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

Organizing for Creativity

I’m a firm believer that physical stuff also occupies a place in my mind. Clutter and disorganization requires me to spend time and energy thinking about things that aren’t my priorities. I’m always interested in ways to make my life simpler, and that includes reducing the amount of stuff we have.

My wife wrote a wonderful article about the work we’ve been doing (by which I mean mostly her) to simplify our house and life. She says it well, so you should read it here.

On Father’s Day

So this Father’s Day, I realized I was a father.

This might not exactly seem like a real leap. After all, I’ve been parenting for 8 months. We knew our lives were going to change starting last year. Really, I’ve had a long time to get used to this.

And yet.

Parenthood, I feel like, is one of the few roles in life that can never be changed. Jobs and relationships can be ended. But once a parent, always a parent. And now I’m a parent. What does that mean to me? It means trying to raise a child into an independent adult. But more than that, it makes me responsible (with my wife) to do that for KRH. What’s best for him is now a permanent part of the calculus of my life.

Today, Kameron Hurley’s podcast reminded me of something. Having a child is inherently a hopeful act. In the same way that planting a garden looks forward to a better world, so too does having children.

The state of the world has always mattered to me, because I live there, and so do all the people I love and care about, and even those I don’t care about. But to have a child is to believe that the world is becoming a better place. It’s to believe that I can make the world a better place. I darn well better, because I’ve made the conscious choice to bring an entirely new person into it.

We live in threatening times. I think all times seem that way, when viewed from the inside, but at no point in my 33 years do things seem potentially bleaker than today. It is in many ways our darkest timeline. But we’ve decided to raise a child in it. I now have one more reason to fight for a better world.

I think you can make a pretty good moral argument that improving the lives of everyone is a pretty fine reason to try and do your part in making the world better, even in small ways. But I’m not responsible for anyone else in the world in the way I am for KRH. I’m no longer just fighting for my world. I’m fighting for his, too.

This is part of the Fatherhood I’ve realized. And I’m glad for it. I didn’t know this until now, but I’ve signed on for something much bigger than I first thought.

The first week

It turns out that entertaining a baby all day is hard!

I mean, I knew that. It’s not news. I did it when my wife was out of the house over the past eight months.  But this is the first time I’ve been the primary person. There is nobody to hand KRH to if I run out of ideas or he gets inconsolably fussy. And so far, that hasn’t happened a lot, but it has happened.

Here’s where I’m at. Because KRH still doesn’t reliably take milk from a bottle or cup, we wake him up at 6:45 before my wife goes to work, so he can nurse. Then she’s out of the door shortly after 7. That’s a very different schedule than KRH had before, where he would often sleep until 8 or 9 am. So he’s getting used to a very different schedule than before.

Now, KRH is a pretty okay napper, but sometimes he’ll sleep for 1.5 hours, and sometimes for more like 30 minutes. Unfortunately, with him getting up much earlier, his short naps won’t cut it. So one of my first jobs is getting him used to a new nap rhythm. We’re only a few days into this, so I can’t really say how we’re doing.

We have been keeping fairly busy. Monday, we ran errands and went to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. We didn’t really see any fun birds (only ducks) but it was a nice walk and picnic. Yesterday was rainy, so we mostly stayed inside and played, except for going to the gym, where KRH played with childcare. Today, we’re going to lunch with my Mom, and if it stops raining we’ll go on a walk, and maybe play with the cloth strips my wife made for him.

Whew. In some ways, its harder than I expected. In others, I’m finding it alright. I’m finding little bits of time here and there to myself, with which i’m not really writing yet, but I am doing some important writing-related work (queries) and listening to writing-related podcasts (currently Print Run and Get To Work Hurley).

I want to figure out the rhythm of the day (to both KRH and myself) before I start sitting down to write. I need to know how to snatch 10 minutes here or a paragraph there, without neglecting KRH in any way. That’s how I’m going to get things done over the next couple of months, and indeed over the next couple of years.

And on that note, I’d better get on with some other things before KRH wakes up from his latest nap. It’s only been a few days of this so I anticipate having more to talk about in the coming days and weeks. Until then!

The last week

Here it is. My last week at work before I go on parental leave.

This is an interesting period. On one hand, I’m hugely looking forward to spend time with KRH. It’s summer and he’s growing and maturing quickly. I’m going to take him to the zoo, to parks and festivals, and just generally spend lots of time with my cute baby doing fun things. I anticipate having to do a lot of learning, and I know it’s going to be harder than I think.

On the other hand, I’m also looking at the next fifteen weeks as a bit of an opportunity. In addition to spending time with KRH, I want to spent time working on me. I’ve been at my current job for over six years, and in the workforce for longer. This will, by far, be my longest break from the grind of the day job. It’s not going to be a vacation, but it is going to be a transition, and transitions to me are always opportunities for change. In a lot of ways, I hope this parental leave may be the transition I wanted KRH’s birth to be. Not so dramatic, of course (I really wanted his birth to be a transformation of my life and habits that, in retrospect, was entirely too ambitious). But I hope it will be an opportunity for reflection and some renewal. A leaving behind of some things and an adoption of some new things. A change to grow and evolve, as we all have to.

I’ll be embarking on all this slowly, because I’ve learned that trying to change everything at once for myself is a bad plan. And for the first little while, I’m just going to get used to the new circumstance. Spending time with KRH, after all, is the priority here. I’ve got some ideas about what I want to do differently and how to do them, but I have no idea how being the lead parent will be, so I’m going to have to adapt things to that reality.

So we’ll see how this goes.

