12 for ’12: Writing a Dozen Books a Year

Matt Forbeck is an award-winning game designer and freelance writer living in Wisconsin.  In addition to being one of the nicest guys in the business–in any business–Forbeck sets a new standard for diversification.  He’s designed collectible card games, role-playing games, miniatures games, board games, and logic systems for toys and has directed voice-over work and written short fiction, comic books, novels, screenplays, and computer game scripts and stories.

Last spring, I had this crazy idea that I could write a dozen novels in a year. I spent much of my summer chatting with friends about it and hoping that one of them would do the right thing and talk me down from that ledge. Instead, as I explained it in greater detail, they lined up to either encourage me to jump or to push me off.

Maybe they just wanted to watch the show, which was guaranteed to be a fantastic stunt or a total car wreck, complete with blazing tires flying into the helpless crowd. Either way, it worked.

I’m a fast writer, and I’ve been at it full-time for a long time: twenty-three years this summer. When I’m on a writing roll, I can knock out 5,000 words in a day without too much sweat. Tackling a novel the size of a National Novel Writing Month book — about 50,000 words — then should only take me about 10 days, right? That’s short compared to most novels these days, which often clock in around 80,000 to 100,000 words, but it still qualifies as a novel by just about any major award committee, for which the cutoff is usually 40,000 words.

So, technically I could do it. The trouble was I couldn’t afford to just take off a year to write a dozen books, as much fun as that might sound. I’m the father of five kids, including a set of quadruplets, and my wife’s salary as a school social worker alone can’t cover our bills. It seemed my insane dream might be grounded on account of finances, but then Kickstarter came along.

Kickstarter is a popular crowdfunding platform on which creators can post a pitch for a project and ask for pledges. If you hit your goal, you set to work. Otherwise, everyone gets to walk away, no harm done. I’d seen a couple friends have big hits there with their roleplaying game projects, so I thought I’d give it a try with the first trilogy of books for my 12 for ’12 project: Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World, based on an RPG I wrote back in 1999.

We beat the goal and raised over $13,000, and I set to work. A couple months later, I launched a second Kickstarter for a new trilogy of fantasy noir books I wanted to write, set in a world I call Shotguns & Sorcery. That raised almost $13,000 too.

This week, I launched the third Kickstarter in the series, this one for a trilogy of thrillers called Dangerous Games, set at Gen Con, the largest tabletop gaming convention in this hemisphere. Will it fly too? I’ll let you know in about a month.

The real question, of course, is how the writing went. I managed to complete the first three novels on time, but then fell ill for a week at the end of April. (Having all these school-age kids around provides lots of disease vectors.) That bumped me wrapping up that novel into the start of May. Still, I got it done and had time to move on to my next novel — which is actually a full-sized tie-in based on the Leverage TV show that I’m still hoping to finish this month.

Meanwhile, I revised the first novel and got the ebook out to my backers in April. That means I took a novel from an outline to a published book in under four months. The others are underway as well, and I just this week released the first ebook — Brave New World: Revolution — to the general public too. So far, I’m thrilled with the results.

Note that I’m self-publishing the books. No publisher would touch a plan like this. It’s too crazy, it involves too many books from a single writer, and it would be impossible for them to release the books so fast. That’s why I had to do it myself.

Of course, I wanted to do it myself. I’ve been eyeing self-publishing for a while now, having been a game publisher myself back in the late ‘90s. I’ve seen a number of my author friends do well at it, but mostly because they were able to bring old titles back into print.

I’ve had 16 novels published before this, but 13 of them were tie-ins for things like Dungeons & Dragons and Guild Wars, which meant the rights to those books would never revert to me. The only way I could build up a critical mass of titles to publish myself would be to write them, and I didn’t want to have to wait for the years that might take to pull off.

So I decided that this would be the year instead. So far, so good.

The Adulterous Life of the Writer

Jay Faulkner resides in Northern Ireland with his wife, Carole, and their two boys, Mackenzie and Nathaniel. He says that while he is a writer, martial artist, sketcher, and dreamer he’s mostly just a husband and father. His work has been published widely, both online and in print anthologies, and was short-listed in the 2010 Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition. He is currently working on his first novel. Jay founded, and edits With Painted Words, a creative writing site with inspiration from monthly image prompts, and The WiFiles, an online speculative fiction magazine, published weekly. He can also be found as a regular co-host and contributor on the Following The Nerd radio show. For more information, check out jayfaulkner.com or follow him on Twitter at @thejayfaulkner.

Clocks slay time … time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. ~ William Faulkner

Hi there, my name is Jay and I’m a writer. I thought that it would be best to start this guest blog off with a simple introduction and that seemed quite apt. Except that isn’t quite true. You see if I was to tell you what I am – and being honest – ‘writer’ would come some way down the list of things. First and foremost I am a husband, to the beautiful Carole, and father, to my two wonderful boys: Mackenzie and Nathaniel. After that I am a worker, for which I travel about 90 miles a day and put in about 45 hours a week. I teach two martial art classes a week. I’m a regular co-host and contributor on a weekly radio show. I’m part of the Northern Ireland Rare Disease Partnership, where I do social media work and try to raise awareness of issues facing people with rare diseases. Oh yes, and I write.

I occasionally like to sleep as well.

There are the lucky few who are able to put the ‘writer’ tag at the top of the parts that make their sum, so to speak. The ones who have worked hard, and caught a break or two, and now write full-time, for a living. Then there are the others – the ones like me – who are writers after everything else has been taken care off. The ones who grab whatever time they can to sit down in front of the keyboard and knock out the words that have been swimming in their heads whilst everything else is going on.

You see I might put everything else that I do, that I am, before the ‘writer’ part but I can honestly say that I go to sleep thinking about words, plots and characters; I wake up thinking about protagonists, antagonists and even tritagonists … though, admittedly, when it gets that far I have to do something as my mind gets far too crowded! I have notepads in my workbag, in my martial arts bag, in my jacket pockets even. I have electronic notes on my phone, on my email, on my laptop and on my PC. I have notes that never make it out of my head to anywhere else.

Because, even when I don’t have time to write – when I am busy being a husband, a father, an employee, a teacher, an advocate or any of the other things that fill my life – I am thinking about the words that are yet to come.

I used to think that the adage of a writer having to write each and every day, to set a word count and hit it no matter what, was the right thing to do; that without doing so you weren’t a writer. I used to feel frustrated if I couldn’t meet the word counts I had set myself, or wasn’t able to sit down for a solid couple of hours each and every day, and write. I used to feel guilty when I did take those hours, each and every day, because I could hear my children playing outside, or missed a social engagement with my friends. It got to the point where I was making excuses about what I was doing:

“Do you want to come to the cinema tonight, Jay?”

“No thanks, I’ve got a meeting in the morning to prepare for.”

“Did you get a chance to read that report last night, Jay?”

“No, actually, I went to the cinema with some friends.”

I’d actually done some research into men who go to any lengths when having an affair. They lie to everyone around them in order to fill whatever part of them it was that wanted to be with someone else. Eventually they even began to lie to themselves about what was going on, perhaps believing their own untruths.

And, just like a mistress, writing became my own guilty secret. Rendezvous with the laptop at 1am in the morning when everyone else was asleep; the notepad taken out, discreetly, and words fumbled between the tedium of project updates; a text message, or email, sent to myself in the middle of the night, hoping that my wife wouldn’t wake up with the glare of the phone as I sent my other love another furtive ‘quickie’.

To meet the spurious targets I had set myself, in order to satisfy myself that I was still a writer; I entered into an illicit affair with my Muse.

And then I caught myself on. I realised that it wasn’t something real, something tangible, I had with my Muse anymore but, instead, furtive moments in the dead of the night where neither of us were ever truly satisfied. I wasn’t living up to Her expectations at all: I wasn’t going the distance for her, in terms of time or words.

… yeah, I know, it happens to everyone and She was quite understanding about it really but one’s masculine ego does take a bashing the first time, in the middle of the night with the sheets wrapped around you, you can’t finish what you started.*

Something had to give and, finally, it did.

My ego.

I realised that I don’t have to write one thousand words a day, each and every day. I realised that I don’t have to try to ‘fit in’ my writing amongst everything else and try to keep up the pretence that I am a writer above everything else. As long as I write, to the best of my ability, each and every time that I can, then that is all that truly matters because, after all, a satisfying fifteen minutes is better than a wasted hour.

So, at the end of the day I am a husband, a father, a worker, a teacher and many other things too. Amongst them all – the parts of my sum – I am a writer. My family accepts that, and supports it, as do I.

My Muse is still happy to tease me, to call me at all hours of the night and day but, ultimately, knows that I will always be Hers, no matter how much time I get to spend with Her; She no longer watches the clock.

As long as I continue to write for Her, of course.

And I will.

– Jay

*I was talking about a short story, you filthy minded people! ;)

Why Is Writing a Memoir So Hard?

A former editor and reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, San Antonio Express-News and St. Petersburg Times, John Jeter is the author of the novel The Plunder Room (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne, 2009) and the forthcoming memoir Rockin’ a Hard Place (Hub City Press, 2012). He lives in Greenville, South Carolina.

I’ve been writing a long time–since I was six, and I’m old as hell now–but it’s only recently that I learned about the brutality of writing a memoir. Writing about anything so close, personally, emotionally, spiritually, even geographically, is about as much fun as working in a morgue every day, only the body you’re working on is still breathing, and the body happens to be you.

What could be so hard about exhuming a dead body and making it interesting and attractive?

Why start one then?

More than a year and a half ago, I was toying with the idea of a book about the concert hall that my wife, Kathy, my brother, Stephen, and I opened in 1994 in Greenville, SC, a venue called The Handlebar. While thinking about what a cool story that might be, I got to wondering how I would go about pitching it to literary agents. One night, though, I was pondering the project aloud when, fortunately or otherwise, the director, editor, publisher, founder and all-around dynamo behind Hub City Press in nearbySpartanburgoverheard me.

Next thing I know, she told me she wanted the book.

Then things got pretty damned hard, real fast.

A year before that, see,St. Martin’s Press had published my first novel.

The novel was a walk through the park. That process started one day when I was in the shower, where I do most of my best thinking and a lot of my best writing. The story for that book simply exploded into my brain, the entire manuscript complete right before my naked eye(s). Feverishly, I typed out the story that God had just written for me, and the whole thing was done in about three months. All told, I have written seven or eight novels like that, all of them in about ninety days. (I say “seven or eight” because at least four of them are painfully crappy and happily forgettable.) The stories just tell themselves, and I just type them.

But as soon as Hub City’s editor got her hooks in me and started creating things like deadlines, I found myself facing the impossible: a story that refused to tell itself because, for one thing, the story was still ongoing and, secondly, the story was about a character who was simply too close to me: me.

I remember once interviewing Russell Baker, the great New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Growing Up. Mr. Baker’s writing resonates with the gentleness of Thurber, the poetry of Rilke and the quiet wit of later Mark Twain. His countenance fairly resembles a beagle’s, so he gives off a sadness that’s somehow adorably optimistic.

I asked him about Growing Up, about how he wrote it and how he managed to pull off such a grand piece of work about things so intense and intimate: his boyhood and his relationship with his mother. After telling me that he had rewritten portions of the book fifty times (no small surprise there), he then added: “That boy I wrote about, that boy is dead.”

So I tried to follow my editor’s advice and, to some extent, Mr. Baker’s: Write about yourself as a character in a story that started 18 years ago, as if that “person” doesn’t exist anymore

The only trouble is that that person not only exists, but turning him into a character—that is, a distinct, separate being that you as a writer can look at the way a scientist studies a bug under a bell jar–is about as easy as studying a bug under a bell jar.

Not only that, but the entire “memoir” exercise runs contrary to all my journalism training. I learned a lot about nonfiction in journalism, which is sort of like saying that doctors learn a lot about medicine at medical school. The trouble is that when I left newspapering to write novels, I found that the switch was much like a divorce: ugly, painful, endless, with continuing demands from the Ex (Journalism) along with even more claims from my much needier trade-in spouse (Fiction). In “creative-nonfiction memoir” you find yourself mediating between the two. Both want to know: “Okay, big guy, what’s really true here?” Journalism asks: “What kind of bug is that?” And Wife No. 2 asks: “Did that bell jar ever belong to Sylvia Plath? Any way you could you write it so that it might have?”

With so much internecine internal warfare, it’s nigh impossible to get any work done. I spent the next fifteen months flapping like hell, mostly getting nowhere in futile exhaustion. I delayed, I scrambled, I crunched, I did everything I could to avoid peeling back the curtain of memories, some of them painful, some of them funny, some of them both.

As things turned out, the chapters that I wrote in the first year were so bad and so messy, for lots of reasons, that when deadline got frighteningly close, I stopped, took a deep breath and started from the beginning. I wound up pushing the entire thing out in six weeks.

Why is writing a memoir so hard?

Because it requires you to open your veins and tell your life story and intimate secrets to complete strangers in ways that fiction simply doesn’t (always) demand. On top of that, the whole self-absorbed, narcissistic feeling that flows from writing about yourself becomes more tedious than working in a Chinese gizmo factory.

It all comes down to details: What to leave in, what to leave out? What words to use, what language to avoid? What makes sense, what doesn’t? What’s the reader going to care about—or not? How much is really true and how much is almost true and what difference might any of that make? And what kind of structure should you use, though that should be patently obvious: life is linear, so a story about a slice of it should be, too. But stories about slices of life aren’t told with such linear ease. Stuff happens here, then here, but not always in the order that the memoir needs them to happen.

These are issues that fiction doesn’t have to worry about. You have a story. It has a beginning, middle and end—a plot. It has a theme. If the story’s good, it writes itself, and if you type fast, it writes itself quickly–at least, it does for me when God’s got my back and I’m just anxious to Get The Damn Thing Done.

