Steve 3.0

So, since this time last week, those of you who have been following my blog posts—particularly my Legion of Super-Heroes reviews, will have noticed that I’ve ceased my daily posts.

It’s been a time of great change for me. Most of you know I lost my father last year, which not only leaves a big hole in one’s life, (assuming one is lucky enough to have a relationship with one’s father) but changes the family dynamic. When a person is gone, you realize a thousand ways in which their simple presence, much less their direct actions, changed everything about them. My father was eccentric, stubborn, often emotionally distant. Who knew he was the heart of the family? He was.

My sons have moved out. They haven’t gone far, and one of them only moved into a dorm. He’s getting an apartment in a couple of months, though. He may still call our house “home,” but he’ll officially be living elsewhere. Renee and I are rattling around ten rooms by ourselves, alone together for the first time in 25 years, and this time with only one of our four parents in the picture.

I realize now that I’m in a new phase of my adult life—the third major phase. I’m not going to call it “Act Three,” because that’s bloody morbid. Nor is it appropriate. I’m not even a grandparent yet, although many of my peers are. Unless you’re in a Shakespeare play, “Act Three” is the last act. I’m not there yet, unless there are pages in the script I don’t know about.

Phase one of my adult life was all about trying to fit someone else’s mold. I was a writer already, but I wanted to be paid to write Star Trek, or comic books, or something similar. I accomplished those goals in a small way. The plan had been to accomplish them in a big way. Everything I did during Phase One was about getting myself noticed so that someone would give me “my chance.”

I suspect I was given my chance more than once, and, like a lot of young people, didn’t know what the hell to do with it. Contrary to what movies and television tell you, there isn’t usually an older, wiser person out there to take you and shape you and mold you into what you need to be to succeed. Not in the creative professions. We’re all too busy trying to take and shape and mold ourselves. Due respect to friends and mentors like Howie Weinstein, Yoji Kondo and Bob Greenberger. They all tried to help, and they all did help. They taught me, advised me, got me paid… but none of them owned a studio or a publishing company. They couldn’t turn me into an overnight sensation, and I obviously couldn’t turn myself into one.

During Phase One, I wrote and published fanzines, to get noticed and to get practice. I wrote for local magazines and newspapers. I wrote, directed and produced plays. I even started a convention, which, foolishly, I thought would become a worldwide force in science fiction fandom. I dreamed big.

Phase One: I was always creating what I thought someone else would want.

I don’t regret a single thing I did. I wish sometimes I hadn’t poured so much emotional energy into those things. I had not then learned that the bread upon the waters analogy does not work with emotion. Thou shalt not find it after many days, for it shalt be consumed by those who needed it. I expected the fandom community to love me back at least in the measure I loved it. Evidence has turned out to the contrary.

No regrets. All that is spent in learning to live life is merely tuition.

The most amazing thing I accomplished in Phase One was becoming a father. That experience was not mere tuition. That bread cast upon the waters I have found again and again in 25 years.

Phase Two began gradually as I realized that “someone else’s mold” did not fit me. If I wanted to consider myself successful, and meet my own goals, I would have to take charge of my life and do things myself. Fortunately, the DIY movement was taking hold at this time, so there was support along the way. It was still an uphill battle. I credit the late, great Jack Williamson for starting me on this path. I met him, and a mutual friend told him I was a writer for DC Comics. This was during the five minutes that that was true. Jack had known Julie Schwartz, and was very excited to meet a young DC writer. I had to confess to never meeting Julie. “So what are you writing now?” he asked me, and I had to confess that my work opportunities were dwindling. “Shame on you!” he said. A lack of paying work, he told me, should not stop a writer from writing. So I went home and started writing my own, original works.

Phase Two also owes a lot to a leader who believed in me, Howard County Fire Chief Jim Heller. He was that guy who believed in me, shaped me and molded me and made me successful, just not in the field I expected to work in. He helped me learn to be a leader. And so I created a radio show, started a publishing company, became one of the early crop of podcast novelists. Some of us, at this point in time, were winning major awards, hitting the New York Times bestseller lists, getting three-book deals from major publishers, and becoming the darlings of the convention circuit.

I won a couple of awards—not major ones. I did not hit any bestseller lists, though I made enough money on one book to qualify for the Science Fiction Writers of America—six years before SFWA started allowing small press authors to join, and thus still not qualifying. I was offered no deals, and I will never be the darling of any large group of people. I’m too introverted. It costs me too much to try.

Phase Two: I was always creating what I wanted, believing that I could make someone else want it too.

And I learned from publishing that the biggest part of the job is marketing. I hate marketing. At best, it’s about trying to make people who don’t care and don’t have time to care, realize that you have something they want. At worst, it’s about trying to make people want what they don’t want.

