Stories, writing technique

Almost True As Can Be.

Here is my entry into the next short-story competition, and I see already that I’m full-on explaining. GD is right. My tendency is to create an immersive story, and characters with considerable baggage, needfully explored is my view, to set up a shady situation in all its screwball glory.

My MC here is another complex critter, an updated Sly (can’t get away from that guy) looking to conquer the world. At one point I knew this new nut as well as anyone alive; she had neither the need nor the impulse to conceal quirks from me. She knew my secrets, I knew hers.

This is not quite a story. It’s more an attempt to develop my thinking about how to present my curious past, and to envision a genuine plot. If I can get this going, I have quite a show for you.

I stumbled into that life and lived it for ten years, until I settled into a steady job with benefits. It’s time to see what I can make of it.

______________________________________

Me and Cee. Cee and Me. Almost True As It Can Be.

Hold Your Hats And Hallelujah:

A start on something that doesn’t involve talking animals.

______________________________________

Now, the thing with CeeCee . . . I’ll call her CeeCee . . . the thing with CeeCee was, like most all of us, she longed to be something she was not. But she took it to new heights.

C.C., those were her initials, originally. She shed last names like a snake sheds skins. She’s probably been through bunches of husbands by now. I google maiden, first husband’s and (so she projected) future husband’s names, nothing pops up.

What she was, kids, was a girl from a large Italian family in coastal Rhode Island. Six brothers and sisters, innumerable nieces and nephews and cousins, a home-heating-oil-supply father, the homemade-pasta-cooking (stay at home? You better believe it) mama, her brothers also small businessmen, several beautician – the height of their ambition – sisters. Traditional, goes without saying, right? She broke with the conservative family ethos early on.

I had a three-bedroom apartment in Boston. I needed two roommates. I put an ad in the paper. CeeCee showed up, with a girlfriend. Great! I was in business. But that’s neither here nor there. I can double back and fill in the gory details of that situation later.

That house-share didn’t last long, but Cee and I had become fast friends. We split up, moved around, like you do in your early twenties. She landed a boyfriend in Marblehead who owned a large house on the water’s edge, inherited from his mother. It was worth good money fifty years ago. Today, forget it.

The mother had acquired it, and also a house on Martha’s Vineyard, from a wealthy first marriage. The Vineyard house had to be sold to pay off a second husband’s gambling debts, but she held onto the property in Marblehead and lived in it until she died of breast cancer, shortly before Cee arrived on the scene.

Cee admired that lady, the way she had feathered a very cozy nest. Like the Eagles say, ‘A rich old man and you don’t have to worry’. She married Mitch, a nice enough guy, not rich, but he did own a really wonderful house. That marriage didn’t last. But an idea had been planted.

Meanwhile, tragically unemployable, having studied Costume Design in art school (bad move there) I had managed to find a job working for a costumer meeting the needs of go-go girls and strippers in Boston’s Combat Zone. It was fun for a while, a novelty. I sure met some interesting people.

The strippers (then, don’t know about now) made really good money. Cee, who had started on a professional career, a cosmetologist, she called herself, selling cosmetics in a drug store in Marblehead, took note. She was a beautiful girl, a dose of cellulite, but very sexy, and she determined to give it a try. She’d met some showgirls (as they liked to call themselves) through me, they seemed like okay people (they were okay people), the idea wasn’t as scary as it might have been otherwise. Cee, never a timid one, took to it like a fish to water.

We’ll fast-forward here. This is supposed to be a short story.

She got a way-too-large boob job and became a headliner at the Two o’Clock Lounge. Boston was her home base, but she made forays to, among other places, Las Vegas, toting trunks of elaborate costumes and a huge red velvet pillow that she did ‘floor work’ on. (That’s what they called it, floor work, the precursor, I suppose, of pole dancing.) Those airline baggage handlers must have flipped when they saw the thing. Too large to wrap up, she checked the naked heart-shaped, fringed and sequined blood-red pouf, about four feet round, a-foot-plus high, along with a mountain of gear. In those days, the costumes were outrageous, as if the customers ever wanted to see anything but a quick peel down to a G-string and pasties.

You could dream it, a costumer would furnish it. Southern Belle, Barbarella, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. (This was before Elvira, but you get the picture.) A Fairy Queen, if that’s what you yearned to be. The name of the game was layers, many pieces to shed in the course of a fifteen minute routine. G-string, thong-panty, full panty, a bra, usually a corset of some kind, all kinds of strap-things, straps were real popular, dress, gloves, boot-like leggings, often a gossamer negligee at the end of the act, to whip around artfully. Hats. Big hats. Lots and lots of big hats. Feathers and beads, and breakaway zippers, everywhere.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Vegas. In Las Vegas, Cee met a businessman from, of all places, Boston. He was married, par for the course, right? He took a shine to her, and the liaison continued back home. I always figured she provided the excitement he had missed out on, having spent his young years at Harvard Business School studying his heart out. It was also respite from a dull marriage to a wife who was obsessed with tennis. But excitement has its costs. Cee was labor-intensive, and then some. I wondered then, and I wonder now, why he put up with her and her ever-growing demands. It had to be the excitement.

It wasn’t her thing, as far as I know, but she would have made a good dominatrix. He pushed people around at work, maybe he wanted to be abused in his private life. (That’s the theory, isn’t it?) He was a big shot in a big firm and he had money like you wouldn’t believe. They were always off to somewhere. (He had left his wife by then.) Vienna for Christmas, London, Paris. He bought her a lovely big house on Marblehead Neck. But she wanted more. Like in The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, she wanted to be the preppy trust-fund wife that her husband’s Ivy League partners tended to have. She wanted to live in Palm Beach during the season, and run in high society. She spent a winter there, hanging out with God-knows-who, maybe Roxanne Pulitzer, if she was lucky. (You don’t join high society, you’re born into it.) He rented her a house in Key West. That lasted longer, about two years.

There are two ways to insert yourself into that kind of crowd. One, you can be yourself, and be so amusing at it that you are embraced as an oddity and adopted. And, she was capable of that. She was lots of fun, when she wasn’t being a pain in the ass. That’s not the path she chose. She went the dicier route.

She worked to present herself as a true insider, of suitable pedigree. She worked damn hard at that. The boyfriend knew the truth, of course. What he thought of her often disturbing interpretation of class is anybody’s guess.

I spent a weekend with her in a suite at the storied Hotel Carlyle in Manhattan. Fifty years ago it was old-money-shabby-chic, downright dowdy. Exactly like the rooms of the Ritz Carleton in Boston. Glam on a par with Howard Johnson, maybe even a little less. It’s the climbers who fixate on shiny-new. Gleaming up-to-date matters (or used to matter) little to those raised with deep wealth and status.

We were shown to one suite, looked fine to me, like I said, nothing fancy. Cee threw a fit: Won’t do, won’t do at all. Quite unacceptable. I want the suite I had last time. We got relocated. The last-visit suite looked absolutely the same to me, I didn’t see a damn bit of difference. But she was mollified: A great improvement, thank you so much. She liked to make clear that she was someone, of nice taste, used to being catered to.

She’d come up in the world since the time we (actually, I) broke into a summer cottage in Swampscott, climbing through a window bare-breasted so as not to get my blouse dirty. (Relax. Friends of ours, not home.) If neighbors had called the cops on us, that would have been cute, no? Our friends were two wanna-be artists. Their neighbors may have come to the conclusion, you see something odd going on over there, you pay it no mind.

The boys must have had no phone, or we would have called ahead. We had hitchhiked up from Cambridge, busted (!!!) our way in, sat around two or three hours, gave up, and left a note painstakingly incised into an untouched jar of peanut butter: We were here, Mimi, Cee.

Her tastes had sure changed since her days of T-shirts stretched tight over braless boobs, with the slogan BITCH proudly displayed, often paired with hot pants (as they were known in the seventies, in an earlier era, short-shorts) and leopard-look platform-sole knee-high boots. A housemate of my brother told me, Your friend was in Harvard Square the other day (a hike, she was living in Marblehead) stopping traffic. I’d seen it many times, her little game, feigning scorn of the stares, loving every minute of it.

I’ll save that early stuff for another time. I’ve miles to go before I put this thing to sleep. I’ve barely gotten started.

I guess I have to come up with an honest-to-God plot, and feather it in somehow or other. Plots are not my forte, as some of you know.

I hung out with many odd characters in the wee-hours spaces after the clubs shuttered at two a.m. My plot would certainly have to include the black-belt owner of an escort service who longed to be an action star like Bruce Lee, who had to constantly be assured that he was good-looking enough to make it in Tinseltown. One girl went on to be a Penthouse Pet, and to model legitimately, internationally. And I cannot neglect to depict my costumer-employer. The first-done-on-American-soil-sex-change is how she billed herself on posters for her combo strip/hypnotism act. I saw what may have been the last performance she ever gave, and it was painful to watch.

She performed in cabaret-style settings. Her fan club, a gaggle of middle-aged women who followed her from date to date, didn’t recoil at her fiftyish spread, not unlike their own sad disintegration. They probably cheered her bravery. I think it was willful blindness to reality.

Disrobed down to droopy tugs and a G-string half hidden by an overflow of abdomen (OK, I’m exaggerating, but it was gross), she would set tassels, dangling (lots of dangling going on there) from pasties (sequined disks cloaking the nipples), set tassels aflame and get them twirling, in opposite directions. Did I see that or is it one of those false memories we read about? The flame part, I mean. Where does that image come from? I honestly don’t know. Fired up tassels or not, anyone who walked into the venue unaware of what was in store saw a show they would not forget.*

Sounds like I led an interesting life, huh? I did, but it was a life filled with crises. It’s more fun to write about than it was to experience it.

______________________________________

* Shock value was surely the bedrock principle of her showmanship, embraced at an early age as a means of survival. She had begun her career in the sideshows of Mid-West carnivals, performing in drag.Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 1.51.28 AM.png

She was a big, muscular person, she’d been well able to defend herself. If she was bullied – I’m sure she was, she grew up in Kansas, not a stronghold of toleration then or now – it would have been largely confined to verbal abuse. But she had come to terms with her lot in life, and had made a good living off it.

I just looked her up. Man! There’s a ton of stuff on her due to the prominence of the transgender issue these days. When I searched ten years ago I only found three or four items. That’s her, above. Look at that face. Would you pick a fight with her?

She was a throw-back in many nasty ways, anti all kinds of folks and astonishingly open about it. That may have been the result of being born at a certain time into a certain place, but many find a way to move beyond prejudices learned at Mama’s knee. She did not. She may be a role model for some, but she was not admirable as a human being. If she were still alive, she would be the staunchest of Trump supporters, and for the very worst reasons.

______________________________________

My Lemony Snicket boxed set has arrived. I’ll proceed with the piece I’ve planned to write: Lemony/the books vs. Lemony/the Netflix series. I hope to learn something regarding the integration of show and tell. If anyone’s been successful at it, it’s Lemony.

______________________________________

Her name was Hedy Jo Star.

 

Advertisements
Standard
About Writers

And Now, Ursula K. Le Guin

It looks like my time to blog post has come ’round again. Are Curtis, GD, Mimi, Atthys, Sue and I the only writers in regular rotation here? I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say: We’d love to hear from others! (Perry, Tom, Amber, et. al.) You’ve got a ready-made soapbox and a built-in audience here on Writers Co-op; let us know what’s on your mind these fear-fraught dystopian days, eh?

Truth is, however, that I have nothing urgent to communicate at present. Therefore, I’d like to step aside and let Ursula K. Le Guin take the stage. Here is the speech she gave when accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters a couple of years ago. (After clicking on the url, scroll down and click on the embedded video link three-quarters of the way down the landing page to watch this 85-year-old dynamo in action.) Her speech is a marvel of concision, eloquence, truth and power.

