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Ask and you shall Receive

As I write this it is Thursday, October 22nd. Its 4:10 in the afternoon and I am plotting out the rest of the day. Tomorrow I will drive down to the Hyatt Regency Tech Center and pick up my registration information for Mile Hi Convention 47. I will be on four panels tomorrow, two as a panelist, two as a moderator. I will probably try to track down Aaron Michael Ritchey, (Author of the Never Prayer and All hail the Suicide King – great books for teenagers, btw.) and talk about a short story we’re planning on co-writing. Afterwards, the Fetching Mrs. Evans and I will adjourn to the bar and have cocktails with my new tribe.

This year has been an interesting one, as far as my writing has gone. I won’t say I’ve been very productive, but it has been interesting. This is the year I learned to ask.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

                        Mathew, 7:7-8

My mother was a Catholic convert, but her Evangelical roots were deep. I had always thought that this passage meant that I had to ask God for the things I wanted. (Especially since verse 10 talks about asking God in heaven for these things.) But the reality is much different. I learned this year that I have to ask the people around me, too.

This was hard for me to learn. Why? To ask for help implies a lack of knowledge and a lack of competency. It implies that you don’t know everything. It implies that you are flawed, imperfect. These are things no one wants to admit to other people.

But you know what? The irony is that other people are ready and willing to help you. Help you better yourself, help you learn, help you heal. These people, for the most part, don’t care about your flaws or your failings. They have been in your shoes. They want to help. But to get their help, you have to ask.

It started in the spring of 2014. I had a short story printed in Penny Dread IV, an anthology of Steampunk. (Its excellent, btw, and you can get it on Amazon!) I asked the Editor, Quincy J. Allen, for guidance in how to get started in writing. He was very generous with his advice, which I was grateful for. I then asked Aaron Michael Ritchy if he would mentor me. THAT was a big step for me. It was scary, but he agreed, and began coaching me about writing. Then I asked to be on a panel at a local convention, called Myths and Legends Con. I was accepted in that.

My very first panel, Denver Comic Con, Saturday Morning, 8 am. 250 people! Room packed!
My very first panel, Denver Comic Con, Saturday Morning, 8 am. 250 people! Room packed!

Around a year ago I decided I wanted to be on more convention panels. I thought this would be a great way to meet other authors and get my name around. So I applied to be on a couple of panels at Denver Comic Con. They said yes, which was amazing to me. Denver Comic Con has over 100,000 visitors during their weekend.  I was on two panels, both of which were completely filled; 250 people came to the panel I ran on role-playing games. Another 400 people were in the panel I sat in on Sunday. I couldn’t believe it.

Sunday Panel, 400 people
Sunday Panel, 400 people

In February, my friend Mike posted something about an online magazine that needed writers. So I forced Mike to make an introduction to Aaron Bayne, former senior editor and owner of Man-Gazine. Aaron loved my writing style and I started writing in the spring of 2015. Now I am the Editor-in-Chief.

I never realized what doors could open if you just knocked on them! I know that sounds naïve and a little trite, but I don’t care. For most of my life I was warry of asking for help. I didn’t want to be considered a fool, or incompetent. What I really didn’t want, was for anyone to think of me as being a pest, or being needy. But, in my desire to look competent, to be the equal of those around me, I realize now that I was needy, and touchy. Well, no more.

Me and Max Brooks! Author of the Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z!
Me and Max Brooks! Author of the Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z!

In this past year, I have had opportunities presented to me that I never imagined. I have met artists and professionals that have humbled me with their graciousness. I have grown as a writer and as a man.

What I learned in 2015 is that you have to ask for what you want in life. You may get a no. You may get ridiculed. You may find that the help you’re asking for may come with strings you are not prepared to deal with. Will it be scary? Of course. But there is no shame in being afraid, only in acting like a coward. Besides, fear makes you feel alive! At the end of the day, isn’t that better than playing it safe?

 

Jason Evans

Follow me on Twitter @evans_writer

Kids doing Monty Python, Who knew?
Kids doing Monty Python, Who knew?

Read Man-Gazine at www.mangazine2014.wordpress.com

Finding my Tribe

Many of my friends know that I am member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. It’s an organization of people who care about writing. Many of them are amateurs, many are professionals, and many of us are somewhere in between.

Every year they hold a competition for writer of the year. On a Saturday afternoon in July, RMFW held a cocktail party to announce who would win the award for 2015. I decided to go because these are great opportunities to meet other writers and network.

Susann Spann
Susan Spann, RMFW Writer of the Year

This year the winner was another California transplant, like me, named Susan Spann. I was expecting Susan to say what was expected; thank you, I’m so humbled, what a surprise, etc. After doing that she said this.

 

We all turned to writing because at some point we felt we didn’t belong in this world; so we had to make our own.

 

Those words hit hard. Harder than almost anything I’ve heard, outside of church, for the last five years. It was so true.

