“I’m not homeless, I’m just on a cheap vacation.”

The quote in the title comes from a sign held out by a young couple, while pan-handling in Salt Lake City. I guess it all goes to say that how you define your own experience might determine how others view your activity. Nonetheless, being without a home or being a tramp is nothing new. Here’s a small selection of words illustrating what writers have experienced along these lines in the past.

Hitching Toward_Los_Angeles,_CA_8b31801u_original
A depression era photo of two travelers walking towards Los Angeles, photo by Dorothea Lange

Tramps

Tramps, hobos, bums, vagabonds, drifters, homeless people….no matter what you call them, there has always been a certain amount of admiration and mystique mixed in with contempt for these people of the streets and highways. Among writers, the road or the highway has been the proving ground for many a talented author. Being on the road probably won’t make you write any better, but it give you that special “outsider” status, which will allow you to look into the heart and soul of modern society with a fresh perspective. Following are a few quotes that explore this reality.

1. “Actors really should be tramps”. by Martin Milner

2. “I modeled my looks on the town tramp.” by Dolly Parton

3. “I tramp a perpetual journey.” Walt Whitman Song of Myself

4. “A man can sleep around, no questions asked, but if a woman makes nineteen or twenty mistakes she’s a tramp.” by Joan Rivers

5. “He cut short my request for something to eat, snapping out, “I don’t believe you want to work.” Now this was irrelevant. I hadn’t said anything about work. The topic of conversation I had introduced was “food.” In fact, I didn’t want to work. I wanted to take the westbound overland that night.” by Jack LondonThe Road
6. “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” by Eleanor Roosevelt

7. “Tramps like us, Baby we were born to run” by Bruce Springstein

8. “Tramping is too easy with all this money . My days were more exciting when I was penniless and had to forage around for my next meal… I’ve decided that I’m going to live this life for some time to come. The freedom and simple beauty of it is just too good to pass up.” by Christopher McCandless,

9. “Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except heaven & hell & I have only a vague curiosity about one of those.” by Mark Twain

10. “Perhaps the greatest charm of tramp-life is the absence of monotony……. The hobo never knows what is going to happen the next moment;” hence, he lives only in the present moment.”
by  Jack London, The Road

11. “Tramps and hobos are commonly lumped together, but in their own sight they are sharply differentiated. A hobo or bo is simply a migratory laborer; he may take some longish holidays, but soon or late he returns to work. A tramp never works if it can be avoided; he simply travels. Lower than either is the bum, who neither works nor travels, save when impelled to motion by the police.” by H.L. Mencken

12. “A tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow always hopeful of romance and adventure.” by Charlie Chaplin

13. “Girls who put out are tramps. Girls who don’t are ladies. This is, however, a rather archaic usage of the word. Should one of you boys happen upon a girl who doesn’t put out, do not jump to the conclusion that you have found a lady. What you have probably found is a lesbian.” by Fran Lebowitz

14. “We fumed and screamed in our mountain nook, mad drunken Americans in the mighty land. We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell, I guess—across the night, eastward over the Plains, where somewhere an old man with white hair was probably walking toward us with the Word, and would arrive any minute and make us silent.” by Jack Kerouac, On the Road

15. “Only the large cities attempted anything in the way of identification. The Bertillion system was in the experimental stage and fingerprinting unknown in police work. We jumped from one state to another, kept away from the cities, lived almost entirely on the road except in the dead of winter, and spent our money in the jungles…” by Jack Black from You Can’t Win

Old Route 66 in Albuquerque, NM...photo by author
Old Route 66 in Albuquerque, NM…photo by author
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Good Writing Will Find a Way To the Surface…….No Matter What the Current State of Affairs

Rings Around the Ring Nebula  Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler
Rings Around the Ring Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Amazon-Hachette Takes It Toll

As the Amazon-Hachette stand-off continues, it appears the party most being hurt are the authors. Amazon and Hachette aren’t doing too well either, yet still there is no clear signal as to how long this dispute will last or how things will turn out, when the issues finally get resolved. From my viewpoint, which definitely, leans towards Amazon, it looks like ebook sales will continue to grow and that more authors will pursue the ebook as the primary venue for their creative literary efforts. This will include newbie authors as well as writers previously published with both small and large print presses. High profile best-selling authors will continue to see most of their sales come through the retailing of paperback books, which probably predisposes these guys and gals away from the growing ebook market.

