The Longest Reply

Writer waiting for an e-mail reply, biblical painting by William Blake

In My Inbox

Today, in my e-mail inbox I received another form rejection. That in itself is nothing out of the ordinary, for I get these things all the time. But what set this particular reply apart from all the other replies is that it took the agent, two years and three months to return the e-mail. I’m sure in the overall scheme of things this is no record, but for my particular literary endeavors it is definitely a major milestone, for I have never had to wait so long for a rejection.

A Glimmer of Hope

And then from all the information conveyed to me by this agent, who I will allow to remain anonymous, there was this little glimmer of hope.

“Regarding your submission, while there’s much to like, I’m afraid I’m not connecting enough emotionally to your characters, which ultimately means I’m not connecting enough with the content of your story. “

This in itself wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that it was obviously part of a form letter. A few original words would have been greatly appreciated, but I guess it just wasn’t going to happen on this day. Maybe this agent would have been better off, if he had sent no reply at all. After all that seems to be the current form of saying no.

 

How Not To Write a Short Story

Homer writing
Homer writing on a memo pad. As convenient as this method is, most writers would probably prefer a desk and a typewriter, where they can sit down and compose sentences on a solid surface. I wonder if Homer actually scribbled out the Iliad and the Odyssey using this archaic method.

About the Short Story

Short stories are often considered the building blocks of the literary world. Learn to write a good short, and all of a sudden you will find that your avenues of literary communication have broadened dramatically. For example, the short story format can be expanded to create a screenplay, a stage play or a novella. Another alternative is to string together a linked series of short stories to create a full length novel. No matter, how you look at it, putting together a good short is nothing but beneficial to writers of all levels.

Following are a few methods you might consider when you desire to shortcut the creative process.

Get Hammered and Just Let The Words Flow Onto The Paper

Homer Simpson drinking with a friend
Homer Simpson drinking with a friend

Alcohol has long been a substance associated with and abused by writers, especially of the male gender. Furthermore, writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Hunter Thompson were sometimes associated with doing their best work while under the influence. With Hemingway this is mostly myth, for even though the American novelist was often photographed in bars and taverns with a drink in hand, most observers believe that Ernest usually did not crack open a bottle until he was done writing for the day.

Unfortunately, such is not the case for his Parisian ex-pat buddy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who according to his buddy, Ernest, had a horrendous drinking problem. In fact, the publication of A Movable Feast, which describes in sordid detail, F. Scott’s Parisian drinking escapades, was not published until after Hemingway’s death, in part, due to the stark portrayal of Fitzgerald and other American ex-pats .

Unfortunately, F. Scott Fitzgerald is not the only notable writer to have died at early age from alcohol abuse. Other members of this not-so-elite- club include Jack Kerouac, Jack London, Dylan Thomas and Edgar Allan Poe. Fortunately, the women seemed to have fared better with the bottle, though they are not exempt from the excesses of imbibing.

Write An Outline and Spend Lots of Time Getting Organizing Before You Actually Begin Writing

Homer Simpson actually has a very organized mind.
Contrary to popular perception, Homer actually has a very organized mind.

There are two schools of thought here. The first is to outline, organize and pre-plan thoroughly before you actually glue your ass to the chair and churn out a manuscript, ASAP. After all if it worked for Jack Kerouac (On The Road), it will surely work for you.

The second is to write by the seat of pants, but who really wants to put words down in that fashion.

P.S. Other novels that were penned in very short order include Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), Enders Game (Orson Scott Card), The Gambler ( Fyodor Dostoyevsky) and A Catcher In the Rye (J.D. Salinger).

Play It Safe, Don’t Take Any Risks

Homer making himself comfortable
Homer making himself comfortable.

The more comfortable you are, the better your writing will be. Just look at Homer.

Seek Out Agents and Publishers As You Write

homer on the phone
homer on the phone

If you got a really great idea, the publishing world will flock to your doorstep. No need to have the whole manuscript written out beforehand, just get the general gist of your concept down on paper, and then start making contacts. The rest should be relatively easy.

