life

Update: The Last 3 Months

Yeah, I haven’t been posting much lately. There’s a reason for that. The past few months have been very busy for me. First, there was the bar exam, and intense two day test that I spent months preparing for. Then I had to find a job to support me, my wife, and our daughter. Then I had to spend time either helping take care of my father-in-law, or spending time watching my daughter so my wife could. Then my computer broke (and every time I get it back, something else seems to be wrong with it. Hopefully the next time I get it back, it’ll be in working order). I was busy and stressed, and frankly I couldn’t get much writing done, and didn’t care to.

Then my father-in-law passed away. I was close to him, and loved him like my own father, so this hasn’t been the easiest time for me. I can honestly say that he was the best man I’ve ever known. It’s been barely two weeks since he passed, and it still feels raw. I’ve found myself writing more now, if only to express my emotions, to find some way to let them out. I keep on thinking back to the times I could have spent with him, but didn’t, often for my own selfish reasons. It’s hard not to dwell on such things.

So I’m not going to lie and say that I’ll be updating this blog every week. I honestly don’t know when the next time will be. Right now I’m just going to focus on my life, my family, and my writing. But I will try to post here more often. But for the time being, don’t expect it to be a regular thing.

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Dealing with Death in Life and Fiction

Death is common in fiction, just as it is common in life. It is the highest of stakes, even though ever character, just like you and everyone you know, will end up dead eventually. Different people react to death, or even the possibility of death, in different ways. Fear is the most common emotion associated with it, but it isn’t one that everyone experiences.

Until my child was born, I never feared for my own death. I did, however, fear the deaths of others. There’s an elderly British man in his eighties who I was fairly close with about eight years ago. We met while I was spending a year abroad, and often had philosophical discussions. Over time, we’d fallen out of touch. Yet whenever I feel the desire to call him and find out what he’s up to, I hesitate. I’m scared I’ll find out that he’s not around anymore, and as long as I don’t call, as long as I don’t know his status, I can tell myself that he’s probably still alive.

Because death is a universal experience, it is bound to come up in your writing at some point. When it does, try to remember that not everyone has the same reaction, and not everyone faces death the same way.

I remember my grandmother, a holocaust survivor, telling me that after the murder of her family, she no longer wanted to live. She was jealous of people that didn’t wake up in the morning. When she finally did pass away, I think she viewed it as a relief. Death was something she welcomed. My father realized this, and yes, he mourned her loss, but at the same time he found a sense of peace, knowing that her suffering on this world was finally over.

There’s a book, A Brush With Death : An Artist in the Death Camps, by Morris Wyszogrod (or Moshe, as he was called by his friends). The book recounts the author’s experiences in the Holocaust, and actually bears a few similarities to Yossel, something I pointed out to author Joe Kubert when I had the opportunity to meet him, a year before his death. Of course, Moshe Wyszogrod isn’t around anymore either. Few survivors are. But what makes his book unique isn’t just that it is an account of death and horror, recorded as experienced by someone who faced it day in and day out for years, but rather because of a few paragraphs written here and there, throughout the book. The author mentions a friend of his, who he met in the Warsaw Ghetto, entered into the concentration camps with, and eventually was separated from as the war went on, only to be reunited in America with years later: Mayer Lachman. My grandfather didn’t talk much about his experience in the Holocaust (or talk much at all, for that matter), so a decent amount of what I know about his experiences come from that book. There were of course some things left out, such as his wife and daughter, who never made it. My uncle once asked him what he did when he found out his wife and daughter were killed. He shrugged and said, “I went back to work.” Because mourning would mean death for him as well. Instead her persevered, and lived long enough to see his great-great-grandchild. Not long ago he was watching some great-grandchildren run around in his son’s backyard. “They didn’t win,” he said with a smile.

