Nut Up or Shut Up… Goals and Accomplishments

I’m very grateful for an amazing year. I’d like to thank my family and friends, most of all my wife Sarah, for all your support. I’d also like to thank all the writers and readers I’ve met over the last year. I’ve made some great new friends, and got back with some old ones.

I’m far from done with my goals as a writer. But I’ve covered more ground than I ever thought possible in a year. I’m beginning to understand the phrase make your own luck. I used to think it meant fixing the odds, breaking the rules. But all it means is working hard toward your goals. I’ve seen it time and time again with writers I’ve met over the last year. They’ve struggled and kept busting their behinds, and are reaping the rewards of that hard work.

My resolution is to keep on working hard and aiming high. One goal is to complete my first novel and get it published. I have a second book of the Lost Children anthology in the works. The writers have been chosen and you’ll see it next autumn. It will be bigger, with many more voices joining the cause to support The National Association to Protect Children. I’d like to write more short stories and crack some new markets. My goal last year was to get in as many different venues as possible, and this year I am going to concentrate on some big targets such as Alfred Hitchock and Ellery Queen, Hardboiled, The Strand, Shock Totem, and so on. However, a goal is something within your control. Dean Wesley Smith and my friend & personal trainer Peter V. Dell’Orto both have good posts about setting attainable goals. Here are my attainable goals.

1) Write every day. Writing, and getting back to writing, are not daunting tasks. I will set aside more time to write and not follow distractions.
2) I will write the best stories I can and continue to keep them constantly in one editor’s hands or another’s. They will never lie fallow.
3) I will write the best novel I can. I will edit it diligently. I will not rewrite it for rewriting’s sake.
4) I will find the editors and agents of the writers I admire most, who have accepted work most like my own, and I will get my novel in their hands before year’s end.
5) I will not be a slave to my anger and I focus my rage on the page. 
6) I will go to MMA class once per week.
7) I will resume a healthier diet… beer is not a food group.

You set goals and they become accomplishments. Here are my accomplishments of 2011, in vague order. And a few great things that happened that were outside my control, but made me happy.

January.
Completed my first novel, The Garage. Drawer fodder. Currently rewriting it, using the characters and concepts I developed in this 115,000 word monster born of NaNoWriMo 2010.

February.
Wrote my first short stories in ten years.

March.
First story published in ten years, Punk Dad Manifesto, at the Morning News… And was paid for it!
Married my Firecracker, Sarah. Love of my life, who keeps me centered and in line. Had a beautiful wedding and a wonderful time with friends and family, and a relaxing honeymoon with my new wife.

April.
Began writing for flash fiction challenges, met Fiona “McDroll” Johnson online and she told me to submit my work to crime venues. Pointed me to the magnanimous Sandra Seamans, who lists all the markets. I began reading them all, finding many new-to-me writers and all sorts of inspiration. I never forget to thank Fiona Johnson for that first kick in the ass. I wouldn’t be writing the way I do today if it wasn’t for her.
This led to 33 stories accepted in 2011, appearing in anthologies and journals alongside Lawrence Block, Wayne Dundee, Ray Banks, and many, many other writers whose work I admire.

May.
First crime story published in Shotgun Honey, “The Last Sacrament.”
I met Lawrence Block at a signing at Watchung Booksellers. Since then we’ve chatted online and at the Mysterious Bookshop. One of our great living writers and a hell of a guy, it’s always humbling to meet your literary heroes.

June.
Rode on the Star Ledger Munchmobile with Peter Genovese and crew, got my picture in the state newspaper stuffing my face with a sandwich.
Made print in The Utne Reader, when they reprinted Punk Dad Manifesto.

July.
Ron Earl Phillips asked me to be a moderator at Flash Fiction Friday.
My story “A Glutton for Punishment” debuted at Beat to a Pulp, and Lawrence Block not only read it, but commented on it. A few short words that still mean a lot to me. Thanks, Mr. Block.

August.
“Rain Dog” published in Crimespree #43, first crime story in print.
Wrote back and forth with Harlan Ellison, another literary hero and influence, who tells readers not to write to him. But always replies.

