Guiding Words for 2019: The Year of Getting It Done

And I’m back. Happy New Year! I hope you’re well.

I have a tendency, I’ve noticed, to blog more heavily in the first half of a year or so, taper off in the third quarter, and go virtually silent in the three, busy, chaotic final months before the year ends.

This year, the busy was even busier and the chaos more chaotic than usual. That was a heck of a send-off to 2018 that the universe gave me. And I mean, it was certainly memorable and dramatic, but I think I’d like to settle down into a new groove.

A lot happened; a lot changed. Much of it was good, but much of it also isn’t stuff I want to get into publicly. Just… a lot happened; a lot changed.

And now, the year has changed too, and we’re all of us on to 2019.

Long-time readers, or newer readers masochistic enough to read the archives, know that I’ve made a New Year’s practice over the past several years of picking a word, or a few words, or a short phrase, to serve as my compass for the year to come.

For 2018, I chose, “Action now!”

2017‘s word was “Courage.”

For 2016, I chose three words, “Health. Happiness. Organized.”

My focus for 2015 was, “Organized.”

Sometimes the process for choosing my guiding words is a little more formal and planned; other times, it’s more intuitive. This year was very much the latter. My sense of what my focus for 2019 should be really emerged naturally from 2018, and what I accomplished and didn’t accomplish over the year.

I’m proud of what I achieved in 2018. It was, as I said, a year of change. Some of those changes I knew were coming and would need to be managed. Others were surprises.

And of course, these processes don’t neatly coincide with the calendar. Some changes are still unfolding. And there are more changes coming — just the ones I know about are going to make for a busy year, let alone all the new surprises that the year brings.

And my concern is that it will be too easy for me to get bogged down. New adventures are great, and I’m looking forward to them, but there’s always going to be so much to do. I look back on all of 2018’s dangling threads, and when I imagine all the new tasks that will hit my desk, both literally and metaphorically… well, I worry. I worry about getting scared, and getting stuck, and losing momentum, because it’s so easy for me to lose momentum and there’s so much I want to, need to, do this year.

So, to help me recognize that propensity in myself, to help me keep getting things done in 2019, I have my guiding star for the year — one idea, expressed two different ways.

One way of expressing it is, “Move forward!”

Progress doesn’t need to be in big, dramatic leaps to be real — it’s right up there in the subtitle of the blog, for the Unicorn’s sake! Onward, maintain momentum, just keep swimming. An increment of something is better than nothing.

Move forward.

An even more blunt way of expressing it, so much more blunt that I originally thought twice of including it in this post before I decided to just move forward, is, “Get unfucked! Get unstuck!”

This is the year that I want to clear away some of those dangling threads — especially since there will always be new ones. It’s time to finish what I started, fix what I broke, do what I need to do. Finish my novel, finish learning to drive, work towards taking my wonderful, thriving, always-growing relationship with my Special Friend a step or two towards our future.

By making progress. Through steady movement. I’m going to move forward. I’m going to get unfucked, and get unstuck.

My words for the year, will, I hope, help me to stay on course when my path gets thorny.

My journey continues. One step at a time. Thank you for being here with me.

Happy New Year. There’s lots to do. Let’s go.

Coming up next on the blog: I move forward by taking a look back at last year’s reading!


2017: The Year in Reading

Obviously, I read. I read a fair bit. I mean, I don’t write because I hate the written word, or anything. But the ongoing discussions about diversity in reading, in reading more widely, in what we choose to read, and why, made me curious. I decided that a low-key project last year would be keeping better track of what I read.

And, having bothered to maintain a list, I thought it might be interesting to share it, too. If I’m going to use this process to think more about my choices, perhaps other people will find it useful as well.

So, here’s what I read in 2017! The list is in chronological order from most recent to earliest in the year. Shorter works — short stories, novelettes, webcomics, single issues of comics — aren’t included. Neither are re-reads, and neither are books I didn’t finish.

This isn’t a list of recommendations. All you can reasonably infer from a work’s presence on the list is that I was interested enough to try it, and that I completed it.

