The darkest timeline

A joke I commonly make with my gaming friends is that whenever something bad happens, that we’re in “the darkest timeline.”  Meanwhile, authors I admire have been making the comment for months that we are already in said timeline. For some reason, that truth hit home for me today. And it scares me more than a little.

I’m Canadian, and we turned back our own tide of xenophobia and anti-LGBTQ racism here in 2015. But those forces, emboldened by what’s going on in the United States, are still lurking around here. And even if they weren’t, I’m a queer, progressive guy. It feels like in the space of less than a year, that the world has become a darker, more dangerous place for people like me and people like me.

What really gets to me, though, is that this is the world that KRH is going to have to grow up in. No matter what happens in 2020 in the United States, or in whatever European country is going to face down their fascist party next, these forces aren’t going away. I’ve heard it commented that it’s no surprise that fascists are re-emerging as the last of the veterans of the Second World War are passing. Whoever those people are, they hate people like me. I hope they’ll hate who my son is going to become, but I also wish I could spare him from this timeline completely.

I think it was today’s news about Transgender people being banned from the US military that did it for me. This doesn’t effect anyone that I personally know, and may not even be enacted. The reminder is that there are a lot of people who hate and want to hurt those who are vulnerable. For those people, there’s no right won that can’t be clawed back, and no way to small to injure or damage people who are LGBTQ. And I have to oppose them, because the world I want KRH to grow up in is one that’s kind, compassionate and one that takes care of the most vulnerable.

For me, this feels so stark because KRH arrived mere weeks before November 8th, when this timeline came to a head. In a lot of ways, nothing has changed, because there have always been those who oppose making the world a better place. But in a lot of ways I was insulated from that, and in others I was protected from seeing it so often. Now social media delivers fresh nightmares to my eyes daily, and it does it far closer to home than ever before.

So how do I keep my sanity in this dark timeline? I already outlined my personal manifesto for resistance. My job is to follow that as best I can in the days, months and years ahead. I won’t always be perfect and there will be times when I can’t. But this timeline is too dark to do anything else than my absolute best. The risks are too great. Everything is at stake. And I have something to fight for.

Creative Fuel: May and June

The last few months have been a bit of a blur, without a lot of time for the usual ways I creatively fuel myself. May involved a lot of overtime to try and prepare for my parental leave, and June has mostly been taking care of and entertaining KRH, which left me with less time than I anticipated. Still, I found time for a few books, games and things.

The Bourbon Thief

Tiffany Reisz is a favourite of mine. Her book The Siren hit me in all kinds of tender places, and left me thinking about it for weeks afterward. Erotic romance isn’t a genre for everyone, but I enjoy it and so I enjoyed The Bourbon Thief. Perhaps it didn’t leave me as sore as some of her previous books, and it was probably tamer than most, but it was very good and very gripping.

The Productive Writer

Not fiction at all, but necessary. It turns out that this act of writing with KRH around isn’t as simple as I’d hoped it would be. It’s not impossible, but a wise writer looks for help wherever he can get it, and I found some helpful thoughts about the mindset of writing, as well as scheduling, organization and planning. This is a book that I definitely found useful for making use of the time I have, and I’m going to be applying some things I’ve learned going forward.

The Curious Expedition

This is the perfect sort of game for the limited time I have right now, when it’s possible to play just one expedition. Take on the role of famous explorers, scientists and others and lead them to fame, glory, and most likely horrible deaths at the hands of angry natives, starvation or weirder occurrences. Both my wife and I have had a blast with this game, and there’s still more that we haven’t discovered.

Print Run

I’m not a person who normally listens to podcasts. I find it difficult to focus on what someone is saying unless I’m actually paying attention, meaning that if I put a podcast on in the background I’m basically going to miss it all. But it turns out that a podcast is the perfect level of attention for when I’m playing with or feeding KRH. Literary agents Erik Hane and Laura Zats discuss literature, agenting, and if you become a Patreon subscriber, also offer special critique episodes for first pages and queries. This has helped me stay in the literary mindset even when my fingers are far away from a keyboard.

On parenting and loss

KRH with his older brother and sister.

