About Writers, inspiration, Writers Co-op

Hobby Anyone?

That’s a photo of Vladimir Nabokov chasing butterflies.
Ayn Rand collected stamps, Emily Dickinson baked, Dostoyevsky gambled, Tolkien was a conlang* wizard, Tolstoy played chess, and Franz Kafka amassed an extensive collection of pornography.

Mark Twain, friends with Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, obsessed over science and technology. He even patented three inventions of his own.

Why? Flannery O’Connor suggested, “Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things. Any discipline can help your writing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look.” I couldn’t agree more.

That may be why E. E. Cummings painted daily, creating 1,600+ drawings, oil paintings, sketches, and watercolors. Other writers who used art to better visualize included Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, and Sylvia Plath. And of course, our own Mimi Speike comes to mind.

What about you? I use photography to “see” things I might otherwise not glance at twice.
What’s your hobby?

~

*conlang is a word used here in an attempt to pay back Carl E. Reed for constantly making me look up words.

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Uncategorized

A Writers Co-op Forum?

In last Monday’s post, Carl E. Reed was wondering if there were any other forum where writers could interact besides social media. I instantly thought of Book Country, Penguin’s old site where we posted multiple threads about any aspect of the writing life, including current works, requests for critique, thoughts, ideas, and general tomfoolery. The point is to allow for discussions beyond a single weekly blog.

Googling for possibilities, I came up with bbPress, a project of WordPress.org.
It is a plugin that adds a forum to an existing WordPress site. You can take a look at it at:
https://bbpress.org/

We may need a domain name and a hosted WordPress website. I already have the domain name, WritersCo-op.com, and website hosting is cheap these days.

The forum would be easy to add. We simply log in to our WordPress admin area and go to Plugins » Add New. Search for bbPress and then select bbPress from results. Install and activate the plugin. Upon activation, the welcome screen for bbPress comes up.
https://www.wpbeginner.com/wp-tutorials/how-to-add-a-forum-in-wordpress-with-bbpress/

Do you think we might benefit from having this? Members could post threads for open discussion whenever they liked. A forum would allow members to post excerpts from their WiP for critique, Carl’s poetry to flourish, Mimi’s drawings to delight & entertain, facilitate Tom’s anthology updates for Rabbit Hole 4, etc. and ect. It’s an idea worth kicking around and I for one am all for more general tomfoolery.

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book promotion, Freedom of Writing, marketing, Writers Co-op

Goodbye Facebook

In 2017 I discovered Facebook as a mecca for networking. Recently, Facebook has become a censored banality. In between, I was fortunate to find over 3,000 “friends” living the writing life. Many taught me, some edited and published my stories. I cannot thank Facebook enough for the opportunity to interact with so many talented people. But all things change and now the politicians have infested Facebook to get around the First Amendment and promote their own agenda while censoring that of opponents.

“U.S. Code § 230, (2)Civil liability, permits social media to censor content “whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230
Yet, the First Amendment clearly states “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” Politicians have used their regulatory and financial relationships with big media to exert a control over public opinion that is otherwise denied to them.

The result is a leveling of public discourse to the lowest common denominator.

And then, of course, Facebook algorithms ensure that writers who don’t buy ads get scant exposure for posts promoting their books. I left Facebook after scrolling down my feed to find any “friends” book promotion to share on my own timeline. I spent literally forty-five minutes enjoying posts of pets, whines, humor, look-at-me-chit-chat, amazing science (I’m a sucker for amazing science,) and feel-good platitudes. Abruptly, it dawned on me: Not one book promotion! This is all gossip! Critical thinkers have crept away while I wasted my time pretending that I was still networking.

What a waste of time. Goodbye Facebook. Gossip bores me.

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, Uncategorized, Welcome

Welcome To My Coffice

by Scott D. Vander Ploeg

As I write this, piped in music is playing in the background. On some occasions, live music happens here. I look up and see some of the art works of my friend, Carl Berges. Around me there are people reading—books or newspapers or magazines or online feeds. Kids sometimes open up board games and play them with gleeful abandon. Politicians sometimes arrive to ask for voters’ opinions. In one corner, a small group of people are planning a business venture. The staff’s culinary efforts have made available a variety of breakfast items, and made-to-order lunch sandwiches. On one wall, people have created a multicolor inked communal graffito. A little over three years ago, a history professor and a literature professor lectured here, about solar eclipses. Poetry has been aired here.