  • A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers (novel)
  • Change Places With Me, Lois Metzger (novel)
  • Vallista, Steven Brust (novel)
  • The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin (novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 10, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Gluttony Bay (Sin Du Jour Vol. 6), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • Greedy Pigs (Sin Du Jour Vol. 5), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • Doom Patrol: Brick by Brick (Vol. 1), by Gerard Way/Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 9, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Skyfarer, Joseph Brassey (novel)
  • A Man of Shadows (A Nyquist Mystery), Jeff Noon (novel)
  • Sex Criminals Vol. 1: One Weird Trick, Matt Fraction/Chip Zdarsky (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 8, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 7, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Glitterbomb: Red Carpet (Vol. 1), Jim Zub/Djibril Morissette-Phan and K. Michael Russel (graphic novel)
  • Kaijumax: The Seamy Underbelly (Season 2), Zander Cannon (graphic novel)
  • Kaijumax: Terror and Respect (Season 1), Zander Cannon (graphic novel)
  • Empowered, Vol. 6, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Finder: Voice, Carla Speed McNeil (graphic novel)
  • Finder: Third World, Carla Speed McNeil (graphic novel)
  • Scaramouche, Rafael Sabatini (novel)
  • The Guns Above, Robyn Bennis (novel)
  • October, China Mieville (non-fiction, history)
  • Empowered Vol. 5, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 4, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 3, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 2, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 1, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Borderline (The Arcadia Project), Mishell Baker (novel)
  • An Oath of Dogs, Wendy N. Wagner (novel)
  • Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty (novel)
  • Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (novel)
  • Amberlough, Lara Elena Donnelly (novel)
  • Beanworld: Hoka Hoka Burb’l Burb’l (Book 4), Larry Marder (graphic novel)
  • Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2, anthology (graphic novel)
  • The Vision: Little Worse Than A Beast (Vol. 2), Tom King/Gabriel Hernandez, Michael Walsh (graphic novel)
  • Buffalo Soldier, Maurice Broaddus (novella)
  • Another Castle: Grimoire, Andrew Wheeler/Paulina Ganucheau (graphic novel)
  • Mooncop, Tom Gauld (graphic novel)
  • The Vision: Little Better Than A Man (Vol. 1), Tom King/Gabriel Hernandez (graphic novel)
  • A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (novella)
  • Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, Jill Thompson (graphic novel)
  • Patience, Dan Clowes (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Refine (Vol. 5), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Materia (Vol. 4), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Reason (Vol. 3), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (novella)
  • The Candidate: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Noah Richler (non-fiction, political memoir)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Research (Vol. 2), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation (Vol. 1), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Hammers on Bone (Persons Non Grata, Vol. 1), Cassandra Khaw (novella)
  • Monstress: Awakening (Vol. 1), Marjorie Liu/Sana Takeda (graphic novel)
  • Corporation Wars: Dissidence, Ken McLeod (novel)
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (novella)
  • Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, Michael Tisserand (non-fiction, biography)
  • Wayward: Out From The Shadows (Vol. 3), Jim Zub/Steven Cummings, Tamra Bonvillain (graphic novel)
  • Wayward: Ties That Bind (Vol. 2), Jim Zub/Steven Cummings, Tamra Bonvillain (graphic novel)
  • Wayward: String Theory (Vol. 1), Jim Zub/John Rauch (graphic novel)
  • Amulet: The Stonekeeper (Vol. 1), Kazu Kibuishi (graphic novel)
  • Maddy Kettle and the Adventure of the Thimblewitch, Eric Orchard (graphic novel)
  • Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy! (Vol. 1), Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis/Brooke Allen (graphic novel)
  • Daytripper, Gabriel Ba/Fabio Moon (graphic novel)
  • Hunger Makes the Wolf, Alex Wells (novel)
  • Paper Girls (Vol. 1), Brian K. Vaughan/Cliff Chiang (graphic novel)
  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet (Vol. 2), Ta-Nehisi Coates/Brian Stelfreeze (graphic novel)
  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet (Vol. 1), Ta-Nehisi Coates/Brian Stelfreeze (graphic novel)
  • Ms. Marvel: Super Famous (Vol 5), G. Willow Wilson/Takeshi Miyazawa (graphic novel)
  • Ms. Marvel: No Normal (Vol. 1), G. Willow Wilson/Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (graphic novel)
  • Idle Ingredients (Sin du Jour Vol. 4), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • SuperMutant Magic Academy, Jillian Tamaki (graphic novel)
  • I Hate Fairyland, Skottie Young (graphic novel)
  • Saga (Vol. 6), Brian K. Vaughan/Fiona Staples (graphic novel)
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now (Vol. 3), Ryan North/Erica Henderson (graphic novel)
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power (Vol. 1), Ryan North/Erica Henderson (graphic novel)
  • Infomocracy, Malka Older (novel)
  • Too Like the Lightning (Book 1 of Terra Ignota), Ada Palmer (novel)
  • All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (novel)
  • The Stars are Legion, Kameron Hurley (novel)
  • My Father, the Pornographer, Chris Offutt (non-fiction, memoir)
  • The Flux, Ferrett Steinmetz (novel)
  • Tales of the City, Armistad Maupin (novel)
  • The Shadow of the Torturer (Vol. 1 of the Book of the New Sun), Gene Wolfe (novel)
  • Into the Fire (Samantha Kane Book 1), Patrick Hester (novel)
  • Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson (novel)
  • The Witches of Lychford, Paul Cornell (novella)
  • The Ark, Patrick Tomlinson (novel)
  • Clouds of Witness (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery), Dorothy Sayers (novel)
  • Whose Body? (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery), Dorothy Sayers (novel)
  • Company Town, Madeline Ashby (novel)
  • Hounded (Vol. 1 of the Iron Druid Chronicles), Kevin Hearne (novel)
  • Every Heart A Doorway, Seanan McGuire (novella)
  • Waters of Versailles, Kelly Robson (novella)
  • Pride’s Spell (Sin du Jour Vol. 3), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho (novel)
  • Heroine Complex, Sarah Kuhn (novel)
  • An Accident of Stars, Foz Meadows (novel)
  • Hawk, Stephen Brust (novel)

Totals for 2017

  • 33 novels
  • 4 novel-length non-fiction books
  • 12 novellas
  • 48 graphic novels

What did I learn from this process?

Well, I didn’t read as much prose as I hoped to, this year. After I started tracking my reading, I wondered if I could hit 52 books for the year, because that would be pretty cool. I didn’t, obviously, even being generous and counting novellas (and really, it would be more fair to count 2 novellas as 1 “book” for the purpose of this kind of tracking).

I was surprised at how little non-fiction I read, at least in book-length formats. I love non-fiction and if I’d guessed, beforehand, I would have said that I probably read rather more than that in an average year.

