About Writers, inspiration, marketing, Welcome, Writers Co-op

I Find the Covid To Be…

Finish that statement as you like. Me, I find the Covid to be rife with story fodder. It provides common references for readers that benefit any genre.

Horror, obviously. The Covid is acidic and round, with spikes that bind to your cell’s outer membrane. As it sits against the cell, more spikes come out, like grappling hooks and soon, its acid burns a hole through the membrane and the virus slips inside. At this point, your body’s defenses cannot find and kill the virus. Your cell is now doomed.
The membrane of the virus dissolves, the genes of the virus spill into the cell, penetrate to the cell nucleus, insert themselves into the cell’s genome, and begin producing copies of the virus. Meanwhile, those spikes have been disintegrating the cell’s outer membrane.
The time it takes for a virus to burst a cell varies, but about 10 hours is not uncommon. Then, a swarm of 100,000 to one million new viruses explode your cell.
That’s real horror.

Or the Thriller genres. No one alive has ever experienced this strong a pandemic, so conspiracy theories abound. Don’t ignore that market of paranoid readers who fear and hate other readers.

And of course, that most popular of genres, Romance: “She could never forget the man she loved because she carried his Covid.”

But, maybe I’m feeling cynical? Six months of quarantine will do that. How about you? How is the Covid affecting your writing life?

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About Writers, blogging, Research

Pushing the Sci Envelope

Science fiction authors used to push the envelope of knowledge. Rocket ships dropped out of space to land on their tails. GORT, the robot, walked among us in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Arthur C. Clarke submitted a manuscript to Wireless World magazine proposing global communication through geostationary satellites in 1945. These concepts are major industries, today, of course. In fact, today’s science seems to have sprinted ahead of fiction.

I stumbled upon an article about “working memory.” That’s cognitive scientists’ speak for how many potentially conflicting bits of information we can hold in out head. If a point requires more working memory than I have, I just won’t “get it.” Take the example of face masks during a pandemic. There is conflicting information in the media about the usefulness of face masks. The article correlated working memory with face mask use and found that people with less working memory tended to not wear masks. When it comes to complex situations, not everyone “gets it.”

The working memory article gave me a simple idea for a story, that the world is becoming more complex and as it does so, more and more people just won’t “get it.” What happens, I wondered, when the world reaches a point where not enough people understand the complexity of it to keep it running? Does it all break down? Chaos? Lost in my own thoughts, I Googled “complexity and chaos.” And, whoops! I stepped in it.

Turns out, there is a body of scientific study called “complexity science.” Most of it is baffling mathematics. I’m a writer, not a mathematician. But I write hard science fiction, so I have to get the science right and present it in a way to make the fiction entertaining. Luckily, I found A simple guide to chaos and complexity. It’s a scholarly paper written in (mostly) plain English for the health services and I have (some) background in medical care. I now have an inkling of how little I know.

Maybe we should stick to writing stories about things we know? A simple idea is turning into a year or more of research and writing. I used to approach science through fiction and now, I have to approach fiction through science? But enough complaining. Curiosity is addictive. What if people really are limited in how complex a life they can handle? What if our civilization does continue becoming more complex? Will chaos result? What-if is how sci-fi pushes the envelope of knowledge.

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About Writers, writing technique

Sterne plans

030718-09-Laurence-Sterne-Literature-History

There has been a couple of mentions of Tristram Shandy on this blog, which led me to have another look at this ‘most modern of 18th century novels’. That’s from the blurb on the back of the Norton Critical edition, which also comes with a number of essays commenting on the work. One of these essays, by Wayne Booth, is called Did Sterne Complete Tristram Shandy?

It’s a good question. Sterne wrote his book in nine volumes released over eight years, the last one a few months before his death. The full title was The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, but the narrator, Tristram himself, doesn’t make a physical appearance till almost half way through. For the good reason that he isn’t yet born: the first volumes deal with the circumstances and consequences of his conception.

