Flash – Out Touched

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A flash fiction for review and comment. I am beginning the new revision of Devil’s Gut. This is an exercise for the ol’ writing muscle! I welcome comments and criticism.

“It is harder to deprive oneself of a pain than a pleasure.”

 

Custard Out-Touched

 

The thought arrived in a puff of smoke.

 

“Possession is nine points of the law,” she thought. Kim looked across the room to watch Jerry, her husband of 15 years. He had turned on the television to watch the Olympics, but his gaze only encountered the television sporadically.

 

She could feel his eyes watching, trying to read her mind.

 

Without warning a pain shot around her ribs and rose before settling between her ears, pinching her brain with an unrelenting pressure. She knew it would pass in a moment, but the impulse to respond had to be checked, somehow.

 

“I think a little ride would do wonders, Jer.”

 

“You think that’s wise?”

 

“Jere, please!”

 

“I’ll go with you-“

 

“I’m fine! It’s been two weeks. I just want to ride 76 South to Abbott’s for a custard. You know, ride with the windows down and feel the rush of air.”

 

“And that’s all?”

 

She looked at Jere as if his anything else was incredulous.

 

The announcer on the television interrupted with the introduction of Michael Phelps in the 200 meter butterfly, his signature event. They both paused to watch him stride along the pool, headsets fixed in his ear and waving to the applauding crowd. They were distracted for a brief moment while history played out before their eyes – history, if swimming mattered to you and the number of gold medals accrued by one athlete.

 

“This is his moment; but he’s not the fastest time in the pool, you know.”

 

“He’s got eighteen medals! Jeez, Jere. You can’t take that away. Possession is nine points of the law.”

 

“Some think you’re only as good as your last race.”

 

“Yeah, well…” and Kim’s mind drifted to her last race. Another pain challenged her mask threatening to break open the pain shooting through her ribs and back. The grinding of her teeth was almost imperceptible, except perhaps for Jere.

 

“You’re mother called me at work today-“

 

“Oh, let me guess! Mommy dearest was blaming you for my condition.”

 

Jere rolled his eyes back to the television, where the eight swimmers were all poised on the blocks. The shot sounded and eight bodies launched themselves into the water.

 

“The butterfly is a ridiculously inefficient stroke. Look at that! It’s just not natural.”

 

Jere grunted.

 

“It’s got to be painful!”

 

Jere’s eyes cut back towards Kim. She felt the indictment. There was pain there, too.

 

Kim and Jere watched as the swimmers made the turn and lunged home repeatedly.

 

“So, tell me where the butterfly is! Who thinks this is a butterfly?”

 

They watched as the swimmers neared the wall, Phelps clearly in the lead; the South African closing.

 

“Damn! He’s gonna do it, Jere! Oh, my God! Look-“

 

There was much splashing of water and frenzied applause. Phelps finished second; the South African Chad Le Cos out touched him at the wall.

 

“Jeez, honey! Didn’t he do that to someone in Beijing?”

 

She did not hear him only watched in disbelief. The pain brought her back. She stood up hoping to mask her discomfort.

 

“You’re hurting aren’t you?”

 

“I’m gonna go for a ride.”

 

“You didn’t answer me. You’re hurting, aren’t you.”

 

“It’s how I know I’m alive.”

 

“You selfish bitch.”

 

“It’s my body, what the hell does it matter? We’re all dead anyway.”

 

Jere switched the tv off with the remote and stood up. Kim walked past him toward the door; he grabbed her by the arm.

 

“What are yo-“

 

Jere pushed up the sleeve to bare her upper arm. He looked up from the naked arm.

 

“You took it off…”

 

“Life never cared for me anyway. The pain tells me I’m still alive-“

 

“What about my pain? What does that tell you? Everyday I die a little?”

 

“We’ve been over this too many times, Jere.”

 

“What kind of perverse pleasure can you get from a cigarette?”

 

“Actually, none. Pleasure is… simply something to mask the pain. The pain is real. That’s how I know I’m alive.”

 

She pulled her arm away, smoothing the sleeve back down her arm. She had gone more than two weeks without a cigarette following this last operation; that was two weeks too long. He didn’t understand her desperation for the only life she’s known. She ripped the patch off this morning; she had to.

 

“Don’t go out that door, Kim! You’re not going for Abbott’s, are you?”

 

“Certainly, I am.”

 

She gave him a light peck on his cheek, grabbed the keys from the hook, and disappeared out the garage door.

 

Jere flicked the TV on again. The commentators were discussing Phelps’ lack of desire in the last moments of the race. Pictures of him standing on the platform in the silver medal position were humbling and disturbing both.

 

Jere knew he would be blamed yet again. Hell, his mother-in-law would probably blame him for Phelps’ silver medal finish. Jere settled into his chair, the silver reflections of the TV flashing across his otherwise expressionless face.

 

Traffic was heavy on 76, darkness beginning to saturate the air. The intense lights of an oncoming tractor trailer caught Kim’s eye. Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel. Her hands, on the steering wheel drifted to her left. The blaring horn should have startled her. Then she felt the comforting pain, but only for an instant. It was over.

 

The television blared, a sleeping Jere completely relaxed into his recliner. He almost didn’t hear the the phone ring.

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That Silly Modulating Voice

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It becomes abundantly clear that Devil’s Gut is not done -yet.

After flirting with and then being chased by self-publishing companies, I have chosen to be a traditionalist. My latest submission, which engendered a request for a full manuscript submission, resulted in a ‘decline’. The decline came complete with comments, some of which I will admit are valid. The most telling was pacing. If I am honest with myself, that is a valid criticism. The rejection took a full six weeks to happen and in that time I was still working on the manuscript, excising more than 8000 words.

This experience raises an interesting issue. Intuition.

In the back of my mind, the feeling that pace was at times tedious, a result of too much irrelevant detail, whispered its objection, to which I covered my ears. Storytelling, I tell myself, is a natural and instinctive trait to the human specie. Intuition will tell me when I am sentimental, sophomoric, or pretentious. I am, however, guilty of ignoring or suppressing my intuition, for whatever reason, and rushing headlong in the heat of creation. I can probably remove another 1000 words at a minimum.

Instinct also tells me that I can put back several thousand of those words in better character development. The adrenalin charge from creating a story that basically works blinded me to the fact that there were still gaps in the character development. Is that possible – a story that works but lacking in character development?

Certainly. It’s called sketching; there is no complete storytelling. I know the weakness was there, in the back of my mind. I suppressed it. Why? Lack of trust in my own instinct? A lack of respect for my own sense of authenticity?

Confidence in one’s instinct need not be arrogance. It can be, for sure. If our voice is somehow connected to something internal then we should not fear the internal modulation of that tiny little voice. I need to respect my own talent, let my talent speak. It is amazing how self-destructive I can be!

Yesterday was a terrible day; I have never seen so much rain in one day. Given the nature of the day, I abstained from life. I grabbed a Grisham novel off the shelf, curled up in a comfortable chair and read. Grisham is a commercial writer of significant success. As I read Testament, the flow of his language struck me. I looked quickly to my own manuscript. For the most part, it flowed too; not everywhere, however. Again, I knew that too. How? That silly little voice in the back of my head. I know what good writing feels like physically, vocally, and emotionally. Much of my manuscript felt that way – but not all. Once again, I knew that too; if I allowed myself to know it!

At one point during the day, I went on line to read several of the group discussions at Writer’s Digest. There was on young woman who had posted several pages of an opening chapter for comment. There was too much information in an opening monologue that troubled me. Then, as I reread, I felt the language and it didn’t flow; too many extra words that didn’t say anything, only qualified the sense of the moment. The language was not on point. It tip-toed through the opening scene as if apologizing for itself, or fearing to take a stand. Lights went on all over my brain. Listen to your brain, dude! It’s the best editor available – and free!!

The resulting conclusion is one I really wanted in the first place; I’ll say no to self-publishing for the near future. Using the notes from the agent and my own newly discovered self-respect, we shall address this manuscript one more time. If I produce a manuscript that feels right to me and it is still rejected, then it’s on to self-publishing, make an end to this story and move on to the next.

Isn’t self-respect a wonderful thing?

The Pearl On East Fourth

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“There is a hotel on Broadway that has escaped discovery by promoters.” A flash fiction for comment. Please offer your comments.

The Pearl on East Fourth

“What is this? You on a diet or sumptin’?” Alex Acacia spread a toothy grin to welcome his frequent customer.

“No, just some of your coffee this morning, Al. The coffee that doesn’t need a cup, just a handle to carry it,” answered Kyle Creswell. Kyle usually started his day with coffee and Greek pastry from the Acacia Greek Market on East Fourth Street.

“Very funny, mister! How’s the flea-bag today?”

The flea-bag was the Pearl Inn on East Fourth St. They advertised it as near Broadway; a half-block is technically near. The question is near what? NoHo was just a little north and east. The Bowery and numerous Off-Off-Off Broadway theaters and The Public were nearby. The ultimate destination is not the best way to describe this area at East Fourth and Broadway.

The best local color was an open-air market on Fourth, selling most anything you might want, somethings you might not want. A stroll through this market on an early Saturday morning might lead one to imagine a European or Mediterranean market. There were few caucasians. Language was not necessarily an easy clue to location. Indian, Slavic, Farsi, Hebrew, Spanish, and Italian, were spoken, to name a few.

A quick look around and one comes to the conclusion the area is struggling, happily, purposefully, but nevertheless struggling.

