Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Month: June 2014

It’s NOT That Hard

This is going to be a bit of a rant.

I keep finding blog posts and seeing other writes complaining about how hard and difficult writing is, and I have to wonder, why are they bothering to try if it’s such a challenge?

Writing for the vast majority of the writers I know isn’t all that difficult or hard. Granted, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but most of those I know who write understand such hardships will pass. What I don’t get are the writers who grouse about how hard it is to write all the time.

I think they’re making it harder on themselves than it has to be. They’re searching for perfection, or struggling with an idea which isn’t fully ripe, or—I don’t know. But whatever it is, instead of switching to something which may be a little easier to work on, they’re forcing themselves to struggle with something which isn’t moving. Or they’re people who, no matter what they’re working on can’t seem to make progress on it because they for some reason believe writing should be hard.

That last mindset is one I don’t comprehend at all. I read what these people post on their blogs, or see what they say in Forward Motion for Writers chat and my mind boggles at the difficulty they claim to be having. I just don’t understand how it can be so hard to write. It’s one of the easiest, simplest, least complicated things to do. Often, these same people discuss much harder and more complicated processes they employ in working a regular paying job, and I think, Why isn’t their real-world job harder for them than writing? Because, to be honest, for me, working real-life jobs is always the hardest part of living. It’s complicated and messy and annoying. And yet, these people who profess to love writing also claim it’s hard and make it difficult for themselves.

These people are in the clear minority, which I’m thankful for. I don’t know what I’d do if most of my writing friends thought writing was hard and difficult. They find writing fun, and interesting, and challenging in a good way. We have fun discussing the complications and difficulties we’re planning on giving our characters. And, if we hit a spot where we’re struggling, we talk it out with each other and, with that assistance, figure out how to work past the difficulty we’re having.

We don’t sit at our computers and wallow in angst over how hard and difficult writing is.

Hip to be Square

I am a square dancer. It’s not as corny as it sounds. The club I’m a member of, Temple Squares is the only LGBT club in Utah. Most of our members live right here in Salt Lake City and its surrounding cities.

Back in 2009, I went to SLC’s Pride Festival. I think I’d actually volunteered there, and it may have been the second or third year I did so. Anyway, I was wandering the grounds, exploring, and came across the Temple Squares booth, where they had a square of dancers demonstrating. The moment I saw it and realized it was square dancing, I got excited. The last time I’d done this was in middle school—8th grade—and it had been the best Phys Ed experience I had that year; the boys in my PE class wanted nothing to do with me unless they were required to associate with me. I had a ball during the entire square dancing module, so, when I found it at the Pride Festival here, I knew I’d found something I could enjoy.

So I signed up for information and, the next time they had classes, I showed up. It’s one of the best things I’ve done for myself since becoming stabilized. LGBT square dancers are an extremely friendly, cheerful, welcoming bunch. It’s not unusual for them to visit different clubs in nearby states/cities, and when they do, the members of the clubs they visit commonly offer places to stay. That’s what we did when we went to Denver to dance with the Rocky Mountain Rainbeaus, some of whose members came to our first Fly-In a few years ago. (Fly-Ins are little mini-conventions individual clubs host.)

As of September of this year, I’ll have been a member of Temple Squares for five years. I’ve been on the board as secretary for about three or four of those years and plan on retaining the position in this year’s board elections later on this year. I’ve found some of the best friends I’ve ever had in square dancing.

And, this year, over Fourth of July weekend, Salt Lake City, Utah is hosting the national LGBT square dancing convention. Yes, this is a b thing. A list of clubs and their locations can be found on the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs list, in case you’re interested in finding out if any are near where you live—or even if you only want some more information.

One of the things I really like about LGBT square dancing is its openness to people. With most straight dance groups (at least in my locale), you must bring your own partner. With LGBT groups, you don’t need to. Also, with most straight groups, they do require the traditional square dance uniform—for females and those who look it, that means a skirt with crinolines with a pretty, feminine top; men are required to wear a long sleeved shirt. Most of the time, the man’s shirt will match the woman’s skirt somehow, but it’s not a requirement they match, only that the dancers are dressed traditionally. LGBT groups, though, allow dancers to dress in whatever they like.

Plus, we dance with flair. Dancers from the local straight clubs who dance with us frequently tell us how much fun it is to dance with us. We also dance a little faster than the other clubs.

