2016: The Autopsy

I don’t like “resolutions.” The very word has come to mean “something I thought was a good idea but, in my heart of hearts, I didn’t really intend to follow through on it.” I like the word “goal.” There’s an intention to it. I also like the word “autopsy,” although it cuts way to close to the bone after 2016. Still…

This is the autopsy of my goals for 2016, the year that was. While the year was disastrous from a great many perspectives,  it was actually a pretty successful one for my family. Health was overall good, and a lot of exciting stuff happened. 

Professional

Writing/Publishing — My goal was to finish and publish the second and third volumes of my Fast 40 series, finish and publish my first novel (which went on to be called The Joined World: Threshold), and to make another Fast 40 book based on photos I took on our trip to Scotland. I accomplished all of these. What I didn’t accomplish was my final goal of finishing my second novel, the follow up to Threshold. Looking back, that might have been a tad ambitious, considering I didn’t get started on that. Well, better to miss at something difficult than accomplish something easy, or something like that.

Grade: A-

Read Books – If you want to be a writer, one of the best pieces of advice is to expose yourself to writing. The goal was to read 20 books on a variety of subjects and genres. That might seem laughably low for some, and God love ‘em, but I was also writing quite a bit. I read 23, including Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, so now a lot of those Bugs Bunny cartoons make sense. 

Grade: A

Watch Movies – In addition to reading, watching movies with an eye towards the writing is a good way to get that three-act structure down (if only at times to see what not to do). My goal was to see 100 movies in 2016, and, for a while there, I didn’t think I’d make it. As of December first, I’d only seen 71. In my defense, I did make it a point to watch two television series that I’d heard good things about but had missed the first time around: Breaking Bad and Mad Men. But, in December, I rallied and, on December 31 at 4 p.m., finished Kill Bill, Vol. 2 and got 100 films in. 

Grade: A

Photo of the Day – I don’t journal or keep a diary, but I like having a record of some part of the day every day; taking a photo of something each day seemed like a good compromise, and helps hone the photographic eye. I embarked on the #366project, and was able to keep up with it for the entire year (although a couple of days I kind of phoned it in). Still, a streak’s a streak, and you have to respect a streak.

Grade: A

 

Personal

Blood Sugar — 2016 was the year that I have started to realize that youth might not be on my side as much as it once was. In the beginning of the year, I was told that I needed to watch certain things, blood sugar being one of those. The term “diabetes” was thrown around. Properly scared, I worked to cut back on the bad stuff and get things under control. For a month, I did really well. The bad stuff, however, is so tasty. I slipped, and then just kind of ignored it completely. “I’ll get back to it,” I told myself, as if I would be cramming for a test towards the end of the year. Seems that biology doesn’t work that way, though, and I failed the test, which I hope isn’t a final exam. It’s not a mystery why my blood sugar is out of control; it’s very easy to figure out. I just have to do it. 

Grade: Big ol’ F

Weight — I wanted to lose about 10 pounds in 2016. I did not do that. I didn’t gain any weight, though, so this one is a big, resounding “meh.”

Grade: C

Exercise — Yeah, mistakes were made, there were days too hot or chilly to really overcome my intense desire to not do it. Does Nike make a shirt to that effect?

Grade: D

Support my Wife — Okay, I think I actually did one thing right in this section. In the 10 years (!) we’ve known each other, and the eight years we’ve been married, Kristen has supported me no matter what, and that’s a gift to be treasured. In our relationship, she’s the “GO!” person, and I’m the “Um, could we think about this for a minute” element. It’s a good structure: We don’t run into as many walls, but we actually do get going. She’s had a lot of great opportunities this year in her textile art studio efforts, with some really exciting ones coming down the path in 2017. I’d like to think that I’ve shown her the same support she’s showed me, even though it takes me out of my comfort zone from time to time (which isn’t a bad thing).

Grade: B? I’m not the best judge of this one, but I tried….

So, that was last year. Goals for this year?

Professional

Writing/Publishing — The goal this year is a little simpler than in 2016, but will probably be more difficult. I want to get the follow up to Threshold written and published this year, with at least the third book (it’s a trilogy) started before year’s end. I also want to write a book of short stories (longer than the Fast 40 flash fiction) done in 2017. What is going to be the difficult part, and the part I’ve been putting off because it doesn’t come naturally to me, is to get a marketing effort underway to get the books out there. I can write the next Great American Novel, but if it doesn’t get out there, my goal as a writer will not be met. So, the job is to figure out how to do it without getting icky about it. I have some plans and know some courses to take along those lines. 