How It Used To Be

The conclusion of World War II and the return of the American G.I. to the U.S., lead to many books being published by authors, who in the past may have found a harder road to publication. War seen through the first person had always been prevalent in literature (i.e. The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet On the Western Front ), but there seemed to an outpouring of  books about the “Big One.” The war experience  launched such notable writers as Norman Mailer, James Michener, Elie Wiesel, Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway (Spanish Civil War). Unfortunately, the publicationof war stories has not been discontinued as we roll into the 21st century, for armed conflict around the world has not abated by any means. In fact, it is quite possible that they have increased. However, the point here is that in the 40s and 50s, editors and publishers were not overwhelmed by large numbers of ambitious and talented writers, like they are today.

First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons
First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons

Manchild In the Promised Land

In 1965 Macmillan & Co. published Claude Brown’s street-tough classic, Manchild In the Promised Land. Though Claude Brown grew up among Harlem hoodlums, he was able to turn his life around and complete a memoir about his troubled NYC youth in upper Manhattan. The book was discovered in the slush pile by an astute NYC editor and eventually went on to sell four million copies and was also translated into 14 languages. At time of publication Mr. Brown was working as a mail carrier, but would begin a lecturing career that lasted a lifetime once the book became successful. Claude Brown also introduced Toni Morrison to his editor, who also became a major catalyst with her literary success.

Trying To Get A Handle On Today’s Literary Scene

Things are definitely changing today. Books are still being printed and read, but the onset of ebooks has definitely leveled the playing field somewhat. Many of the old authors despise the new format. One of the most notables was the late Ray Bradbury, who recently said this about ebooks:

Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell.”

Despite these words, Mr. Bradbury succumbed to the evils of ebooks before he passed away. However, writers facing the challenge of first-time publication are presented with a whole set of different problems than Ray Bradbury, when he first came of age as a author at the end of WWII. Since mainline publishers are more and more interested in mass market genre titles and less so in literary fiction, contemporary authors cannot necessarily rely on the proverbial slush pile for their success, even though it is still a viable option for some. Instead networking, visibility on social networks, blogging, self-publishing and plain old perseverance all play an important part in getting the story out.
P.S. Thanks goes out to Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal for the inspiration for this blog. Alan is the editor who discovered Claude Brown and was consequently introduced to Toni Morrison, who went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Across the Great Divide – Update On the Amazon-Hachette Feud

“Fine! So stop selling them (Hachette books), already. Just shut up about it and pull the trigger. Be mercenary.” Chuck Wendig, commenting on the Amazon-Hachette feud

220px-AcrosstheGreatDivide1976

Across the Great Divide is a 1976 film that stars Robert Logan, Heather Rattray, and George Buck Flower. Perhaps, the title is also symbolic as to what a small group of well-financed writers headquartered in the Northeast has done to the American writing community.

Authors Purchase Big Time Add In NY Times

“Authors aren’t united on anything. Why would they be? We work from home. Alone. We can maaaaaybe agree that pants are a tool of the oppressors and that we subsist on various liquids (tea, coffee, whiskey, the tears of our readers). Why do we have to be united?” Chuck Wendig

On Sunday August 10 a group of authors, calling themselves Authors United ran a full page add in the Sunday NY Times defending the Hachette Corporation of France in its economic loggerhead with Amazon. Around 900 names appeared on the ad, which cost in thelow  six figure range and was financed by 72 of the 900. Basically, the letter accused the Amazon Corp. of organizing a boycott of Hachette products, refusing to discount Hachette products, slowing the delivery of Hachette books and suggesting to readers that they purchase different (non-Hachette) titles.

