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The Struggle is Real

So I am writing this in my local Panera, on 38th Avenue in Denver, Colorado. Why am I here? Because I am frustratingly slow sometimes when it comes to writing. No. That’s not true. The truth is that I slow down. I get distracted.

I refuse to call what’s happening writers block. In fact, I don’t believe in writers block.

See, my understanding of writers block has to do with not knowing what to write next. But that seems to be a problem for pansters, not planners. (People who write by the seat of their pants. Me, I’m a planner.)

Since I outline every beat, every scene, I know exactly where I’m going. And even when I’m not motivated to write a scene, if I just get in front of a computer screen and do it, the words usually come. Sometimes there in the 1,000-1,200 range. Sometimes there in the 1,500-1,800 range. Sometimes I blow the roof off and write 2,500. But the words do come.

Yet here I am, five months into the first draft of a historical fiction and I’m only half way completed. My goals now are all askew and Nanowrimo is looming.

At the beginning of this year I published a goal of writing four books. Baring a miracle, that ain’t happening. I’m not really angry with myself, or disappointed. I’m just frustrated that I can’t get this together a little faster. These are first drafts.

In addition, my writer life, outside of the actual writing, has been extraordinary the last six months. (I will blog about that later.) I have been amazed and humbled by my greater tribe of writers here in Colorado.

In addition, I have reached out to some agents recently and they’ve been very receptive to what I’ve pitched. People want to read my stories. So it’s frustrating that I can’t (or won’t – self sabotage is an old friend of mine.) write faster.

I do see a pattern, however.

I have attempted three novels. I have done a complete top-to-bottom re-write of one of them, so I guess I could argue that I’ve attempted to write four. In every case I have trouble with the first half of Act 2.

I follow the late Blake Snyder’s screenplay outline called “Save the Cat.” The first half of Act 2 has three parts in it: The B Story, Fun & Games, and the Midpoint. I think I’m getting better at the Midpoint. I think that’s also true for the B Story. (Usually where a love story begins in many films and books,) It’s the Fun & Games, where we see the protagonist in their in their element, doing what they do best, that I struggle with. Each time I write I struggle with this.

I don’t really have an answer here, but I just wanted to share how hard it is to write a book. Even a crappy book requires time, patience, and dedication. Things I am willing to commit on this journey, but things that require effort. If any you have any suggestions, I would be happy to hear them.

Alright, this book ain’t gonna write itself.

Myth & Legends Con Panel Schedule

2016-Postcard-Front-Website

Myth & Legends Con is this coming weekend. It’s a fun filled weekend of fandom, cos-play, and discussions of literature. The Con begins with opening ceremonies at the Ramada Plaza Denver North, located right off I-25 on 10 East 120th Ave, Denver 80233.

2014-Hotel-Ramada_Exterior

I will be there, with the Fetching Mrs. Evans, and I’ll be on several panels. Here they are:

 

So Charming, Not Creepy

Friday, 5:00-5:50 PM

Serenity

Make your convention experience better by learning how to approach people without being a creep. A discussion on etiquette, consent, common sense, and enjoying fandom with respect. Audience is encouraged to share examples of good and bad interactions.

Jason Evans, Quincy J. Allen, Tonya L. De Marco, Veronica Calisto

 

Historical Inspirations for Game of Thrones

Friday, 8:00-8:50 PM

Lawrence, KS

GRR< has acknowledged a relationship between GOT/ASOIAF and the English Wars of the Roses, as well as Hadrian’s Wall, but what about Henry Tudor, or the Earl of Richmond? Who is Martin’s Queen Elizabeth I? Can we deduce how the books are going to end from European History?

Jason Evans

 

Superheroes: Myths and Legends of the Modern Age

Saturday, 6:00-6:50 PM

Kings Landing

From Hercules and coyote to batman and Deadpool, the superhero has always existed in some form in the cultural roots of the world. Discussion to include why humans need these characters in our collective culture.

Jason Evans

 

EPIC RAP BATTLES OF LITERATURE!

Saturday, 8:00-8:50 PM

Helm’s Deep

Two teams go head-to-head in a rap battle where the topics are LOTR, Superheroes, & GOT.

Jason Evans, Thomas A. Fowler

 

The Muse and the Devil

Sunday, 10:00-10:50 AM

Room of Requirement

Where do artists get their inspiration and ideas? Why does it seem that some of my best ideas don’t sell? How does inspiration hit and how do I ignite that spark?

Jason Evans, Kathryn Renta, Stant Litore

 

Discussing Combat in Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Sunday, 2:00-2:50 PM

The good, the bad, and the ugly scenes of combat and action in Science Fiction and Fantasy, including the differences between games, movies, and literature. Also a discussion of the morality and emotional impact both upon the audience and the characters involved.

