Monday, January 1, 2018

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year Four (2017)

Another year in the rearview, Esteemed Reader. Time, you wicked thing, you move too fast. Seems like I just wrote 2016's annual year-in-review post for this series in which I chronicle my writer's journey.

I'm aware this is a trick of perspective. Every year that passes is a comparatively smaller fraction of my overall life and so it is my experience of time passing and not the speed of time passing that is changing. For this reason, the older we get, the faster time seems to go, which is why I can recall endless summers from my childhood, and a much older relative tells me he can see the leaves changing color before his very eyes.

I've never forgotten one particular passage from Christine even though I read it in high school and haven't reread it since (but that realization means it's going in my audible book bank momentarily). Great writing stays with you, and y'all know how passionate I am about my Stephen King. Anyway, to quote the man: As soon as you have a kid, you know for sure that you`re going to die. When you have a kid, you see your own gravestone. That quote is at least partially responsible for me pushing back parenthood as far as I could, but now on the other side of being a dad, I can vouch it's true. The best way to speed up time is to have a little person exploding in growth in front of you as a daily reminder that yep, you're getting older too, Daddy.

How long will I live and will I know how long it was when it ends? Does a person struck from behind by a speeding bus have cognizance enough to think "made it to 53!" before the lights go out? These are the types of thoughts that plague my mind, which is why I sometimes write scary stories so that my dark thoughts will leave me alone and go infect Esteemed Reader:)

The only comfort I've found when such thoughts come is in remembering that it is the quality of life lived rather than the length of the experience that matters. That's why I'm opening this post with that adorable picture of Little Ninja trick or treating for the first time and doing the Kent name proud. I'm the red and brown shape beside him. That was a great day, Esteemed Reader, and there were a lot of great days in 2017. There's no way for me to know how many great days remain in my future, but I'm eternally grateful for the ones I've had so far.

I'm going to get just a little personal before this post is done, but for now let's get to the subject at hand: I am not 100% satisfied with myself as a writer this year. Naturally, I feel that way every year and the day I'm completely satisfied is the day I needn't bother writing anything more. Each book is a battle, and though I've got ten books available to date, writing is a war. In 2017 I feel I was a better writer than I have been in many years past, but not quite the writer I still believe I can be and am working to become.

A smarter blogger might focus this yearly post solely on his accomplishments, put up a link to his books, and remind Esteemed Reader he's awesome (but you're here, so you know). And he'd definitely point out that he's going to be teaching multiple classes and hosting a fiction workshop starting in March of 2018:) However, I've always considered myself more a lucky blogger than a smart blogger.

Why did holy-moley-what-a-big-deal authors Kate Dicamillo and Katherine Applegate visit this blog in the same month? I'm aware I'm humble bragging, which is why I'll also shamelessly link to Michael Grant and Bruce Corville's 2017 interviews:) Why did my longtime horror hero Jack Ketchum agree to face the 7 Questions this year? Why did any of the other amazing posts in 2017 happen (including the Vonneguys, the stars of my favorite podcast)? We had so many talented people appear here, I'd fill this post up linking to them all.

I honestly am not entirely sure how these wonderful things happened. I don't know why any writer or publishing professional agrees to appear at this blog with its silly name (that, for the record, I still think is funny). I don't pay posters in anything except "exposure," and good luck buying a coffee with that:) And I'm not really that great at blogging. I suck at Twitter, I don't do nearly as much marketing as I should, I'm forever behind on emails, and I've got interviews and guest posts with some really amazing people on backlog a couple months out (yet I still chose to take up this week's post with me talking).

I'm just a blogger who got lucky. And I keep being lucky, at least so far (when you're walking on sunshine, whoah-oah, it's best not to look down).

More on that before the end, but first I want to say that I think my biggest accomplishment in 2017 was mostly fighting an often threatened depression that's been hovering at my door all year like a dementor begging admittance. I've seen depression chew up better writers than me. Probably they were intellectually superior, and therefore more susceptible than the dumber, but happier Ninja:)

2017 has been a difficult year.

Sometimes it helps to remember that making more than $30,000 per year puts me in the richest one percent of the world and slavery is still a thing, so really, my situation is not too shabby.

Sometimes it doesn't help as life experience is relative and a bee sting is the most painful thing that could ever happen to someone who hasn't experienced worse. I'm aware there are people all over the world who would give quite a lot to have my life (for the honor of having written Pizza Delivery alone!).

