writing

hive mind

This Friday, I should hold in my hands a proof copy of the short story collection I’m self-publishing. It won’t be the first time I’ve seen my words printed in a paper and ink book, but it will be the first time all the words in said book are mine, all mine.

I’m excited. And nervous. Really nervous.

I designed the cover myself and it looks pretty good as pixels on a screen, but I have no idea how well those pixels will translate into a six by nine glossy cover. I’m dying to post a picture of the cover for everyone to ooh and ahh at, but if it looks like crap, I swear I’ll just die. Die! Like, I mean it! You, you just don’t understand! Ugh! Runs to room, slams door, and cries into my Benedict Cumberbatch pillow while The Smiths sing in the background (I know, I know, it’s serious).

Okay. Tantrum over.

But because I am still more excited than nervous, I would like to show you a bit of what’s inside the book. I wrote a Forward where I briefly mention either the origins or the motivation behind each story in the collection. Here is a snippet:

One thing you should never say to a writer is, “I have a great idea for a story you should write.” We hate this. Not because your idea is awful, but because we already have a million ideas buzzing around in our brain like a swarm of angry bees. But even though it’s often hard for us to pluck one of these idea bees out of the air and squeeze sweet story honey out of its ass, they are our bees, we cultivated them in our mind apiary with love. The last thing we need is for someone to thrust a strange, misshapen bee in our hand and tell us to milk it. We can’t work with your weird bee. It’s got too many wings and its stinger, is . . . is that a corkscrew?
All that said, when my sister, Tracey, told me I should write a story inspired by her dream where her Roomba ate everything in her house, I took her little bee and ran with it. What resulted is “Nature Abhors a Vacuum” and I had more fun writing that story than almost any other story in this book. Goes to show what I know.

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unnatural birth

I think I have mentioned a time or eleventy that I’m self-publishing a collection of short stories.

Well, I’m not all just talk. I’m also flailing hand gestures and raised eyebrows.

The collection is imminent.

Empty, Not Hollow and Other Stories is due to hit Amazon on September 1st. It will be available in Kindle format or as a paper and ink book you can hold in your clammy little hands.

Kind of exciting, huh?

I am excited, but I’m also feeling like a pregnant woman in her fifth trimester in that I’m more than ready to hatch this damn thing. (I may not know how babies work.)

Writing the stories was hard enough, but formatting them for publishing is like a trial in Purgatory. I think I would rather roll a boulder up a mountain rather than spend another moment inserting page breaks or fixing abnormal spacing due to right justification.

Then there are the myriad of important decisions that need to be made and, once made, can’t be unmade. Permanent decisions. Like choosing a tattoo. A tattoo you give to someone else.

What size do you want your book?
I donno. Book sized?

Design the cover yourself or have someone do it for you?
I’ll take “Whichever Option Is Free” for 200, Alex.

Thank everyone I’ve ever met in the Acknowledgements or limit my shout-outs to a few close friends/family and hope everyone else understands?
But the janitor at my office is super nice!

Number the chapters in the Table of Contents or don’t?
*loads revolver with single bullet*

Which font? What size do you want that font? Different fonts for the chapter headings? Chapter headings in ALL CAPS? THE WHOLE BOOK IN ALL CAPS? THE WHOLE BOOK IN ALL CAPS WITH DIFFERENT FONTS FOR EACH CHAPTER? OR NO CHAPTERS AT ALL? ALL STORIES JAMMED TOGETHER WITH NO SPACES BETWEEN WORDS LIKE THE STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS RAMBLINGS OF A STERNO-EATING HOBO? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?

I crawled into a box of red wine and nursed from the bag until the world went black. Days later, I emerged, sloughing off the cardboard and unfurling my damp limbs to warm them in the sun. My new life cycle had begun. I was ready to fly.

Times New Roman, it is.

misery cubed

This is a post from the deep, dark past of my old blog. Even though I am now free range and no longer work in cube farm hell, I still enjoy this little ramble. It’s kinda like looking at an old picture of yourself with hair teased to within an inch of being a ceiling fan hazard wearing an acrylic rainbow sweater and blue eye shadow. Sometimes it’s good to look back and see how far you’ve come. 

