Own Your Story

“No man but feels more of a man in the world if he have a bit of ground that he can call his own.  However small it is on the surface, it is four thousand miles deep; and that is a very handsome property.”  ~Charles Dudley Warner

Sitting down to a new story, is like opening your vehicle to that, oh—so—wonderful, new car smell. You know what I’m talking about. It permeates everything—the seats, the trunk, and if you have a leather interior you get that old spice suave smell in addition to it. And like cars, stories need gas. What sort of gas am I hypothetically talking about? Well, that depends on you. Fuel is fuel. So what fuels your story? Some require premium, others you can get by with the cheapest stuff available. But there is a larger question at hand here:

Are you leasing, or buying?

You might not think there is a difference, but there is, and that difference determines how you’ll treat that story. Renters tend to ignore all of the little things because they aren’t fully invested in their acquired merchandise, or where they live, or what car they drive. When you first see that story, when you open the door and smell that delicious smell, you’re making a choice right then, whether or not you’re going to be with this thing for the long haul. You might not know that, but you are. Please trust me on this, you are.

If you’re buying, your maintenance will be more regular (usually), the grade oil you use will be higher (let’s assume for the sake of conversation that the oil here is the level of time you spend invested into your craft to make it all run smoothly), and you’ll take better care of it. Why? Because you envision a future with it. You make a commitment to it.

Is it your first work? Are you afraid those bloggers might be right? You know the ones—the guys and gals who emphatically state that all novels are total shit up until your fifth or sixth (or whatever the trend is at the time)? Whether or not you are a beginner, pro, or indeed a writer of total shit, you’re still making a call when you sign up for a fresh work. If you go at it with half your heart because deep down you’re letting your insecurities and fears make your decisions for you, then you’re leasing. If you go at it with all your heart, even if you’re scared to death of the commitment, then you’ve purchased.

Sounds too simplistic doesn’t it? It isn’t really, not when you look at it carefully. Contracts are sticky, complex things. And after all, any agreement between two parties is nothing more than a contract. You’re laying out your terms, and so is the story.

So what are the story’s terms?

Well, here’s some insider information—stories don’t like to be leased. They’ll offer you all sorts of incentives NOT to lease, but if you aren’t paying any attention, you’ll look right over them. Reminds me of rebates on cars—if you don’t ask, they don’t have to give them to you.

Stories don’t want you to bail after a certain number of rejections. That’s leasing. That’s turning it all back in, after a certain number of months (form letters from agents, or publishers, or both). Less the damages of course. And whatever damage you’ve done will cost you if you invest in another story at the same dealership. You’ll carry the cost over, just like you’ll carry the wounds of rejection letters over. And the thing is, if you’ve purchased, you don’t have to deal with that—not in the same way.

When you buy, you have the right to do whatever you want to with it after the title is in your name (that would be finishing the story). You can sell it if you’d like, pocket the profit, or keep it till it has to be retired. Bottom line is that the choices here are all yours.

When you lease, you don’t own anything. You aren’t investing in anything. Sure, there are perks. It’s cheaper, for starters, to lease than to own. Maintenance is taken care of (those are all of those classes and online critique groups you’ve spent years in). The second something is “wrong” and deemed beyond repair, it’s covered and you get to turn the thing back in, whether time is up on the lease or not.

When you buy, anything beyond the warranty is your responsibility. Yet, here’s the thing: Despite all the upkeep and the hassle, once it’s paid off, then it is truly YOURS. Forever. No take backs.

For better or worse, it belongs to you. And there isn’t anything better in this world than ownership. I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “Quit laughing jackass, it’s paid for!” You might not get published right away. You might never get published. You might get published, but not make a huge career out of being an author. But, it’s PAID for! You wrote the novel(s) that most of the world merely wishes to write. Don’t ever, ever forget this. It’s the only thing that matters.