 Write Only About Your Own Experiences

Homer networking
Homer networking

All you have to do is follow that old axiom, Write What You Know; you can’t go wrong. If Mark Twain said it, it must be good advice. Even today, an up and coming writer will see and hear this said from all sorts of sources. Best advice is to follow this attitude religiously and if you happen to come across a Nobel Prize winner who advises differently, you should discard those words immediately.

 

A Writer’s Quickie Guide To New Year Resolutions

Homer Simpson busy at work at the typewriter
Though seldom used today, the typewriter is a perfectly acceptable means of writing.

It Really Doesn’t Matter How You Write

I guess it kind of goes without saying that it doesn’t matter so much as to how you put the words down, just so long as you write. Really, all you need is a pen or pencil and something to write on. Paper products, such as notebooks, napkins, paper towels or actual plain sheets of paper are preferred, but in all honesty, it doesn’t matter what the material is.

Corn writing is not recommended because the writing surface is left exposed to the elements
However, Corn Writing is not recommended because the writing surface is left exposed to the elements, which can lead to a rapid deterioration of your content.

Resolutions Condensed

The following New Year’s resolutions are condensed so that you will have more time to enjoy the New Year’s festivities. You can worry about writing something profound after the First of the Year.

OK, guys and dolls, here they are…..Write better and more often and sober. Try something new, finish it. NETWORK!!! Procrastinate less and read more. And don’t forget that perfectionism is the death of creativity.

There you go; I can’t be much more precise than that. Now go out and party and don’t think about writing until next year.

Happy New Year everybody
Happy New Year everybody

Don’t Write What You Do Know, Write What You Don’t Know

Even though N.C. Wyeth was born too late (1882) to know any actual pirates, his paintings and illustrations of these colorful characters still inspire viewers today.
Even though N.C. Wyeth was born too late (1882) to know any actual pirates, his paintings and illustrations of these colorful characters still inspire viewers today. This illustration was first published in Treasure Island.

You might say that writing memoir is like pirating your own life.

Quotation From Toni Morrison

“When I taught creative writing at Princeton, my students had been told all of their lives to write what they knew. I always began the course by saying, “Don’t pay any attention to that.” First, because you don’t know anything and second, because I don’t want to hear about your true love and your mama and your papa and your friends.”  by Toni Morrison

Good-bye To The Memoir

Everyone seems to start out writing memoir,  and perhaps…….the unfortunate ones get successful at it. Look at Jack Kerouac. His second novel On the Road was a smash hit. It even got him on national TV……but at age 47, Jack was dead, victim of severe alcohol abuse. Jack London didn’t fare much better after his series of successful fiction and non-fiction titles. I’m sure everyone has read the short story, To Build a Fire, but how many know that he died at a young age of 40 from a complication of various medical problems including alcoholism.

Now it’s also very possible that having the name of Jack may have lead to the early demise of these successful authors, but no matter how you feel about this premise, I still think that evolution beyond the first person narrative is a good thing for a writer. Just by looking at the lives of famous authors, you might postulate that writing the truth can be a difficult thing to outlive.

Recent picture of Toni Morrison
Recent picture of Toni Morrison

Say Hello To an Octogenarian Novelist and College Professor

Her name is Toni Morrison and she teaches fiction writing at Princeton University. She is also a Nobel Prize (1993 for Literature) recipient and her 11th novel, called God Help the Child, is due to be released this month and is probably already on the bookstands. (Sorry I haven’t been to a bookstore lately, so I can’t verify this.) In a recent interview with her old editor and collaborator, Alan Rinzler, Toni delves into how it is important for young writers to get away from the old concept of “write what you know” and venture into the brave new world of “write what you don’t know”. This may be an invaluable piece of advice for writers regardless of age or experience level.

Maybe It’s Better To Fib A Little

So, what’s the moral of the story here. Well, it goes like this. If you fib a little bit, then you might live longer. It’s kinda like eating hard candy and drinking red wine. That is when done in moderation these things, which are supposed to be bad for you actually relieve some of your stress, thus leading to a longer life.