“Flea-bag! Gimme a break, Alex-”

“Gimme a local rate, Kyle!”

“Gimme a local rate on the coffee, Acacia!”

“Coffee is coffee. I lose money on coffee. It’s a courtesy for our customers.” Alex smiled, grabbed a pastry paper and wrapped up several Loukoumedes, small donuts, and put them in a bag. The snap of the bag woke Kyle from his daydream.

“For you, my friend. Specialty donuts of Greece. Eating is what you do, while you’re waiting to die! Be good, be happy, and run along.”

Kyle released a belly laugh setting free all those wonderful endorphins that make one feel good. He raised the bag in a salute to Acacia and grabbed the ubiquitous white styrofoam cup trimmed in a blue Greek-inspired trim, a kind of ocean graphic. Kyle pushed the door open and stepped into a flowing stream of people where he was swept up and Saturday morning on Broadway and East Fourth.

Christina Acacia rushed out from the back spewing Greek venom, chastising Alex for giving away pastry. He argued in kind, waving his arms as frantically as did his wife. They jawed for the next couple of minutes, before Alex threw up his hands and screamed. An accurate translation of the body language would be, “Get the fuck off my back! He’s a good kid who comes in here regular and I don’t know how long he’s gonna have a job!” Greeks are spectacular with body language.

Christina turned quiet muttering something and waving her hands like signing. Translation: “I’m sorry, but we could be out of business too, you know.”

A simple shrug of the shoulders and tip of the head said, “Ok, Ok, Ok, Ok” He leveled a steely look at her as to say, “Now, get back to your work my little honeyed baklava!” She turned and he slapped her on the rump. She turned momentarily, smiled, and rolled her eyes before leaving. She stopped at the swinging door and looked back. This time in English, “Why, Alex?”

“Why else? NoHo,” and he gestured vaguely toward the northeast.

“And us?”

“Get that pretty little rump back there before I-”

He was caught off guard by a melodic Greek verbiage spewing all over the store accompanied by waving arms. She disappeared through the swinging door.

Outside, Kyle pulled out his phone to check the time. It was Ok. He still had another twenty minutes before he went on duty. There was ample time to walk the half block down Broadway to Fourth St. At East Fourth St he would turn right and walk another half block to the Pearl, a forty-six room hotel where he worked as the manager. She was built in 1948 and since undergone a number of renovations by numerous owners. The current owner was Indian, Aarush Mohammed.

Kyle loved the hospitality business and loved the old girl called Pearl. Too bad she was sandwiched between a Subway and somewhat seedy department store called Hiram’s. Most buildings in the area had been a warehouse in a former life, much like NoHo to the north. NoHo was now becoming quite the upscale living location of renovated pricey lofts. Kyle loved this old world diversity in New York.

Mohammed barely looked up from the computer as Kyle approached the front desk.

“Morning boss!”

“This month’s ADR is almost 12% lower than last year. Why is that?” Mohammed looked up from his computer and put on his dark framed glasses. “You giving the rooms away?”

Kyle took a sip of his coffee. Yes, sir, that was Acacia Market coffee. Any hair left on your body stands up straight. Coffee with a bite!

“Actually, boss, I’m holding the rates. You reduced them a couple of months ago, so we’re bound to have a drop in the ADR-”

“Get it up. Get what you can get. I want a twenty-five percent increase in gross receipts for this month. I’ve got to have it, Ok?”

Kyle always dreaded these kinds of conversations. In his mind The Pearl was a little gem, given some tender loving care, and 21st Century marketing. They do little with internet marketing; the website is minimal, at best, mostly a non-asset.

“We can do that with a little work, sir.”

Mohammed looked up from his computer, pushing the dark glasses higher on his nose. His eyes narrowed as focused on his young manager.

“I am not spending money I don’t have.”

“But, we could-”

“Get what you can! It is the art of negotiation Mr. Kyle. Mohammed always called him Mr. Kyle. He wanted to scream Creswell! My last name is Creswell!

“Boss! This is a little gem. We could grow a really good business with a little sprucing up and attention to detail. Sure the rooms are small, but there are a lot of people these days coming to the City on a budget. They don’t come to stay in a hotel room, they come here to be in the city. Jeez, where in the heart of the Off-Off Broadway district, close to the Public Theater, La Mama, NYU is growing this way! We should market to colleges and theater groups. Hell, lets go to the hot clubs and theaters and offer special rates for visiting patrons. We could fill it up!”

“That is for someone else; I want my money out of this flea-bag.”

“This is no flea-bag; I’ve made sure of that. I’ve run this efficiently with a minimal staff, sometimes doing the work myself to hold down payroll.”

“You won’t have to do that much longer, Mr. Kyle.”

Mohammed pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Kyle didn’t know what to say; he simply stared at Mohammed waiting for an explanation.

“I’ve been offered a substantial price for this building by a NoHo developer buying three buildings on East Fourth, Subway, Hiram’s, and the Pearl.”

“To do what?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter because the price is more than I paid for this flea-bag.” Mohammed stood up and put his hands on his hips. “We close at the end of the month. But I want what I can get out of it in the remaining weeks. See to it no furniture gets gone. I have a buyer for all of it. Any shortages and I’m penalized.”

Kyle found himself momentarily rooted to the floor. “We close the end of the month?”

“That is correct.”

Some of the best decisions are made in a New York moment.

“Good luck, boss. I’ll leave it with you. And for the record, my name is Creswell. Kyle Creswell.”

Kyle hurried out the front door before he changed his mind or was drawn into some discussion with Mohammed. He hurried down the street, impulsively turned left on Broadway to Alex Acacia’s Market.

“What are you doing, playing hookey?” laughed Alex, “or are you after more of those loukoumedes?”

“Need a refill on coffee, Alex. The Pearl is closing. I’m out of a job. Can’t afford to get drunk, but I can gorge myself on your coffee and baklava!”

“I am so sorry, my friend. I was afraid of that.”

“Don’t be. I’m free, Alex. I’m free to find what I really want.” Kyle pulled a five dollar bill from his pocket and pushed it across the counter. “A refill on coffee and the rest in Baklava, Alex.”

Alex wrapped up the baklava, something more than the money Kyle offered. “Take care of yourself. Will you leave here?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that I’m free of Mr. Mohammed’s warped sense of values.” He waved and walked out the door. Alex followed him to the door where Acacia stood watching Kyle disappear in the crowd. He put his hand up on the door frame and smiled. He continued to stare at the crowd swallowing up Kyle, unaware of his wife’s approach. The light on Alex’s profile caught him in such a way as to mesmerize Christina.

“Alex?” He didn’t hear. “Alex, what are you thinking?”

Alex reluctantly turned to see who was speaking. “Christina. I’m sorry, I was thinking. I didn’t hear you. What did you say?”

“I asked what your were thinking.”

“Fishing. I was thinking about fishing.”

“You’ve never been fishing in your life-”

“I know. My father was a fisherman. I was just thinking about the ocean, the fish, the boat, and me…”

Christina shook her head. “We are almost out of gyros, Acacia.”

Making Sentences

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The claim that one is a writer presumes we know how to make sentences. A writer make sentences; an artist rewrites his sentences. The prerequisite is, of course, an idea. For the moment, we’ll set aside the protocol of grammar required for decoding our ideas. All to often, we start not with a real idea but a desire to write something meaningful. The result is pseudo-writing, rhythms with no underlying beat, adjectives and adverbs piled high, imagery that stretches beyond logic, plunging the reader into a world where frippery masks meaning.

Inauthentic Gives One a Headache

Aspiring to be more than a maker of sentences requires a level of personal honesty and integrity. The authentic is felt; the inauthentic gives one a headache. The responsibility of writing is something few people consider. People are attracted to the honest, the authentic, the unadorned. I know that is no explanation for reality television or Donald Trump; symptoms of insincerity can be compelling – like a four-car pileup.

When trying to corral that elusive voice, the journey starts with making sentences from those most personal of private places, your brain. It requires honesty and integrity to allow your connections and experiences to shape and reshape those ideas into sentences; call it the sense of sentences. Your voice emerges there.

I critiqued a short story for a fellow writer who expressed concern that holding to a single point of view in her story would somehow short-circuit her voice. She had received numerous criticisms of shifting point of view- head hopping. I told her point of view and voice were not interchangeable. Her voice would still shine through regardless of who’s point of view she chose for the story or chapter.

Sense and Sentences

Can this making sentences be practiced? Certainly. A good suggestion is to do it in your head and not on paper. You will be amazed by what you remember. Let the idea roll around. Phrase and rephrase the thought searching for that combination of words that truly embraces the thought. Keeping it in your head gives you the added perspective of editing. We learn to become comfortable in our own mind and comfortable that our thoughts and ideas can be changed, modified, even excised – easily! The byproduct from this process is discovery. I am stunned sometimes by connections I do make when allowing the ideas to rattle around inside.

I suspect this process would be valuable for those times when we are blocked. I know Gore Vidal said that only bad writers have blocks because they have nothing to say. The truth is sometimes the muse sleeps. Even the muse is not an Energizer Bunny; recharging is required. Sometimes you simply wear out a thought process or short-circuit the connectors. That’s not an indictment of talent; it’s talent at rest.

Then, when the sentence is worth inscribing, do so.

This process reminds me of a design professor I had in college who liked to say repeatedly “We don’t take time to think about the things we think about.” For the writer, this is an essential; this is what we do.

Where Is My Voice?

