I’ve never considered myself a nostalgia kind of guy (says the writer of steampunk). If I do look back, it’s only to see how far I’ve come. I try not to look back in anger, or in ennui, but I look back more in consideration and contemplation. I’ve caught myself looking back at MOREVI: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana lately, that first book from over a decade ago. Maybe I’m doing that as it’s come up in conversations online. Funny how it tends to do that.
MOREVI has got a following, I know, especially in the podcasting circles. I had an old friend from JMU tell me how much they enjoyed Rafe Rafton, and that makes me smile…
…especially when I think about all the mistakes I made back in that book.
It’s hard for me to re-read or even listen to MOREVI. I still am very proud of the story, don’t get me wrong. It’s an epic pirate adventure with heroes, villains, intrigue, romance, sex, explosions, swordfighting, more explosions…
Shit, I forgot the rum. I had scotch in there, but I forgot the rum.
And that’s the thing. As proud as I am of MOREVI, I also wince at a lot of mistakes I made back then with Rafe and Askana. Character choices. Narrative style. Story direction. These are a few of the things I think about just with the manuscript alone.
Then I wonder how I came across on convention panels and book discussions in those early years, and how I could have handled it all differently. I read articles, like this one from Chuck Wendig, and like to think I came across as energetic, enthusiastic, and affable. The kind of guest you want to have at a con or at a book event, repeatedly.
That’s what I’d like to think, but I also know there might have been some events where I came across as that guy on panels.
No, I’m not seeking for a circling of the wagons and asking the Comments to be flooded with sentiments like…
…but let’s not think for a second, I’m all…
Sometimes being that guy—commonly known as an asshole—can be completely unintentional. Sometimes, it comes out of the enthusiasm on a subject and I will get to talking. And I just won’t shut up. Sometimes when I try to check my bad juju at Registration, the black bitch follows me regardless. It’s all about perception, and even when my intentions are good I can really let my judgment lapse and piss people off.
It’s easy to dwell on mistakes, misjudgments, and bad decisions; but what matters is being able to figure out what you’ve learned from those missteps. Sure, a “Fuck you, I’m a writer and I’m more important than you…” stance is way more easier to take. I’ve seen that work for other writers, and I find myself asking “How do you deal with that?” I put on my pants just like any other guy. I don’t use a special bathroom when nature calls. I’m just a dude that happens to have a few bylines under my belt. I can tell stories. I’m pretty good at it. I can always improve, too. Doesn’t make me any better or worse than someone else…
…but the bylines are pretty cool. I still get excited when a new title hits the stores. Online and elsewhere. It’s like opening night at a show. I was always terrified, especially when the lights dimmed and I took my place in the wings. It never got old, never got boring.
My poor judgment calls do share a common thread: a degree of risk. Risk—even when things backfire or fail on you—is a wonderful thing to take. Risk, both in how you write and in how you carry yourself at public appearances, should educate you in what you can do and what may be out of reach for the time being. You’re not always going to knock it out of the park when you take a chance, but it’s the lessons you learn when taking that risk that makes your writing stronger, that allows you to grow as an artist, and grants you perspective. Risk is good. Risk is healthy. Don’t be afraid of it.
Don’t let that risk, though, serve as a safety net for when a joke falls flat on a panel or for when you act like a jackass at an event. (It could happen. It’s happened to me. Still does.) The further along you go, you’re going to have to find that sweet spot between the daring and the dumb, and that’s a pretty hard sweet spot to find. A good indicator of where to draw that line is how other people are affected. Is someone going to get hurt? Physically? Emotionally?
Just be good to those around you. These are the people you want talking about your books, and you, in a positive light.
No one said being an author would be easy. If it were, everybody would be an author; and with technology being what it is today, anybody can be. This is why when you’re writing you have to step outside of the pedestrian zone and stand out; but know that when you stand out, you will make a mistake. It’s okay. You’ll learn from it, and grow. Just make sure that next step you take pushes forward. Lingering on the what if’s, the coulda-woulda-shoulda’s, and the doubt of past deeds are albatrosses you don’t need around your neck. You should be pushing those words to the edge, and then go beyond that edge. Risk is scary as fuck, but the payoff is worth it. I put myself out there with MOREVI. I was pushing a boulder uphill with Rafe, and discovered a lot about myself on that journey. It got me where I am now, and drives me forward to this day.
So what are you waiting for? Take a chance.