What’s Up and Such

Time for one of my infrequent bloggy-type posts. Work has been busy these last few months. I got a little uncharacteristically burnt out on one particular project, which got way worse when an equipment problem erased a rather large chunk of work. That sucks for me but significantly worse than the loss of income is the damage to my reputation for reliability with that particular client. Let’s leave it at that for now. What will be, will be.

Leaving that still unresolved situation aside, though, I really have done a ton of work over the last few months. In fact I’ve put in a lot of overtime (not that I’m paid an OT premium, as a freelancer) and have been turning away more and more work as time has gone on. I actually have not one but two published textbooks to my credit for the current year (not as the sole or even lead author for either one, but certainly as a major contributor). One of them was actually released this week, just after Labour Day (or if you’re American, Labor Day).

What else have I been up to? A bit of vacationing. Since coming back from Costa Rica a couple of years ago, my wife and I haven’t really had even a short vacation. We remedied that with a trip to the American Southwest at the end of July and beginning of August. \it was a chance to do some touring around, to turn off the Internet entirely, and to catch up on reading, of course, which I’ve been doing a lot of pretty much all summer.

I finally got around to reading Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW trilogy, start to finish, which I’d had on my shelf for a few years already (awesome). I’ve also been reading some Bradbury just over the last few weeks, specifically Something Wicked This Way Comes and his A Sound of Thunder collection, and I’ve come to appreciate how beautiful his use of language is, something I didn’t really pick up on when I read him as a teenager.

I’ve also been looking at some Asian-themed fiction of late, though no recent releases. It’s been years since I’ve read Shōgun and I’d been thinking I should finally read Tai-Pan this year (also by James Clavell), but of course it’s a bit of a door-stopper. So instead I started with the much shorter The Ronin (quite good), have just started dipping into the equally short Bridge of Birds, and have been thinking I might do Musashi after that before Tai Pan. Of course I’ll be jumping around a bit, not knocking these off one after the other without a break.

(And now that I think of it, there is one recent item on my radar in this “genre”: Murakami’s new novel just came out. I haven’t picked it up yet. I forgot about it until the last-minute and so wasn’t able to place a review and, thus, didn’t request an ARC.)

Obviously I’ve read several Heinlein books recently, for my coverage at Green Man Review and I do have one more to take care of soonish, though that’s a weekend read at most.

And there’s an eclectic mix of other stuff I’ve started or planned on starting over the last couple of months, including Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series (looking for that third volume in the second-hand stores still) and a few non-fiction titles. I’ve got a nice little pile on my night table, but the difficulty is when something new pops up in the mailbox and jumps the queue, as it were. Raincoast, which distributes for Tor (and many others), is one of the worst offenders for sending me big boxes of wonderful ARCs, meant to tempt me from whatever I’m doing and into a good book and, often, the ensuing, unplanned review. Of course there are worse problems to have than a surplus of delicious boks.

But, yes, I have been reading at a pretty good clip of late, and I’m pleased about that. For nearly the first half of this year, I just couldn’t find the time. But I’m in a bit of a groove lately. I suppose I’ve cut back on the television a fair bit, since, brief vacation aside, my work hours haven’t dropped a whole lot (even with the aforementioned turning down of work). Not all of my writing work is downright exciting. Occasionally it can border on (or enter right into) tedium.

Literature is the great escape, even for, or perhaps especially for a working writer.

Booked Solid for Three Months

I have a couple of book reviews coming up for the Free Press in the next several months (both are being filed very early since I received the ARCs equally nearly six months ahead of publication). I’ve also submitted a non-review draft to AE, which will likely run sooner than that. Other than that, what I’m sitting on is a really impressive “to-write” list.

If, before spring, I actually get around to writing all the things I plan on writing — scratch that, if I actually manage to pitch all the things I’m thinking of writing, and perhaps end up writing even a couple of them during that time frame, I’ll be satisfied.