I’m an advocate for the humanities, the subjects that involve the celebration of our most human activities: music, art, literature, philosophy, languages, drama, sculpture, architecture, and more. Often, a person who wants to experience one of these will go to a particular venue or event and experience that one kind of humanities subject: drama in a theatre, music at an auditorium, etc. Where, though, might people go if they want a mix of these wonderous arts?

The savvy reader will already know that I am at a coffee house, in particular: Madisonville Kentucky’s Big City Market Café. If in Owensboro, I might be ensconced in an egg-shaped chair (channeling Mork) at The Crème Coffee House. If I was in East Lansing, MI, I might be admiring the tattoos of the baristas at the Espresso Royal. Back in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, in my youth, I sat for hours at Atz’s Ice Cream Shoppe, guzzling cup after cup while reading the Riverside edition of the complete works of Bill Shakespeare. The downtown coffee shop adorned its walls with used burlap coffee sacks.

While wintering in Florida this year, I spent time at Cocoa Beach’s Juice and Java Café, and the Osario’s in Cocoa Village. I prefer independent coffee houses, but am pleased that Panera and Starbucks provide alternative locations. In the environs of Vernon Hills suburban Chicago Illinois, I rotate between four different Panera’s Bread Co. shops. According to the anniversary email they sent this Spring, my Unlimited Coffee Subscription saved me $338.52 over 138 cups.

Currently, I have succeeded in getting a dozen of my writings published since I began this effort last September, nine months ago. I have another twenty under consideration at various journals. All of these, and more, were written at coffee houses. I know many prefer to write at home, but I think there is an argument for not doing this work there. It hasn’t become popular yet, but I offer the word “coffice” for those like me who rely on the coffee house to conduct business.

At the coffice I am not distracted by laundry, food preparation, and having to straighten up after myself. At the coffice I can focus on my writing. There is just the right amount of activity to keep me awake. And then yes, I like coffee.

Coffee was discovered in Africa in the 9th century AD. Its use became common in the Middle East in the late 1400s. Turkey and Morocco became deeply invested in it. It arrived in Europe in the 1600s, and the English coffee house became a fad in the 1700s. Turkish and/or Greek coffee is a particularly strong drink made from a powdered coffee, found like a muddy estuary at the bottom of the cup. I like mine “orto”—slightly sweet. One of my favorite memories is of ordering an espresso at an outdoor café in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris, France, under the shadow of the Tour Montparnasse. In homage to Hemmingway, I sipped a cup at the Café du Dôme, which was just around the corner from the apartment where I crashed for a few months at my cousin’s apartment in the early 1980s.

While the tavern had an earlier history of drawing people together for discussion and predictable argument, the coffee house encouraged more serious and sustained discussion, as the patrons there were stimulated by caffeine rather than depressed by alcohol. Today’s version of the coffee house is augmented by technology—so that wireless internet access is mandatory, and people are commonly found staring at laptops and using their smartphones while slurping down a cappuccino or frothy latte.

So the coffee house is the bastion and bulwark of the humanities, to an extent. I note that the addition of coffee shops in some places indicates a gentrification effect, suggesting a kind of cultural invasion, or an economic upsurge—good or bad as that may be, depending on who is losing or gaining as a result. I have been to the original Starbucks, in Seattle, WA, and have my obligatory memento: a Pike’s Place coffee mug. It’s huge! While I’m pleased at this, I know that some believe that the Starbucking of America is a kind of blight—and that “baristas don’t let friends drink Starbucks.” I would bet cold cash money that more people recognize the Starbucks logo/image than they do the Presidential Seal.  

After a hectic day, there is nothing better than sitting back with a cup of coffee at my local coffee house. This is when I can reflect on a variety of subjects, such as coffee houses, and write about them! I soak in the ambience—art, music, whatever I’m reading—and the caffeine—and walk away refreshed, ready to take on the rest of the day’s challenges.

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Freedom of Writing

Is Writing Dying

  • by Michael DiMatteo

What is the essence of good writing? There isn’t one “essence” as good writing is simply, well, good writing. The author is able to pull you in to anything he or she is crafting, and the story or setting or subject is made compelling by said author to the point that the pages turn themselves and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is the essence of good writing. However….