My club hosts a novices’ dance from seven to nine at night every fourth Saturday of the month throughout the year. This event is free to all who come, and it doesn’t require any previous knowledge (or memory) of square dancing. Throughout the evening, all the calls the dancers need are taught. This is one of the best opportunities for people to experience how much fun square dancing is. So, if any readers of my blog happen to be in SLC the fourth Saturday of any month, I invite you to join us for some fun.

On Writing “Rules”

It’s in quotes for a reason.

Think about it for a bit. I’ll give you some time.

Can’t figure out why I write it “rules”?

Okay, here it is:

Because not all writing advice works for every writer.

Or even every story by a particular writer.

One of the most difficult things a new writer has to do these days is wade through all the writing advice on the internet. There is a lot. There was a lot when I got my first home computer in 1998 and looked up writers’ websites. I got lucky and found Forward Motion for Writers before I found all the writing advice, so I lucked out again; they were able to advise me on how to use critiques I received and what to do with all that well-intentioned writing advice I was now coming across.

FM is still a top-notch site for writing advice, assistance, and encouragement for me, and there’s a good reason it is: Nobody pushes any particular advice as working for all writers all the time. Usually at some point in a chat or forum discussion, we’ll offer each other advice. In chat, it’s generally taken as understood that heeding any advice is optional for the receiver. On the forum, occasionally someone will post a bit of advice and include the statement it doesn’t work for everyone or Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV).

If someone comes along and says they’re trying to strictly obey a particular rule found out in the Internet, more than one person will chime in on how it works for them, and there will be a few comments regarding the fact that it isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for every writer or story.

Several authors I know constantly read how-to books. A few are trying to structure their writing to three-, four-, or five-act structures. Some are struggling with description, others with realistic dialogue, some with poetry. I know Trad Pubbed Authors and Indie Authors and Hybrid Authors, not all of them members of FM, but all of them online.

This is a veritable font of knowledge about writing. And I still have to filter things out. For instance, I know off the bat the act-structure advice won’t work for me; at a certain point of trying to listen to most writing how-to advice, I get so hooked on the advice my stories suffer, and that includes the advice of consciously attaching my story to a particular structure.

For much of the writing advice I’ve received throughout the years, I’ve been able to experiment to determine whether something worked for a particular story. It didn’t always, and if it did, I didn’t take it as written in stone whatever had worked would do so for every story. This is another thing a new writer doesn’t have experience with: Not all advice which worked before will work with every story one writer writes. That was a hard lesson for me to learn; I want all the writing advice I use to work for every single story, but it just doesn’t happen that way.

The key, at least for me, to figuring out what writing “rules” worked for me was that experimentation I did. I had to be willing to try new things as they came up. This is how I learned what works for me with most stories, and what particular different little things work on each individual story. A good writer—a writer who wants to improve their writing—experiments with these “rules” to find what works best for them on any particular story and remains flexible to change, and I understand that can be a hard thing to do.

But a good writer does their best and learns their particular writing quirks, and remaining flexible on the “rules” is a major part of being a good writer.

Molasses is Faster

I’m a slow thinker. Though I can be witty, it takes a little time to happen. Frequently, I’ll come up with witty and clever comebacks to comments days after the conversations which inspired them. It takes me time to adjust enough to habitually include new things in my daily habits, even if I’m at a job. If there’s a typical pattern to things, it takes me a while to adjust to changes regardless of what that change might be.

This slowness of thought is evident in my learning process. It takes me seeing a movie several times before I catch the whole thing, even if I’m focused on it throughout the first viewing. Same goes for videos. For this reason, I prefer not to learn by video, especially if I’m in a class situation where I’m unable to stop it or watch it multiple times to make sure I’m picking up on things as I should.

Part of the reason I haven’t been opening GIMP is because most of the tutorials I’ve been referred to for things are video tutorials. The two or three I’ve actually tried to use have had instructions like “Click on this, then enter this number in this field here . . .” which are not helpful to me at all. Unfortunately, GIMP is not a very intuitive program; I need the tutorials. I’m not quick enough to follow the mouse around the screen and see what all is happening.

I work best with written instructions, and friends have been pointing me toward more of them. My experience with the video tutorials has turned me off of GIMP for the time being, however, though I do intend to open it up and try to learn. Just need to print out the instruction booklet that I found online and do the same with the tutorials my friends have pointed me to.

And, once I’m comfortable with it, I have the insane desire to go through whatever video tutorials I find I must use and transcribe them with better instructions than “click this here and enter this number in this field.” It’s a goal. LOL

In other real-life things, I put a lot of forethought into them. For instance, my fitness goals. Up until the first part of last month, I was in the process of contemplating how I could become more active in my lifestyle. But this was only in a general sense. I was working myself up for taking walks, not realizing part of my aversion to it was due to a mood swing which had made me incredibly antisocial (to the point of not even checking my snailmail daily—I was that afraid of encountering someone I’d be hooked into having a chat with).