The thing is, I have so much commissioned work already, trying to sell additional stuff, even were it pure gold (and only an editor can make that determination), probably shouldn’t be my main focus. I’m so focused on trying to get “caught up”, I think I’ve missed an obvious but important point. The whole point of pitching, querying, pounding the virtual pavement, as it were, is to get work. If I have enough writing work, my focus should really be on turning it in in a timely manner.

As a fairly employable teacher in a, nevertheless, fairly rough hiring environment over the last five years, I’ve gotten used to applying to new jobs on a daily basis. When I finally ended up with a fairly stable position, I had to consciously break the habit of checking the want ads, anticipating unemployment. “You’re not on a short-term contract,” I told myself. “They want to keep you. Relax.”

Likewise with my writing. I’m working on, not one, but three concurrent projects, related to content and curricular development for private companies, each one of which will likely stretch from two to five months. And of course, I do still have that pesky day job.

All of which means, this is enough. If I have any spare time at all, I’d like to fit in a few articles for Care2, since it’s been months since I’ve contributed, and I don’t want them to forget about me. But I certainly don’t need to start any new working relationships or make any new commitments at this point.

As a side-note, it’s worth noting that much of my present contract writing work is at least partially related to either my educational or science backgrounds. As a writer, you need to use every working relationship and connection, draw on every talent and experience you have to get work. Spent some time as a wedding planner? Parlay that into a gig writing for a wedding magazine. Worked at a Radio Shack? Write for a technology website.

Every new item on your résumé, every new sample in your portfolio, every new connection on LinkedIn increases your chances of getting work. It’s an exponential process — well, sigmoidal, only because of the human inconvenience of sleep.

On To-Do Lists

Lately I’ve been all about lists. My day job, the still new experience of “owning” a home (the quotes are a nod to the mortgage which owns me), my decision to take on a second job, and of course, the writing, which I’ve been pretty good about not getting complacent about — all of these make for some time management challenges.

In the last month or two, it’s gotten to be just a bit much to the point where I simply ran out of time to do all the things I planned on doing, and had to start triaging. That meant one or two committed writing assignments made the cut along with all the urgent life stuff and ongoing (but piling up) requirements of my day job. So I’ve had very little output since March.

But for even longer than that, I’ve realized I’m turning into a list person. I’ve never been the dayplanner type, before. I just remember my appointments, my plans for the day, et cetera. But lately it’s been more of a challenge, and sitting down and writing down my tasks for the day, week, or month on a Post-It note has become more of a necessity.

This isn’t a bad thing, in my view. There’s a certain satisfaction in crossing items off that list. It’s helped me manage a busy schedule while ensuring that nothing gets put off indefinitely. It’s great for the day-to-day realities of work and life.

But I also have a particular long-term list of writing tasks, goals for the year, really, which is a little more aspirational and a little less straightforward to work through. It’s not on a Post-It but it’s short enough that I can keep it in the back of my mind. Sell a piece to such-and-such. Break into market X. This is important, too, and I don’t want to get too focused on the day-to-day that I ever stop moving forward with an aspect of my life.

So it’s important, I think, to have that big yearly goals list, that bullet-pointed five-year plan, even the bucket list. I want to be crossing items off all of those, as well.

Near CompuDeath Experience

It began when I spilled soup on my laptop. A hearty, but nevertheless very liquid chicken soup. And my tiny little Inspiron Mini kept chugging along, as I mashed the keys with a damp cloth, and tried to ensure all the liquid had been drained out.

But as it began to freeze up and I went for a reboot, it . . . didn’t. It shut down on command but wouldn’t even consider starting back up. All the little indicator lights were dark and for all I knew the circuitry was entirely fried.

I left it, hoping that, with time, any invading liquid would evaporate away. The next morning, I hit a button and it started to turn on — only to release a high-pitched squeal like a burn patient coming out of a medically-induced coma. I put it back to sleep. That night, it finally booted up properly. But the keyboard didn’t work. Not one jot.

It’s surprising how much you can do with just a trackpad, as a matter of fact. I even realized I could technically write an email, simply by opening up my bookmarks, and labouriously copying and pasting individual letters with the trackpad’s clicks. But that ain’t gonna fly for a working writer. I need my QWERTY. So now begins the hunt for a replacement work computer.