I have nothing to complain about as I played all of Assassin's Creed: Origins and Horizon Zero Dawn this year, and watched every episode of Better Call Saul and The Punisher and kept Rick and Morty on pretty much endless repeat as it's my most favorite thing. I try not to single out great books in these yearly media-in-review sections because one, I review a lot of them here, and two, I don't want to lose a writer friend through accidental exclusion:) Although I can recommend the audiobook for Artemis by Andy Weir (who has also appeared at this awesome blog), which is performed to perfection by Rosario Dawson.  Rest assured, if you released a book book this year, it was my favorite.

Movies were mostly disappointing this year, although I didn't see too many of them as I'm aging out of the key demographic and losing interest in Hollywood (haven't seen a single Fast and Furious flick and feel my life is presumably fine without them). Wonder Woman was swell (even though the CGI was unforgivably terrible), 1922, The Girl with all the Gifts, and Dunkirk kept me on the edge of my seat, and Michael Keaton rocked so hard in Spider-Man: Homecoming (and yea two non-white girlfriends for Peter Parker because, yes, in the age of Trump, it matters). It was pretty solid, but couldn't compare to my favorite book and left out some important stuff (like the werewolf and the mummy).

Any previous year if you'd asked me what movies I most wanted to see made, I would've said Justice League and The Dark Tower because their source material is so strong, surely a studio couldn't screw them up. Sigh. And I sure would love another Star Wars with more Luke Skywalker (so long as they don't make him a depressed cynic who gave up on the rebellion and considers killing teenage nephews in their sleep because of... reasons). Heavy sigh. All three movies had just enough of the thing I loved that I can't say I hated them, but I can't say I loved them either. Also, The Walking Dead jumped the shark with a death so stupidly shortsighted and pointless I've lost patience with my formerly favorite show:(

Yet I find myself continually thinking of Justice League's haunting opening credits montage of a dark world without hope (Superman) set against Sigrid's extra-sadness-inducing cover of "Everybody Knows." That scene was far too dark and far too real, particularly the shot of the homeless guy with the words "I tried" written on his collection box (get ready for the super friends, kids!!!). The scene made me uncomfortable in the theater because despite the Whedon CGI crapfest with quips that followed, that depressing vision of America in the credits felt right for 2017.

Trump's America is intolerable. We're only going to spend two paragraphs on politics, but I can't talk about my sadness this year without addressing the country's. There are plenty of 2017 political recaps elsewhere and most of you Esteemed Readers have been living through the same national nightmare I have. If, like me, you've been fighting depression in 2017, know that there have been some extenuating factors weighing us all down.

In a way, the evil of the republican party has restored my faith in God, because evidently Satan exists in this world. Who else would want to strip healthcare from the most vulnerable to give more of our money to billionaires? Who else would endorse a pedophile and willfully ignore treason for tax cuts to keep their donors happy? And if Satan were at the head of a political party, wouldn't he want it to be known as the "Christian" party? And when the republican party behaves as though it were led by Satan, how much practical difference does it really make if this is actually true or just metaphorically so?

(try not to look directly into his demonic eyes)

One of the great ironies of finishing The Book of David was that I intended for that story to serve as my final argument to myself that religion isn't real and it had the opposite effect. I won't claim to understand the nature of God and I'm still not interested in organized religion, but I think I'm officially done flirting with atheism. Sorry, there's just too much weirdness to this reality for me to declare the world spiritually flat.

Okay, that's religion and politics. Let's get back to writing:) As I said, I'm not completely satisfied with my output for the year. The Book of David took over two years to put together. Chapter Five wasn't published until June and I still had to produce the paperback editions. Banneker Bones 2 is hopefully over halfway finished, but it's another big project and it's taking longer than planned. And I'm just not as fast a writer as I want to be.

In my defense, this picture should make it clear that The Book of David was a really, really big story to have told (Chapter Five alone is longer than all my other books):

I've taught multiple classes on writing this year, which was really fun (still time to sign up for my 2018 classes), and I did a couple author panels, such as this genre discussion you can listen to right now. In one class, I addressed the subject of depression as it's particularly prevalent among writers. The class ground to a halt as nearly every writing student had an experience to relate.

