Friday, January 20, 2017

Coping With Writer Stress: For The Aspiring Writer (Part 2)

Welcome back to our discussion on the impact of writer stress and how, hopefully, you can manage it. Today I'll be addressing specific thing pertaining to Aspiring Writers (those who aren't professionally published yet, but are working towards it in one way or another).

Before we get to that, I want to give you a bit more information on what chronic stress does to your body and mind. While small episodes of stress can be handled by the body just fine—this is what stress hormones were designed for—prolonged exposure to "stress hormones" has a negative impact on your body.

There are three stress hormones: Adrenaline, Norepinephrine, and Cortisol. Adrenaline is that "flight or fight" hormone that is your first line of defense in a dangerous situation. It's the hormone that gets released when you're crossing a street and a car almost hits you but you jump out of the way in time. Norepinephrine is basically that backup to adrenaline, with similar function should adrenal glands not do their job. In small spurts these hormones are great—they heighten your awareness and reflexes and focus so that you can survive a situation. In the long term? They fray your nerves because you're in a constant state of overdrive. This is where insomnia and anxiety/depression can come in.

And then there's the last stress hormone: Cortisol. You have probably heard of this one. It acts slower than the other two, but it released within minutes instead of fractions of seconds. Ideal amounts of cortisol help you maintain blood pressure and fluid balance and other non-immediate body functions in a stressful situation. But prolonged release, thus too much Cortisol, can cause a whole slew of trouble—suppressed immune system, high blood pressure and sugar (both of which contribute to a risk of obesity and diabetes), decreased libido, and even acne can be increased by excess cortisol.

It's like your body is stuck at top speed. Imagine if you always drove your car with the petal to the metal. And then you'd have to break hard at every stop. That stress on your car would run it into the ground. That's sorta how chronic stress runs your body into the ground.

For writers, this starts the moment we decide we want to publish.

If that stress goes unmanaged, it will continue until our bodies or minds or both give out and force us to slow down.

Sources Of Stress For Aspiring Writers:
So let's talk about where Aspiring Writers may find extra stress being added to their lives. Some of these sources are different from Debuts or Veterans, but that doesn't mean they aren't significant and hard to face. *Activate List Mode*
• Learning how to write a novel. It's hard! It never stops being hard, but those first finished novels are a huge, stressful, wonderful deal. 
• Learning how to edit a novel. This might be more stressful than writing, because as a newer author you may not know the rules. You have to learn the rules. 
• Learning how to take criticism and employ it in your work. You've tried so hard. You are proud of what you've done but also a bit terrified because deep down inside you know it's not good. Criticism hurts. Trying to accept it can be a struggle. It's stressful to admit that your work is flawed and you might not even know how to fix it.
• Queries. Everything about that process is stressful. The end.
• Rejections. While there's rejection at every phase of publishing, it's new and especially stressful for the aspiring writer. And you can get pummeled with it. I once got 10 agent rejections in a day. Talk about a mental beating. 
• Figuring out Indie Publishing. While Traditional Publishing is stressful, that doesn't make Indie any less. If you've chosen that route, your first time is not just trying to figure out the writing but the printing and editing and marketing and taxes and it's A LOT. And you don't have any idea if it'll pay off or not. Maybe you're not getting agent rejections, but you're bracing yourself to be rejected by readers and even by those who still look down on indies.
• Establishing a writing schedule. It can be hard to find time and rhythm at first, especially with a family, job, friends, etc. 
• Facing new social situations. Maybe you're going to your first conferences. First book signings. First writing classes. While exciting, it can also be stressful for writers who tend to skew introvert. 
• Jealousy and wanting and waiting. You've made writing friends you love! ...but then one gets an agent way before you and another sells in days while you're being rejected left and right. When will it be your turn? With it ever be? That prolonged wait of torture is the very definition of chronic stress.
• Social media. You might be new to it. You might be using it as a writer more than before and it feels weird. Either way, you'll see All The Things and why don't you have that? And why is that thing so awful and sad? And there's this huge fight in the writing community. And omg do I need to weigh in on all this? 

Results Of All These New Stressors:
Whew, writing all that down made me stressed! The most difficult part of Aspiring Writer stress is this: You can't really get rid of most of these stressors. If you want to be published, you MUST improve your writing and take criticism and finish novels and query/indie and face rejection and get involved in the community. That's part of being a writer! So it's like you're trying to stuff all this into your life, which I imagine is already pretty busy. That is a recipe for stress.