I was discussing contemplation of fitness goals in Forward Motion for Writers chat with a friend who happens to be a Beachbody coach. I mentioned part of what was holding me back on anything besides walking was my knees, and she did a search of the Beachbody site and came up with a fitness program based on tai chi, which had been developed by a fitness expert who also is an expert in tai chi—it’s called Tai Cheng. I watched the little video she pointed me to, and I heard some things from people who’d used it which I liked, and ordered it the day I got paid in May.

Ever since then, I’ve been contemplating adding this fitness regimen to my daily habits, and I’m getting there. Buying the program was just what I needed to galvanize me into thinking of fitness more seriously, and I’ve already done the best I can with my current budget to change my diet according to the program’s suggestion.

On occasion, I make quick decisions like with the Tai Cheng fitness program, then put the thought necessary behind them. But, there’s always that thinking process I go through, whether it’s before or after the decision. It’s just the way I think.

Still, when compared to me, molasses is often faster. LOL

Why I’m Not Trad Pubbing My Novels

Years ago, when I first started thinking about publishing my writing, I was more than happy to contemplate the Traditional Publishing path, quite willing to go through the rigmarole of trying to sell my books through and agent, and able to keep up with the process. That ability is no longer present.

With Bipolar, as I’ve mentioned before, has come writing downswings. These are frequently debilitating to the point where I’m unable to make any kind of editing progress or adding words onto whatever projects I happen to be working on. There is also the fact my brain goes through periods where it focuses solely on one genre, then switches to another. Last year (2013), I spent on fantasy and Science Fantasy projects. This year, it’s the gay romances which drove me into a severe depression in 2012.

With a fluctuating focus and interest in writing at all like this, it would make keeping up with a Trad Pub schedule nearly impossible for me. These genre-of-focus switches and writing downswings are, like all aspects of dealing with a mental illness, something which cannot simply be forced out—at least, not without some pretty severe and even more debilitating affects—which was why I was so severely depressed by the end of November in 2012.

Right now, I’m focused on the gay romances, which I have extremely mixed feelings about. However, earlier this year, I tried forcing myself to write on my Chraesti stories instead. That didn’t last. I began to hate what I was writing, got sick of the stories, and threw myself into a writing downswing with a spot of strictly writing-related depression, somewhat similar to where I was at the end of November 2012. The more I forced myself to write the Chraesti stories, the less focused I got, and the deeper my depression came. So I gave up and waited for the depression and writing downswing to pass. This was sometime in February or March, before my radiation treatments began and wiped me out for doing any writing at all.

To make things perfectly clear, at the end of November 2012, I was determined to give up writing the gay romances. I’d spent most of the previous year in writing downswings, some of which I forced myself to write through because I had outlines, incomplete projects with outlines (like 2011’s NaNo project), and was participating in some sort of wordcount-oriented writing “competition” like July Novel Writing Month or National Novel Writing Month. Forcing me to write left me an emotional wreck and the depression from doing that spread into other areas of my life, even though I did manage to write one Chraesti story for the FM Anthology series (check the “Published” page for that story).

When I surprised myself by beginning a brand new Chraesti story in mid-December of 2012, I promised myself I would never again force myself to write when I was in a downswing. It was just too traumatic to do so.

My mental health is very, very important to me. I want to be stable. Depressive swings are no fun. Hating my writing and myself and my life because I for some reason think I must write or work in some capacity on my writing is the furthest thing from fun I can think of.

If I took the Trad Pub route? I would, at some point, be guaranteed to have to force myself to work on my writing in some capacity during a writing downswing. If I somehow managed to succeed in this and get whatever edits or whatever were required done and back to my editor, I’d most likely be in some sort of emotional pit afterward. If I didn’t, I’d destroy my career, because no Trad Publisher is going to cater to any writer’s emotional upheavals regardless of how much they’re supposed to “nurture” authors (I don’t believe the “Trad Pub Nurtures Authors” myth, myself; I’ve heard and read too many anecdotes about how they do the complete opposite).

Not only that, the way my mind is apparently going to switch between contemporary gay romance and my speculative fiction would be a recipe for disaster. Say I somehow manage to sell Discordant Harmonies I during a period when I’m focused on my Fantasy and Science Fantasy. Good. Perfect. By the time edits roll around, however, I may be sick of all my speculative fiction and somewhat contentedly working on gay romances without any ability to consciously switch myself back to spec fic.