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“Think about it long enough, and you begin to realize that many, if not most, of the things we believe about writing are false.” -Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times

Yesterday I received a rejection from an agent who requested my full manuscript after receiving a query. I was thrilled, inspired, and many other over the top verb forms. The soles of my shoes had a two-week reprieve since I did not touch the ground for at least two weeks.

The Soul and Sole of Writing

The same soles are now working overtime, dragging this chagrined soul following the rejection comments. There were many positive comments regarding the story itself, and I am pleased. One negative comment she made suggested there was too much telling and not enough showing. 

I have heard this axiom bandied about for years, especially in the theater where language-in-action is essential. But novels have always had an element of telling. On the other hand, perhaps this is her way of saying the story is incomplete or lacking something. This reminded me of Eddie Izzard, the British comic who labeled himself an executive transvestite. In one of his routines he makes a statement of perhaps dubious veracity and then shakes his head, as if to say ‘That’s so wrong,’ and after a moment does a take and nods his head yes, as if to say ‘Of course it’s true!’ This flip-flopping proceeds to great comic affect to the point where we no longer remember the statement, simply enjoy the internal flip-flop.

Not long ago, I read a respected blog on writing craft in which the author queried a number of writers regarding their work approach: do they work from an outline or simply start writing. Most, not all, seemed to say they started writing, not sure of where they were going. A significant number professed devotion to the outline process. Looking back on those responses, I believe I hear a little Izzard in those replies. I suspect the only mystery about writing is how many revisions will it take to make it work. Izzard’s internal flip-flopping between yes and no makes me smile.

Quite simply, there’s a lot we don’t know about he writing process

I read an interesting commentary in the Times, of all places, on writing craft, entitled “Where Do Sentences Come From?”

“Sift the debris of a young writer’s education, and you find dreadful things — strictures, prohibitions, dos, don’ts, an unnatural and nearly neurotic obsession with style, argument and transition. Yet in that debris you find no traces of a fundamental question: where do sentences come from? This is a philosophical question, as valuable in the asking as in the answering. But it’s a practical question, too. Think about it long enough, and you begin to realize that many, if not most, of the things we believe about writing are false.” – Where Do Sentences Come From? by Verlyn Klinkenborg, NY Times.

It seems that much of our education, where writing is concerned, is writing to make writing. We rearrange things we’ve been told or read. How many of us begin with an idea? How many of us pose a question? Ultimately, all fiction is a question posed that compels us to seek an answer. How the heck could it be both the best of times and the worst of times? What kind of time is that?

I read this article with great interest since it seemed to be suggesting where I would really find my voice. How we pose a question reveals as much about the author as the journey that follows. Posing the question is imbued with our special point of view and life experience. A well posed question will trigger those things that matter and when we write about things that matter the passion will pull others with us.

“Again and again I see in students, no matter how sophisticated they are, a fear of the dark, cavernous place called the mind. They turn to it as though it were a mailbox. They take a quick peek, find it empty and walk away.” -Verlyn Klinkenborg

Klinkenborg suggests creating ideas in your head, perhaps based on a piece of poetry or anything you have read. Let the thoughts tumble around. Then create a sentence, but don’t write it down. Leave it in your mind, where the sentence can be changed arranged differently or totally discarded.

You need to learn patience in the presence of your own thoughts. That’s why these sentences are not written down. We need to wait patiently for the ideas or thoughts worth inscribing to form. Instant gratification in the computerized, smartphone, digital world is a negative. I have always jokingly suggested to my wife when something is not being down around the house fast enough that “You can’t rush art.” That response may well be procrastination; it is also wise. The same is said for my novel. I can’t rush art.

It’s taken me three years to create a worthwhile story, and it is; worthwhile. I believe the story is worthy of paper and printing process. I’ve come this far; I should finish.

The agent also suggested that pacing was a problem. I can see that, and since the time I first sent her the manuscript and today I have excised more than 8,000 words. Perhaps we are just beginning to realize Vidal’s ‘constant revision.’ He reportedly said one time, “I have nothing to say, only add.” Constant revision is required; writing is rewriting. The self-publishing world might be tugging at the instant gratification of this current world. You can’t rush art!

Patience and rewriting my fellow scribes.

Another Bubble?

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“The dizzying pace at which US consumers were switching from print to digital couldn’t last forever. Based on the numbers being published by the AAP, with a huge assist in interpretation by Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch, it seems that the slowdown has become very noticeable in the past 12 months.”  –The Shatzkin Files

I am no economist; my checking account offers irrefutable evidence.

Yet the economics of the epublishing and the entire self-publishing world fills me with apprehension. The rush to digital has had a profound impact on the economics of publishing, rather like a gold-rush. Unfortunately, there are many people with a pan-full of fool’s gold. Have we traded one dream for another? Is it true that good stories will always rise to the surface?

