Thursday, January 30, 2014

Surprise! I'm an Impostor!

Five years or so ago, my wife got a big promotion. She went from being a worker-bee to being a queen-bee. The most amazing part about it was that very few people at her license level had been promoted to that position. And she is damned good at her job. The productivity levels of the buildings she has managed are good. Her teams make fewer errors than similar groups do, and they are a happier group than most in their industry. My 'day-job' is in a related industry, so I hear lots of good things about my wife, often from people who don't know of my connection to her. In short, she is a great leader, a great boss, and a great manager. I say this so you will understand the part of this post that is about me.
One of the things she used to say back when she was new at the management thing was that she felt like an impostor. As if one day, someone was going to walk into her office and tell her to pack up her shit because they found out she was a fraud. I sort of understood, but not really. I've always been very confident about my endeavors. I assume I can do something, and I do it. What others thought of my work was irrelevant. That was, until now.
I want to be clear about something before I go on. I don't write for money. I don't write for recognition. I write because I daydream. A lot. All the time, every day. In the shower, in the truck, when I'm laying in bed, pretty much anytime I am awake, I daydream. If I write those daydreams down, I can move on to the next one. Otherwise they dominate my entire day, sometimes screwing with my concentration. So I write to clear my head. All that being said, I get paid to write. I ain't giving you my daydreams for free.
My financial success as a writer depends very much on what others think of my work. It depends on reviews. It depends on sales rankings. It depends on phrases like 'Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought'.
Two weeks ago, I freaked out because Warrior's Scar showed up on a top ten list. Granted it was on a top ten list in a very limited sub-genre of science fiction in another English-speaking country, but I have been on that list for weeks now. I'm proud of that. Today I had another one of those moments. A friend told me he finished my book and enjoyed it, so I told him to review it. I also emphasized that I wanted an honest review, not a that of a friend. Wondering if his review was up yet, earlier tonight I went to my book's Amazon page and saw something new. When I looked at that 'Also Bought' section I was talking about, two things jumped out at me: the names of two authors whose work I have on my Kindle. Writers whose work I have paid for, in one case repeatedly.
My name is up there with real authors! Holy Crap! And even better, when you click on one of those two books, mine shows up as a 'Also Bought' recommendation. When I saw that, my stomach did a little flip-flop. So as I write this post, I am worried sick that someone is going to kick in my door and demand that I turn over my Chromebook because they have determined that I am a fraud. They can have it when they pry it from my cold, dead, hands. Because I keep seeing my name associated with real authors. Maybe I am an impostor. Maybe I am a fraud. But as long as I keep seeing my name next to those of real writers, I'm going to keep faking it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jack of All Trades, Master of One.

One of the things I have been most struck by in my journey to become a published (albeit self-published) science fiction writer is the amount of work it really takes. It's not just writing down your daydreams. I can't speak for romance writers, mystery writers or authors of other genres, but the amount of research required to write hard science fiction is as vast as the universe I write about. I've spent weeks studying particle physics, hours trading messages with astrophysicists, and I've even studied linguistics.

I've designed powered armor, launch systems, a Mars colony, an intergalactic government, and even dabbled in bio-engineering as I created a few aliens. Just last night I put the finishing touches on an agricultural system that will allow humanity to enter into trade agreements with over 700 species from across our arm of the galaxy. Keep in mind I did all this to just to get a single idea out of my head. That idea? What would happen if a true warrior from our time jumped a few centuries into the future?

Warrior's Scar began the journey for me. I wrote it mostly to get the story out of my head. But before I could do that, I had to make it believable. Not only for me, but also for my readers. I've never been able to write "It happened". I have to write "It happened because...". That means I can't say "The ship jump to beta Centauri." I have to explain the technology that made that jump possible. This little bit of OCD puts me firmly in the realm of 'hard science fiction'. Hard science fiction. Dammit. Now I have to study. Now I have to research quantum theory.

I'm a cowboy and a country boy at heart. The weekend before I moved to northern California almost twelve years ago, I was shoveling horse shit and spreading hay for my horse. Astrophysics? Hardly. Now skinning a catfish? That was more my speed. Pull it out of the water, nail its head to a tree and peel the skin down it's body. Bread the meat with some buttermilk and cornmeal, throw it in boiling lard until it floats easily, drop in some balls of cornbread mix, and you can bet your waistline that I'm an expert as you down the catfish and hush-puppies. But decades ago, at an age too young to understand its nuances, I read Dune. Then I was hooked. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne... You get the idea. Those were the stories and writers that I cut my science fiction teeth on.

Remember how I said I was a country boy? I could write an epic western without reading anything more than a map. I may do it someday. I suspect every writer has something they could write easily. Some topic about which they could finish a novel in a week. But for whatever reason, we don't. We challenge ourselves. We find the story we have to study about. The story we spend three hours researching for every hour we write. We find the story that broadens our own horizons the same way we seek to broaden the horizons of our readers.

I want you to remember something the next time you read science fiction. It wasn't just written by an author. It was also written by an almost-astrophysicist, an almost-geologist, an almost-biologist, and an almost-engineer. Maybe it will even be a story by me, the jack of all trades and almost-master of one.

Which brings us to this blog. Every writer is supposed to have one, right? So come along on my journey. From designing economies to burning dinner so I could write down 'that thought' before it escaped my mind, Don't Mind Me, I'm Just Writing the Future will let you look over my shoulder as I look into the future.