Tuesday, January 1, 2019

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year Five (2018)

Well, the years start coming and they don't stop coming and I'm so old that I still quote Smashmouth. That song has graced our eardrums for 20 years this year and Shrek has graced our eyeballs for 18 years. Do you remember which theater you were in when you first saw that movie? Yeah? Are you thinking about it? That was 18 years ago.

Anyway, happy New Year, Esteemed Reader. Let's get on with this year-in review nonsense so that, God willing, 20 years from now I can wax philosophical about where I was when I wrote this post, and think to myself, Smashmouth is still a dumb name for a band and I never really liked Shrek (popular culture and I don't always agree), but "All Star" was a catchy tune and I wish I'd thought about weightier issues in my squandered life (do you guys remember Chumbawamba?).

2018 was a year that, when I look back on the years that really aged me, will stand out. 2018 is responsible for more than its fair share of my emerging wrinkles. I had an unusually difficult writing year. My summer got particularly rough, but then a couple things happened that made me go, oh yeah, there is a God (probably) and reality is sometimes wonky, so it's best to be optimistic and not worry so much.



The Blog in 2018

We had lots of great guests at the blog this year. We had some oh-my-gosh-she's-so-famous-and-she's-here authors stop by and some keep-your-eyes-on-him-because-he's-doing-great-things authors as well and I remain eternally grateful to both types of authors for making the time for me and Esteemed Reader. I've never met an author I didn't admire at least a little and Middle Grade Ninja remains one of the best things I've ever done because it's put me in contact with so many of them.

We also had some excellent literary agents and public relations experts visit and I hope we'll have more in 2019. I feel every interview posted here makes me smarter for having read it. And I'm thrilled by the many high quality guest posts so many talented authors and publishing professionals have shared with us.

I read a bunch of amazing books this year, some of which I reviewed here, many more which I didn't. I've said this is the greatest time in history to be a writer, but it's also the greatest time to be a reader. There are wonderful books being produced all around us and most anyone can find a way to access an endless supply. 2018 was, relative to all (known) preceding human history, an amazing time to be alive.

In May, I was invited to be a guest on my first ever podcast interview. In June, I recorded the first episode of my own podcast with author Laura Martin, although it didn't become an actual podcast until early December.

A podcast/YouTube show is something I've thought about doing for years, but haven't because it's a scary prospect. In listening to one of my many favorite podcasts, I heard a sociologist (can't remember which one) explain that a fear of being in front of a crowd makes perfect evolutionary sense. For much of (known) human history, if you were at the front of the tribe, you might be about to be executed.

And as you'll hear, I'm a far better writer than a speaker. I prefer the time to carefully choose my words rather than vomiting up a word salad on the fly. Also, until this year, I haven't really had the time to record any kind of show. But my friends, the authors Laura Martin and Barbara Shoup were willing to be my first guests and I'll be forever grateful to them as they could each easily host their own show and helped me get over my initial nerves.

Lo and behold, once I got over my fear of appearing in front of all the internet, I really enjoyed the conversations we had. Talking with talented people is both illuminating and fun. Maybe the show will continue to resonate with viewers and listeners. Maybe it won't. But for sure I'll be a better writer for having had such insightful chats with people smarter than I am.

I don't know what the future of the podcast will be, but I'm overjoyed with the great guests I've interviewed so far and looking forward to talking with the amazing guests already scheduled to appear in 2019. I'm still a little nervous at just how many folks are watching and listening, but I've gotten used to strangers reading my books (God bless them) and I suppose I'll get used to strangers listening to me talk as well.

So please subscribe to my channel on YouTube or follow the podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunes, and Google Play or just keep an eye on the blog for future installments. If you wanted to like, subscribe, and leave a review, that would be extremely helpful and appreciated. This is going to be a lot of fun and there's more ninja-ing ahead.




My Favorite Media in 2018

As you know, I don't pick favorite books. I love them all. Also, every year I bump into more authors in the real world and I like getting along with them:)

I'm seeing fewer movies and television programs every year because life is short and I feel like movie trailers are frequently better than the flicks. I didn't see A Star is Born, but that sure was a great movie trailer:)

My favorite movie of 2018 was hands-down Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. The flicks I also really loved this year were A Quiet Place (I've been debating the merits of the film's final shot for months), Vice (such an angry movie about events that SHOULD make us angry), Halloween (how I'd missed a truly fun slasher flick), and Ready Player One (welcome back into my heart, Mr. Spielberg). And like everyone else in the world, I loved Avengers: Infinity War and  Black Panther. I also really enjoyed The Meg, which was exactly the movie I wanted it to be.

