I hear this snarkument all the time. “Who cares? It's made for children.” What's funny is that I never hear this said to anyone whose enthusiastic about the latest product shoved into movie theaters or book shelves. I've never seen someone say, “So, you liked Moana? You know that's for kids, right?” It's always a manner of shutting down voices of dissent, because we all know, it's against internet conduct to not wholeheartedly approve of a Disney movie. (In the UK, you can actually be imprisoned for it.) Yet, every pseudo-intellectual Youtube film critic was out opening week to bitch and moan about The Emoji Movie. Hmm...was that one not made for children? Surely, there are no double-standards afoot.
So, here's the most obvious response to this shit, and the most logical one. I care about children's entertainment because I care about the culture children are raised in. This should go without saying but due to people being incapable of holding actual discussion, the obvious can no longer be overstated enough these days. Nobody's going to disagree with you raising your kid on a healthy diet rather than McDonald's and Pepsi every day. Why are the books they read any different? I'm open to the occasional candy bar. I remember being a kid and liking stupid shit. I have The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog on DVD as a memento of those times. I'll come back to this later. The important thing about this point is that I don't want children being raised with crummy morals or on content less than they deserve. I recognize that you can't force a child to enjoy what they should but that doesn't mean I can't get pissed at untalented authors and filmmakers for sucking at their job. Look at Cartoon Network back in the days of Dexter's Laboratory and Johnny Bravo. Are you really going to tell me that they're the equivalent of Uncle Grandpa? Your children are being raised by pop culture. Wouldn't you want a thorough background check on their babysitter? Why should their TV shows be any different?
Next up is the lesser point of this article, but it's one I bring up all the time. Any time that anybody says I'm overthinking something, I look up the budget of whatever that product was. (This typically applies to movies.) Upon a quick Google, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was made on a gross budget of 200 million dollars. Now, if I was to moan about how lazy and poorly-constructed it was, I would probably be met with a response of it being for children or that I'm overthinking it. If you had that much money and were about to invest it in something, would you even consider it possible to overthink that much money? From my impoverished opinion, fathoming the use of that much money feels like imagining what it's like to terraform a planet without a blueprint. Obviously, this can apply to book budgets or anything else. We just usually don't discuss budgets about those things as often. Anyhow, this point is only tangentially-related.
Back on that real, I remember reading a lot of things as a kid I would scoff at now. I clocked way too many Stephen King books (probably twenty or thirty in whole) and way too many Neil Gaiman books (maybe six). I enjoyed a lot of those books (King's) but I wouldn't waste my time on a page of it today. Mostly because I'm just not personally interested in that kind of literature anymore but also because my taste has evolved while I've been growing as a person. The thing is, I see a lot of readers in stunted-adolescent stages of readership. Not everybody has to reach for Gravity's Rainbow. That's a niche market, even for readers. I get that. On the other hand, if the steepest you've climbed up the literary canon is George R. R. Martin, that worries me. Some people aren't into fiction, or even into literature, that's cool, too, but if you're a book nerd and end the line there, you gotta start lifting heavier, (wo)man. Recreationally, there's nothing wrong with enjoying whatever you want. (Again with overstating the obvious. I love Captain Underpants more than I enjoy The King in Yellow. Some years, I'll watch a dozen Spielberg movies before I get around to one Bergman.
The thing is, look at this crowd of imbeciles who define their world-view by Harry Potter. That's gotta be classified as a mental illness somewhere. I enjoy those movies as passive entertainment but I also despise them for their shallow world view of good vs evil and how if you're not a Hermoine, then you're a Voldemort (with the rare Snape that has an iota of nuance). I don't want my (nonexistent, unlikely to ever exist at present) children to see the world that way. Life is complex. People are multifaceted. Good people do bad and “bad” people are capable of good. The world is larger than Hogwarts, even if those stories are pleasant. Sometimes I wonder (and this is pure speculation without making any true assertion) if past generations were more intelligent having been raised on Lord of the Rings rather than The Hunger Games. Just a thought that keeps me busy sometimes.
Ultimately, what this shallow, stupid argument boils down to, though, even above children, is one thing. It's somebody who is ashamed of their interests finding their taste put into question. They don't have the brain-power to defend it or accept that maybe others see the latest CGI product differently than they do, so they dismiss it with an “Oh, it's for children, anyways.” Well, no. You own hardback and paperback copies of the books, have the Funko vinyls of half the characters, and watch the adaptation every week as soon as you get home from work. You're too weak to be confident in your interests and that's cowardly. If you ever throw an examination of pop culture out because it's for kids, then maybe you should grow the fuck up.