As I peruse the social media pages of budding authors, wander the forests of Facebook, or peer through the lens of Instagram, I’m struck by a few things that are causing me to think writing—true writing—is dying a slow, painful, almost imperceptible death.

I see more and more people asking for permission to write on certain topics, topics that one would deem today to be triggering, a term I’ve come to loathe. Have we become so sensitive that we now need a warning of some sort before sensitive ears or eyes see something they may not like or might find offensive? The very idea of asking for permission to write anything is, to my mind, against everything our society stands for. So what if someone is offended, put off, or is bothered by your chosen topic. That’s their problem, and their burden to overcome, not the writer’s.

Case in point—on one writer’s group on Facebook, a person began their question to the group thus: “I’m sorry if this is triggering for some of you but my question is about my story which involves a cop. Is it hard to sell a story with a heroic cop?”

That alone isn’t the icing on the cake, but the responses were. One said, “Trying to find a hero among state issued killers is a tough sell…” Another said, “It’s harder to make believable now than 37 years ago” I still can’t figure out the 37 years ago thought.

The question alone bears examining. Why is someone is asking a question about selling a book involving any topic? I get it, if you’re writing for profit, as we all try to, but…write your book. If it doesn’t sell, so what? For some reason, that book was pushing to come out of your head and needed to be birthed, so write it and let the chips fall where they may.

I can’t imagine Voltaire, the great French writer, playwright, and social observer dithering over whether or not to write the Philosophical Dictionary or Candide. Did Erasmus ask around if he should write The Praise of Folly, a rather controversial yet humorous story poking fun at the Catholic Church in the 16th century?

I wonder, did Thomas Paine ask for permission as he penned his masterpiece Common Sense which actually advocated for revolution? Luther—well—he wrote critical works on the Popes that almost guaranteed his death, yet he not only survived but thrived in an age where papal criticism was truly a death sentence. I’d say Luther triggered a number of people, and we know he did—but pressed on despite said triggering.

Laura Cereta, the great 15th century feminist writer wrote and wrote and wrote, all the while being vilified for doing so as it was not a woman’s place during that historical period. Dante Alighieri penned the scathing The Divine Comedy, skewering with extreme prejudice his political enemies and causing a rather significant uproar during his lifetime. I’m sure triggering anyone was the last thing he was concerned with.

So, too, one must one take into account historical context. Without getting to philosophical here, dangers in previous centuries meant danger to life and limb, not cancelling. Those men and women were not deterred in their quest to write, so why are we in our time?

The very notion that some are actually parsing their words, thoughts, ideas, and notions of what is right and wrong in the world of literature is not only troubling, but disturbing. It would seem that we’ve reached the point where sensitivity by others is dictating to the rest what subjects are taboo and what are not. Those who’ve decided to act as judge, jury, and executioner in the world of literature if said writing does not satisfy their insecurities and insensitivities do worse…they silence…the death knell of any writer.

Furthermore, writers are becoming less bold, less willing to challenge those restrictions for fear of being removed from the libraries of thought; their words relegated to the cobwebbed basements of the unread, banished for all time because they refused to acquiesce to the over-sensitive voices who tremble at the very mention of just about anything.

It would seem we’ve reached the point of know return…and many willingly embrace it, intentionally silencing their own voices that otherwise would announce their presence with grand gestures and loud huzzahs, laying their stories out for all to see no matter their acceptance or rejection.

What have we become, this once open stage for the creative? What are we becoming and where are we going? To silence anyone is not to deny free speech, but rather to deny one’s ability to listen—to anything—the first step toward self-imposed totalitarianism. It is a slow creep, almost imperceptible in its movements, but moving just the same. It will be the death of true writing—just as cancer spreads silently throughout one’s body until too late.

So, write, write, and write again. Continue to write whatever it is that pleases you. It may sell, it may not and in the end, who cares? As so many have said more than once, it is the process of writing wherein the joy lies, not in the publication. Immanuel Kant, in his most famous essay What is Enlightenment? said it best: Sapere Aude—Dare to Know. The way to know? Write.

Joan Didion famously said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” What better motivation than those words?

The only way to know is to flesh it out…to write…and let the critics and now, the oversensitive, be damned.