September.
Won the First place Bullet Award for my story “Black Eyed Susan,” which was also favorably reviewed by James Reasoner and hardboiled legend Wayne Dundee.
I ask Fiona Johnson to write a fiction cue for Flash Friday and she comes up with the Lost Children Challenge.

October.
Pulp Modern #1 released, putting me twixt the same covers as Lawrence Block.
Made tons of friends in the crime fiction community online and at Bouchercon. Most of all Josh Stallings and Sabrina Ogden, who felt like old friends, but also Glenn Gray, Christa Faust, Matthew Funk, Johnny Shaw and Kent Gowran. We joke that crime writers are the friendliest bunch of murder-minded mothers around, but it really is true. Everyone I met was friendly, from Harlan Coben to Joelle Charbonneau, even when I was a babbling idiot.

Visited Italy with Sarah, experienced the ruins of Pompeii, the bustle of Napoli, the decadence of Capri, the old and new of Rome, and spent time with our friends David and Courtney. Everyone needs a break, and someday I’ll write about a chase through Pozzuoli between a tourist and the Gomorra to write this off as research. Hell, my honeymoon trip inspired my longest short story, “White People Problems,” which will be at All Due Respect this year, and be expanded into a novel … eventually. I really want to introduce you to Bobby and the Five Stages of Grief… you’ll get a taste soon at ADR.

November.
Published Lost Children: a Charity Anthology to support PROTECT, and spoke to Executive Director  Grier Weeks about the project.
Corresponded with another hero, of mine, Andrew Vachss. We’d written before, but never so often. A pat on the shoulder from a veteran warrior in the fight against child abuse and exploitation, who became a lawyer and an incredible writer to fight this fight… well, it means more than I feel comfortable sharing.

December.
I deadlifted 555lbs and I benched 260lbs. I pursue goals other than writing. I added 60lbs to my deadlift and began benching again after tearing both my rotator cuffs two years ago. I surpassed my old record of 250 on the bench. All by adding 5lbs a month using the 5/3/1 lifting regimen. A slog, but with great results. Last year I was deadlifting 400lbs for 10 reps. Now I’m lifting 510lbs for 5. And I stopped a falling refrigerator with my chin.

I’ll diverge because it amuses me. Pulp queen Christa Faust got a kick out of me crowing about my personal record and said we should fight crime as Max Deadlift and Pixie Cockpunch. We shall see. She’s a busy writer with a lot of irons in the fire, but I just might suggest a collaboration…

I made quite a few best-of lists for short story. According to the readers, my best stories are Black-Eyed Susan, Shogun Honey, Candle, The Forest for the Trees, Junkyard Dog, and Legacy of Brutality.

We sold 150 copies of the Lost Children Anthology in 2 months.

It’s been a hell of a year. I’m sure I’ve missed some. And I could have expended as many words thanking everyone by name. Thank you for reading, and spreading the word. Writing is the most solitary art. The feedback is delayed and muted, so when someone takes the time to tell you they liked what you wrote, it has great effect, no matter how we try to make our response as cool as can be.

So, don’t make resolutions. They sound like U.N. agenda items, and we know how useful they are, with China and the Sudan on the human rights committee. Set realistic and attainable goals, with milestones and measurable markers of success. “Eat better” means little. “Don’t go back for seconds, and do not snack after dinner, and walk 30 minutes a day” is controllable, and will guarantee results. Eight years ago I weighed nearly 400 pounds. I began by walking an hour a night, and not eating bread and sweets. A year later I’d lost 140 pounds. Every day adds up. If you fail, get up immediately… don’t give up. What’s one day of missing your targets out of 366? Nothing. A pittance.

Here’s wishing you all a happy new year… now get to work on making it that way. 

You can’t say no to those eyes…

I entered the foray of self-publishing this year, sort of. I published Lost Children: A Charity Anthology, edited with my friends Fiona Johnson and Ron Earl Phillips, with stories by 30 writers. And all the cash is going to two causes: PROTECT and Children 1st. One reason I did it was of course, to raise money for these organizations. Another reason was to learn the ropes and see the results, to decide if self-publishing is for me. To see what kind of sales I could generate, and how much work goes into it.

