Mid-Week Writing Updates

Sequel Announcement

I’ve been hard at work on the sequel to Reunion with the ColonelTitled Republic of Green Vassals (for now), Aisha’s Libyan adventure continues. So far, there’s more villains, more intrigue, more Gaddafi, and maybe even a guest appearance from everyone’s favorite Libyan city, Benghazi.

Now that I’m more familiar with the ins-and-outs of the writing process, writing my second novella is much easier. Progress is slower than I want it to be though, thanks to freelance work and an ongoing job search (ugh) that’s been taking up most of my time.

Baby’s first freelance gig

I don’t know how I did it, but I landed a freelance job in November. It’s a nice entry-level editing gig for a set of short children’s stories. The stories are set in various African locales.

After getting dozens of job rejection emails as of late, one long-awaited “yes” from my current freelance client gave me the self-esteem boost I needed. Earning some money doesn’t hurt either. 🙂

 

Indie Spotlight: Dylan Callens

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Dylan Callens’ novel, Operation Cosmic Teapot, is a razor sharp dark comedy starring philosophical heavyweights Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche. As religious mayhem reigns supreme on earth, God himself is under scrutiny by a group of out-of-control philosophers.  What will world religion look like once it’s all over?

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This weekend, I sat down with Dylan to gain some behind-the-scenes insights into his daring new novel. Let’s get philosophical.

Hi, Dylan. You grew up with a rich and varied artistic life; you were an artist, a musician, a radio announcer. What made you finally decide to head the call and start writing your novel?

I actually don’t think I grew up with a rich background in arts. While it wasn’t my intention to be artsy, I started taking writing seriously six years ago. I started by writing a really bad novel while in university.

In that horrible piece of writing, though, came the concept of God giving up his duties after failing to cope with too much paperwork. This idea ended up sticking with me because about 15 years later, I transferred it into my current work.  It isn’t in quite the same form, but similar elements are there.  As well, I thought that the idea of Nietzsche being God’s boss was amusing, perhaps giving him a way to find revenge on God.

How has your coursework in philosophy impacted your writing?

Philosophy leaks into everything I do. It has a profound impact on my life – I think about it all the time.

However, because philosophy may not have the same impact on other people’s lives, the struggle lies in framing it in a way that everyone can understand.

How have you made philosophy digestible for the general public?

I had to take out the academic philosophical language and tell the concepts as a story instead. Philosophy is meant to explain how we live; I can demonstrate this idea through my characters, as opposed to just explaining what philosophy is. It’s useful to see examples rather than reading philosophical theories.

Operation Cosmic Teapot is a dark comedy. Who would you say are your comedic influences?

David Foster Wallace. Do you know about him?

Sadly, I haven’t heard of him. 

It’s okay – he’s been dead for a long time now. When I read his novel, Infinite Jest, I found that it was a monumental work. In a way, I feel like I have to pay tribute to him because his book left such a profound impact on my life.

Otherwise, I like to create my own brand of comedy; I pick things up here and there rather than looking for specific individuals for inspiration. By nature, I’m very sarcastic.

Let’s talk about religion. Your book deals with philosophical and religious themes. When it comes to all things God-related, it can be a tough nut to crack. Have you received any negative reactions? How do you cope with negative reactions to your work?

I think I’d be disappointed if I didn’t get any negative criticism!

I haven’t received any negative feedback so far, but I expect it. When I was writing, I thought people would want to kill me after they read Operation Cosmic Teapot. I understand that the religious aspects will make some people very upset and I’m okay with that.

One of my book’s main themes is the idea of various deities working in a call center. I fiddled with the idea of putting Allah in the call center, but I decided to stay away from it because I thought including Allah’s presence would be too big of an issue. It would take away from the book. This is especially true after I considered what’s going on in the world

If featured, what kind of current events are in your book?

I ended up not including any current news events because my book took a long time to write. I’m slow and there were periods where I wasn’t into writing. To prevent irrelevancy, I felt it would be best to make references to pop culture rather than current events.

Good choice. On popular culture, what are some of your favorite pop culture themes? What pop culture reference found its way into your book?

In terms of media, I really enjoy The Blacklist. My musical guilty pleasures would have to be Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas. While writing, I found that Eminem leaked his way into my book. He has some very controversial lyrics and I think they resonate really well with what I wrote.

You posted a “What Philosopher are you” quiz on Twitter. What kind of philosopher are you?

I fluctuate between nihilism and existentialism. When I feel pessimistic, I’m a nihilist. When I feel optimistic, I’m an existentialist.

It took you six years to complete your book. Have you seen any improvements in your writing speed since then?

I don’t know if I have improved my production rate. I sped up near the end of my book because a visible finish line motivated me to complete it.