Now, I need to be clear here, that I'm not saying writing is a horrible thing. Some of this you might LOVE. Not all of these things are stressors to everyone. Some will eat up criticism but struggle in the writing of a first draft. Some will stress over the query where others will find it easy. These are all possible stressors, and all these new tasks combined add up to additional tasks and thus additional stress in your life. You can love being a writer and still be stressed by it.

Got it? Okay. Good.

So if you're adding all this new stuff that comes with being a writer, the next logical step is this: Other stuff in your life might start taking a back seat. It's a natural result because humans can only do so much (despite what many a woman has been told, you cannot actually do it all and not suffer the consequences).

Here's where I caution you that this can be dangerous if you're not aware of what you're doing.


It's one thing to stop watching so much TV because now you're writing. It's another thing to stop paying attention to your spouse or children because you're writing. Ignoring cleaning the house might not be so bad here and there, but ignoring that exercise routine you once had could actually contribute to even more stress. Skipping dinner in favor of fast food here and there doesn't hurt, but if it's instant food everyday because you're so busy writing...that will change your health. Skipping a date with a friend once might be okay, but ignoring your friends for weeks on end because you've fallen into the wonder of the writing community will hurt people in your life.

Take a pause. Assess your priorities. Evaluate how your actions are impacting your life.

Writing (or anything really) shouldn't be hurting the rest of your life. Publishing is great, but I promise you it is not worth losing friendships over. It's not worth losing your family over. And it's most definitely not worth losing your health over.

Some Aspiring Writers run the risk of rushing. Wanting publishing so much they put the rest of their lives on hold. They ignore all the stress warning signs and brute force through the pain. They end up paying the piper later if they're not careful.

Reducing Aspiring Writer Stress:
So what do you do to stop this dangerous spiral? Well, a lot of that depends on what you're specifically struggling with. If social media is causing you tons of stress, that one is relatively easy to turn off and reduce that stress. But if it's drafting that is killer for you? You will need a fully different coping plan, such as timed writing sessions or alpha readers to cheer you on or working on your "it's okay to write crap" chant.

We can talk about specifics in the comments if you'd like. Here are some general question to assess in this phase:

What in your life can go without dire consequences? Maybe it's your afternoon nap. Maybe it's that TV show you can watch on weekends instead. Maybe it has to be that part time job or hitting every PTA meeting or even skipping picking up the living room. I don't know what yours are, but something has to go. Me? I stopped quilting. Yeah, I quilted a lot before I wrote books. But I was poor and it was expensive so writing came first. I miss sewing, but I could not do both.

What might you need to keep in your life to reduce stress? I highly suggest not giving up that exercise routine or your healthier eating habits. If you go for a walk each day, keep doing that! Studies have shown that there is a link between physical activity and creativity. If you love that nightly Kdrama, for the love, watch an episode or two! (Maybe not five and sleep deprive yourself oil 3AM.) For me, I need to do yoga consistently. Sometimes I stop and I become a huge ball of stress though nothing else in my life has changed.

Are you feeling rushed to publish? Rushing, feeling like you're running out of time, feeling like if you don't publish NOW you NEVER will...all of this is a huge stressor. There is no rush. The rush is in your head and it will suck the joy out of writing so fast. Try to figure out why you're rushing it. Try to find a way to slow down.

How is The Long Wait impacting your life? For me, that was the silent killer of my mentality. The extra stress of hoping for that email everyday wore down my heart and body until I had a mental breakdown. But if I had been wiser I would have used that time more positively. I obsessed over the wait, made it my whole life. Everything else in my life? I acted like it all sucked and didn't matter because I couldn't get published. Tip: DO NOT DO THAT. Tip: Find positive things to do that aren't writing to do during these long waits. I bake, draw, play video games, yoga, garden, etc. Having a full list of things that bring you joy—combined with an acceptance that you can't control when publication will happen—eases that waiting stress a lot.

Are You Ignoring Warning Signs? Anger. Despair. Outbursts or wallowing. These are signs of stress—they're "fight or flight" reactions triggered by chronic stress. I was so angry when I was trying to get published...I just didn't realize how bad it was until I saw fear in my kids' eyes. I was sad and constantly wallowing in my failure and eating my feelings and having epic pity parties. Sleepless nights. Lack of motivation for things you previously enjoyed. No desire to connect with friends or family or spouse. That is not actually normal. You are experiencing the effects of prolonged stress. You need to take a step back and reevaluate how you can reduce stress.