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book sales, self-publishing, Writers Co-op

SELF-PUBLISH BOOK SALES

Who makes money self-publishing? Probably, E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey sold the most copies. LJ Ross’ series about Detective Chief Inspector Ryan has a total of around 4.5 million copies. Rachel Abbott has sold over four million copies. Every one of her 11 crime novels hit six figure sales in its first year.

What genres dominate? Half of the e-book bestsellers in the romance, science fiction, and fantasy genres on Amazon are self-published!

Famous authors who self-published? E.L. James, of course. Margaret Atwood self-published her poems. Beatrix Potter first self-published 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. And, of course, successful authors from Mark Twain to Stephen King cut out the middle man.

Do many authors make money self-publishing? According to Amazon’s 2019 review of its Kindle sales, thousands of self-published authors earn over $50,000, while more than a thousand hit six-figure salaries from their book sales.
‘course, In 2020, there were over 44.2 thousand writers and authors working in the United States,
https://www.statista.com/statistics/572476/number-writers-authors-usa/
Best estimates suggest the “average” self-published, digital-only book sells about 250 copies in its lifetime. By comparison, the average traditionally published book sells 3,000 copies, but only about 250-300 of those sales happen in the first year.

So should we self-publish? Obviously, we don’t need a publisher to publish a book. To earn their cut, a publisher must promote your book or they ain’t worth feeling good about. And once you’re famous, you just don’t need them. Feel free to treat publishers the way they treat authors: make me money or go away.

DISCLAIMER: Just my opinion here, but obsessing about money misses the point that life’s memories are made from other stuff. For example: Unlike money, an author’s book is never spent.

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Research, Uncategorized

Writing What You Don’t Know

  • by Peter Thomson

A standard bit of writing advice is to ‘write what you know’. Good advice, but how many of us have confronted vampires or run electricity through patchwork corpses? We create new worlds from bits and pieces of the ones we know – including the ones we know from other imaginings, fishing in the cultural deeps until we draw up the strange and new. How deep can we go?

I am not religious. I do not believe in an afterlife and have no truck with divinities of any persuasion. The closest I come to the supernatural are the feelings anyone of ordinary sensitivity has to places of great beauty or sanctity. Yet when Faithful Service and her sister Loyal Service stepped into my mind, demanding I tell their story, religion was everywhere. These were people and a society where faith was central. Theirs is a fantasy world, so I had considerable latitude. I could make up some analogue of an earthly faith (I studied medieval history; basic theology is part of the package). I could stud the story with prayers and priests. I could have a god or gods step in and out.

The story did not want these things. It wanted people who gave serious consideration to what their faith asked of them, and explored how they resolved their differences. It was about the interior of faith, not the trappings. I have religious friends and acquaintances, and one approved my remark that religion must look very different from the inside than the outside. Here I am on the outside, wanting to write about the inside. As it came out, my characters actions spoke for them, each according to their understanding.

One more thing – it’s a world where the supernatural is everywhere evident, to the point of being commonplace. People don’t believe in the gods in the same way that people here don’t believe in chairs. They are just there. So what do the sisters believe in? What is right, and where does it come from? It’s a question at least as old as Socrates – Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious? Or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? (the dialogue with Euthyphro). In The Forked Path the answer is that right is a journey, one undertaken in trust that the dilemma will be resolved in the end. So the story became one of twin journeys, to a reunion and beyond.

Looking back, I think I drew on a melange of medieval mystics and devotional poetry, scraps of theology and philosophy, and both the dogmatic insistence and serenely tolerant certainty I’ve met among the devout. My readers think it works.

Excerpt:

On and on they went, slow but never stopping. Villa walls and market gardens went by, the sun rose higher, the puddles steamed away, the earth grew harder. Faithful Service was long unused to going barefoot, and her feet grew more tender as she walked. The old couple went more and more slowly, Right Conduct’s right hand clutching at his side, Proper Support true to her name as she held his left. In one village a boy threw a handful of mud at them, then ran away at the escort’s frown. Travellers made the sign against evil, and a presbyter ostentatiously prayed that wrong-doing might fall from them. All this deepened Faithful Service’s misery, yet on she walked. She had been given nothing to eat that morning and by midday hunger added to her woes. They were permitted to drink at the roadside fountains, where water bubbled clear and cold into stone basins by grace of the Highest’s grant of craft.