First The Slowdown

The latest report from the Shatzkin Files documents current research in the apparent slowdown of epublishing sales. Between the years of ’07 and ’11 sales more than doubled each year, a remarkable increase for any business model. April numbers show a more modest growth for this year – in the neighborhood of 37%.

“Cader also cites reports from Penguin and Simon & Schuster to document the slowdown. Penguin says ebook sales growth was about 33% in the first half of 2012. And Lunch reports that Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, told them she expects about 30% growth in ebook sales during 2012. That would almost certainly constitute their (or anybody else’s) fastest-growing sales channel, but it sure isn’t the annual doubling and tripling (or more) we had seen for several years.” -Shatzkin Files

One explanation offered is the success publishers have had in driving up ebook prices, a situation that may be changed with the Department of Justice case resolution. If collusion is found and the shackles removed from Amazon then sales might rebound.

Once upon a time, we looked at books on a shelf with the New York Times Best Seller list in hand. That model of consumption has changed and brick and mortar stores are finding it difficult to compete. There is also a shift to digital by many of the bigger publishing houses and big named authors. With the development of the multi-function devices – away from dedicated readers- it is more difficult to track what is really happening.

All of This Makes My Head Hurt

I suppose there will always be a New York Times Best Seller list… as long as there is a New York Times. The new twist is perhaps a large underground type of network of niche marketing for independent novels. To me this means low prices. People will not risk $25 on an unknown. The author, and at this moment fiction seems to command some 60% or more of the market, must be a superior marketing guru! He or she must find and develop a dedicated audience to whom they market on a continuing basis.

I don’t know about you folks, but it’s difficult enough to conceive and produce the novel (and all the attendant rewrites), without having to create the marketing channels too! And work! And pay the bills! Mow the lawn! As the King of Siam would say, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…”

Sometimes, it seems it’s not enough to just imagine and write!

For me, this Shatzkin File report clarifies my decision to try yet one more round of submissions, now that I’ve finished this last edit. Research the Writer’s Digest agents and publishers list for the most likely fit and put it out there again.

This choice helps me with another aspect of my latest dilemma: putting the project to bed and moving on to the next project. I fear once the book is epublished, interest by publishing houses would be non-existant, unless the general public rang up huge sales and publishers wanted a piece of the action. Letting go is very difficult; but, I feel necessity driving me forward.

Irony thy name is self-publishing. Breaking through is daunting. Somebody will figure this out. Why not me?

The Money Revision

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“The reason my early books are so bad is because I never had the time or the money to afford constant revisions.” -Gore Vidal

How true. Contemplating this reinvention process of mine and the state of my book, I thoroughly appreciate Mr. Vidal’s perspective. This is a perspective I find perplexing as well. Constant revision is time and money. I have spent approximately three years working on Devil’s Gut. The first draft came in at a whopping 204,000 words of pretentious drivel. Subsequent passes narrowed the focus and the length, coming in at 82,000 words; 80,000 was the goal.

A thorough researching of the self-publishing world has produced feelings of ambivalence. In some cases the investment is hefty. The issue obviously is not so much making an investment as availability of funds to do so.

Popularsoda.com is a website for epublishing. A recent post entitled Three Serious Questions About Self-Promotion Strategy, brought into focus one of the most basic questions about self-publishing. “Is the book worthy?”

A Necessary Evil?

Every self-publishing company offers a plethora of editing and development options for the self-publishing author – all for a fee, obviously. Within my circle of friends, several could certainly do a spelling and grammatical line edit. I would also trust their commentary regarding story, too. Still, one wonders about the real quality of the story. Stories of fine books rejected by the gatekeepers are widely celebrated; the filtering system is not perfect, but I suspect largely successful. This is arguable from the standpoint of the unpublished author seeking representation, the scribe swimming upstream one among millions of wannabe writers.

Revisions are the stuff of writing and Vidal’s mention of constant revision is telling. How much constant is enough? That’s a tough question, one which ultimately comes down to when is it ready – or worthy.

My gut feeling is that the query process should be revisited one more time. If nothing happens then I shall epublish since it is the most economical of choices. The critical criteria are: (1) Maintaining control (2) copyright (3) An ISBN number.

Publish and Perish?

Is that the end of Devil’s Gut? Unless the epublishing response is overwhelming, that’s likely end of the Devil’s Gut journey and time to move on to the next project – a prequel, which is already rumbling around my head.

Giving up one’s child is a terrible thing. Letting go is always traumatic.

If you have experienced this dilemma as a writer, please let me know.

Presence

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It is a mystery of life, this presence. Some people have it; some athletes have it; only the best performers have it. A person enters a room and all heads turn in their direction. They are a happening, an event, possessing a magnetism that by their very presence commands attention. Notice I said commands; arrogance demands.