Sterne is a master of the digression and so bewitchingly precise is his portrayal of his father and his uncle that the reader willingly follows; but at times it does seem that the book is, as E.M. Forster called it, a muddle. Stern was surely the original pantser – someone who writes by the seat of their pants.

 

Nonetheless, Wayne Booth argues that Sterne in fact was a planner. And he points out several examples of foreshadowing that come together in the final volume. I don’t know. It’s not a question I’ve ever asked myself. To me the muddle is entertaining. But in Booth’s prose, it sounds plausible.

These days, foreshadowing is easy, if only retroactively. We can zip back and forth within a text to add the details which give it more cohesion. If I discover late in the book that my character needs a scarf, I can go back and add it to an earlier scene. That wasn’t available in Sterne’s day, at least not to a writer of his spontaneity. The manuscript shows few traces of revision.

As time goes on, I’m drawn increasingly to planning. That might be because I once wrote a long, complex novel, largely unplanned, which took me 20 years. Alas, it didn’t enjoy the popularity of Tristram Shandy, so I turned to crime (well, not literally). Obviously, foreshadowing is vital there: that scarf could well be the murder weapon, so you can’t have it appear from nowhere.

But planning is more than joining the dots. It’s placing the dots in the first place. The number of chapters, the character arcs, the plot beats, the pace. How detailed the plan is depends on each author, but at some point the chapter by chapter outline mutates into the first draft.

My planning has recently become more ambitious. From a single novel to start with, it now stretches over a series of four. It’s the same principle, but dealing with six main characters who feature throughout, so each character’s arc needs to be thought through to the end. I love the challenge of that. But the plan evolves from the idea, not the other way round. I sometimes read about a book’s ‘ideal structure’, but in my opinion, to push an idea into a plan like the one below leaves little room for the organic growth of the story.

book recipe

If you’re thinking of planning a series, here are some useful tips. J.K. Rowling planned the whole of her seven-book series at the start; Emile Zola wrote 20 novels about the Rougon-Macquart family. Me? Four is the limit. I’ve got too many other things to write.

 

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About Writers, inspiration, Uncategorized

Behind the Story

Authors are creative people. Give us an interesting idea or a memorable experience, and we’ll create a world, populate it with believable characters, and tell their stories. Not that you have to wait for the gift. Jack London famously said, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”

A WWII a bombardier dealt with the horrors of war in his memories for years before a line suddenly popped into his head: “It was love at first sight. The first time he saw the chaplain, [the as yet unnamed main character] fell madly in love with him.” Joseph Heller began writing a short story that gripped him for years before it became the novel, Catch-22.

One of many women growing up in the deep south of segregation watched her father defend two black men against a charge of murdering a white businessman. They were hanged. That father and son had no chance in 1919 Alabama. Harper Lee turned her childhood experiences into To Kill A Mockingbird.

Creativity is sometimes reaction. J.D. Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye as a personal reaction against war. He had several chapters with him when he landed on D-Day. It can also be misleading. Russian and American novelist Vladimir Nabokov read German and lived 15 years in Berlin, beginning in 1922. He could have read the short story, “Lolita,” written by prominent Berlin author Heinz von Lichberg in 1919. The similarities with Nabokov’s Lolita are numerous.

What about you? What lies behind your stories?

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About Writers, writing technique

The Weight of Fiction

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‘The two most depressing words in the English language are ‘literary fiction’. (David Hare, playwright).

Hare doesn’t elaborate, but it isn’t hard to see what he means. ‘Literary fiction’ is where anything that isn’t obviously in any other genre gets shoved. Literary fiction is perceived as more profound, harder to read, but ultimately more rewarding than genre fiction. As the Dactyl Foundation puts it, ‘The subject of the work is engaged with something that might be called weighty, questioning how we think, how we make meaning, why things happen the way they do, how we decide what’s right or wrong, or musing over what might have been.’ The consequence of such weightiness is that literary fiction sells less well than genre fiction and even fewer writers make any money out of it. To label a book ‘literary’ will have many a reader running in the opposite direction, because what can a ‘weighty’ book be but heavy going?

When I started out writing, I had literary aspirations. I still do in fact, if by that you mean books that don’t fit into other marketing categories. I have several such WIPs on the back burner, but in the meantime, having decided a while back to write books which would, I hoped, be more commercial, I’ve opted for crime.

Why not romance or science fiction? I don’t remember giving the matter any thought – the choice was almost instinctive. If I look for a reason now, I’d say it was Ten Little Niggers (published in the US, for obvious reasons, as And Then There Were None, but I read the UK’s 1963 Fontana edition, and still see the cover in my mind – the UK title wasn’t changed till 1986). Christie’s novel had it all: claustrophobic setting, relentless succession of deaths, gradual elimination of suspects until, utterly bamboozled, I cried out, ‘So who was it? It’s not possible!’ – only to discover that not only was it possible, but the murderer (and Agatha) had fooled me all along. Inevitably, having read that book, it would never occur to me to write a novel called Leonora in Love or Glitch in the Galaxy.

I take issue, however, with the Dactyl Foundation’s pronouncement. There’s no reason why genre fiction, whether crime or any other, shouldn’t also question how we think or decide what’s right or wrong. Consider these excerpts from top crime writers’ analyses of their favourite crime novels:

Val McDermid on Reginald Hill’s On Beulah Heights: ‘Although Hill’s roots were firmly in the traditional English detective novel, he brought to it an ambivalence and ambiguity that allowed him to display the complexities of contemporary life.’

Sophie Hannah on Agatha Christie’s The Hollow: ‘As well as being a perfectly constructed mystery, it’s a gripping, acutely observed story about a group of people, their ambitions, loves and regrets.’

SJ Watson on Daphné du Maurier’s Rebecca: ‘A dark, brooding psychological thriller, hauntingly beautiful, […] but more importantly, this is an exploration of power, of the men who have it and the women who don’t, and the secrets told to preserve it.’

Susie Steiner on Val McDermid’s A Place of Execution: ‘What stays in the mind is the Peak District community of Scarsdale, the investigator as outsider trying to permeate its secrets. And the sheer quality of the writing.’

Jacob Ross on Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park: ‘A crime novel – like any story – succeeds or fails on the basis of character. Renko confirms this for me every time. It is an incredible feat of character portrayal.’

Other choices in the list speak for themselves: Crime and Punishment, Bleak House, The Moonstone… What is striking is the stress on factors other than plot, such as character, mood, and setting. Proof, surely, that a good crime novel is about a lot more than a detective solving a murder.

The same is true, I’m sure, of any genre. Literariness and weightiness are two different things, and for all the supposed profundity it implies, the label ‘literary’ is more of a burden than an accolade. David Hare is right to be depressed.

 

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book sales, marketing, Uncategorized, Welcome, Writers Co-op

Promote Yourself & Your Work on the Writers Co-op

Because some have asked, we are re-printing our first post, by Curtis Bausse, APRIL 26, 2016.

Here we are!

The first post. And to me has fallen the honour. Seriously, it is an honour. Firstly, because it’s a vote of trust from my fellow co-operators, secondly because this post is the first of a long, rich and innovative series (no point starting a blog otherwise, right?). As more posts come, this one will slip out of sight and mind, but it will always remain the first, the one in which the Writer’s Co-op became public. So thank you, Amber, Atthys, GD and Mimi for putting your trust in me.

Let me begin by explaining. The five of us ‘met’ on Book Country, a website where writers post their work for peer review and critiques. Though lately it’s become very sleepy, it’s not a bad site, and it has a discussion board where I’ve found many a useful piece of advice. And some time ago a thread was started by GD Deckard, in which he wrote the following: I’m thinking of a site that new writers can use to promote their books. How, exactly, depends on what the writers themselves want. Writers are creative people, so together we could come up with creative ways to help one another that we might not think of on our own. How would you like to see a Writers’ Co-op work?