Mayer Lachman passed away exactly one year ago, at the age of one hundred and five. A sick child who doctors didn’t think would live beyond his first year had lived through two world wars. The anniversary of a loved one’s passing is a time to reflect on life, and celebrate their legacy. I suppose that’s why I’m writing this.

Where Have I Gone?

writers-block-calvin

Hello, dear readers. You may have noticed that I have not posted much lately. That’s because I’ve been busy. Both my blog and book writing has fallen by the wayside, due to adjusting to taking care of my newborn daughter, finishing up law school, and a close member of my family getting hospitalized due to major health issues. Now, as I study for the bar exam, I am still writing, though at a snail’s pace. The second Spark book is over halfway done, so there’s that, and I’ve fleshed out the outline for the third. I hope to begin writing more in earnest soon enough. Please just bear with me.

Time Lost

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Every year on my birthday, I get well wishes, cards, and gifts. Even with all the celebration though, it is impossible not to think of my own mortality. While celebrating the day of my birth, I’m one year closer to death. And now I find myself closer to thirty than to twenty, a thought that scares me. Just ten years ago I was a clueless teenager, unable to imagine I’d ever get this far. My current age seemed forever away, as did marriage and children. But here I am, an old man (or so my sister-in-law tells me), who could become a father any day now. I’m not thinking of my own birthday, but the day of birth of my child. How can I be a father when I’m a child myself? How can the calendar tell me I’m an adult when I have never felt like one? How did I make it this far? Can I handle what’s just around the corner?

I thought I had more time.

Marketing Failures

A little while ago, I offered a short story ebook for free to anyone signing up for my mailing list. No one signed up. Not one person. I didn’t understand. I had people who view the post and even the mailing list page. Heck, the post that I announced I was giving away a free short story had numerous likes, yet no one signed up to the mailing list. Not a single person. Every time I would check to see if anyone signed up, there would be a this feeling in my stomach over overwhelming dread. And for good reason.

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Failing is horrifying. It reminded me of when I used to make animated shorts. I would spend months animating a little 4-7 minute animation, and I was lucky if I could get 50 views after a couple of months. What’s worst of all is seeing horrendous books and youtube videos that are way worse than mine, yet get more views or sell better. But every time, I lift myself up. And her I am again. Last week I released my first novel. Will it sell? I don’t know. It hasn’t been selling as well as I’d hoped up until now. I do have other marketing plans though, which I have not yet put into effect. Additionally, I’m still working on the second book, and they say the more books in your backlog, the better the series as a whole does. Here’s hoping there’s some truth to that. Unlike the mailing list idea, I’m not ready to write my book off as a failure. Not yet. But regardless, my failures will not define me, and I genuinely believe that with enough work and effort, I can make A Spark Ignites a success. I’m putting myself out there. Because I’m a creator, and that’s what creative people do. Failures be damned.

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Description:  Matt was just a regular teenager, dealing with homework, hormones, high school drama, and an obnoxious older brother. He found his life complicated, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Then, when Spark, the city’s greatest superhero unexpectedly dies, Matt finds himself in possession of the hero’s costume and gadgets, with a note asking him to carry on the legacy. Finding himself unable to refuse, he reluctantly begins his superhero career, hoping he can live up to the name of his predecessor. Not knowing the first thing about being a superhero, Matt soon finds himself overwhelmed. Will he find himself in an early grave, just like his hero?

Meanwhile, an aging supervillain, the Inventor, creates a powerful device capable of killing thousands. An elaborate plan is put in motion that could lead to the destruction of everything Matt holds dear. Will he be able to figure out the how to stop him in time? And when evidence arises which indicates that Spark’s death may not be the accident everyone believes it is, Matt finds himself consumed with trying to uncover the truth. Will he be able to get to the bottom of this mystery? And if so, will he be able to handle the dark reality behind it?

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Your One Good Idea

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(Not representative of A Spark Ignites. At all. You can tell this was written by a teenager.)