A very imaginative painting by N.C. Wyeth, entitled Giant
A very imaginative painting by N.C. Wyeth, entitled Giant

This surreal painting is simply called Giant. It was done by the master illustrator and painter, N.C. Wyeth. Just in case you’ve never heard of Newell Convers Wyeth he is the first generation of that famous American triad, which also features Andrew and Jamie. If you ever get a chance to see this painting in person, go do it. You won’t regret it, for this is an impressive, large oil painting that will most likely completely take over any space where it is exhibited.

A Few Words On Writing Historical Fiction

1024px-Boston_Tea_Party-1973_issue-3c

Fact or Fiction

Fact and fiction are a strange pair of bedfellows. One might think that fictional episodes might provides the strangest stories, but in reality, it is often true episodes that provide the most bizarre tales.

Spoofing History

When I was in grade school, I acquired a Smother’s Brothers LP, where they did a short sketch on the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. Though short, the routine was hilarious and may have provided a bit of inspiration to this story. Looking at the success that these two brothers had in spoofing America, one can only conclude making fun of our past might lead to some success.

Getting Your Facts Straight

Just because you are presenting an alternate history to the mainstream version, does not mean that you can skimp on the little details of everyday life. Things like dress, architecture, mannerisms and even language should fit the times as best you can. This may take some research and in the process you may surprised as to some of the information that you might come across.

When writing Colonial Capers, I wanted to use the type of Elizabethan English that might have been used by the Pilgrims. During my inquiry, I found out that by the time of the Revolution, this style of speaking had all but died out, so I dropped all the thees and thous. Nonetheless, I did come across some very colorful Colonial slang that was used in the years just prior to the Revolution.

My Venture

My venture consists of a short story, based on events surrounding the Boston Tea Party, which occurred in December of 1773. The tale is called Colonial Capers and is set before, during and after the famous action. The story is meant as a satire on the Colonial era and American history in general. Presently, it available through Smashwords. Here is the link.

 In a darkened boathouse on the edge of Boston Harbor, Phineas Phillips and a small band of dissidents sit                   quietly watching two British ships that are at anchor along the Pearl Street Wharf. Soon a band of heathen              Indians will board the two schooners and toss all the tea into the harbor. With advance knowledge of what                may happen, Phineas and friends have a different plan in mind.

 

ColonialCapers

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

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

What Other Writers Have To Say

 

Sign in a Santa Fe shop window, photo by author
Sign in a Santa Fe shop window, photo by author

Sunday Blues

Since I have nothing to add to the blogosphere on this hot July Sunday afternoon, I just thought I’d pass along a few comments and quotes by some of the more noted authors. I have culled these little gems from my internet musings over the past week and I may attempt to continue this effort on a weekly or bi-weekly basis if time allows.

The Quotes

1. “I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.” by Steve Martin

2. “The cliffhanger — which sounds like a weird sex move or a particularly diligent dingleberry – isn’t just for use at the end of a book.” by Chuck Wendig

3. “The good news is that anyone can get published. The bad news is that anyone can get published.” by David Henry Sterry

4. “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.” Robert Graves

5. “It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.” by C. J. Cherryh

6. “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” by Kurt Vonnegut

7. “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.” by Will Rogers

8. The best of us must sometimes eat our words.” by J.K. Rowling

9. “From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” by Sir Winston Churchill

10. “Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.” by Steve Martin

11. “I can have oodles of charm when I want to,” by Kurt Vonnegut

To Be a Good Storyteller You Need To Fib A Little Bit

Puppets of Pinnocchio in Istanbul, from wikipedia, photo by maurice07
Puppets of Pinocchio in Istanbul, from wikipedia, photo by maurice07

True Storytelling

Pinocchio may have been ridiculed in the old Italian folk tale, but if he was alive today, he might have a bright future as a fiction writer. Fact may be stranger than fiction, but some of the best storytelling comes from stretching a tale just a wee bit…unless, of course,  your name is Jack Kerouac and  you have a wild-eyed and revolutionary friend like Neal Cassady.