There Is Light At The End Of The Tunnel. Sorta.
Eventually, you will figure out how to be a writer and also be a person who isn't a writer. It takes time to find the balance. It also takes time to learn how to adapt when things go off kilter again. But you will learn, and you will get used to writing and publishing being part of your life. The rejections will start to hurt less. Your writing will improve and you will grow accustomed to criticism. The stressors will lessen, though they won't entirely go away. And new ones will come.

It's essential that you find your ways to cope with stress in this phase, because, I'm afraid, it only get more stressful as you sell a book and become published. If you haven't established stress management now, your risks for health complications only increases. So why not take it seriously now? I wish I had. It would have made the last five years a lot easier if I had made stress management a priority.

Questions? Need help with stress? Feel free to ask in comments or email me if it's personal. I'm happy to listen and help where I can.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Coping With Writer Stress: The Reality (Part 1)

Writing is a stressful job. If you haven't felt that stress yet...well, I'm gonna guess you're still in the early, honeymoon phases of being a writer. Pursuing publishing, becoming a debut, and continuing to publish are all hugely stressful things on their own—combine them with high competition, few traditional publishing spots, and a populace who, in general, prefers video to reading and you have a veritable blood bath for your hopes and dreams.

Even success brings a certain amount of stress: To stay successful. To meet your publishers ever-high expectations. To live up to readers' vision of what you should be and should write. To navigate social media in ever-growing hostile territory.

Stress. It's a beast. Do you know what stress can do to you?

This is a list from the MayoClinic:

Common effects of stress on your body

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

Maybe these don't seem like a big deal to you, but take a moment to imagine the impact not over one day or one month but for years. Writing is going to be your career, your life. Imagine facing these everyday for the foreseeable future. Take a moment to think about what this might do to your overall health and happiness. And not just your health, but the health of your relationships as well. Prolonged stress can change you, and as a result is can hurt your spouse, your family, your friends if you aren't careful. 

Spoiler: Stress wears you down. Some people deal with it better than others, but we all deal with it. Make no mistake. You are not immune, and it is unwise to pretend you are.

Writer stress has taken a huge toll on my own life. I can check off almost all those things on that list, which have led to even more health issues. That much stress has killed my immune system and my anxiety breakdown of 2010 was directly related to publishing. I've been medicated for anxiety and depression since then. The MayoClinic says stress can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Well, guess what? I'm 33 and I was diagnosed with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes this last November, after a year filled with sickness and hospital visits, and a year previous laden with a deep depression. 

This is what a decade of writing and poor stress management can do.

I don't think any of this is coincidence. The stress of my writing life brought out, perhaps accelerated, health issues I was already at risk for. And because of this, I've now become a huge advocate for the importance of managing your health as a writer, both mentally and physically. I can tell you from personal experience that creativity struggles when you're sick. Productivity is crippled entirely when you are suffering from the effects of stress and other health issues. And if you push yourself regardless? Well, you ARE going to pay for it. Somehow, in some way, your body will push back. You really don't want it to push back, because it will show no mercy.

So how does one manage writer stress? I won't pretend I have all the answers, but I have found some I want to share. Because this is important, and I don't want any of you to end up like me. I want writers to be happy and healthy as they create. It is possible. There are general "de-stresser" principles out there, sure, but I want to also talk about writer-specific tactics. Stay tuned over the next few days to finish this four-part series.

To come:
Coping With Writer Stress: For The Aspiring Writer
Coping With Writer Stress: For The Debut Author
Coping With Writer Stress: For The Veteran

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

When You Get Good Enough And Yet...

Learning to write is a long process, one that is challenging and frustrating and rewarding in many ways. There's always something to improve, always more to do, and that's both the fun and torture of it all.

I remember when I was just starting out. I had a vague sense I wasn't good enough to be published. And I was right, though I didn't necessarily know how to improve. For the most part, a new writer will start out not being good enough to be published. It's okay! You're at the beginning.

I didn't realize at the time how nice the concept of "sucking at writing" was. That sounds weird, but let me explain. Back when I was struggling to get to a level of publishable writing, I could always go back to that very conclusion: My writing isn't good enough yet. Better keep learning and practicing and growing.

