Well, well, well. Another year has passed.
How to sum it up? Where to begin? Another tough year for all of us, for the planet, for the country. Again this year, we have lost way too many people. To COVID, to opiates, to just plain ignorance and disinformation. It is upsetting to me, to put it mildly.
But we’re surviving. I count myself very blessed to be healthy, to have a steady job and, most importantly, that all of my close friends and family members have remained healthy. (Some have had COVID, but recovered—except some having lingering loss of smell/taste). So, personally, like the old song says, I am counting my blessings. That’s very important to do amidst all the bad news.
Secondly, and much closer to what this blog is all about: How did my writing go this year? Pretty darn well…Pretty darn well. It’s been hard work, but also very gratifying to see some recognition. Also, I feel I have DEVELOPED as a writer this year. Often, in completely unexpected ways.
Here’s a breakdown and a look back at my year in writing. I’ll take things one by one.
I Contributed a Verse
This year, I became a poet. It’s still strange to type those words. A poet.
To be exact, I became a paid, “professional” poet. As I wrote earlier, the 24-linked haiku narrative poem “The King Becomes a Star” will be out in March in Strange Horizons magazine. I am really interested to see people’s reaction to the piece. So far, the few private readings I have given to friends and family have all been positive. It will be interesting to see how the wider public reacts.
It is a surreal experience to write poetry as an adult. Let alone to share it with others, to submit it to a magazine, to get it accepted, and then to read it out loud to your parents, for example. Surreal all around. People come to poetry, and react to poetry, in a wholly different way from how they react to prose. It’s deeper, more fundamental. It’s a more physical and a more emotional reaction at the same time. Close and far. Getting the poem accepted as my first professional sale was, frankly, a sublime experience and one I will always treasure.
One of the things it made me think of was, of course, Dead Poets’ Society, the film with Robin Williams. I haven’t seen it in years, but in the weeks after the poem was accepted this specific scene crept into my mind and wouldn’t budge.
Here’s the key passage from the Whitman poem (“Oh Me! Oh Life!”) he’s quoting for your reference:
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Well, Robin. Well, young Darius. I worked hard. I stayed focused. I ran the race. I did it. I contributed my verse.
Sometime afterwards, I (like poets do….Gawd! This is embarrassing…) somehow ended up in a cemetery down here in Virginia. I perused the tombstones there (again, like a poet…Ugh!). Most of the stones had just dates and names. A few had photos. None had prose on them, not one. But quite a few had stanzas of poetry. Either quotes from others or something they had written.
Later, when I was reciting (isn’t that what poets do? Recite?) the poems to my in-laws, I explained my cemetery visit and made this quip. But it sticks, somehow:
“Nobody puts prose on their tombstone.”
True enough…true enough. Enjoy life’s poetry while you can, Folks!
My First Podcast Sale
And here’s a little more news. I just got word of my 2nd pro sale of the year last week (to those counting, this is my second pro sale ever). And it’s also my first sale of a story for audio format!
That’s right, my story “The Hatchlings” will be produced early next year by a major Horror podcast. Can’t share more now due to the contract, but I am very, very excited about it!
The original story came out in 2013, so I’m glad it’s going to be given another shot. I am also a HUGE fan of old time radio (OTR). I sometimes download and listen to these old Orson Welles and hard-boiled detective stories from the 30s and 40s which you can easily find now thanks to the miracle of podcasting.
I always thought that story would work well as a radio play. I feel I did a good job in nailing the pacing, the growing tension, the dialogue—all the things you look for in the audio format. And now’s it going to happen. I am very pleased.
It’s great to get recognition. This writer admits it. It’s great to have an editor turned on enough by your story to take the risk (and it’s always a risk) to publish something you wrote. But you always have to have some goals you can control, those things you have 100% control over. And one of those 100%-controlled metrics for me as a writer is wordcount (how many words you get down in a writing session or a year).
I’m not going to tally all the words up this year. It’s probably around 50 or 60K words? But there’s plenty of other evidence I stayed productive this year.
As you can see in my Works in Progress page, in addition to “The King Becomes a Star,” I wrote drafts of:
- Two novellas. Resurrection of the Grim Chop Maharajah and The Presence.
- Two short stories. Photon and Straw. One is speculative, the other is historical fiction.
- A flash fiction piece. Go Ask Alice.
- At least two “longish” poems. “Al-Hurra” and “Hybrid Vigor.” I also have many other poems at various stages of completeness.
So, by that standard, it was also a good year.
Searching for My Voice
Voice. That’s what all the pros (agents, editors, etc.) say they want. But what in the hell is it?
I have asked them. True story. Via Twitter some agents host AMAs (Ask Me Anythings). So I asked them: “What is voice?” or “What does voice mean to you?” These AMAs are a great opportunity and I would urge any writers out there to take advantage of these agent/editors AMAs out there.
Anyway, here is what some of them said (more or less).
“I know it when I see it.”
“I don’t know how to characterize it, exactly. But I know when I read it on the page.”
“I can’t really say what it is. But when I read a first page with it. Bam! I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!”