We need to treat the literary marketplace like a gym. Our own insecurities, time restraints, and creative responsibility are the weights we're lifting. The promotional hustle is your cardio. They aren't setbacks; they're just an occasion to rise to. Each time we sit down to churn out another chapter is a rep. Hopefully we're increasing the weight we're lifting with every project. No one wants to plateau. If a particular set is painful, it's just building muscle. Hype yourself up. Make a playlist for yourself or find an album that gets your in the right meditative state to start grinding. You've gotta make sure to eat lots and to eat healthy. Stephen King called himself the Big Mac of literature. It can be fun to eat like a teenager every now and again but you don't need that shit. Go get something high in protein. Catch up with the Greeks. You need role models, posters on the wall with literary bodies you'd like to someday amount to the equivalent of. It's motivation. Nobody has ever lifted two hundred pounds before they could lift eighty.
Your peers in the gym aren't the enemy. Don't forget that they're training with you, not against you. The only one you're competing with is the (wo)man in the mirror. Everyone is on their own hero's journey. You can choose to be someone who holds some branches so they can pass through easier or you can obstruct their path. The thing is, your actions only reflect your own character. I think of criticism as spotting another artist. I'm not pressing the weights down against them. I'm trying to help them perfect their form. You should always use criticism kind-heartedly. If you find yourself not having the artist's best intentions in mind, just stay out of their way. I don't like Tim Burton's movies, so I don't fuck with 'em. I don't like what he does, so there's no need for me to criticize it. Don't forget that these people are your brothers and sisters. You might butt heads, but at the end of the day, you're on the same team.
Another thing is, you can't compare yourself to other people. You might not be lifting as much as the girl next to you but she might be five years further down her path than yours. The guy next to you might do twice as much cardio but can't lift the same that you can. It doesn't matter. You're not racing each other and ultimately, you want to spread your tips of the trade so that you can all make for better art. I'm assuming that most writers also enjoy reading a good book. If you see someone in need, take a second to help them out. Spot them, hook them up with a trainer (You know, an editor or some shit.), the cost of one book could cover the admission fee for another day at the gym for some authors. It's a community built around self-improvement. Help each other help yourselves.
I'm about to drop a bombshell. Writing isn't exactly a lucrative business. Maybe if you're Tom Clancy, but there's only enough room for so many New York Times Best Selling Authors on the bookshelves at Wal-Mart. I only know a handful of writers who live off of what they do and a majority of them collaborate with small publishers to help them promote. A lot of us do it as a side-hustle on top of parenting or making fake Facebook accounts to see what Stacey's been doing since she blocked me.
So, here's the good news. This isn't always a bad thing. Plenty of history's best writers didn't live off of their writing. Below is the first Google result. You're welcome. One of the most interesting things I've ever heard was from my high school German teacher when asked about teaching wages. She said that the plus side is that you won't have people crowding the market to get easy money. That's how I feel about writing. Sure, it'd be cool if you can make money off you're writing (and many can), but there is something pure about keeping finances out of it, doing it for the love of the craft.
So, here's the bad news. This also means that many authors will never reach their full potential. Think about our minds being like a phone batter that depletes with usage, and the more apps running, the faster it drains. If you're writing at the end of your day after an eight-plus hour shift, household duties, and going through pictures of Stacey's ex-boyfriends to find which stock photo male model looks the most like her type, it can be hard to focus. Stephen King said some bologna about not being a true writer unless your read four hours a day and write four hours a day. I'm lucky if I make room to read and write that much a week out of the year. I fear that a lot of magnum opuses collect dust in the heads of their originators and the world might be a lamer place for that.
Anyhow, here's how you can help. Just be there. If someone you're interested in puts a book out, pay for it. Read it, talk to them about it, write a review. It may not seem like much (and I'd beg to disagree, because reading one book can be a heck of a lot sometimes), but it makes a huge difference. Every single purchase counts. Every review helps. If you share a blog post or give just a star rating on Goodreads, it goes a long way. We're starving out in the desert here and we'd kill for just one drop of water. Now, I will say that if an author ever charges $20+ for a chapbook, then they're likely a bullshit artist. I do not see how the means of production justify the cost and have seen many examples of this. (If you have any information on what goes into a twenty page book that isn't printed on gold, please let me know. I've been confounded on that for years.) The thing is, most people I've met aren't that way. They're out printing their own chapbooks, organizing their own events, helping promote and support other authors. I think for the most part, you can tell if someone is being genuine. Most people can be read like a book. I should end this, there.
