Janus Transitions #1: Looking Back

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Apologies. It’s probably cliche and so not really worthy of a serious writer, but time is short and there’s a whole bunch of stuff that I want to talk about. First, let’s rip off Wikipedia for a quote without a hint of remorse.

Janus frequently symbolized change and transitions such as the progress of past to future, from one condition to another, from one vision to another, and young people’s growth to adulthood. He represented time, because he could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other. Hence, Janus was worshipped at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times, as well as at marriages, deaths and other beginnings.

Transition is in the wind, the spirits are moving me! Here I stand on the fulcrum as I plant for the harvest to come. My vision peeks behind the new horizon as I grow into my writerly boots.

All that good stuff.

I see you roll your eyes.

“Oh shit, here we go again!”

But who knows, maybe I’ll suprise you today.

Let’s start……

IN THE NOW

It’s a tough week. I’ve got these goals but…..

The little boy got ill = day off.

Had to go to a surprise funeral = day off.

Progress is stuttering. Frustrating, but sometimes you just got to suck it up and know you’ll be doing some crazy late shifts as you jump in the car and head for Hastings.

The funeral was hard on my father. He’s not one for letting his emotions go. He never talked much about his sister, but I gathered that he was much closer to her than his brother. As for my aunt, and godmother, I never really knew her – the Camridge diaspora took most of my family far away and my knowledge of them is cursory at best.

Maybe it’s sad, but it’s hard to grieve for total strangers. It was, however, nice to actually meet some family, and I discovered something rather strange at the wake. I was, to these near strangers, endowed with the title of “writer”.

And for the first time it really felt like I wasn’t bullshitting.

It’s been a subtle revelation, sneaking up behind me until I’ve suddenly realised that there’s been quite a bit change. I’ve finally come far enough that I’ve earned the title: I’ve got some energy, feel more professional, more engage and driven towards making some serious changes to how I work.

For the first time there’s a sense that I’m moving with the tide I was fighting, and on the eve of this change I happened to read a post by someone who was kind enough to drop by my page and give it a thumbs up. So, first a thank you to Renegade Press – check out his post Epoch for the letter he would write to his younger self. It’s a nice idea, and strangely serendipitous with regards my own situation.

But what would I say to my younger self?

Thinking about it, there might have been a lot I would have changed, but I think there’s something to be said about the experience of ……

JUMPING THROUGH HOOPS

Behind me is a year of solid work and if there’s one thing that I would tell myself its amazing what you’ll learn trying to get to grips with the traditional route of publishing. Sure, you can get all the advise you want from videos and bloggers and books, but it’s the experience of doing that’s the real teacher.

So one year on and I’ve finished the first major batch of submissions, with all the damned hoops that were required with it – and that’s only the first step because there’s gonna be plenty more bureaucracy if anyone actually replies.

On the positive it’s created a coming of age feel as I sit here typing, not successful as such, but at least I have survived the depressions, lack of confidence and the frustrations that really made me wonder if I should just quit and live a simpler life without the struggle, if I should just get on with the daily basics and take a bit more time to enjoy playing guitar.

But would I be happier if I wasn’t putting all this pressure on myself? The likely answer is no, but it doesn’t make you feel any better about working hard to stand still.

Nor was it just the pressure and the failure of results. It was the money. I’ve been borderline broke for years and I was getting worried about the future.

So what else was I going to do? Get a job? All it took was a brief review of all the bullshit that I had to put up with over the years, the inefficiency, the grandiose authority of small time management and the toxic “culture” that attempts to convince you that this is your life, and I remembered just how unhappy it had made me.

Hell, my frustration with being a writer doesn’t hold a candle to the infernal fires of my hatred for office culture. What I learned from work was that I wasn’t good at jumping through hoops for crumbs.

If anyone’s going to work me to death, it’ll be myself.

With this affirmation of purpose, there we some lessons that I missed in all this negativity: failure is it’s own result, as long as you learn from it. Most of all, it’s usually because you’re doing something wrong.

Bear that in mind…..

QUERIES, COMPS & “FUCK THIS!”

