Wage Slave Rebellion by Stephen W. Gee

My first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is officially available! Get it as an ebook at Amazon for just $3.99 right now. (Smashwords and CreateSpace print-on-demand coming soon)

For those who missed it, here’s the elevator speech:

Wage Slave Rebellion is an urban fantasy-adventure set in a sword & sorcery world. It’s about three friends who hate their crappy jobs, so they decide to become monster-slaying adventurers instead. It’s kind of like Terry Pratchett spliced with a badass action anime.

If you’ve been reading this site, I probably don’t need to give you the hard sell. If you’re still on the fence, read my release post at Random Curiosity for more details. The entire prologue to Wage Slave Rebellion is available there to sample, as well as on my new website. I’m also offering a FREE short story, Action Politics, which can be downloaded on my site. It’s a direct sequel to Wage Slave Rebellion, so make sure to read that first.

Since I don’t have to go into the hard sell, I’ll address something else—the fate of this site. With the launch of stephenwgee.com, I’m going to stop posting new content on stiltsoutloud.com. I’ve already migrated all posts and comments over to the new site, save for this one; it will not be migrated, since there’s a different release post already there.

Stiltsoutloud.com will stay up for a while, though eventually I’ll shut it down and set up a redirect to the new site, so please fix your bookmarks and RSS readers now. All future blogging of the type I did here will take place on my new blog.

Thank you for joining me on this leg of my adventure. The next part begins now.

The brick walls

“The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” -Randy Pausch

I came across this quote at Zen Pencils today, and it was just in time.

I’ve been dealing with some hurdles in the publishing process. I wanted to be coming to you with a release date by now, a date which I hoped would be very soon. That might still happen, but it’s coming down to the wire. I’m struggling to scale the wall, and I don’t know when I’ll make it.

But I will. The wall is there to stop other people. It will not stop me.

The allure of magic

I love to write about magic. I love to read about it and watch it as well. Not stage magic, but real magic (which doesn’t exist). And it’s worth asking: why? What makes the idea of magic so compelling?

I think part of it is the secret guilt of the toolmaker. We humans obtained our position atop the world through our tools, but sometimes it feels like it’s all about our technology, and there’s no power in ourselves. We stand in awe at the mighty tiger or bear, even though we scrawny humans dominate them.

Magic is a way for the power to be in us, and for it to not be our tools, but us humans that are the key. We can cease feeling like the weak core in a shell of technology, and pretend we’re the strength.

The other half is the dream that knowledge should directly translate into power. Many societies venerate knowledge, but the smart never seem to prosper in their youths, whether it be from old standards like bullies or the lack of immediate positive reinforcement that physical excellence (such as sports) provides.

But when you can study your way to power, and the way is straightforward … it’s actually a fairly intellectually lazy way to acquire power through knowledge, but that straightforward path appeals in the same way the dream of studying hard to get in a good college and get a good job does.

Perhaps those are just my reasons though, or the only ones I recognize enough to spell out. What are yours?

Import, don’t recycle

When I look at the other fantasy novels at Amazon or other bookstores, I’m filled with hope. Not because they’re bad, but because what I’ve written is different.

What I noticed today had to do with tone. So many English-language fantasy novels are so serious, but not mine. Its tone is notably lighter. I like banter, I like adventure, and I like to occasionally laugh while I read a book! So that’s what I wrote. There are serious scenes too, but it’s deeply rooted in the ideas of entertainment, adventure, and fun.

I mentioned this to my alpha reader, and he said “I think you’ve got something unusual, if not unique, within the genre.”

I never thought about it that way, because to me, it’s not unique. I’m used to seeing stories with this kind of tone, just not from English-language fantasy novels. But I see it all the time in anime.

It reminds me of an old piece of advice from Terry Pratchett, which I’ve quoted before:

1) Watch everything, read everything, and especially read outside your subject — you should be importing, not recycling.

Which is what I did. I took all the things I liked from anime, and I tossed the stuff I didn’t—you won’t find any angsty teenagers in my book. Then I took everything I like from English-language fantasy, and from movies and comics and my own life, and I combined them all into the kind of story I wanted to read.

Instead of recycling the same tired fantasy tropes readers have read a hundred times, I imported the tropes from elsewhere and mixed them together. The result is not unique in its component parts—I could tell you where everything came from. I stole them all. But maybe the combination is something unusual.

If you like action or adventure anime, you may like my book. If you like fantasy stories that explore adult themes and feature actual adults, you may like my book. And if you’re tired of novels always being so serious, and like your fantasy mixed with banter and full-throated excitement, then you might enjoy my book as well.

I don’t know about unique. I don’t have the ego to claim that, and I know I’m an impostor who stole it all from someone else. But I’ll take unusual. When I look around the bookstore, I don’t see anything quite like what I’ve written. Hopefully it’s something you’ll enjoy as well.

Impostor syndrome

Some creatives suffer from Impostor Syndrome. It’s a very real problem, and it’s always fascinated me, because I have no trouble with it at all.

Neil Gaiman, in the commencement speech which I reference frequently, said:

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.

In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don’t know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don’t have to make things up any more.

It’s different for me. I prefer to act the impostor. If I had taken the “proper” route to becoming an author, I probably wouldn’t be set to publish a book right now, because there are a thousand hoops I would have had to jump through. Instead, I ignored them all.

