Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Clear the Mechanism

Nothing like a long, holiday weekend hanging out with family and friends, eating way too much and talking about things like “what I’m doing these days” and “oh, the next book… ”

As you well know, there are a lot of irons in the fire these days. Add to that a lot of ideas for future projects. I am a bit overwhelmed. Keep in mind, when I got started, I had just one idea, which I focused upon for 18 months. And then I went on to the next 18 month project. And the next one. And the next one. But during the last few years, it seems like there is a new idea or a new opportunity every 6 months so projects just stack up on the back-burner. Add to that all the painting in an ars gratia artis fashion and things are even more jumping than ever before.

Which leaves me wondering if I’m actually on to something or if I’m just over-loaded? I honestly cannot tell. Which is why I’m thinking April will be a month to clear the mechanism.

If you waste time reading books about corporate motivators who bounce from organization to organization selling the snake oil of efficiency and such mumbo jumbo, and I do waste time reading such books because I read a lot and dislike sleeping so I grab whatever is around, then you’ll know that the concept of an “off season” is part and parcel to being a successful whatever. The idea is simple: if you bring your A Game every day during the season, then you need to chill out when you are in your off season so you can heal, regroup or take stock of your recent accomplishments. Nobody can bring it 24/7 365. Then, when the next season starts, you are rested, prepared and hungry to compete. Or something like that. Well, I haven’t had an off season in eleven years.

Now, of course, I’m not about to just stop doing things. That would be like saying I’m not going to breathe for the next month. Such a thing would be totally ludicrous. But I’ve been thinking about taking a little bit of time to see just what I have to do, what needs to be completed, what should be abandoned, etc. In theory, I would tidy up my life a tad and return to work better focused. I understand there is no way things will go that smoothly, but if I can get close, I would be satisfied.

The trick is figuring out how to initiate an off season. I think I just say, I’m taking a month off to get the old, creative life in order. And during that month I’ll still keep posting paintings and blogging, but I’ll remove all of the self-generated pressure to get an inhumanly large amount of work done and out the door. I understand that I do not work in emergency medicine, no one will die if I don’t wrap up that collection of short stories by tomorrow morning. When May rolls around, I’ll show off my tidy studio and all the stuff I experimented with or completed in my off season. Trim and limber, mentally and spiritually fit, I’ll hit the ground running for the summer.

Or something will happen and this carefully crafted plan will crumble to dust. If so, I’ll roll with the punches. Ain’t no biggie.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Malthus, You Sexy Devil…

Let’s see if I can get this post in under the wire. Honestly, when I woke up and realized it was Tuesday, I did think about doing my blog post. But as the day wore on, what with the laundry and horseshit news, the painting and working, I quite forgot to write it.

But now here I am, eating small pretzels and trying to think of clever things to say.

Last week was the NYC Teen Author Festival. I was part of the annual All City Read, during which teams of authors descend on schools in the five boroughs to talk about writing, do a little reading and discuss the horrible, horrible industry that is publishing. Then I got to read a little piece as part of the authors’ symposium. It was there that I learned I’m not terribly clever.

I have this false memory that I was quite clever when I was younger, but the reality is that I was just mean. You know, in that way teens are when they aren’t truly clever. I was very good at using meanness to make it seem like I was funny and clever, mostly by building myself up on the shortcomings of others. At some point, I wised up and stopped trying to be clever, which meant I was no longer cruel. It also meant that I stopped being gregarious, loud and overly-dramatic. Of course, when you are asked to read in front of a bunch of YA authors and foolishly try to rekindle your clever self, it pays to be gregarious, loud and overly-dramatic.

Now, the bright side of not being the awful person I used to be is that I’m actually quite sincere. Which is why I like YA literature, because sincerity is still celebrated in the genre. But whatever. I never knew that, way back when I wanted to be the center of attention. I didn’t know that when I wanted to be ignored. It’s a realization that took time to develop and I rather think it was through all this writing and nonsense that came with trying to be a commercially successful author which allowed me to become a decent human being. But not a clever one.

So, for my reading, I sort of tried to split the difference. Last year, I did my thing, the sincere thing, and wrote something kind of meaningful. And got nothing but crickets when I was done speaking followed by polite applause. Then I watched as the clever, good humor folks killed the room. For this year, I thought I could mix is a little clever with the sincerity, a fifty-fifty balance. The problem is that all the clever people came out with their clever guns blazing, so my attempt to do a mix was lost in the shuffle. What have a learned? To freaking be myself. Please remind me, should I be asked to speak next year, to dig deep and go for the dark stuff because it’s what I do. It may yield crickets and polite applause, but it won’t get lost in the flood of clever bits.

Meanwhile, everything moves forward. Still proofing. Still layout things and sketching things. Still doing daily paintings, though I will note that I’ve bumped back up to 8x10-ish size paper. As nice as it is to work 5x7, it’s just too limiting. There’s a point at which I can’t make brushstrokes work on that scale. And so I can’t play compositional games. And since composition is my strong suit, it hampers my creativity. There’s no point in doing anything to hamper my creativity. That’s just silly.

Anyway, enjoy the holiday.

Oh, as for Malthus, he’s been on my mind a lot recently. I sort of have this sickening feeling that he may have figured it all out. Very strange. Very strange indeed.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Talk About the Passion

I was going to call this post “The Ides of March” and go on a lengthy rant about being a dark and angry soul… but then I mellowed out. I mean, yes, I’m still a dark and angry soul, however, my veneer of optimistic blah blitty blah for the future remains safely intact. Somehow.

Anyway, between spending time looking at the professional side of my author career and recent time spent in the hallowed halls of an grown up workplace (please keep in mind my time there is drawing to a close and I will soon return to my genial self), I’ve come to the realization that I need to change my thinking a tad.

To speak somewhat candidly, it’s rather hard for me to talk about writing and illustrating books in terms of “work” anymore. By that I mean doing something in exchange for serious cash pie. Otherwise known as the reason most normal people go to work. My first five years in the book world were decent and things improved nicely, which sort of convinced me that would always be the case. The last five years, however, have convinced me that trend was an illusion. And as you well know, I’ve jumped through every hoop to get back on track but all for naught.

Needless to say, I’ve been trying to figure out how I should proceed. Mostly, it comes down to small press things and independent projects. Not that I have an issue with such things, I don’t, in fact, I rather like them; but it does requires a new way of thinking. Because those kinds of projects are more about making very cool things just because I can and less about making very cool things and “working”.

So, as I move forward, everything I do is clearly not about the Benjamins. However, one thing that will not change: bringing the awesome to making cool things.

In order to get my head around this oh so subtle yet extremely significant change in thinking, I need to think about “Work” as whatever I do that pays the bills and “work” as the cool stuff I do because I’m passionate about my creative endeavors. And that’s really the key to getting things done. I’m over the whole worrying about whether the idea I want to do fits into someone else’s agenda. Odds are it does not. Rather than lose months or years attempting to shoehorn that idea into their world, I’ll just make it happen in mine.

You may ask how is this different than what I’ve been doing? Well, not much. But instead of keeping a toe in the big pool, hoping to be invited in for a dip, I’m going to wreck shop in the small pool and see if that’s more fun. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t.

So on with my cool projects. My second Box Book, a very large, YA novel is still being proofed. When that is ready to go, I’ll release it to as much fanfare as I can manage. I have a second YA novel in the proofing stage, so the same stuff will happen with that. And I’ve begun the layout and design for a small, picture book project. Of course, I’d love to do a big, glossy picture book… but since that is nowhere near happening at any point in the future, I need to do some kickass, small picture books in order to stay sane. And you get to benefit from it. Win win in my book.

And so… time to fire up the passion. Good luck with yours.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Turns Out, at My Core, I’m a Crazy Artist

Yeah, so it’s Tuesday night and I’m just now getting to work on my post. I swear, I had it all planned. I was going to set aside a sliver of Sunday and write something nice and flowing and full of optimistic propaganda. But that didn’t happen. My delightful nephew, Carter, spent the weekend with us. So instead of thinking of new ways to say the same old stuff, ‘cause really how many times can I say, “I sat down and got to work”?, we took on the city and all it had to offer.

I’m sure I would have been in a far more constructive mood had the damned Red Bulls not choked in their season opener against Toronto. If I’m going to sit outside, in the dead of winter, and watch a bunch of dudes kick a ball around, I expect a victory. Come on, do Jersey proud.

And then came the sleeping.

My week days continue to be the property of my temp gig. I’ve done a good job at getting my daily paintings done, in fact I’m doing more paintings now than I have since I sent away the Civil War book proposal. However, my writing is suffering. I’m not sure I can completely blame that on working in the real world. I’d like to. Then I could get all Office Space, zen out and not really care about all the nonsense that doesn’t matter. But the truth is, I think my creative life is seriously changing and I can’t quite figure out where the writing fits.

I think of this like trying to put together Ikea furniture. I have the pieces, I have an idea of what I’m supposed to be building. But the directions aren’t all that helpful and I’m left making intuitive leaps from one illustration to another. Unfortunately, unlike using Ikea directions, a skill at which I’m actually pretty good, my intuitive leaps for my real life don’t have cute illustrations of cartoon guys in hardhats telling me what to do and all my hexagonal wrenches are too small to be of any use.

It seems like my time in the wilderness will continue for a bit. I have two or so weeks of “working” before life goes back to me spending vast quantities of time working on my art and my stories. I’m doing my best to use this time to declutter the studio and cut the crap from my thinking.

The decluttering is slow going, mostly because I’m not 100% sure of what I’ll need once I get back to being awesome fulltime. In my dreams, I have a perfectly organized, nearly empty, studio space always prepared to do cool stuff. Instead, I have a desk in a room full of junk and pile upon pile of art supplies that I probably do not need.

Fortunately, the crap cutting inside my head is going rather well. The nice thing about only having time to do one project per day, is that it eliminates a lot of “possible” projects. For instance, there’s no way I could do anything with ink these days. Not if I wanted to sleep. Not even close. I don’t sleep, I don’t like sleep… but I’m saying, I don’t want to work somewhere and then come home and work for the remaining hours of the day as well. That would make me miserable. But I can work and come home and paint and produce a complete piece worth taking in. Things like that seem to be paying off. And since I have a few more weeks of this schedule, I have time to establish new, good habit and kick some of my old, less useful habits to the curb.

And that’s about all I have at the moment. But there’s change in the wind. Something has to give if I’m to remain productive and happy. Just what that means… I have no idea. But it’s going to happen and happen soon.