Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Girl, Ya Gotta Work It, Work It

My twenties mostly sucked. I had graduated from college and couldn't find work in Tucson, so I returned to Phoenix, a place I swore I'd never go back to. Besides my family, the two people who kept me sane, focused, and fired up, were Arvin Loudermilk and Mike Iverson. I met Arvin just after high school, and I met Mike shortly after that. Arvin and Mike became creative and business partners, and they were both smart as hell and wickedly talented and they were amused by me. I missed the get-married-out-of-college-boat, which was fine since I really didn't want to be married or on a boat, but it was more difficult to find and keep friends once school ended than I thought it would be.

To say that I spent most every weekend for a dozen years with Mike and Arvin is not my usual hyperbole. They formed a creative partnership that has survived and flourished into today. Now, they work together as The Concentrium. They are responsible for the design of this site (and all my previous websites), for the layout and design of my first book, Monsoons, and the layout and design of both the print and e-book versions of Ghost Swamp Blues. But they are responsible for much more than that in my life. They taught me how to work and how to both tell and show a story -- not an idea, not a conversation, but a story.

The three of us went to see movies I'd have never seen on my own. I watched television shows I'd have never seen, and they still send me television shows to watch that I'd have never picked or heard of. They talked non-stop about characters and stories and the imagination. And pretty much every minute they weren't at their day jobs, they were making art. We were all in our twenties. We were all good at our art, not great, (and not nearly as great as we thought), but good enough to be dangerous, and more importantly, good enough to believe we could be better.

We'd get back from seeing a (fill in superhero action movie here) and have pizza and then go to work. Mike would draw well into the early morning hours. Arvin wrote. I wrote too, but I also fell asleep on the couch a lot. They worked around me. There was no room not to be working. So that's what I learned how to do. I had a raw talent, but I'd made it through school with nominal effort, except in math and science. My "good enough" writing in school was just that. Good enough. No one took the time to help me get better, and now that I teach one hundred students a semester, I understand, after I've just spent an hour trying to decipher a paragraph with no punctuation or topic, how the ones who are good enough get very few comments. There's only so much time. So I didn't know what I didn't know during the nineties, but none of us did. We persevered. We sent out work. They got their first comic book series, Vigil, published through Innovation in 1992. I got my first short story published in the anthology Walking the Twilight in that same year. We all moved on from there.

The 10,000 hours it takes to become anything, to do anything, I experienced with them. And I know now that the 10,000 hours is just the first part. There's another 10,000 and another and another after that. I watched them never give up. They were early embracers of the internet and web publishing and have always put the story first. If they couldn't find one avenue to release it, they'd find another, and if they couldn't find another, they'd make their own. There was no possibility of quitting. I watched them hold, shift, and commit to a vision of a story arc. I watched them embody their stories. And since they wouldn't accept anything less from me, I learned to do the same. "Nothing" could never be the answer to: "What are you working on now?" And so it never is.

And so I am a writer.

I'll be sharing more about Arvin in the next blog and how his approach to storytelling has influenced mine, and then I'll share some insights about writing that I learned from Mike and his visual art and prop-making projects in a separate post.

In the meantime, Arvin's first novel is out: In a Flash. You can read an excerpt on his website or on any of the on-line retailers. It's well worth it.

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