Anyhow, that's that. This shit is basic, but essential.
We're in kind of a tough position, here. Typically, what you see is an author trying to prove his or her worth to a potential publisher or agent. They submit the query, cover letter, and manuscript. Sure, that makes sense, but that's for real publishing houses, the kind with reputations and lotsa money. The thing is, we don't know what kind of publishing house we are, yet. We're still figuring things out. We have money but how much is enough to successfully throw at a book release/marketing campaign? I've released nearly a dozen duds at this point of my own but that's more something to brush under the rug than use as legitimate experience in the field. So, we have no reputation, no true experience, and no real budget. What do we have to offer authors? Well, that's what this post is. Think of it as a cover letter to authors.
The first thing is that we're in this for the authors. (I'm not claiming other publishing houses aren't; from everything I've seen, it's quite the opposite.) We want to be there with you every step of the way. We want to help you format the book and design the cover in a way that you find best showcases your work. We want to help you organize a marketing plan and see it through. We want to give you as much creative freedom as we possibly can (think more James Joyce, less Sean Penn). We want all those ideas you think are too unmarketable, too ugly, or just too fuckin' weird. How I see it is that I've just finished the most creatively-demanding and riskiest book of my “career” as a writer. I've finished it and have no estimated profits. So far as I know, it might sell two copies. The thing is, I'm happier than I've ever been after releasing a book (and we're going to market LSB releases much more extensively, so that's not a sly way of me saying we don't plan on actually selling your books). That's what we're looking to provide authors with. Our goal for Long Shot Books is to be the support system for authors, to be in their corner at all times, and to take full advantage of being too small to fail.
Another thing is that we're not perfect and we recognize that. Speaking for myself, I can often be brash, arrogant, quick-tempered, and straight-up idiotic. We are not professionals. We're looking to gain experience while learning the most we can from the least amount of mistakes possible. We're negotiable. This isn't a boss:employee relationship. We want to handle all the lame shit that you don't. When I was formatting my last book, Young Adulterer, prepping it for KDP was more frustrating for me than writing the book itself. I thought to myself, Christ, this is the shit I'm gonna be doing all the time for other authors? Yeah, that boring stuff. We'd love to hear cover ideas, but we also know how lame Cover Creator can be on Amazon sometimes. If you know a cool press that you'd like to put the book out through, we're also down for that. If you have a percentage you'd like for royalties, we'd be glad to hear it and work a deal out. We're not looking to tell anybody how it is. We want to ask, “How can we make this an ideal partnership for everybody involved?”
Our role is that of a collaborator. We don't want to ever put our feet down or force anybody into uncomfortable situations creatively or financially. We're a support network, not a source of pressure. We want to support authors in every way we can, as artists and as human beings. We've both struggled to work on our own projects; we know how difficult it can be. We understand how lonely writing a book can feel and how futile it seems once that book is finally out there to get a single person to give it a chance. We don't just want to be your manager, we wanna be your bros.
So, that's what I've come up with so far. I know it's not much but I hope it helps you know how much we care about literature and just as importantly, how much we care about authors. If you decide to take a better book deal with more a more established team, we get that. If you want to take a risk on us, then we'll go the distance for you.
Many readers are stupid. A disproportionate number of non-readers are even stupider. (Point in case: Goodreads.) I've already done my take on how to handle criticism, so I've been hesitating to write yet another article on why you should stick to your own balls (or ovaries) in the face of internet confrontation. This whole phenomenon just confounds me, and I'm way behind on making these darn blog posts, anyways, so I might as well double down on it. Anyhow, if you don't know, and you already do, publishers have been pulling books from their line-ups due to pre-release criticism of the materials yet unseen. It seems to be caused by professional reviews that paint the word as all our favorite -isms. And why question that? Surely, a critic would never have a bias, especially not one so esteemed as a critic of YA fiction. Think Plato's cave but rather than seeing shadows on the wall, they're having the shadows described to them by others. (Did they go over that in the theory? Secondhand information and ears and hearing noises? Probably. I don't remember.)