As a much younger man, I had a few instances of crippling depression that kept me from getting out of bed for days. But I eventually figured out that exercise combined with thinking better thoughts and living a better life mostly quells those negative feelings to a manageable level. And honestly, if you're not at least a little sad now and again, you're not seeing the human condition for what it is: simultaneously a miracle and a tragedy.

On November 9th of last year, as Mrs. Ninja and I were still reeling from the news that a racist reality television star was now in charge of the nukes, a doctor sat us down and gave us some news that will impact us the rest of our lives. That's as much as I feel comfortable sharing right now, but know that it was a powerful one-two punch that knocked me on my butt. It might have been the most profoundly upsetting day of my life.

Thank God, I was in the middle of The Book of David and so I had to keep writing, which kept me going. If I had been expected to start a new project, I might've lost the whole year. The beginning of 2017 was a rough time at the old Kent Farm (and yes, that's really what we call our suburbanite dwelling). But I got out of bed everyday to take care of my child and to keep producing my word count. Writing may be a cause of depression for many, but I say it saved me from depression.

By the time Chapter Five was published, I'd processed most of my grief (there's always more). There were a few weeks where I was just barely able to keep the farm together, but it got done and gave me the knowledge that if need be, I could probably endure worse. After all, being alive now means all of us are the product of humans who have endured much worse and produced offspring to carry on in the face of ever present tragedy. Yes, we have to endure Donald Trump, but we also have a vaccine for polio and are on our eighth edition of Mario Kart, so overall, I like to think human life is improving generation over generation.

Life is sometimes sad and hard and I've got to be strong enough to deal with it because no one else can do it for me. And the world just keeps on going whether I stay in bed feeling sad about it or whether I get up and live my life to the best of my ability. Either way, time flies, and this is all the life I'm ever going to have and the only chance I'm ever going to get to live it.

So I'm still writing and I hope to have Banneker Bones 2 and some other projects I think you'll like out where you can read them soon. Will 2018 be the year my writing breaks through to the next level? I hope so. Every year since I started these posts has been better than the previous year. And the only way to get where I'm going is to keep moving.

Getting back to what I said about being a lucky blogger, let me clarify: I've worked very hard to maintain this blog over the years. I've been diligent in my posting and kept this thing going when there weren't famous writers appearing here left and right. This is a long post among a lot of long posts, and yet traffic numbers tell me Esteemed Readers visit these posts long after I've forgotten them (probably for the Smallville gifs).

More famous writers will be showing up here in 2018 and plenty of soon-to-be-famous ones as well because this blog has momentum and so long as I don't do anything really stupid like write a long post professing a belief in flying saucers, I expect Middle Grade Ninja to continue to be a swell blog. And in my defense, the New York Times did recently confirm the pentagon has indeed run at least one secret flying saucer program.

I'm not silly enough to take full credit for the blog's success. I got lucky in that I started this blog at the ideal time and got some writers I knew to appear here which led to some writers I didn't know which led to some really famous writers which led to more famous writers appearing here. Yes, I've worked hard, but I also got lucky (and I've seen too many 1% folks not admit that to do likewise). If I'm honest, I don't know that I could replicate this blog's success if I had to start over from scratch today.

So far, I've not been quite as lucky with my fiction writing. I may never be that lucky. Luck isn't something that can be controlled. I can control my doing the work that needs to be done and I know that every book I've published is the best I could make it and I love every one of them (yes, even and especially Pizza Delivery). I'm improving at marketing and book promotion and am constantly working hard. That way, should I catch the next lucky break, I'll be ready to make the most of it.

I hope 2018 is a super year for both of us, Esteemed Reader. I hope we continue to overcome fear and sadness and prepare our vessels to travel. We may catch a strong breeze or we may not, but if we don't hoist our sails high, it won't much matter. And above all else, writing is fun and worth doing for its own sake. This is all the life we'll ever have and all the time we'll ever have to live it. I don't know what you're going to do in 2018, but I will believe a Ninja can fly.


  1. Happy New Year, Robert! Loved the picture. You're right having kids makes us realize we're getting old. I'm 62 with an almost 21 year old daughter and starting to develop our great adult relationship. Sorry that this last year has been hard, but try not to be too hard on yourself. You are making huge accomplishments by keeping up this blog and writing while being a parent and working. it's so hard to juggle and not get stressed out and stressed. Hoping you have a fantastic year!

    1. You should talk. You're juggling plenty yourself:)Thanks for the positive comments. Here's hoping 2018 brings great things for both of us!


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