The fluorescents are too bright.  I feel washed-out.
Cave crickets are translucent due to the perpetual darkness.  I am colorless from too much unnatural light.
Even the furniture is painted and upholstered in shades of non-colors: beige, taupe, gray.  All outlined in stark black like an illustration of something that should be real.
Is this life or the manual?
(See Fig. 1 – Female Employee slumped over cubicle desk.)
The coffee is flavorless and the creamer is synthetic.  The sugar looks too white to be trusted.  Much like the management.
The steady rhythm of telephones and the copy machine is like distant drums.  When they stop, the silence is unnerving.
Surrounding me are inanimate objects that demand my attention: blinking monitors, email notifications, stacks of folders and papers.  Yet the living avoid contact and look down when passing in the halls.
The only conversation I’ve had today was with my printer, coaxing it to give up a piece of jammed paper.
Here, all my natural instincts are considered signs of aggression.  I have to remember to speak softly and not show too many teeth.  Sudden movements and off-hand references from obscure movies cause confusion and fear.
(See Fig. 2 – Female Employee fashioning primitive weaponry from  rubberbands, paperclips and hi-liter ink.)
It is safer to not draw too much attention so I keep my head down.  Documents are strewn across my desk, multiple windows opened on my monitors.  Looking busy is my camouflage.
I pretend that I am biding my time, waiting for just the right moment to attack and unleash my fury.  It’s a hard ruse to maintain.  For now it is only about survival.  Towing the line while trying not to hang myself with it.
There is hope, though.  I am preparing a signal fire.  Every day I gather a little more fuel, building it bigger and higher.  When conditions are finally right, I’ll set it ablaze and the smoke will rise above the canopy and  my rescue will come.
(See Fig. 3 – Female Employee dousing cubicle in kerosene exactly three seconds before she realizes that the whole signal fire thing was supposed to be a metaphor.)

not into girls

Disclaimer: I didn’t intend for this blog to be so writing-centric. I know that many of my dear readers (that’s you) are not writers and probably don’t give two flying monkey shits about what happens behind the curtain. You just want to take your ruby slippers back down the yellow brick road and party with some Munchkins (you know those lollipops are laced with something). But my personal life right now is more in black and white than technicolor, and writing is the only thing keeping the tornado at bay. So unless I’m visited by another preternatural swarm of flies or something equally as amusing/terrifying, I’m afraid you’re getting writerly rants. I feel like I should have worked in a metaphor involving an oil can in there somewhere, but let’s get out of Oz before the Lion remembers he’s a carnivore realizes we’re meat. 

I like men. I, mean, yes, I am a heterosexual female and I prefer my candle-lit dinners and subsequent “fade to black” time to be with the opposite sex (bonus points if he is intelligent, tall, has a British accent, and has played a dark-haired villain in a major motion picture). But, specifically, I like writing about men. Most of my short stories are from a male point of view. My novel has a male protagonist and twice as many male point of view characters than female.

Why?

Well, at the risk of insulting my male friends . . .  Men are easy. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

See, I’ve worked in female-dominated offices for many years and, like life, working with women is like a box of chocolates. Only half of them are filled with angry bees and the box is refilled and shaken every night. Women are a Whitman’s Sampler from the pit of hell. Yes, this is a generalization and a stereotype and as a woman I shouldn’t perpetuate such things, but Odin help me if it isn’t true. Bitches be crazy. And it’s not easy being in a woman’s head. I should know. We think a lot. About everything. All the damn time. It’s exhausting. Writing is hard enough as it is without having to also navigate through the rat king that can be a woman’s mind.

However, you know what you’re going to get with men. If a guy is an asshole one day, it’s a safe bet he’s going to be an asshole every day. Men are a bag of Hershey’s miniatures – there are only five options and they are all clearly marked. Again, this is the broadest of generalizations, but I’m comparing people to chocolate here, so obviously you shouldn’t take any of this too seriously. Men tend to think before they act then sort everything out later. This is great from a writer’s standpoint because you don’t have to delve too deeply into motivation. There’s more action, more doing, more moving the plot forward without stopping to think about consequences.

There is also a bigger reason why I prefer to write male characters. A reason that I didn’t fully realize until I finished writing a short story just last week. The story was about a girl who could fly, but only if no one was watching. Her parents had kept her under constant surveillance since she was a child to keep her grounded. For me, writing is always kinda like pulling yarn from a cat, but for this story the yarn was knotted and the cat had lockjaw. When I’d finished, I instantly hated it. I wanted to drag it into a sub-folder and never look at it again. And it was all because the protagonist was a girl. As a woman, I felt a sense of responsibility toward her. I was compelled to make her story real and relevant. I wanted her motivations to be genuine, her emotions justified. And I failed on every count because writing that is hard, too hard, and that’s not the kind of story I ultimately want to tell.