The most amazing thing I accomplished in Phase Two was becoming a father again. That experience was completely different from the first time. It was harder work, but I think we all laughed more this time.

Phase Three began with a sort of reboot. Obviously the death of a parent is a reset moment. So is realizing your children are adults now, and have their own lives. But there also came several moments of realizing that it didn’t matter anymore whether or not someone else wanted what I had to offer. I could decide—because I was the best-qualified person I knew to do so—whether or not I was having a positive impact in the world around me. And I could be responsible for my own happiness and validation.

There’s a downside to this, at least for other people. I’m getting asked, “When are you podcasting again? I miss your podcasts.” “Are you doing another play? I love the plays.” “When are you writing another Arbiter Chronicles adventure? Those are my favorite.” “When are you publishing the next book from Firebringer?”

I can’t answer any of those questions right now. And, not to hurt anyone’s feelings, those are all things that someone else wants to know. I don’t need to. Yes, I know I created all of those expectations in other people. Is it fair of me to not keep meeting them forever and ever amen?

I ask you, is it fair for me to keep meeting them forever and ever amen?

Phases One and Two were, together, a veritable orgy of creative output. The orgy is over. It’s time to rest and do some cleanup. Give me a break, I’m two score and ten. Plus a couple.

Phase Three: I create the things I want to create. Period.

Part of my reboot was finishing my father’s house. My father and I had a dream for that house, and I intend to see that dream come true. Not to sell it, but to live our dream.

Part of my reboot was writing just to teach myself how to write again. I’m always teaching myself how to write, and I guess I always will be. But I had to teach myself how to turn out a certain quantity of words a day, without being overwhelmed by a plot, a publishing plan or a big deadline. So I wrote what I knew. I reviewed about 100 stories from the Legion of Super-Heroes’ early days. I kept a daily blog going, and I engaged readers.

That was fun, but it’s time for a new project. Now I’m going to write a novel again, for the first time in years. No, it won’t be the Arbiter Chronicles. It won’t even be science fiction, because, in Phase Three, I realize that science fiction is no longer the language I should be speaking. I need a new language, to reach a new audience.

The most amazing thing about Phase Three is that Renee, the person who saw me through the other two, is still with me. There’ve been some times, over the course of 33 years, that I was afraid I would frighten her away. Apparently living in the same house with a creative orgy makes it hard for one to sleep, to say nothing of the laundry it leaves to be done. But now I can say that the thing I wanted most to create was a family. I’m very glad we did that together.

I will probably do more Legion reviews.

I will probably do more Arbiter Chronicles. (You will get a chance to help decide when. More to follow.)

I will publish more books, because there are several good books ready and waiting.

No promises on plays or podcasts, but life always has surprises in store.

I still belong.
Don’t get me wrong.
And you can speak your mind,
But not (always) on my time.

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4 thoughts on “Steve 3.0

  1. Thank you Steve for sharing your worlds with your readers. I appreciate it, your blogs have spoken to me. I didn’t know about your plays and podcasts (I’m far in the tulies in Idaho), I’m newer here. I’ve read all your work posted here. I was gobsmacked by the amount of work and energy you have put out there (plays, podcasts, too? Wow)-it’s good work.Your wife is an awesome partner and I am so glad you have her by your side. You have both touched so many people! I can’t imagine the hollowed- outness you are traveling through~though I will soon be an orphan again myself. I hope you will still blog from time to time. Your essays …I don’t know how to express this, but I know you a little better as a fellow human being although we haven’t met in person; the commonalities of living and learning and accessing another fellow being’s insights are…we aren’t entirely alone and it’s good. Thank you.

  2. Steve,

    This particular blog entry about self-described “phases” of your life evoked a number of serious thoughts and insights for me. My favorite passage is “No regrets. All that is spent in learning to live life is merely tuition.” Then you closed with a slightly modified Billy Joel lyric, to which I have mixed feelings.

    Because my sister somewhat forced her own music on me at various times when I was a child (think back seat of a car, after school, etc., pre-Walkman era.), I was exposed to what I consider to be two of Mr. Joel’s better efforts… The Stranger and 52nd Street. I always wondered why he was holding a trumpet or similar horn on the cover of 52nd Street when it was Freddy Hubbard, one of my all-time favorite jazz cats, who sat in on that album on flugelhorn and trumpet.

    I was also exposed to Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, Shaun Cassidy, and the Village People, so you may see why I thought Ole Billy was the one to focus on at the tender age of 10. I mean, she had no KISS or AC/DC albums, which I already had thanks to my deviant Uncle Ronnie.

    BTW, if you had quoted Allentown, Uptown Girl, or We Didn’t Start the Fire, I would have vowed never to speak to you again, sir. That is all.

    • Somehow, “They’re taking all the coal from the ground,” didn’t fit the mood of the piece. As for “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” what is there to quote in the world’s longest name-drop?

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