That's actually a really cool place to be. Where there is room still to grow. Where you can go back to the drawing board and tell yourself that if you just try harder and learn more and get better at writing, THEN you will get published. As you hear at just about every conference out there, "If you just keep going, eventually it'll happen." Right? Right.

But then something weird happens.

You actually REACH the writing level that is considered publishable.

Not that you still don't have room for improvement. Not that you have mastered all the writing and can rest on your laurels. That's not what I'm saying here—I'm only saying that, yes, there is a "level" where your writing becomes good enough. The actual words and sentences and plot and characters all make sense and work together. You've become a decent self-editor who can see the flaws in your work. You can resolve those mistake in revision and make a damn good book. You have crossed the threshold, so to speak.

At this point, some people get published. Some. People.

Conferences and inspirational posts and those who constantly say "Never! Give! Up!" will perhaps imply that ALL people who reach publishable writing level will get published. They may even imply that those same threshold-reaching authors will STAY published. I wish I could tell you that was true, but I think we all know deep down that it isn't. There just aren't enough spots.

So what do you do when you're the author who is "good enough" and yet you can't seem to get published or stay published?

Honestly, I don't actually know.

But it's hella frustrating, isn't it? I mean, it is for me. It's the number one thing that crushes my love of writing and stories and publishing and all of it. Because I'm sitting here nine books in (4 traditionally published [2 U.K. only] and 5 indie), and I still can't seem to convince anyone in the U.S. that I'm worth buying a story from. It's been five years since my only deal in America for my original work. It looks like it'll go on indefinitely at this point. It's not as if I haven't been trying. I have been on submission to editors all this time. I have been "writing the next book." And the next and the next and the next. I'm pushing closer to 30 novels written now, and still nothing. It took me 8 years to get published that first time, maybe I got three more to make it another eight. Who knows?

It would be so much easier if I could just say to myself "I'm not good enough yet. I'll just keep learning and improving." But...well, I don't want to sound cocky but I AM GOOD ENOUGH. Not that I'm perfect by any means, but I have been published and I have worked to improve with every novel. I do truly believe what I'm writing now is my best stuff...

...And yet...and feels like none of that matters. For whatever reason, my stories aren't on market or not the editor's taste or "good but not quite alluring enough to offer." And that makes me want to pull my hair out and give up so much of the time. The stubborn teen in me is all "Well if you hate me then I HATE YOU TOO." And I want to stop writing forever and flip the bird to publishing and move on with my life.

But I can't. Cuz the stories don't go away no matter how much I want them to.

And I know I'm good enough, which surprisingly hurts more than when I knew I sucked. Because it reveals the truth of the matter—that sometimes being good enough doesn't mean a thing. There are so many authors who are good enough and in the same shitty place that I'm in.

At this point it feels like I'm beating my head against a wall that refuses to pay attention to all the damn effort I've put into this. No one ever tells you that, yes, while all your hard work may be worth it and you may get and stay published, the opposite is also true: Your hard work could be ignored indefinitely. No one wants to deal with that reality. I'm still trying to decide if it means something when it gets you "nowhere." People here will probably tell me it does, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like it most of the time.

I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this, except to say that if you are in this boat I FEEL YOU SO MUCH. You aren't the only one. Whether you are published or not, there are so many authors around you who are in this boat of being "close but not close enough." And it's just the worst. I wish there were more spots, for me and for you.

I don't have much advice, but the only thing that has helped me stay remotely sane is just doing whatever the hell I want to at this point. If I want to write, I do. If I don't, I don't. Not like I have deadlines to meet. If I want to spend weeks doing house projects or getting fit or bingeing on video games, I just do it. And I don't feel guilty about it anymore. Because at this point, I know it's not me who has the problem. And you don't have a problem either. This is just the shit side of the business people don't like to talk about, and we get to be on it. May as well find happiness in other stuff while we're here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Book I *Could* Have Written But Didn't

Way back in 2008, I was an aspiring writer with quick fingers, recklessly typing out story after story after story. Six books, in fact, came out of me in 2008. From zombies to dragons to elves and even a girl who could talk to plants...yeah.

But, for all my recklessness, there was one book I decided not to write.

It was about a girl living on the Blackfoot Reservation. There was gonna be spirit animals and shamans and cliches galore. I was excited about it! As with all my other stories, I began to do some research into the region and culture and people and history. And the more I read, the more I got...a weird feeling. Basically, it said:

I don't know if I'm the right person to tell this story.

