Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Admittedly, I’m a little tardy posting my first entry of 2011.  January just seemed to slip by me.  In my defense, though, I’ve had a lot going on (more than usual), some of which I’ll talk about on here and some of which I won’t.  Let me just say that change has been the rule of late rather than the exception.  And it’s not over yet.

I’d like to start this year by looking back at last year.  In some respects, it was a very successful year.  I stayed cancer-free.  I didn’t lose a parent.  My focus on short stories in 2010 yielded some positive results, including my first four published works (see my Bibliography).  I’ve seen other writers post their publishing income from a year, so here’s mine for the past year—$18.  It’s not much, but it is more than I made from writing my previous 33 years of life combined and, more importantly, it’s the tiny snowball that I hope to being rolling downhill to one day create an avalanche of publishing income that will allow me to retire from my day job and do this full time.

Yes, I’m still in that dream state where the Promised Land seems just over every mountain I must climb.

If I had to assign a title for 2009, with my cancer ordeal and the death of my mother, I would have to call it the Year of Loss.  On a smaller scale, I also had to deal with the realization that, given the current market conditions in publishing, I was not going to find an agent without first obtaining a few publishing credits—i.e. short stories—to lend myself a little credibility.  2010 I would call the Year of Recovery.  In addition to coping with the loss of both a beloved parent and my right testicle, I learned to temper my frustrations with the publishing industry by working within its unspoken system of rules, by paying my dues in the hopes that small success will lead to bigger success going forward.

This year, 2011, I believe will be the Year of Change.  As I mentioned before, my life is transitioning in nearly every area right now.  Some of these areas are painful and, right now, too personal for me to discuss in a public forum.  Some of these, however, are efforts I am making to improve my life, to push myself into a higher level of satisfaction with where I am and where I am going.  That said, here is an incomplete list of my goals for 2011:

  • One goal I have set, like so many people do every year, is to get in better shape.  I bought a treadmill three or so years ago and, since that time, it has mostly served as a laundry landing strip.  Beginning January 1st, however, I actually began using the treadmill for its God-given purpose and, since then, I have gone from doing a mile run/walk in 22 minutes, to 13:42 and have nearly lost 20 pounds.  I’m also doing crunches and am happy to report that discernible abs have been reported.  I still have a long way to go, but there is hope that I won’t finish this year a white beard away from looking like Santa.
  • I am also looking into going back to school to complete my degree.  I squandered a perfectly good scholarship when I was younger, overwhelmed as I was by the responsibilities of supporting a family, and now that my darling wife has provided me with such great inspiration by completing her Master’s degree, I want to remedy this one glaring hole in my accomplishments.  My hope is that, by fall, I will find a way to resume my studies without putting my family in a more serious financial bind than we are already in (cancer be expensive) and will start along the path that I abandoned so long ago.
  • I had some success with short stories this past year and would like to build upon that this year.  I have a few stories that have yet to find a good home, but I believe that’s mostly because I haven’t found the right market yet.  I’ve become better at researching my possibilities and targeting where to send my work, so I am optimistic that I’ll place at least a few of the stories I’ve finished.  I’ve already sent a new story out this year for a rather prestigious contest and I will be thrilled if I win or finish in the top three.  I also have a few more stories that I want to write this year, but not so many as last year because . . . .
  • I’m going back to novel writing for a while.  I still want to do some short stories as the ideas strike me, including three new Christmas stories, but I’m shifting my focus back to completing some of the novels I’ve left hanging while I worked on just getting something published.  I’ve already been working on Project Supervillain—which I am about ready to rename as soon as I can decide whatever the hell it is I’m going to call it.  The project now is at around 45,000 words and I have a pretty good feel for where I think the story is going to go all the way to its conclusion.  I’m guessing it will top out around 90-100k for a first draft, and then who knows after that.  As Stephen King says, some people are “leaver-outers” whereas others, including Mr. King, are “putter-inners”.  I’m more of a “leaver-outer” in that, when I go back and reread, I see lots of areas where I need more explanation of what is happening, more inner dialogue from the characters, better description, etc.  Still, for every word I add to the story after the first draft, I try to remove at least one, if not two.
  • In addition to P.S., I want to dust off Dead and Dying and see if I can take that next step now that the economy is showing some signs of life.  I feel that the recession, combined with my lack of publishing credits, hurt me during my last round of submissions, even though this particular novel gained three full manuscript requests from literary agents.  Everyone who read it, agents included, said wonderful things about it, but none of them thought they could see it in the market as it was two years ago.  I’m hoping that things have changed enough—both with me and with the industry—that I might be able to find a literary agent with this one even as I’m finishing up P.S. and moving on to other projects.
  • My other finished and submitted novel, Gifts of the Hirakee, did not receive the kind of compliments from my beta readers that I was hoping for and was only submitted to a couple of agents, who all passed, before I shelved it.  I still think this story has some merit and if any of my friends would like to take a look, read the thing, and let me know what I can do to improve it, send me an email and I’ll see about shooting it your way.
  • Finally, I want to learn to be happy again.  It seems like such a simple thing—being happy—but I’ve learned over the past few years that happiness, like relationships or parenthood or writing fiction, is something that requires constant work.  I’ve allowed myself to dwell on the pressures and obstacles in my life and have forgotten to take pleasure in all the blessings I do have.  My family, my work, and my friends are all precious to me, more now than ever, and I will work this year on improving myself with regards to all of them.  It’s time for me to leave the dark place where I’ve been hiding from my problems and learn to face them without cynicism, without doubt, and without fear.  In one of my novels-in-progress, a modern-day knight faces hordes of demons to save the ones he loves.  Likewise, I must face my own demons this year, but I must do so to save myself.

This is the Year of Change.  It has already begun and, by the time it is over and I have posted the last of this year’s Christmas stories, I hope to look back and marvel at the progress I’ve made.  And if you wish to have your own Year of Change, you don’t have to let this one pass you by before you start.  Every day is a chance for renewal.  Every sunrise is another opportunity for you to remake yourself into whatever you like.  I’ve learned well in the past few years that life is too short to be wasted on negativity and excuses.  For me, the Year of Change is every day.

And it’s only just begun.

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