Ian Brazee-Cannon, Ian Thomas Healy, Jason Evans, Jim Butcher

 

 

Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone, but I’m probably going to *crash* these panels on Saturday and Sunday Morning!

 

 

Creating a Writing System

Saturday, 1:00-1:50 PM

Kings Landing

Very few authors have the luxury of strictly writing. Those starting out will definitely need supplemental income. Discover ways to establish a writing life that works for your lifestyle.

J.A. Campbell, Lou J Berger, Sam Knight

 

Writing the Story is the easiest Part

Saturday, 7:00-7:50 PM

Kings Landing

Panelists discuss tales and compare the indie and traditional publishing worlds.

LJ Hachmeister, Lou J Berger

 

Building the Perfect Plot

Sunday, 9:00-9:50 AM

Lawrence, KS

Have you ever wanted to write a great story with a killer plot? Come join a panel of authors and learn how they compose a plot. We’ll discuss the Hero’s Journey and other tropes, and teach you the necessary parts for a great story!

Lou J Berger, Richard Friesen

A funny thing happened at Critique Group

One of the steps all inspiring writers should take is join a critique group. You bring your current Work In Progress, (known as a W.I.P.,), other people bring theirs. All are read and critiqued.  

My critique group meets on Wednesday night, at a Panera’s Restaurant.

It’s a good experience for a couple of reasons, which I will get into later. Sometimes, though, it can get ugly. Wednesday night, it got ugly for me.

See, I was ambushed by . . . grammar Nazis.

I won’t go into too much detail about my grammar deficiencies, except to say that it was two major things and a couple of smaller issues. I really didn’t have a problem with any of the critiques. They were all correct and I actually learned something. So it was a positive night. However, both readers got surprisingly upset about the whole thing.  

Now in my defense, I was never taught grammar as a distinct course. I just picked up rules as I went along. A lot of the grammar rules I’m breaking have to do with fiction and not essay writing. Since I never took creative writing classes I was never been exposed to these rules.

Look, I get it. You need rules. Especially when you want to be a professional writer. I also admit that I need to learn those rules, and I did learn something new! I guess the thing that amused me the most was their passion for grammar and how important it was to them.

One reader put his hand on my shoulder, looked down on me from his glasses and gave me a reassuring smile, like he was announcing I had cancer or something. He kept apologizing, reassuring me. I guess he thought I would start crying or something?

The woman who critiqued me was a professional editor and was close to being apoplectic. A couple of things she said almost felt like an ultimatum – or threat.

Is it that serious?

I write all this because I am baffled about grammar Nazis, not because of the critique. I should know grammar rules, and I am learning.  

But what drives a person to be so passionate about something that abstract? Is it a form of Gnosticism? Is it a form of elitism? I don’t know.

I don’t care, either.

I should know grammar rules. I am learning them. But it’s about the story. It’s about revealing something about the human spirit, the human character. Grammar is important, but it’s a tool to better storytelling, not a goal unto itself.  

If you’re trying to write a short story, a novella or a full-fledged book, I encourage you to write the best damn story you can. That will include learning grammar, if you don’t already know it. I also encourage you to seek out the grammar Nazis and learn as much as you can.

What you shouldn’t do is be intimidated or scared or be diminished by them. Grammar Nazis are one of the curiosities you will find in the world of writing. They will be next to the traditional publishing snobs, the tinkering amateur who never finishes, the Indy pub zealot, and the Pharisees of Literary Fiction. Talk to them, learn as much as you can. When you see the glint of fevered madness in their eyes, smile and walk away. Whatever you do, finish your book.

In the meantime, please join a critique group! It really is a wonderful experience. A couple of things happen once you join. First of all, you get to be with your tribe. People who love literature and story as much as you do. People who will celebrate your first published story, or commiserate with your rejection letters. You also get to read some amazing stories from every day people. They will read your stories, too. Reading and being read will sharpen your ability to critique your own work, see its flaws and lack of clarity. Finally, you’ll get a thick skin about your writing – which is oh, so vital, in the writing game. I cannot tell you enough how important a good critique group is. It will improve your craft. As author Jeff Goins has said, “Art deserves an audience.”

  

Now excuse me while I go clean up my grammar. This might take a while.

Going to the store with the Fetching Mrs. Evans

This morning I went to the grocery store with the Fetching Mrs. Evans to pick up a few things. If you know me you know I’m a big guy, so walking around a grocery store is not one of my favorite things to do. It hurts my knees and my back after a while, so I get a little cranky.