My feelings weren't that articulated at the time. I can boil that feeling down to this one sentence after a good eight years of thinking about why this particular story pushed back at me.

You see, I've kinda naturally included diversity in my writing since the beginning. I've been thinking about it before it was something people talked about every day online. I've been trying—and often times failing—to sell books with diverse MCs. My very first sub to editors, in fact, was a diverse MC...and I learned very quickly the realities of publishing in that respect.

So why this story? Why this Native American girl? What was it that made me step back?

Most importantly, I felt out of my depth. And I think this is key—the more I researched...the LESS confident I got. Usually as a writer, researching and learning and trying to embody that character becomes easier. This time? NOPE. It got harder, more confusing. I realized a lot of my ideas wouldn't work. And not in a "rework" sense but in a straight up "your ideas were wrong from the beginning sense."

But people like to say "challenge yourself." And "if you're afraid of a story it's the one you should tell." Which, I suppose, is true in some sense but can be taken way too far in another sense.

Finally, I decided I needed to get an answer from someone who knew much better than I. Because I happened to work at the Multicultural Office at my university (I'm a white-passing Maori, so I ended up being able to get this job that changed my life and perspective in so many ways), I happened to have a diverse group of friends and acquaintances though I live in an extremely white state.

So I emailed one of my Native friends. She is Navajo, grew up in that world. She isn't a writer or anything, but she is the girl I pictured as I was planning this story though she wasn't Blackfoot. I love and respect her, and so of course my white-passing self burdened her with speaking for all the Native Tribes and Nations.

But you know what? I'm glad I asked.

Because the email she sent back basically went like this, "I mean, I guess you're allowed to write whatever you want, but your story sounds cliche and I think Natives would be offended by it. Other people write dumb stuff about us all the time, and it's frustrating, and mostly I just wish that my own people could publish their own writing about their own culture and lives."

There was a little knee-jerk reaction in me that said "Aw, but I wanna write this because I love it. Pout pout pout. Wah wah wah. Freedom of speech and stuff."

But then there was a bigger reaction, one I'm eternally glad I listened to: "You know what? She's right. I have felt out of my depth on this from the beginning, and now she's telling me I AM. I should listen to her. I have more stories to tell—this one deserves to be told by someone who won't mess it up as much as I will."

And so I didn't write it. I have no regrets. In fact, I'm proud of myself.

That isn't to say I stopped writing diversely. I've written quite a variety of diverse characters in my small repertoire (many of which aren't published). That also isn't to say I haven't messed up a few things even in the stories I did choose to pursue and publish. I have! I've grown and learned by writing diversely, and yeah of course there are things I would have done differently. But the key in the stories I DID write: Research made me more confident, helped me resolve my own ignorance, and pushed me forward to make it better, unlike this story where it made me less confident I could do it justice.

There's been a lot of talk about who "should" be writing which stories. And there will always be that natural push back of "But I can write whatever I want it's fiction and not real!"

I'm not gonna say you're wrong if you think that, but I will ask you to pause a moment and think a bit deeper. Because I do wonder: Can we not do better than that?

The call for better representation isn't about hitting baseline decency. It's about raising the bar. It's about providing more beautiful voices from more beautiful human experiences. It's about asking the hard questions, and even more, doing the hard things that will give everyone a chance to not only see themselves in books, but to BE the one writing them.

This story of mine happened in 2008. Eight whole years ago. I wish I could say to my sweet, amazing Navajo friend that publishing hasn't continued to fail her people and other Native Americans but it has. I still hope for that to change—and I know now that my voice isn't the one to be heard but HERS and that is the beginning of it all.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Magic Of Writing With No Expectations

I've written under many circumstances. When I was aspiring to be published traditionally, I would write in hopes that I could fit a certain market and that shaped how I wrote books. When I finally sold I wrote in hopes that I could STAY in said market. When I realized I wouldn't ever really fit...I began rebelliously writing whatever the hell I wanted. Sometimes people would sell books like that, I was told. It hasn't happened to me yet. I'm still "outside" as much as ever.

And long ago, I used to write with truly zero expectations on me, imposed by myself or others. This, I think, is a magical thing. Truly magical. If you write you know what I'm talking about.

When I was a teen, I would go down to my quiet computer room in the basement. My dad had gifted me the old Apple MacIntosh. I had it ALL to myself! It didn't have much on it, but it did have a word processor and that's all I needed. Turning on my boom box, I would sit down there and melt into the worlds in my head. I would spend hours down there, dreaming up stories and feeling like everything I came up with was amazing. It was the best.

It didn't last.

A little criticism fueled my self-doubt and soon I stopped writing stories. The MacIntosh died. I lost everything I hadn't printed—which is a bit of a relief since there was A LOT of bad poetry on there.

I didn't feel that magic again for about five years. I finished high school and went to college, having tucked my dream of authorhood deep down where I hoped it wouldn't bother me. But, despite my fears and determination to have a rational career, it came back. And I started writing, and the magic was waiting there for me as I let myself explore and be imaginative.

For two years I played, not daring to attempt or think of publication. Mostly I was afraid of failure, but I think part of me also knew that things would change when I decided to try for traditional publication. Things wouldn't be quite the same.

I was right. It's hard to hold on to that magic once you make the decision to publish. Some writers are better at it than others. But slowly, it began to slip away from me. With each attempt to publish and then STAY published...that magic, that creativity, that all began to slip away.

I lost it a few times. Without that magic, I wanted to give up. Writing wasn't worth it without that joy. Every now and then, as I tired to make new stories I would feel that fleeting spec of magic still in me, but by then I was too afraid to let more in. Because magic can be painful, too. You can love things so much that the impending disappointment aches before it has even happened. And it does happen.

Perhaps I'm rambling, but I suppose I want to say: Hold on to the magic of writing.

It's not silly. It's not superfluous. It's essential.

Right now, I happen to be in an interesting new and yet familiar place—I have zero expectations on me as a writer. It's liberating and strange. It feels like both a failure and a mercy. Because I am finding magic again. And I am exploring worlds in my head that are just for me. I am writing what I want with no mind for what other people like. I'm letting this world and these characters surround me, instead of pushing them back in fear that I won't be able to share them. I'm opening up again—opening up to myself—after years of being scared of how all my books would fail.

The magic is here. In this place where I've ended up. And I missed it so very much.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Izanami's Choice: Interview With Adam Heine

I had the pleasure of reading this fantastic story, and I had the chance to pick Adam's brain about it. Here is the summary and links if you're interested in reading it. It's out tomorrow!
Samurai Vs. Robots. Progress. Murder. Choice. In 1901, the Meiji Restoration has abolished the old ways and ushered in a cybernetic revolution. Androids integrate into society at all levels, following their programming for the betterment of every citizen, as servants, bodyguards, and bureaucrats. Jinzou are the future. Japan is at the threshold of a new tomorrow! As a ronin steeped in the old ways, Itaru wants nothing more to do with the artificial creations posing as human. But when a jinzou is suspected of murder, he's pulled into a mystery that could tear the nation apart. Malfunction or free will? When is a machine more than just a machine?

So, what made you think "Hey! Androids plus 1900s era Japan! Let's do this"?
Because it's awesome! Why not? (I joke, but honestly most of my stories start with "How awesome would this be?!").

I think my biggest inspiration for blending those two particular things came from one of my favorite webcomics Penny Arcade. There's a series they do sometimes called Automata, in which they've created a noir Prohibition Era world where androids are restricted instead of alcohol. I took that idea and combined it with my love of Japanese history -- because seriously, I can't think of a single era in Japan's history that I wouldn't love to write a story in (as long as I could add robots or mutant powers or something, of course). Izanami's Choice is what came out of it.

Itaru is an interesting fella with serious grudges against droids, or jinzou—how did you build him as your main character?
I don't know how conscious this process was, but in hindsight it went like this. I had a nation in love with droids, so what better protagonist than someone who hates them?
Making him hate them wasn't that hard. The (actual historical) Meiji Restoration of the 19th century left a lot of disenfranchised samurai in its wake. Most samurai moved on, of course -- many of them taking on roles in the new government -- but what of those who didn't? If the last samurai rebellion had been put down by a droid army (instead of conscripted peasants with Western firearms), then some former samurai would naturally blame the influx of droids on their troubles. That's where Itaru came from.
Then, to make it personal, suppose his son was recently killed due to a droid malfunction. That event tears Itaru apart and makes it so he can't even look at a droid without remembering his loss.
Finally, because I'm a monster, I put Itaru in a situation where he had to work alongside a droid in order to get his life back. The story kind of wrote itself after that (not really, but you know).