Well, it took us a while, but here we are – The Writers’ Co-op. Five people who write in different genres but who all share a similar commitment to the craft and the graft of writing.

But why come together? What can this site do that a personal one can’t? Well, as GD says, for a project like this, many minds are better than one. And the method is in the title – cooperate. This is a site where we swap and share news, opinions and experiences about writing, from first paragraph to finished product and beyond. Especially beyond. Because who wants to write a book and then not promote it? That’s like a painter working for years on a picture, then turning it to the wall. So here in the Co-op we try things out, see what works and what doesn’t, and tell each other about it. And not just each other, obviously. We happen to be the five that started it off, but we don’t intend to stay whispering in our corner. The Co-op welcomes anyone who’s willing to invest a little time and effort into promoting books worth reading.

What can you expect to find here? Since there’s nothing new under the sun, I do admit the innovation bit could be a challenge, but we’ll try our best, I promise. There’ll be anecdotes and analysis, thoughtfulness and humour, awards and recommendations, opinions, rants and wackiness. We don’t expect to work miracles and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But what we do take seriously is writing itself. Which means we’re also keen to help writers explore whatever path might lead somewhere interesting, and help readers find good writing. If that sounds like a programme you could tune in to, you’ve come to the right place. Drop us a line, tell us what you’re up to. Maybe we’ll end up travelling the path together. Whichever one it turns out to be.

Authors & Editors & AnyOne
at all in the Writing Life are invited to
Promote Yourself & Your Work at
The Writers Co-op.
Email
GD<at>Deckard<dot><one>

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book sales, inspiration, marketing, Uncategorized, Welcome, Writers Co-op

Marketing and Promotion—Musings, Madness, and Misgivings

Marketing and Promotion—Musings, Madness, and Misgivings 

In anticipation of an upcoming book release in August, I’ve been thinking more about marketing and promotion. I do not want to repeat past experiences where time and money have been largely wasted in some deep abyss. Of course, I would like to get the best ROI on the time and money expended (this second category has a very modest budget). As opposed to past book marketing and promotional efforts, this time I am working with a mid-press publisher that actually is devoting resources into marketing. I don’t want to duplicate their efforts, but our combined efforts will hopefully achieve some success. I have no misconceptions that this is their sole responsibility. In fact, I think more of the effort needs to come from me. What then is the best way to proceed?

Prompted by an exchange with GD, I am going to list and comment upon a broad array of different tactics and strategies that I am aware of. Some are familiar in so far as I have gone down those roads before. Others are new attempts I plan to try as a way to increase book sales. This is the primary result I want to achieve with these marketing and promotional efforts. I understand that there are secondary goals such as networking, name recognition, media opportunities, film options (one can dream), but the primary focus remains as increasing sales.

Some of the things I list are only pertinent to a new release. I’m sure the list is incomplete. I will not shy away from giving biased opinions on some of the techniques and strategies. As an example, I am generally opposed to steeply discounting books to provoke sales; although, I see a limited role for that particular strategy when doing so as a “loss leader” to hook readers into a series. I’m sure things that have worked for others that I have not found to be helpful are worth considering. I will add that compiling this list only reinforces the morass that many of us are trying to wade through.

Here goes:

  1. Friends and family: an effective approach but the ceiling is low.
  2. Author email list: not a personal fan as I think it requires some effort to maintain and I think the usefulness in generating sales is limited. I do understand some authors will cross promote with each other using these lists. My personal list is small and I make no effort to build a fan base this way. I do have an author FB page (more on that later) and I think that’s my preferred venue to build and maintain a fan base.
  3. Press release: I’m letting my publisher handle this and I’ll blast it out on my modest social media network. Can be used to outreach to local press, radio stations, etc. but I’m not sure how effective that is.
  4. Speaking and presentations: Can be effective. May require some extra effort. Best if you can have a themed talk that somehow relates to your book. For example, chakras and charkra openings are an important element in my story, so speaking about this topic is a way to have a themed talk to provoke some book sales.
  5. Endorsements and blurbs: Great if you can get them especially from well-known authors writing in the same genre that your book is in. Does anyone have a direct line to Dan Brown (not just any person who happens to have that name, I’m talking about the author of The Da Vinci Code)? Please hook me up as this release is a suspense novel that involves secret societies. LOL!
  6. Contests: I think these can be helpful if you win an award and can leverage that into more sales. There are a lot of “fluff” contests out there and many readers cannot distinguish what is effectively a scam contest to prey on authors and what is a legitimate competition with qualified judges. I myself plan to apply for four such award competitions and am willing to devote some of my budget to try and obtain recognition with an award. If anyone is interested, I’ll be happy to share the specific contests and why I have selected them. My publisher may submit to other competitions. Some of the best awards require that your book be nominated. I’m not holding my breath for that.
  7. Goodreads: This has always struck me as a black hole of sorts. I think that authors who are active and “good citizens” of Goodreads groups can leverage that into sales. I am not in that category.
  8. Social Media: This is a big topic so I’m going to break it down. I’ll also cover ads on social media separately.
    • Twitter: I am reasonably active here, but I don’t think it results in many or any book sales. Occasionally some opportunity comes up with a follower, for example an invitation to do an interview.
    • FB: This is where I am personally active not only with posting on my own author site, but also cross promoting with my podcast FB page and other writing related sites. Impact on book sales is hard to judge. Whether or not to have a new FB page devoted solely to this new title is something I am debating. I am more in favor of author branding and not a single title and I really want the traffic and marketing efforts to be on my author page platform.
    • LinkedIn: I use this sparingly to post new content such as podcasts and will make announcements about the book release, share a press release, and that sort of thing.
    • YouTube: I have my own YouTube channel where I post podcast episodes, book trailers, and other content. I find it useful to use the YouTube content on my other social media platforms and I know this has been helpful in driving some sales.
    • I’m not using Instagram, Bookstagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Reddit , or other social media platforms. They may be effective but I haven’t explored and feel I am not inclined to try and go down another rabbit hole.
    • Influencers: If you can hook up with or somehow get picked up by someone with a big following, and have them promote your book for you, that’s probably a great strategy to use.
  9. Paid advertising: Again, let me break this down.
    • FB have used including targeting the right demographic. Waste of money in my opinion but other authors have had success.
    • AMS (Amazon Marketing Services). I’ve had more success with this than FB but not enough to set up and tweak ongoing ad campaigns.
    • Twitter promotions: way over-saturated and not worth the money
    • YouTube: I’ve had some limited success. The ads run through Google and are targeted. I think a well-produced book trailer can generate sales.
    • Promotions run through others. Here I am talking about things like BookBub, Fussy Librarian, etc. Unless you are willing to discount, I don’t think this is effective. I have used a number of different services (never managed to be accepted by BookBub), but I won’t be spending my limited budget this way. A big number of .99 sales has some merit, but coordinating this and getting agreement from my publisher is nightmarish without monetary return.
    • Print advertising. It’s expensive and difficult to track results.
  10. Book reviews: Here I distinguish between reader reviews, paid reviews, and other outlets.
    • The more reader reviews the better up to a threshold, especially if they continue to come in a steady stream following release and especially if they are verified purchase reviews. The number, rate, and whether or not it comes from a purchaser affect the Amazon algorithm that affects your ranking. I am personally trying to get 10 people to commit to a pre-order of the book and a review in the first week of publication (I provide an ARC so they don’t have to rush to read as soon as the book comes out). There is a narrow window to generate hype following a book’s release so if you can line up some preorders and early reviews you get a jump start. [If anyone wants to be in this early group, please email me at victoracquista@victoracquista.com] Continuing to solicit reviews I believe is an important strategy. There are reviewers but in my experience there is a big gap in requesting a review and getting one. I do have access to information (via Where Writers Win https://writerswin.com/ through membership in their Winners Circle) that gives a listing of reviewers by genre and ranking by site traffic. I should also mention that winning  a legitimate award may give an advantage to getting a review.