I did, however, read a lot more graphic novels in 2017 than I would have expected at the start of the year. And, you might notice that the first 23 items on the list are all prose. After that, graphic novels start appearing in large numbers. There were a bunch of reasons for that, the most important of which I’ll get into in more detail in my forthcoming Everything-I-Did-In-2017-Besides-Read post.

And clearly, I read a lot of genre? I mean, I knew that and it really isn’t a concern. I like plot, I like tropes, and I love my speculative and my fantastical. Still, there are only five works of prose fiction on that list that aren’t in SF&F (maybe four, depending on how you count Underground Railroad, which some have argued falls within a broad definition of speculative fiction and/or fantasy). This might be a good opportunity to expand my horizons.

An issue that’s both more important and immediately apparent to me is that I’ve been reading a lot of dudes. Like, a disproportionate and, to me, embarrassingly so, number of dudes.

And here is where the value of tracking and planning my reading becomes clear, because I strongly feel that I need to read more widely and inclusively. Especially, I need to read more works by women, and people of colour. I need to be more mindful, more open, and maybe set myself some variation on the Tempest Challenge for 2018, to force myself out of the box that results when I simply follow my preferred creators, subgenres, and books I hear about on Twitter and that happen to spark my interest.

And what didn’t I learn?

I didn’t track whether the books I read were in print or e-book, or whether I bought them or borrowed them from the library. I think that would be interesting information.

I know that my reading increased overall when I started using the Toronto Public Library’s ebook app and was able to download library books to my phone — it makes reading on my morning commute so much easier! On the other hand, all my graphic novel reading is in print, because I don’t read on a tablet and phones are not my preferred way to read graphic novels.

I don’t have a big pithy conclusion or a call to action. But I’m glad I tracked my reading in 2017. It’s something I plan to continue this year, and I hope it will continue to encourage me towards thought and care in my choices in 2018. If you tracked your reading last year, what did you read? And what did you learn from the process?

Coming up on the blog: Probably more looking back and looking ahead. And much more interesting stuff, too!

Most Comics Are NOT IP Chum (A Twitter Rant in 23 Parts)

So, I know this is kind of a big news day, what with the world being completely on fire? But I nevertheless got off on a Twitter rant about something unrelated to the future of American and/or British democracy and closer to my own experience and interests: Comics, and specifically the matter of comics as IP bait.

This was all in response to an article at The Beat, about a new series that actually sounds pretty cool. You can read it via the link if you’re not the Twitter sort.

I really want to emphasize that I totally get that the creators and publisher of FU JITSU are not being serious here. It’s a joke. They clearly don’t really think that they’re the first people in umpty years to think of doing a comic that’s, you know, meant to be a comic. This is a funny, clever response to the phenomenon I describe in my tweets that also promotes their own new title in the process.

But the fact that this joke can even be a thing — the idea, even clearly in jest, that a comic that isn’t just a cynical bait for option money is a novelty — made me sad and, as you’ll see, more than a little irked and impassioned. My Epic! Twitter! Rant! on the subject unfolds below.

If that’s tl;dr? Most comics are made out of passion, by hard-working creators who really, really love comics and the story they’re telling. Avoid the cynical chum — it’s easy to spot. Support comics you love!

(Yeah, I’d warmed sufficiently to the subject by this point that my tweet construction can get sloppy here on in. Sorry about that. I think my points are sufficiently clear, though.)

Coming Up Next On The Blog: A Breaking In interview with YA author Melanie Fishbane. Watch for it!

Bolding Going Forward, ‘Cause I Can’t Find Reverse

Well, I missed the window for New Year’s posts, and then some, didn’t I?

There’s been a lot going on, on all sorts of fronts for me. There’s a lot up in the air, and a lot of change coming. This is a scattered sort of update, not a proper year-in-review or year-ahead post, not only because it’s already February, but because I’m in a scattered sort of place right now.

So, Um, Happy New Year?

2016 was rough on a lot of people, not excluding me. That being said, there was also a lot of good for me in the year. There were big ups and big downs. I’m not optimistic that 2017 will be a whole lot better, overall, for the world – but I do think I can make it an even better year for myself, by working to build on the good, by learning from the bad, by trying to improve myself, and moving forward.

What Does Better Even Mean?

It sounds good, to talk about a better year, and about improving myself, but those are twisty, shifty and very subjective words. What do I actually mean?

I said this privately, back around my last birthday in late 2016, and I’ll say it less privately now: I need to be braver. It’s time to stand up, for myself, for the people I’m responsible to, for the kind of world and future I want for everyone.

So, if I were to pick one word to be my guiding star this year? Courage.

It’s not natural for me to be brave. I like to think that I’m not a coward, but even I have to admit that I’m pretty seriously conflict-averse. I question myself a lot, which is a strength when I’m wrong, but potentially problematic when I’m right, or when I let self-doubt keep me from acting in my own defence, or that of the people I love.

That has to stop. I hope that I’ll always be self-analytical, ready to listen, and willing to consider that I might be wrong and admit when I am. But I also need to be ready to stand up for what’s right. It’s time to be ready to do that, and to actually do it. It’s time to be brave.

Okay, But What Are You Actually Going To DO This Year?

Yeah, if courage is the direction I always want to be steering towards, that’s good. But what about the practical stuff? What about actually getting things done?

