Tuesday, June 7, 2011

You’re So Vain, I Bet You Think This Post is About You*

will-ferrell-anchorman-258x130A little more than ten years ago I lost my job.  It was a massive layoff, and being new to the company, I was an easy choice for the axe.  It was rather devastating, since I had just entered a field I thought was pretty secure.  Anyway, I moped around for about two weeks and finally decided I needed to get a job.  I didn’t figure there’d be any openings in my field since about a third of company had been sacked and was out there looking, so I opened up the paper to see what else there was.

I answered one of those obscure “make up to $1000 a week” blah blah blah ads.  Turns out it was a company training people to sell Kirby vacuum cleaners. 

Yes, I was a vacuum cleaner salesman.  Sort of.

The Kirby Vacuum Cleaner is an amazing machine.  You could vacuum your carpet with the top of the line brand available in stores then have it professionally steam cleaned, and the Kirby will still find dirt.  If I remember correctly (and don’t quote me) it runs about $1400, and tightwad that I am, I still don’t think that’s overpriced.  In fact, I could talk to you all day about how awesome this machine is.  I could even demonstrate its wonders for you.  But could I sell it to you?

Hell no.

I can’t sell.  Period.  I’ve never been able to.  You could have something in your hand on the way to the cash register to pay for it, and I could say, “Hey, you should buy that.”  You’d probably put it back.  That’s how bad I am.  Naturally, my personal Willie Loman Experience died a still birth as I realized this simple truth.  Fortunately, two weeks later I found a real job.  A good one, too.

I won’t even tell you about my one week telemarketing career.

Anyway, that’s one of the reasons, at least one of the initial reasons, I started this blog and why a lot of writers have blogs: to sell themselves.  “Build a platform,” they say.  But a platform isn’t just about being seen; it’s about convincing people you have something to offer.  Another thing you hear a lot, a caveat, is don’t be vain.  Don’t let your ego run amok.  Be humble.

I’ve never been a “Hey, look how awesome I am,” or “Let me tell you about the time I did something amazing.”  I’m just not wired that way.  For people who spend time with me or who read my blog, that’s wholly a good thing.  An out of control ego is not something anyone wants to be around.  On the other hand, in our line of work, a little ego is a good thing, even a necessary thing.  Would I be blogging if I didn’t think I had anything to say?  I’m good at it, if I can say that.  I’m no master, but I think it’s worth the five minutes or so to stop by and check it out.

Selling is hard, though, and that’s what we are: salespeople.  Please buy my book, please review my book/interview me, please finish beta reading my MS before you disappear off the face of the earth.  We have to have egos; we just need to learn how to use them for good, not evil.  An acting teacher of mine said you have to keep your ego in your pocket and only pull it out when you need to, then put it back.  I think my ego pocket has a hole in it, or else my ego got ruined in the wash.  On the flip side, some people don’t have pockets at all, and their egos are always on display.  So where’s the line?

I think it starts with confidence, but it’s more than that.  I’m confident in my book, and in myself as a writer.  I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t.  But to shout my own praise from the rooftops?  That takes a kind of boisterous, extroverted confidence that maybe I just don’t have.  But since that’s kind of necessary to the whole selling-your-book thing, I’m going to give it a try.

So here goes:

My book is good.  I’ve never been more proud of anything I’ve done.  When it becomes available, you should buy it.  I know you’ll like it.

I joke around on here a lot, and I like to keep the mood light, if not downright flippant.  However, I say this with complete honesty and zero snark: that was hard for me.

It’s not because I don’t believe in my work.  I do.  I love the world I created, and I think others will, too.  But I’ve always felt the product should speak for itself; if something is good, it shouldn’t need to be sold, right?  Also, I hate tooting my own horn.  My least favorite part of job interviews is when they want you to list your best qualities.  I’d rather just be myself and let my best qualities show through.  But it doesn’t work that way.  People want you to tell them why you’re so great, why your book out of the hundreds of thousands out there is the one they should plunk down their hard earned coins for.  It’s not enough to say, “Hey, here’s my book; check it out if you want, or not.  Whatever.”  People need to be sold.

That’s not me, though, never has been.  But then, if I want a writing career, I have to make it me, don’t I? 

I can do it, though, because I’m awesome.  Just ask me.

* Don’t you, don’t you?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Letting My Geek Flag Fly

Hi.  My name is Dan, and I’m a nerd.*  This should come as a surprise to no one who knows me, or has ever had a conversation with me, or has ever read a word I’ve written.  And that’s fine.  I embrace my nerd-hood.

On Tuesday, my oldest son took me out for an early Father’s Day.  We ate out, saw Thor (highly recommended), and spent time at both a book store** and a comic book store.  It was a lot of fun.  One of the things we bought at the comic shop was a Dungeons and Dragons starter kit. 

Yep, the truth is out: I role-play. 

Actually, I haven’t role-played in nearly twenty years, but in my youth I played everything from Heroes Unlimited to Cyberpunk to Paranoia.  It was a lot of fun, and in the pre-online, internet, X-box world, it was how it was done.


Comic from XKCD.com

For those of you not familiar with role-playing, here’s how it works.  Anywhere from three to seven or eight guys (and, yes, they’re usually guys, but not always) get together with their game system of choice.  One guy’s the Game Master, which means he runs the adventure, and the rest play characters.  Essentially, the GM narrates a story in which the players are the central characters.  They describe in detail or even act out their actions, the GM gives them a goal to accomplish, then throws conflict and obstacles at them, and they work together to accomplish the task set out for them.  In the process, they build a story together, a tale of personal growth, conflict, triumph of the will, yada yada.

In short, role-playing is like acting out your own book.

Say what you will, but role-playing truly stimulates the imagination.  These days all kids have to do is plug in an internet connection and stare at screen all day, a screen filled with a ready made, pixelated world.  Traditional role-playing requires you to use your imagination, to work together with your mates to create a world unique to that place and moment.  Traditional role-playing is never about the objective; it’s about the experience.

Anyway, I want my boys to have they same experience.  I want them to lift their noses out of their computer and X-box and iPhones, and not only see the world around them, but also the fantastic worlds that exist inside their imaginations.  Imagination is a muscle,*** and it’ll atrophy if not used.  Or worse, it’ll never develop in the first place.

Speaking of nerds, I want to give a plug to my friend “Lennon” (don’t know if he wants me to use his real name, he’s kind of incognito).  He recently, with my urging, started a blog called Titan’s Folly.  It’s all about Geekdom: Sci-fi, horror, comics books, role-playing.  Anything nerdy is fair game.  If you’re into that kind of stuff (and admit it, you are) go check him out.  He’ll be glad you stopped by.

*Hi, Dan.

** Yes, they still exist.

*** It’s not a muscle.