    • Paid reviews from entities such as Kirkus are expensive but they have distribution to get eyes on your book from ancillary places like magazines, film executives, etc. Ten percent of Kirkus reviews are starred and getting that designation could open some doors. I’m hoping my publisher fronts this cost. It’s also much easier to get into libraries if you have a Kirkus review. I’m not a fan of other paid reviews but I think they can generate exposure and if they are from a credible site, they might provoke some sales.
    • There are other review outlets including magazines, trade journals, newspapers, Publishers Weekly, and who knows what else. I’m relying on my publisher to make these connections.
  1. Launch party: Not a fan
  2. Launch event: If you have a low-cost venue, are budgeted to provide some food, and believe you can get sufficient people, then why not? Book stores are potentially a place to host at no cost.
  3. Prize giveaways: Can be done on your own or in concert with other authors. I did this with my sci-fi novel and found the ROI to be negative.
  4. Personal author website: I have one and will update accordingly. I’m not sure if it drives any sales. Same is true for Amazon author page.
  5. Bookmarks: Low cost and useful to hand out at conferences and other events.
  6. Publicity company: Hiring a PR firm is expensive and putting together a formal campaign is a big undertaking. I’ve done this previously but do not plan to do so again.
  7. Media exposure e.g. TV, radio, podcasts: Potentially useful with the cost being time. Eventual sales depend in part on what audience is viewing/listening to the show.
  8. Book signings, bookstores, events such as trade shows: There are potential costs involved for some of these related to entry fees, vendor space, a booth with banners, business cards, etc. On top of this there may be travel costs, meals and lodging, the aggravation of set up and take down. I think the ROI is more in the category of networking and less so in book sales. I am committed to doing some of this. There are true benefits to having a relationship with a bookstore, particularly one that goes to these trade shows. Then you can attend and have a book signing without actually being a vendor.
  9. Professional organization: I think there are benefits to being part of a writing organization where you interact with colleagues, support one another, attend sponsored workshops, etc. I am a member of the Mystery Writers of America and we have a terrific chapter in Florida. I think promoting one another’s work is one of the benefits of membership.
  10. Celebrity outreach: great if you can get exposure through a celebrity. Celebrity book club selection (think Oprah, Reese Witherspoon) would be huge.
  11. Bloggers: Could be effective. Fortunately, my publisher has a network of bloggers that promote the titles. I’ll probably do some outreach on my own but sifting through the wheat from the chaff seems to me to be a difficult task.
  12. Virtual blog tour: I’ve heard mixed things. Not currently part of my marketing plan. There are companies that will set these up for a fee.
  13. Book clubs: This is something I am currently investigating. How to reach out effectively? I think this has the potential to drive up sales.
  14. Libraries: Fortunately, my publisher has a lot of experience in getting books into libraries.
  15. Advanced reader copies (ARCs): Again, this is something my publisher is very proactive with. They participate with NetGalley and LibraryThing. I know of a recent release that had over 90 very favorable NetGalley reviews before it was even published. Authors can get their books into NetGalley but it’s expensive. Creating a buzz and generating hype seems to me to be an important element in driving book sales. I am fortunate that my publisher has these connections.
  16. Book trailer: I’ve made my own and paid to have one produced for a previous novel. I plan to pay for a professional quality trailer and use it on social media, my website, Amazon author page, YouTube channel and ads. I’m hoping there is a ROI but recognize that might not be the case.
  17. Podcasts: I saved this to present near the end of my list because it seems to me to be a somewhat novel approach. Here I am not talking about appearing as a guest on a podcast show to be interviewed and talk about your book. I started a podcast series, Podfobler Productions, where I narrate my own and other authors’ works. I produce YouTube videos of the shows and use them in my social media posts, FB page for the show, and ad campaigns. For profiling guest authors, I only ask that they distribute the show to their network and when I eventually produce a show about my new book, they agree to distribute that show. Here I am trying to build a fan base and also use the networking power of fellow authors. Will it help to drive sales? I don’t know but it is part of my overall marketing strategy. I just wrapped up season 1 with twenty assorted shows two of which featured co-op members (GD- episode 11 and Curtis-episode 15). Here’s the season one playlist in case anyone is interested: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLpfls08qGbIsHnbp-2-C9r5I8fK8kw24j Incidentally, in case anyone wants to have their work narrated, drop me an email (address in #10 above). I’m currently working on a production schedule for season two.
  18. Fingers crossed for good luck: Napoleon said something to the effect of, “I would rather have lucky generals than good generals.” I know wishes won’t wash dishes, but I do think there is an element of luck that goes into this abyss of marketing and promotion.