Anyways my wife and I were discussing a purchase to make and she mentioned getting something and walked away from.

This pissed me off – BIG TIME. So I confronted her about it. But, I need to explain something else before I continue.

I have had a couple of conversations with two friends over the last six months. They have tried to tell me I suffer from depression. I disagree. I tell them the world sucks that my attitude is merely a reflection of that. This has gone on for a while.

One day I was goofing off online when I noticed a writer’s blog about writing characters with depression. Fictional characters twenty years ago with depression acted like they were really sad, or were melancholy. Today, we have clinical research readily available and a whole list of symptoms for writers to use on their characters to make their depression more realistic. The blog went on to list a couple of symptoms. One of them was irritability. Another was hopelessness. A third was excessive eating/no eating, and a forth was fatigue.

Back to the grocery story.

That’s when it hit me. When my wife had walked away, trying to be courteous to a complete stranger, talking with her back turned to me, I realized I am probably depressed. This depression isn’t new, either. I’ve probably had for about 20+ years.

I claimed up – which is a defensive strategy I learned from childhood. We bought our stuff, then bought breakfast at Taco Bell. We got home, my wife put the groceries up, we ate breakfast. She told me I looked tired and should go back to bed. She left, I goofed around for a couple of hours, than took a nap.

I got nothing done today, except ruminate on whether I have depression. I looked at the symptoms, according to the WebMD site:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

 

Let me see, Difficulty concentrating. I have always been a little bit of a scatter brain.

Fatigue? Decreased energy? I always blamed that on my weight. Nothing I love to do more than sit in my chair and watch TV.

Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness? I thought that was part of being Catholic?

Hopelessness? Pessimism? Hey, ALL of US are going to DIE. That’s not pessimism, that’s reality!

Insomnia? Early-Morning Wakefulness, excessive sleeping? No insomnia, but I do like to get up early – even as a kid. Excessive sleeping? Will leave that one open.

Irritabillity? Restlessness? Yes. Definitely yes.

Loss of interests in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex? Does completing graduate school count?

Overeating/appetite loss? Cheeseburger has always been my friend. Never judges, never leaves me for that guy Eric . . .

Persistent aches of pains? I used to get frightful migraines, does that count?

Persistent sad, anxious, or “Empty” Feelings? As large as I am, there are times I feel as hollow as a cavern. Just empty.

Thoughts of suicide? Yeah, pretty much. Nothing I would ever commit too, but yeah.

 

I guess I wrote this for two reasons. 1.) Publicly admitting it brings the pain out in the open. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

2.) To help other people. If any of you reading this is suffering from depression, please know you are not alone. There are others fighting this, too.

So, what do I do next? I don’t have the foggiest idea. I just know that I am sick and tired of feeling this way. I do know I will fight this. I will try to be positive, I will try not to self- medicate with food, or alcohol, or pornography.  I will carry on.

 

 

 

Come to Denver Comic Con and come to my panels!

It’s been an interesting six months. But I’ll blog about that later. Right now, I want to talk about Denver Comic Con, happening June 17th, 18th & 19th at the Denver Convention Center. Last year I participated in two panels at DCC. (That’s what the hip kids are calling it!)

This year I am participating in SIX PANELS! Yes! Count them, SIX!  This is a big deal for me. If you’re planning on attending, check out my schedule!

Schedule A Schedule B Friday Saturday Sunday
11:45-12:35       Let History Be Your Guide (506/507)
  12:15-1:05 What is our Fascination with the Living Dead? (Room 403/404)    
1:00-1:05       Diversity in Sci-Fi & Fantasy (Room 506/507)
  3:30-4:20 Sci-Fi vs. Fantasy (Room 506/507)    
  4:00-4:50   Historical Inspiration for Game of Thrones (Room 403/404)  
  5:15-6:05     Game Master Best Practices (702/703)

 

If you’ve never been to Denver Comic Con, I highly suggest you check it out. Celebrities, old comic books, panels on geekdom and science. It’s really fun for the whole family.

I get to be on panels with some of my favorite people. Peter Meredith, Zombie Apocalypse writer extraordinaire, Stant Litore, author of the Anisble chronicles and the Zombie Bibles. Nikki Ebrite, who runs Myth & Legends Con, Catherine Winters, Vampire writer and professional singer. The list goes on and on.

Kids doing Monty Python, Who knew?
Kids doing Monty Python, Who knew? DCC 2015

Why I am DONE in Education

If you’re new to my website and my blog, then you probably don’t know that I have been a teacher for the last fifteen years. I have taught in private, public, and charter schools. I wanted to be a teacher since I saw my 7th grade world history teacher, Mr. Perdy, bring the topic to life in 1983. But no more.