“Everyone has at least one good story in them.” I don’t remember who it was who said that to me (and no, I’m not talking about the Hitchens quote, who might I add was not actually the first person to use it), but I remember I thought about it a lot in high school. I had been working on a webcomic which would eventually become A Spark Ignites, and I was beginning to worry that Spark was my only idea, my only story. Allow me to explain.

003PromoWhen I was seven years old, I created my own comic book character, and began writing and drawing my old comic books. Every year until I was thirteen, through one thing or another, all my comics would get destroyed or go missing. And so, I’d start it all over again every year, promising myself to outdo the years previous. Mind you, I didn’t just try comics. I wrote scripts, animated cartoons, and even programmed video games, all about Spark. By the time I was halfway through high school, I began to wonder if that one lone idea was all I had.

002PromoPieceSo I stopped. For a couple of months, I didn’t work on Spark at all. I just let my mind wander. I kept a small journal where I’d jot down whatever popped into my head. And by the end of those two months, I’d had ideas for a book, a television show, and another comic book (and not one of them involved superheroes). That’s why every year I’d allow myself a break from whatever it was I was working on, just to think. Sometimes I would revisit the journal and play with those ideas (I’ve taken the old tv series idea and used it to outline six books, which will be my next project after the third book in the Spark series), and other times I’d come up with entirely new ones, like the animated short below:

The trick is to just stop working on what you’re working on. Think about another genre. Something totally out there. Brainstorm. Read. Watch. Listen. Daydream. Just get your head out of you “one good idea.” Focusing on the one thing can be stifling to your creativity. You shouldn’t be afraid to let yourself get out there, out of your comfort zone. You cant worry about failure. Ultimately, while I decided to write my first novel based off what evolved out of what I considered my first good idea, I know it wasn’t my last, and that there will be many more to come.

The thing is, no one is uncreative. Everyone has an original thought. An original story to tell. And who knows, if you just push yourself away from your first idea, maybe you’ll find you have more. You won’t know until you try.

Writing What You Don’t Know

write-what-you-knowThey say write what you know. Sounds simple enough. But when writing fiction, you’ll inevitably have to write about things you’ve never experienced. What do you do then?

You can always do research, and read about other people’s personal experiences. It can be helpful, but often it can come across as just spitting back something you heard or read, not something you experienced, and sometimes the reader will be able to tell that the feeling behind it is hollow.

Your own personal experiences are the best wells to draw from. Just because you didn’t experience something exactly doesn’t mean that you can’t approximate your experiences and adapt them to suit the story. For example, I did not go to a public high school. I went to a private religious boys-only school. As such, I never experienced a high school romance. In fact, teenage dating is alien to me. However, my high school experience was not without drama, and my college experience was not without dating. By drawing from my high school and college experiences, I was able to write scenes taking place in a public school that felt grounded and real, even if I did not have those exact experiences myself.

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When it comes the the more fantastical elements to a story, one can still draw from personal experiences. It just requires a little exaggeration. I may not know what it’s like to turn into a seven-foot-tall green rage-monster, but I know what it’s like to be angry. I know what it feels like to have that power and adrenaline coursing through me, and how easy it can be to lose oneself to the blinding rage, doing as one pleases without thought of consequence. I don’t know what it feels like to fly, but I know the feeling of exhilaration when the roller coaster drops, leaving my stomach behind as the ground rushes by me, my face fighting against the wind. Just take what you experienced and exaggerate it, and it will read better than simply imagining it and writing that down.

Whenever able, write what you know, even if you don’t know it.