Edison said, “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” I’m working this hard and may need to get crowdfunding for deodorant considering how much sweat equity I’m devoting to this. I don’t think success comes without effort unless your stars align in some magical way.

This is a very lengthy dive into a murky territory, a swamp and quagmire full of traps that can swallow you up. I’m sure I missed some categories beyond what I have listed. Comments, insights, disagreements, and commiseration are invited and welcomed. Wish me luck as I get ready to take the plunge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Writers

Your Whole Book Sucks

abbotsford-house

A couple of years ago, staying with friends on the Scottish border, we took the opportunity to visit Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott. As you can see, it’s a pretty impressive place, but Scott could well afford it – he was the most successful writer of his day, his novels enjoying a popularity unheard of until then. Scott can reasonably be considered as the world’s first literary star, ranked during his lifetime as one the three greatest writers in history alongside Goethe and Shakespeare. And who reads Scott today? No one.

‘Which do you think is best?’ I said to my wife as we left. ‘Success during your lifetime and ignored two centuries later or the opposite?’ Obligingly – but not quite convincingly – she said, ‘I’m sure you’ll have both, my dear. Success in your lifetime and in two hundred years.’ Sweet as this reply was, it did nothing to conceal what we both knew: that it’s far more likely I’ll have neither.

As the example of Scott shows, success is a fickle creature. In some ways, that’s a comforting thought – what does it matter if I’m successful or not, since in any case it’s fleeting and overrated and ultimately unsatisfying? Well, yes, but to someone who’s never had it, that rings hollow, like telling developing countries that material wealth is a goal not worth pursuing. As Tennyson wrote of a different topic entirely, ’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

So lauded was Scott when alive that perhaps he was convinced that he was an excellent writer. But on the whole, successful writers are not exempt from self-doubt:

I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people. John Steinbeck.

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now, they will discover you. Neil Gaiman.

I have spent a good many years—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. Steven King

I’m very deeply inculcated with a sense of failure. Joyce Carol Oates.

The list could go on. But what to do about it? How do you tackle a problem that never goes away? You could join the Insecure Writers’ Support Group which now has many activities but was first set up to ‘act as a form of therapy, letting writers post about situations where they need encouragement, or to offer words of encouragement to others if they have experience.’

Personally, I haven’t joined. Not that it isn’t a fine initiative but ultimately, the encouragement I must find is within myself, and that can only come by continuing to write. On the face of it, that’s paradoxical because writing is what creates the doubt in the first place, so all that’s needed for the doubt to vanish is to stop. But in that case, of course, the doubt has won. No way am I going to let that happen. By continuing to write, I may be keeping it alive, but I’m also telling it to stay in its proper place – in a little cage in a corner of the room, every so often sneering through the bars, ‘That sentence you’ve just written really sucks. In fact, you know what? Your whole book sucks!’ Whereupon I turn to it and say, ‘Thank you. Because do you know what? If you weren’t there, I wouldn’t even try to make it better.’

Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before. And although you are physically by yourself, the haunting Demon never leaves you, that Demon being the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right. No matter how diamond-bright your ideas are dancing in your brain, on paper they are earthbound. William Goldman.

