Halfway Through My Forties. Mid-Life Hits Hard.

Warning: Today is one of those “baring my inner demons” posts.  You might want to skip it.

Today I am 45 years old.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I mean, I know how I should feel.  But I really don’t feel like that.

On the one hand, I don’t feel appreciably older than I did last month, or last year.  On the other hand, people say things to me like “I want to celebrate you!” and I think “What’s to celebrate?”  I’m 45, and the only really noteworthy thing I’ve done is be a dad to an amazing little girl.  I’ve muddled my way through my life and I have damned little to show for it.  No books or stories published, I make a middling wage with no real chance of it increasing much, and I live in fear that I’m actually a jerk people tolerate for some reason. (Please, friends, no jokes about this.)

I’ve survived a lot of hell, but what’s to celebrate about that? What else was I going to do? It’s not noble, it’s not special.  Lots of people have survived worse.

I have lived twenty years longer than my mom, and 2 years longer than my dad. The fact they died young shouldn’t make me feel old, but it does.

Also, let’s face it.  Nobody can tell me I’m not middle aged now.  My grandfather lived to be 92.  If I live that long, then I’m now halfway through my lifespan.  I’m no longer of any real concern to the people who made decisions about the kinds of movies and shows I love.  I am in an increasingly irrelevant demographic, and it’s probably just going to get worse.

I don’t want to be feeling like this on my damn birthday.  But there it is.  I know it’s temporary; I know I’ll feel better eventually.  But this is me now.

Novel Attack Plan

I’m still working on The Widening Gyre, Book 1 of The Remembrance War.  Looking at my stats, I’ve sent it out to seventeen agents. Of those, six did not respond at all, which is the annoying way to say “no, thanks.”  Eight responded with form rejections, for a total of 14 outright rejections.  Three agents asked for more pages and a closer look.  All three passed.

What this tells me–and there is some element of Rejectomancy in this, but a good kind, I think–is that the query letter works. I mean, three doesn’t seem like a large number, but it actually is; the vast majority of queries get rejected, so a 17.6% success rate is pretty good.

But the submission isn’t getting picked up. Now, here’s where the bad parts of Rejectomancy show up.  It could just be that I haven’t hit that Magic Agent yet–the one who will read my book and say “Holy shit, I can sell the crap out of this.”

But it could also be that the first 50 pages are a bit weak.  And I think that’s true.  I’m going through them now, tightening them up–making some wording changes, some deletions, some additions–and then I’ll send it to a new wave of agents.

If I haven’t gotten any bites by the end of my next cycle of twenty agents, I’ll send it to Tor directly via snail-mail. They accept un-agented submissions, but it’s not the preferred way, and it can take quite a while.

It’s a process, and a numbers game.  A fellow VP alum took two years and nearly two hundred rejections before she signed for a three-book deal.  Jim Butcher got 300 rejections before he sold his first Dresden novel.  There are worse stories.

Onward and upward.

The Conflicted Emotions of Having Writer Friends

Sometimes, being a writer who is friends with other writers means simultaneously cheering on your friends and being insanely jealous of them.

I want my writer friends to succeed.  This goes for all of them, from my VP17 classmates to the VPers of other years and the writers I’ve met in other venues.  Their successes do not make mine less likely, and their accomplishments should be celebrated.

But every time I hear a friend sold a book, I feel jealous. A friend sent her novel to the same Open Call I did–I got a form rejection, she got a request for the full manuscript.  I am genuinely happy for her, and I hope it gets signed. If it does, I will be joining the hurrays and congratulations she’ll be getting.  But I’m also jealous, and hearing she got a Full request a couple of weeks after I got a rejection?  That hurt, and there’s no point in pretending it didn’t.

Writers–at least, writers who’ve been submitting–know that rejection is a given.  We know that we’re going to get rejected a lot.  And as I’ve said before, every one hurts, even when you know it’s inevitable.  But what we don’t often say is that other people’s success is also sometimes painful, especially when you aren’t getting anywhere.  It’s far, far too easy to tell yourself that it’s because you’re not good enough, because you’re not a real writer, because you’re undeserving.