So…just a note to editors, agents, etc.: I respect what you are doing, but these sort of characterizations are…not extraordinarily helpful to aspiring writers. It seems to be saying what voice is by saying what voice is not, or how voice induces a sort of reaction, but without saying what it is.
So what is a writer to do? I don’t know. But I know what this writer did about this conundrum.
I thought about it. Then, I thought about it some more. Then, I thought some more.
I read some writers known for their distinctive “voice.” People like Cormac McCarthy, Maya Angelou, Lovecraft, Faulkner, and Hemingway. It’s those writers who you could just pick up one of their books at random, open the book, and just KNOW, “Oh, this is Faulkner!”
The thing is, it’s individual. You have to FIND your own voice. Just like McCarthy, etc. did. This takes some experimentation. But it also doesn’t require it, in a certain sense. It requires you to just DIVE IN and have the COURAGE to be yourself. To write just as uniquely as you are.
I think my gateway to this has been 1st person Horror and poetry. I thought of telling a story, a “horrible,” awe-inducing story when I wrote “The Hatchlings.” Much later, I just wrote what I felt in poetic form and that became “The King Becomes a Star.” But in both of these the tone, the storytelling, the voice (if you will) was distinctly and earnestly me. No one else. It was essentially, irrevocably and unapologetically Darius.
And maybe that was my first step to finding my voice? I’m not sure, but I like to think it was. I hope to write about this again next year. It’s such a vital topic for writers, but so rarely discussed.
Writing on my Phone
This year I started doing something I swore I would never do…
I wrote on my phone.
Wait! It gets worse….
I write poetry on my phone.
Yep, yours truly, somewhat of a Techphobe, now uses his smartphone for writing poetry. That’s right! That guy in the airport terminal, on the subway, at the work meeting might NOT be writing work emails… He might be writing cosmological love songs about the longing between stars.
Ha! Ha! Imagine that. Never judge a book by its cover!
Seriously, a smartphone is great for getting down poetic ideas and phrases as they come to you. It’s also great for getting down plot ideas as they float into your head.
Sorry, T.S Eliot! Technology, like life, marches on!
Still, a Tough Year
It hasn’t been all ice cream and puppy dogs this year, you know? Don’t want to give just an Instagram version of my life where there are no obstacles and everything is all good, all the time. There are always struggles.
There have been work days this year when I have had to step away from work for the day. Shut down the computer and step away. Take a mental health break. There have been days when the events in the wider world have been so infuriating or disappointing, that I have had a visceral emotional reaction to it all.
Case in point. I was covering an interview by the U.S. Surgeon General for a work event, when he rather glibly said that between 200,000-300,000 MORE Americans would die before the (2019-2020) winter was over. I wrote down that line and thought nothing of it. In my final pass of editing the article I read that again and started to weep. I thought to myself:
“A quarter of a million more dead!? How terrible! How could be I be so callous? How could I treat these people…People! People with friends and families like a line in a story? What’s the matter with me?”
And, I’ll admit it, I cried some more. I did that because that’s what people do when confronted with mass death. And somehow, I needed to reclaim my humanness by doing so in that moment. Looking back, I’m proud I did in a weird way. (By the way, the Surgeon General was right: about 250,000 Americans went on to die from COVID in those winter months before we had the vaccines).
So, yeah, this writer struggles sometimes. And you know what? It’s OK to struggle, to have a tough day or days. We’ve all (globally) been through a lot these last couple of years. So, if you have to take some time away from writing, or life, or whatever, make some time—do it! Take a break! It will all be here when you get back. Practicing some good self-care is important at times like these.
Here’s a short list of some things which blew my mind which I read this year. (Funny, they’re all poetry or about poets! Yikes!)
- The Bezels of Wisdom by Ibn Arabi. Very dense, but with some good footnotes this mind-blowing cosmic poetry becomes much more accessible. They say he is pantheistic (seeing God in all things), but what is most fascinating to me is that he couches all that mysticism in an orthodox, legalistic point of view. It reminds me of Emerson and Thoreau in its finer moments. A fascinating mystical journey.
- David Magarshack’s biography of Alexander Pushkin. This one gave me all the feels—in a bad way. How could someone who wrote such great love poetry be such a misogynistic jerk? He comes across as a narcissistic and self-absorbed human being of the first order. For now, I am just taking this as a cautionary tale about too much success too early in life.
- Selections from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. One of the few books from my college years that not only holds up, but exceeds my memories of it. His poems about the Civil War hit so differently now.
Finally, a big thanks to all of you!!
2020 (last year) was a great year for readership stats on this blog. I never thought readership would surpass that year (everyone staying home due to lockdowns, looking for new content). But you guys are full of surprises, and this year, you outdid yourselves.
I’m glad to report that views are up 13% this year (over last year) and visitors are up 6% this year, too. Finally, Comments are up over 250% (sure helps when you enable NEW visitors to Comment! Jeez. Did I mention I was a bit of Techphobe!?).
What will 2022 hold? Full disclosure: I have no idea. But I’m going to keep at the writing. Come back soon for the next post to learn about my plans for next year.