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Catharsish

I’ve chosen to interrupt my previously scheduled hiatus from blogging to return to my blogging roots for one night only. Those who have followed any of my blogs (or have known me in general) likely know that I started my very first blog all those years ago as a way to try to help me work through my mental stressors at a point in life when I couldn’t afford therapy. Truth be told, it helped more than I thought it was going to. Even if I hadn’t ended up writing a book or anything as a result of that writing, the fact that I did it had a positive effect on my mental health at a time where I really needed it.

I’m at a position in my life now where I cannot blog/write/whatever as freely as I once did. Even ignoring the ramifications about writing about things impacting your mental health online1Even if you’re only sharing your struggles with a small group of people, it’s definitely easy to overwhelm others, whether you mean to or not. My very first blog that I used for cathartic purposes was a locked blog shared with three other people. After a couple of weeks of every other day head clearing posts, one of said people same to me and said something to the effect of “look…I know you’re going through some shit right now, but you need to pick and choose what you write about. If you’re overwhelmed by something I can’t help with, I’m just going to ignore it.”. Was that right? Probably not. But I do get where they were coming from. where others who impact your mental health could (and likely will) read it, the internet doesn’t forget. Saying one wrong thing when you’re trying to work out the thoughts in your head or taking one wrong action because you’re naive and young can come back to haunt you years later, regardless of the context and how much you’ve changed as a person.

2019 has not been a great year for me. There have certainly been positives, but it has largely felt overwhelming, stressful, and disheartening on several fronts. I’m not going to talk about most of the various areas where I’ve felt that way, as this isn’t the right place to do so. What I do want to talk about — and what I’m hoping to try to work through with this post — is how this year has made me feel all those emotions about my writing.


I have a weird duality when it comes to my writing. Part of me is surpremely confident in my ability both to write well and to tell a story. I know I generally write with good to great grammar. While my sentence structure, plotting, and pacing aren’t on par with academic journals, fantasy novels, or great murder mysteries, respectively, I do feel like I have a pretty good idea what I’m doing when it comes to penning a work of fiction. Furthermore, I can create a really good world in a story. That’s not to say the worlds and ideas I create don’t need some fleshing out. But at their base, I can create good stories.

On the other hand, I deal with a fuckton of imposter syndrome when it comes to my creative work. Part of this has come from external sources. I’ve had multiple people over time tell me that ‘I shouldn’t write creatively ever again’ or that ‘I grew up too poor to use words that big’ or that my writing is “just a hobby’. And those things hurt. Some hurt more than others. But I’ve always taken a little bit of enjoyment out of working as hard as I can to prove those statements wrong. So while I’d love to say the imposter syndrome comes from here, all such statements really do is piss me off and make me work harder.

What hurts that feeling more are the little failures. I fully recognize that the things I’m about to talk about aren’t necessarily failures. That said, I need to frame them as how my mind thinks of them in order to explain this properly.

I lost a patron recently. It was the first patron I’ve lost since starting my Patreon account last year. I only found out because one of my friends told me that they finally fixed their Patreon notifications, leading me to go in and grab them a link from my page, then seeing the notification that I’d lost one of the four patrons I had. The fact that I’ve only managed to get to four patrons in nearly a year is frustrating. On one hand, I can’t help but thank those who have supported me enough for all they’ve done. On the other hand, I lost someone. I’m clearly not doing enough2I realize people have their own reasons for pledging and it’s nearly never personal. I also realize that this event hit me really hard, starting the mental spiral that I’m trying to get out of by writing this post..

Maybe this is just a hobby after all.


I am working on a story. I’ve talked about it in the past and will have another update on the book in the near future. The story itself is good. The world it’s being built into is good and will continue to get better. I have an editor who is amazing and who is constantly pushing me to get better with my book. She’s fucking awesome and I can’t thank her enough for all she’s done. She also told me I should stop complimenting her until work is done3Since I know there’s a very good chance she’ll read this — hi., but again, trying to clear my head here.