The routine

I don’t think it’s a big secret to say that I’ve struggled a lot with writing since KRH arrived. If I’m honest with myself, a lot of things are going “wrong” with my writing right now. I’m finding it harder to find time to write, and when I do, I struggle to focus and concentrate. And when the stars align, I find myself easily pulled out of it. As such, the amount of time I’ve been butt-in-chair to write has been steadily decreasing.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was going to keep writing at the same pace after KRH as I had been before. More, in fact, because I was going to learn to be more productive and get better at finding small bits of time to write. This was a time of major life change, so I was going to use the opportunity to get better.

Hasn’t happened. I’ve struggled, a lot, and things seem to be moving in the wrong direction. Maybe this is understandable, given just how big a life change this has been, but it doesn’t feel that way. I feel desperate, when I should feel hungry. I feel this way about a lot of things in my life, but I’m not sure how to change them.

One thing I’m going to do to change this is start to work on my concentration. I do have time to write, so making good use of it is critical. I’ve heard a lot about the power of routine to build productive habits, so I’m working on a 4-step routine that I can do so my body and brain knows “now it’s time to work.” Here’s what I’m going to try.

  • Stretch – 2 minutes
  • Meditate – 2 minutes
  • Think about 3 things I’m grateful for
  • Visualize my true self – what does the person I want to be do with the time? What would allow me to look back and feel happy about this time?

That that’s it. I hope it won’t take more than 5 minutes, but that I can use it to build the productive habit. I’ll report back on how it works.

April’s Fuel

April came and April went. What did I do in April? I’m not entirely sure!

That’s a lie, of course. I did some things!

Shadows Linger and The White Rose by Glen Cook

I kept reading Glen Cook’s The Black Company books, and I finished Chronicles of the Black Company. The second and especially third books lacked some of the military themes of the original, but Cook still spun an excellent tale that kept me engrossed. I’d like to read more about the Black Company, and I know more exists, but it was time to switch gears to something else.

The Malice by Peter Newman

That something was the sequel to Peter Newman’s excellent The Vagrant. The Malice had been sitting on my kindle for some time, and I decided it’s moment was now. The Malice was a different book than The Vagrant, dispensing with the title character except briefly. However, in many ways this his story told in reverse, and it retained a lot of the wonderful power of the original, even if it lacked some of the visceral newness from the setting that I enjoyed when I read the Vagrant. Nonetheless, The Malice was an excellent read and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Dreams of Neo-Tokyo by Scandroid

I discovered Scandroid a few months ago. I’m a huge fan of 80’s-eqsue synth music, and the cyberpunk theme makes this that much better. But then we got a remix album. So. Good. A+.

Battle Brothers

I don’t find myself with a lot of time for games right now, and when I do, I tend to go toward a few stalwarts because I’m really just looking to forget about things for a while. So it takes a pretty good new game to interest me. But maybe it’s no surprise that after reading so much Glen Cook I found some time to play Battle Brothers, a neat game about running a mercenary company. I found it quite reminiscent of X-COM, in a low-fantasy sort of way, so I’ve been merrily leading my mercenaries around, slaying bandits, escorting caravans, and recruiting the sort of bloodthirsty men I need for this kind of work. The game is as much management as it is combat, which I prefer, and it’s also exceptionally unforgiving, with a lot of brothers dying random deaths from lucky hits or bad positioning. What I like about the game is that losing your brothers this way doesn’t necessarily mean a restart or necessarily being set back.


You might have noticed my progress on Cloudbreakers getting increasingly slow, to the point where actually very little is happening. I’m in a situation where, in order to take my parental leave, I need to wrap up about a year’s worth of overtasking. Unfortunately, that means less time writing right now. I hate that more than anything, especially when I don’t think I’m going to get a lot of time to write while I’m on leave. But I don’t think there’s a lot I can do about it, except soldier through and try and recover later.

2nd draft

59% Complete
53,137 of 90,000 words

you’re not gonna die

So some great writers keep stopping by Reddit. This time, Yoon Ha Lee came to discuss his novel Ninefox Gambit (which was excellent and well worth your reading time). The authors who I’ve been asking lately were all later into their careers, and while Yoon has published many short stories, I asked him about his journey to publication. Here’s what he had to say.

I used to have a folder FULL of rejection slips. So yes, I have definitely been there! I know it can get discouraging, but please, keep writing and submitting. Somewhere out there is a reader who wants your story.

For general advice…hmm. I think there are a few big things here. One is perseverance–it’s an emotional skill. Writing is frequently isolating and discouraging, so finding ways to handle that is very important for your long-term sanity. (Personally, I vent to my husband. The stories my husband could tell…) Find other writers: writers who are not yet writing as well as you do, whom you can mentor; writers at your level, for solidarity; writers whom you aspire toward, to be inspired by. Keep pushing your craft. The only way to learn to fly, in writing, is to jump off a lot of cliffs. And the beautiful thing about writing is that when you jump off a cliff in real life, you’re probably gonna die (so PLEASE don’t literally jump off cliffs) but when you take storytelling risks trying new things in writing, you’re not gonna die. The results might be embarrassing, but you’re not gonna die. And you’ll probably learn something new and cool and add techniques to your bag of tricks.

Read–not just the kinds of things you want to write, but read things COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to broaden your horizons. If you want to write epic fantasy, read noir, read baseball match reports, read jewelry catalogues. I promise you that you will learn unexpected things about how to use language that way.

In a way, Yoon answered the question I keep asking. How do you develop toughness and grit? How do you persevere? I like the idea of it as an emotional skill. Perhaps I’ve been treating it too much as something mechanical, like it was something I could learn by repetition. And while I’m sure practice is important, maybe there’s something else to it. Something to ponder, anyway.

2nd draft

59% Complete
53,137 of 90,000 words