I’m going to admit something; I have never felt like I belonged, anywhere.

In high school I tried playing sports and embarrassed myself.

I joined half a dozen clubs, too, and none of them fit me.

In my early twenties I coached high school sports, tried acting, joined a gym, role-played and got heavy into politics. I enjoyed most of it, but always felt like an outsider.

The closest I got to belonging, really belonging, was acting at the Renaissance Faire.

I was a teacher for 14 years. Every day I walked the halls I felt alienated. I didn’t get along with other teachers or my administrators. I felt closer to the security staff and the custodians than anybody else. I thought they were petty and small people. I thought some of them shunned me because of my politics, or my big mouth, or my weight. In a faculty meeting of 60 people I felt utterly alone.

Now I know it wasn’t any of them; it was me. I wasn’t meant to be there. I was the fish trying to work in a factory; I didn’t fit.

When I compare my teaching days to what I do now, I am overwhelmed by how happy I am. I have created a tribe of people around me. A tribe of writers who understand me, celebrate me, and accept me.

I don’t know where you are in life, but stop worrying about what you’re supposed to do and start figuring out what you want to do. Listen to what your peers say to a point; be open to every opportunity; work hard and what you enjoy; be humble and help others along the way.

I know everyone says this, but I have found it to be true. Don’t wait until you’re 43, like I did. Go out there and take a chance.

In the last six months I’ve been asked to run an online magazine, I sat on panels at Denver Comic Con (more of that in my next blog), did a book pitch which lead to a sample request, and I’m going to teach online classes in writing.

I never thought I would fit in. I never thought I would belong, but I do.

If you’re reading this and you’re unhappy in your life, make changes today. Ask for help, take calculated but bold steps, and move in the direction of your happiness; find your tribe.

 

memecenter_1379606623505_975

 

Hanging out with the varsity

When I started my writing journey I was told to do a couple of things. Among them was join a critique group. A critique group is a group of writers who support each other by reading each other’s works and making suggestions about composition, grammar and plot.

About two weeks ago I read my work to my group. Now, I wasn’t expecting applause, or anything like it; what I expected was a mix of positive and negative comments. What I got was mostly negative and it filled me with frustration and a little anger.

Driving home, I spoke with an old friend, who is also writing a book. I whined and complained for twenty minutes about how my critique group was wrong. At the end of the conversation, I asked my friend to read the same section of my book that they had read. He said he would be happy to read it and I thanked him. When we talked a couple of days later I was not prepared for the conversation.

He agreed with my critique group.

To be fair neither the group nor my friend were unkind or personal in their criticisms. They pointed out things that needed work. They were asked for honest opinions and they gave them. But it hurt, a lot.

For the next two hours we had a heated conversation about my writing. I was defensive, confused and, as I wrote above, hurt. I wanted to prove them wrong. I crawled into an emotional ball and felt sorry for myself. I got depressed. I acted like a coward.

It took me a long time to acknowledge the truth of their criticisms; my friend and the critique group were right.

I was never really taught grammar throughout my California public education. I hated English composition classes in junior high and high school, so I just coasted. I enjoyed reading some literature, but writing papers were a mess. What I did learn about grammar, I picked up along the way.

I honestly believed that the hardest part of writing a book was simply finishing. I had tried to write books as far back as 1980, when I was nine years old. Actually finishing one seemed quite a triumph. Hell, it is a triumph. Many people say they want to write a book and never start. Some people start, but never finish. I started and finished, so yeah me!

I thought that the rest of the journey was marketing, networking and selling my book to a publisher. I thought that edits, maybe a minor re-write, might come into the picture. But, a line by line edit and re-write? The thought of it throws me into depression.

So to have my book criticized because of its grammar brought me back to 7th grade English. In 7th grade English, I felt like I was the stupid kid among all of the Gifted & Talented. I felt like I stuck out in some way; that everyone was looking at me. I felt like I didn’t belong in this new tribe I had joined; a tribe of writers.

Hell, sometimes I still feel like I don’t belong. When I’m around writers like Aaron Michael Ritchey and Betsy Dornbusch, I feel like a water boy for the championship football team; yeah, I’m technically part of the team, but I’m here at their pleasure. If I don’t behave I will be exposed for the fraud that I am.

So I don’t tell too many jokes; I don’t brag. I try not to be garrulous, or else the guys on the real team will remind everyone that I’m a fraud; my lettermen’s jacket doesn’t count because my letter has a manager’s patch.

We all have obstacles in life. Things we have to do, but don’t want to do. Events and actions that make us question how we perceive ourselves and our world. Things that fill us with fear; fear of rejection, condemnation and pain. In order to get where we want to go, we need to confront those fears and work past them.

I am not writing anything you, the reader, doesn’t already know. I was just reminded of it in a painful way.

I know one thing though, I know I will get to the mountaintop. I was just surprised at the length of the journey.