Category Archives: my student days

A different kind of story….

I’m still writing like a mad bastard over here. And since it’s going well, I’m loathe to break my stride by writing up a long blog.

That said, I’ve got a few things some of you might be interested in.

  • A different sort of interview.

Months ago, I did an interview while I was at a convention. There’s nothing new about that, as interviews have become kinda old hat for me.

But this interview turned into something different. It didn’t end up as the sort of Q&A thing I normally do, the journalist that did it went out and did other interviews, talked to people I went to grad school with.

The end result is almost more of a story than anything.

I like it. I’m fond of stories.

  • A different sort of video.

I’m a little fuzzy on the details of how this came to be, but apparently Peter V. Brett did an AMA recently on reddit. (You do know that Daylight War is hitting the shelves in just a couple days, right?) During the AMA, Brent Weeks apparently made some sort of dare.

Then I don’t know what happened. The result was this video.

Beware. You can’t unwatch it.

 

  • A different sort of picture.

 

Lastly, apropos of nothing, here is a picture of a little kid licking a pig.

(That’s not Oot. But I kinda wish it was.)

I showed this picture to my little boy, curious as to what he might think of this little scene. Because personally, I find it hilarious.

He looked at it and said, “Oh. Why am I in the baby cage?”

It took me a moment to realize that he thought that it was *him* in the picture. He was trying to figure out what he’d done to deserve being locked up. And, apparently, cozy up to the toughest pig in the joint for some protection.

There you go folks,  that’s all I’ve got for now…

pat

Also posted in Interviews, Oot | By Pat30 Responses

Giving Thanks

One of my best thanksgiving memories is from 2003, back when I was still living my old student lifestyle.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t really a student at that point in my life. But the only real difference between 2003 and 2000 was that I was teaching classes rather than taking them. My habits, hobbies, and income hadn’t really changed from my student days, and I still felt like a student at heart.

A couple days before the real Thanksgiving, my friend Ian said to me: “We should get people together and have Thanksgiving tonight.”

“My stove doesn’t work,” I said. “And I don’t know how to make stuffing.”

He shook his head. “No. We should all go to the store and buy some kind of food we’re thankful for. Then we get together and share it.”

And that’s what we did. That night we ate taco dip and poppin fresh biscuits. We had fried mushrooms and shrimp and mountain dew. We had nutty bars and ice cream and a bunch of other things I can’t even remember.

We gathered round, ate these wonderful things, enjoyed each other’s company, and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Times have changed since then. These days, most of my friend have left town. I miss them terribly, but I have a different sort of family now. More specifically, I have a baby.

I’m going to post up a picture of him. Because it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want.

Apparently megalomania is genetic.

Today I’m taking a break from copyediting and posting more Worldbuilders books. That means I have time to do one of my favorite things. I get to have lunch with Sarah and Oot at the Olympic.

The Olympic is a restaurant I’ve been eating at for years. Sarah and I had one of our first dates there. And she tells me that once, years before we met, she watched me from a nearby booth, eavesdropping, lust simmering in her innocent young heart.

These days going to the Olympic is fun for me because I get to feed little Oot.

For months I had nothing to do with this. Sarah breastfeeds, and because she’s stay-at-home Oot can get a snack pretty much whenever he wants, straight from the tap. But now he’s over a year old, and while he still loves the boob, he’s eating solid foods too.

I order the chicken soup and give him parts of it. A noodle. A little chicken. A bit of celery. A little piece of carrot that’s soft enough for me to cut up with my spoon.

Oot investigates these things. He pokes them with a finger, then crams them into his mouth. It is not unlike the way his daddy eats, though his daddy tries to be more genteel in public.

I have a lot to be thankful for. My first book has met with stupefying success. I have an understanding editor who has given me the time to turn my second book into something I can be proud of. My work is being translated into thirty languages. I have awards. I have money in the bank.

But none of that makes me as happy as lunch with Oot. I give him a piece of lettuce from my sandwich. A piece of tomato that I bite in half for him. A little bit of turkey. He moves them around on his little plastic mat, then pokes them happily into his drooly little baby maw.

I was a fan of Heifer International long before I ever considered having a kid. I donated money. I got weepy when I read Beatrice’s Goat.  I gave goats and chickens and sheep as Christmas presents.

But now that I have a baby, it’s something else entirely. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I couldn’t get enough food for my baby.

