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Shatter your Image

A Quick Announcement

I wrote a short story entitled Answering the Bell about a fatherless girl in high school training to be a boxer. She has all the problems of a typical student-athlete; mom, school, boys.  I submitted the story to an anthology entitled, Shatter Your Image, by Thomas A. Fowler’s Nerdy Things Publishing. The story was accepted and is now available on Amazon in paperback and e-book.

All proceeds will go to a lovely charity called Realize Your Beauty, which teaches healthy body image to girls of all ages. (www.realizeyourbeauty.org)

I’m proud of this story. It’s my first attempt at writing a female protagonist, as well as my first attempt at a literary story. (I guess I define literary as not having an obvious genre hook to hang on to.) Check it out. Thomas Fowler is planning a Denver book signing party. When it happens, I will let all of you know!

Artists have a reputation for being quite emotional. You’re either perceived as being high strung, histrionic, or bipolar. All of which may be true at one point or another. (I tend to be histrionic, myself.)  I think these perceptions come from two main areas. The struggle of trying to make money from your art, and the struggle to earn the title of artist. Whenever you try to take that title for yourself, up pops imposter syndrome.

You know what I’m talking about.

That little voice in your head that says your art is a joke. It tells you that you don’t belong in this rarified world. You’re worse than an amateur, you’re a fraud. Real artists will laugh at how bad your art is. They’ll pretend not to see you in public because you embarrass them.

That voice.

Imposter syndrome. It’s real. I suffer from it. Other artists I know suffer from it. It’s very common.

For me it strikes when I tell people I’m a writer and they give me that quizzical look. Like, I used the wrong word in a sentence and they’re wondering if they heard it right.

“What? You can’t make money at that.”

“Aren’t you the dreamer!”

“Oh (uncomfortable silence,) that’s interesting.”

I immediately get defensive.

I tell them I’ve been blogging for over a year now. That I was editor-in-chief of an online magazine. I tell them I’ve been traditionally published four times.

None of those things matter. And they shouldn’t.

The truth is that I shouldn’t care, but I do. I want the respect and (if I’m being honest,) adulation of all around me. When I don’t get it, Imposter Syndrome rears its ugly head. Why I get upset about what a passing acquaintance says about me, I’ll never know. I think we’re all wired to want, at some level, the approval of our community, of our tribe.

The problem is that these people don’t matter. I could publish a book, invite them to my book signing, track them down when they don’t show

Author, marketer, Publisher, and all around magnificent bastard, Thomas A. Fowler

up, and give them a free, autographed copy and they still would be skeptical. In addition, their opinion of me still wouldn’t matter.

I define who & what I am. The same should be true for you, too.

Look, I have a secret to tell you. There are no gatekeepers anymore.

I don’t have to have a book deal with Penguin or St. Martin’s Press. I don’t have to be interviewed by the Today Show, or MSNCBC. I don’t need any of that to call myself a writer. All I need is to give myself permission to be a writer. The rest is about the work.

It’s about getting up, every day, and finding time to write, edit, & market. You gotta do the work. Eventually, people will see the work you do and acknowledge you as the artist you are – or they won’t. Either way it doesn’t matter.

Walt Disney once said “We don’t make movie to make money. We make money to make more movies.” It was always about the art.

As you explore the art you love, dig deep into to it, immerse yourself in its workings and craft, you won’t care what people think. You’ll begin to reshape your vision of yourself. You will shatter your image, pick up the shards of your former self, and recast it into something you recognize, something beautiful.

That will be all the recognition you need.

 

You can like Jason’s Facebook Author page at Jason Henry Evans

or, follow Jason on Twitter @evans_writer

Find Your River of Truth

This Fabulous woman is the incomparable Jamie Raintree. She is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, A multiple participant and winner of Nanowrimo, and a published author. She taught a class this past Saturday entitled Your Most Productive Writing Year, on behalf of RMFW at the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library in Denver. It was quite the treat. (Her website is here.)

Without going into too much detail Jamie spoke at length about setting reasonable goals for your writing life. Now, I had

Ms. Raintree teaching her class. Check out her blog! jamieraintree.com

already set some goals for 2017 and I’ve written about them here. But it was still a treat to listen to the pro’s talk about the things that are near and dear to my heart.