The book will get done. It’s moving slower both than I expected and than I wanted it to. The former is explained by the fact that I’m repeatedly rewriting the book to make it better. I have zero trouble reconciling that fact4Though I do want to share it with others so bad right now.. As for the fact that it’s moving slower than I wanted it to — that goes back to my general feeling of being overwhelmed and stressed with life. There’s been more than one night where I’d planned to spend a few hours writing or editing before I go to bed only for something to happen. Then, suddenly, my time is taken away or my mood comes crashing down and I can’t bring myself to write. Rinse and repeat across most of this year and I begin to feel like I’m letting down myself and my goals. I know my mental health should take priority over my writing. And usually it does. But I worry that my mental health is impacting my writing to the point where my work isn’t the best it could be because of me. Because I don’t feel happy.


The hardest part of writing this post is not knowing who’s going to read it. If anyone will care enough to try to help or if I’ve overwhelmed those around me to the point where they’re getting tired of listening to the shit that’s spewing out of my brain. This might not have been the most constructive post. I know this is all a part of my brain — an inner critic, I’ve heard it called — that is doing this. But when everything else I’ve tried to help myself has come up short (or had no help at all), I figure there can’t be much harm in going back to my roots to try to help myself.

A Short Hiatus

Hi all.

I’ll be taking a short hiatus from the blog for the rest of the month of June so that I can continue to work on getting my work in progress novel ready for beta readers. While I’ve tried not to take too much of a break from blogging and my other writing while editing, the draft I’m working on right now will require a lot of writing. As such, I want to make sure I can focus on that. It’ll also be my first sustained break from blogging in well over a year, so I feel like the breather is well warranted.

When the blog comes back in July, you can expect the following posts (plus more).

  • The next edition of the My Pokemon Gym series (Fairy type)
  • My Q2 writing goals update
  • A work in progress book update
  • Chapter 9 of The Worst Fire Emblem Awakening Playthrough Ever
  • A special patreon selected post

I’ll still be getting my Patreon rewards out during this time. Additionally, patrons will get to pick the topic for one of my posts for the month of July. If you’re interested in getting to choose what I write about, there’s a post up on my Patreon now where all patrons can vote to choose the content of said post.

Wherein I Write Messages In Books

In February of this year, I found out a really exciting thing was happening, though I couldn’t share it until now. I found out that 30 copies of my book were being given away as part of a swag bag for a corporate event. Which:

  1. Holy shit.
  2. My book is not a particularly work appropriate book, at least not in the case of specific short stories.
  3. Might be the coolest writing related thing to happen to be so far. AND
  4. Is definitely the most mentally overwhelming thing to happen to me to so far.

At this point, I was overjoyed it was happening. Thank you so much to Jeremy and Jon for involving me in this. As part of the agreement, I arranged to sign and add messages to all 30 copies of the books being given away. This lead to quite the mental quandry. What do I write in a book while signing it?

I’ve signed copies of my books before. I’ve written messages in them before. That said, in both cases, this was always for people I knew at least in passing. A total stranger has never — at least to my knowledge — acquired a copy of my book that was signed and had a personalized and/or handwritten message in it.

So what did I decide to do? Do I write the same thing in every book? Are my messages classy, uplifting, or inspirational? Are they legible?

No.

I wrote 30 unique messages across the 30 books. With the permission of Jeremy and Jon, I’ve shared what I wrote in the books below. You can click on the images of the pages to get a better look at them. This may be helpful in the case of a couple of the longer messages, like the one where I wrote out a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

Note: Only 29 of the images are currently shown below. I had some issues with one of the pictures that I didn’t catch until after the post went up. I’m going to dig and see if I can find a good version of the final image.

My hope is that I’ll get the chance to do this with my current work in progress some day. I personally feel that said manuscript is already lightyears better than An Epilogue to Innocence was. That’s not to say I dislike my first book. Far from it actually. But I’m slowly getting the feeling that my WIP could be something really great.