You have to set goals for yourself. My goals were:

Sell 100 copies in the first month (succeeded)
Sell at least one copy per day after that (succeeded, in the long run)

Now I wanted to sell 100 per month, but it didn’t happen. We’re at 148 sales right now, and I’d be happy to make 150 sales by the end of the year.

According to Dean Wesley Smith, these are excellent sales for a first book. The sales really pile in once you have 4-5 items for sale, because you get repeat business. I never expected this anthology, with a handful of known crime and literary writers and many first-timers, to sell very well. Fiona and I donated $600 of our own cash for the original fiction challenge, and we wanted to generate more for the causes. The project has been a great success in that regard- the royalties aren’t in yet, but we’re looking at around $350 in two months, and the book will be on sale for three years.

But let me tell you, it’s a lot of work. I’m still not sure if self-publishing is the way to go, for me. I don’t want to start that debate. It works for a lot of people. Traditional works for others. Dean Wesley Smith says use both to your advantage, and to me, that seems the wisest choice. Of course, you need to talk softly and carry a big lawyer, if you plan on self-publishing and pursuing a contract with a major publisher. Many contracts include non-compete clauses that would keep you from self-publishing, even if you’ve been doing it prior to the contract. Let the writer beware. But enough about that.

It was an exciting endeavor and now that I’ve learned it, would I do it again? You bet I would.

But I want two more sales. Really bad. The next two buyers- print or e-book- who email me the receipt (use the “contact me” form on the upper right) will get a copy of Heart Transplant by Andrew Vachss donated to the library of their choice.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=1466493976http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B005FOFKCY

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Don’t be a Tool

THE LAUGHTER SHACK is a new humor venue started by a friend of mine. They publish everything from surrealist ridiculousness to lowbrow, and I have a ‘piece’ up there this week entitled… “Citizen Tool.” (The humorous illustration is NSFW, so be warned)

I mention this story because I first wrote it in high school for Pulphouse magazine, and it was one of three tales I sent to Dean Wesley Smith ana Nina Kiriki Hoffman, the triple-named editorial whizzes who ran the acclaimed hardcover mag. I sold my stack of hardcover editions to pay off debt ages ago, and regret it. I found the mag via Harlan Ellison, whose story “She’s a Pretty Young Thing and Can’t Leave Her Mother” appeared in it, and since I was damn sure going to be a writer, I decided to send Pulphouse everything I wrote.

Dean and Nina? I apologize.

They were very gracious and kind editors. The original version of “Citizen Tool” is much longer, and like many new writer’s work, begins with a laboriously detailed explanation of our character getting out of bed, going to a nondescript job, acting like a dick, and slowly transforming into one. Dean or Nina- the letter was merely signed ‘editors’- rejected it because “the story lacks a clearly defined setting,” which was true. They were kind enough not to tell me that a story about a guy who turns into a big dick for no real reason, and then meets a woman who seems to be turning into a giant vagina because people call her the C-word wasn’t exactly great reading, and I kept writing. I sent them another story called “Love is a Chainsaw,” about a man who loves slasher films and jerks off to them, goes home and hits his wife, and is really not about anything except that I dislike the now endlessly deconstructed sexual politics of slasher films. I still plan to use that title someday. Finally, they accepted a college story called “We’re All Guys Here,” but the magazine closed down before it ever saw print. That story may see print soon, we shall see. I’ve revised it with my newly sharpened gimlet eyes.

I’d forgotten all about “Citizen Tool” until David- I mean B.J. Titzengolf- of Laughter Shack asked for a funny story, and I had an epiphany- my story idea wasn’t much different than “The Metamorphosis,” so why not pay homage to Herr Kafka with the opening line? And the rest flowed from there. I also realized that the story didn’t have much steam, so it had better end quickly. And with our current economic conundrum, I knew what to do.

So if you need a laugh, go check it out. It’s very short and readers got a kick out of it. It’s also a lesson, that there are no bad ideas- just bad writers. And bad writers, if we practice enough, become good ones.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck