Love, Angst, and Marriage

2018-03-02 07.03.14

Last week, at the ripe old age of 37, I got married. It was a small affair with family and friends, just west of Dripping Springs, Texas in the Hill Country. The weather had been rainy leading up to the day, but on Friday, the sun was shining and a cool breeze was blowing. Dominique was beautiful, the flowers were beautiful, and everyone we hired to play music and serve food did a great job. We danced the night away with friends and later, listened to stories from drunken family members as we sat around a fire. All of that was expected… what I didn’t expect was that in the course of writing my toast for the reception, I would finally nail down where my writing style came from.

I’ll explain.

As religion fades from popularity, traditional church weddings will surely follow. We were no exception, and through a series of compromises, we settled on a non-denominational ceremony. I was surprised to learn, upon meeting with our officiant, that we could write any ceremony we wanted. What an opportunity! A writer who has written about love all his life with the chance to write his own ceremony? Surely, he would not pass that up, right?

Ha! Wrong.

With El Matador going on 10 months, a book to finish, a wedding to finalize, and so on and so on, there just wasn’t any time. So we compromised again and Frankensteined a new ceremony based off the officiant’s past work. That did not, however, keep us from having to write our own vows, and in my case, a toast.

I went through several iterations before settling on a final version. I kept the political jokes at bay and removed anything vaguely sexual (I’m so glad we decided to wait until marriage, sweetie, as El Matador looks on). Early on in the process, I found myself sitting and thinking about a single question: what is love?

Baby, don’t hurt me.

It dawned on me that I have been trying to understand love since a very young age. I continue to explore the concept in my books, rifling through the variants as if choosing a flavor of ice cream: I’ll have one scoop of unrequited love, a scoop of romantic love, and two scoops of pragmatic love with a cherry of infidelity on top.

One draft of my toast started like this:

I started keeping a diary when I was fifteen. It was in a Word doc that I named dec6.doc and it’s still on my computer. The first line? Fuck the world. I was fifteen. Also, I had started using fiction to help deal with my problems. So I would sit down and write as if my life were a story, and I’d make things out to be bigger than they were, and I’d get my rage and frustration and sadness out that way.

My diary wasn’t about my day-to-day life, and I didn’t write it in more than a couple times per month. What I wrote wasn’t an accurate depiction of my life either, and over time, I realized I’d created a second, fictional Daniel.

What I wrote most about was love, or at least, what I thought love to be. And over the years, I noticed I was constantly redefining what love actually is. This continued to present day in my books. I’m still trying to figure out what makes relationships tick. Relationships… not love. I’m no longer trying to understand love. At 37 years old, I’ve taken a stand on what I think love is.

Love is a choice.

At that point, as I started to meander towards describing love versus attraction, I abandoned this thread. I didn’t need to tell a room full of people what love was. They either knew or they didn’t. And regardless, my opinion on the matter shouldn’t really hold any water for them.

Also, worse, love is a choice just sounds kinda shitty. Too pragmatic. It implies that we choose to love someone but that we aren’t compelled to love them. That sounds a little more like codependency to me, not love. You may be compelled to love someone, to feel a connection you can’t explain nor would ever want to, but you choose to be with them, you choose to work on that love and make it into a relationship.

My early novels are blatantly focused on the idea of love, but there’s no discussion of how that love came to be. In Xronixle, X loves his high school sweetheart C, so he makes a copy of her in virtual reality after she breaks up with him. But why does he love her? Even if it is simple puberty-fueled, high school love, it should be addressed and investigated. Having lived and written the book, and having come out the other side, I know, as the author, that what X felt wasn’t love… but how do I express that in a story?

I didn’t. 24 year old Daniel didn’t even try to explore it. Shame on you, young Daniel.

I feel like I did a better job of questioning love in my latest book, Por Vida. There is love between Sepideh and Natasha, but it’s because they fill holes in each other’s lives. There’s love between Doyle and Vida, but it’s revealed to be more obsession than anything else.

And spoiler alert for my newest book, but there are two characters, a male and female, who by all rules of storytelling, should fall in love. But they don’t. The story, the situation, and the characters themselves don’t allow it.

There always has to be a reason people love each other. There has to be a reason people choose love.

Last night, Dominique wanted to watch the first episode of Altered Carbon, which I certainly didn’t mind seeing again. After it was over, I asked her thoughts and she said it was interesting. We talked briefly about Science Fiction in general; she’s not a big fan of the violence and futuristic technology.

To which I replied:

That’s the thing about Science Fiction. You have to look past the technology and the guns and the gratuitous nudity, because at its core, it’s just a story about people, and relationships, and love. The story is always about humanity.

And that’s how I write my books. Technology, both real and fictional, allows us to look at our humanity in ways never thought possible. Eternal re-sleeving. Memory modification. Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Instant communication. I mean, look what social media has done to us in just the last few years…

Lastly…

I think love, relationships, and humanity are at the core of every good Science Fiction novel (and other genres as well). Books like Replay by Ken Grimwood and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger come to mind.

Hell, even 1984, with its bleak dystopian setting and eerily prescient system of government, comes down to one single, simple, devastating act of betrayal between two humans. That’s it. Do it to her. The reader feels something in that moment, and I’ve always wondered if that was the one true emotion George Orwell wanted to communicate to people, so much so that he built an entire world just to support it. Who did he betray in his lifetime? Or who betrayed him?

Anyway, choose love, my fellow writers. Choose relationships and humanity. You can still have your mechs and your spaceships and your vorpal swords, but if there aren’t any people in your story… what’s the point?

The Vinestead Anthology

chris-lawton-236416
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Today, I’m trying to understand what psychology of the series tag. You know, that whole template every budding indie writer seems to be following these days: The Novel Title (The Series Name, Book X). I understand why people who write series would want to tag their books so readers get them in the right order, but what if you write interconnected books that don’t go in any order? Can you still use the series tag? Does it add value, or will it ultimately hurt more than it helps?

Consider the change I made yesterday to the listing of Por Vida on Amazon:

daniel_books

Say you’re a new reader to my books (fat chance, I know you’ve got ’em all on your Kindle), if you saw the above on Amazon, would you:

  • See the word anthology and think unordered series of books taking place in the same universe?
  • Feel like you should seek out Book 1 and start there? (assuming the other books were properly labeled)
  • Not want to get invested because the series is already four books long (I felt this with the Dark Tower series)
  • Close the tab and go browse Reddit for a while

I’m torn between wanting to let people know these books are all connected (based on how excited I get when Stephen King mentions Derry in one of his books) and not wanting them to think its a true series that never finds an ending or that it needs to be read in a certain order.

So I ask you, fellow authors: If you were trying to market standalone novels that shared the same universe, would you use the series tag? Why / why not?

I’d ask my agent, but she lives in Canada. You wouldn’t know her.

In It For The Money

turbotax

I’ve never paid much attention to the financial profit/loss aspect of independent publishing. I just don’t see the point. I know, generally, how much the royalty checks will be each month, and I know it doesn’t compare to the marketing and materials spend. One of the supposed advantages of indie publishing and print-on-demand was that it required very little in terms of upfront money. But what they didn’t tell me when I started in 2004 (because nobody knew) was that it does cost money to self-publish. A lot of money, it turns out. Sadly, for myself and a lot of writers, the dream isn’t to get rich on my novels; I just want to break even.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I use Intuit’s TurboTax to do my taxes. I used to love their Quicken product, but gave it up years ago in favor of Mint. And when they bought that, I gave up Mint in favor of You Need A Budget. All that is to say that I’m not familiar with Intuit’s other financial planning offerings. So, I was surprised to see them advertising a self-employed version of their QuickBooks product while I was doing my taxes. As it turns out, it’s possible to deduct some of your writing expenses when you file. I had never given that much thought before.

One of TurboTax’s features that I really like is the live “refund” counter. But this year, it really turned my crank when I put in my royalties and saw that refund crater. Damn you, IRS! TurboTax tried to lessen the blow by asking if I’ve spent any money in pursuit of my “small business,” but alas, I had not kept track, so it would have all been guesses.

Well, 2018 is the year that all changes. From now on, I’m keeping track of everything I buy that is related to indie publishing. I don’t know if it will be all deductible, but if it saves some money, then maybe the experiment is worth it.

Think about all the money you spend to fuel your writing habit:

  • Editorial services
  • Graphic design (covers, marketing, etc)
  • Webhosting, domain names, email addresses
  • Word, Scrivener, Scapple
  • Laptop, computer, keyboard, mouse
  • Printer, paper, pens, highlighters, staples
  • Envelopes, postage
  • Advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, Goodreads, Google
  • Gas mileage to the bar, drink purchased, sorrows drowned
  • Red Bull, candy corn, whiskey, aspirin
  • Intuit Quickbooks Self-Employed ($10/mo)
  • Bribes for Positive Reviews

If that number is higher than your writing income, well, my friend, you’re operating your small business at a loss, and in addition to my condolences, you deserve a tax break*.

*The asterisk means I’m not a tax lawyer and I have no idea if that is true or not. I don’t even know if tax lawyers are a thing.

Anyway, if you haven’t started doing your taxes this year, you can get Intuit’s QuickBooks Self-Employed for free for a year by filing with TurboTax (always check with your bank or credit union to see if they have a coupon). If you’ve never tracked your profit/loss before, it might be an interesting experiment to see how it all stacks up at the end of the year.

I’ll let you know how my experiment turns out… if it’s not too embarrassing.

816-City-View-b-1024x576[1]
Fingers crossed, am I right?

Prepare Your Cortical Stack

Altered-Carbon-004[1]

It’s finally here. Netflix’s adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s mind-blowing sci-fi novel Altered Carbon is now live, and though I’ll never forgive Joel Kinnaman for his part in the Robocop Reboot That Shall Never Be Mentioned Again, I can’t wait to binge the entire season this weekend. It’s hard to describe how awesome Altered Carbon is–if you’re into technology, explosions, and some of the l33t-est buzzwords you’ll ever read, this is the story for you.

The show has a Facebook page (because it’s 2018 and everything does) where you can watch trailers and behind the scenes, but since you’re reading this here on deadlineavoidance.com, there’s a possibility that you dabble in the writing. You, my fellow fiction monger, should check out this video where Richard K. Morgan sits down to watch the first episode.

Link to Facebook that I can’t iframe for some reason.

All I can think is how fucking amazing it must be to watch your story come to life. Back in my early days of writing, I wanted nothing more than to see the words A Short Story by Daniel Verastiqui in print. Then it was A Novel by Daniel Verastiqui that I wanted to see. The current dream I’m chasing (well, I mean, it’s possible) is seeing Based on the novel by Daniel Verastiqui flashing across a movie theater screen. Thankfully, people who make movies and TV shows have good taste, and so long as they’re making Altered Carbon and not Toaster Tingles (Book #1 in the Kitchen Appliance Romance Series), then I’m okay with my novels languishing on the Amazon charts.

I love Altered Carbon.

I love cortical stack.

I love needlecast.

I love neurochem.

And I love, love evercrete. So much so that I straight-up stole it and started putting in my stories just to get them more of a Science Fiction feel. I still do. Here’s a passage from my current WIP:

The Provo Temple hadn’t stood at full height in over a decade; twisted rebar grew like weeds from uneven piles of gray evercrete. The thick white monoliths that used to circle the building had been crushed under the feet of mechanical giants, and doors that had once welcomed worshipers had shed their glass and twisted into barely passable openings.

If you write Science Fiction and haven’t read Altered Carbon, I advise you to put down that Red Bull, cork that bottle of wine, close out your Scrivener windows, and fire up your Kindle. Here’s the link to the first book, because yes, it’s a trilogy, and I recommend all three: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan.

Time After Time

uros-jovicic-322314
Photo by Uroš Jovičić on Unsplash

I’ve really taken a liking to non-linear narratives. When you think of all the ways you can mess with a reader, there’s nothing quite like the confusion you can create by having multiples stories operating on multiple timelines. Did A happen before B? Are they happening at the same time? And then later, when everything becomes clear, the reader is incented to re-read the entire book, because now it has taken on different meaning. Today, I was trying to figure out what had sparked this interest in time-confusion, and I realized it started long ago with movies like Pulp Fiction, but it wasn’t until I read Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines that I was compelled to try it myself.