The Hard Role of the Reviewer

For reasons I’ve yet to be able to explain, I’ve seen an uptick in folks I know talking about the process of reviewing books. I don’t know who patient zero for this epidemic was, however, I do know that I’ve seen this topic come up from a lot of people recently. In these threads/discussions/videos/Twitter rants/etc, there have been two primary items that I’ve seen being discussed.

  1. Should you tag/make authors aware of your negative reviews of their work?
  2. Can you review something objectively when your like or dislike of the work isn’t necessarily reflective of the quality of said work?

I wanted to take a moment to talk about these two ideas, both from the perspective of someone who is an author, as well as from the perspective of a reviewer. I swear the fact that I had a book review come out last week wasn’t intentional, though it was a nice lead into this topic.

Should You Make Authors Aware of your Negative Reviews?

Short answer: As a rule, no, but it depends.

Long answer: As humans, we aren’t particularly good at taking criticism from others well. While there are individuals that we may be more receptive to criticism from, it’s still not a particularly ideal experience. One of the things that I think people fail to realize when they write a book for the first time is that the book is no longer yours once it’s published. While you may still be the author of the book, the content you write now belongs to your readers. Some of your readers will not like your book. That’s just the hard reality of being a writer.

One of the first books I ever wrote a review for was a book I got for free in exchange for the review. I didn’t like the book. At all. But I was probably much harsher than I needed to be in my review. And I made the mistake — again, this being my first review — of tagging the author on Twitter and publicizing my negative review with them regularly tagged in my tweets. In retrospect, it was a shitty thing for me to do as a reviewer. While it was my first review that I’d ever written, I failed to consider the human impact of sharing with the author how much I disliked their book.

At this point, you’d think it’s a pretty cut and dry line that you shouldn’t share a negative review with an author. And once the book is published, I think this is true, particularly if you’re trying to get publicity for your own review based off of the author’s fame. So when is there an acceptable time to tell someone you don’t like their book? I feel like the obvious answer here is if you’re asked for any negative feedback prior to the book being published. If an author is trusting you enough to request your feedback prior to a book getting released to the public, provide whatever feedback you can to help them. It ultimately will make their book a better finished product. That’s not to say to be a jerk about your feedback. Trust me, as I’ve done that and it hasn’t gone well. But pre-publishing feedback is extremely valuable.

This is not to say you can’t have a negative review of a book. If you didn’t like a book and you want to leave a negative review on Goodreads, Amazon, your own blog, or somewhere else, that’s totally fine. Not every book is for everyone. Authors do read reviews of their books. I know that while I haven’t taken every piece of negative feedback I’ve had to heart, I have made an active effort to learn from that feedback and become a better writer because of it. As a rule of thumb, I’m much more willing to listen to a negative review that’s kind than one that’s inflammatory.

Can You Dislike Something and Still Find it Good?

I used to have a much more black and white answer on this question than I do now. The strange thing is that I’ve swung around to both ends of the spectrum on this answer, all before landing somewhere in the middle. Allow me to dissect where I stand on this by looking at the example of three different books/pieces I’ve read over time.

One of my least favorite books of all time is a book I had to read in high school called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. I can objectively look back at the book and say that it makes a ton of great points about environmentalism, upcycling, and sustainability. That said, even after a re-read later in life, I still dislike the book. Perhaps it’s because it was a required reading during a year in high school where all of the readings felt forced (more than normal, that is). Maybe it’s because my initial reading of the book came at a time where I disagreed with much of the book’s premise, tainting my perception of it well after my world view has changed to fall more in line with the book’s points. Whatever it is, reading Cradle to Cradle is still painful for me, even though I can objectively say the book isn’t bad.

On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve read a good amount of fan fiction that would, by many standards, be considered to be terrible writing. That said, I love them. For example, I will read most RWBY fan fiction, regardless of how fan service-y it gets. I can objectively say that some of it is bad. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy reading it less. Even writing styles that get scorn for other reasons like erotica can suffer this same fate — the reader can enjoy the work even if it’s not Dickens-level writing complexity.

