as much advantage of the opportunities despite the reason I came here. However, I’ve only been here a day and I get the overwhelming feeling the city’s not going to let me.

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