My New Special Friend pointed me at this response to a post on Reddit. It’s a few years old, now, but ideas like this don’t really have a best-before date. If courage is my guiding star, then this is my battle cry, my daily call to action: No More Zero Days!


Image by Reddit User modified_duck, inspired by the comment by ryans01 on the post by maxstolfe

In practice, that means that I work to make every day a non-zero day in some way – keeping in mind that non-zero means going above the baseline, making progress. The fields I’ve identified as being targets for non-zero-ness are:

  • My health (exercising and eating better)
  • Caring for my loved ones, and my home
  • My writing

So far I’m… well, it’s a start? I don’t think I’ve had a three-for-three non-zero day yet, but there have been a lot fewer completely zero days.

While We’re On That Subject, What Did You Actually Do LAST Year?

Ugh, my metrics tracking went absolutely to shit last year. I… submitted some stories? And some of them got closer to a yes than I’ve ever gotten before, even though I still ended up getting a “no”. And I made inching progress on rewriting my second novel. I queried some more agents on the first novel, which was a good thing to do even though they all said “No” too.  And I wrote some blog posts, including some really good interviews with wonderful writers.

But since about September, my productivity on all those fronts has pretty much fallen off a cliff, and I’ve been focused on dealing with other stuff. Dealing with said stuff has been stressful, and I’ve been managing my stress poorly – lots of eating my feelings, regrettably.

It’s a challenge, but I’m trying to do better. No more Zero Days.

What’s Next For The Blog?

I expect posting to continue to be light until the spring, when a lot of the big changes coming will actually happen. (Sorry, I’m not trying to be coy; some things are genuinely uncertain, and some I’m not ready to talk about yet.)

Even before then, I’m going to try to provide more regular updates, and line up some more interviews. I also think that I need to acknowledge that some of my older short stories are not going to sell. Heck, that might be for the best – some of them have been kicking around for long enough that they aren’t reflective of my current level of skill. Rather than simply trunking them, I was thinking about running a couple of those older stories here. I’d welcome any thoughts on that!

This is going to be a big year, for me, no matter what else happens. I’m going to need to be brave, and I’m going to need to strive to have no more zero days. A lot is going to change – and so I’m grateful for you, continuing to follow along. Thanks for sticking with me.

Now: Onward.


February Flying By

The end of the second month of the year is bearing down on us like… well, like time passing always does. The blog has been lying fallow since my year behind and year ahead posts. This is a pretty common state of affairs; I’ve noticed that I tend to get very busy with Life, the Universe and Everything as a new year starts up, and activities like blogging tend to suffer.

So, this is going to be a scattershot, catch-up, State-of-the-Me post.

Three Words

I blogged about my Three Words for 2016 when the year was brand new. I’ve been finding it a challenge since then to keep them in focus, though. While I have been thinking about my health, my happiness and being more organized, specific activity on all those fronts has been spotty. Getting organized is probably the best, or maybe the least bad would be a more honest way to express it; I’ve at least crossed some old business off my “to-do” lists. But I need to re-focus on all three words as my guiding stars. It helps to know that this is a process, and that I still have ten months to use to advance on all those fronts.

Agent Queries

“Previously, on Stephen the Query Letter Slayer…”

When I last checked in, I had sent out nine queries to agents regarding my first novel, COLD IRON BADGE, and received two rejections.

Those are… still the only responses I’ve received, and it’s starting to freak me out a bit. Well, there’s one agent that has a “no response within this timeframe means a rejection” policy, so I think I can safely assume that’s another no, but that still leaves six queries pending.

In fact, in the main this is well within the windows most agents need to review submissions; three months is on the fast end of average, and longer is common. So there’s really no reason to be freaking out. I am anyway.

Say it with me, friends: I will not practice submittomancy, submittomancy is the mind-killer, submittomancy is the little-death that brings total procrasination…

Politics: What Is It Good For?

Well, sometimes really good movies.

I try to refrain from commenting much on US politics, not because I’m not very interested, but because it’s a time sink that I can’t afford, especially since I don’t even get a vote.

But one thing I do enjoy are politically-themed movies. There aren’t many great Canadian movies about our political process, but there are a bunch of American ones. And with primary season in overdrive and the whole world watching with — trust me on this, US friends — our collective jaw on the floor waiting to see what’s going to happen next, I thought that an American politics themed film fest sounded like a fine idea.

Turning, as I do, to social media, I asked for folks to make recommendations, and I got some amazing ones. Here’s the list, including my own suggestions, sorted by number of votes first, then alphabetically:

  • Bob Roberts
  • Wag the Dog
  • Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (idealism makes its first appearance on this list, with the Stewart/Capra original, of course)
  • Bulworth
  • All The King’s Men (the Broderick Crawford original from 1949)
  • The American President
  • Dave
  • The Candidate
  • Election
  • Seven Days In May
  • Advise and Consent
  • All The President’s Men
  • The Best Man
  • Born Yesterday
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (the person who suggested this called it “a bit of a cheat” but he’s also a professor of film)
  • The Dead Zone
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Gabriel Over the White House
  • Idiocracy
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (“either of the first two versions”)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (yes, this was a joke; that doesn’t make it a bad idea)
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Nashville
  • Primary Colors

Any three of the top ten or twelve suggestions would probably make a heck of a movie night. Now I really need to make this happen!

On the Subject of Movies

And also of happiness, I’ve seen two movies in the theatre so far this year, which means that I’ve already equalled 2015! Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Deadpool were both awesome, too, albeit in rather different ways.