In 2013 I resigned from a teaching position in Denver Public Schools. I had been harassed for some time by administration. The final straw was when I got demoted from high school to middle school (it was a 6-12) at the semester break. During that meeting I literally heard the voice of God tell me I was not coming back.

I finished my master’s degree that spring, and applied widely. And got nothing.

I was hired for two long term sub jobs in 2014.

In 2015, I applied everywhere, called all my friends in education, applied widely; nothing. I didn’t even get interviews.

By October of 2015 I was desperate. I called a friend, Elisha Roberts, at a charter school. She suggested I come to a mixer her the charter company was hosting. So I slapped on my whore make-up, put on my best pearls and high heels and went to this thing. I charmed a principal, who hired me in November, as their Dean of Students.

On Thursday, January 14th, I was fired from that position. So, after much consideration I now realize I no longer want to be in education. Here are my top five reasons;

 

5.) Most administrators are fucking awful.

I am 45 years old. I remember when administrators were people in their fifties and sixties. They were pros who spent twenty years in the classroom, went back to school and got a license/MA/EDD, and then ran a school. Not anymore.

Many administrators are in their mid-thirties, some are in their late twenties. Why? And why does it matter?

The ones in their thirties have usually realized that they can’t effect the change they want in the lives of students being in one classroom. More commonly, they realize they hate teaching, but like the benefits and four months of vacation. So they decide to become administrators because they’ve invested a lot of time & money and don’t want to go back to school to learn something else.

The other group of people never really wanted to be in a classroom at all. They always wanted to be an administrator. Which means they were just “passing time,” in the classroom.

The first group are usually type A personalities, or even OCD. They can’t explain what they want, so they try to find other weirdo’s like themselves to populate their school. The second group can barely wipe their ass, so please don’t tell me how to teach if you’ve been in a classroom for under five years. I have computers older than your teaching career.

Neither know how to lead. So they fall back on fear and terror to manage their teachers.  They don’t make relationships with students and then blame the teachers for the school culture. This is akin to dropping your car keys under your car at night, but walking across the street to look for them under the street light because the light is better. It just doesn’t work.

I will no longer sit in meetings with guys a decade younger than me and listen to them explain how to teach. I know how to teach. Learn how to lead.

4.) It’s too political

There is two kinds of politics in a school; the Democrat v Republican stuff that goes on everywhere, and school politics.

School politics have to do with towing the line on things many people might have difference of opinions on. School testing, gender equity, disciplining minority students, etc. I have never worked at a public school where I could voice a dissenting opinion without getting in trouble.

It’s not enough that you go along with what your principal wants (I have never had a problem with following orders,); it’s that you have to be enthusiastic about bullshit policies that simply don’t work. If you don’t smile, clap enthusiastically, and rave about the emperor’s new clothes being awesome, you are given the mark of Cain. Classes you wanted to teach will go to the less qualified; other teachers who toe the line will coach those sports or run that club; you will be shunned.

3.) There are no consequences for students.

The biggest problem in education is that we treat every student like a victim. They have no agency. Yes, we must learn cultural competency. Yes, we must reach out to their families and get them involved. Yes, racism still exists in America.

But when I hear a student cuss out a principal; when middle school student smokes pot with his mom before coming to school, when an 8th grade boy physically threatens a woman teacher, this has nothing to do with any social issue; this has to do with right and wrong. And when a student does wrong, they need consequences. Meaningful consequences. (And all of the things mentioned I have witnessed.)

Did you know that, according to the discipline ladder in Denver Public Schools, a student can use foul language (not directed, at the teacher) five times before I can send them to the dean’s office? That’s crazy.

2.) The curriculum is shit.

How are we supposed to compete with the rest of the world when our English (not fucking “Language Arts,”) classes read very few books?

When I was in sixth grade, at Longfellow elementary, we were required to read a book a month. If you were in the gifted program, it was a book a week. They were middle grade novels, to be sure, but they were still novels. (Judy Bloom, mostly.) That was in addition to in-class reading and other homework. We had spelling tests weekly.

Now, I could be wrong, but the last time I checked, middle school students aren’t even completing a whole novel in a semester. They read excerpts and short stories – which have their place – but how do we expect students to learn a love of the novel, to truly enjoy reading, if they only one or two before high school?

In social studies, its worse.  

Why do 7th graders have ancient Inca’s and Medieval Japan in their curriculum in Colorado? It’s not like its ever taught again. Shouldn’t they be learning about Ancient Greece and Rome? At least there is a cultural link to those societies. We can learn about Western ideas and how those ideas came to be. We should be teaching kids about their rights, how our modern beliefs about equality under the law and democratic principles developed.