See, here's my main frustration. I don't believe these are samaritans trying to call out manifestos of bigotry. If I actually gave a fuck, I'd love to read the (un?)shelved manuscripts to see how they add up to the allegations. Something tells me that Mein Kampf, they are not. (Although, wouldn't I look like a fool if they were?) Likening this to #metoo would be a false equivalence. You see, when you accuse someone of something, you don't purposefully attempt to hide the evidence, especially not if you're confident in your statements. What these people are doing is saying, “Don't look! It's so evil, so racist, so hateful that you might not even notice if you read it for yourself! Don't come up with your own opinion. Let me protect you.” I don't find these to be good or even very confident people. If nobody reads the book they're calling out, then how can anyone disprove their claims? Ironically, many of these dimwits also tend to be the type who boast about reading “banned books” one month every calendar year. It appears to be a cabal of progressive puritans who enjoy the power of "canceling" those who accomplish what they are incapable of. You can bend over backwards to suck their collective dick but that doesn't mean they won't kick you in the face when your time comes. Whether or not you've truly done anything wrong, you're done away with. Apologies will only confirm their suspicions.
So, authors, what the fuck? On one hand, I understand. You're afraid; they've got you up against the wall. You put years into this book, have all your hopes and dreams stitched into the pages, other unnecessary metaphors. You don't want to come off unprofessional or get caught with your foot in the mouth. Here's the bad news: You're already fucked. Once they've sunk their fangs into you, you've got moments to act. I truly believe that most, if not all these authors mean well. I would be astonished if a single one of them tried sneaking some covert racism into their young adult book on the sly. If your book isn't what they claim it is, then why shy away from proving them wrong? You know what you've written, probably better than anyone (barring maybe your editor). Talk some sense into the situation. Are you digging your own grave? Maybe, but it's better than to submit to the entertainment police. People are divided on outspoken artists; nobody respects a push-over.
Publishers, you're probably not actually reading this article, so this paragraph is essentially useless. Imaginary publishers that I pretend read my posts, you're shooting yourselves in the foot. On one hand, there is a potential loss. On the other hand, you're missing out on an opportunity. I understand playing it safe is the game but outspoken Twitter profiles don't speak for the majority of readers. In many cases, controversy stirs interest in the general populace, especially when the claims turn out to be false. Look at the fan outrage towards Suicide Squad. That shit still made money. How many Transformers movies has Michael Bay cashed in on, now? (Particularly decent example, being that they are often accused of being racist, sexist, smartophobic.) I'm not here to argue the quality of these movies. My point is that despite negative reception, they still made bank. This boils down to the free market. Let consumers decide what you publish, not tweets. If an author's making money, why cut them off? I get that many of the authors I'm referring to aren't established writers, but why not give them one chance? I'm more sympathetic in this case, because I totally get how each book release is a major gamble and a financial liability. I'd still love to see a publisher give the literati the finger, though, and stand up with for the authors they were willing to sign on.
Ultimately, my point is why let others cancel your dreams? If a single bad review is going to light their torches, then fuck 'em. Who wants a fanbase like that in the first place? I think everyone whose written has been misunderstood on some level. I can say that a lot of my older writing and even my current writing could be misconstrued in such a fashion, in part due to my inefficiency as a storyteller. Thing is, if you're well-intentioned, the least you can do is have some faith in yourselves. I know this is easier said than done but you need to take this misfortune as an opportunity. The spotlight's on you and you need to take your fifteen seconds of infamy to prove yourself innocent before they move on to the next target.
It is very late and I’m sitting on the bed typing away on my Mac because I can’t sleep. I’m sitting cross-legged with the duvet wrapped around my shoulders, like some kind of narcoleptic Batman. I am also wearing a pair of Christmas pyjamas with a giant T-Rex dinosaur wrapped in Christmas tree lights on the front of the T-Shirt.
Why, I hear you ask? He’s a Tree Rex!
Okay, that’s enough setting the scene for now!
Basically, I came to bed early tonight with the idea of catching up on some much-needed sleep. The problem is that, as soon as I turned off the light at 8:42 pm, my mind revved up, buried it’s foot on the throttle and yelled, ‘What do you think you’re doing? We’re just warming up!’ I normally get all stroppy and flounce around in bed, getting more and more wound up at the fact I can’t get over to sleep but, this time, I didn’t. I was cool, calm and collected.
I simply got my laptop and started to write.
This, my dear reader, is the result of my over-heated, over-caffeinated brain and I just thought I would pose the question – does anyone else feel they have their most productive times either at night or really early in the morning?
When I sit at night, hearing nothing but a mixture of my heart beat, my nasally breathing, the click of the keyboard and the snoring of my four-year-old son in the next room I like to think I allow my mind to open up.
At times like this, I feel I am able to listen to the shy, quietest, inner-most voices of characters buried deep within my conscious or unconscious mind. Sometimes these characters are the best craic (fun in Irish slang) and I giggle like a schoolgirl as they give me what I feel at the time is pure literary gold! Other times, I feel like turning to them and giving them both barrel of verbal abuse, yelling, ‘And you woke me up for this?!’
