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One of my friends said something really smart on Sunday, and I thought I’d share it.

She and her partner live in Denver, and my son (who is 14) is planning to spend two weeks with them to pick their brains about Photoshop, After Effects, and a number of other programs they use. They make their living using all sorts of fancy software that I don’t know anything about, so he has a lot to learn in those two weeks.

ANYWAY. What she said, which I have to paraphrase because it was during an extended conversation, was: “What matters is how you spend your free time.”

To which I say: Yep.

Her story is that she was in college some years ago, learning software as part of her design class. I think it was Photoshop, but there was some cross-talk. Anyway, it was relatively new, and she and her friend were so fascinated by it that they spent their free time on a deep dive into the program, learning all the things it could do. In not time, the professor realized that she and her friend were more capable of teaching the software and asked them to do so. When she graduated, they offered her a teaching position.

It wasn’t because she was so good in class; it was because she was so engaged outside of it. The same is true of any kind of challenging field. If you want to be great in the arts, you have to cut out time from your daily life to practice and improve. That’s time you could be spending watching TV, going to the gym, sleeping in, playing video games, or making money.

If you click on the Tweet below, you’ll get a thread by comics writer Gail Simone on this very subject.

[Update: she deleted the whole thread. The gist was that people determined to be writers have to make the time to practice.]

I’ve tried to explain this to my son, because he acts like his great ambition is to be the best Overwatch player ever. It’s gotten to the point that I’m tempted to take away his computer games for good, even though he and I built a gaming computer for him just this past January. (Personally, I try to avoid most games because they’re addictive, and I’m vulnerable to that.) Choosing to spend all his free time playing video games is essentially choosing to be a regular joe with a joe job, and the US culture and economy squashes people like that now. If he’s going to be squashed, he ought to have the satisfaction of making art (or something!)

And what of myself? Thinking about spending down time always makes me audit myself, and I have to confess that I’ve been obsessing over Twitter and the election these past few months. It seems like my duty as a citizen to be as informed as possible, but how much of my time and energy do I REALLY need to devote to this? How much can I push off onto other citizens?

Clearly, I need to cut back and focus more on my work. The book I’m revising is complex and I need to get it to my agent so she can sell it. But Twitter is soooo tempting, almost like a video game.

And that’s the power of tiny decisions. Not the big stuff, like Where should I go to college or Should I quit my current job for that new one? No, the really important decisions are the huge clusters of tiny ones that we all make every day. Should I work on my book, or should I watch this tv show/go to the gym/hit the pub/etc?

Obviously no one can spend every spare moment of their lives writing (nor should they) but if you never choose writing over those other things that’s a clear statement of priorities.

[Added later: See also: Twelve Years from Hobbyist to Pro]

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

Baby’s First Audio Book

Today I finished listening to my first audio book.

It was the unabridged Fellowship of the Ring, read by Rob Inglis, and I enjoyed it. A lot.

I didn’t expect to. When the audio book for Child of Fire came out, I found it impossible to listen to it. The narrator’s voice was fine–excellent, even–but it was completely different from the voice I heard in my head when I was writing it, and the dissonance was unbearable.

And the format itself seemed utterly wrong for me. I love to drive but I don’t have a car so I never do. I don’t have a phone to carry with me when I walk. My apartment is tiny, so when would I be able to listen at home? Besides, no skimming? No reading quickly through the exciting stuff?

Hmf, I said.

Then I heard a piece on NPR where a woman said she listened to Rob Inglis’s reading of LOTR every year, and I found it at the library. The first book was 19.25 hours long on 16 CDs! [1] And I just happened to get my copy of Obduction from Kickstarter.

A quiet, Myst-style game and an audio book through the headphones seemed like a perfect combination.

And I loved it.

The game was done before the audio book and I’ve been having trouble squeezing time to listen, but all the things I thought would be bugs turned out to be features. As annoyed as I was when I read Tolkien’s description of hiking through rough terrain (was this really the sort of challenge you want to devote page space to?) being forced to listen to it had the opposite effect. I could visualize the scene. I didn’t feel impatient because I couldn’t skim ahead to the next plot point. Taking away that small measure of control was surprisingly relaxing.

Anyway, I have never enjoyed Fellowship of the Ring quite so much before (although I still say Fuck Tom Bombadil) and I’m wondering how I can find 17-odd hours for the next book. I can’t. It just won’t fit into my life, but I wish it did.

Until I get a car, maybe.

[Update] I forgot to mention that the third book in my Great Way series comes out today in audio book. If you subscribe to Audible, you can listen free. If you bought the Kindle version from Amazon, the audio version is startlingly affordable. The series begins here.

[1] Don’t laugh. I’ve just had to order a new CD player online, because our old one is going wonky and my wife doesn’t want to have to fuck with a computer to play her music while she paints.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

In which I ask for your expertise

I’ve created a new page on my website for recruiting reader-resources. Basically, it’s for folks with an expertise in some field who wouldn’t mind if I asked them a question about it as part of writerly research.

Learn more here.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.


I signed with my agent in 2007, landed a publishing contract in 2008, and published my first novel, CHILD OF FIRE, in September 2009. That’s almost exactly seven years ago.

Since then, I published two more books with Del Rey, wrote and published a game tie-in novel for Evil Hat, and self-published six more novels and collections.

