Category: 2021

A Few Of My Favorite Things: 2021 Edition

In a lot of ways 2021 sucked big floppy donkey dick. So I want to take a moment to review some of the things that helped me to get through the year. These aren’t meant to be anything other than a list of things that brought me joy. Not all of these things are from 2021, but I did initially discover them in 2021.

FAVORITE BOOK: THE BOOK OF ACCIDENTS BY CHUCK WENDIG

SpooOOooOOky!

I haven’t read a ton of Chuck Wendig, despite appreciating his blog and Twitter presence, and what I have read (WANDERERS, a handful of his craft books) have been good, but haven’t blown me away. But then this year I read THE BLUE BLAZES and THE BOOK OF ACCIDENTS and he officially became an author whose books I will continue to preorder and support.

What I loved about THE BOOK OF ACCIDENTS had less to do with the story itself, although that was definitely fun and interesting, and more to do with the way Mr. Wendig built the story. For one thing, the characters (Nate, Maddie, and Oliver, primarily) are really well drawn. They’re smart, loving, and drive the plot forward with their decisions. What I appreciated most, though, is that they don’t keep secrets from one another for no reason. They are open, and honest, and there isn’t a point in the book that felt like the characters were doing something because the author needed them to, which is a difficult thing to pull off.

Another thing I loved about this book is how Chuck lays the groundwork for things that pay off later. He doesn’t immediately explain anything. Instead, he leaves clues and drops the reader into situations in media res that only become clear later on. In this way, he allows the reader to piece the story together on their own before he confirms (or twists) what we think we know.

FAVORITE BOOK OF POETRY: I’LL FLY AWAY BY RUDY FRANCISCO

Not spooky.

I made it a point to read more poetry this year. I enjoyed much of what I picked up (probably because I know my tastes), but Rudy Francisco’s collection stands out to me. He writes with heart, and humor, and wit, and can turn a phrase like no other.

FAVORITE MOVIE: GODZILLA VS. KONG

Scratched every itch my inner child had.

This is a tough thing to choose for me. I watch a lot of movies (although this year it felt like I didn’t?) that range from the ridiculous (MORTAL KOMBAT) to the artsy (DAYS OF HEAVEN). That said, there is really only one movie that I found myself wanting to revisit this year, and have a hard time not turning to when I pass by it on HBO MAX: GODZILLA VS. KONG.

Why? It’s fun. I needed that this year. Sometimes that’s enough.

FAVORITE TELEVISION: INFINITY TRAIN

Children’s television is on a tear right now.

INFINITY TRAIN’s final season aired this year on HBO MAX, but I hadn’t watched any of it before Elijah was born. I remember learning of it a few years ago, thinking it sounded interesting, but then forgetting about it since I haven’t had Cartoon Network as part of a cable package in ten years.

I’m glad I remembered it, though. The episodes are a great length (~15 minutes) for when you’re dealing with a newborn and contain a surprising amount of depth. Each season follows a character (or two or three) that are on the Infinity Train, a train that has an infinite number of cars that each act as their own worlds, as they try (or not try) to become a better person. To say how or why would ruin some of the surprises, but the show goes deep on themes like abandonment, friendship, sense of self, memory, broken homes, and more. It’s not afraid to go dark, especially for what is ostensibly a children’s show, but carries with it a lighthearted tone that balances the darker themes.

Each season is self-contained (although there are plenty of callbacks and references to events from other seasons). The first and fourth seasons are virtually perfect, while the second and third seasons are great but a bit more uneven.

FAVORITE BAND: THE SONDER BOMBS

This is a bit of a cheat for me, as I first discovered The Sonder Bombs in late 2020. But whatever, I listened to a hell of a lot of them this year and so they’re going in this spot.

The Sonder Bombs have a great, fun sound that utilizes a lot of ukulele. Their lyrics are thoughtful, riffs are catchy, and the lead singer, Willow Hawks, has a spectacular voice. Specifically, check out Twinkle Lights (above) and K.

FAVORITE SONG: BRAGGING RIGHTS BY PROPER. FT. WILLOW HAWKS

Surprise! Willow Hawks has a prominent role in this song. That said, Proper. is a solid band that sings about issues not heard of in the mainstream. This song, specifically, paints a picture of an artist doing whatever they can to succeed, perhaps to their detriment but also feeling like there’s no other choice.

And, I mean, why wouldn’t I relate to that?

It’s also emo as hell, which is something I look for in any music I listen to.

MY FAVORITE BABY: ELIJAH

People say he looks like me, but I don’t see it.

Sorry to all the other babies in the running. It wasn’t even really a competition this year. Luckily, Elijah moves up to the “Favorite Toddler” group next year, where he is a heavy favorite.