What Next’s For Me?

I am, as always, a work in progress. I want and hope to re-focus on health, happiness and being organized. I want to be on top of things at home and work, exercise, write, see friends, see movies, keep making my life better, and making the lives of the people in my life better too.


Coming up next on the blog: I don’t know, but I’m working on it! Having used this post to blather about myself, and barring any news to share, I’m actively seeking new Breaking In posts for my next posts.

Three Words for 2016

I know, there are reasons to be wary of the New Year’s Resolution. They tend to be lots of fanfare, not much action — because it’s hard to change — and by the middle of January you’re back where you started, with an extra dollop of cynicism and shame on top. (And, to be clear, by you? I mean I.)

So I don’t do resolutions, anymore. Not exactly. But I do value the New Year as an opportunity to take stock, to review, to reflect. To set a new course, with updated agenda and goals.

I call this process my New Year’s Revolutions.

I’ve used different tools and approaches over the years. Some work better than others.

Last year, following the example of the inestimable Rachel Hartman, I went with one word to focus my year – organize. And I did get a bit more organized, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I saw results.

This New Year, inspired by my wise friend Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, I’m setting my agenda for the year ahead using Chris Brogan’s Three Words.

I want to try this model, this year, because follow-through is always a challenge for me. I fall off the wagon, say to myself, “Well, that didn’t work!” and eat a box of metaphorical or literal donuts. So one thing I like about Brogan’s approach is that includes strategies. And I very much like the perspective of the three words as “lighthouses”, or compass points, things to keep in my mind, to always be moving towards, rather than a target for me to succeed or (more often) fail at hitting.

Three words, three guiding stars. Three New Year’s Revolutions.

After some reflection, my words for 2016 are: health, happiness, organized.

(Yes, this is a repeat performance for getting organized. I can always stand to be more organized.)

Goal Word: Health

Path 1 to the goal: Make time to exercise or be active every day.

Path 2 to the goal: Allow myself sweets and naughty food on one “free day” a week.

Path 3 to the goal: Prepare healthy lunches and snacks in advance for the work week.

Distractions: Being tired, stress eating, not making the time to exercise or eat right.

Steps to the path: Buy fresh salad greens and vegetables all the time, so I always have healthy lunches and snacks; prioritize getting enough sleep so I have energy and willpower; make and keep regular appointments with all my health care professionals.

The finish line: Exercising 5 to 6 times a week, fitting into my size 38 pants, replacing stress eating with working out as a coping mechanism.

What’s next: Increase strength and endurance; plan and prepare to do the CN Tower climb in 2017

Goal Word: Happiness

Path 1 to the goal: Make time to write every weekday

Path 2 to the goal: See friends at least once a week

Path 3 to the goal: Make my workday commute my reading time

Distractions: Being tired, wasting time on the internet, feeling stuck

Steps to the path: Start that new D&D campaign with my friends, playing at least once a month; turn off internet on my phone regularly; write on my lunch hours; always have a book with me during my commute.

The finish line: Having regular (weekly) social engagements and activities; finishing revisions to NOBODY’S WATCHING and COLD IRON BADGE and finishing the first draft of a NEW novel before the end of 2016.

What’s next: Being able to retire “happiness” as a goal for 2017; getting my current writing projects out the door and move on to new ones; expand my reading to address some of the gaps in my knowledge and experience (like the classics, and poetry).

Goal Word: Organized

Path 1 to the goal: Check in with myself daily about what needs to be done, at home, and work, and for myself, both in terms of my goal words and in a more immediate day-to-day sense.

Path 2 to the goal: Check in with my awesome partner Sarah daily about how we’re both doing, about the kids, and about household needs.

Path 3 to the goal: Learn what needs to be done to keep our home well-stocked with everything we need and in good order, and act on those needs.

Distractions: Being tired; feeling incompetent; getting bogged down in anxiety and fear of doing the wrong thing.

Steps to the path: Make the first thirty minutes after the kids are in bed “family check-in time”; make lists of what needs to be done and review them as part of my daily processes; take quiet time daily, to think, process, and focus my mind.

The finish line: Clearing away all the “old business”, the things that need doing that I’ve left hanging for too long; having what we need at home and in our lives for ourselves and the kids, in a fair and equitable manner; being able to move forward with new goals and projects because the day-to-day is going so smoothly!

What’s next: Keep it up, because being fair, balanced and organized is an ongoing process.

Those are my three fixed stars, my goals for 2016: Increasing my health, increasing my happiness and being more organized.

What changes do you foresee making this year? What goals have you set, and what tools are you using to get there

Let me know. Maybe we can be part of one another’s revolutions.

Coming up next on the blog: I don’t know yet! I guess I need to, um, get organized?

Catching up with myself at 44

I quite liked the format of my last catch-up-and-assorted-miscellanea post, Scattershot September. Sadly, Scattershot October doesn’t have the same ring to it – I have an unrepentant love of alliteration – and I don’t have a good, generic name for this kind of post yet. I suppose I’ll just have to persevere. Which is apt in itself, because if there’s any unifying theme to this particular set of updates, it’s probably “I suppose I’ll just have to persevere”.

Sleep is for the weak, I used to say

I’ve been so tired, lately. I mean, I’m always tired. It’s just part of life. But lately it’s been more noticeable. It’s likely, partly, the change in the season, and the march towards Falling Back. But it’s also a sign that I need to exercise more, eat better and, oh yeah, start getting enough sleep.