Or you can go for the big one that got away, which is kind of what Carlo Collodi did when he created his serialized children’s story, The Adventures of Pinocchio. Not does the story of Pinnocchio reveal an important moral lesson for children (Yes your lies will catch up with you eventually), but also it may transmit  a more sinister truth to those authors who pine for a bigger audience. And that is sometimes it is the bigger falsification that wins over the most fans. Where would be today without such irrational classic of literature, as Jack and the BeanstalkAlice in Wonderland, The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen, The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver’s Travels or Harry Potter.

A woman scolding
A woman scolding

Little Fibs

Sometime,s it is the little fib that is most effective. In fact, there are a thousand places a struggling writer can ramp up a placid scene with stretching the action a wee bit. One of the first places that comes to mind is the bedroom, where there may be an encounter going on between two consenting adults. A little fib here can go a long ways in enhancing a story. But don’t limit your simple lies to the bedroom, for the sky is the limit with this aspect of storytelling. One of my favorite short stories to illuminate this point is The Three Hermits by Leo Tolstoy. Towards the end of the story, three fisherman pursue a boat, where a pious bishop is a passenger. The scene reveals that the three men are running across the water, “as though it were dry land”. All in all, this final scene of the story uses humor, a touch of fantasy and a biblical metaphor to make a point about faith in Christianity.

fish story

The Whopper

If you want to make a really big impression, why not go for the story, so far flung that nobody will believe it. This may sound like bad advice on the outside, but in reality it is some of our most preposterous tales that have eventually evolved into our most cherished fireside stories. By skewing all relationships to reality, the author can open the door for scathing satire, ridicule and contempt. To the novice this writer, this might be dangerous territory, but when done correctly, this type of treatment can turn a mundane take into a story for the ages.

 

 

It Takes More Than Good Writing Skills To Be An Author

The joker as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger
The joker as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger

Bad Morning

I thought I was not having a very good day until I saw the mug shot of Greg Jarrett, the Fox news anchor, who got arrested in the Twin Cities airport. His picture wasn’t so bad, but Huffington Post decided to add a little insult with a  slide show of  Bad Mug Shots. Sad as some of them were, I did manage a robust chuckle, at viewing other peoples’ misery. Maybe Mr. Jarrett should check out some of these mug shots. It might make him feel a little bit better, but I bet he’s got a hell of a hangover this morning and most likely doesn’t feel like doing too much. I guess this whole story is a little bit like reading the newspaper to see if your name is in the obituary.

The Original Nipper from the RCA Victola add, photo from wikipedia
The Original Nipper from the RCA Victola add, photo from wikipedia

Goin’ Audio

The other day I visited one of the more popular writer/bloggers, Jeff Goins. And to my surprise Mr. Goins had transcribed his post to an audio podcast. I clicked on it and about five minutes later I heard a strange voice come trailing out of my computer, describing the three steps to launching a writing career and also extolling the virtues of being a writer.

What this little episode underscores…… is that it just got a whole lot easier to convert your short story or novella to an audio podcast and then market the recording along with your ebook and /or tree book. The company that is spearheading this movement is called ACX. To learn more about creating your own audiobook, you can visit Joanna Penn’s informative post.

Slideshare

Another option for budding and energetic authors is to create a slide show describing and detailing your book. Nowadays online slide shows are routinely employed by large, popular websites such as Huntington Post, Yahoo and CNN. Now there is a startup company (it’s called Slideshare) that can help you put together your own slide show. Fortunately they also have a large website where you can post you series of pictures and hopefully direct visitors to your ebook or whatever. This site is called Slideshare and if you want more info, again go to one of Joanna’s posts to learn more.

very few writers still use a typewriter, from wikipedia
very few writers still use a typewriter, from wikipedia

 

It’s Still All About the Writing

If you’re serious about your writing, who has the time to deal with all alternative ways of promoting and selling your story. Both Slideshare and ACX seem like they could be of great benefit to the indie writer/self-publisher. The only problem is that each venue requires a learning curve and a level of involvement that would exhaust the average writer. The only solution here is to recruit a small circle of talented artisans who can help you get your story out……..Writing just ain’t what it used to be.