The problem is that I, someone who is a Twilight Writers (#TwiWriter), has no idea what could come out of our sometimes tired, overworked minds. It can be amazing, but it can also be pure trash that should be filed under ‘Bin’.
When writing this, I looked up the internet to see if many other writers, who were actually famous, wrote at night. It seems that I, and any other #TwiWriters out there could be in some good, and pretty lofty, company:
* Robert Frost;
* Sylvia Plath;
* Tennessee Williams;
* TS Elliot;
* James Joyce;
* Franz Kafka;
* And endless others, friends!
The list of Twilight Writers appears to be endless and I, now learning that I am not a unique little snowflake, feel glad to know that what I am doing is seen to be something of an accepted practice in the world of writing. Times may have changed. The topics we write about also may have evolved, from the nineteenth through into the twenty-first century, but are we that different?
Some writers in Victorian England may have been huddling next to a dull light while scrawling onto paper by hand, while we, in the technological age, can call on a plethora of aids to help us regurgitate our ideas from our minds onto the ‘page’ and into the world via email. These tools may differ but we, as writers who sit up to all hours of the night listening for howls of those characters inside our minds, are the same. We call upon the inspiration that naturally comes about when we are sleepy, asleep or simply tired after a hard day’s work and putting the kids to bed!
I know I am a TwiWriter, I know I will be exhausted in the morning, I know I may need to take a little nap tomorrow, but I know I will have something concrete to show for my efforts. If, like me, you roll over to get your phone, open the ‘Notes’ app and start typing ideas before we forget them, accept that this is part of your process! Remember that we are not alone and, somewhere out there in the darkness, another TwiWriter will be dancing their fingers across a keyboard just like you.
Author of Inside Iris
Available on from Amazon on Kindle and Paperback
Scott Gilmore, author of Inside Iris, is a pretty cool guy who wrote this equally cool article. Check it out:
As a child, when I sat behind a desk with an opened textbook in front of me, I often felt daunted and even sometimes frightened of the educators who taught me the ABC’s, 123’s and everything in between. These gargoyles would often have low expectations of us and, being from a working class, inner city area, can be forgiven for shouting and being stressed considering my class were what you could call ‘lively’ to say the least.
I remember these teachers as being glum, run down women who could find the thirty ankle-biters they were in charge of from the hours of nine am to three pm, and I can understand why they may have acted and behaved the way they did with my particular class.
Now that I am in my mid-thirties, have grown to be over six-feet tall, have a beard and am a teacher myself, I often look back at those days and wonder how that little boy would feel sitting in my classroom in 2018. Being a Primary 6 (or Year 5 in England) teacher, I was faced with my usual AQE Transfer Test chaos from April through to June. This is an extremely stressful testing procedure in Northern Ireland to determine whether a child at the age of ten or eleven is ‘smart enough’ to get into a particular grade of school.
Every year, the children in the class can find the time challenging and I regularly have a plethora of emotions from the dizzying highs to the gut-wrenching lows but, no matter what, I would always maintain an air of positivity and encourage the children as much as possible. Last academic year, I had one girl in particular who had a real issue with confidence, was getting upset and was considering not doing the AQE. I sat with this girl and discussed her worries at length, calming her down and ensuring she was able to go out to lunch with even the slightest silver lining on that particular cloud.
That evening, as I was making my way home from work, I stopped to buy my usual marking pens and, with the conversation I had with that girl was fresh in my mind, I bought a notepad and wrote a note for that girl. I told her how much I believed in her as a student, but also as a writer who had written many imaginative and creative stories that year.
The next day, I gave the girl the notepad and her face proceeded to redden with embarrassment. I then held out my hand to make her a deal – that I would give her a chapter of my still unfinished novel every week and she was to use that notepad as an escape from the stresses of AQE. The girl, who was always very quiet, simply said ‘deal’ and shook my hand before putting the notepad in her bag.
As the weeks went on, the few chapters I had written of my book soon dwindled and I had to write more to live up to my end of the bargain. Before I knew it, I was writing every night and, by the first week in July, I had written almost sixty-thousand words and finished my book, which was later to be published as my debut novel, Inside Iris.
I am in no doubt that this agreement, this handshake and this child gave me the impetus to finish my first book, publish it and achieve a dream I had since I was a child. She, along with other past pupils I have taught, have inspired me in different ways, encouraging me to look at myself as a professional and as a person – to change, develop and evolve.