:::applause-applause:::

http://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2014/11/ursula_k_le_guin_on_reaction_t.html

Standard
Uncategorized, writing technique

Raise Your Voice… uh, Voices!

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-05-42-41

I am not a sarcastic person. Sarcasm strikes me as mean — snarky condemnations passive-aggressively issued by arrogant people desperate to feel superior to those they ridicule. Those who are not the target may think it’s witty, but maybe they’re just relieved and smugly enjoying the fact it wasn’t aimed at them. After all, does anyone really deserve such ridicule? I’m inclined to give all* people the benefit of the doubt, and accept their occasionally foolish, irritating, mind-raspingly stupid behavior as an entitlement every human may claim. Even I could claim it if I were ever foolish, irritating, or stupid. None of which, of course, I ever am.

That’s the reason Romero Russo was such a revelation. More than two years ago, Romero started writing a book called Sarcasm Font. My first public view of him was on Inkshares during a marketing contest. After completing the first five chapters of his ambiguously fictional story, he started blogging. People found his writing funny and thoughtful:

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-20-04-30

 

Here’s the thing. I am him.

 

That’s right. Following an unexpected series of events leading to my brain slurring two words into a word you won’t find in the OED, a fit of whimsy took over. I began writing Sarcasm Font in a voice so unfamiliar to me that I couldn’t even claim author credit. Romero Russo was born. He had a life of his own. He didn’t speak to me; he spoke through me. No doubt other authors have had the same out-of-voice experience. I suspect they would agree: it’s freeing.

Version 2

The elusive Romero Russo (Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht)

 

Like many authors, I’ve written characters who say sarcastic things. Readers have commented that each of my characters has an individual, identifiable voice. But writing and living from inside a character whose voice differs drastically from your own is more like acting. If you allow that person to tell the whole story, the writing experience is more like watching the story than creating it.

When Romero went public on Inkshares, the circle who knew about the two of us was small: two of my sisters and my son. They were kind enough not to share Romero’s secret, but they weren’t shy about letting me know they thought it was kind of creepy that I talked about him as if he were real. He and I shared a Venn diagram overlap of followers, and we followed each other. Why wouldn’t we? We were marketing separate works by separate authors.

But when we started blogging, we were sharing our “selves” with strangers. That’s when it became a hoax. No one questioned it. Why would they? He said things I would never say. It was just so darn much fun to be Romero Russo.

After the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge, Romero went silent on WordPress. I was still working on Sarcasm Font, and planned to promote it under his name. I began to question the practicality of that when I wrote the short story behind one of his… um, life events, and entered it in a contest. Entry required a bio and a photo. I had those, no problem. But on the chance — however remote — that it won a cash prize, or was short-listed to be published in the anthology, wouldn’t I want the cash and/or credit to be mine? Yes. Yes I would. I submitted it under my name, and while it didn’t win any cash, it was published in the contest anthology. I got all the credit.

I also gave myself up. Someone — I leave the choice to acknowledge this to him — who follows both Romero and me procured a copy of the anthology and read my story, which I, appropriately though perhaps indiscreetly, called “Sarcasm Font”. He allowed that I might merely have appropriated Romero’s premise, but he also suspected that we might be one and the same, despite the difference in voices. When he asked me directly, I couldn’t bring myself to resort to “alternative facts”. I confessed.

My hope is that others may take some inspiration from this tale. If you haven’t yet written an out-of-voice story, I highly recommend it. It will open your mind to discover voices you didn’t know you had. Ideas that have never occurred to you before will flow. You might find your very own Romero Russo.

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-01-47-20

 

 

*(Except for one person to whom I gave a chance, but whose consistently reprehensible behavior has depleted my ability to tolerate. I might need Romero to speak for me for the next four years.)

fullsizeoutput_174 S.T. Ranscht lives in San Diego, California. She and Robert P. Beus co-authored ENHANCED, the first book in the young adult Second Earth Trilogy. She is currently submitting their baby to literary agents, determined to find the one who is their perfect match. Her short story, “Cat Artist Catharsis”, earned Honorable Mention in Curtis Bausse’s 2016 Book a Break Short Story Contest, and is available in its anthology, Cat Tales. “Sarcasm Font” appears in the 2016 To Hull and Back Short Story Anthology. Find her online: on WordPress at Space, Time, and Raspberries, Facebook, Twitter @STRanscht and Instagram @stranscht. You can follow ENHANCED on Facebook, Twitter @EnhancedYASyFy, and Instagram @secondearthtrilogy.

Standard
writing technique

The Heath Robinson Writing Machine

heath-robinson

Doubling Gloucester Cheeses by the Gruyère Method (Heath Robinson)

In two days, I have a decision to make. Not necessarily the day after tomorrow, because these days can be non-consecutive. So far, in the past eight months, I’ve used up 28 and I’m still undecided. Transfer everything there? Or stick with my own method?

Yes, I’m talking about Scrivener. You know Scrivener – ‘the biggest advance for writers since the typewriter’, according to sci-fi writer Michael Marshall-Smith. Maybe he skipped the cut-and-paste capacity of the word processor, but you get the idea – without Scrivener, you’re one of the also rans. (Naturally, there’s a good chance you’ll be one with it too, but at least you’ll be equipped. A scrivernerless writer, it seems, is like an armourless knight).

The problem is that Scrivener is what the French call ‘une usine à gaz’ – a huge, labyrinthine contraption that huffs and puffs and in the end produces a blast of hot air. Whoever designed Scrivener is a worthy successor to Heath Robinson.

potatoes

Furthermore – and please excuse me for making an obvious point – if I buy the same shirts as George Clooney, I’m not going to look like George Clooney. Faulkner, Salinger and Hemingway managed just fine without Scrivener. Closer to the present, so did the authors of such complex works as Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. Scrivener may be smart, systematic and seductive, but it won’t turn you into an author any more than a pair of top-end trainers will turn you into Mo Farah. Obvious, yes, but as all advertisers know, our gullibility is boundless – so much do we want our dream to become true that we’re ready to believe we just need the right accessory, whether Nike, Rolex or Scrivener.

You assume now, obviously, that I’m not going to buy it. Well, actually, I think I will. Because after a month of testing, I’ve finally stopped screaming in frustration at the sheer number of buttons and knobs and levers that serve no other purpose than to drive me mad. There’s even a certain pleasure now to opening it. And having reached the conclusion that it can offer a slight improvement on my current practice, I reckon I’ll give it a go.

I still write longhand in messy, chaotic notebooks strewn with asterisks and arrows. Scrivener won’t change that. It’s when the mess is transferred to screen that changes start to occur. Because once you’ve figured out how to organise files and folders – and that in itself is no easy matter – the navigation within your text becomes easier. Everything being on a single screen, you get a global view, the visual realisation of the way the text is shaped at a given moment in your mind. Potentially, this makes for more efficiency. On the whole, my brain works OK – though I might forget where I parked the car, I have all the scenes of my novel sorted in the left isosceles giblet of my endo-coniferous lobe. But sometimes my brain messes up, and bits and pieces of inspiration get lost.

brain2

Seriously, though, it would be interesting to study the neurocognitive effects of using Scrivener. I’m sure cut-and-paste, thanks to the ease of shifting passages around, made a difference to the way novels were written. I wouldn’t be surprised if Scrivener did likewise.

After a month, I’m using only the most basic functions. It does a million other things that I’ll never want or need. Gradually, I dare say I’ll learn a few other tricks, as I do with Photoshop or Excel. I’m not in any hurry, though – I’d rather write than fiddle with fancy software. That’s one reason why I won’t be signing up to Joseph Michael’s Learn Scrivener Fast – the other being the $197 it costs. Nothing against Mr. Michael here – if the software’s so Heath Robinson that he can sell tutorials at five times the price of what they purport to explain, kudos to him. Personally, I found some decent hints for free here and here. One thing’s for sure – if you’re starting out with Scrivener, you’ll need some sort of help. Unless you already peel your potatoes with the Heath Robinson machine.

