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(Personal) My 2018

Self Improvement 150So now that the dumpster fire that is 2017 has been officially extinguished, it’s time to look ahead towards the bright, shiny new year and plan how to make it better. I’m not going to lie; I’m one of those people who love to think about New Year’s Resolutions — but I’m sure you know that by now. It’s one thing to make public declarations on the Internet for what I’m going to do, but it’s quite a different thing to follow through and hold myself accountable for failures.

I’ll try to do something a little different this year, especially in regard to my writing. While I’ll definitely be aiming for pretty ambitious goals at the start of 2018, I also realize that it’s possible I won’t be able to meet them for some reason. Perhaps family issues will flare up again and I’ll be forced to slog through some difficulty. Maybe something will happen with my day job or my mental health and I’ll need to drop everything to take care of that. Or perhaps shit hits the fan in the United States and survival becomes the overriding focus of our short and brutal existence.

No matter what, the goals I have in mind for the year will serve as a North Star for what I’d like to do. Even if I know I won’t be able to meet them, I’ll still get as close as I can for as much as I’m able. Achieving the goal would be nice, but ultimately it’s not the point. The goals are a means to an end, that end being encouraging behaviors and developing habits that will make a more consistent, more productive writer.

For The Writing Desk, I’m aiming for one hundred posts in 2018. That actually shouldn’t be too hard to manage; if I keep up a regular output of three posts a week through the year, that would put me right around 150 by December. However, I know there’ll be times where I’ll need to take a week or two off to tackle other work — or I’m working on an essay or two that requires extra time and polish. This year, though, I’d like to focus on minimizing those interruptions and communicating in advance when they’re going to happen. Becoming more professional and accountable to myself for what I do is a big thing for me this year, and this little corner of the Internet will be an excellent first step for that.

Another good reason for making sure I’m consistent here is that it trains me to write to deadlines. If I actually want to make a living on this, I’m going to have to be able to produce a certain output on time. I know that at first any polish I’ve got here might suffer, but that’s fine. I can learn how to write about involved or difficult subjects and still be on time through this. There may be a few bumps in the road, but that’s in service to progress.

For the Jackalope Serial Company, I’m aiming to publish 50 ‘episodes’ of serial in 2018. This will be a lot more difficult, since it means I’ll need to make sure I have at least one piece of serialized fiction up on Patreon every week this year. There’s no way around it, I’ll need to make sure I’m working ahead of what I post in order to make this goal, and that’s a very good thing. It means that success will force me to plan ahead and work consistently; there are going to be weeks where I just can’t write, but if I’m diligent I’ll have a backlog to catch me for a bit. I’ll even give myself two weeks this year where I can be ‘off’, and I have a good idea about when I’ll take them. But in order to be a storyteller, I’m going to need to learn how to tell stories. The Jackalope Serial Company will be an excellent proving ground for that.

Finally, I’d like to write and submit ten short stories to various publications this year. One of the best things about 2017 is the sudden expansion of minority voices in the science-fiction/fantasy space. I’d love, more than anything, to become a part of that wave. I hardly expect that any of my work will actually be accepted or published, but it’s well past time that I put myself out there. Writing stories is only one part of the vocation; learning how the industry works and engaging with it as much as you can is a big part that I’ve neglected for far too long.

I fully expect that I’ll be submitting more stories towards the latter half of the year than the former. For the next few months, anyway, I’ll be focusing mostly on The Writing Desk and the Jackalope Serial Company to make sure I’m consistent there. Once I feel more comfortable with my writing routine, I’ll begin to branch out with standalone short stories written for the wider SFF or furry markets.

So, these are my three big goals for 2018: write 100 posts here, write 50 serial chapters, and submit 10 short stories to publications. That’s a LOT of writing, and again — there’s no expectation of making the goal. That’s not really the point here. The point is to push myself further than I have been, to develop a consistent writing practice, and to submit work on a reasonably predictable schedule. Every month, I’ll reflect on my progress on these goals, talk a bit about what’s working and what I still need to focus on, and discuss my game plan for the next month. We’ll see how that goes, but for now, I’m really excited about the chance to ‘earn’ my label.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions, and how do you plan on meeting them? Let me know!