I firmly believe that, as educators, as parents and as adults in general, we have a duty to encourage and develop the children in our care beyond the academic targets and statistics that are laid before them. We need to encourage the children in our care to challenge themselves, develop their minds creatively and to not be afraid of making mistakes.
I, and many other teachers, take pride in the fact that children in our classrooms know we will be there to catch them when they do make mistakes, when they do fail and when that ‘risk’ didn’t pay off as they had expected it to. Each and every year, I would watch two TED Talks. One by Sir Ken Robinson and the other is by Rita Pierson. There, she would talk about how every child needs a champion – someone who will believe in and encourage them no matter what, no matter how hard things got or how insurmountable a task or challenge may be.
With more experience and guidance from an inspirational principal, I learned the importance of connecting with the pupils in my class right from the most exceptionally gifted and talented to the most challenging and troubled. This connection and relationship, forged between a teacher a child, can empower them to do more than they thought they were ever capable of. It can push them from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
As a child in my class, sitting at a desk behind an open textbook, I want you to feel that I know you. I want you to feel that I understand, and I believe in you. I want you to know that, in a world of uncertainty, Brexit and pressures exerted on you from social media, that you have something that is certain in me. You will have someone who will always be there for you, who will have your back when times are tough and who will never ever give up on holding a mirror up to show you the person you can be.
Rita Pierson sums it up best when she asks how powerful our world would be if we have kids who are not afraid to take risks, not afraid to think and who have a champion – an adult who will not give up on them and who insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Young people need champions and, as adults, we owe it to them to be their guides, their guardians and that person who will encourage them to be more than ordinary – to be the exception.
Author of Inside Iris
Available from Amazon on Kindle and Paperback
This might come as a shock to all of you reading this, all one of you, but Maureen and I actually established a list of rules for Long Shot Books when we started the company. We had two sets. One for anyone unlucky enough to find themselves collaborating with us and another for ourselves. (We gave ourselves much more liberty because we should be allowed to put our mouths where our money is. This is America.) Aside from these blog posts, which we do to let people sample who we are as people or writers, we try not to let ourselves bleed into Long Shot Books too much. (I mean, sure, there was that time with that professional victim of plagiarism that I accidentally pissed off; and that other time with the journalists I tweeted @ on the company Twitter account; and those times I accidentally posted Carly Rae Jepsen memes on the Twitter. O.K., I overstep my boundaries every now and again but this goes back to the putting money in my mouth thing.) One of the most important restrictions that we gave ourselves was that neither of us could publish through the company, nor could we promote our own work through the company's social media accounts. We felt that would cheapen what it means to be published as a Long Shot book and “delegitimize” the company (as though my blog posts don't enough as it is).
So, as some of our followers might be aware, I kinda released a book and have a book release coming up. More importantly, I accidentally made the event page on Facebook a Long Shot Book event. I don't know how this happened. I wasn't aware of this until just yesterday, when my personal account was invited to the LSB page's event by a friend...To quote one of my personal heroes, Robert Hymen, General Surgeon in the Civil War, “Well, that was fucking stupid.” To make this abundantly clear, my book is not published through LSB. The event is not organized by LSB, nor is it reflective of the company or future events that will be organized by the company. This is just an event that has the two founders of Long Shot Books as presenters. We're just Todd and Maureen. Not Todd and Maureen. (The italics make us look more professional for company stuff, right?) I don't even, really see it as a Todd Crawford thing. I mean, there are six other readers who will be presenting roughly fifteen to twenty minutes' of their own content. Mathematically, it's much bigger than myself or my own writing.
So, in conclusion, for as many stupid things I do that I'm proud of, this is one that I will apologize for...on behalf of our intern, Tucker Cow...son? Yeah, Tucker Cowson. Due to his gross negligence in this matter, we have decided to part ways with him. We are forever grateful for his participation in our company but quite frankly, he can fuck off for this. To quote Maureen, “If I was on a walk and saw that piece of shit, Tucker dead in a dumpster, I'd dump the rest of my coffee on his body and close the lid. This was Maureen, who said this, out loud.” Thank you for understanding. Oh, and Tucker was also supposed to be posting my weekly blog posts on here. I definitely wrote those and it's all his fault.
I've been reading The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I found it wedged between a duplicate copy of some Christopher Hart cartoon guide and another Ultimate Guide to Drawing Stuff and Things. It's kind of like a self-help book for For Dummies guide for creative folk.