 

Standard
Research

GMTA

GMTA is ‘Netspeak for “Great Minds Think Alike.” There are umpteen great minds recognized on the ‘Net. Many of these GMs are not writers and can sometimes give us a story idea we might not think of.

Robert Oppenheimer, for example, once answered a student at Rochester University who asked whether the bomb exploded at Alamogordo was the first one to be detonated, “Well — yes. In modern times, of course.” How can a sci-fi writer not wonder about that other detonation? There is a story here!

Or if you prefer to write fantasy, try thinking, “Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.” -Tupac Shakur.

A fight scene might benefit by holding in mind the thought, “They’ve got us surrounded again, the poor bastards.” -Creighton W. Abrams, Battle of the Bulge.

Need a cast of characters? Start with, “A tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure.” -Charlie Chaplin

Sometimes, a good idea is right in front of you. “I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called Mother and Child Reunion. It’s chicken and eggs. And I said, I gotta use that one.” -Paul Simon

And here’s an idea for a short horror story. “Sometimes when you’re burying a guy alive, for a moment or two you start feeling sorry for him. And then it passes and you keep on shoveling.” – George Carlin.

Where do your story ideas come from?

Standard
book promotion, book sales, Writers Co-op

FROM NICHE TO SCRATCH

(OR HOW TO MAKE A SIX-FIGURE INCOME WITHOUT LEAVING YOUR CHAIR)

I get these ads in my Facebook feed from time to time (all right, every day) suggesting that my lackluster book sales are the result of my unimaginative marketing plan and my lack of vision. There are fortunes to be made on the internet and, with their guidance, I too can board that boat I keep missing, grab the brass ring, quit my day job, start drinking the good stuff and enjoying wafer-thin after dinner chocolates whenever I damn well like.

I am, in case you haven’t guessed, skeptical. I have seen so many of these pitches—and yes, even done a seminar or two—and I always, ALWAYS find the same thing: tired platitudes about perseverance and “giving the people what they want.” Find out who your core audience is, they tell me, and then market directly to them. Grow your mailing list (they love to use grow as a transitive* verb, it’s market-speak doncha know?) Offer free stuff! Find your niche! Become a brand! Write a blog with a cute and catchy name! People will WANT to buy whatever you sell because they will want to buy YOU!

Or, something like that. Maybe it all sounds so unlikely to me because I really don’t find being marketed to at all appealing. You want me to buy your stuff. I get it. Don’t try to razzle-dazzle me with bling or tchotchkes or other crap I didn’t want in the first place, and don’t try and tell me that I’m part of some special club now, and I should hashtag you every time I twit. All you’ll end up doing is making me feel insulted. I don’t want to be critical of the general population (gen pop in eerily-appropriate prison parlance) but if this approach really works with a sizable number of them, well, then, I guess it’s not much wonder that I can’t connect.

Do I sound old and irritable? Check. And check.

A musician I’ve never heard of pitched my feed this morning. She makes six figures working from home (homeschooling mother of four!) selling her CD’s on the internet. She doesn’t perform live or do personal appearances (homeschooling mother of four!) It’s all internet-based marketing. And yet—six figures.

Okay. So sell me. Tell me one new thing in your pitch and I’ll sign up for your marketing course.

Probably my inner skeptic automatically prevents me from approaching this sort of thing with an open mind, but honestly? She’s got nothing. As far as I can tell, her big reveal (and yes, they love to use reveal as a noun) can be summed up in one sentence: “Why be a little fish in a big pond when you can be a big fish in a small pond?” In other words, find a niche.