That’s frustrating, because the one thing that I always feel is most at a premium is time. The thought of spending more of it sleeping? At the moment, that sounds pretty great, actually. In general, though, I worry about losing even more time.

But yes, I know that being exhausted and/or sick isn’t great for my productivity either. So I continue to try to figure out ways to get more rest, and maximize the rest of my time.

Writing is rewriting, especially in November

One of the things I need to do with the rest of my time is finish rewriting Nobody’s Watching (my second novel).  Per usual with my writing process, it’s been moving forward, but in rather more fits than starts. So, I think it’s time for a big push. Because I do tend to do better when I have some kind of external deadline or mechanism of accountability, I’m going to piggyback on this year’s National Novel Writing Month.

Rewriting an already-completed first draft doesn’t fall within the scope of NaNoWriMo, so I won’t be racing for the 50,000-word-crown this year. This is going to be unofficial, informal, and just for me: Personal National Novel Re-Writing Month.

Yes, I’m going to refer to it as PerNaNoReWriMo.

No, I don’t expect that to catch on.

Like, at all.

I will, however, be keeping you all updated on my progress – more via Twitter than here, but I’ll try to do at least one state-of-the-work-in-progress blog post around the midway-point, and a post-mortem afterwards.

Any year you celebrate your birthday is a good year

If you’ve detecting a certain flavour of reflection and taking stock, it’s because as I write this, I’m about to turn 44. The post will be going up on my actual birthday. So yes, it’s a good time for a little self-evaluation and some goal-setting.

First and foremost, after my big health scare three years ago, I am very glad to be here to be celebrating my birthday at all!

But if I want to keep having birthdays — and I really do; I have a family that needs me and a life I quite enjoy — I’m going to have to, need to, somewhat belatedly, really make a priority of eating better and exercising.

So those are on the list of things to get serious about in the year to come. As is trying to move forward with my writing — with revising my second novel, and with querying my first one as part of continuing to try to get an agent.

And, you know, maybe trying the occasional new thing too.

Speaking of new things, I still can’t draw

Of course, I can’t sing, either, and that’s never stopped me. But one of the side effects of spending a lot of time over the years around a lot of really good comics artists has been a certain degree of self-consciousness over my own rather limited artistic skills. To address that, and more importantly, to have fun, I’ve recently jumped on board a Twitter #hashtag game, the #WednesdayDoodle. Which is, you know, just what it sounds like. Every week on Wednesday, you draw a doodle, take a picture of it, and post it to Twitter. I think it was originated by Patrick Hester and Jeff Patterson, both of whom have been quite gracious about me joining their party.

I drew an elf

I drew an elf!

And Superman!

And Superman!

... And... um, Dracula riding a hoverboard? (This was a #Drawlloween, suggestion, including the title)

… And… um, Dracula riding a hoverboard? (This was a #Drawlloween suggestion, including the title, on ‘Back to the Future’ Day)

I’ll never be a great artist, but I think I’m a pretty good #WednesdayDoodle-er. You can follow me on Twitter to see what I scribble next, and if you like, join in and share your own #WednesdayDoodle!

Books, glorious books

I’ve never really used this space to get into what I’m reading, have I? Which, now that I think of it, is a little odd for a writer and passionate reader. I think it’s partly because I don’t really want to do reviews. But I do want to share what I love, so…

I’m almost done Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes, and it is splendid. It reminds me of both Le Guin’s Always Coming Home and Walton’s Among Others — in very different ways — while still being uniquely itself. Highly recommended.

I recently finished Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better and Write More of What you Love, which is exactly what it says on the tin — a guide for writers to increase their productivity. I’m still digesting the suggestions, but it seems very useful.

And Nicole Winters’s The Jock and the Fat Chick, which is, as I’ve mentioned before, a delight.

I also attended a panel on graphic novels at the International Festival of Authors, which featured Jillian Tamaki, Adrian Tomine, and Dylan Horrocks — afterwards, I picked up Dylan’s new graphic novel, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen, and he was kind enough to sign it.

Next in the queue: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Envy of Angels, by Matt Wallace.

And what wisdom do you have to impart, from the ripe old age of 44?

Not much. If I had it all figured out, my scattershot blog posts would probably be a lot less scattershot!

43 had plenty of downs, but plenty of ups, and it ended better than it started. That’s good.

There’s lots of work that I need to do, in many facets of my life. But there’s also the opportunity to do it. That’s good.

There are loved ones and friends in my life, and books to read. That’s good.

And I am, as I noted above, still here. And so are you. That’s more than good. That’s wonderful.

Hmm. There’s a theme, there: “Work hard, take care of yourself and others, and remember to show your gratitude and love for the good things and great people in your life.”

That actually almost does sound like wisdom.

Hell. I really am getting old!

Coming up next on the blog: An open call for Breaking In interviews!

The year that was, the year that is

I’d been seriously considering taking a pass on a ‘The Year in Review’ post — or a resolutions one. I thought perhaps I should do something else, something less inward-looking, as my first post here in what’s been way too long. Because, as anyone who’s been paying attention (which means, you know, me) can attest, I fell off the blogging horse at the end of the summer, and I’ve been delinquent in posting since.

And that was for all the usual reasons: Lack of energy and mental focus, lack of time to write, which meant not only not having the time to blog, but not doing any other writing that might have been worth blogging about either.

