I’m a Loud Voice Doing Loud Things

IMG_20140313_181717Why must society value extroverts so much? Just wanted to muse on that for a moment.

I was thinking back this morning on pretty much every job interview I’ve ever had. All of them went something like this:

Potential Employer (hereafter referred to as PE): “So would you say you’re a people person?”

Me: “Oh absolutely! I love meeting new people.”

PE: “Do loud and obnoxious people make you uncomfortable?”

Me: “No, never! I find it easy to get along with all types of people.”

PE: “So what did you study in college?”

Me: “Philosophy and World Religions.”

PE: (dead silence, skips to next question) “Would you call yourself a leader?”

Me: “I’d say so. I consider myself a capable and compassionate team builder.”

– Two weeks later –

PE: “I’m sorry, but we’ve decided to go with someone more assertive.”

Now allow me to point out that many of these interviews were for stock room or warehouse personnel. Yep, Corporate America even wants extroverts sweeping their floors and unloading their trucks. Allow me to also point out that many of my answers were gross exaggerations of my actual social abilities. I do love people. I am, however, not particularly good at talking to people. At least, not inherently. It took me decades to even get to the point where I could string together a complete sentence when talking to a stranger. What you see and hear of “Rob White” today is about 10% social skill and 90% shoving words from my mouth out of sheer terror and hoping they make sense.

Okay, so that’s an exaggeration, too, but you get what I’m saying. I learned quickly that if I wanted a job that wasn’t from a relative – or hell, even one that was – I had to pretend to be something I’m not; that is: an extrovert.

Society wants loud people! Society wants opinions! Society wants confidence! Society wants you to live an EXTREME lifestyle and do EXTREME things and buy lots and lots and lots of Mountain Dew. Society wants you to believe something very strongly about politics and religion and shout those opinions evvvvvvvvvvvvvvverywhere. If you don’t…you’re just a little person, and who listens to them?

Well, fuck society. There, I said it.

I’m about damn ready to close my copy of Skyrim, sew an introvert flag made from footie pajamas, harness about a hundred house cats to pull my reclining chariot and lay siege to the halls of TMZ and Fox News and whatever board room The Man happens to be holed up in and say, “Look dude! Quiet people matter, too.”

Afterwards I’ll need about a week of me-time to recover, but it’ll be worth it. Who’s with me?

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Fake It ‘Till You Make It

1454617_10151860216158878_903010667_nIntroverted and not sure how to promote yourself as an artist? You’re in good company. Here’s an excerpt from a guest post I just did on fantasy author Jennifer Innes’s blog Fantasy Writers Unite. Follow the link below it to see the rest!

I’m an introvert. If you’re a writer – or any kind of artist, really – I bet you dollars to donuts you’re an introvert too, or at least have some ingrained introvert tendencies. Can’t speak for everyone but growing up I found my mental and creative stimulation through fantasy rather than through social interaction. I was the kid swinging the wooden sword in the woods at invisible goblins. I was the kid drawing monsters in the back of class instead of passing notes to cute girls. I was also the kid who had more than one epic fantasy tale mapped out in my brain before the age of 18. As an adult who allowed himself to believe that he could be a “real writer” (I’m one of those guys who says that being a real writer is about intention rather than measurable results) I finally began to share those fantasies with the world. If another lonely kid can gain the same thrill from my stories as I gained from Tolkien or Stephen King or Final Fantasy then I’d say all these hours in front of a keyboard or notepad covered in chicken scratch have been worth it.
 
Buuuut – and it’s a big but and I cannot lie – being a writer who releases his/her work to the public means that an introvert suddenly has to develop skills usually associated with that mysterious and alien race known as extroverts. We have to smile and greet passersby in hopes that they’ll buy our book (and therefore buy us lunch). We have to say hey, hi and how are you to dozens of names and faces online and in bookstores in hopes that they’ll carry or review our book. And if we’re really bold and really lucky – or persistent – we’ll get to sit at a table in front of a microphone and tell prospective authors about our experiences and how to get ahead in the business.

 

Read the rest and check out Jennifer’s work at http://fanwritunit.blogspot.com/

A Shy Writer at Dragon*Con

dconmeThere’s a little place that’s been a home away from home for me for the past ten years. It’s less a place, really and more of a state of mind, collection of absurd moments, explosion of untamed expression and geek nirvana all rolled into one. That place is called Dragon*Con. Or Dragon Con if you want to be specific. This year they took out the asterisk. Why was it there to begin with? Because why the hell not. Such is the philosophy of Dragon Con.