Right Conduct and Proper Support kept gamely on, limping and staggering. Right Conduct had cut his foot on a stone and left blood on the ground at each step. By later afternoon Proper Support could hold him up no longer; he sagged against her, they made a few more paces and then both collapsed to the ground.

“By the Highest’s grace, we will not hold this as a falter if you rise within five breaths,” one of the escort told them in a firm tone. Proper Support lifted her head to look him in the face, then clearly made up her mind.

‘My trust has been in the Highest all my life, and I will trust Him still. My husband can go no further, and I will not leave him. If the Highest will not lend us His strength, then we must accept the fate He gives us. I will go no further on my own feet.” She put her arm around her husband’s shoulders and sat firm.

“You have faltered before the Highest. As the Highest decreed, you are not of us. By the Highest’s mercy, you leave the land with your life.” The senior member of the escort intoned the ritual words. Then one was sent to fetch a cart, while another stayed to watch Right Conduct and Proper Support. The other two motioned Faithful Service to go on. She was tempted to join Proper Support on the ground, for her legs ached, her feet were sore and her stomach a gnawing pit of hollowness. Yet she did not; she was young and strong enough to go further, and had not Graceful Deeds always insisted that she do her utmost, told her that there was always one more effort in her? She would honour his memory by going on as far as she was able. Faithful Service set herself in motion, putting one foot in front  of the other in a steady plod.

(The Forked Path is out through Amazon and also – a commercial sale! – Rambunctious Books)

How do you, as authors, feel when the work takes you into areas of ignorance?

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Uncategorized

Creative Writing Advice?

Googling the title returned about 420,000,000 results in 0.57 seconds. I don’t have the time in this life to read it all, but what I did read was boring. “Advice for creative writing” strikes me as an oxymoron. “Advice” and “creative” are opposites. “Advice” suggests tried and true while “creative” means untested, new. Fresh.

The Google results clearly claim I’m wrong about this. But to paraphrase Anatole France, “If 420 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” And despite my skepticism, I enjoy thinking about insights from respected writers. Such as these two from Kurt Vonnegut.

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”

and
“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

Both quotes help me to focus but creativity is the use of the imagination to form something new. Strictly speaking, no one can give you that. So, my advice to new creative writers is, “Think for yourself.”

But what do you think? What would your best, or favorite, advice be to a new creative writer?

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Uncategorized

A Golden Age for the Writing Life

Is social media necessary, to be a writer these days? I’m referring to all the sites on the Internet where people in the writing life communicate with one another. “Necessary” is too strong a word, of course, but I see social media as a place where writers and illustrators and editors and publishers flourish.

I started on Penguin’s Book Country website for new writers because there I found others enjoying the struggle. We happily traded ideas and criticisms. The latter of which grew into a long list for my first novel, and without which I would have learned very little in the writing of it.

The Writers Co-op itself originated on Book Country and is a “social” and “media” support for members. From here, people have floated ideas for new books, aired the progress of their current projects, put out anthologies and publicized the release of their latest works.

Obviously, all these things were accomplished before the Internet but, I submit, never by so many. Thanks to social media, we are living in a Golden Age for the Writing Life.

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Uncategorized

BOOK SALES DURING THE COVID

According to Publishers Weekly, the pandemic changed book-buying patterns. One obvious change: The travel book subcategory had a severe decline last year, with units plunging 40.3% compared to 2019.

Overall, sales were up in 2020. BookScan said the 8.2% gain was the largest annual increase since 2010. When schools shut, parents’ demand for hard copy juvenile nonfiction titles jumped 23.1% Big Preschool Work sold nearly 790,000 copies, while Crystal Radke’s My First Learn-to-Write Workbook sold more than 703,000 copies.

In YA nonfiction, anti-racism books helped drive gains. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds was #1 on the category list, selling more than 317,000 copies, while This Book Is Anti-racist by Tiffany Jewell sold more than 76,000 copies.

Adult fiction sales rose 6% over 2019. The hottest subcategory was graphic novels, where sales rose 29%. (The action/adventure subcategory had the toughest year, with units down 14.9%.)

Political books -not the spin or puff pieces- but books tied to social justice topics, helped lift sales in adult nonfiction 4.8% over 2019.

Our industry is alive and well despite the troubled times.

Source:
https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/85256-print-unit-sales-rose-8-2-in-2020.html

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