Like making your actions reflect your values.

Too many times in my life I have told myself “This is what I want to do.” And then I don’t do it. I procrastinate, I put it off, and then I get mad when it’s not done.

When I was teaching in public schools, people would ask me “Why do you teach history?” My answer was always “History is about people. Their values, their motivations & their stories.” Yet I was miserable as a teacher! Why? Because I was supposed to be a story teller, a writer. The funny thing about my whole teaching career is in the answer I gave; I liked people’s stories. I was supposed to be a writer and I didn’t even know it.

This photo was taken by me this past Sunday evening. I turned 46. As I reflected upon this past year I realized I was really happy. Why? Because I am working towards my purpose. I’m not working some job because I have to make credit card and mortgage payments. I’m not wondering into a school angry and depressed trying to figure out what the Hell happened to my life? Even the most boring writing drudgery is uplifting to me because I have found my calling.

Now, am I able to provide for my family yet? No. But I’m working towards that. Will it be hard? Of course it will, but I am confident because I’m willing to do the work – and Right there is the key.

I love everything around writing. So the dirty work of writing queries, editing, finding magazines and agencies to submit to, I don’t mind. It’s all fascinating to me.

I don’t mind beta- reading other people’s work. I don’t mind helping a friend out at critique group. I want to hang out with other writers. You couldn’t pay me to hang out with other teachers when I taught.

So what does any of this have to do with goal setting and the amazing Jamie Raintree?

Writing New Year Resolutions, creating yearly, monthly, and daily goals can pinpoint what you really want to do with your life. If you spout off the same old platitudes about getting in shape, or getting out of debt, or finishing your bachelor’s degree, and six months later your still where you are, then clearly these aren’t priorities for you. And THAT, is OK!

Be honest with yourself. What do you want to do with the time you have on this rock hurdling through space? Be honest with yourself and figure it out.

If you want that degree, then get it.

If you want to write, then write.

But don’t waste your precious time living a lie. Find your truth.

I’m a BIG Captain America fan. Recently on Facebook I posted a line from the Civil War story in the Marvel comic books. Spiderman asks Cap why he does what he does. (The story is Amazing Spiderman #537) Cap then tells this story about how he was reading Mark Twain and paraphrases him. Here’s what cap says.

Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or

the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something

wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above

all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the

odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world

tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth,

and tell the whole world — “No, you move.”

 

Now I’m not Captain America, but the principle is the same. Your obligation in your life is to find your river of truth, and plant yourself there. Don’t worry what anybody else thinks. Don’t worry about how old you are or how many times you’ve failed.

Will it take longer if you have commitments and responsibilities? Of course. Am I saying run off and abandon your life and the people you love? NO. What I am saying is that you need to find your truth and live it. That river will nourish you, help you to grow. When you find yourself in the deserts of your life, that river will quench the parchedness and refresh you.

Soon you will find likeminded people living their truth and you will refresh each other. When that happens all the distractions, frustrations and obstacles won’t seem so daunting. You’ll find courage and grit. And then one day, you’ll look back on your life and find you’ve created a legacy.

Find your river of truth and plant yourself.

Reflection on 2016 and Goals for 2017

Wow. 2016 is OVER.

I know for a lot of my friends in the Denver writing community 2016 was awful, just awful. Professional setbacks, personal loss and a lot of fear for the future. I too, had my setbacks, professionally and personally. Some of my relationships frayed.

Zombie panel, Denver Comic Con

I even stopped talking to a dear friend and mentor in January of 2016 and haven’t heard from that person since. This doesn’t even begin to talk about all the talented people we lost last year, either.

3 generations of Star Wars women

Remember though, darkness is not the negation of light, but its absence. If you look for them, you’ll find little points of

light illuminating the way.

 

For me, 2016 was a very good year for my writing career. I made some wonderful acquaintances and had some great experiences. But enough vagaries. Let’s review.

 

Cutest Wonder Woman Evah!