 

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(Writing) Clarion Write-A-Thon, Week 2

Self Improvement 150This summer I’ll be participating in the Clarion Write-A-Thon, a fundraiser for the Clarion Workshop. What is Clarion, you ask? Why, it’s the pre-eminent six-week intensive for budding writers in sci-fi and fantasy and it’s going on RIGHT NOW. The Write-A-Thon takes place during the workshop as a way to encourage writers to…well, do what they do best AND to make sure this wonderful resource is able to attract the very best teachers and students every year. This year, my goal is to write 50,000 words and raise $500 in donations.

In week 1, I raised $125 ($100 in pledges, $25 in donations) and I’ve written 4500 words. Not bad, but I know I can do so much better! If you’re interested in helping out, you can make a pledge (where your final donation is tied to my word count) or a donation at my author’s page here.

Last week was a little crowded. The 4×10 schedule is something I’m still adjusting to, and there were a LOT of calls to Baltimore. Mom is in a rehab center, trying to regain mobility in her hips, and she’s having a rough time. As much as she says she likes being alone, she really does need frequent contact with familiar people and that’s harder to come by where she is. She’s also changed pain medications, so I’m fairly sure there are withdrawal issues there (she was taking prescription codeine). That, combined with loads of free time to ruminate on the loss of her daughter and husband, is just not putting her in a great place.

That’s given me incentive to move forward on a number of things, though. We’re going to have to do something about the house; I’m thinking that it might be a good idea to have someone go through it, room by room, to tidy up and mark everything that is OK for keeping, salvageable, and what should just be tossed. I really need to try and get Mom’s finances in order. There are so many outstanding bills and services that should be scrapped, so I’ll need to make a ton of calls there just to simplify things. And once that’s done, we can turn towards a few long-term projects, like finding an assisted-living home for her and (finally) going through the process of handling the estate and benefits of my missing (and presumed dead) father.

That’s a lot to do over the summer, in addition to building a solid writing practice. But I’m for it! Last week I worked on “Demolition” for the most part, the short story that a generous patron won during the LAST Write-A-Thon I’ve participated in. I finally shaped an outline and are roughly ⅓ done with the first draft. The voice for one of the characters really came into its own in this really fun way, and I’m looking forward to ride that momentum through the end of the story. Hopefully, I’ll be finished with that this week — I’m thinking the final word count for the rough draft will be about 6000-6500 words.

In addition to that, I’ll be working on a few missives here at The Writing Desk. Wednesday, the penultimate set of reviews for DisneyFest will go up, with my take on Big Hero 6, Inside Out, and The Good Dinosaur. On Friday, the weekly fiction will shine a light on The Wayfarer’s House, a location that I’m building for my Baltimore World of Darkness setting.

All in all, the goal for this week is to bring my word count up to 15,000 (only counting short stories and The Writing Desk entries) and my total donations up to $200. Can I do it? YES I CAN! All that’s left is the doing.

Oh, and since this is my first entry this month, I thought I’d point you lovely folks to my Patreon, the Jackalope Serial Company. For the low low price of $1 per episode, you could receive serials featuring gay furry sci-fi and fantasy! This month’s serial is a “test run” for a shared universe I’d like to build with modern gay folks getting into all kinds of improbable shenanigans!

That’s it for today, now that I’ve spent this entire entry plugging things. See you on Wednesday, folks!

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2017 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Writing) Ye Olde List of Projects

Writing 150The biggest takeaway from my week of Infomagical is the seriously wonderful idea of narrowing my focus to one or two things and working on them until they’re done. I have a bad habit of saying yes to everything, of getting excited about so many projects and/or collaborations that it becomes really difficult to keep track of everything — let alone actually make time for things.

As part of the process of setting my priority, I thought I’d make a quick note of the projects I’m currently actively working on and where they sit on my to-do list. Of course, I’d appreciate any feedback you have to offer on this list. Do one of these projects excite you more than the others? Think I should be working on x instead of y? Let me know.

This is geared towards making sure I actually finish and submit most of these things somewhere — either to professional print/online publications; here at The Writing Desk; or for free public viewing at Furry Network or SoFurry.