The book took a long time because when I looked back at the old parts, I thought they were awful. I kept having to rewrite them because they didn’t fit with my newer parts. It was a bit of a painful process.

Is there another book in store for us?

I’ve been flirting with a few ideas for a new novel, but I don’t think it will be a series.

With the book being released next week, promoting it is a huge task. Promotion will be a priority before I decide to start anything new.

Dylan Callens’ debut novel, Operation Cosmic Teapot, is available on Amazon.

For more information, visit his website.

Lynchburg, Politics, and Me

Despite having a Master’s degree in Political Science, I really don’t like talking about politics. Whether on the internet or during polite small talk with strangers, it always seems to lead to ugly places. But after Jerry Falwell Jr’s statement at Liberty University last week, I feel a strong urge to write a brief blog post about my thoughts.

For the record, I am not going to personally attack Falwell or his policies. I am not going to declaim against Liberty University or Christianity. Why? Because reacting to bigotry with more bigotry is too easy.

On with the show.

For those who don’t know, here are a few of Falwell’s most memorable speech quotes:

I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.”

“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Mr. Falwell has since clarified that “those Muslims” was a reference to Islamic extremists.

Backpedaling and gun waving aside, the reckless and othering rhetoric he used during his speech terrifies me. It’s indicative of a big problem in America. It frustrates me to to see how some people continue to lump all Muslims into the same boat. Even if Mr. Falwell’s clarification is true, it doesn’t take away from how there are people who will take the bare essence of his words to heart.

I think everyone in the world knows this by now, but Liberty University is in Lynchburg, Virginia. And Lynchburg, Virginia seems to be notorious for one thing: Liberty University.

Here’s a surprise for you…

I grew up in Lynchburg. Despite how it acted as the setting for a turbulent adolescence, Lynchburg is still part of what makes me…well, me. It pains me to see how Lynchburg has once again garnered negative attention because of statements from LU representatives.

Hearing Mr. Falwell’s speech gave me many feels. Here’s just a few:

Denial.

I think I can be naive sometimes. After all, I like to surround myself with progressive, open minded people from all walks of life. As a result, bigotry is not something I encounter very often.

But when I do, it hits hard. When saw Mr. Falwell’s face on TV last week, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. When I heard his words, my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe my ears. My hometown was on TV. National news networks played and discussed the clips. I convinced myself it wasn’t happening.

Anger.

My first exposure to Islamophobia happened when I was in middle school. World history was a mandatory subject; when my class arrived at the Islamic Golden Age unit, my teacher prefaced it with a vile, declamation against Muslims and Arabs.

I didn’t know much about Islam at the time, but it didn’t change the fact that my teacher’s hateful rhetoric bothered me. Thankfully, I heard his words over ten years ago. He was angry. It was after 9/11. Everyone was angry at that time. I assumed that things have come a long way since then.

Surprise! Hearing that same bigotry come from a stakeholder in the local community made my anger bubble up again.

Hope.

Even at my most cynical, I have a lingering desire to see the good in humanity. I believe in it, even during our darkest hours. My undoubtedly conservative hometown is not immune from these feelings.

Circumstance has brought me back to Lynchburg and I’m currently using it as a landing pad before permanently moving away to a bigger city. Being away from my hometown for years meant that when I returned, I’d have to get used to some changes.

Despite Mr. Falwell’s statement, Lynchburg is not all bad. It is home to a thriving Muslim community. Just last summer, a local elementary school agreed to serve as a community gathering place for worshipers during Ramadan. Liberty University itself offers a comparative religions course, where students visit mosques, learn about the Quran’s history and significance, and engage with Lynchburg’s Muslim community.

 

Fear.

I’m not worried about my own safety. I’m worried about the safety of my Muslim friends. I fear that a few reckless words could jeopardize the well-being of thousands of students at Liberty University and in Virginia. I worry that Mr. Falwell’s words are a depressing reflection of broader American attitudes towards gun control and Muslims.

Worst of all, I fear that someone will take Mr. Falwell’s words too seriously…and act on them.

 

 

 

 

Self-publishing: 4 things I wish I knew before I started writing

I started writing my first book during my final year in graduate school. I finished it while working abroad in the Republic of Georgia. As my debut into the wild, wide world of self-publishing, taking control over every aspect of my project, from cover design to book content, made me ecstatic. I just couldn’t believe how I, a little writer from Virginia, could fulfill my writing dreams with the click of a mouse.

The day came when I was ready to upload my book to Amazon. I did everything right: I researched my topic and created drafts. I hired beta readers and proofread until my eyes bled.