In the first few chapters, The Artist's Way introduces the concept of the shadow artist. Shadow artists don't have a badass origin story about being born in a pit of darkness, fulfilling some kind of prophecy, or anything like that. It's kind of a sad one, actually.
You're seven years old. You like to write. Maybe you draw too. You spend hours in your room with a pack of printer paper and colored pencils, pinning your designs to your walls. You write plays you make your siblings perform with you in your living room. You explore all the things that make you wonder. Your parents, your teachers, and all the well wishers cheer you on. Long story short, you create a ton of shit all the time and you love every second of it.
Fast forward you're in high school. You've got a part-time job because your parents want you to learn some kind of responsibility or how to manage money or whatever. Now you just doodle for fun during your lunch break. Instead of writing stories, you're prepping for your SATs and ACTs. You're corralled into an AP Physics course and told it'll boost your class rank—so you take it instead of that writer's workshop class. Then comes the college applications and career fairs. This is when shit gets real. You want to be a painter or a poet or a playwright, but the same people who were once rooting for you are now telling you these things won't pay the bills.(They have good intentions though). You take a second look at those printer paper drawings, and now they don't look as good as you thought. So you take their advice and put your passions on the back burner.
You probably get the picture—the rest you can fill in yourself.
Shadow artists are basically people who grew up to love to create but walked way for one reason or another. Their parents told them they wouldn't make a living as a playwright. They didn't think they were good enough and that their form sucked. They thought they weren't true artists/creative folk. They hang around other creative people so that they can vicariously live out their dreams through other artists instead of claiming their own “birthright” as a creative person. And you bet they beat themselves up about it. They're essentially caught between the dream to act and the fear of failing.
Sometimes to ensure some shred of success, a shadow artist pursues a “shadow career,” or a job similar to what he/she wants to do. So instead of being a fiction writer, you're a journalist. Instead of being a director, you're a film critic—and so on.
I'm saying all this because I'm a recovering shadow artist. (Like Todd said before—we don't really like to talk about ourselves on here, but sometimes it just helps to use ourselves as examples.)
I grew up with a passion for drawing. I spent hours in the basement of my old house just drawing and hanging my pictures up on the wood-paneled walls with my mom's hospital tape. As I got older my sister and I started writing short stories back and forth (most of which were Spider-Man themed), and people said I had a knack for storytelling. I skipped AP Physics and took art classes instead. At some point, someone said I can't make a living as an artist. I know this person genuinely meant well—most people who say this do. But eventually I started having these crazy thoughts about not being good enough and how all my ideas were shit. So what did I do? I walked away. Instead of being a fiction writer I majored in journalism (because those things are similar, right?). I reduced my art to being a hobby I did on weekends (until I became so self conscious I quit art entirely). Trying to write a story became an excruciating endeavor. This led to an on-and-off relationship with writing for a few years.
The other ugly part of being a shadow artist is when you start to believe you can't be “great” without giving something else you really, really wanted up. That author of that book I keep mentioning says, “In other words, if being an artist seems too good to be true to you, you will devise a price tag for it that strikes you as unpayable.” So, the price of being a talented comic artist means you'll die alone. If you want to be a novelist I have to develop a dependency on alcohol and cigarettes. Et cetera, et cetera. In your mind, you can't have it all.
I don't really know at what point I realized I was a shadow artist. Maybe it was when 2018 became 2019. Or it could have been when we started LSB. Whatever and whenever it was, I guess it'll be lost to me. At this point I'm focused on the now, and I'm telling you it's kind of like you're in a dark room feeling the walls for a light switch while stepping on Legos.
Getting back into it isn't easy, trust me. Step one? Take yourself seriously. Take what you're doing and plan to do seriously—don't water it down. You're an artist. You're a writer. You're a whatever-the-heck-you-want-to-be.
Step two? Give yourself permission to suck. An Artist's Way says, “By being willing to be a bad artist, you have the chance to BE an artist, and perhaps, over time, a good one.”
Step two-and-a-half? Don't compare your beginning poems or sketches to someone else's master work.
Step three? Ramble, mess up, get lost in it. You'll be busting your ass learning how to play again, and it'll be hard work.
You owe it to yourself to at least try.