But honestly, the best experience I had in all of non-book media this year was Red Dead Redemption 2. The hype was real. It was exciting, funny, and heartbreaking. There are moments from that game I'm going to remember forever. I think Benjamin Byron Davis should win all the acting awards for his portrayal of Dutch Van der Linde. And how lovely it was to see John Marston again after all these years.

Marvel's Spider-Man and Far Cry 5 were each incredible experiences as well and both came as surprises to me. I'd never played a Far Cry game before (I checked out the others, but 5 is the best by far) and Spider-Man games have been mostly disappointing since the previous high point of Spider-Man 2. If taking the time to play these games means I ultimately write fewer books in this life, I'm okay with that (fair trade).

Also wonderful, but in a different way, were Assassin's Creed: Odyssey and Just Cause 4, neither of which I've completely finished, but I will eventually. They're the perfect games to play a bit at a time while listening to an audiobook after a long day of reading and writing and parenting.


(this scene made me misty-eyed)


Living with Politics in 2018

There are too many political scandals from 2018 to attempt recounting them all here or to properly express my outrage at kids in cages or the rest of it, and most of you Esteemed Readers live here in the US of A, so you already know. I really only want to write about how politics have impacted me this year. Trump is an anxiety machine.

When the history of this time is written, I'm confident the current Republican party will be remembered as villains. What might not be remembered is the daily strain of living through our national nightmare. The worst periods of depression I felt this year were due in large part to being confounded that this illegitimate "presidency" has been allowed to proceed, largely unimpeded. It's been a source of constant stress to watch my country collapsing tweet by tweet.

I remember where I was on 9/11. I watched on TV as the second plane struck the second tower in real time, horrified with the rest of the country, and I won't ever forget it. Similarly, I'll remember where I was the first time I saw Donald Trump's press conference in Hellsinki and the President of the United States sided with Putin over America.

The experience of watching that press conference must be what it's like to see a flying saucer (alas, I still haven't seen one). The pentagon admitted it's been studying flying saucers just last year and the evidence that they're in our skies and that the government is hushing up their existence is overwhelming. Most of us know the flying saucers are probably real, while pushing the information from our minds as it's not a practical concern for day to day living. It's still got to be a shock to actually see one. And afterward, you can't ever un-see it.

Similarly, we've known Trump was dishonest and acting strangely in regard to Russia since the election (Hillary credibly accused him of being Putin's puppet in the debates). But to actually see Trump's treason in real time, to realize beyond the shadow of a doubt that a traitor is in our oval office... there aren't sufficient words for that shock. If this had happened in any story outside of a comic book, I would've laughed at the absurdity of it, and yet that moment has now happened within our history.

After the Helsinki conference, I genuinely felt hopeless for a time. How do you believe in anything after seeing this monstrous "president" betray us? Actual presidents are legitimately-ish elected.  We're living under the occupation of an installed Russian asset and no one is stopping him and at least some Republicans are in on it!?! I can't breathe, I can'tI need to sit down.

But I voted in the midterms and so did a historic number of other Americans and we got our blue wave. Will it be enough? I don't know. But I'm cautiously optimistic that Donald Trump will not serve out his term and that we may see some real reform in our politics as a result of this catastrophic presidency.

Fingers crossed...

UPDATE: After this posted, Elizabeth Warren announced her plans to (probably) run for president in 2020, and this fills me with hope. I've been a fan of hers for years and I've read all her books. I don't need any primaries, I don't need any debates; she's been my number one choice for president for at least a decade. Assuming she runs, I will actively campaign for Elizabeth Warren as there is no better person to lead our needed political revolution.



Dark Times in 2018

Politics wasn't the only thing bumming me out this year. In May, my son's school had an early release due to a shooting in our district that really freaked me out. I don't want to recount the experience again, but I wrote a post about it on the day if you're curious to know what I'm like when I'm simultaneously heartbroken and terrified. I've since read several social media posts from friends of mine throughout the country who had similar experiences because America is a place where school shootings happen regularly and we can't get gun control because our politicians are bought and our politics are broken (happy New Year!).

I'm not going to share everything that happened to me and my family this summer, but know that there were many horrifying things that happened and plenty of reasons to despair. I'm happy to (and unable not to) pour my heart into my books and offer them up to the world. But despite running this blog and now popping up on YouTube and itunes and elsewhere, I'm actually a private person. I'm not interested in living my actual life in public, just my artistic one.