Actually, that’s not true. I have a very good imagination. I can imagine exactly what it would be like to not have enough food for my baby. It’s a horrifying feeling. It’s a huge feeling. When I think about not being able to feed my baby, my mind brushes up against the edge of something very big and dark in my head. Like nighttime swimmer who feels something firmly bump against his foot.

They say any civilization is three meals away from barbarism. And now, having a child, I believe it’s true. If I couldn’t get Oot the food he needed, I think I would do monstrous things. Barring that, I think some part of me would break and never, ever be right again. Not ever.

Still at the Olympic, I give Oot my whole deli pickle mostly out of curiosity. He pokes it, then picks the whole thing up and bites off the end. He makes an indescribable face. Then he takes another bite. At first it looks like he’s going to eat the whole thing. Then he holds it out to me, and I take a bite. I made a face and he laughs. He takes another bite, then holds it out for me again.

I am very lucky. I think this all the time. I have a warm house. I have a healthy baby. Not only do I have food for him, but we have food enough so that eating it can be a form of play.

This is why I started Worldbuilders.

When I started making serious money off my first book, it was nice. I paid off my credit card. I earned enough so I could get a mortgage on a house. But other than ordering a slightly better brand of frozen burrito, my lifestyle hasn’t changed that much. It’s nice to be able to order Chinese takeout whenever I want. But really, money hasn’t made me noticeably happier.

Matching donations through Worldbuilders makes me happy. It’s my new hobby. I look forward to it all year long.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I see the donation thermometer jump up by a thousand dollars and I flinch a bit.

Then I remember that 120 dollars buys a family a goat. I think about children drinking milk. Not just one morning. Every morning. I think about children eating eggs. I think about mothers and fathers selling the extra milk and wool and eggs to buy things they need to have a better life.

And then I’m happy.

After we finish up at the Olympic, I run some errands. At Shopko, I see a little bath set. It’s got a little comb, and some bubble stuff, and a yellow sponge duck.

Oot loves ducks. It’s one of his favorite words. We could play with this in the bathtub.

And I almost buy it before I realize how stupid this is. We have combs at home. We have stuff that makes bubbles. I would be paying twenty bucks for a bunch of plastic packaging and a sponge duck. For twenty bucks, I could get a flock of chicks from Heifer.

And once I think of it in these terms, it’s easy not to buy this useless piece of crass commercial shit. Oot is deliriously happy playing with a cardboard tube or one of the rubber ducks that we already have in the house. He doesn’t need this.

When I get home from errands, the first thing I do is check the donation totals. I’m really hoping we can get the thermometer up to 130,000 dollars again this year. Maybe more. It would be great if we could beat last year’s total.

The thermometer has gone up another 500 bucks. That’s good. That’s another $250 I’ll be kicking into the pot. That’s six goats and a bunch of chickens.

That’s a lot to be thankful for.

Have a good turkey day everyone,

pat

P.S. Just in case you want to wander over to the Worldbuilders donation page, here’s the link…

Also posted in day in the life, Heifer International, musings, Oot, Sarah | By Pat31 Responses

Fanmail Q & A: Advice For New Writers

Pat,

I know you’re busy, so I won’t take up much of your time. I want to be a writer (Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to read anything of mine.)

I was just wondering if you have any advice for new writers. Just one piece would be really helpful…

Love the book,

Becky

Heya Becky,

Over the last few years, I’ve heard this question a lot. It comes up in e-mails and interviews with clockwork regularity.

Despite that, it’s a question I never mind answering. I like giving advice, and I like talking about writing. So this one’s a twofer for me.

That said, my answer tends to change. If I’m reading something that irritates me, my advice might center around how to avoid that particular irritation. Sometimes it just depends on my mood, or what I’m working on in my own revisions.

But I’ve also noticed a slow change in how I think of this question as time goes on. Sometimes my answer centers around the nuts and bolts of the craft: revision, or character, or how to comport yourself professionally at a convention.

But more and more, I tend to answer this question in more practical terms. While these snippets of advice tends to be much more universal and useful that talking about managing POV, interviewers seem to be put off by it.

I’ve come to realize that when an interviewer asks me, “Can you give one piece of advice for new writers?” what they’re really looking for is something pithy and encouraging. They want me to say “Reach for the Stars!” or “Never give up!”

But that’s not really good advice. I mean, you could really hurt your shoulder reaching for the stars. Good advice is occasionally disheartening. “Come to grips with the inevitability of rejection.” Or “Don’t quit your day job.”

Once, I had a lovely 30 minute phone interview that ended roughly like this:

Thanks for the interview, Pat.

My pleasure.