State of the Freelancing Address

Lately I’ve felt a bit overstretched. In one sense this has been an issue of the last month or two, as I started a new full-time job while continuing to work nights at a previous one, all while simultaneously trying to meet writing commitments, provide some TLC to the new house and yard, and ramping up on the final chores leading up to a wedding.

On the other hand, things have really been rather consistently insane since coming back to Canada nearly eight months ago. Upon arriving, I began the work at multiple jobs which has never really stopped, hunting for the house I have been currently neglecting (though my better half has more than taken up the slack), planning that wedding which was, at the time, still several months away.

And now that the wedding is over, the house is being lived in, and jobs have been won, I still haven’t quite reached the point of being able to take a breather. There are post-wedding chores, there’s the settling-in period of the new job, which has ratched-down in intensity, but is still keeping me quite busy, and the house which remains unfinished.

I want to make it clear that I’m not complaining here. All of these things are good things. I’m thankful at how everything worked out over the last eight months. I (or we, rather) looked for a job and got it, planned a wedding and had it, hunted for a house and bought it.

To be frank, I thought we were a bit full of it when we said we were going to come from Central America and get all these major things done, in such a brief time span, just like that. I think we both rather surprised ourselves.

But you know, I’ve missed deadlines for my writing for the first time since I’ve been doing this. Only two or three times, and not more than a couple days’ delay, but I missed them all the same. And I have these pitches and these contacts and these markets I was on the verge of breaking into, and it’s all gone on hold a bit.

In Costa Rica I had a surplus of time and thus had a little trouble keeping to a schedule, at least as far as unassigned work went. But with experimentation and query after query, even at only a few hours a day, I began connecting with new markets, making more sales,to the point that we could actually live off of this. Then I came back to Canada and got a real job again.

I don’t regret this, except in the same sense that I regret not being independently wealthy and not needing a paycheque. I’ll admit frankly that I appreciate career and financial stability, and I’m happy to have that, even though careers take up a lot of one’s free time.

In a couple of months, though, when the debt’s all paid off and my work hours ease up, I think I need to pick up where I left off and start pushing myself on the writing again. I have promising story leads to follow up, some unfinished fiction (yes, I do dabble in fiction) that deserves to be finished and shopped around, and some would-be publishers I’ve yet to produce anything for.

I really do want to get back to it.

Five Junes

Not counting year zero, my graduation year from the faculty of education, wherein I was able to sub during May and June on a temporary teaching license (which assumed my final grades would all be satisfactory and my teacher status made official in a month or so), this is my fifth June as a teacher.

June the first: Came back early from a stint in China that was supposed to last the whole year. Ended my school year back in Canada as a substitute teacher the last few months of the term.

June the second: Split between two schools, but made it to the bitter end for one of them. Attended grad, mandatory for all staf, though I taught no graduating classes.

June the third: My first full year at a single school. Not a terribly good one, though. My second graduation, this one included a single student of mine actually managing to get enough credits to graduate on time, instead of two or three years later.

June the fourth: My first year where I was unemployed (or rather, subbing) more often than not. Had two terms, though, the last of which saw me at another graduation ceremony.

June the fifth: The year I went to Costa Rica and didn’t plan to teach at all. But somehow after returning I’ve found myself in an elementary school setting, where my students look forward to “graduating” and moving on to middle school. I just can’t get June off.

Am I looking forward to June 30 this year, as always? Evey moreso, in fact, as its a Saturday, which means I’ll be done June 29. Even after taking most of the year off, I’m sufficiently exhausted by this job that a two-month nap sounds appealing.

And my return to certain writing projects has already been too much delayed.

Dreaming of Astronauts and Librarians

On more than one occasion I’ve thought about being a librarian. I’ve read that it’s a terrible field to get into these days; an overabundance of people with degrees in library science (consider a master’s, though the quality of programs, and therefore graduates, is said to be very spotty at the moment) competing for a small number of positions. A graduate program in library or information science would not be a good investment right now.