No Trad Publisher wants to hear, “I can’t make myself focus on that genre right now, so the edits will have to wait.” No. They’d demand a refund of whatever amount of the advance they’d already paid me, and wash their hands of me. And then, I would never be able to sell a book as Ashe Elton Parker to any other Trad Pub company because I didn’t fulfill my contractual obligations.

So, for this reason alone, going the Indie Pub route is the best for me. Besides, I like the idea of keeping full control over every aspect of my writing, from cover to being able to tell the stories I want to tell. Also, this way I can adjust my writing goals, schedule, and plans to fit what I’m actually able to write on, wait out the writing downswings, and go with the flow regardless of what’s going on with my life and my mental health so I don’t end up a severely depressed basketcase who hates their writing to the point of shelving it all in despair. I won’t ruin my writing/publishing career as an Indie.

For me, there are too many pros to Indie Publishing, and too many cons to Trad Publishing, for me feel confident in taking any publishing route besides Indie.

Tired

I’m too tired to focus. Spent most of the day in bed ’cause didn’t sleep well last night. I still plan on posting on Friday, so come back to see!

On Being an Aspiring Writer

I’ve seen on a number of writing sites, and, throughout my years, writers—people who write frequently enough that writing isn’t a mere hobby—who are unpublished (particularly those who are seeking the Traditional Publishing route) refer to themselves as “aspiring” writers.

I beg to differ.

They, I, and anyone else who writes anything as frequently as possible, is not aspiring to be a writer. We are writers.

Aspiring writers don’t actually write. They aspire to. In other words, they talk about writing. They worldbuild constantly if they write speculative fiction. They create and fill out character sheets detailing their various characters’ appearances and characterization. They work on background work and research incessantly. They have plans to write . . . when they’re “ready” or are “inspired.”

They don’t write actual stories with any frequency. They don’t even write incomplete stories frequently. They’re not making forward progress on putting down all those stories they talk about writing, or are in the planning stages, or research stage, or whatever not-actively-writing stage they’re at with whatever story they’re telling you about.

All writers should do all this. Discuss, plan, research, prepare themselves for writing the stories that are in their heads. But all those who are real writers move on to actually putting their stories down on disk, or paper, or papyrus or whatever else they want to use. It doesn’t matter. I’ve written stories longhand. There have been times when, out with friends, a vivid scene has popped into my head and I had to write it right then and there so I wouldn’t forget it, so I used napkins. It doesn’t matter. When I’m in a writing upswing, I write on my stories, no matter what genre they happen to be.

I don’t sit there and just talk about or incessantly plan my stories. I don’t aspire to write. I actually do write.

Oh, I can hear it now. Some writers, and I expect it’ll be, for the most part, those going the Trad Pub route, will scream in protest at this. How can I have the temerity, the gall to declare myself a writer when I have not been Traditionally Published and have clearly stated on this very site I won’t be going that route with any of the novels listed here.

Easy. As I stated before, I write. It’s not just a hobby. I write every single day I’m in a writing upswing. Every. Single. Day. No excuses. I research and do the background work necessary, but I don’t dwell on it.

Anyone who writes regularly, whether it be daily, or every weekend when they can cram 20k words in over two days, or every other day—but anyone who does it regularly—IS a writer. A person who writes = writer.

Person who doesn’t write, but talks about that fantastic story they’re going to write one day when their life offers the perfect opportunity for doing so? Aspiring writer.

For perspective: I own a flute and two or three beginning lesson books/CDs. I talk about learning the flute. That’s why I bought the instrument and lesson materials. Occasionally, I even do a little with the flute. But it’s not consistent. Something happens in my life and I don’t practice a day or two and fall out of the habit of it. Do I consider myself a musician simply because I’ve made it to the fourth lesson in one of my flute books? No. I’m an aspiring musician at best. Because I don’t put in the effort to practice and learn. I probably wouldn’t consider myself a full-fledged musician until I’ve gotten to the point of being able to play more complicated songs than nursery rhymes.

I can aspire to be a musician all I want. Actually being one is not going to happen until I buckle down and put in the daily effort to make myself into one. Same goes for a writer. They can do worldbuilding, character building, plot outlining all they want. Until they’re actually writing that story they’re talking about all the time, they’re merely aspiring.

No writer needs the Traditional Publishing Gods to tell them they’re a really-real honest-to-God writer. They write, they’re writers.

It’s as simple as that.

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