So memoir? I’d just as soon talk about a recent crash on my bicycle or the car wreck that broke my ankle. As my friend points out, talking about writing a memoir is just another form of memoir, and writing a memoir is about as pleasant and safe and entertaining as climbing up a circus trapeze and flying with both hands tied behind your back with no net underneath. Fun for everyone else to watch, maybe . . .

All that said, I think this piece may be the last memoir I’ll write—unless I’m in the shower one day and a story about a slice of my life knocks me over the head. Only next time, if there is a next time, I’m going to make damn sure that the character I write about has been dead for so long that making him interesting and attractive would be almost easy as simply making him up from scratch.

Writing and Racial Identity Versus the Spinrave

This is writer Nisi Shawl’s last post for Booklifenow, and I hope you’ll join me in thanking her for her great posts, this one included. Nisi is the co-author of Writing the Other, with Cynthia Ward, who will be contributing a last post later this week. I’m very grateful to both of them for such thoughtful and useful words. – Jeff

A subscriber to the Carl Brandon Society list serve asked for specific criticisms of the Spinrave recently published in Asimov’s SF Magazine. That is work. Just reading it is an effort, let alone trying to translate into something resembling sense. Hence my response below to the request for “specific criticism”:

“Okay, I would take the time to analyze the article if someone paid me for it. My rate is $50/hour.

“As a sort of free sample, I’ll say I agree essentially with (another poster to the list serve): consider the source. The source being Norman Spinrad, who not only doesn’t know anything about the subject upon which he bloviates for page upon page, but who seems to be inordinately proud of his ignorance. Norman is like this. My short response: tldr.

“I will also add that his positioning of Mike Resnick, a very good writer, as an African writer, is so insanely disorienting as to induce vomiting. And comparing him to Octavia E. Butler, who never, as far as I am aware, ever claimed to be an African writer, is an action on a par with opening a chest full of tokens and rummaging around blindfolded in it, and pulling one out at random to toss onto the hearth of rhetoric.”

The subscriber requesting explication declined my help. He thought my fee was too high—though another poster advised me to double it—and made do with the numerous other posts available on the subject.

Among them we find N.K. Jemisin, who deals with one specific point. It takes her 500 words, not counting her contributions to the post’s comment threads. Imagine if she had attempted to render the entire Spinrave comprehensible. How many short stories and/or novels of hers would we be doing without while she whacked her way through his thorny densenesses?

My offer stands.

Ante Spinrave, I expected to devote the whole of this final guest post for Booklife to analyzing a panel I recently pulled off at Radcon, an SF convention held in Eastern Washington. The panel was titled “Writing and Racial Identity.” Besides myself the participants were Eileen Gunn, Alma Alexander, and Bobbie Benton-Hull. Here’s the description I gave programming:

“What does your race have to do with what you write? Depending on your race, are certain topics forbidden to you? Obligatory? None of the above? If your race matters, how do you know what it is? By what people see when they look at you, or by what you know of your genetic background? By your cultural upbringing? By what you write?”

We had a grandly civil hour-long discussion about how our racial identities did and did not contribute to what we wrote, did and did not determine what we wrote, about how we dealt with others’ expectations of us as writers based on what they knew and/or assumed about our racial identities, how we constructed those identities for ourselves with our writing and in other ways. I loved that we spoke as equals, according each other and the subject all due and appropriate respect.

Because it is a complex subject, one that deserves careful thought.

One white panelist related a classroom encounter with Faulkner in which her instructor held up this famous white male’s avoidance of a black female character’s interior life as an ideal to emulate; to write some things she has written, the panelist has had to unlearn what she’d been taught. Another spoke movingly of the ethnic and religious distinctions that formed the core of her upbringing in Central Europe. I wondered aloud if my difficulty placing stories with white protagonists was due to editors wanting “more black for their buck;” that felt risky to me, since one of the field’s top editors sat in the audience’s front row, not five feet from my face.

Our fourth panelist had been raised as an American Indian and spent her life knowing absolutely that this was who and what she was. Then she discovered through genetic testing that her biological heritage is a mix European and Sub-Saharan African. No American Indian. She still struggled with integrating this knowledge at the time of the panel, framing her thoughts on her identity as a question, referencing a female character in the movie “Dances with Wolves.”

It was all most interesting to me. Way more interesting than the Spinrave. In my description and in my moderation I had aimed to show that race is an issue that affects writers of all backgrounds, all races, that racial identity is labile, is inflected by more than one sort of information, and in turn has complex and complicating effects on what we say, how we say it, who we say it to….We touched on each of these subjects with a sure touch, though in some instances only a brief one. There’s so much to talk about.

There are so many smart people to include in the discussion. I want to hold this panel again someday soon. Maybe at WisCon? The panel will give its participants and our audience much to think about. And they will think, and do research, and speak carefully. And it will make sense.