Niche marketing isn’t a particularly new idea. Back in the days when brick-and-mortar bookstores (remember those?) were still a thing, there was a lot of handwringing about the big chain stores—Barnes and Noble, Borders, Waldens—driving the independents out of business. As it turned out, they had all underestimated the white whale lurking beneath the swells, a little thing called Amazon.com, but I digress. A lot of independent bookstores did go out of business, especially the be-everything-to-everyone-get-your-bestsellers-for-thirty-percent-off-but-we-also-have-a-great-backlist-and-you-can-get-a-cup-of-coffee type of bookstores. Curiously, it was often the small niche stores that survived. The New Age Salon in Santa Fe. The Knitting Book Nook in Seattle. Cats Are People, Too in Minneapolis (plus Cats Are People, Two in St. Paul.) I made all of those up, of course, but it was a real phenomenon. Providing a specialized list of books to a very specific audience can be a successful enterprise, if you’re not too fussy about your definition of success.

And with the internet at our twitchy fingertips, such specialized stores should be even more viable. Now you don’t even need a store, and you can reach millions of potential customers. Our Homeschooling Mother of Four’s niche? Celtic Heavy Metal. Christian Celtic Heavy Metal, as it happens. I admit, it’s hard for me to write those words without feeling my eyes roll, but hey, everybody likes something. I’d plug her website, but I don’t want to get curmudgeon all over her nice, shiny, heavy Celtic Christian vibe. Frankly, it was all a little slick and predictable for my tastes. She can play, and it’s a very professional production for a homemade disk, but—six figures? Really? Is she counting the ones after the decimal point?

(Yeah. That did sound bitter. I withdraw the question, your honor.)

And besides. If she’s making a hundred thousand dollars doing what she loves best, following her calling, etc, then why is she wasting her time hawking some by-the-numbers marketing program to wannabes like me? Wait. Is it because she wants to share her innovative strategies with others? Cuz she’s been so fortunate and now she wants to give something back? It’s amazing how many marketing gurus have tried that line on me. And every time they do, I feel my brain getting a little bit smaller, atrophying in its bony shell.

So niche marketing, yes or no? It certainly has many proponents. There was a guy the other day telling me that selling books on Amazon wasn’t necessarily good, because you might be selling to the wrong people. Amazon’s search-and-sell algorithms are keyed to recognize patterns. Did consumer A purchase your book? Okay. What else has she purchased? Is there a pattern? What else might she want? How can we steer her to those things? It’s all about your target audience, and selling books to people outside of your target audience only confuses the algorithms. It gums up the works, dilutes the information stream. Better to sell fewer books but to the right audience. That way, the marketing machinery will recognize your audience members and find more of them for you.

I think that’s what he was saying. I glazed over a bit around paragraph three but that was the gist. You need to focus on your target audience. Also, write a LOT of books. One a month if possible. (And no, I’m not making that part up.)

I can’t do that, but maybe I could do something like it. I have two thirds of a YA historical trilogy about the Minoan civilization. It’s fun, and has lots of magic and adventure. Plus, did I mention the Minoan civilization? You can’t get much more niche-y than that. By the time I finish book three, it’ll be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 pages, but I can break it up into fragments, 200 pages here, 150 pages there. That’s gotta be good for at seven or eight books. I can saturate all the pre-Hellenic Greece websites, twitter-blitz every website about ancient matrifocal cultures, haunt the linear-A chatrooms. Who knows what could happen? I could catch on, and soon a whole herd of bookish kids and history geeks will be hanging on my next installment. And then, the movie deal. Maybe Miyazaki. It’s ready made for Studio Ghibli.

And then, while plotting out this strategy, I see this quote from, of all people, Hayao Miyazaki. ”In order to grow your audience,” he says, “you must betray their expectations.”

Yeah. I don’t know whether that’s really true in the age of the instant entertainment, but it should be. It really should. Otherwise, what tipping point have we gone past where people only want more of the same? Only want what worked for them before? Cuz, wow! Culture-wise? That’s an ocean that’s barely knee-deep.