The Cult of Maximus
This is the big one: the first project for the Jackalope Serial Company has been a bumpy one so far, and I’ve only managed to post thirteen parts in the first 24 weeks of the year. Making sure I make good on my promise to post weekly installments of this story until it’s done is my top priority. That means putting more work into plotting out the story, making sure I have a good handle on the settings and really solidifying how the supernatural elements of the world work. More than that, I really want to double back and edit previous chapters to “smarten” them up for posting elsewhere.

By the way, this doubles as a reminder that I have a Patreon for erotic serial stories. They feature M/M content, muscle growth, giants and some violent content. If you’re interested, go here to sign up!

The Writing Desk
I definitely want to make sure that this blog is updated at least three times a week, and I’ve been managing a good pace with that so far. Really, it’s just a matter of making sure I have ideas for articles ready to go when there isn’t anything more pressing to talk about, and doing my best to keep up with Friday Fiction. That’s the feature I’m most excited about here, even if it ends up being my least-read post most weeks. Hopefully, as I get better at flash fiction, that will change.

Short Stories
I would really love to write and submit short stories to all kinds of publications — there is a booming market for POC voices in science-fiction and fantasy, and I think that I have a unique perspective and voice to contribute to that conversation. Right now, I think writing stories to their completion, workshopping and editing them, then putting up polished work online is my best play — but there are still places I would love to submit to. For the time being, working through commissions and requests is the priority here. “A Stable Love” is draft-complete, but needs an edit; and the poor fellow who won my short story prize during last year’s Write-A-Thon is *still* waiting for even a draft. It’s time to get my shit together here.

New Fables
Admittedly, I feel a little guilty about this being so low on the list. If you haven’t heard of New Fables, it’s a wonderful annual publication that features anthropomorphic characters helping us understand the human condition a little bit better. The last issue was published in 2012, and the process of putting up the next one has been filled with stops and starts. It is *well* past time I get on the stick about doing the necessaries to get this next issue published. After that, the plan for the future of the title needs to be solidified.

Pathfinder
I ran a Pathfinder game for several friends some time ago; due to the fact that I had much less idea what I was doing with the system than I thought I did and the fact that I needed to actually plot ahead a lot more than I did, it’s been on hiatus for a little while. However, we’re getting the band back together on July 30th; that means I have a ticking clock to revamp characters and plot out the next phase of the story. There’s certainly work to do, and it can’t be underestimated.

There are, of course, a lot of other projects, but these are the five that I will be working on now. I consider my plate full, and just about everything else will have to wait until I’m done with these.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, folks — here’s to hoping that the focus remains tight until I’ve got a handle on these projects…

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2016 in Furries, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Writing) Episodic Pacing

Writing 150I LOVE the rhythms of episodic storytelling. There’s the anticipation of setting the scene, the cold open that makes the play for your attention and emotional investment right away, and the momentum that builds through a number of scenes, action set-pieces or conversations that build to a climax that ties the entire episode together through theme, action or consequence. And, of course, the final scene or image that teases the fallout from what’s just occurred so you just have to know what’s going to happen in the next installment.

Like most of the rabbits in my generation, I grew up learning the ebb and flow of these kinds of stories. Each episode broken up into three or more acts; each act fulfilling a purpose that is necessitated by the act that follows; each scene establishing or deepening character motivations, developments and setting in order to provide the biggest payoff for what’s coming at the end of the episode, the run of the season, or an entire series. I’ve always been fascinated by the trick of keeping forward momentum, of knowing where to place the scenes that slow things down to keep things from moving too fast, of mastering the speed you move through plot so that turns are sharp but not derailing.

The best TV shows and comic books know how to work within the limitations of their allotted space and format, even turning these restraints into features that enhance the storytelling. Say what you want about LOST and Battlestar Galactica, but at the height of their stories there was almost nothing better. Each week — each commercial break — was an interminable gulf through which you had to wade in order to learn how the story ends.

