Writing Life

Writing Life #11

Aaaand… We’re back!

It’s been a while since I wrote about the Writing Life. Mostly because there hasn’t been a lot of writing in my life for the past two weeks or so. I’ve been busy with other things, including flying back and forth across the country (one time with an understandably cranky and quite vocal cat) and moving precisely one block away. (You would think a short move like that would be less of a hassle than a long one. You’d be wrong.)

On top of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I also suffered a personal and professional tragedy when a trusted friend who’s seen me through nearly my entire writing career almost died.

No, I’m not talking about an agent or an editor or even a beta reader — I’m talking about my iMac!

Back in early 2006 (!) — before my first book had even hit shelves — I decided it was time for a new computer. So I bought what was, at the time, the state-of-the-art in Apple’s consumer line-up, a brand-new iMac. Maxed out the memory. Upgraded the graphics. It was good to go.

Since then, almost every word I’ve written has been on that iMac, with my trusty iKey keyboard. (I’m really picky about keyboards, and I don’t like Apple’s offerings. I’ve had the iMac for more than five years, but I’ve had the keyboard even longer, having used it with my G4 tower back in the day.)

So imagine my shock and horror on Friday afternoon as I sat down for a session at the computer…only to have the screen go black. No sound. No fury. Not even a vanishing white dot. Once moment, the screen was fine, the next it was black, as though the power had gone out. In fact, at first I thought maybe the power had gone out, but the lights were on, so no dice.

I checked the power cable, tried restarting… Nothing worked. Even muttering, “Come on, baby…” in my best Han Solo voice accomplished nothing.

Now, when your computer doesn’t even try to boot up, there are usually only two possible culprits: The power supply and the logic board. One of them is reasonable to replace, the other is not (especially in such an old machine).

Fortunately, I have a decent backup system, so I was certain my data was safe. Better yet, since I was sure the problem was the power supply or the logic board, that meant that the hard drive inside the computer was OK, so even if I had to replace the iMac, I’d still be able to get at the hard drive, in the unlikely event that my backup failed.

But I did learn a harsh lesson for myself in that moment: I had been working on a document for Colleen. She had sent me close to a hundred pages of art for the graphic novel and I was going through them, taking notes in a Pages document to send to her. When the computer died, that document went away for good, because I hadn’t bothered to save it while working on it. (Let that be a lesson to you all: Even if you think you’ll only have a document open long enough to type something out and then copy and paste it elsewhere, save that document!)

It’s not the end of the world, but now I have to do all of that work again. Don’t get me wrong — it’s an absolute pleasure scrolling through page after page of Colleen’s sketches and artwork, but… I just hate the idea of doing something twice, especially when I could have avoided it by not being a butthead and just hitting Command-S at some point…

But back to the computer: I made an appointment at the Apple Store, and on a hot (very hot) and humid (very humid) Saturday, walked over there with the unwieldy iMac box (yes, I still have the box it came in…) for a check-up. After a brief moment where I thought the problem might have been as simple as a dust-clogged grille, the tech confirmed that, yes, it was either the logic board or the power supply. But the store was so busy and the parts so out of supply for my old model that it would take a week to ten days before they could tell me which!

Now here’s where you need to understand something important about me: I am a creature of routine and habit. Remember: I’ve owned the same keyboard for going on ten years now! The thought of not having my computer for so long… If I knew for sure that it was just the power supply, I would be willing to wait it out. But if it turned out to be the logic board, I would just as soon buy a new computer right away. No point in waiting a week just to find out I need to replace it, right?

But I didn’t have that luxury: They would take a week to tell me which way things leaned. After some grumbling and panicking (creature of habit!) I decided to limp by for a week with my old iBook…which is even older than my iMac! (I bought the iBook for an emergency trip I had to make in 2005, just as I was beginning to write Boy Toyand didn’t want the travel to kill my momentum. I wrote all of Boy Toy on that computer.) If it was just the power supply, Ol’ Faithful would be back in service soon enough. If the logic board, then I would replace it. In the meantime, the iBook would stand in.

Came home. Hooked the iBook to my beloved keyboard. Started working on some tweaks to I Hunt Killers. Missed that nice, big screen.

And then…a mere two business days after dropping off the iMac — just when I’d convinced myself to buy a new one — the Apple Store called and said it was ready for pick-up! It had been the power supply after all, and Apple had fixed everything in record time.