 

*Yes, I know grow can be a transitive verb when we’re talking about string beans or snapdragons, but the modern fixation with “growing your business” or “growing your client base” is definitely market-speak.

Standard
About Writers

I Am The Walrus (1)

440px-Briny_Beach.jpg

The time has come, the Walrus (2) said,

To talk of many things:

Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —

Of cabbages — and kings.

The big reason I write is, I have a story in me, but only a very loose idea of what it might consist of. I have to tell it to myself, to find out. It wants to go ever-so-many ways. Which path do I take? The answer is: just about all of them, sooner or later.

And, I love to play with words. I get to talk about all kinds of things in Sly, and make sense, that’s the wonderful thing. Make sense in the context of the world I’ve created. When you’re dealing with a talking cat, there are no rules. You’re already down the rabbit hole, why not dig a little deeper? I run wild because I can. And the most fun for me is to run off the rails stylistically. It just fits, seems to me.

My story is silly-putty. I slap on a layer of silly and smoosh it in until it adheres. If it doesn’t grab in one place, I migrate it to somewhere else. I don’t compose. I collage a story together.

Things that have no reasonable relation to the story, I slip into footnotes.

That reminds me and by the way (3) work pretty damn well under any circumstance.

Anything I can connect, even in the flimsiest way, to – as Michael Hagen puts it – to that damn cat, in it goes. I pound square pegs into round holes, as I do in every area of my life.

(Carl’s reasons three and, especially, four: I am never more myself than when I write.)

Back to Lewis Carroll:

I talk of shoes in my thing. (Sly’s boots, diamonds hidden in a pirate’s boot heel.)

Ships. (My pirate adventure.) Sealing wax. (Also the pirates.)

Cabbages? Not that, but I do a whole lot around cheese, ewe’s milk cheese, to be precise.

Kings? Most definitely. I have my King of Haute-Navarre. I have Queen Elizabeth. I have touched upon science, and art. I have written verse. (Sly is an enthusiastic versifier.) I have given his, therefore our, opinions on many things.

He is me and I am he. (So much for Carl’s reason two: to save my sanity. I’ll take a pass on that one.)

I write in a literary vein, I try to make art. Pretty spooky, when your hero is a big-mouth cat.

Do I write for recognition? I hope for it, certainly. Do I write for money? I don’t expect money that would make a difference in my life. Do I write to connect with others? I worked on Sly for twenty years without showing it to anyone. It was only when I joined Book Country that I began to share it.

Oh, I showed it to my sister, and to a boyfriend. Barb’s reaction to anything I send her is invariably, great! She’s not much of a reader, and I guess I intimidate her. I know I intimidate her.

Vic belittled it, and me, but not because he didn’t like it. According to him, far from done, working at my usual glacial pace, no payoff in sight, I was wasting my time. He told me many times, until you make money off it, it doesn’t count for shit, I don’t want to hear about it. Discouraged (deeply, for several reasons), I dropped it for years at a time. I finally pulled my life together and got free of him. I now have a husband who couldn’t be more supportive.

My goal with Sly is to be as silly as I can figure out how to be, on my terms. An editor says I need to be more flexible, my difficult choices insult potential readers, who may not be as beguiled by them as I am. You all know how I’ve taken that advice to heart. (4)

Writing is hard, but the hardest part is deciding where to compromise. Being confident enough to stand your ground is a satisfaction in itself.

______________________________________________

(1) (Goo goo g’joob) John Lennon wrote that lyric, he explained, to goof on the people who were trying to analyze his songs. I just read a few days ago that Dylan would cut and paste phrases from newspaper articles and string them together in ways that delighted him, he actually wrote some songs that way. I string nonsense together in ways that delight me. Then I call it a plot. As much plot as you’re going to get out of me.

(2) Lennon, Lewis Carroll, I take my inspiration where I find it.

(3) Uh, by the way, the pdf of the full Come To The Manger is now available in our communal email.

(4) George Michael said “I don’t need the approval of people who don’t approve of me.” I feel the same way.

Standard