Great episodic storytelling is as much about building anticipation as it is rewarding it with satisfying the wait. I love shows and comics that can pull me into the story so deeply that I’m completely immersed in it while I’m there and I totally forget that it’s set to end until, suddenly, it does — and then I have to think about how everything that’s happened will lead to even more intense consequences for the characters and the world they live in. It’s such a sweet agony. I love feeling that anticipatory, excited impatience.

This is something that I’d love to learn how to cultivate with the Jackalope Serial Company. The first serial, THE CULT OF MAXIMUS, features a pair of police officers caught up in an investigation that uncovers — what else? — something that’s been lurking in the shadows of their city for some time. The more they uncover, of course, the weirder things get…and the more the protagonists are irrevocably changed by their experience.

The premise is to submit an “episode” of 1,500 – 2,500 words each week, with four or five episodes bundled together to make up a distinct ‘chapter’ of the story. Committing myself to that kind of deadline has been all kinds of educational for me; it’s helped me to learn exactly what kind of space there is in that word count, how each scene needs to pull its weight within the limits of that format, and how to build momentum in a story arc while maintaining interest in what’s happening right there and then. The demands of episodic storytelling are surprisingly varied and strict, and I don’t think I really understood just how good you have to be at managing the pacing of the story until I started doing it.

It’s interesting to find myself developing a whole new appreciation for the craft by attempting a version of it myself, and I’m glad to talk about it — even if that means it might not be the best commercial for the Jackalope Serial Company itself. Even still, I’m glad that I’m realizing what I am and that the lessons I’m learning through the experience are being applied to the story in real time. As I write each part and move through the outline, I’m finding that my grasp of character, dialogue, plot and momentum grows steadily more sure. I’m a fair bit away from being a really GOOD storyteller, but the enthusiasm I have for the story and the craft involved in telling it is pulling me through this first little bit. I’d like to think that that translates into an enjoyable tale that has its flaws but is worth the time regardless, but we’ll have to see. I do think it’s getting better all the time, which is the most important thing.

In the meantime, looking at the television shows that I’ve been really impressed by and trying to reverse-engineer them to see how they work has become a favorite pastime. How *does* Daredevil manage to explore its main themes without feeling like it wallows in them? How does Breaking Bad put its protagonist through such a clear arc from season to season? How does Battlestar Galactica tell such a sprawling, epic story while still keeping itself grounded in these flawed and fascinating characters? And how can I use those lessons to inform my own writing? This is all wonderful stuff to think about — but it’s even better to talk about.

What are your favorite episodic stories, and what lessons of writing have you taken from them?

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2016 in Television, Writing

 

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(Personal) State of the Jackalope, May 2016

Self Improvement 150The past couple of months have been marked by the death of various tech around the burrow and the attempts to replace them. Now that Bigwig (my desktop) and Hazel-rah (the new laptop) are settled for a while, I can get back to the business of writing and I’m tremendously excited about that.

Hazel-rah is a Dell Inspiron 7559 15″, and it is a beautiful thing — it’s got a 4K HD touchscreen, Intel i7 Core chip, 16G of RAM and a 1TB HDD. The resolution is so high that it actually doesn’t know what to do with some apps or windows where things tend to be small, like my digital Pomodoro timer or the note cards for my Scrivener app but that’s OK. We’re still feeling each other out. I wrote on the laptop most of yesterday, and really loved the experience; I’m getting used to the international keyboard design, which means becoming more precise with touch-typing. That’s never a bad thing, right?

Speaking of writing, here is what I’m working on: building a buffer for the Jackalope Serial Company, starting one long-overdue commission (the prize winner of a fundraising contest for last year’s Clarion Write-A-Thon), editing another long-overdue commission, pre-writing another serial project being written in a shared universe (*really* excited about that!), and brainstorming ideas for submissions to People of Color Destroy Fantasy! and the Black Power POC Superhero anthologies. I’m hoping that I can write three short stories by the end of June while making good progress on the edit for a fourth, all while keeping up with the Patreon and the blog. That’s why I’ve scheduled ten hours of writing a week!