MY FAVORITE CATS: TIE(!) BETWEEN BELLE AND ATHENA

A rare moment of affection between these two.

For the third year in a row, we have a tie between Belle and Athena for the title. It’s hard to choose between Belle’s beauty and gentleness, and Athena’s beauty and fierce loyalty. Maybe next year a true winner will be decided.

FAVORITE PLACE TO GO WITH MY FAMILY: LONGWOOD GARDENS

Elijah and I being stylish as fuck just outside the Conservatory.

Longwood Gardens is 1,100 acres filled with trees and plants from all over the world, in addition to fountains, sculptures, and exhibitions. It’s one of my wife’s favorite places because she’s into flowers. Me? Could never bring myself to care about them.

This year, though, I found myself appreciating what Longwood offers on an experiential level. Being there is relaxing. Watching Elijah experience it for the first time was awe-inspiring. We became members this year and try to get there once a month or so. It’s always worth the drive. I can’t wait to spend more time there in 2022.

2021 In Review

It’s important to sum up a year with the right image.

Whew boy! 2021 was a hell of a year, wasn’t it? At the highest levels of power in our world, we got a new President (thank the gods old and new), although Trumpism is still running rampant in our society–just like COVID-19. Neither of those things are going away anytime soon, as much as I wish they would, and part of that annoying longevity is because Trumpism and COVID feed one another. Like a snake eating its tail. Or, perhaps more accurately, a completed human centipede.

COVID (and by proxy, Trumpism) has pretty severely affected my life in the past year. My wife and I are doing everything we can to protect my son, who cannot be vaccinated because of his age, which means we have no social lives and rarely leave the house to do anything but work or pick up necessities. It’s been hard. Luckily for me, I married my best friend and our son has turned out to be pretty chill.

That’s all just context for reviewing the year. I set out a bunch of goals this year, as evidenced by this chart:

NIGHT OF CHAOS was eventually renamed ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN. As you can see, I was pretty ambitious going into the year. And as you can also see, I absolutely overshot my capabilities. But my goals also changed throughout the year. Here’s how.

WEBSITE

One of my core beliefs in building and maintaining this website is that if I update it consistently with good content I will build an audience. I have not been consistent. Whether the content has been good is an open question, I guess, although I’m genuinely proud of everything I post. At the beginning of the year I hoped to upload a single blog post every Friday–52 in total. I also hoped to post 12 vignettes. Finally, I wanted to start a newsletter and redo the front page to coincide with my book releases. How’d I do?

  • 24 blog posts
  • 4 new vignettes
  • No newsletter

I did redo the front page. So, despite my lack of activity on the website this year, how did I do with an audience?

  • 526 users
  • 741 sessions
  • 1,087 pageviews

Not great! How do those compare to 2020?

  • 526 users (no change)
  • 835 sessions
  • 1,525 pageviews

What does this mean? For one, it means the year’s not quite done. I don’t expect to make up over 450 pageviews in 20-something days, but I suspect I’ll end the year not too far off from that. It also means that consistent posting does make a difference, even if it’s a small one. Most of my traffic this year was due to directing people interested in my books through the website. Last year was a bit more organic.

PUBLISHING

My big goal this year was to publish two books. I decided on publishing ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN late last year, before sending it to a pro editor for feedback. Around that time I also realized I had enough material for a short story collection–that became THROUGH DARK INTO LIGHT. I wasn’t sure I’d have the skills, money, or time to get both out the door in the time I wanted, but I ended up making it happen. I’m proud of how both works turned out, despite the huge learning curve to self-publishing.

So, how much did I spend on self-publishing this year and how good was my ROI?

  • $1,558.09 spent to publish both books (ANH NGUYEN was more expensive)
  • 58 books sold (32 ANH NGUYEN and 26 THROUGH DARK)
  • $94.44 returned

Now, on its face that looks pretty bad. But, to be honest, I didn’t have any expectations for sales. These books were meant to do two things for me in the short term: 1) learn how to navigate self-publishing and 2) become part of my backlist for use later on.

I didn’t put any effort into marketing either book aside from a few posts on social media. I probably sold 75-80% of the books that way. The rest was organic search or word-of-mouth. What was encouraging, and sort of validates my emphasis on a backlist, is that releasing THROUGH DARK INTO LIGHT actually helped me sell additional copies of ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN. My current plan (and plans can always change) is to release my first novel next year, which should give both my novella and short story collection another bump. More on that in another post.

Regardless of sales numbers, I’m unreasonably proud of ANH NGUYEN and THROUGH DARK. I failed in a lot of my writing goals this year, but I made sure to succeed in the ones that mattered most to me.