But that’s a self-perpetuating cycle, unless I do something to change it. Besides, as much as I know there are good reasons to disdain the practice, I actually like New Year’s resolutions. I like the extra motivation they provide to think about goals, to introspect and consider reasons that I haven’t met those goals in the past, and how I might better plan to achieve them in the future.

And one thing I want to do this year — one of many — is get back to my blogging. I am someone who does better at hitting my milestones when I have some sort of external markers of accountability, and an audience is one of my favourite ways to hold myself to account.

So, although it may be a seasonal cliche, it’s a seasonal cliche that works for me. A look back, followed by a look forward, seems timely and appropriate.

2014 – The year that was in writing

I spend a lot of time last year frustrated at the trouble I was having making time to write — or using that time effectively when I managed to make any. It wasn’t one of my more productive years, especially considering that the lead-up to the year included me successfully completed NaNoWriMo in November, 2013. I wrote just over 50,000 words that month. I didn’t come close to equalling that in the entire year of 2014, when I eked out:

About 5,000 words added to the novel-in-progress

2,900 words of my only new short story of the year

18 blog posts (five on my erstwhile blog, thirteen here), which I’m not going to bother totalling the collective word count of

And rather a lot of editing — of my previous novel, cleaning up the work-in-progress for submission to my writers’ group, and of some of my short fiction

So no, not a stellar year. I need to do better if I hope to finish this novel, and revise it, and get it out into the world — not to mention all the other novels I want to write!

2014 – The year that was in submitting

It was a better year for the skin-thickening process of continuing to get my work out there, though.

I had 6 short stories complete and ready for submission to various publications at various points over the year, and I made a total of 21 short fiction submissions in all. That looks like a fairly low average number of submissions per story, but it’s deceptive. The turnaround time for those publications varies tremendously. Just one market had just one of my stories in the queue for much of the year, for instance, while others got back to me within days. So some stories were submitted five or six times, some only two or three.

I received 20 short fiction rejections in 2014. Three of those were for submissions from the previous calendar year. Because I made a big push to get submissions out in December, 2014, I have 4 stories with a response still pending.

I had no sales.

However, my efforts compare favourably with what I think were 14 submissions in the previous year (my record-keeping was a bit spotty in 2013).

But this means that I do need to get my other two finished stories back out to market!

I also, back at the top of the year, queried 8 agents with my first novel. That was a small number of queries, but the speed and uniformity of the rejections I received led me to hold off on continuing that process pending further revisions to the novel, and more importantly, a major overhaul to my query letter. I’m planning on revisiting that this year, after I finally finish the first draft of the novel-in-progress.

My combined efforts did, however, lead to the day, hilarious in retrospect but kind of a kick in the teeth at the time, where between agent queries and short story submissions, I received a record 5 rejections in a single day.

Now that’s a record I hope not to beat — not in 2014, and not ever!

2015 – The year that is and my New Year’s Revolutions

In 2014, I had to recognize — contrary to my usual boundless capacity for self-delusion — that my lack of progress was less a problem of time than a problem of time management. And that was true not only of my writing, but also of other areas of my life that have been languishing, like exercising more and eating better.

In other words, I was thinking and acting like I needed to somehow make more time (news flash — that wasn’t going to happen), when what I really need to do is make better use of the time I already have available.

When it comes to exercising and getting healthier, that means working out in the windows between the end of work and my children’s bath-and-bedtime routines — or giving up on social media noodling after they’re in bed and working out instead. And, when the weather’s warmer again, it’ll mean walking home from work as often as I can. It means menu planning and preparing healthy lunches in advance, especially on the weekends. Automating the processes, essentially, so that I don’t have the need or opportunity to make less healthy choices on the spur of the moment because I’m short of time or energy.

And as for writing — which, as interesting as my health is to me, is probably the reason more of you are reading this?

Again, it’s simply a question of taking the possibility of making bad — or, let’s be fair, less productive — decisions out of the equation. I need to, inasmuch as possible, use the time I have available when I have more than a few minutes to myself and I’m reasonably awake.

That means my lunch hour, most weekdays.

I really found myself pushing back when I came to that conclusion. Part of me wanted to hold out for longer windows to write, told myself that the 45 or 50 minutes I’d be able to write wouldn’t be enough to make real headway — which is entirely untrue; I proved during NaNoWriMo 2013 that I write quite effectively in smaller increments.

Besides, those hypothetical longer windows of unbroken writing time? Don’t exist. Not if I want to do my job, take care of my family, exercise and get enough sleep to maintain my health. I need to, as I said, maximize my productive use of existing time, and that’s my lunch hour at the office. Not that I might not be able to squeeze some more time in once in a while. But squeezing some time in once in a while is how I successfully added only 5,000 words to my novel over the course of thirteen months. So you know, not the most awesome solution.

Setting aside weekdays when I’ll be at home with the family for one reason or another, and days when I’m at work but other commitments will take priority on my lunch hour, I can probably use that time to create 18 or 19 writing opportunities a month.

That’s… a lot of time, in the aggregate. And it just means being zealous about taking my laptop to work, and using it to write for 45 or 50 minutes a day. I’ve tried not writing, and it hasn’t been good for my writing. I think I’ll try writing again, instead, see if that gets me anywhere.

As far as putting all this into practice? I’ve broken my goals for 2015 down into some more concrete resolutions, on a piece of paper with notes scribbled all over it — and a lot of exclamation marks. I’m not going to describe its contents here, because the parts that I haven’t already articulated above are either obvious, or private.