In addition to that, I’ve been forced to learn better time management and organization techniques through work and I am ever-grateful for that. Learning how to juggle multiple responsibilities is not something I’ve ever been very good at, but what the crunch time at the day job has taught me is how to go into each day with eyes open about how things are likely to go and what needs to be accomplished in spite of that. I may not hit the mark every time, but I get a lot closer than I used to and that’s entirely a bonus effect of work craziness. Thanks, day job!

This weekend will be The Overnight, a 16-mile moonlight walk through San Francisco to raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental health issues. I’m tremendously excited to be taking part in this, and extremely proud of the money I’ve raised so far — $1,708.00. I didn’t think I would be able to do this well, and I am very grateful to everyone who’s donated so generously already. If you would like to help me bring more attention to this very important issue, please head on over to my Participants’ page and make a donation. Any amount helps, and I would love to raise as much as I can for this.

In order to make sure I was prepared for The Overnight, I’ve really stepped up my running game. Over the past two weeks I’ve run at least three times — short ones (two or three miles) at reasonably easy paces (only 12 minutes per mile) but for me the most important thing is consistency, which I think I’m learning to develop! So that’s excellent. My diet is still a little shaky, but I’ve been taking strides towards eating better. More fruits, vegetables and fiber, fewer candies, carbs and fat. Hopefully this will translate into less of a pear shape, but even if it doesn’t that’s OK. I like what I eat and how much I move now, and hopefully I’ll get to continue on that path.

I think that’s it for me this fortnight: writing, time management, Overnight preparation. What projects are you folks working on? What do you hope to have done by the beginning of next month?

If you’d like to donate to the Overnight, please go to my participant’s page here: http://theovernight.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=18579

And if you would like to hit up my Patreon, which features serialized adult anthropomorphic fiction, go here: https://www.patreon.com/jakebeserials?ty=h.

 
 

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(Personal) Where I Stand

Writing 150I thought that 2016 was going to be different. With the launch of the Jackalope Serial Company and a host of opportunities for this little black geek to write stories for anthologies specifically for him, I had prepared for a big focus on storytelling. Now we’re entering the middle third of the year, and the JSC is sputtering along, I’ve still only finished two short stories and I’ve had to take frequent breaks to manage other things that are going on.

All of the reasons have been well documented here, of course. I’ve changed positions at my day job, and that required a lot of training and focus; at the same time, the company I work for is undergoing a massive upheaval that means it’s next to impossible to get settled, so there isn’t a solid foundation for me to dig into. I’ve worked pretty hard to succeed in those conditions, and I’m getting to a point where I’m doing all right. But lofty goals for extracurricular activities had to be pulled back or scrapped entirely.

I’ve also had to learn a lot about how I’m interacting with the world and the various communities I inhabit; the climate of our society has become so aggressive and uncompromising and it’s easy to be swept along in that current if you let yourself. I didn’t like the conclusions or consequences that I was being lead to, and I had to pull back to reorient myself towards the truths I’ve gleaned from my own experience. That means pulling back, reflecting on my experience, and observing how others act on theirs for insight, connection and understanding. It’s been a fruitful process, and I feel much more solid on my beliefs, why I hold them and understanding why people believe and act the way they do.

That’s not to say that I have all of the answers — of course I don’t. I don’t know any more than you do. But I’m a lot more comfortable with where I stand on my path and I feel more confident about the direction I’m going. I’ve made choices to stop, reorient and refocus, and what’s left is acting on that knowledge to see where it leads me.

The Jackalope Serial Company will fire up again this week with chapter 3 of THE CULT OF MAXIMUS. I’ve set down an outline for the rest of the story, and it’s allowed me to know what’s really important character-wise as well as work out the kinks of plotting and purpose. The first two chapters felt…exploratory by comparison, and while that can be fun for exercises it’s really not that great in serialized fiction. It’s important to establish a sense of momentum, the idea that the story is leading somewhere, that there is acceleration, waystations, the whole bit. The serial has that baked in a bit more now, and I’ve learned from the bad start.