Making a Difference: The Reason We Write

I used to enjoy Taylor Swift. I loved how Norman Rockwellesque her early music felt. The innocence. It brought forth images of a simpler life in a small town, where every love is your first love, true love, where every kiss is your first, where life was ideal, simple, beautiful. Perfect. Of course, life is not like that, I know. It never was. Not for us, not for our parents, and not for Taylor Swift. But still, I liked it anyway. Call it nostalgia for a time that never existed. There’s a song though, from her relatively more recent years, that is probably my favorite of hers.*

“All Too Well” by Taylor Swift

There’s a reason why this is probably my favorite Taylor Swift song. Its because it touches a primal desire. Throughout our life, all of us meet people only to fade out of their life after a time, and its nice to imagine you had some sort of impact, that they haven’t forgotten you, that it wasn’t all for nothing.

Its nice to imagine you mattered.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
-Shelley’s “Ozymandias”

The reason we write, the reason we become writers, is very much the same reason we have children. We do it to leave something behind. Not fame or fortune. Rather, a legacy. When all is said and done, when we’re lying there on our deathbed, we want to know we made a difference. We want to be remembered. Because as long as we leave something behind, we can rest knowing that in some way, however small, we mattered.

Our legacy is our immortality.

 

*I should note that her recent single, Wildest Dreams, deals with similar subject matter, but does it in a more shallow way, not to mention the music video, although gorgeously shot, seems to be advocating adultery, which is as unNorman Rockwellesque as you can get.

On Following Your Dreams and Giving Up

Scott McCloud’s ZOT! is one of my favorite comic books. While the book is about a superhero from an alternate dimension, towards the end of its run it becomes another animal entirely. Zot gets trapped in our dimension and all of the sudden the stories seem to almost completely ignore him, and instead just focus on the lives of the people around him. What started off as a sci-fi superhero story became simply a story about normal people and normal life, and the issues they face.

One of the issues, #30 to be exact, is told from the perspective of Barbara Weaver, Zot’s girlfriend’s mom. She’s going through a divorce, and relates the story of how she met her husband, Horton. In the beginning, Horton was a dreamer, he had big plans, lofty dreams, ideals, etc., and that’s part of what she found attractive about him. So they got married. But as time went on, Horton wasn’t doing so well financially. They had bills to pay. A kid on the way. So Horton gives up his dream, and enters the corporate world. Not for himself, but to be able to better provide for his family. To be able to give them a good, comfortable life. Horton grows up.

The funny part is, it’s implied that that’s the reason Barbara doesn’t love him anymore is because Horton is no longer a dreamer. He’s a realist. It implies that poor Horton lost his way. Now, I understand what the author was trying to say with this. He himself was considering giving up his dream at the time, due to his comic not being so successful and having financial difficulties. He wrote this to convince himself that he’d be happier following his dream, even if his family suffers as a result. But if you ask me, Horton is an amazing family man. He gave up his dream for those he loved. He shouldn’t be made out to be the bad guy. He was acting selflessly.

Perhaps I’m wrong though. Maybe I’m just writing this to convince myself that I made the right decision, giving up on my dream. I write, sure, when I can. But at the moment it’s a hobby. When someone goes out and works or goes to school and only writes in their free time, all it is is a hobby (or perhaps a second job, stressing the second part). I would like for it to be my profession, but I can’t very well drop everything and jump all in. Not when I have rent and bills to pay, a wife to take care of and a child on the way.

“When you’re a little kid you’re a bit of everything; Scientist, Philosopher, Artist.
Sometimes it seems like growing up is giving these things up one at a time.”
-The Wonder Years

Giving up dreams is never easy, but its essential, most of the time. We come to realize there are things more important than what we thought we would always want. We come to realize that these new dreams are more important to us than the old one, but letting the old one go is always difficult. And we always look back, wondering ‘what if…’

One of my favorite episodes of The Wonder Years is the one where Kevin goes with his father to work. While there, he asks his dad when he knew he wanted to be a manager at NORCOM. Jack explains that while “Being manager of product support services is a good job, but it’s not what I thought I’d be doing with my life.” He goes on to tell Kevin about how he always wanted to be a captain of a ship. Kevin asks why didn’t he do it, and Jack responds, “How come? Well, you know, one thing leads to another, went off to college, met your mom, next summer I got a job on a loading dock here at NORCOM, the rest is history.” Then Jack says what is probably the most important line, at least to me, that’s ever been said in a television show: “You know, Kevin, you can’t always do every silly thing you want to in life. You have to make your choices. You have to try and be happy with them.”