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About Writers, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology

(See photo for title)

OKAY, so what have you been doing with all this quarantine time? At first, I assumed we in the writing life would have more time to live it. But I’m not writing more. You?

I spend my time taking walks with my Lady. Or playing table top games. We also watch some TV together in the evenings. I enjoy time with her.

Sci-Fi Lampoon magazine has named me Editor In Chief, at least for the forthcoming issue & until I can foist that job onto someone else.

Volume 3 of The Rabbit Hole is now in the final editing stage and will soon be ready to promote. That’ll be fun. Victor Acquista and Susan Ranscht have contributed greatly to the story selection of this final volume.

But mainly, I’m adrift in contemplation. Interesting world and it must be absorbed before I can seriously write again.

How has the pandemic affected you?

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About Writers, Literary Agents, publishing

What do we write now?

V0042005 The dance of death: the careless and the careful. Coloured a

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned in a comment that I had two virus story ideas I didn’t know what to do with. This prompted a reply from Carl Reed to say that he’d withdrawn his poem Pandemic from an upcoming collection, “fearing accusations of tastelessness and/or vulgar opportunism.” I applauded Carl’s decision, adding that if my stories were finished, I certainly wouldn’t release them now.

But such concerns won’t stop many from writing about pandemics. Confinement has already led to a steep rise in submissions to literary agents, and agent John Jarrold, who specialises in science fiction and fantasy, expects apocalypse scenarios to feature prominently. Phoebe Morgan of Harper Collins cautions against it: “I am advising my authors not to add pandemic into contemporary novels. My reasoning: I don’t think anyone wants to remember this when they’re trying to escape. Fiction is fiction.” The concern there appears to be more commercial than ethical, and she may not be right anyway: the film Contagion, for example, has seen a surge in popularity. Either way, a glut of books on the same theme is likely to be counterproductive, and it will be some time before the better ones get to stand out from the dross.

I have no intention of moving my stories further up my list of priorities, but I have been noting a few references about the current situation which may be useful if and when I do tackle them. I’d already done a hefty amount of research into the science, so most of these articles relate instead to human behaviour – which is what in the end matters most in a story. What we’re seeing now is real life examples of such behaviour in action, and I must admit that as a writer, it’s the morally repugnant behaviour that fascinates me most. Stealing face masks, internet scams, deliberately coughing over people, slashing ambulance tyres – on one level I simply shake my head in disbelief and despair, on another I’m intrigued by the psychology behind it.

There’s nothing new here. Albert Camus explored these issues in The Plague, published in 1947, in which the disease itself acts as a metaphor for the pestilence of the Nazi occupation of Europe. Camus describes a wide range of behaviour, from the selfish to the stoically resistant. While the book is concerned with moral choices, he avoids excessive condemnation or praise: the selfish aren’t decried as despicable, nor is Dr. Rieux, the book’s main protagonist, extolled as heroic. While one behaviour is to be preferred, and eventually prevails, both are understandable reactions to the absurdity of the human condition which the plague merely throws into sharp relief.

One reason I undertook a pandemic story was my annoyance at The Walking Dead. Yes, it was packed with suspense (though even that was wearing thin by episode 972), but I found its depiction of human behaviour shallow and Manichean. With its unrelenting message that man is a wolf to man, it was some way off the subtlety displayed by the likes of Camus. But then I guess that consideration of political and ethical choices doesn’t have viewers gripping the edge of the seat quite as well as a horde of zombies. It’s those very choices, though, which I’d like one day to explore.

To end on a more practical note, Kevin Brennan wonders how you deal with this pandemic in any book purportedly set in the present. With the normal world upended, how do you handle that if your novel takes place this year or next? My current WIP is set in 2018, so I’m not facing that issue – but perhaps some of you are? It remains to be seen if the world will durably change when we emerge from this, and if so, how. Right now, what a novel set in ‘the present’ will look like is anybody’s guess.

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