Because I'm not going to share, we'll move on, except for this: just when things looked bleakest for me and my family, they improbably turned around at literally the last moment they could. Since I'm not offering details (maybe in a few years), you'll have to take my word for it: this was the metaphorical equivalent of that helicopter crashing through the tunnel in the first Mission Impossible movie, its whirling blades only just barely managing not to slice Tom Cruise's throat open by centimeters (dunh duhn duhn da da dunh dunh!).

Perhaps I've said too much? If only I'd been more vague. In any case, things at the Kent household have turned around dramatically and I'm very happy with how well things are going now (and not taking it for granted). The experience has left me once again questioning the nature of my reality as such events are wont to do. I imagine Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt has spent many hours in a temple someplace contemplating the nature of his existence as well.





Being a Writer in 2018

I did lose some writing time this year to life and I fell behind a little, but not much. I wrote far more days this year than not. I read a whole bunch of excellent books and some others that offered me important lessons on how not to write a book:) Time spent reading is never regretted.

I critiqued multiple manuscripts and led my first five-week fiction workshop for students who paid money to attend it. And then I led two more, and I'll be leading another workshop in 2019 (still time to sign up). I learned more about being a writer in 2018 by teaching writers, and that's been a really satisfying thing to have done. I've now received multiple books from former students who are out there making their contributions to our literary conversation and that makes me feel I'm doing some good with my time in the world.

And yet I didn't publish a single book in 2018, even though I planned to. Sigh. See, what had happened was... Writing books is hard, man, especially middle grade books.

I've actually written the equivalent of three books in 2018. Unfortunately, they were mostly different versions of Banneker Bones and the Alligator People. I don't know why I ever thought it would be easy. Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees is the most difficult book I've ever written (and my favorite). OF COURSE, its sequel is similarly challenging.

I had a version of the novel ready to go for its planned publication date of Halloween. It was a very good version and I loved it. But my critique group had some ideas about how it could be better. And that's why I have a critique group in addition to early readers and multiple editors. Their suggestions required some significant restructuring I couldn't complete in time, so I had to make a difficult decision to disappoint Banneker's fans and delay publication.

I hate disappointing Esteemed Reader, but I also couldn't live with knowing there was a better version of the book I could've given them and didn't because I ran out of time. Part of the appeal of indie publishing is that I set the rules (sometimes). These books of mine aren't just widgets to me. They're Horcruxes as a bit of my soul goes into each one. 

An even better Banneker Bones and the Alligator People will be released in 2019. I've taken advantage of the delay to complete a good chunk of Banneker's third adventure, hopefully to be published sometime before 2070. I've also worked on some YA horror stories I'll be sharing more details about soonish.



Being an Author in 2018

Despite not publishing a book, I feel I did a pretty good job of being an author this yearnot that I don't plan to do better next year (I always do). I taught several classes, was interviewed in several excellent venues, and was invited to speak at lots of places that weren't my own podcast. I got some lovely emails from Esteemed Readers that meant quite a lot to me who like what I'm doing, and some who were promised Banneker Bones 2 and were perturbed they didn't get it (it's coming, I swear!).

I was invited to guest post for Indiana Humanities, which was pretty awesome, and I attended my first MoCon. I'm looking forward to going back every year as Maurice Broadus knows how to put on a great writers conference (you should come, Esteemed Reader).

Sometimes in the stress of day to day life, it's easy to lose track of the fact that most of my dreams have come true. Sure, I could be doing better, I could always be doing better, and the day I don't feel that way is probably the day I should quit. But I almost lost everything this year (vague to the last), and I appreciate everything I have all the more because of it.

I've got a loving family, an honest-to-God readership (fans, even), the respect of my peers, and now my own podcast/TV show, not to mention a PS4. There are generations of royal families who haven't lived lives as good as mine (with my air conditioning and my indoor plumbing and my dental care). In 2018, I was reminded to be grateful for every moment of this weird, wonderful life.

In 2019, I'm planning to work even harder and make even more of my dreams come true because why not? Who knows how long any of us has got left in this life? I plan to make the most of all the great opportunities I've got and to play Far Cry New Dawn!

Here's hoping you do the same, Esteemed Reader. Let's blast off this year and live our best lives!


(Tom Cruise doesn't want to hear your excuses or your "laws of physics")

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