With that all said, there are situations where a piece of literature may be well-written or have other positive qualities, but because of the author that penned the piece, there will be an inherent dislike for that work. In my most recent Q&A podcast, I talked about how Anthem by Ayn Rand became this for me once I learned more about Rand, however she is certainly not the only example of this. There’s a surprisingly high number of people who can write a coherent book (or at the very least have hired someone who can do so) while themselves being disgraceful individuals. Although I do try to separate author from work when writing reviews, there are situations that are too egregious to do so.

Book Review – When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

Are quarterly book reviews going to become a thing on this blog? I don’t know. But for the second quarter in a row, I’m reviewing a book for the blog. In the first quarter of this year, I reviewed “10:04” by Ben Lerner. This quarter, I picked up another book that gave me mixed feelings, this one being “When the Lights Go Out” by Mary Kubica.

“When the Lights Go Out” tells the story of two women — Jessie Sloane and her mother Eden. Eden’s story is mostly told in flashbacks while Jessie’s story is present day, dealing with the experience and aftermath associated with Eden’s death from cancer. To properly understand how I feel about this book, I feel it’s best to explore it much in the way the book is written. That is, to look at Jessie’s story versus Eden’s story. Spoilers ahead.

Jessie

I’m going to get the lone thing I dislike about Jessie’s part of the story out of the way right away. “When the Lights Go Out” goes the full St. Elsewhere route5 with 85% of Jessie’s story. Jessie’s story was all in her mind — a terrifying dream induced by a combination of sleep deprivation, sleeping pills, and melatonin.

That said, what a beautifully written descent into madness Jessie’s dream sequence story was. The way Kubica wrote the hallucinations and mental tangents that come with sleep deprivation was captivating. Since the story changed points of view regularly, there would be gaps of time where I wasn’t able to read what was going on with Jessie. Whenever that was happening, I found myself desperately wanting to come back to it because of how interesting it was. How much more could Jessie take before she finally snapped? Even the chapter where she finally realizes she was actually dreaming was beautifully done, taking several pages before you’re able to realize that she’s not actually dead, rather struggling to come out of a medication-induced slumber.

The non-dream parts of Jessie’s story serve more as context than anything else. Though they’re not as interesting as the slow mental deterioration that was her dream self, they’re still useful in tying the story together. Jessie’s story feels natural and gripping, even when the reader can’t fully associate with it. This is exactly what I was hoping for when I read the book’s synopsis online.

Eden

So I’m writing an end of the year book ranking/review post, much like I did last year. In reviewing a different book I read, I talk about how difficult it can be to make a bad guy type character as a focal point of your novel, as it makes you want to root against them. It can be done well, though books that make the bad guy your main character and still tell a compelling story are few and far between.

I don’t think the intent was for Eden to be the bad guy of “When the Lights Go Out”. She is clearly meant to be a flawed character, one who only shows any sort of redemption in death. That said, it is very clear throughout the book that Eden is not a good person. She is a good mother at the expense of being a terrible human in pretty much every other facet of her life. Her obcession with motherhood bordered on maniacal. And when I say obcession, I don’t mean she really cared about her kids or had a yearning desire to be a mom. I mean she actively attempted child abduction in an effort to become a mom, only to be stopped because the child’s mom happened to catch her.

Paired against Jessie’s dive into madness, Eden’s story felt cold and cruel. While it certainly added to how much I was rooting for Jessie to find herself — much as Eden suggests for her to do — it made me want to get through the majority of Eden’s chapters even quicker. Though there is an attempt at salvaging her character over the last 4-5 chapters of the book, the damage is irreperable.

 

All in all, “When the Lights Go Out” is an interesting suspense read. If the story solely focused on Jessie horrifying mental struggles, it could have easily been a top three book I’ve read this year. If the story stayed with Eden, I likely would have given up on the book before the halfway point. As it stands, “When the Lights Go Out” will likely land somewhere on the middle of my year end list. It’s a good suspense read, but only if you can put up with half of your book focusing on a terrible person trying to be passed off as somewhat sympathetic. If you can, the story told about Jessie Sloane is something special.