In closing, if you could give one piece of advice to new writers, what would it be?

Live somewhere cheap.

I beg your pardon?

Odds are, it’s going to take you a long time to finish your novel. Then it’s going to take you a long time to break into the publishing world. That means you’re effectively going to be working at a job that will pay you nothing, and you’re going to be doing it for years. So you should live somewhere cheap.

I was thinking something more along the lines of worldbuilding….

If you live somewhere like Seattle or Manhattan or LA, you’re going to have to shell out thousands of dollars just in rent. If you have to work three jobs just to pay your rent, when are you going to find the time to write?

Do you know how I managed to keep working on my first novel for 14 years without starving to death?

Student loans? Some sort of trust fund?

Shit no. I learned how to live cheap. Up until 2005, I never paid more than $225 a month for rent.

Wh– how?

I’m a good bargainer. And I had roommates. And small-town Wisconsin is a cheap place to live.

Also, I lived in some real shitholes from time to time. But you know what? You can write in a shithole. You can’t write when you’re working 70 hours a week.

[chuckles nervously] Well, I think that’s about all the time we have….

Hell, I was so poor for a while I qualified for low-income housing back in 2004. Those places were pretty nice, actually.

Remember to turn in next week, folks. Thanks again, Pat.

Did you know that if you boil a paper shopping bag long enough, it makes something that’s almost like soup?

[Cut to static]

Okay, I made up the part about paper bags, but the rest of it is true.

The nice thing about being a writer is that you can do it pretty much anywhere. If you want to be a Hollywood actor, you have to live in LA. If you want to be a professional pianist or a ballet dancer, your options are pretty limited. But if you want to write, you can live whereverthehell you want.


For example, back in 1994 I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a shared bathroom down the hallway. The rent was $135 a month, everything included. My friends called the place: “The Pit.”

I was really poor back then. I was working three little part-time jobs and paying my own tuition. I didn’t even have a telephone because the 30 bucks every month for basic service was money I could really use for other things. Like food. You can eat for a month on 30 bucks if you’re careful.

Was the place a shithole? Absolutely. Was it inconvenient not having a phone? Of course. Hell, at one point my parents took out a classified add in the college newspaper because they had no other way to get in touch with me.

But I had time to write.

In fact, I distinctly remember writing Kvothe’s first admissions interview while living there. And his first class with Hemme. I was pretty proud of those scenes, and they didn’t change all that much between there and the final version of the book.

Best of all, living cheaply is a skill that will serve you well *after* you’re a published writer too. Especially if you’re writing Fantasy or Sci-fi. Tobias Buckell did some research into the advances a new writer gets for a first novel. And, on average, it’s not a ton of money.

So there you go, Becky. My advice for a new writer. Live somewhere cheap. Sorry if it’s not the gem of wisdom you were looking for, but really, what would you do with a gem of wisdom anyway? This is more like a muffin of wisdom. Everyone likes muffins.

Later all,

pat

Also posted in Ask the Author, BJ Hiorns Art, Fanmail Q + A | By Pat79 Responses

My Personal Spring….

I’ve spent most of my adult life going to college in one form or another. I spent nine years as an undergrad, two years getting my masters, then another five years teaching.

About two years ago, I stopped teaching because it was taking up too much time and headspace. I decided that the grown-up thing to do would be to leave my day job and focus on my writing.

And so I did. What I didn’t realize was how much college was part of my life. I’ve really missed it over these last few years. I miss taking classes, and teaching them. I miss walking around campus and meeting new people. I miss getting into arguments about philosophy at the campus coffeeshop.

And I miss writing my silly little advice column for the campus paper. I wrote it for almost ten years and gave it up for the same reasons I stopped teaching. It was taking too much time away from working on the book.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some parts of college I don’t miss. Writing the papers, for example. Or grading them, for that matter. I don’t miss having to get up for classes, either. Believe it or not, back when I was a student, I sometimes had to be awake by 11 in the morning.

Yeah. I know. There should be a law…

One of the many strange things about being in school for so long is how it changed my perception of time. There is an ebb and flow to the semester. Everyone is tense around mid-terms, irritable two weeks before finals, and giddy by the time finals actually start.

But the beginning of the semester is a magical time. The beginning of the whole school year doubly so.

This time of year has always been spring for me. Yes, yes. I know it’s really autumn. But my personal clock, influenced by over 27 years of schooling tells me that this is when the new year begins. It’s time to to back to school.

