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The Haunting of Keystone Lake

In the summer of 2008, with a self-imposed deadline looming to finish Invading Spaces, I packed up my laptop, a couple of changes of clothes, and drove almost two hours northeast to Keystone Lake. There, in a rented one-room cabin, I spent 40 hours over three days finishing my second book.

The day I returned to civilization I excitedly e-mailed the final draft to a friend of mine, the same friend who gave Commodork its first positive review — a review which, for all intents and purposes, got the Commodork ball rolling. His feedback of Invading Spaces was less enthusiastic, calling it a “jumbled mess that doesn’t know what it’s trying to be.” He also told me that rather than publicly give it a negative review, he’d prefer not to review it at all — words that sting just as sharp this morning as they did the day I first read them.

Commodork was released in 2006; Invading Spaces, 2008. My life plan at that time was to write and release a new book every other year, but with the wind knocked out of my sails, that ship never left port. The month after debuting Commodork at the 2006 Oklahoma Video Game Expo I traveled to Chicago and sold books at the Emergency Chicagoland Commodore Convention. In 2007 I spoke at DEFCON, talking about self-publishing and sitting between Myles Long from the cDc and Rad-Man, founder of ACiD. A couple of years later I spoke at Notacon as well.

For Invading Spaces, I did none of those things. I didn’t tour, I didn’t book speeches, I didn’t have t-shirts made … I just kind of did nothing. I sold a few copies of Invading Spaces at OVGE 2008, but that’s about it.

I haven’t published a book in five years.

One person ruined the success of my last book … and that person was me. I let someone break my spirit.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to start writing again. I mean, I write things every day either on this blog or other people’s websites or for magazines or a gaggle of other places, but this writing is for me and my books.

Last week I began setting my alarm for 5:30 every morning. On a normal day I get up at 6:30am to get ready for work. This extra hour each morning, I’ve set aside for writing. My writing. No, it’s not physically that little cabin on the water at Keystone Lake, but mentally, I’m back there again every morning. Mentally I’m sitting in that cabin, separated from my family and friends, banging out words furiously on an old keyboard. Sometimes the ideas come faster than I can type — which is fast — and sentences become jumbled fragments as I race to capture the thoughts. Sometimes ideas for entire chapters appear in my mind and I capture the major plot points the best I can. If witches can have a witching hour, I can have a writing hour. To paraphrase Dr. Dealgood from Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome … Writin’ time’s here.

The process of sharing one’s writing — the marketing, the talking, the selling, the online interaction — is a very social one, a very public one. At conventions you sell your books and you sell yourself. People want to talk to the author. The honest passion you put into a project comes out honestly when you talk about it. All of those things involve human interaction … but writing it, the actual process of capturing those words, does not. It is, by and large, a lonely one. Being a writer sometimes means excusing yourself from family activities and going to your writing nook, closing the door, and trying to both write and tune out the fact that outside that door life is going on without you. Last week I re-read Stephen King’s book about writing.

“[…] whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, ‘There’s someone who knows.’ Writing is a lonely job.” – Stephen King, On Writing.

Stephen King’s been there. I’ve been there. Anyone who has ever dedicated time to writing a book has been there. It’s a sacrifice, one I decided a couple of weeks ago I would once again make.

Normally my blog entries go live at 6am because that’s when I schedule that to happen. This morning I woke up at 5am, 30 minutes before my alarm was scheduled to go off, and began writing. My fingers ache from the cold air creeping in through the poorly insulated wall between me and the attic. The same door that keeps everybody else out simultaneously keeps the cold air in. As I prepare to click the “Publish” button I can hear other family members begin to stir. It’s time to lock up the cabin for another day and head back to the city. There I’ll say good morning to everyone, take a shower, get dressed, go to work, and spend 23 hours dreaming about returning to Keystone Lake.

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4 comments to The Haunting of Keystone Lake

  • Mom

    Lesson one: When asked your opinion of something, if you don’t think it’s great, offer “constructive” criticism and then encouragement. (Is he still your friend?)
    Lesson two: If you love what you’re doing, don’t let anybody else’s opinion stop you!

  • Oh, to have an attic. Or a cabin. I have to steal time from my own sleep schedule to get writing done. Otherwise, I can’t even complete a sentence without being interrupted by an outburst of “DAAAAAAAD!” I’m planning to have at least two books finished this year, with a lot of work having already been done on them, otherwise that’d be a completely ludicrous goal, but sometimes I have a hard time believing that anything will get done. The reason so much of any of my stuff gets written “on the can” is because that’s the only way I can close a door in this house without setting off an international incident (and because no one’s going to barge in the door with the kind of smells that are involved).

    So basically… if someone were to tell me that my latest book stinks… my reply would be that they don’t know the half of it.

  • Guess that’s that. It was great knowing you.

  • Rob

    @Mom: I do still consider this person my friend. Your second comment, the one about not letting other’s people opinions stop you, is definitely the point I was going for. A third point I learned. one I didn’t mention, is that if you aren’t strong enough to handle negative feedback, don’t go around asking for feedback.

    @Jason: I’m sorry that you feel that way, because I still I value our friendship. This post wasn’t about your negative comments toward my book; I asked for your honest opinion at the time and you gave it. It was about not being able to handle such stark criticism at the time, and it was about valuing someone else’s opinion of my work more highly than my own. One thing you have showed us all over the past many years is that you have to believe in yourself to get things done. Time and time again I have watched you filet your critics with the sharpest of tongues by standing up and defending your work. I wish I had been strong enough to do that too. Not letting people’s negativity toward your work affect you and to “keep on keepin’ on” regardless of what anyone else thinks is one of the greatest lessons you have taught me. I hope you are not teaching me another lesson today.