But I have seen a lot of people summarizing their aspirations or goals for the year ahead in a single word — a theme word for the year, to act as a focus, or a guide. That wasn’t something I’d thought of doing for myself, what with my tendency to run off at the keyboard. But then I read Rachel Hartman’s post on her one word for the year. And I starting mulling. And as I thought, and as I wrote the words you’ve been reading, I realized that there is, in fact a single word that sums up and exemplifies all of them, all my New Year’s resolutions and revolutions.

My theme, my word for 2015: Organize.

COMING UP NEXT: I have some Breaking In interviews that I didn’t run before the wheels came off the blog. If the subjects are still amenable, I’ll get those into the pipeline. I’ve also been reading Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn, and I have some thoughts about it that I’d like to share. After that, it’ll probably be time for an update on my writing, and for me to get back to Ulysses if I really want to finish the darn thing by next Bloomsday.

Neil Gaiman retweeted me. And, um, I guess you won’t believe what happens next?

So, I’m on Twitter. I really like Twitter. It’s like I’m at the biggest, funniest, nerdiest, most politically incisive party in the world. I’m not super-active; I tweet a couple of times a day at most, generally less. More often, I quietly follow along, enjoying the conversations and finding out what’s happening, and what’s being talked about, by the people I’m interested in, and the communities I consider myself a part of.

Needless to say, it’s a rare day that anyone else is particularly interested in what I have to say on Twitter. The most notable thing I’ve ever said might have gotten a handful of favourites or retweets. Which was gratifying, and frankly constituted more attention than I would have expected, given my low profile. I want to make this quite clear: I’m not complaining about not being a Twitter celebrity! I’m just setting the stage: I don’t do a whole lot on Twitter, and most of what I do quite understandably passes under the radar.

One of the people I follow on Twitter is Neil Gaiman, because why wouldn’t I? And, of course, I’m hardly alone in that. Over two million people follow him on Twitter. Websites he draws attention to crash under the sudden rush of visits from his fans — people even call it the Gaiman Effect. Neil Gaiman is a bona fide celebrity, on Twitter and in what we used to call real life.

And one fine day, Neil Gaiman was pondering what to do about his beard. On Twitter.

Tweet by Neil Gaiman; Photo by Ozier Muhammad, New York Times

Tweet by Neil Gaiman, June 21, 2014. Photo by Ozier Muhammad, New York Times, June 13, 2014

I mean, I personally would not crowdsource my grooming decisions, but he’s been a lot more in the public eye for a lot longer than me. Presumably he knows what he’s doing, and who am I to judge?

Regardless, I chimed in:

You know, like you do.

You know, like you do.

Then this happened:

Pretty sure I just got told.

Pretty sure I just got told.

Yeah, and then my mentions basically exploded.

Because that tweet, as you can see, included both a retweet of my original comment and my Twitter handle, I was notified of all the follow-up activity involving it — retweets, favourites and replies.

It got a lot of ’em.

By the time it was all done, Neil Gaiman’s tweet had been retweeted 21 times, favourited 108 times, and there had been at least 15 replies that included my Twitter handle (and many more that hadn’t).

So, I got retweeted! By an actual celebrity! Two million people saw my witticism! Did they rush to find out more about me? Did I soak up Neil Gaiman’s reflected glory? Am I vicariously internet famous now?

Nope. As far as I can tell, I didn’t pick up a single new Twitter follower from that exchange. And I don’t think anyone followed the links back through my profile to my blog (I have low enough traffic that I would have noticed, believe me).

Now, this doesn’t surprise me, not at all. All the attention that Neil Gaiman’s tweet got was from people who were responding to, interacting with, him. My comment was really just a springboard. There was no reason for people to pay any particular further attention to me. They didn’t, and I wouldn’t have expected them to. It was cool and fun, and that would have been enough.

But also, and more importantly, it turned out to be instructive.

Here’s what I learned: Being mildly clever on Twitter, enough to get a retweet from someone very clever who is also popular and beloved, is not itself, as a one-off, enough to make you internet famous.

Here’s what else I learned: The level of attention that one tweet got? That must be what it’s like to be Neil Gaiman online all the time. Or Wil Wheaton. Or insert-your-internet-savvy-social-media-using-celebrity-of-choice.

I don’t know how they do it. How can you use Twitter, or any other platform, if everything you post gets that much of a response, even when it’s all positive? I don’t know how you engage with that, how you decide who to reply to or how, how you find any signal in the constant adoring noise.

There are times I’m quite glad not to be famous, and this is one reason why. I don’t really have the time to be a whole lot more present on Twitter than I am now. I literally couldn’t handle it if my every online utterance got even a fraction of that level of attention.

I mean sure, okay, I wouldn’t say no to being a little more famous. Also, richer, and hey, it would be great to be able to eat all the pie I want and never gain any weight. But!

But until “be famous on Twitter” is part of my job description — until I achieve enough success as a writer that managing my social media activity merits the investment of a lot more of the time and energy that nerdlebrity clearly requires — a low, easily-managed profile is exactly my speed.

I stand by what I said, by the way: That hair is a couple of steps past “romantic poet” and skirting “unkempt”. Dude needs a trim.

COMING UP NEXT: My belated thoughts on Chapter 2 of Ulysses. Also, a new feature debuts Monday, August 11!