After hitting the “Submit and Publish” button on Amazon, I thought that was it. I’d be rolling in cash and sitting on movie deals. Move over, J.K. Rowling, I thought. There’s a new kid in town.

My high didn’t last long and my ego is easily deflated; days passed and my book wasn’t selling. When it refused to budge, I asked myself what I did wrong. I asked myself what was wrong with people; how dare they not recognize my artistic genius! I was ready to climb the nearest mountain and scream “love me” when I realized that the problem was neither me, my book, nor other people. The issue was simple; I had made some classic indie author mistakes. If only I knew then what I know now:

 

Don’t be dissuaded by negativity.

It pains me to say it, but the culture I live in comes mired in pre-established notions of what makes a person successful. For the average American, this means growing up and holding a full-time job. Traditional salaried employment is a coveted achievement that can open many socioeconomic and social doors. But for those of us who choose to answer the unstoppable urge to create, a writer’s career path of may be subject to inevitable disdain from those outside the creative community.

We often attach our identities to our jobs. Writing is no different. To be a writer means working an odd schedule. It means growing organically. And most of all, to be a writer means dedicating one’s life to seriously practicing one of the world’s oldest crafts.

I started writing from a naive standpoint; I figured I’d be well received by colleagues. After all, who doesn’t love the romanticized image of a passionate writer who slaves away over their work? In reality, I have experienced everything from jealousy from friends, a dismissive comments from my mother, and outright lack of support from past romantic partners (I dumped their asses for a reason). Things came to a head after I attended a job fair, where a journalist for a major publication insulted me, stating that “anyone can write a book”.

I stopped writing for months after that.

Making it in the self-publishing world is a game I’m now learning to play; you’ve got to hustle and keep your eyes on the prize. In the wake of so much adversity, it’s easy to see why many writers prematurely abandon their craft. I counteracted the negativity by surrounding myself with positive influences, including starting a blog and collaborating with local writers in my hometown. And although I probably won’t strike it rich with Amazon, surrounding myself with other creative types gives me the motivation to keep doing what makes me happy.

 

Friends and family are not your readership.

I have one of those personalities that doesn’t fit into a mold. Though I’ll probably never be the most popular kid, I’m thankful that I managed to find a diverse social group that is full of open-minded people. When I released my book on Amazon, convincing them to buy it seemed like a logical choice; they’d buy it and spread the word to others. Sales would spread from there. The rest would be history.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. As loyal as my friends are, I found that my book release was met with relative indifference from most of my social network. Furthermore, among those who did purchase my book (thank you!), only three left reviews.

Before you go and suggest that I commit a mass purge of my Facebook friends list, there may be a few reasons why they didn’t buy it. With friends, there’s always a chance that they won’t like your book if they read it. No one wants to lose face by disliking a product a friend made, so it’s better not to read it at all.

There’s also the issue of how people, even those you’ve known for years, don’t like being sold things. And if your book is a sexy book, you can forget about selling it to Mama (your Mama, on the other hand…).  It sucks, but it’s part of life; you mustn’t take it personally. When push comes to shove, there are hundreds of thousands of potential readers out there, all waiting to discover your book.

You just have to find them.

 

Your book won’t sell itself.

Write. Upload. Publish. Sell. Simple as that, right?

Wrong.

With over 30 million books available on Amazon, it’s easy for your book to get lost in the ether if you set it and forget it.

I completed my book and uploaded it to Amazon last February, where the resulting high from seeing my work listed on the shelves kept me in high spirits. When I looked at the sales records and saw how I had sold a few copies at the end of the first week, I may have blacked out from elation. But once the publisher’s high dissolved and I checked my sales chart a month later, it had flat-lined and I .

Since returning to the United States, I have actually had the time and internet accessibility required to research marketing techniques for indie authors. The task seemed daunting at first, but I’ve found that I’m becoming more comfortable with time. So far, I’ve started by establishing a blog presence, creating a Goodreads author page, and contributing to the blogosphere by writing guest posts on other indie author blogs.

The litany of available resources for the indie author to use are almost dizzying, as is the time required to build and find a readership. As I work to carve a niche for myself in the self-publishing world, I find that my progress has gone very well so far. I’ve discovered that although resources for book promotion are available, it is up to the author to figure out what marketing approach works best for their book. After all, we’re called indie authors for a reason.

 

It’s okay to make mistakes.

When I look back on my first year as an indie author, I realize that I made quite a few rookie mistakes. I’ve probably even missed out on potential sales. I’ve probably alienated potential readers. And you know what? That’s okay.

Part of developing as a writer means accepting the fact that mistakes happen. Part of succeeding as an indie author means being able to take mistakes and build something great out of them. It’s part of the learning process, for better or for worse.

There’s nowhere to go but up.