Warning: Spoilers for Wayward Pines below. If you haven’t read it and you like so-called “good books,” do yourself a favor and go buy it now. Don’t watch the TV series; buy the book.

Pines-Collage[1]

I read all three of the Wayward Pines books on a trip to Punta Cana, finishing up the third as we landed back in Austin. While the second and third books were good, it was the first that really punched me in the gut. You start the book thinking both story lines are happening at the same time, but how can that be? Then there’s the way people are behaving. And some of them having different memories of different times?

When the helicopter landed and the truth came out, I was absolutely blown away. I loved it. The mystery. The clues. Everything about the twist was perfect for me.

I immediately started working on a new book, Por Vida, with the intention of having story lines that would intersect with hopefully the same punch as Pines. The feedback has been good; I don’t think people saw it coming, but more than that, it was fun to write.

I get bogged down when writing linear stories. That’s why I have to have multiple characters/POVS in my books; otherwise, I won’t get anywhere. It’s not exciting for me to describe Character A going from here to there, doing this and that, and finally something. There has to be more to a story than simple plot points, and multiple timelines ups the complexity big time. Sure, there’s more to keep track of, but if you can do it right, it makes for an exciting read (and write).

Ultimately, you have to write something that excites you as an author. Weaving two timelines together in a way that will surprise and delight a reader truly excites me. Having that power over a reader excites me. I want them to get to the end and say I should have seen that coming! I want them to go back and read the story again and say Look at all these clues!

My upcoming book, Hybrid Mechanics, implements multiple timelines as well, with some extra twists thrown in. Beyond the “didn’t see it coming” twists of Pines, there’s also the “I know it’s coming, I just don’t know how.” That’s where I want to be. I want the reader to know I’m gonna mess with their heads. I want them turning each page in the hopes of finding another clue that will let them unravel the mystery before I reveal it to them at the end.

If they beat me, fine… I’d love to hear about it in their review. But if I beat them, awesome… I’d love to hear about it in their review.

Anyway, those are today’s thoughts on multiple timelines. Love ’em or hate ’em, they can add spice to an otherwise pedestrian narrative about synthetic killing machines hunting the last of the organics in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

What’s She Wearing?

tumblr_nhdzczrR481slpgsoo9_500[1]

I came across this Tumblr post a while back and had to bookmark it because I always feel foolish describing clothes on women. There was a period in my writing where women always wore blouses and skirts and pretty much nothing else because I didn’t know the names of the other things. I still have that problem, and I’m a grown ass man. Thankfully, you don’t have to suffer as I did. Check out the full post here: http://elphabaforpresidentofgallifrey.tumblr.com/post/165929456848/themistrustfulmistress-decorkiki-a-visual

The Dallas Cowboys and The Domain

1356m

I didn’t understand The Domain here in Austin when it was first built. Who the hell would travel all the way up MoPac just to go to Macy’s? Now, it’s the place to be, growing larger every day, and it’s home to some great restaurants and an aging iPic theater. We don’t go there often though, and it’s for one reason: parking. That brings me to my thesis: Parking at The Domain is a lot like the Cowboys going to the Super Bowl.

Every time you decide to go to The Domain, you think, maybe this time (season), it will be different! Maybe things will go my way and I’ll find a parking spot (not get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs). But no, there’s always a Tony Romo parked in the middle of the street with their flasher on waiting for people to finish getting into their car and leave. And even when you do see a spot, by the time you get to it, the defense has fallen apart and given up an easy 6.

The worst part is that you know finding a parking spot is possible. You remember the good old days when you found a parking spot three times, in 1993, in 1994, and in 1996. What happened in 1995? No one’s quite sure. Maybe there was a Lexus taking up two spots.

Ultimately, you end up parking in the garage (not making the playoffs) and sneering past all the Maseratis (Patriots) in their prime parking spots as you make your way to Sprinkles Cupcakes ATM to buy your fiancee some cupcakes because she’s been craving them and you’re a standup dude.

sp_bh_atm-03