How did you go about adapting an advanced technology like A.I. and Robotics into a historical setting?
Oo, that was the fun part! Well, fun for me. I'm pretty sure I'm about to bore 80% of your readers.

It emerged out of two ideas. The first came from the classic steampunk novel The Difference Engine: what if Charles Babbage had actually completed his difference engine (basically a mechanical calculator) in the early 19th century? I took that further. What if he had gone on to create more advanced computing machines as well, resulting in early computers 100 years before we actually got them?
The second idea was something I learned studying artificial intelligence in college: the idea of evolutionary programming. To oversimplify it, say there's a problem you're trying to solve -- something that's pretty hard for computers to pull off, like automatic facial recognition. Evolutionary programming would mean creating a bunch of different facial recognition algorithms and competing them against each other. The programs with the best results would then be tweaked and revised a hundred ways, and that second generation would compete against each other again. Repeat this a hundred times until you have a pretty dang good facial recognition program (in theory).
The hard part (well, one hard part) is how to evaluate when a program is "good." But imagine if there were a machine intelligence capable of evaluating -- and then revising -- its own programs and designs. Being a machine, it could then iterate over thousands of designs in the time it would take a human to iterate once.
And if that machine started iterating on itself... that's a robotic singularity -- an artificial intelligence growing exponentially while humans are out on their lunch break.

I found your theme of "Fear Being Dangerous" particularly poignant—I'd love to know more of what you wanted to explore, theme-wise, in this story.
It's funny, because I didn't intend for that theme to be poignant when I wrote it. It just came naturally out of the story. I had written the first draft months before the news was plastered with things like Syrian refugees or banning entire religions from the US.

Several weeks later, I was rereading Izanami's Choice for its first revision, shortly after Donald Trump proposed evicting all Muslims because they might be terrorists. There was one particular line near the end of the novella about "fear of danger being more dangerous than the threat itself" -- a line I had completely forgotten I had written -- and when I read it in light of current events, I thought, "Holy crap. I didn't mean to write a political story!"
But I guess that theme is always poignant to some extent. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it doesn't always make the wisest decisions. I like to think about why the bad guy does what he does. Real people don't think of themselves as the villain, and the most interesting antagonists to me are the ones who genuinely might be right. This world is pretty messed up... What if drastic measures are the only way to fix it?
That idea makes it into a lot of my stories, because there's a part of me that thinks maybe that is the only way to fix it. But then there's another, more insistent part of me that clings to hope and good. That internal struggle is pretty terrible for my sanity, but it makes for good fiction.

Finally, do we ever get more set in this world? The world-building was so fantastic I don't want to leave just yet! 
I certainly hope so! To be honest, it may depend on how well this story does. So hey! If you like the idea of sentient robots in industrial-era Japan then buy my book!
... I'll show myself out.

(Thanks for having me, Natalie!)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Back Off, I'm A Ninja: Release Day!

The final book in the I'm A Ninja series!
Yes, really. It's over.
I'm not writing another one. Ever.
It's officially official! Tosh and Amy's story is completely written, and now you can read it all. If you want. Not mandatory reading or anything.

It feels good to have finished. The writing was hard and took every last bit of resolve I had in me, but looking back at what I have done gives me a sense of accomplishment.

I know the series isn't super well read (I see the sale numbers you can't tell me it is). I know it'll never be some bestseller. But Tosh's story was an important one for me to see through for myself, and I'm happy there are some other people out there who have enjoyed it thus far. Thanks for your eyes on my words—truly it means a lot to me.

You can find BACK OFF here:
Barnes & Noble
Whipple House Publishing (signed copies)

And if you're looking for the Complete Series, I've made an ebook bundle that'll get you a good deal on ALL the books in one easy reading format:
Barnes & Noble

Here's to new adventures and new stories! Yes, despite all my melancholy, despite all the struggles, I'm still writing and I still have a smidgen of hope that I'll be able to share those stories with you someday. I just need to run into a heaping of luck.

But in the mean time, I have left you with NINE novels to read. I think that's not so bad. It was more than I ever could have dreamed as a young teen writer who thought just ONE novel would be epic.

I wish I could write Teen Natalie a note: "You did it. Wasn't easy, but you did it."