Yesterday, I earned my first royalty from a publisher for one of my novels.

My agent’s foreign rights division cleverly sold my self-published trilogy, The Great Way, to German publisher Blanvalet. Along with the on-signing payment for that deal (delayed due to international tax paperwork, and my struggles with same) they sent the royalty payment for The Way into Chaos — or, I should say, “Die Pforte Der Shatten“, which if translated would probably be a far more commercial title than I chose.

Not that this was my first foreign rights sale. Child of Fire and the other Twenty Palaces books have been published in Russian, German, French, Polish, and some others I’m forgetting. However I don’t recall getting any payment beyond the advance.

But wait! you ask. If I have six self-published novels, haven’t I been getting royalty payments from Amazon, et al?

Nope. No matter what terminology they prefer, Amazon takes a commission from sales, they don’t pay royalties.

Anyway, seven years to this milestone! The amount is almost but not quite enough to cover a week’s groceries, but I’ll take it.

Publishing is weird.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.


Invasive by Chuck Wendig

I keep telling people that writing reviews helps authors, then I forget to write them myself. I’m going to have to be more conscientious about that when I read living authors.

InvasiveInvasive by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Terrific. Wendig has a way with words, which is not to say that his writing is delicate and lovely, but that it’s very inventive, specific and filled with vitality.

As high-tech thrillers go, this one centers on bio-tech: someone had genetically engineered an ant that swarms people and kills them. The book never cheats on the science and isn’t afraid to go large-scale with the implications. It’s fun. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I thought ants are creepy or whatever but I haven’t grown up around fire ants or crazy ants.

I haven’t read the first book in the series, but that wasn’t a problem.

Buy this book.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.


Randomness for 9/9

1) Guy writes ridiculous requests in the “Special Instructions” space of his hotel reservation, and gets what he asked for. I hope he leave fat tips.

2) Woman Sues After Police Destroy Her Home During 10-Hour Standoff With The Family Dog.

3) An action figure for “Bulba Fett”.

4) Like Tanith Lee? Live/want to live in the UK? Her house is for sale. I wish I were successful enough for a beautiful house.

5) This longread is AMAZING: How parents of an elementary school child tried to frame a PTA mom for a crime she didn’t commit. Wow. For a crime/mystery reader like myself, this is wild. And it could have gone the other way so easily.

6) I’m a judge and I think criminal court is horrifying.

7) How to tell a mother her child is dead.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

A few years ago, I picked up a copy of The Return of King Doug from my library, read it, loved it, returned it, and promptly forgot the title. No amount of Googling could call up the book again. “Satirical portal fantasy child…”

Here’s the basic plot: the centaurs, sentient trees and elfin creatures of pseudo-Narnia are gathered for the final battle against the Dark Queen. And they have a hero with them, one the prophecy says will lead them to victory! It’s a human person, named Doug. They put a crown on him, hang their most potent magical bauble around his neck, and declare him king.

Doug is eight years old. He’s happy to be made king, but once talk turns to the bloody battle at 100-to-1 odds to take place in the morning, Doug does what any sensible kid does. He runs all the way away, returning through his magical well to his grandmother’s place in the Poconos. And he brought the bauble with him.

Cut to mumble-mumble years later, Doug is all grown up, divorced with a kid. Years of therapy have convinced him that his adventure was fantasy, but he can’t get his own life together. Then his parents talk him into returning to the old cabin, and his son finds the bauble and falls back into pseudo-Narnia, and…

And you know what will happen. The prophecy he was unable to fulfill as a child will be fulfilled now that he’s an adult, and we’re going to get a satirical tour of fantasy land while we’re at it.

It’s a fun book, and I enjoyed it, but not because the plot was unpredictable. The basic outline of the story was right there, and the only surprises came from the details.

That same weekend, my wife said she wanted to see KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, largely based on the beautiful animation in the commercials. My wife has no interest in fantasy (the only fantasy novels she reads are mine, and the only fantasy movies she sees are the big popular ones or the artsy ones) but she has a long history with animation so, of course, we went.

You should go, too. See it in the theater, and stay for the mid-credits stop-motion clips. It’s gorgeous and affecting, and while Laika’s previous films have been interesting but significantly flawed, this one is a real achievement.

It’s also utterly predictable. Once the first act ends (and this is a spoiler that isn’t really a spoiler) the plot turns into a Quest for the Plot Coupons, with the caveat that the Plot Coupons can’t solve the Plot, only the protagonist’s pre-existing self can do that.

And telling you that doesn’t spoil a thing, because the real joy comes from the details. It’s in the way the characters are portrayed, and in the specifics of the tasks they take on. Finally, when the expected ending arrives, all those little details have fleshed out the story so completely that the denouement carries weight. It satisfies.

This is a lesson that I just can’t seem to learn. No matter how many detective novels I read or action films I watch, I’m constantly trying to reinvent the wheel. I keep making things from scratch.

There’s joy in making stories from scratch, but so many missteps, too. Sometimes I think that what I really need to do is start with a Farmboy of Uncertain Parentage and spiff it up.

Not that I really will. It’s just interesting to think about.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.


Book two of The Great Way will be available next Tuesday, the 30th of August. You can pre-order right now.


If you’ve listened to book one, please leave a review on the Audible.com page. It helps.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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