Act as if is something I learned from my older brother, and there’s comfort in it. When you act the impostor, it doesn’t matter who you are—all that matters is what you do. It’s all an act, it’s all a scam, and the trick is not in deserving it, but in keeping it going for as long as possible. You don’t need to get the credentials to do what you want to love. You just do it.

A world of black and white is scary to me. I’d rather dance in the grays. I’d rather have the flexibility to do what I want to do, rather than jump through hoops to “deserve it”. We’re all getting away with something, no matter what kind of success we have. Shaming ourselves for not deserving it is madness.

If the man with the clipboard ever comes to my door, I’ll flip him the bird, run away, and try again. Because the impostor is never totally beat—there’s only the next game.

Save it for your daydreams

I once was talking to a young writer—I say young, though he was probably around my age—who watched anime, just as I do. We were talking about the stories we were working on, and at one point, he began tell me about his grand designs.

He wanted it to be an anime, done by this studio and with these seiyuu. He could see a live-action movie as well, and described how some of the special effects would look. He thought it could then make the leap to TV, and wondered how the story would have to be changed to fit that medium.

That’s when I stopped him. Okay, that’s a lie—I didn’t stop him at all. I probably changed the subject because I didn’t know how to respond. Allow me to indulge in a little l’esprit de l’escalier, and tell you what I should have told him then.

Whoa. Slow down. You’re getting ahead of yourself. If you’re writing a novel, focus on that. If you’re drawing a webcomic, focus on that. Bend your energy toward making what you’re doing right now a success, rather than expending all your energy looking forward.

And as for the movie or the TV show, save those for your daydreams. Save them for when you’re talking a break after a hard day of work, when you lean back and imagine “what if?” That’s fine. Daydreams can propel us forward, and be a pleasant indulgence after all our effort.

Then get back to work. No amount of looking to the future can make your dreams come true if you don’t do the hard work of taking the first steps right now.

Storytelling is subjective

I was talking to Kairi and Enzo on twitter about Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, and how I was enjoying it so much. I was surprised to learn they weren’t so keen on it.

To me, it’s all about art. Kaori—when she’s not acting like a blonde ogre—speaks to my creative soul. Speaks for it … I find myself cheering as she says many of the things I would say myself. I love seeing the stuffed shirts freak out, I love seeing her flout the rules, and I love seeing her play for herself and the audience, not for the prize. It’s not about the music, it’s about the art, and it calls to my artist’s soul even if my art (writing) is different.

But Kairi and Enzo focus more on Arima’s trauma, and when I went back and read their posts, I immediately saw the truth in their points. Where I saw Arima’s trauma as a little too unbelievable—losing the ability to hear one’s own music seemed like something made up for TV, though I admit it’s certainly possible—they saw others bullying Arima into confronting a deep-seated psychological issue that he wasn’t ready to deal with.

I’m not arguing that they’re right, or that I am. We both are, to the extent it matters. What it reminded me of is how subjective the storytelling experience is. Where I see an uplifting story about young artists, they see something deeply troubling, and both are valid.

We all bring our own worldview to every story we experience, and you better believe that includes the stories that are “true” (politics, world events, business, social lives). That’s how someone can despise what you absolutely love. For truth is, to some degree, negotiable.

Delusions of importance

“Don’t you think that that’s why we ended up here [on TV]? It takes a slight delusion … to believe that what I have to say is worthy of people sitting there and paying money to listen to.”

“That seems natural to me.”

“It does to me too, but I don’t think it seems natural to everybody else.” -Jason Segel and Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, 9-9-14

I’ve always thought it was the height of arrogance to want to write. Who am I to think that what I have to say is so great that people should stop and listen? What gives me the right? Why am I so amazing?

I’m not. I’m nobody. No one gave me the right. It’s ridiculous to expect people to listen to me, and it’s more than a little arrogant. It’s unreasonable.

But it’s the unreasonable man who changes the world.

Only once

I understand why some authors don’t want to deal with anything but the writing. Vetting editors, finding illustrators, getting a cover made, formatting the text, picking a distribution model, building a website, doing promotions, organizing sales … these all take away from doing the central work they set out to do, which is writing.

I’m a little different. I like to be in control of my destiny, and I don’t like to compromise creatively. That’s why I’m independently publishing. I’m also a marketer by trade, so all the business stuff is actually fun to me. I know, I’m weird.

But that doesn’t mean the new stuff isn’t scary. I’m trying to design my book’s cover right now, and it’s made me realize how out of my element I am. I don’t know what works in covers as well as I know what works in words. I have ideas, but this is all new, and scary, and I don’t know if I’m going to waste money or get ripped or and I just want to ignore it all and go write.

Here’s what I realized: it’s only scary the first time. Then it will lessen. Next time, I’ll know how to get a book formatted. I’ll have an illustrator to go to. I’ll know what promotions work and don’t work.

Oh, it won’t go away completely, but that’s fine. Fear is good. If you’re not doing work that frightens you, you’re probably not doing the work that’s worth doing. But it lessens. It’s not longer paralyzing, and it not longer slows you down. You’ve done this before. You can do it again.

It’s only scary once, and after that, you’ll know how to do it for the rest of your life. And that knowledge is more valuable than the extra time you could have spent writing, when you would have paid with the lion’s share of your profits for that time.

There’s outsourcing, and then there’s running away. Be sure you know which one you’re doing.