And that’s bullshit.

The truth is, one editor or agent could read my book and not really like it, but the next might love it.  At some point, there’s an agent who will read my book and say to him- or herself, “I really want this guy on my list.”

When that day comes?  My friends will congratulate me.  And some of them will feel that little pain.  And most, if not all, of them will then turn back to their own manuscript, steel themselves, and get back to it.

Because that’s how you get somewhere in this business.  You don’t write one book, sit back, and say “Hey, I wrote it. What more do you want?”  No, you keep going.  You revise, you revise some more.  You might send it out for another beta reading round, or you might just revise it again on your own.  And you keep sending it out.  And at some point, you get a request for more.

That’s the other truth–it’s a numbers game.  While it feels like I’m not doing well, the truth is that out of eleven agents I’ve submitted my book to, three asked to see more.  That’s not a bad ratio.  Now, it’s true all three of those rejected it, but still–I got to that stage.  Many novels don’t even get that.

So, when my friends succeed, I feel that pain, sure–but then I recognize that that’s just part of the process, and I let that little frisson of jealousy spur me on to working harder to get myself there.

Because my agent is out there–and no amount of jealousy is going to stop me from find them.

If You Want Them: My Reactions to This Year’s Cancellations/Renewals (TV)

Lots of Renewals and Cancellations are being announced now.  For those who care, and maybe for those who don’t but find me marginally amusing, here are my reactions to them.  Note that I’ll only really be talking about shows I watch, or tried to watch, and won’t have anything to say about shows I’ve never seen or cared about.  And because of who I am, this is mostly about genre television (Science Fiction and Fantasy), but not completely.

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Some Things To Remember About “Bad Teacher” Stories

Some things to keep in mind when people are telling stories about their horrible teachers:
1. Some of them are true. Let’s just admit that–there are some people who are bad at this job. Some know the subject well but are terrible at working with kids. Some are GREAT with kids but bubble-heads with the subject matter. But there are bad teachers–not a majority, but some. And admin need to work harder to deal with that issue, within the law.
Also, even good teachers have bad days and can lose their self-control for a few minutes.
That said:
2) Students are rarely honest about the part they played in any conflict with a teacher. Sometimes students try to claim I’m just being a jerk to them for no reason, and they don’t mention the part where they called me an asshole because I asked them to put their phone away for the third time. I could give more examples, but you get the point, I trust.
3) Many of these stories are told years later, and time has altered the memory. We humans are terrible at remembering things correctly. I’ve experienced this myself; I have had terrible thoughts about my 12th grade English teacher, until I thought about it–and realized she was never mean to me, despite my thinking I remembered her being horrible more than once–she was trying so hard to help me, and I didn’t want her help because I had a bad reaction to her comments on an essay I wrote. I’ve found and read the essay in the years since, and the kicker is–she was right about it.
4) Try to remember every teacher you’ve ever had. Odds are, you can remember from K to 6th, and then it’s a blur of faces, with a few who stand out clearly. When I think of high school, I can remember a few of them clearly. The rest are faces, but not names. I know I adored my 9th grade history teacher, but I can’t remember what she looked like or what her name was–just what room she taught in.
We tend to remember the ones who helped us most, or who hurt us most. The rest are just lost to our memory, even if at the time, we enjoyed being in their class.
5) SOME of these stories are BS. Someone’s got an agenda; they hated school, or they hate their kids’ teacher, and they want you to hate it, too.  And there’s a rash of stories out there that are designed to make you think your kid’s school is losing it’s collective mind, but only show that the person posting it didn’t bother to ask the teacher about whatever it is they are railing about.
And I’m sure we’ve all seen the rash of anti-Common Core math memes going around, none of which actually show anything truly wrong-headed.
So the next time you see one of these stories, think about it before jumping on the anti-teacher bandwagon.  You may not be seeing the whole story.