For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about this for the last week. I live in a college town, and when school starts up it’s almost like Stevens Point is waking up after a long sleepy winter. Students are wandering the streets again, looking for house parties and curbside couches. The bars downtown are full. People are moving furniture around, hanging out in the coffee houses, and jogging on the sidewalks. I don’t need a calendar to tell me that classes are starting again.

This is also the time when I would write my first column for the new school year. It was tricky because I didn’t have any letters to answer at the beginning of the year, so most of what I did was introduce the concept of the column to the new students and make a call for letters that I could mock. (Or give advice to, depending on my mood.)

So in honor of my personal springtime, here’s one of my favorite introductions that I wrote for the College Survival Guide a couple years ago:

* * *

I love this time of year. After three months of vacation everyone is fresh and rested. All the Professors have forgotten how much they hate teaching. They smile and chat with each other in the hallways. They cluster around Xerox machines like lame, tweedy gangs, pretending they’re cool despite the fact that they’re doing the equivalent of selling encyclopedias door-to-door while all the other gangs are pushing lapdances, PS3s, and cherry-flavored crack.

Returning students are glad to be back too. Mostly because your summer jobs were tedious and degrading. Three months of summer vacation is long enough so that you’ve forgotten that most classes are tedious and degrading too.

This means that you’re full of hope. You’re sure your new roommate won’t be like the last one who wore tinfoil socks and had a tendency to occasionally urinate in the refrigerator. You’re sure you’ll pass Math 106 this time around. You’re determined to actually join some clubs this year and not just sit around in your dorm eating spray cheese from a can and watching youtube videos about cats.

Sure you will. And while you’re at it you’ll have plenty of time to map out your future career, find true love, attain nirvana, and develop a high-tech cybernetic arm that dispenses an infinite supply of orange PEZ . Sure. You’ll have time for all that. After all, you’ve done the college thing before. You’ve got it all figured out… Right?

But you freshman are my favorites. I remember what that first semester was like: you’ve got a new haircut and some of mom’s money in your pocket. You’re on your own for the first time ever. You have so much freedom that you can hardly keep from shitting yourself with sheer delight.

And you express your near-infinite excitement the same way every freshman has done for the last ten thousand years. You buy posters for your dorm. You order pizza at unseasonable hours of the day and night. You touch yourself *down there* in a decidedly impure manner, repeatedly.

Well kids, cherish that delightful innocence for as long as you can. Because soon the horrible truth with start to dawn. You’ll realize freedom isn’t all nachos, whippets, and wicked touching of the bathing suit area. Freedom is also credit-card debt, STD’s that would blister the paint off a car door, and scholastic performance so shoddy that your professors have to invent new grades to accurately represent how profoundly you are sucking in their classes. Something like “Triple F-minus” or “negative B plus.”

Some of you, the smarter ones, are already starting to realize how dangerous all this lovely freedom is. Truth be told, your freshman orientation package should include a coil of industrial-strength nylon cord with a label that says: “Welcome to college. Here’s a whole lot of rope. Feel free to hang yourself with it.” Unfortunately, the effect would be ruined by UWSP’s legal department, which would make sure the rope was actually too short for anyone to really hang themselves with. And they would attach a second label, larger than the first, with bright red letters saying: “We mean metaphorically. Dumbass.”

Truth is, I can’t keep you from metaphorically hanging yourself. And honestly, I wouldn’t want to. College provides you an unrivaled opportunity for you to fuck up in a largely consequence-free environment. This is half the fun of college. If you don’t make at least one or two really nexa-level mistakes while you’re here, you’re really not getting your money’s worth.

What I can do is this. When things get weird, or stupid, or broken, I can offer some advice on how to minimize the damage to your tattered life. If that doesn’t work, then at least the rest of us will have a good laugh at your expense.

So e-mail your questions, sob stories, and mewling pleas for help to [e-mail no longer valid]. I’ll do my best to answer them. Exceptionally good letters will be rewarded with fantastic prizes. I promise.

* * *

Oh my beloved survival guide. How I miss you.

While I’m busy working on book two and getting ready to be a dad, I’ll probably post up an old column or two on the blog here. There’s a few pieces of good advice buried in all the humorous bullshit.

Also, because I’m feeling nostalgic, those of you looking for advice can mail in questions using the contact form here on the webpage.

That said, be aware that I’m busy, and just because you ask a question doesn’t mean that I’ll answer it here on the blog.

But maybe… just maybe…

pat

Also posted in BJ Hiorns Art, College Survival Guide | By Pat62 Responses
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