I won’t hide the fact that I was just ever so slightly miffed that I didn’t get any response from Angry Robot. I know it’s unrealistic, because when a publisher has so much raw material coming in they don’t need to be civil. Hell, they probably have just one admin bod doing hundreds of submissions, their eyes gradually turning square as their brain pixellates to the endless flow of electronic text.

Still, it would have been nice just to get an acknowledgement of “not today, thank you.”

But having re-read the submission I have to say that I wasn’t pleased with the letter; you can’t just say “that’ll do” and hit the send key with a small prayer it’ll work. I should have read it one more time with a fresh set of eyes, deadline or no.

So, first failure, and according to all reasonable sources on the matter this is likely to be the standard reply. Out of all the submissions I made subsequently I got one real reply that was kind enough to say “thanks, and if I don’t get back to you in two weeks, give me a poke.”

Even this small nod was appreciated.

As I made clear in The Road Behind, The Road Ahead it was also a weight off. I learned a thing or two about writing letters and synopses, but the real pain came from those goddamn COMP TITLES! While I had a general comparison to a couple of things, when one agent asked specifically for two or three titles that showed I knew the genre and market I actually gave up and said I hadn’t found any yet.

More hoops, second failure.

I tried to get around it by explaining that it wasn’t like Wanderers, or Senlin Ascends, and probably not like the Gutter Prayer (on the To Read list). Oh, and it definitely wasn’t a Priory of the Orange Tree – all titles, I’ll add, that I picked up in Waterstones during my fruitless search.

I was stalking the shelves of Waterstones, scouring them for something that sounded even faintly like what I was doing, and found nothing. Its been a puzzle as to how I can pitch this book because it’s not wildly fantastical (should have written one of your crazy ideas Dave) and it’s not exactly breaking any molds (although the publicists love to make the claim) because publishers are LOW RISK.

Every get the feeling you’d just be better off taking something successful and simply duplicating it? Here I was just writing the thing that came into my head. Another mistake? Heh, you know last post when I talked about Apocalypse Now there was an interview with Coppola afterwards. He said, “if you want to make art you got to take a risk.” He had to back the film with his own money and nearly went bankrupt, but it endures as a cult classic.

So there I am in Waterstones with all the frustation of dealing with the demands of traditional publishing, and it’s just getting me down when a wave of resentment welled up in me and I said to myself, “fuck this!”

Yeah, sod it! I’ll go solo! That’ll show them

Maybe it’s just a tad childish. Of course it is. Or is it that maybe it’s just your instincts telling you that you got to move on, make a change, face the future with the modern tools for the job?

Maybe the biggest failure is the system itself……

BACK AROUND TO NOW

There has to be a better way of doing this. The traditional route is slow and likely to fail, but moreover it has this dragging gravity that has caused more distress than anything else. I like to keep moving, working on objectives and not waiting aroud for someone else to dish out salvation.

Can’t imagine why anyone would get disillusioned with traditional publishing.

And so it all comes back to now, when I sat in a coffee shop with my mum. I got quite animated discussing what I’m going to do next and the way I’m approaching it. It’s all unfolding in my head as I realise that the change in attitude is coming from the experience of doing what I was supposed to and not liking it.

There’s a better way to approach the future, a way to make this work by moving with the times. The future of publishing has already changed, and the way that people read is changing. I can get with the digital thing, and I don’t just mean kindle. It’s things like taking blogging seriously and learning about platforms like Patreon and literary kickstarts like Unbound.

So, with a fresh head full of ideas, what would I tell past self about how to approach the future? I would counsel focusing on entertaining an audience with writing that is enjoyable, of developing the pulp angle while explaining that you can’t just blog for self promotion. I’d tell him to develop new approaches to dealing with social media and the fantasy community, as well as sending back the bunch of ideas for short, pulp novels I’ve got.

And I’d say that working on a novel is great, but think of people like Fritz Lieber whose Books of Lankhmar you loved so much. They were so much fun, and they were all printed in old fashioned pulp magazines.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This change in attitude is telling me that there’s a lot of work to do if I want to implement ideas. It’s going to take planning, organisation and that is probably the best thing I would have told myself.

“Get organised, you’re going to have a lot to do.”

NEXT: Part 2 – Forward, Only Forward


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