Presence is not something one cultivates, specifically. Presence is rather the sum of many other personality traits such as confidence, determination, and purpose-  people with a purpose are always recognizable by their focus. We seem to have a nose for purpose. Purpose is attractive, addictive, and generally enthralling. Michael Phelps’ last relay was purposeful and it was difficult to take your eyes from him as he stood on the blocks awaiting his leg of the race and his purpose. Cameras could not resist cutting away to the waiting Phelps. 

Purpose is a mysterious and intoxicating aspect of good story-telling, too. Seeking answers to fundamental questions drives us to turn the page.

On another level, this purposeful presence surrounds us in ways that we do not always see or understand. It is; and the disappearance of presence is profound.

Yesterday, a very dear person’s presence escaped this earthly realm. The moment of passing is a moment of supreme mystery. However silent and restful that person may be, presence is felt. In an instant, it evaporates, disappears, escapes our awareness. The moment is every bit as magical as an infant taking its first breath. Both moments are highly purposeful; they are charged with purpose.

My mother-in-law was a very purposeful woman; she was put on this earth to teach. Her life was defined by teaching, whether it was her own students, my children, and more recently, her great-grand children. She taught a respect for the written word and a profound love for the natural world. Mother Nature’s instinctive nurturing of things that bloom exemplified her life. That’s what a teacher does.

It is inspirational that the journey of writing parallels this teaching experience. All of us that seek a writer’s life are motivated by the purposeful natural instinct to nurture that which blooms.

Thank you, Sue. I pray we may all bloom.

Simple Math

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“Flowers spring forth in full blossom on the first try; they may be the only thing to do so. Writers don’t.”  -Me

I recently observed a lengthy exchange of posts on a well-respected writing internet site where a first time author had posted a query letter for his 135,000-word novel. The writer asked for comments and suggestions; he received them. Most were constructive, one or two were perhaps hard. The letter was fraught with grammatical and content issues. One respondent suggested the writer’s use of semicolons was criminal; needless to say, the author took umbrage with the remarks.

I wrote him a reply sympathetic to his situation and explaining that if he is going to seek publication he is opening himself to all manner of criticism by the gatekeepers. Better to have another writer tell you a query lacks grammatical form and an appropriate content shape than receive no reply or the standard ‘not a fit for our agency.’

When Are We Ready?

Any bullet list of steps to preparing your manuscript for submission, and they are bountiful, will state very near the beginning that the manuscript must be polished. Even self-publishing houses will caution the writer about the quality. I understand they are also looking to market their editing and development services, too. It’s a business; the writer needs to act like a business, not an artist. As a matter of business, 130,000 word first novel may just be bad business! It’s too long; paper costs are high. I have read agent admonitions about length where they require an explanation of length if the work eclipses 100,000 words.

Catch-22

The dilemma is very real. If the manuscript is not grammatically free of errors and well developed, it’ll never get passed the agent’s nose. If you are self-publishing and the book you produce at considerable expense to you is still grammatically and developmentally challenged, readers will not buy it. This is not to say that every reader understands passive voice, point of view, participles and dangling what evers! The whiff of competent story-telling is an aroma that is as universal as story. If it’s not there, people will steer clear. Thus, it appears that one must have a sufficient command of language to get past a gatekeeper, or get past the reader without spending an arm and leg on editing services. The writer that can do it all, write and edit, is more strongly positioned.

Some high end packages at self-publishing houses charge as much as $15,000+ with editing and design functions to publish your book! They may offer some marketing outlets, but the writer is basically on his own, unless he wants to lay out more cash for marketing and review services.

The Sniff Test

Unless you spend a considerable sum on editing, your manuscript will go to market with a huge disadvantage. How do we know we’re ready? Certainly one avenue is for literary-minded friends to read and comment. Friends that are not necessarily literary minded but who regularly read your genre are a good sampling for taste. Does it pass the sniff test of a frequent reader?

There are several publishing houses that require the book to be analyzed. Abbott Press, a subsidiary of Writer’s Digest, reviews all books. If the content is questionable they will refund your contract price. They also note superior quality with a special seal. Other self-publishing houses offer similar opportunities; my guess is the offer is a marketing tool for other services. Does that mean the service is bad? Not necessarily. One must have some information about who is doing the editing and their credentials. A lover of romance may have unpracticed eye and ear for what is happening in mystery or suspense. If the editor has no use for Westerns, he or she may do you a disservice. Buyer beware; or, polish your writing skills.

Simple Math

There are axioms about competence. A writer posted recently that she attended a conference some years ago because one of her favorite authors was speaking. An audience member asked how long it took to get published. His reply was “After writing about a million words.” She was shocked and that one comment put her own experience in perspective: she was far from ready!