So, you tell me: Are you leasing or buying? Really look at this question and answer it for yourself as honestly as you can. It’s really easy to say, “Yes I am buying.” But are you? Do you have one foot out the door, just waiting for something better to come along so you can slide out of one lease and move onto another one? When you get a form letter, or personalized rejection in your inbox, do you console yourself by saying inwardly, “Well, it’s not my best work anyway. I can do better. Maybe they’ll like the next thing I write?” Nothing wrong with hoping for better luck next time, but my point here is this: Are you giving your story less credit than it deserves because you really don’t plan on being with it for the long run?

The new car smell fades, yes. And it’s exciting to jump into a new car every couple of years. But nothing smells as good as a title, (pun intended) fresh off the press and I can guarantee you that with a lease, you’ll never see a title. You’re only borrowing it from someone else who will one day own it.

Which I suppose brings up the final question: Are you prepared to give it up to someone else? If not, then might I suggest you renegotiate your terms before your time is up?

It’s been long enough. You’ve waded into the shallow end. Take the plunge and OWN your story!

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The Utility of Tangents

Monster in the Tub--Roadio Arts

I like to think that there is a place in my mind—a waiting room of sorts, where all of the stories that I’ll pen, are mulling around, interacting with one another—perhaps arguing about whose turn it is and why it shouldn’t be so. Some are allowed out in pairs, some are solitary. Oh, I know that there are a multitude of things that I (as an author—and occasionally a human being), will encounter that will inspire me.

You see, that’s what decides the order in which these stories are imagined. It’s like the number they assign you at the DMV. You wait your turn until you see your number, in little red lights, pop up on the box. If you miss your turn, they’ll continue to call you for a set amount of time, and then that chance will be given to someone new. My stories all have numbers—I don’t know what they are. But, I’ve learned a valuable lesson this week: I have no say in their distribution.

That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes believe that I do. I argue with myself quite a bit, on one story’s progression or another. But in the end, they all have turns and it’s of no consequence how hard I might try to force one in another’s place. They don’t stand in single file lines, as I’d like them to. They stand like five year olds, perpetually asking absurd questions or fighting with whoever happens to be in front of them (and in some rare instances whoever is behind them). What brought all of this to mind, is the apparent story that I was accusing quite literally of being in the wrong room. It appeared with number in hand, excited, and all I could say was:

“I’m very sorry for the inconvenience, but I’m afraid you’re mistaken. I don’t write romance novels that don’t have some element of the supernatural in them.”

“But, I have a number.”

“Yes, I can see that. But as I said, I’m simply not who you are looking for. And I can’t imagine how you wound up here. I’ll have to get with the frontal lobe about that. What time did you arrive here yesterday?”

“I didn’t. I’ve been here. And I have a number.”

“You couldn’t have been here long, I would have at least suspected you might be approaching the front of the line. Now, let’s talk about the last place you were before you were here and maybe that will help me figure out where to send you.”

“I’ve already told you…I’ve been here. And how do you know that there isn’t anything supernatural involved? I’ll tell you what, lets just sit for a moment. I won’t take up much of your time—I swear. I have a story to tell you.”

So, 38,000 words later—I have a very conceited romance novel in the works (There’s nothing worse than a story running around saying, ‘I told you so’). Perhaps there is utility in tangents—in those wayward stories that wind up somehow wandering into our brains and picking up a number somebody else dropped. I’ve discussed this in depth with several portions of my left brain and that’s the only logical conclusion we can come up with. Either that or someone’s getting fired. Not to mention how loudly Nightshade and Icarus are complaining that it’s still their turn. There isn’t much you can say to soothe stories like those. They’re impatient to begin with, being single volumes and all.

I suspect there is a slight element of the supernatural—though it appears arguably as my main character’s brain and not the ghost of his dead sister, who is whispering cryptic hints in his dreams about the killer’s identity. The story is also refusing to identify itself with a title, so for now I’ve lovingly dubbed it, ‘Not a Novel.’ It doesn’t appear to appreciate this much, but that’s what it gets for being so damn close-lipped.

Oh, and just to add insult to injury, the story let it slip that there are more than a couple horror stories hanging out in the billiards room (of course my brain has a billiards room).

“Oops, did I say that out loud? I meant to say that there are some stories of ‘undetermined genre’, wrecking the pool table.”

“Self-righteous son of a…”