Blood Sugar/Exercise — Gotta take this seriously this year. Gotta make that turn. I don’t want my foot to fall off or my kidneys to go AWOL. No magic to getting this done. Just gotta do it.

Freelance work — Once I made the mental turn to call myself a “writer,” it did open up an avenue that I’ve not allowed myself to really explore. I’d like to get some more writing done, either under my own name or ghostwritten, to work those writing muscles, and make some coin while I’m at it. Got a couple of things lined up already, so full speed ahead on this one. 

Read Books — Upping it to 25 this year. Enough to get some exposure to fresh ideas, but not so much where I hide from writing my own stuff.

Watch Movies — Keeping this at 100 in 2017. Gonna try to space it out a little better so I don’t have to cram so much in December.

Support My Wife — Job No. 1

 

 

Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me....

 

Last night, I did something that the people who actually know me would find hard to believe.

I spoke in front of a crowd. Of teenagers. About myself. 

I was asked to speak as part of a group at the career night for Boys & Girls Haven. A writer, I was told, sounded like a cool thing to be, and the kids might want to hear about it. (I wound up sitting next to a stat-flight paramedic - now her job seemed cool. I just sit in my room and make stuff up.)

My initial reaction was to politely decline. After all, two fears rolled into one event seemed…challenging. But then, I asked myself if there was any reason other than “fear” to beg out of it. There was not, and “fear” is a crappy reason not to do something (unless it’s to go swimming with sharks in a rickety cage; fear is a wonderful reason not to go through with that). Also, it was for a good cause. The Boys & Girls Haven takes kids in the foster system and gives them stability, education and a chance to overcome some really profound obstacles life has thrown in their way. 

When I looked at it that way, my fear seemed a silly and vain thing.  

So, I showed up, with my wife by my side and her promise not to leave me alone. I fully expected that none of the kids would be that interested in something as vague as “writing.” So, I was taken aback when one young man at my table — I’d guess 14 or 15 years old — read my name tag, which read “David Falkirk Writer/Author,” and got excited.

“Are you an author for real?” he asked. 

That struck me right at the heart of my imposter syndrome, but I was there to play the part. “Yeah,” I said. “I am.”

“I’m a writer. Not a real writer, but I’m writing a book! Can you help me get it published?”

Not the kind of thing I was ready for, I had to admit. Between the nervousness of having to speak to people at any moment and the almost-heartbreaking earnestness of this young man, my attention was scattered. After every speaker gave his or her pitch (the program called up the speakers in random order, throwing another log on my fire of nervousness), he’d repeat himself. “Can you help me get published?” and “How can I get published?” and “Can you help me?”

Over the course of the evening, he made me throw my preconceived notions out the window. I thought his “book” would be 10 or 15 pages at the outside, maybe something Old Man Falkirk could humor him with. He told me that he was still working on it, but it was at 220 pages. It was fiction, about people overcoming adversity. He had a USB thumb drive on a lanyard around his neck. That’s where he kept his book. 

Damn.

I thought back when I was his age. Did I have that kind of drive in my youth? That clarity of purpose? No way. There are times I like to think about the adversities of my own life (and I’m pretty sure everyone does that — has there ever been someone who said “Oh, yeah, I breezed through my childhood. Nothing but great memories and happy times”?). Seeing that kid, though, seeing the fire in his belly, really made me take stock. A line from a Jason Isbell song played through my mind and never seemed more true:  

“Still compared to those / A stone’s throw away from you / Our lives have both been relatively easy”

My head was full when it was finally my turn to go up and speak. My fears still seemed silly, but they were still there. I got through it without embarrassing myself or others (my notes are below, if you’re interested), and I’m glad I chose the message I chose — that writing (or art, or music, or any other way you express yourself) might not be the career you ultimately choose, but it can be the thing that helps you grow as a person and helps you become the best version of yourself. 

After it was over, and my blood pressure and adrenaline went down into something approaching normal levels, I went to the young man and asked him his name. He told me, softly, with his hand over his mouth. The initial excitement was over, it seemed, and me coming to him and talking directly to him seemed to make him pull into his shell, one that didn’t seem to exist a few minutes before. It made his earlier enthusiasm all the more remarkable. 

I shook his hand, gave him my email address and told him to contact me when he had finished his book. I’m still not sure what I can do, but I found myself wanting to help him do something.