There is another axiom called the 10,000 hours theory, in which mastering a skill requires some 10,000 hours of practice. What does this mean? 10,000 hours represents 417 24-hour days of writing practice. It might represent 1250 8-hour writing days, or approximately three and one-half years of 8 hour writing days. Where do you fit into these measurements, either the million words or the three and one-half years of 8-hour writing days?

I’m not there, believe me.

The writer of the 130,000 word first novel, and I actually believe it was a first draft to boot, should not be surprised by the rejections and the criticism. He is trying to run a marathon after only practicing a few 100 yard dashes. Common sense is a rare commodity, especially when thinking about hopes and dreams. It’s easy to project ourselves as the winner of a lottery and the wonderful things we’d do with the subsidy. It’s quite another thing to consider the mathematical possibilities of winning…

I have just completed a line edit of my novel which is in its third incarnation. It is very much improved and trimmed to 82,000 words; but, my own sniff test suggests… Still not there.

Flowers spring forth in full blossom on the first try; they may be the only thing to do so. Writers don’t.

What Ails Us

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The emotional patterns we learn as small children, he says, live on in the cells of our minds and come back to us as adults.  -Gabor Mate

A weekend of surfing the self-publishing world and finishing a line edit of my novel, Devil’s Gut, produced a Devil’s Gut of anxiety. I weighed the various services offered by self-publishing houses, attempting to determine for myself a course of action: Do I continue slugging through queries and rejections or take to the self-publishing model? The answers are not certain – of course! The more I read and weighed, the more I began to realize the lottery involved far less work for the same reward potential! Coupled with the fact my mother-in-law is suffering from a debilitating disease from which she cannot survive and my poor soul-mate is inconsolable, my weekend approached disaster status.

Stress is debilitating. I apologize for the oxymoronic or banal statement. I have forgone my normal exercise routine due to the combination of visiting children and dying mother-in-law. My body is rebelling; my blood pressure is elevated and my head hurts.

I thought of recent posts by Anitra, whom I have quoted and referenced in my blog. She is a yoga teacher and her yoga-centric concepts of peace and living in the moment while allowing the body to breathe are concepts in which I am not yet practiced enough. I need to be; I suspect we all need to be.

I refer you to an article in Sun Magazine I discovered this morning, sitting in my email inbox. I subscribe to the email publication. The magazine featured an article by Tray Frish about Gabor Mate who became a doctor after surviving WWII. She writes: “Maté again saw the roots of their problems in “adverse childhood experiences,” such as abuse, neglect, poverty, or parental stress. At a time when medical science was increasingly looking to our dna for the source of many illnesses, Maté was becoming convinced that experiences in our early years play an even greater role in brain development and behavior. The emotional patterns we learn as small children, he says, live on in the cells of our minds and come back to us as adults.”

Mate explains further by explaining that these stresses and anxieties do not cause cancer, heart disease, etc, but rather increase the likelihood of contracting those diseases if we are so genetically predetermined. He continues: “Attributing our maladies to heredity is simplistic and disempowering, he says, a distraction from the problems of economic inequality, bad schools, and a declining sense of community…The genetic explanation is comfortable because it means that we don’t have to look at people’s lives or the society in which those lives are led for the source of our problems. If addiction is genetic, we don’t have to worry that it’s connected to child abuse, for example.”

Some of my emotional swings are healthy, others are not. I know that I am prone to rage and that rage is irrational in the situation. I can read a debate at a writer’s blog and become angry with some attitudes. I can read the newspaper and Op-Ed pages and become incensed by the lack of critical thinking and easy hypocrisy.

Says Mr. Mate: “The role of emotion is to keep out that which is dangerous or unhealthy and allow in that which is helpful and healing. So we have anger and revulsion, and we have love and attraction.”

I am wrestling with the illogic of seeking publication and now recognize so many past behavioral patterns rearing an ugly head in my adult life, not only (perhaps) creating health issues, but screwing up my rational coping with the irrationality of life. This is where I suspect I need to turn to yoga; turn my attention inward to my own breathing and awareness of a treasured moment in time when I am free to be me, if I but chose to follow me and not these patterns of behavior entrenched from the early years. If I am to enjoy a level of success in publishing, and few of us ever define ‘a level of success’ out of fear of setting an unrealistic goal, it will happen on my terms, not those of another person.

Relax and breathe, Scriptrod! Breaking through the world of agents is no more daunting than breaking through the noise of the self-publishing world. It’s the journey, never the destination.

Below is a link to the Sun Magazine article. I highly recommend a read.

http://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/440/what_ails_us?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=August+2012&utm_content=August+2012+CID_90ebd2b16fcfc0284fae5d253ea432c5&utm_source=E+newsletter&utm_term=What+Ails+Us+Gabor+Mat+Challenges+The+Way+We+Think+About+Chronic+Illness+Drug+Addiction+And+Attention-Deficit+Disorder