Of course I have a degree in education already, so I could become a school librarian tomorrow — if someone were to hire me. I trained primarily as a science teacher, but with a few exceptions, any registered teacher can theoretically be hired for any teaching position, even if it doesn’t typically happen in practice.

This is somewhat of an idle thought, and likely will never come to pass. I’m daydreaming. But why? Who daydreams about the exciting world of librarianship?

Frankly, I’m not sure if it’s a question of my love of books or a certain obsession with organization of knowledge. My favourite topic in high school biology was taxonomy, studying and relating different species, phyla, and other taxa. Similarly, I’ve made a point of both ordering and filling in my knowledge of literature, and I suppose I want some application for that knowledge. What better way than to be the living card catalogue for some eager students? (A dated reference; perhaps a living search engine would be more relevant?)

For example, I’ve lately been working my way through some of the major fantasy canon. The bedrock stuff that has influenced basically everything that is being written in the field today. That means not only J.R.R. Tolkien, but C.S. Lewis, T.H. White, et al.

But these twentieth-century writers have their own antecedents in previous centuries. Tolkien’s influences date to Chaucer’s day — works like Orpheus and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. White, with The Once and Future King, rewrote Le Mort de Arthur, also from the Early Middle Ages. C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, certainly must have thought about Milton, and perhaps Dante during his writing, if we’re limiting ourselves only to literary inspirations.

Of course none of this can be understood without a solid grounding in the classics of Homer, Virgil, and others in turn. And it can’t be only me who collects such information and wants to immediately organize a display of fantasy through the ages, to piggy-back on the buzz of the new Hobbit movie, for example.

It can’t be only me, for that matter, who wants to divy up a science fiction section into cyberpunk, steampunk, alternate history, slipstream, new wave, and so forth. Categories were made to be sub-categorized. Historical trends were made to be explicated to interested library patrons, celebrated via promotions and posters and whatnot.

But it’s just an idle dream. Perhaps I will get a chance to run my own library at some point, even for a year or two. But as likely, not. At least I do have some other application for my carefully organized reading: as a literary critic who knows what he’s talking about. That’s not a bad job either, and it’s not even full-time work.

Slow Down

Well, only 10 days left in Costa Rica. Next week will include a fair bit of touring around and a low writing output. But I also have some stuff I’m working on the next few days that has had the effect of lowering my energy for blogging. It would be a lie to say I don’t have time. But I’m putting in as much time as I feel like putting in.

This weekend will involve reworking an essay, and some fiction. Fiction doesn’t pay, usually. But I feel a little inspired so I’m going to take some time to work on it. That’s just how it is.

I also need to keep up with my reading. I’m down to three review books, and expect to get through two of them before we leave. And once back in Canada, I’ll be back to working a day job as quickly as possible, so we’ll have to see what the new writing schedule is.

Anyway, next two weeks will be slow for blogging. Just FYI.

Almost a Hero

Did I ever tell you about the time I almost saved a baby in a carriage from rolling into rush-hour traffic? I was walking down the street when I noticed a father with a baby carriage less than a block away. The dad was distracted by something and was turned away from the street and the carriage. Slowly but surely the carriage began to roll towards the street.

I started running flat-out, but at that distance it was probably going to take me at least 20 or 30 seconds to get there. Before I’d covered half the distance the dad turned around, noticed his baby rolling away and quickly closed the distance and grabbed it. It had rolled onto the street but was still in the curbside lane where cars parked, when he managed to secure it.

At this point I realized I could have just shouted out to him some kind of warning, rather than trying to get there myself. After all, sound does move faster than a person on foot, even one who used to be a track star in high school. (Also, I was never a track star in high school.)

It’s not even necessarily true that there wasn’t time to think. I was running for five or 10 seconds when he noticed his rolling baby and moved to save it. That’s enough time to sit and think about the wisest response to the crisis.

But I guess the point is that I wasn’t sitting and thinking. My first instinct was to run for it, and I put all my energy and focus into continuing to run. Only when the baby was safe did my brain, now out of crisis mode, come up with the strategy of shouting a warning.

That’s the story of the time I was almost a hero. Feel free to almost congratulate me.