There’s no shame in giving up a dream. In fact, I’d venture to say there’s honor in it. And I’m sure, somewhere, Horton kept his dream alive. Some part of him hopes that he can quit one day and be the person he was. If only life was that simple.

Beginnings

I find that beginnings are always hard. Be it a first day of school, a first day at a new job, or starting a new project, there’s always this sense of anxiety. What if you can’t cut it? What if you fail? What if you get fired? What if you never finish? It can be overwhelming.

Yes, starting is always the toughest part, but once you get past that, you usually find that things flow. Several days in, you’ll find yourself wondering what you were ever so anxious about in the first place. Throughout my life, I’ve had many beginnings. The most anxious have probably been when I started driving, when I started college, my first date, and when I started working. (I’m lucky that marriage came relatively easy to me.) These universal firsts that everyone goes through eventually became the norm. I got used to driving, dating, college, and working. I could say that to an extent, I succeeded in those aspects. When it came to my own personal projects however, that was another matter entirely.

Ever since I was seven years old, I attempted to complete various different projects. I worked on my own comic books, video games, and animated shorts. While on the comic side, I finished several issues a year up until I turned thirteen or so (and proceeded to use the school’s copier to make copies, staple them, and sell them for 25 cents apiece), beyond that most of my projects ended in failure. None of the video games I attempted to make were ever completed. And during high school and college I attempted to make about six animated shorts, but only finished two of them. I worked on a (now defunct) webcomic for a few years, but never actually finished the last issue, leaving the story unresolved. I still have the last few pages, most of which are inked, sitting in a folder on my shelf. I keep telling myself I’ll finish it eventually, but I suspect I’m lying to myself. I’m not as proud of the story as I was when sixteen-year-old-me wrote it, or even when nineteen-year-old-me penciled and inked it. And so it will likely stay on my shelf, collecting dust, and perhaps I’ll show it to my children someday and lament of what might have been.

But failures are no reason to stop trying new projects. My problem, I realized, was that I tried making things that simply took too long to make, and it eventually burned me out. The only two animated shorts I ever finished were only around six minutes each and took me that many months, while I threw in the towel during the sixth month of production of my most ambitious twenty-two minute animated short after having a paltry thirty seconds (I had animated a single scene no less than 3 times from scratch, hoping to get it just right). So it made sense to me that my next project would have to me something that I would be able to finish in six months or less. Unfortunately, due to increased responsibilities and decreased time (the wife, school, work, etc.), I don’t have the same opportunities I had to create. That’s when I realized that there was something I could still do, so long as I had a laptop: Write a book.

I had several ideas for books, but I thought it’d be best to hit the ground running. So I dug out an old outline I had written some six years ago and began working on it from there. My only time to write was on the subway to and from work or school, assuming I was lucky enough to get a seat, but hey, people have done more with worse. Starting was certainly the most difficult part. The blank page staring back at you, begging to be filled, but you are unsure of just what to fill it with. Once I started, however, the rest of it (for the most part) flowed. I guess what could be taken from this is that you should just start. Stop putting off whatever it is you want to do. Just make sure you pick realistic goals for yourself first. Nearly four months later, I finished my first draft. There’s still much work to be done, but the end is actually in sight. I’m excited that soon I’ll be able to finally put another tally in the ‘completed’ column, and even more so, I’m excited to share it with all of you.

That brings us to this blog. Starting this wasn’t easy either. For weeks, I dragged my legs. But here it is, the first post. Will this blog catch on? Will anyone read it? Will I be able to stick with it, or will I give up six months later? I guess we’ll find out together.