So, yesterday I once again schlepped in the heat and humidity to the Apple Store, this time to bring my baby home. And now I am hard at work on I Hunt Killers. Soon, I will re-do that work I did for Colleen last week. And shortly after that, I will dive into The Book That Will Kill Me again. It’s a lot of work, and I have a lot I want to get done in the next month and a half.

But hey — it’s good to do it with the right tools. 🙂

Writing Life #10

Today is a good day, a celebratory day — today I finished the first draft of I Hunt Killers!

I had set a goal for myself of finishing this version of the book before I left town for ALA and I just barely made it. Now I have to get ready, pack, and head out of town for a few days. If you’re going to be at ALA, check my travel calendar and come see me!

Now I’m going to be on a hiatus for a little while. Having just finished first drafts for “The Monster” and I Hunt Killers, I would normally shift over to writing something else while I let my brain recover from those two books, then return to them later in the summer for revising.

But I’m in the odd position of having nothing immediate on the horizon! I’m still getting artwork from Colleen for the graphic novel, but that doesn’t occupy my day. So I’m going to take a little break instead. I’ve been working non-stop for the past few months and now it’s time to slow down, read a bunch of books, and then — in August — hop back into the fray.

I’ll see you then…assuming we don’t run into each other in real life first!

Writing Life #9

Well, after last week’s look at rejection, I’m afraid I don’t have much to report this week. It’s been a week of keeping my head down and plowing through as much work as humanly possible. I’m attending ALA at the end the of the month (if you’ll be at the show, be sure to come see me!), so I’m trying to get as much done as I can before I leave.

Some good news: I finished the first draft of The Monster (a.k.a. The Book That Will Kill Me). This draft clocked in at 191,015 words (thank you, Scrivener), which is a tad lower than the 200,000 I had guesstimated a few months back.

But I still have lots of work to do in the second draft. There are places in this draft where I just wrote something like, “Fill in this bit later.” I almost never do this in a draft — I like to have everything in place whenever possible — but for this book, it was just so big and overwhelming that there were chunks of it I couldn’t think about. So. Placeholders. Which means, I suspect, that when I get around to the second draft, I will end up close to that 200,000, if not over it.

Yeesh. Pity my poor agent and the editors she sends this thing to…

In other, shorter, book news: I Hunt Killers is coming along really well! I am pleasantly surprised by some of the plot and character twists that have come out of nowhere and demanded to be inserted into the story. It’s funny — this book is having all kinds of new material added that wasn’t even mentioned in the original proposal I submitted, yet it’s still the same book. I’m on track to finish my first draft of this on in a week or so, which will be a great feeling!

At that point comes my favorite part in the writing process: The hiatus! I will be putting both books aside for the month of July while I decompress, reconfigure my life, and generally shake my brains into some sort of sanity. (I’ll also be doing some research I’ll need in order to do the second drafts.) Then, come August, I’ll dive back into both of them and try to get through second drafts for sometime in early autumn.

That’s all for this week. More next week. Comment below, y’all!

Writing Life #8: Rejection!

It’s a word and a sensation that all authors are familiar with. I’ve been thinking about rejection lately for a couple of reasons.

One of them is The Monster (a.k.a. The Book That Will Kill Me). I’m not entirely sure that anyone will want to publish this thing, which means racking up yet another rejection in the files for yours truly.

Yes, published authors get rejections, too. Rejection is an ever-present ghost haunting the Writing Life. Don’t think for a moment that your first “yes” means the death of “no.” Whether or not you’re published, there’s no guarantee of acceptance. Ever. Last year, I decided to try my hand at a picture book. I had been carrying an idea for a story around for a few years and it just felt like time to give it a shot. So I worked on the script and gave it to my agent, who sent it off to various folks in the picture book industry. The result? A resounding, crashing wave of “Uh, no, thanks” from all and sundry.

I’m a lot more blasé about rejection these days (as you can probably tell) because I have that luxury. With five books on the shelves and six more under contract, my accept-to-reject ratio has tilted enough to the good that I feel…not confident, per se… Maybe “cautiously not pessimistic” is the right term. I never, ever assume that something I write will be published, but I don’t feel quite as defeatist about it as I once did.

Another reason that I’ve been thinking about rejection is that I just received a rejection the other day…for a short story I submitted SIX YEARS AGO.