I’ve been there seven times in ten years. Three of those years I was lame (or broke depending on how you want to look at it). The other seven years I made the conscious choice to be awesome and throw myself into the storm with nary a plan nor a life preserver nor a care for life nor limb nor liver. This year was my first year attending as a published writer.

My plan was simple. Go there in costume as my protagonist and every time someone asked who I was I’d tell them about my work. I had 500 business cards printed out with my cover art and URL to this very site printed on them. I brought about 50 books in case I could consign some with any of the booksellers in the dealers room. I scheduled (via the handy Dragon Con app) to attend every writer panel I could get my grubby costumed hands on and meet as many people there as possible. Naturally I also brought protein bars, lots of deodorant, $400 cash and a bottle of blueberry vodka to carry in a flask so I wouldn’t have to spend that $400 cash on $10 hotel bar drinks.

I won’t give you all the dirty details because some of them are pretty boring and others are pretty dirty, but here’s the lowdown on what went down downtown in Dragon Con…town:

  • The costume was a great idea. Not only did I get my picture taken a few times – great publicity for The Pull – I also got asked about it a fair bit. That led me into many conversations about who I was, what I did and who the character was. The vast majority of the business cards I gave out landed in pockets this way and not in the trash. I saw another struggling indie author simply handing her cards to every person in the registration line. Do you know what else I saw? A trail of discarded business cards on the sidewalk that could have led Hansel and Gretel into the candy cabin of wasted marketing budget.
  • Going to writing panels was also a great idea. I left some materials on tables in these panels and heard some good advice from successful fantasy and YA authors, but the real prize was the opportunity to talk to other authors like me who were taking steps on their road to getting their work out there. I met fantasy authors, horror authors, comic authors and even a lesbian bondage erotica author from Ireland. All of them were very cool people who I hope to meet again.
  • Trying to get my book consigned by booksellers? Not such a great idea. I figured it was a long shot but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of bungholery I received from vendors telling me with their lips that they weren’t interested and telling me with their eyes to go die in a fire. Getting your book carried by retailers in real life is hard. Getting your book carried by retailers during a con is a hell of a lot harder. Plus most of them were from out of state and didn’t want any more stock than what they currently had. Fair enough. Best of luck to them.
  • I learned that the best way to talk to guest writers themselves is to go to readings. Often it’ll just be you and a handful of other fans shooting the breeze with one of their favorite authors. Hell, even if you don’t know the author it’s still a good way to glean some insight from someone with experience in the industry.

Now keep in mind I did all of this as an introvert with lifelong social anxiety and a complete lack of understanding of the language of small talk. It just so happens, however, that I am also an introvert with lifelong social anxiety, a complete lack of understanding of the language of small talk AND A COMPLETE UNWILLINGNESS TO LET MYSELF CHICKEN OUT AND BE ANYTHING LESS BUT AWESOME. I realized early on that I was among people with similar passions to my own, so an easy icebreaker was always within reach. Inside of writer panels my secret weapon was, “So what do you write?” Outside of writer panels it was, “So what are you here for?” Sometimes I got the blank stare, but more often than not people were excited to share their interests with me and listen to mine.

This experience has given me a great amount of encouragement and more than a little bit of gumption to go back out there and bring my masked, writin’ self to every little (or big) convention, seminar and meeting of writers and fantasy/sci-fi fans I can possibly attend. It’ll be like I’m a touring musician except I’ll be lugging books around instead of an expensive PA system. At best I’ll successfully market myself as a writer. At worst I’ll have a hell of a good time.

Dragon Con 2014, get your beautifully weird behind over here so I can keep this crazy train rolling.

How Pain Can Lead to Wonder

ImageI’ve insinuated during this blog that my high school experience wasn’t easy. That’s putting it lightly. In fact it was the hardest four years of my life. Social anxiety prevented me from talking to anyone for fear of making them not like me. That fact, in turn made them not like me. By the time my junior and senior years came around I was simply known as the silent kid and any attempt I made to make friends was laughed down or looked at with mistrust because I was trying to step outside of my prescribed role, and in high school roles are everything.