I want to write silly little stories about suicidal squirrels or quirky dog-loving robots. I want to make people think a little and laugh a lot and maybe go “Ew” a couple times. And I can do that best when I have a man leading the story. A man that I can jerk around and torture a little. A man I don’t feel needs to represent the very best of his gender. I can’t do this with a woman character. What does that say about me as a writer or as a female human? I’ll over-think that one later. Right now I gotta finish writing about a poor guy and his over-zealous robot vacuum.

performance anxiety

It can take me the better part of a month to polish a few thousand dull, lifeless words into a brilliant multi-faceted gem of staggering beauty. At which point, I’ll submit the story to my amazing writer’s group who will gasp in collective awe at my wondrous prose. Eyes welling with tears, they will fall at my feet, lamenting that the story I’d written has ended and begging me to bless them with more words to savor.

I will then snort myself awake, wipe the drool from my chin and blink my bloodshot eyes against the noonday sun streaming through my bedroom window.

Reality is a bitch.

So I stagger downstairs and make myself some breakfast (I don’t care what time you wake up, the first meal you eat is STILL breakfast!) then I crack my knuckles and open up my latest work in progress.

The first part of my narcissistic little dream is true: it can take me a month to write/rewrite/edit a short story. And it’s work. Hard work. Like tagging narwhals for science or re-enacting the first season of Sherlock in your living room with your cat, Benecat Cumpurrbatch, also for science (science is weird).

Once I’m done nurturing and growing my story, preening and pruning it to perfection, I have to send it out into the cold, cruel world. And just that one little action, clicking SEND on the email that will carry my story across cyberspace and time, is enough to fill my gut with snakes and make me want to crawl back into bed.  Because out there, my beautiful snowflake of a story is just mere slush clogging some over-caffeinated editor’s inbox.

Then comes the obsessive refreshing of my email over and over, during every waking moment and even in the middle of the night when I roll over and look at my phone for the time or to double check that I set my alarm for work because I’m obsessive about that now as well. Clicky, clicky, clicky on that little roundy arrow, like an old woman in orthopedic sandals feeding dollars into a slot machine while getting slowly hammered on complimentary Long Island Iced Teas. Only the old woman has better odds and I’m drinking a box of red wine straight from the spout. And after weeks of this routine I have a calloused clicky finger and my liver is sending me hate mail, but I finally, FINALLY, get a reply from the publication I submitted my story to. With trembling hand I open the email to read, “We appreciate your interest, but unfortunately we don’t think your story is a good fit for our blah blah blabbity blah . . . ” After the initial flattening weight of rejection eases up a bit, I take a long draw from my box of wine and send my story out to the next publication on my list.

It's madness

No wonder I self-medicate with red wine.

And as awful as that whole process is, it’s eleventy bazillion times worse when you’re trying to find a home for your Novel. Your Baby. Your One True Hope That All This Writing Nonsense Will Pay Off One Day. That’s where I am right now. Two weeks ago I sent my novel off to what’s basically my dream publisher.

My finger hurts. And I’m out of wine.

 

And I’m gonna try and find an excuse to insert gifs of Loki into all my future posts. It’s my blog and I do what I want!

name game

While I was plotting my five year plan to become a published author (which is now going on six years, but who’s counting), I realized I had an important choice to make. Besides picking out just the right turtleneck and pipe combo for the dust-jacket cover, I had to decide if I wanted to use my real name.

Now for some of you, this may seem like a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t I use my real name? “Amy Severson” is a perfectly serviceable name. It has all the parts a name should have without the distraction of any superfluous punctuation. People do tend to mispronounce the last name as Sev-er-son instead of Sea-ver-son, but that is a faux-pas I’ve been easily overlooking for almost twenty years.

Ultimately, I still chose to use a pseudonym.

And it’s not because I’m writing anything that I might be embarrassed to show my family like narwhal on polar bear erotica or Tea Party campaign speeches. I write primarily science fiction with a humorous lean (it’s really more like a bad limp, but the funny crosses the finish line eventually). But because I write science fiction, I felt that not using my first name could be an advantage.

