Once More, With Feeling

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Over a year since my last post.

Obviously, I didn’t succeed at my New Year’s Resolution to post a monthly flash fiction story last year. This year, I’m going to be trying a different tactic.

I’ve been working on a manuscript for a while, and while it isn’t done yet, I’ve decided to start releasing chapters of the book for free. They’ll be available for download right here on my site as I finish them, and it would mean a lot to me if you took a look at them.

The first chapter of The Pit and Its Champion is now available right here.

“Joknal’s execution has been stayed by the intervening hand of slavers. But the place they are taking him to is far worse than a quick death would have been. Now a pawn in the power struggles of an evil gladiatorial champion and a brotherhood of priests with mysterious aims, Joknal must fight to survive in a ruthless pit of criminals and atone for his crimes.”

If you enjoy it and want to see more, consider checking out my Patreon page to become a patron and contribute to my writing. Also check out my Facebook, and come back here for news and later chapters.

 

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Flame On Or Flame Out?

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As a fledgling writer, one of the greatest day-to-day struggles that I face is with burnout. Juggling a job, a family, social functions, school, on top of the day to day needs of being alive is a task that can be overwhelming. I am constantly plagued by doubt, compounded by a less than supportive society that doesn’t always consider the pursuit of art as a ‘real’ job. The creeping voice of failure that suggests the deplorable option of giving up is relentless in those very vulnerable moments of breakdown.

An article caught my eye last week titled “Why we are burning out in the arts.” I’ve been going through a few rough patches recently, and I wanted to see if it offered any insights that I could benefit from.

While it offered a lot of information on the institutions in art culture that lead many artists to burnout, it didn’t offer me much in the way of advice to overcome or avoid burnout. I felt that the conclusion of ‘self-care’ was weak and under-explored. It also didn’t take a look at artists individually, instead focusing on generalities that ended up not ringing very true with me.

So I contacted a friend of mine to talk about the issue.

Zach Fischer, an incredibly talented freelance illustrator, concept artist, and cosplay designer, and a pretty cool guy besides, is on pretty good terms with burnout. And the struggle to stay financially above water is only part of the issue. Art is emotionally taxing, and keeping the creative juices flowing is a key function in avoiding burnout.

“Logically, you can recognize that something needs to get done. This project, it has to get done. And you prioritize it, push everything else aside, to do that. But that doesn’t always work.” In fact, Zach said trying to do so can sometimes lead directly to burnout.

Creative energy isn’t always logical. Not only can it be in constant flux on its own, but what it is focused on can also be changing. Sometimes that story that your editor is waiting for isn’t where the muses are dancing, and only by indulging those gut instincts, those fleeting ideas, can the muses be brought back into focus.

I have actually seen this strategy work for myself. A lot of the time, the creative energy is there, but the focus isn’t necessarily where I want it to be. And that can be stressful. Taking the time to relax with what your passion happens to be at the moment can rekindle your will and drive in other areas, and lead to more productivity in other projects. Plus, you are still creating art.

“Sometimes you need to burnout, though,” Zach pointed out. “Sometimes you need to burn off those things that are holding you back or getting in the way, so you can create something new.”

For Zach, burnout is an opportunity. Not only can it purge old ways of thinking that can hold an artist back, but it can allow for a re-evaluation of goals and strategies. Burnout can force an artist to take a step back and look around themselves. But what you surround yourself with in these times is crucial.

In these vulnerable times, an artist really needs a supportive network of friends and family. But not unilaterally supportive. Realistically supportive. You don’t want people who will flatter you, or ‘fangirl,’ as Zach put it. You want people who will pick you up when you’re down and push you to look at the situation in a new way.

As always, every obstacle can be a bane or a boon. It is in how you approach it that determines what you will gain from it.

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Academ’s Fury by Jim Butcher

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This is actually the second book in the Codex Alera, but I hadn’t started this blog when I read The Furies of Calderon. So I guess this will be reviewing a little of both as I talk about the series as a whole up to this point, as well as Academ’s Fury.

Sad to say, The Codex Alera has not impressed me nearly as much as I was expecting from Jim Butcher. I’m a big fan of his Dresden Files, and I was hoping for something of that caliber (of course I was, I always hope for really good stories). True, the Codex Alera was written semi-early in Butcher’s career, and he wrote it on a dare, so it may have been a little forced, but I still feel that it is lacking something that the Dresden Files isn’t.

But, they are different genres, different styles, and very different premises. So I’ll try to stop comparing them. I make no promises.

The aspects of Roman civilization that are integrated into Aleran culture are interesting. Citizenship, military, tactics, weapons and armor. They are incorporated without feeling forced.

Though one has to wonder how much those things would have changed in the time it would take for their Roman ancestry to fade into a distant memory. And how would furycrafting affect those things? You see a little of that in the specialized legionares Knights, but one would think that as integral as furycrafting is to Aleran society, it would have affected things more. But maybe not. Who am I to say?

One thing that I am very grateful for is that Butcher has not given furycrafting to Tavi yet. There were more than a few times where I was afraid that Tavi was going to gain some magical furycrafting ability at a vital moment. I was afraid because I felt it would have been tacky, and I like the fact that Tavi doesn’t have furycrafting. It makes him the most interesting character. I know it’ll probably come sometime in the story, but I hope it comes with grace and plausibility, and doesn’t happen at some vital point when everyone thought all hope was lost. I think that’s just sloppy storytelling.

While I’m on the matter of Tavi: the last scene where Gauis Sextus and Sir Miles talk about who Tavi might be (trying to be vague but not really being so) was unnecessary. It tipped the hand to the reader, when the suspense was very pleasant. I had already more than begun to suspect, and it disheartened me to have it confirmed crudely as a tack-on at the end of the book.

The story would have been, in my opinion, much better served if that scene had been cut out and the suspense left open. There were plenty of clues woven into the story before that, and I felt pretty clever for noticing them. Pointing it out at the end kind of stole the fun of speculating.

It hasn’t been explicitly stated what’s going on, so maybe I was reading too much into that last scene, but I still think that it could have been cut and it would have been better. It’s generally bad form to foreshadow so bluntly what is coming. I, at least, like to be surprised by the story, or feel clever for picking up on the subtle hints.

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