Because I couldn’t have friends in the real world (or at least told myself I couldn’t), I resorted to creating friends in my head. First and foremost was a big sister character who was tough, funny, protective and a wise-ass who could love me even though I was quiet. She needed a face, so I looked around at my classmates and saw a tall striking blonde who looked like she was always ready to kick someone’s butt. That became Melissa Moonbeam.

Next I needed a brother character who would be the thinker of the group. He was intelligent and philosophical but also kind and with a dry sense of humor. That became Jason Dredd. There was no one around me who was quite like Jason at the time, so I composited a middle school friend named Damien (my first African American friend) and my real life brother Andy.

I realized then that I was missing an important element to this group: a love interest. I needed someone who would react to my character (more on that in a bit) with kindness, understanding, encouragement and warmth. It just so happened I had an enormous crush on a girl I barely knew at the time. That crush developed because of one instance of kindness showed to me after I had embarrassingly goofed up during a mandatory school play. Because she had shown that element of kindness I needed I took her face and her name and combined it with the warmth and understanding I wanted in a character it would always give me butterflies to be around. In that way, Stacy Cross was born.

Now there was one thing developing during all of this that I’ve neglected to mention. I was assembling that “ideal” circle of friends around me, but during the course of it I was also creating a fictional character for myself. It wasn’t the ideal me, for this version of me had flaws as well, but it was a me I could respect during a time I found it very difficult to respect the real thing. When I looked into my mind’s eye I stopped seeing myself and began to see Nick.

I mistrusted my own identity, so Nick was a character with no identity and no last name. I was skinny and weak, so Nick was skinny but could still kick ass. I didn’t care for my face, so Nick wore a mask. I was uncertain about what I was meant to do with my life, so Nick followed a Pull towards a destiny he neither knew nor trusted. In ways Nick was stronger; in ways Nick was more broken; but he was always quintessentially me even when I didn’t want to admit it.

There were other elements that sprung up around these characters. I wanted a constant companion so a dog named Blitz was born. I felt that teenage life presented an ever-present adversary for me and always whispered in my ear that I would never be strong enough, so an unstoppable monster named The Whisper came to life to unceasingly torment Nick.

These characters were born to give me comfort. When I sat in the back of a classroom struggling with my schoolwork, Melissa, Jason and the others comforted me and made me laugh. When I felt bullied or threatened, a scene would play out in my mind where Nick battled The Whisper and always held his own – or his friends joined him and battled the threat along side him.

These characters soon grew beyond mere comforting mechanisms and began to have lives of their own. In bed at night dreading what the next day would bring, I’d suddenly find a scene playing out in my mind. I’d see Nick and Melissa arguing over something. At first I wouldn’t be sure what, but like wiping the fog away from a window soon I knew. I knew what they argued about and what caused it and what that fight led to and how Stacy and Jason felt about it and that The Whisper was watching the whole time and that Blitz the dog was curled up on the couch oblivious to it all.

My subconscious took these characters from my grasp – maybe borrowed is a better word – and brought them to life. As if glimpsing a movie or a TV show, I watched the entire story of their lives, from Nick waking up alone in the woods with a sword in his hand to the fateful battle atop the *omitted for spoilers*. I gasped when Jason defeated Raven atop a factory in New Orleans. I grinned in triumph when Melissa took to her motorcycle and decided to face her past for the sake of her friends. I wept tears of loss when characters died and screamed in frustration when The Whisper showed up at the wrong time and just couldn’t be beaten.

My conscious mind created fantastical versions of the friends I truly wanted, and my subconscious mind pulled a life – a story for them to live through – from the ether. I didn’t intend to create the story of The Pull, and yet it happened. What I did decide to do, though, was grab a notepad in my parents’ basement in 1994 and begin writing those scenes down.

The story of the process of shaping The Pull into a novel is best left for another time, but I wanted to share that because I think its important for us to realize that even the worst times in our life can give birth to something beautiful. I’ll never call The Pull “the greatest story ever told” but it is my greatest story because it is the one my heart gave me when I needed it most. I share it in hopes that it may be able to give a bit of comfort to those in pain in the same way it did to me. It’s an adventure story. It’s a popcorn tale, but it just so happens to be one about finding your true value in a time when nothing is certain.

That value is always there to be found. Sometimes we need monsters to fight, journeys to take and friends to take it with us, but I truly believe that at the end of our own Pull, something beautiful is always waiting.