At the end of 2015 I wrote on this blog that my goal for 2016 was to write four 85,000+ word novels for the year. I also said I would write four short stories and get one of those books published. I did not complete any of those goals.

This is what I did do:

Did a complete re-write of my first novel, The Gallowglass (pronounced gallowglauw). It was 109,100 words long.

I wrote a second novel. This one a thriller set during the Crusades. I call it Jerusalem’s Menace. It was 99,000 long.

I wrote three short stories. Of those three, two got published in anthologies.

 

So that’s pretty good, right? I completed about half my goals. Not bad, but not great.

As I was going through all of my writing this year, I started adding up words. Here is what I realized.

RMFW Christmas Party 2016
WRITING PROJECTS WORD TOTAL
The Gallowglass 109,1000
Jerusalem’s Menace 99,343
The Setting Sun of Empire Short Story (pre-edits) 12,147
Answering the Bell Short Story (pre-edits) 10,462
Hero Maker Short Story (pre-edits) 6,822
All blogging 7,785
Failed Nanowrimo Novel 3012

 

Grand Total of words written in 2016                                                                                   248,671 words

 

I know I’m under about 1,500 words but I’ll take it. I wrote around a quarter of a million words in 2016. That is HUGE! When I added the numbers up I kept double checking and still came up with this. I was simply blown away.

 

But this was just the beginning of my successes in 2016. Here are a list of the others:

 

  • I joined Belmar Critique Group.
  • I taught a class called How to Write Authentic African-American Characters for both the Pike Peak Writers summer Write Brain program and the RMFW Gold Conference.
  • Lead or sat on seven panels at Denver ComicCon this year.
  • I had two agents request two full manuscripts and a third agent ask for three chapters of each novel.
  • Had a class on Renaissance costuming accepted for the 2017 Historical Novel Society Convention in Portland.
  • I became a regular blogger for Pikespeakwriters.blogspot.com.
  • Had The Setting Sun of Empire accepted into Penny Dread V Anthology by RuneWright Press.
  • Had my first literary story, Answering the Bell, accepted into a charity anthology entitled Shatter Your Image,
  • Finally, the thing I am most proud of, Nikki Ebright asked me to join her non-profit, Shiny Gardens. Shiny Gardens will now support Nikki in running Myth & Legends Con, as well as several other events planned for the future.
Apparently someone took the neighborhood kids to see Mad Max

Looking back, I can honestly say some amazing things happened to me. I made relationships with writers and editors. I reached out and took advantage of opportunities. Most importantly, I tried to give back.

I have found that the more positive I am, the more I am willing to work, and the more I am willing to help, the more successful I will be. I can’t believe I’ve figured this out at 46, instead of 26, but better late than never.

I could be sad or angry or bitter about the things I failed at, or I can learn from them. I can look forwards and see the road to professional writer open in front of me. I can be upset about the things I didn’t do and didn’t get, or I can make a plan and work. I choose the latter.

 

 

 

So what’s going on in 2017? OK, here are my goals for this year:

 

  • Write two novel length projects, 85K+ each.
  • Write two 20k-50k novella/short novel length projects.
  • Blog once a week on my site.
  • Write six short stories, from 3-6K.

 

Hail Hydra!
Susan Spann autographed my Book!!!

There is a saying that you have to write a million words before you get any good at it. Whether it was David Eddings, Jerry Pournelle, or Ray Bradbury who said it, is inconsequential. If it’s true, then I will be half way to a million words by the end of 2017.

I have some other writing-related goals as well. I want to attend the following conferences:

  • Historical Novel Society Convention
  • Pikes Peak Writers Convention
  • Colorado Gold Conference
  • Romance Writers of America Conference
The Fetching Mrs. Evans, side profile!

Yes. I want to attend RWA Conference this summer. I literally don’t know how this is going to happen, but I am putting it out there. I wanna run with the big dogs and the big dogs run at RWA.

I hope you continue to follow me on my blog. If you can’t come back regularly, then sign up for my email list. If you choose to join, I’ll reach out about once a month with updates on where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing.

 

2017 looks to be amazing!

 

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

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.

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.

 

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