I also told him never to say he wasn’t a “real” writer. If he writes, he's a writer. No one can take that away from him. 

______

I wrote out my remarks because I know me. Give me a microphone and point me in front of a group of people without memory backup, and you’re going to get some stammers and a bucket of “uh.”  I wound up going off script a little because I completely overwrote (I’m a writer. It’s what we do.), but this is what I came up with:

 

Name: Dave Falkirk (Yes, I wrote my name down. It was one less thing to worry about forgetting.)

Occupation: I’ve been a newspaper reporter, an ad copywriter, an editor, an author and a publisher, but the one thing that I’ve been through each and every job was being a writer

Schooling: I went to college to study journalism, but there were two classes in high school that I use more than anything else in my day to day work: ninth grade English (where we really worked on grammar and the rules of writing) and typing. No matter what I do during the day, it pretty much involves typing.  That being said, learn as much as you can about everything you can. If you want to be a writer, it requires curiosity. You’ve got to ask “what if,” or “how does that work,” and then answer the question. The more you know, the more answers you’ll be able to come up with.

What do I like most about my job? There’s something magic, something powerful, about taking the ideas out of your head and putting them down on paper. They exist in the real world

With fiction, I love the act of pure creation. I love making something that didn’t exist before. I love getting lost in the story I’m telling, when I’m writing and lose track of time because I’m watching the story play out in my mind. 

With non-fiction, I really enjoy learning about the topic I’m writing about, and then finding the words to share them with my readers. It’s not easy; it can be the most difficult thing I do, in fact, but when I get it right, there’s a huge feeling of accomplishment.

Advice to those wanting to write: I’m going to tell you what I wish someone would have told me at your age – you don’t need permission to do it. No one can give you permission to do it. You just have to do it.  The more you do it, the better you’ll get. 

I’ve been talking about writing, but everything I’ve said is the same for music, or art, or any way you want to express yourself. My brain is wired for writing stories and novels, and maybe yours is, too. Or maybe your brain is wired for music, or dancing, or photography, or painting, or engineering or football. Maybe it’s a combination. Lyrics, poetry and rap all come from the same impulse. Books, movies, television, video games and many other things all have writers. Find the thing that lets you express yourself in a way that feels right to you.  Even if you don’t do it for a living, you can do it for your own well-being. It’s important to express yourself; it’s a way to become the best you you can be.

If you want to write, let your imagination go. You can edit, cut away, add things to the idea, but the idea needs to have the air to form and to grow. Get out of your own way when you’re first forming the idea. See where it takes you. You can always fix it later. You can’t “fix” a blank page.

Start a diary, or a journal, or a blog - it doesn’t have to be what happened during the day, although it can if you’d like it to be - it’s your thing. It could just be thoughts you have, something that you’d like to write about later. It’s easy to forget things, even if you think you’ll remember them. If you write it down, it’s yours forever.

Only you can tell your story - no one else can ever come close. And your story doesn’t have to be strictly about the events in your life. You’ve loved someone. You’ve been hurt. You’ve had friends. Those are your feelings, and your feelings are what you use to tell stories. Your feelings are what makes them real. When something good happens, use it! Write about it, or paint a picture about how you feel. When something bad happens, use it. Write about it. Paint a picture about how you feel. 

What I’m Reading: The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

So, when The View from the Cheap Seats came out, I was of two minds. The book is a collection of Gaiman’s nonfiction work, described by the author as “a motley bunch of speeches and articles, introductions and essays.” The entries are short, for the most part (but there are a lot of them - you’ll get your money’s worth), but with this book I finally feel like I connected with Gaiman; the man writes some lovely nonfiction. 

Mad Men and Casual Cruelty

Mad Men and Casual Cruelty

I’m not squeamish. I’m sailing through Game of Thrones with ease (even the ending of “The Mountain and the Viper” episode didn’t really phase me). I sat down with The Sopranos season after season with no problem. I made it through the final ultra-violent season of Sons of Anarchy with nary a scratch. I even watched the entire season of Caprica, which was an unadulterated mess, because I felt I owed it to Battlestar Galactica. But man, the first episode of Mad Men got under my skin in way I was unprepared for. 

Resistance — Standing In Your Own Way

As I write this, I’m about three hours away from hitting the “publish” button to get the first print proof for my first book. It’s a short book of flash fiction stories, and while I’m proud of it, it’s really a way to get my feet wet in the world of authorship and self publishing. I’ve got a novel currently at the revision stage, and am thinking of that as the “main event.”