WORD COUNT

Having struggled with word count goals in the past, I tried to set a reasonable one this year. If I have a good grasp on what I want to write (i.e., I have a plan) then I know I can write 1,000 words within an hour. That’s plenty of time to write in the morning before work. I set a goal to do this only four days per week, for a word count of 4,000 words per week. That totals 208,000 words in a year–two whole novels!

And then I became a father. Elijah was born in January, which meant I hit my word count goal once before my life got flipped upside down. It took me over eight months to meet my weekly goal again. Since then I’ve been pretty consistent, hitting my goal 10 of the last 15 weeks of the year. Here’s how the numbers shake out for 2021:

  • Total for year: 66,275 (31.86% of goal)
  • Average per week: 1,299.51
  • Average per day: 188

Considering how little time I ended up having this year between work and home life (more on that below), that’s not bad. I’m nearly halfway through a new novel and maybe a fifth of the way through a new novella, both of which should be finished in time for publication next year. I’m also now in a much better routine, which should help me to get closer to achieving my word count goals for next year.

PERSONAL LIFE

My non-writing life was certainly interesting this year. Obviously, the biggest thing to ever happen to me generally (let alone this year) was the birth of my son, Elijah. He is demanding, and fun, and interesting, and learning and growing at a rate that I can only describe as exponential. Like, one day after never being able to stand he just did it. And then he was standing from that moment onward. Never looked back. Never regressed. He’s constant motion in mind and body, this kid.

I love him. A lot. So, even though I get cranky when I can’t write (like the majority of this year), he deserves every spare second I can give him.

I was also officially promoted at work this year. I say “officially” because it’s something I had to negotiate based on the responsibilities I already had. There were also a lot of internal changes to my company, new approaches to how we do business, many of which I was either a part of or had to adjust to. I don’t love my day job–many days I downright dislike it!–but I do enjoy my company and my team. I couldn’t write at all without the flexibility my day job provides, and they’re very much a family first company, and so have been accommodating to Elijah.

We’re also still dealing with COVID. The most difficult thing, especially with a baby, is that COVID has kept us separated from our families. Since March, 2020 we’ve only seen my father in person twice. My mother I’ve seen (I think) three times in person. We video chat with them both once per week, mostly so they can see Elijah, but it’s tough being so far away from everyone. We canceled our plans to travel to Buffalo for Christmas because of how bad COVID has been. I don’t really know what else to say about it.

As I’ve written about before, hockey is important to me. It’s a way for me to socialize and get exercise (two things I sorely lack). When COVID initially got bad in March 2020, I quit playing. I didn’t play again until after my family was vaccinated, in June of this year. I played one season on two teams, and then the Delta variant hit. So I quit again, hoping that come Fall the numbers would drop. They did not. At this point, I consider myself unofficially retired. It makes me sad.

In all, on the personal side of things, it’s been a down year. Perhaps most indicative of that, and the way I’ve dealt with it, is that a childhood friend of mine died just before summer. He was one of my first and best friends growing up (and was actually the one to introduce me to hockey). In the years since becoming teenagers we had grown apart, and hadn’t actually spoken in a long time. In fact, I can’t remember the last conversation we had. I want to say it was outside of my father’s house when we happened to run into one another, but that can’t be right. That was too long ago. He did text me shortly before he died, but the text was barely comprehensible and, because he had struggled with substance abuse earlier in our lives, I assumed he had reached out to me on accident or was under the influence at that moment. I ignored it.

That really breaks my heart. I know, logically, that there wasn’t anything I could have done for him that would have changed the outcome. There were people in his life much closer to him than I was that he had to help him. But there’s also a part of me that wonders if maybe I’d have answered that text, if I’d have asked him how he was doing, if he’d still be with us.

To be brutally honest, though, it hasn’t effected me in the ways I would have expected. In fact, it’s barely effected me at all. The night I heard of his death I was upset. I cried. I wrote about it in my journal. But then it passed. I got caught up in Elijah, and maintaining our house, and dealing with my family, and work, and writing, and a myriad other things that blunted the blow. I feel like that’s where I am in life; when shit goes wrong I acknowledge it and move on.

One day maybe I’ll find out if that’s good or bad. It probably just is what it is. It does hurt to think I won’t run into him at a hockey tournament or bopping around Buffalo, though.

Luckily, I have my wife. She’s had a hell of a year herself, what with growing and then birthing a whole human being. She also graduated with her Psy.D and started working as a professional psychologist. If it weren’t for her steady presence (and expertise in psychology) I’d probably have gone insane by now.

IN THE END

It’s been a strange year. There was a lot to be sad or angry about (to say nothing of our politics at the moment), but in the end I feel like I’m ending in a better place than I began. I saw this year as sort of a transitional year, and that ended up being true in a lot of ways. So let’s hope that the seeds I planted this year–the books, the habits and routines–pay off in the long run.

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