KRH was supposed to have had two siblings.

Let me back up a bit.

My wife and I lost two children to miscarriage in 2015. We lost both of them early enough that we don’t know anything about who they would have been, but we named them Caden and Aerin. Of course, had either of them made it, we certainly wouldn’t have had KRH, and I like him a rather lot so I think my timeline is pretty good.

For my wife and I, 2015 was a pretty dark year. We’d spent a lot of time imaging our life with children (in fact it’s been not at all like we imagined, but that’s a different story) and so the loss of two pregnancies made us confront, for the first time, that this parenting thing simply wasn’t all the fun we’d imagined it to be. Instead, we had to deal with heartbreak and the feeling of failure, and for a while we wondered if it would even happen for us.

We did our best to move on. We made marker stones for each of the two and  grieved as best we could. And we got lucky, and our third pregnancy became KRH. We went into that pregnancy much more anxious and less optimistic than our first ones, and indeed each week was intensely stressful in different ways. But we survived it.

Last weekend, we took KRH out to where we have the marker stones for the first time. I’ve always found visiting them to be very sorrowful, because they represent the loss of a future, however imagined. So to put our smiling baby next to them was an experience that was very somber. We did, in the end, get what we wanted, and I think we are happier and stronger for the experience. And in many ways, having KRH has healed us from the experience of losing the first two, because now that future is becoming real, and before where we had loss, now we have life.

Still, seeing him next to those stones is to imagine something that could have been.

Querying and Stars and Strollers

Recently, KRH and I went to go see Wonder Woman. I’d heard great things and all my friends managed to go see it without me (a not unusual occurrence these days). Even my wife took KRH and went about a month ago.

There’s a great thing at our local theatre called Stars and Strollers. They have an early afternoon showing with the lights brighter and the sound turned down. There’s room to park strollers and the ticket is cheaper. I love this, and my wife saw a fair number of movies with KRH. So, I ought to be able to do the same, huh?

Well, it didn’t go great. I planned things so that we’d arrive right around nap time, hoping KRH would sleep, as he often does in his car seat. He had no interest in doing that. There was too much going on, and then he got overtired. That led to him switching between fussing and crying for the first hour of the movie. He was by far the loudest baby there, so I gave up and left so other people could enjoy the film.

It was a disappointing end to a day, not only because I’d been enjoying what parts of the movie I could pay attention to, but because I’d hoped to go to Stars and Strollers a lot and it didn’t work well. Also, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get KRH calmed down to do what he needed to (nap), and he disrupted other people’s enjoyment of something. I felt like a bad parent. It wasn’t a great experience.

I have been querying, that toil of searching for an agent, for a couple of years now. I’ve had some success in getting positive responses, but not so far getting a full manuscript request. Believe it or not, I think querying and going to see the movie are an example of the same thing; not setting myself up for success.

Here’s why I think this. My wife reported that KRH didn’t like the sounds when she saw Wonder Woman, and he had a hard time staying still. To counter this, I brought his baby earmuffs to block the sound, but he objected to wearing them and would take them off, even though he didn’t like the sound when he did. Also, I went with him being tired. I know he doesn’t often nap in his car seat unless he’s in the backseat and the car is in motion. But that’s what I expected him to do.

At the same time, when it comes to my queries, I spent some time researching how authors I like had gotten their agents. I researched the agents. I spent time rewriting and rereading my queries, and I had other people look at them for feedback. In short, I felt like I knew how to write a query.

Writing a good query is as much an art as it is a science. Agents get thousands of queries. Naturally, they skim and send a lot of form rejections. And form rejections was mostly what I’ve been getting. That means the problem was probably with my query. And it turns out, there’s a great resource (Queryshark) for looking at an agent’s feedback on the form of a query, with hundreds of examples. I’d looked at some of them, but I hadn’t really read through the archives.

That’s a task I’ve been working on over the last few weeks. And I learned a lot about what a good query needs to accomplish, as well as a lot about sentence structure and clarity. In other words, there was a resource, and I wasn’t using it.

In both cases, I wasn’t setting myself up for success. I’m sure I’ll do that again, but this feels like a good example