 

Instead we make toy Mayan calendars and play games about the Sub-Saharan Salt trade. Then we never talk about those subjects again.

The curriculum is also canned and cookie cutter. Everything has to be in lock step, taking the educators passion for specific parts of their curriculum out of the equation.

1.) It’s not about the kids.

Public education can hang its hat on a lot of things, but caring about what’s good for students is not one of them.

Schools are about justifying their budgets to legislators and winning elections. I worked at a school for eight years. In that time I saw administrators and faculty build something wonderful – and then watched as it all fell apart – three times! I watched this cycle occur three times. There was a rumor that the district actually wanted our school to be bad so they could prep there principal interns for the worst of the worst. (I hope that was not the case.)
I saw principals try to bribe teachers with “Retreats,” and trainings where they got to go to San Diego and Atlanta on the district’s dime. I saw schools waste money on tech toys, then not pay to train the faculty to use them. That way they could brag to potential donors and to local legislators that they were “on the cutting edge,” with tech in the classroom. Meanwhile I had to struggle with no textbooks in my class.

 

Look, I am not saying all schools are bad. They’re not. But I clearly don’t know the rules of the game these people are playing. I am tired of educators and students telling me I’m a good teacher, then being verbally dismantled by administrators in private meetings. I’m tired of being respected and applauded for my passion for students, then shunned the next and I don’t know why. I am tired of the gossip, the lies, and immoral behavior coming from all directions. (Remind me to tell you about the mom who threw pot & beer parties for her middle school kids.)

I freely admit this is on me. I never fit in at a school. I always felt like I wasn’t part of the faculty. I was always worried I would do or say the wrong thing. Rarely did I socialize with other teachers. My politics, my beliefs about education, even my worldview were different from the rest of the faculty. I actually got along better with the custodial, security and office managers then I did with the teachers.

But in my defense, I saw dedicated teachers hounded out of the profession. I saw people rewarded for unethical behavior. I saw incompetence applauded and I heard so much more. It’s a madhouse people. A madhouse.

Reflections on 2015 & on the New Year

I had quite the Christmas break this year. My actual Christmas holiday was very good. I got some surprising presents, spent time with the family and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

My friend Brett came over for New Year’s Eve and we sat around grazing on Fondue, (a New Year’s tradition in my house,) and watching way too many bad college football bowl games. Brett is also a writer so we even chatted about our stories and our writing processes. We don’t get a chance to do that often so it was a lot of fun.

In between Christmas and New Year’s I thought a lot about what happened in 2015. I also thought about what 2016 might look like. I started thinking about work, goals, resolutions and themes for the upcoming year.

See I don’t just do New Year Resolutions, I give each year a thematic bent. (Geez, am I a writer, or what?)

Looking back I can see that the theme for 2015 was asking for what I want. I jumped out of my comfort zone in 2015 and I asked people for what I wanted. I got new friends, new opportunities to write, I sat on literary panels on three different conventions, including Denver ComicCon.

2015 was also the year I learned to ask for help in my writing. I was frustrated with a book draft I wrote in 2014. To be honest, it was crap, but I didn’t know why. My critique group wasn’t very helpful, so I asked a friend. I then found another critique group that fit me better. Finally, when I realized that I needed a romantic subplot – and I didn’t know how to write romance – I asked for help and got it Mary Elizabeth Wine, a dear friend and a pro on romance.

I also became an editor for an online magazine. Something I’m very proud of, all because I asked.

I also got a new job in education. I won’t get into it too much, but let’s just say that the last two years I was underemployed. Having a full time job was really nice around Christmas time.

Looking forward to 2016, I realized that I have to produce more. I won’t call it The year of work, because it’s not about just work, but about producing finished stories. So here are my Goals for 2016:

#1.) I will produce FOUR professional level, book length manuscripts. That’s around 85,000 words. That includes research and editing. Writers write and its time I get going.

#2.) I will receive a book contract by a publisher in 2016.

#3.) In addition to writing those four manuscripts, I will publish at least two.

#4.) I will lose 50 pounds by July 1st. I will lose 100 pounds by January 1st, 2017. My weight has been out of control for quite some time. (Really, all my life.) I’m tired of it and I want to change. This goal scares the crap out of me. I have avoided dealing with my weight my entire life. I’ll be 45 this month and the weight has really begun to affect my quality of life. So it is time I make it a priority.

#5.) I will update my blog once a week in 2016.

I will probably not meet all of these goals and that’s alright. The growing is in the attempt. I invite you to join me in my progress, cheer me on when I succeed and call me on my bullshit when I make excuses. Buckle people, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.