This debate has dragged on for several months and at this point in time, a settlement seems far off. In the meantime, growing discontent among pro-Hachette and pro-Amazon writers has turned the feud into a bit of a soap opera, especially on the Social Media, where everybody who’s anybody is sounding off on the issue. Though this may make for great entertainment, the situation does not encourage ebook sales, which is essentially the heart of the debate.

My Turn To Rant

Ok, it’s my turn to rant. And by the way, I’m not exactly neutral in this debate since I sell low-priced ebooks through both Amazon and Smashwords. Also, I do sell a story or two to online journals, but this is a rather rare event. Moreover, I have not found a way to break into the print market, except P.O.D., a pathway, which I have not even remotely considered.

My basic complaint with Amazon is that they have too nice to Hachette. They were a primary player in the development of the ebook market and their opinion that ebooks sell best in the three digit range seems valid. And I don’t consider them a monopoly (just a Giant corporation) either for they have lots of competition with businesses like Google, Apple, Kobo and B & N.

On the other hand Hachette’s main line are books in print, so why are they wasting so much time in energy in this fight. It might hurt their print sales and if things go really bad, their French holder, Legardere, might dump them completely. I guess I don’t the understand French business karma very well at all, but it does seem like they are shooting themselves in the foot.

Writers Gone Goofy 

To me the strangest thing of all is the way that millionaire genre writers, such as Stephen King, JK Rowling, Douglas Preston, James Patterson, John Grisham and Heather Graham, have taken on Amazon like it was the devil incarnate. They seem to have all jumped in bed with Big Five publishing (at the same time) without any concerns for their own well-being. Have these people forgotten that once they were unpublished writers?

Things have changed over the last ten years and breaking into print has become much more difficult than it used to be. True this is a slowly developing situation that goes back to the  post WWII years, when there weren’t so many authors pining for a book contract. But today’s Indie ebook market helps newbie authors find a platform. (So do small presses and university publishers). Overall, the old maxim that good writing will find its audience still holds true, but the rules have definitely changed quite a bit……And maybe not so much for the better.

2001 Sourdough Raft Race, passing beneath the High Level Bridge's Great Divide waterfall. (Edmonton, Alberta)
2001 Sourdough Raft Race, passing beneath the High Level Bridge’s Great Divide waterfall. (Edmonton, Alberta) from Wikipedia

More Advice from Writers

Street Sign in Las Vegas, NV
Street Sign in Las Vegas, NV

Here are some more quotations from writers. As usual they are slightly on the humorous side. Hope you enjoy.

1. “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living. It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.” by Theodor Seuss Geisel better known as Dr. Seuss.

2. “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” by Ray Bradbury

3. “A friend is one who has the same enemies as you have.” by Abraham Lincoln

4. “All stories if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true storyteller who would keep that from you.” by Ernest Hemingway

5. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

6. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” by Samuel Beckett

7. “On any street corner, the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.” by Albert Camus

8. “Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future.” by Oscar Wilde

9. “The difference between fiction and reality. Fiction has to make sense.” by Tom Clancy

10. “Perversity is the muse of modern literature.” Susan Sontag
11. “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.” Peter Pan

Advice from Writers

Planetary Nebula NGC 2818 from Hubble  Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)
Planetary Nebula NGC 2818 from Hubble
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

1. “There are two kinds of people who sit around all day thinking about killing people….mystery writers and serial killers. I’m the kind that pays better.” Richard Castle

2. “The best time for planning a book is while yo’re doing the dishes,” by Agatha Christie

3. “I think film had a terrible effect on horror fiction particularly in the 80s, with certain writers turning out stuff as slick and cliched as Hollywood movies.” Poppy Z. Brite

4. “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Groucho Marx

5. “I prefer dead writers because you don’t run into them at parties.” Fran Lebowitz

6. “It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.” by Andrew Jackson

7. “A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.” by Ring Lardner

8. “A good novel tells us the truth about it’s hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.” by Gilbert K. Chesterton

9. “Television has raised writing to a new low.” by Samuel Goldwyn

10. “Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman’s name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to a writer–and if so, why?” by Bennett Cerf

11. “If it has horses and swords in it, it’s a fantasy, unless it also has a rocketship in it, in which case it becomes science fiction. The only thing that’ll turn a story with a rocketship in it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.” by Debra Doyle

Some Minor Distractions That Might Actually Help Your Writing

Aloha Tahiti, from wikipedia, photo by Silvia-pco
Aloha Tahiti, from wikipedia, photo by Silvia-pco

 

Writing can be a time-consuming and exhausting endeavor, especially if haven’t quite found your muse. Several years ago I found myself in a temporary situation, where my main source of income came from writing content for an American company with a large internet presence. I was touring Canada on my ten-speed bicycle, so money-making options were limited. This forced me to write much more than I really wanted to. And so to keep up with my travel expenses (like food and bicycle repairs) I had to really crank out the words. This was grueling mental work that gave me reason to thoroughly enjoy every spare minute that I could. On the plus side, I got to take in some of Quebec’s finest scenery, while cruising the province’s back roads.

 

Walking in your neighborhood can be very refreshing to your mental processes
Walking in your neighborhood can be very refreshing to your mental processes

Ten Distractions That Might Aid Your Writing

1. Walking – As far as  Iam concerned nothing comes close to walking in recharging the brain cells.  Walking is like meditation, for it’s the time when everything gels. Do this whenever you run into a mental roadblock and chances are that when you finally get back to your W.I.P., the writing will run smooth again.

2. Going to the Movies – For me, going to the movies means sitting in a darkened theater and watching the moving images flicker on a big screen. Watching a movie on a TV or computer screen just ain’t the same. To make things more interesting you can choose an entertaining film that was made from a bestselling book. In this regard,s there are quite a few fine examples from which to select.

3. A Roller Coaster Ride – Don’t travel too far to participate in this adrenaline-producing thrill, but if there is an amusement park nearby, this might be just the right ticket. A ride on a roller coaster is kind of like rebooting your brain; it helps get rid of all superfluous thoughts.

4. Washing the Dishes  – Just getting your house or apartment cleaner or in better working condition, just might wear off on your writing process.

5. Reading – Reading is one of those amazing activities that will strengthen your writing skills, while keeping you entertained. Just sit back, read and watch the wonderful process of osmosis fill your brain with writing tips.

6. Bike Riding – Bike riding combines the meditative benefits of walking with a more vigorous workout activity This alone will stimulate your cardiovascular system. This kind of exercise is needed from time to time just to counterbalance the comatose nature of sitting in the same spot for hours on end.

7. Playing with the Kids – No one can be a better reminder that you are getting to obsessed with your own creative endeavors than your own kids. This is especially true if they are toddlers or young children.

8. Swimming – This is kind of a corollary to #6, whereabouts finding a good exercise regiment might benefit your health; and thus help energize your mental process. Maybe you can ride your bike to the swimming pool, unless of course you are one of those lucky souls, who has one in his or her back yard.

9. Eating Out – Don’t forget to feed your stomach. By going out to eat you may avoid #4, but the stimulation of enjoying a flavorful meal with the company of others, probably outweighs this.

10. Happy Hour – Take a page from Hemingway and go visit a popular watering hole for a few hours in the late afternoon or early evening. You never know who you might run into or what inspirations might fall your way. Just make sure you are finished writing for the day and don’t continue your bar presence to all hours of the night…..for historically, drinking has been the downfall of many a talented author.

Great getaways are seldom conducive to great writing
Great getaways are seldom conducive to great writing

 

In Conclusion

Don’t get carried away with your writing breaks, these ideas weren’t meant as permanent diversions, but merely short breaks to be taken in order to refresh your brain cells. A vacation to Tahiti may be fine and dandy, but in the long run it’s an expensive writing alternative that keeps you away from your work for way too long. Then again if you win the Pulitzer Prize for your Chick-lit novel, a trip to the South Seas may be just the right ticket.

 

The beach is a great place to relax, from Wikipedia, photo by Maria
The local beach is a great place to read and relax, from Wikipedia, photo by Maria

 

 

A Guide To Screenwriting Blogs

kepler186f_artistconcept_0h600
NASA Illustration of a possible earth-sized planet in another galaxy

 

Striking Paydirt With Screenwriting

Screenwriting can be a lucrative occupation……..that is if you can sell your screenplay to Hollywood or other interested parties. But that’s a big “IF”. First you have to come up with a killer screenplay……..this might mean literally, for if there ain’t some dead bodies or corpses floating around, film producers might not be so interested. That’s not to say other types of films don’t have a chance, but for a breakout screenplay your 120 pages of script must be first rate or better.

 

Something To Consider 

For those writers who choose to go down this perilous path of writing, here is a list of blogs that might help you on your way……..or a more likely scenario……they might provide good reading, while you convert your unsold screenplay to novella or novel.

From Writer’s Digest

In the May/June WD issue, there were three screenwriting blogs included with the 101. They are as follows: MovieBytes, The Script Lab and the blog by John August. Movie Bytes is a good place to go for info on upcoming screenwriting contests. This site also contains mucho info on previously released movies. The Script Lab is another blog singled out by WD. They provide a wide cross-section of useful tips that includes many reviews and trailers.  John August is a commercially successful screewriting who promotes his blog with the slogan, “a ton of useful information”. This is not an understatement.

Some of My Favorites 

Here are the screenwriting blogs that I most commonly visit.

Screenwriting from IowaScott W. Smith really does live in Iowa, where he posts several times a week on various topics related to screenwriting. Just goes to show you don’t have to live in southern California to keep abreast of events in Hollywood.

The Bitter Script Reader – This guy has actually been reading Hollywood scripts for the last seven years. No wonder he’s bitter. To keep his true identity a secret, this irreverent commentator goes by the name of Zuul. His comments are fun to read, but I kind of miss the talking puppet. Maybe Zuul will bring back his animated sidekick soon.

The Black List Blog – The Black List is the digital equivalent to screenwriting agents. Even in this new century, you can still get an agent, but the best route for newbie writers trying to crack the big time is to get your script posted and read at the Black List. That in itself makes this a most interesting website and blog.

Inktip – Inktip is simular to the Black List in that it helps fledgling screewriters get there prospective hit movies out there. Membership is free and do receive a weekly listing on who is looking for what. Still a long shot, but just paying attention to what’s current could be helpful.

Screenwriting Goldmine – A British site that operates in much the same manner as inktips. Sign up and you’ll some info on what British producers are looking for in screenplays. If you can match your script to a producer’s request, you might get lucky.

And then there’s this new site called the Bitch Pack. Go there and judge for yourself.

 

 

 

Advertising changes with the times
Advertising changes with the times, from flickr

Sign of the Times

In recent years one of my most frequently-visited screenwriting blogs has been an irreverent site called “Just Effing Entertain Me”, run by an experienced insider, named Julie Gray. Right now, this particular blog has ceased, only to be replaced by a website promoting her consulting business. In April, Julie just started blogging again from the Middle East. You can read all about the screenwriter in her newfound home at Stories Without Borders.

Welcome To the Digital Age

Like everything else in today’s world, the business of writing a screenplay is changing all the time. Always remember good writing will find its voice…….somewhere, though it might be where you least expect it. So long for now.

Digital devices are everywhere, from Wikipedia, photo by Tomas Castelazo
Digital devices are everywhere, from Wikipedia, photo by Tomas Castelazo