I’m working on editing “Stable Love” so I can finally clear that off my plate; then there’s the People of Color Destroy Horror! story that I’d like to submit by the middle of the month. There is the Clarion Write-A-Thon prize that I still owe to a good friend, and right after that I’ll set to work on my People of Color Destroy Fantasy! short story. I’m also working on a collaborative project that I’m quite excited about; I was nearly done with the outline there, but a few revelations about antagonists and character-building have encouraged me to take another look at it. There is a black superheroes anthology that I would love to submit a story for, a contest for transformation and mind-control stories that I think I’d like to submit something for, and online-only stories that I want to publish at least once a quarter.

My ambition to publish short stories hasn’t diminished at all this year, even with the bumps along the way. I just have to make sure that my ability to deliver and be organized is up to where it needs to be.

Oh! Ryan and I have also gotten into cooking through this service called Blue Apron. Basically, ingredients for three two-person meals are shipped to us every week and we learn a lot about cooking through making them. They’ve been surprising and delicious, every week, and I’ve liked most of them (the only one I didn’t really care for was the catfish po’ boy). If you find yourself eating out a lot and want to have healthier meals, I’d recommend it. $60/week seems steep but if you compare that to the money you spend on restaurants you might find yourself in a wash.

I’ve also begun running again, which has done wonders for my energy and mood. This is nominally training for The Overnight Walk, to build strength and endurance in my legs, but the truth is I’ve just missed being out on the sidewalk. It feels so good to be out there again.

That’s where I stand right now. The day job continues to be demanding, and I’ve taken some time to assess how to deal with that and work on the things that are important to me. Diet and exercise continues to improve, but the weight isn’t coming off just yet. All in good time.

If you would like to support my serial erotic fiction project, please head over to my Patreon site and sign up! For as little as $1/month, you can have (almost) weekly episodes delivered to you!

And if you would like to help me support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, please make a donation to The Overnight, a 16-mile dusk-til-dawn walk through San Francisco to raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental health issues. My participant page is here; anything you can give would be very much appreciated.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2016 in Diet and Exercise, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Personal) In The Weeds

Writing 150So the last two weeks haven’t been very good for me, focus wise.

For the third week in a row, I haven’t posted a new part to the Jackalope Serial Company — something that I set out wanting to avoid at all costs. My story for People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction is practically dead on arrival, and with ten days left until the submission deadline there isn’t a whole lot of time for me to work on it. Work on New Fables has ground to a halt while I’m dealing with just about everything else, and the day job has been plenty demanding in its own right. With social obligations, exercise and other things, it feels like I just haven’t been able to get a handle on anything so far this month.

And you know what? That’s OK. There are some periods that will be like that — where things feel out of control, where another fire pops up as soon as you stamp one down, where you feel like you’re working as hard as you can just to break even. But those periods will eventually end; you will be able to take a breath, renew your focus and do the best you can to achieve what you can in the time you can.

I’m knocking on wood here, but I’m hoping that the worst of the busy season is over for a month or two. Last week was preparing for my first on-call weekend, which proved to be more challenging than expected for a number of reasons. The interesting thing about my day job is that there are so many new things to learn; the flipside is that almost every thing that comes up is new to me. It takes time to learn enough to feel comfortable with things, and during my on-call weekend time was something in short supply. It was difficult balancing the needs of my customers with the desire to understand just what the hell I was doing. The plans that I had made for an orderly workflow over the week were thrown out of the window by Friday evening; Saturday was mostly spent trying to figure out one or two issues; Sunday morning was the only day it felt like I could get ahead of things, so I took advantage.

I had hoped to at least spend a little time writing over the weekend, but that did not happen. It was all day job, all the time.

And that leaves me in something of a difficult position with my projects. I’ll need to make things right over at the Patreon any way I know how; I’ll need to shut myself away for a few days this week to power through a working draft of “The Tourist”; and I’ll need to use my newfound powers of Project Management to break down everything I’ll need to do in order to bring New Fables to publication.

So far, the ambitious goals I’ve set for 2016 have had to be rolled back a bit. I’ve taken a bit of time to panic about that, and to mourn the fact that I wasn’t able to do what I set out to do; now it’s time to regroup and re-dedicate myself.

Writing to meet tight deadlines; reading to learn how to be better organized; focusing on what’s in front of me to achieve what I want. That’s this week. See to it! Go do it!

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2016 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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