Why?

Well, because I’m a girl. If I were writing romance or young adult or even literary fiction then having a girl name really wouldn’t matter and could possibly even be a plus. But science fiction is still a male-dominated genre. Just like gay male erotica is mostly written by straight women (yes, seriously, look it up). And it’s been observed that men tend to overlook female authors in favor of male ones. No, not ALL men, but let’s not open that can of worms, okay?

So I figured to level the playing field a bit and to give myself the best shot at being read by a wider group of people, I’d drop the “Amy” in favor of my first and middle initials. That left me with A.C. Severson, which is all fine and dandy until you say it out loud. Go ahead, try it. After about the third time it’s hard not to sound like you have some sort of speech impediment.

Lucky for me, like most married women, I have another last name to pick from.

That’s why all my future short stories, novels, poems scribbled on wine-stained napkins, will feature the author name of A.C. Adams. Pretty great name, huh? And it’s not even a “fake” name. It’s all really mine in some way or another. What does the “C” stand for? Not telling. I feel it’s important to keep some mystery in a relationship. There are a few people who read this blog who know, so you may be able to bribe them for the answer.

And that brings us to the name of this here website. I wanted it to tie in with my pseudonym in some manner, but I decided to use my first name with the middle initial. And once I said “Amy C.” what immediately followed in my brain was “Amy do” cause, you know, why should monkeys have all the fun.  The “Amy fall down” part was added because, well, I do. Fall down. A lot. It’s kinda my thing.

So there you go. A long drawn out explanation for something that probably no one even really cares about.  That’s also my thing.

Oh, and you probably noticed that my maiden name is Amy Adams. I might have considered that name to write under but ultimately didn’t want to cause any confusion between me and some bitch who had to go and become a famous actress with my goddamn name. For the record, I had the name first. Not that I’m bitter. I really try for that not to be my thing.

 

the long and short of it

So I wrote a novel, as you do. It’s a silly little tale about aliens from another dimension using humans to keep other aliens from a different dimension from killing them. I call it “Monsters All The Way Down” and for almost a year I’ve been trying to find an agent or publisher who loves it as much as I do. Or at least loves it enough to pay me for it. Affection. Cold hard cash. To-may-to. To-mah-to.

While trying to find a home for my novel, I’ve been writing short stories. I also took a few of my robot and zombie stories that I originally posted on my old blog, Fix It Or Deal, may she rest in peace (*crosses self* wait, is it left to right or right to left? what am I doing, I’m not even Catholic), and added to them and generally made them more presentable. I’ve been shopping these short stories around to various places. But trying to sell a short story is a daunting, pain-in-the-ass process. There are thousands of print and web-based publications out there and sifting through them, even with the help of websites like duotrope.com, can take dozens of eye-crossing hours. Then, once you find one that seems like a good fit, you submit your story and have to wait anywhere between four weeks and the heat death of the universe for a reply. And that reply is invariably “Thanks, but no thanks,” so you have to start the process all over again. All this for the chance to get paid a fraction of minimum wage once you calculate the time spent writing/editing/revising the story and searching for a market.

A carousel of insanity, right? Right.

There is another option: self-publishing. Depending on who you are, that’s either a nasty curse you spit out of your mouth like spoiled milk or the ultimate answer to the ultimate question. Like most things, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. Self-publishing isn’t the end-all be-all, but it is a good way to at least get your shit Out There in front of people. Whether they buy it or not, is a crap-shoot, but so is submitting to random e-zines. It’s a gamble I’m willing to take.

I’m hoping to have a select group of short stories all polished up and ready to go by the end of summer when I’ll self-pub them through Amazon. This little anthology will be cheap, probably only about $2.99, but I’d only have to sell a dozen to make more money than I would selling one story individually. I’m not really doing it for the money, however. I know I’m not going to be able to quit my day job any time soon. I’ll most likely end up giving away more copies than I sell. But it will be good experience. If I have success self-publishing a short story collection, maybe I’ll do the same with my novel. Who knows? The most important thing is just to get my words in front of people’s eyeballs. That’s why I write – to be read. If I make some extra wine money doing it then that’s just sprinkles on the cupcake.

All that said . . . I did just find out yesterday that a zombie story I wrote has been accepted for inclusion in an anthology due to come out this fall. Sometimes the carousel is a nice ride.