Soft Pumpkin Drops
1 cup sugar, 1 cup canned
grated orange peel, 1 teaspoon
ungreased, 2 inches apart in
beat until smooth, 8 to ten minutes
Photo credit: Pexcels
I've been too busy writing to write about writing, lately. I had to take a deliberate vacation from Long Shot Books so that Maureen could actually get shit done without my bologna in the way. She's probably posted more interviews in my absence than I have in the Weebly's lifespan thus far. The thing with writing is that it's almost a form of meditation where you're so hyper-aware of every thought you have that it's hard to break the spell in your everyday life. It's silly when you say it out loud, but there's a lot of stress involved with every sentence. (I go more for a freestyle approach with these posts but I've already read this paragraph about eight times over.) Think of how much it takes to be one actor in front of the camera, or the set designer, or the director telling the actors how to act, or the screenwriter deciding what they say. Writing a book is kind of like being all of those things at once. So far as the narrative is concerned, you're God. (Now, whether or not you're any good at playing that role is a whole other story...) So, it can be difficult to go from that to Silly Internet Blogger sometimes. Much like writing a book, making post like this requires a special form of narcissism, not to mention Maureen and I try to separate this company from our own creative works as much as possible, but this all ties into a relevant point. Long Shot Books is a company by writers for writers. That's why it's was necessary for me to fuck off for a while. How can one play Virgil without first completing his own hero's journey?
Let's get this out of the way, now. Conditional Love is the last Todd Crawford book, in many aspects. It's not the final book that I will write, almost surely, but it's both the last book of the ilk I've been writing for the past few years. I mean, it very well could be the last book I write. That doesn't really matter to me. (If none of this makes any sense, I understand. Well, maybe I don't understand and that's the problem.) Much of the book is about the dynamic of the idea of an artistic persona vs. a true identity and how one reaches a point where they cannot coexist. It's no coincidence that I'm releasing the book physically on my twenty-seventh birthday. As soon as I realized the ending of the book, I knew it had to be a last of some sort. The important thing is that there's no second second chances. There isn't the excuse of a sequel. If there's another book, which there probably will be at some point, it will be far enough removed from this that they can have unique identities. It isn't walking away in frustration; it's more leaving well enough alone. I've never put as much time and effort into anything else I've done before and the idea of following it up with a quickie isn't that attractive to me. Plus, I'm kind of drained. With Conditional Love, I'll have written ten books in the last decade. (Before you think that's impressive, take a look at the quality of some of them and get back to me.) Writing a book is starting to feel like the point of exercise where you're just hurting yourself and it's time to get off the treadmill. I'd rather shut myself up until I have something new to say, however long that might take.
And...it's no secret that there have been a lot of personal struggles this year. The circumstances don't matter. They're just variables in an equation; once you solve for X, there's another problem just below it. What is important is to recognize that every misfortune is an opportunity to grow. I'm not thankful for all the stuff that's been working against me. I have this weird anxiety about anyone else taking credit for inspiring me to write this book (which is funny, because who would even want to do that), like I needed to suffer in order to get to this place. No. Losing a couple grand, chronic nightmares, and total paranoia have not contributed in any healthy manner to my creative process. I'm too fucked up to get it up to fuck without getting fucked up. That doesn't help, either. Plus, I never changed my act for pussy so why would I switch it up for a few cunts? Usually, art's a distraction from life but lately, it's starting to feel like my life has been a distraction from my art. There's no one person or event to blame for any of my circumstances. The only one responsible for myself is me. I'm writing this book because I know that's what I want to do, and I owe that to myself.
Of course, it's embarrassing to say or share these things. That's the point. This isn't my best self but who else is offering their worst material? If you want to improve in what you do, you have to confront your worst self. You have to look the worst person you're capable of becoming in the eyes and having the patience and love to turn that into the person you thought was too good to be true. You can't brush anything under the rug; you can't make any excuses. You don't build muscle by sitting on the couch. I'm using myself as the demonstration, here. You can't be afraid of yourself. Don't think “How am I going to deal with this situation?” Ask yourself how the situation is going to deal with you. You don't have to be perfect but if you're not doing your best, then you're selling the world short.
It's important for me to share this and it took me a month to build up the courage to do it. It matters because when we start taking in real submissions, I don't want any illusions of authority or prestige on our behalf. We're “artists” just like you. (I'd never call myself that but for the sake of communication, just roll with it.) I can't look an author's profile picture on Facebook in the eyes and type them some crap about writing their best book if I can't even finish mine. Maureen understands that and has been incredibly supportive about it, so thanks always to her. (Heck, she let me crash on her couch rent-free for a month when my home life got too bad that I needed to move out. We'd stay up on work nights and talk about our plans for this company while I got too wasted to remember what I was running away from.) Thanks to everybody who reads and supports this company and my goofy, inappropriate articles. I think the coolest thing anyone's ever said about my writing is that they could tell I put everything into it. For now, this is what I've got. I'll try not to go so long next time.