Now, long response times are legendary in this business. But still — this is a story I submitted to a magazine more than a year before I sold my first novel, and they’re just getting around to rejecting it! Better yet, the only reason I even heard from them is because the magazine is shutting down. So I imagine some poor intern was tasked with going through the slush and the unanswered pile and sending out form e-mails letting everyone know that the magazine is ceasing publication, so there will be no room for your story, so sorry. (Best of all: There’s a brief postscript to the e-mail saying that they “enjoyed reading” my story, citing the title. This raises new questions for me: Are they saying this to everyone? Or would my story have been accepted six years later if only they could, you know, stay in business? And did they enjoy reading it recently, or six years ago, and they’re just getting around to telling me now? Or — more likely — did they append this postscript to every e-mail, to give it that personal touch? Enquiring minds want to know!!!)

Back when I was submitting stories and novels and other blather for publication, I used to keep a file of every rejection I received. Once I started submitting electronically, this stopped because it seemed somewhat obsessively maudlin to print out a rejection for the purposes of putting it into my three-ring binder along with its analog brethren (oh, yes — I rocked the three-ring Binder of Doom!), but that binder has every printed rejection I ever received, dating back to the 1980s and my very first story submission ever (to Asimov’s). The other day, spurred on by the six-year rejection, I dug out that file and flipped through those rejections. It’s funny — I suddenly remembered a vow I had made to myself, long, long ago: I swore that on the day I published my first novel, I would throw a big party. The guests would each receive one of those original rejections, and at the end of the party, I would light a fire and we would all burn them.

And yet here they are, still sitting in my file cabinet. I had that party, but I never even thought of the rejections. I was too happy. Suddenly all of those rejections meant nothing — whatever power they’d held over me (more accurately, whatever power I’d given them over me) had vanished. Moving forward was more important than burning the past.

At any rate, I’m glad I kept them all because in looking through them, I found my favorite rejection slip EVER. It’s from Hustler magazine. (In high school, I wrote a rather dark yet, er, racy story. At a loss for where to send it, I flipped through my well-thumbed, library-borrowed copy of Writer’s Digest and saw that Hustler accepted such stories. Off it went.)

And since I am a pack rat, I still have that rejection and can show it to you here:


Hustler rejection slip

(See? I wasn’t kidding about the three-ring binder, either!)

More next week. Comment below, y’all!

Writing Life #7: Pirated!

I’m on teh torrentz…

If you punch “Barry Lyga torrent” into Google, you’ll get hundreds of links, leading you to web sites online where you can download my books for free. There’s really nothing anyone can do about this — it’s like fighting the hydra or playing Whac-A-Mole or whatever other metaphor for fruitless endeavor you prefer.

It drives me nuts.

This is not going to be a post about the righteous indignation of someone who’s been stolen from. Nor is it a polemic on the morality of piracy. I’m not particularly interested in that argument for the simple reason that it’s impossible to win. The people on each side have dug in their heels and they aren’t budging. You’ve got guys like Cory Doctorow or JA Konrath who have a philosophy of “free sells,” meaning that when you give stuff away, it gooses your actual sales.

Whatever. That’s not what this is about. Here’s what bugs me:

The quality is shit.

I put a lot of work into my books. My publishers put a lot of work into them. And it drives me crazy that people just slap up a shitty scan or a lousy OCR of my work. In one scan I saw of my first book, the chapter title “The Panty Algorithm” came out “The Parity Algorithm.”

That’s just one example of how a reader will have a less-than-ideal, often confusing experience reading it.

Look, if you want to read my work, but can’t buy it, please don’t download a shitty version of it. Please go to your local library. If they don’t have a copy, ask them to get one — they will. And, yeah, I know it might take a week or so and you want that book NOW, but you know what? Good things really do come to those who wait. Deferred gratification used to be a widespread life philosophy, and I think it’s long past time for it to come back into style. Trust me — you’ll have a vastly superior reading experience and enjoy the book much more if you read the real deal. There are other cool things to do and to read in the meantime.

When I told a friend about the torrents, she empathized, but she also said, “Isn’t it flattering, in a way?”

And you know what? I get that. It is flattering. I am flattered. So, mission accomplished, pirates. I’m flattered.

Now take the books down.

This has nothing to do with legal or illegal or copyright or any of that. It has everything to do with the fact that what I do is ART. Please respect that.