About Writers, Freedom of Writing, inspiration, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

JK Rowling Loves Minecraft

Novelist, screenwriter and film director Alex Garland is a big fan of BioShock, loosely based on Ayn Rand’ self-interest-championing philosophy of objectivism as outlined in her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Harlan Ellison collaborated with Cyberdreams and game writer David Sears to create “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, “a PC horror game based on his short story of the same name.

Tom Clancy is well-known in the gaming industry, especially for his Rainbow Six military and espionage games.

Authors play video games for the same fun & relaxation reasons others do and they sometimes pick up tips on world building, scene progression, and character differentation.

I play video games to push thoughts of what I’m writing aside, to someplace in my mind where they’re free to evolve without me consciously picking at them. For me, much of life is like swinging through trees. You have to regularly let go to make any progress.

Do you play video games? Which ones do you prefer? And, do they in any way contribute to your writing?

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Welcome, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Musing Upon Three Quotes

“To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” 
― Anne Rice 

“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” 
― Joyce Carol Oates 

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.  

— Ursula K. Le Guin 

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Is there a through-line connecting these quotes from three great writers? (I refuse to use the condescending first-part phrasal adjective “female” or “woman” in this instance. If we don’t routinely wall off male writers into a genitalia-defined ghetto when referring to their words and/or works, why would I perpetrate such a wince-inducing, overt-labelling job here re: “women writers”? Anne Rice, Joyce Carol Oates and Ursula K. Le Guin: great writers all. Period, the end. So why remark on their gender in this extended parenthetical thought? To address head-on the cynical, tiresome suspicion from some quarters that I chose three women writers to comment on in order to demonstrate how feminist/woke I am. :::sigh::: What a time to be alive and posting on “teh internets”. Well, that’s the kind of post this is going to be: one part stream-of-consciousness, one part thoughtful musing, one part—hopefully—synthesis of disparate elements into a unified whole. Tell me if I’ve failed, won’t you?) 

Let’s take Anne Rice’s quote first: ““To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” Notice that she doesn’t insist the writer must make a fool of themselves; merely that one risks making a fool of themselves when they write. What could Rice possibly mean by this? 

Your interpretation may vary, but mine is as follows: There are a million, myriad ways a writer may face-plant in public. Errors of fact; mistranslations/misuse of foreign words and phrases; a question of style: writing that strikes one reader as “too flowery”, another as “too minimalist”; a theme that resonates with the writer and not the reader; vocabulary that is deemed either too high- or low-brow; metaphors that misfire and/or characters that seem eminently plausible, relatable and realistic to one set of readers, whilst striking another set of readers as wildly implausible, unrelatable and unrealistic. One simply cannot satisfy all readers all the time; not all art appeals to all people—for all time. (It might, but oftentimes—let us face hard facts here without flinching—oftentimes doesn’t.) As an artist we must accept this discomfiting fact and therefore write with our “ideal reader” in mind—whoever we imagine they might be. But if we push boundaries with our art—if we dare to question certain perceived “eternal verities” of politics (political thought that falls outside the Overton window), sex (outside the heteronormative) and/or religion (especially as regards atheistic or agnostic thought—though this is rapidly changing: “unaffiliated” or “unbelieving/unchurched” constitutes a growing body of the American electorate) then we embark upon a steep uphill climb re: widespread acclaim and/or acceptance of our work. Or as Joyce Carol Oates has put it: “Art by its nature is a transgressive act, and artists must accept being punished for it. The more original and unsettling their art, the more devastating the punishment.” 

Which brings us to another quote of Joyce Carol Oates’: the second one referenced at the beginning of this piece: “My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” This echoes Kafka: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

Now, the quibble with such assertions is this: We’re not always in the mood for a paradigm-shattering, psychologically transformative piece of art, are we? Sometimes (most of the time?) we want our reading to be the equivalent of comfort food: nourishing, tasty, familiar, filling. (We’re being honest with one another, yes?) However— I think we can agree that the best interpretive literature (to use Prof. Laurence Perrine’s term) expands our storehouse of life-lived experience and thus has the knock-on secondary effect—if the writing is psychologically astute, richly drawn and compelling—of working to increase both our understanding of the internal and external worlds. Fiction is not a lie that tells the truth: It is the concretized (black letters) fossil record (captured on paper or electronic storage device) of transfixing hypnogogic visions (author’s imagination/subconscious) that allows others, upon reading (a remarkable, semi-mystical experience in which both hemispheres of the brain fire in tandem) to embody alternate lives (viewpoint characters) and thus witness at one remove (sensory impressions received, albeit not from phenomena in the real world) the result of various played-out stratagems and the consequences of certain thoughts, impulses and actions (plot). What we make of all the aforementioned constitutes theme + meaning.

Lies? Truth? Irrelevant, as regards evaluating the efficacy and impact of well-wrought fiction (unless you’re a Victorian moralist). Nabokov had it right: What makes a writer great is the spell-binding quality of their prose: that ability to enrapture, enchant, seduce. A critic once remarked of Anne Rice: “You surrender to her, as if in a voluptuous dream.” Exactly right. Interview with the Vampire, Servant of the Bones, Pandora, Vittorio the Vampire, the Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Story after story from Joyce Carol Oates has found me perched on the edge of my chair: terrified to discover what might happen next to her characters if I continue reading; too breathless and engrossed to stop. Her writing raises my pulse rate—while I marvel at the assured confidence and deftness of her prose, and the probing intelligence behind it. Ursula K. Le Guin: a national treasure (now deceased; alas!): the kind of writer whose seemingly effortless prose and command of narrative compels reading of her fiction; whose formidable intellectual gifts of analysis, insight and plain speaking glossed by a lifetime of lightly worn learning (her essays) elicit wolf-whistles of awe and appreciation. God, I wish I’d written that! Thought that. Felt that. (But you didn’t—till you’d first read Le Guin.)

And now we arrive at Ursula K. Le Guin’s quote: “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.” 

In a single pithy observation this quote of Le Guin’s (with its attendant subtext) encapsulates the terror and the glory of fictioneering—to say nothing of the alternating cycles of hyperbolic mania and melancholic despair a psychologically unmoored writer might fall prey to.  

I was going to write another thousand words unpacking what I meant to convey in the paragraph above, but for brevity and concision Le Guin’s quote really cannot be improved upon. The challenge facing the writer is to provide the telling details of their story in expertly paced and vividly concretized fashion so that the reader may—insofar as is psychically possible—inhabit a close facsimile of the world the author envisaged; moreover, the writer should have a tale worth telling (almost all do), to have something to say about it beyond the mere fashioning of plot (many don’t), and the hard-won mastery of craft acquired through a lifetime of practice in order to tell their story well (the difference—oftentimes but not always—between the professional and the amateur). The challenge of the reader is to have read as widely and deeply as possible in order to engage with story on its own terms: neither willfully misreading, nor misconstruing, a text into what it is not. If this process fails what are we left with? Miscommunication or hopeless muddle, mere “black marks on wood pulp” signifying nothing.

In sum: The writer indeed risks making a fool of themselves when he or she sits down to write—especially if the chosen subject matter, characters described and/or over-all theme is decidedly iconoclastic or otherwise at variance with received wisdom and popular attitudes. And what a pity that oftentimes proves to be!—that great work, from great artists, oftentimes goes misremarked [sic], undervalued and genre-ghettoized until such time as an artist’s ideal reader rises up with the passion and critical acumen necessary to articulate the areté (ancient Greek: excellence in kind) of a given writer and their works. 

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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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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, 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, 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, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Welcome, Writers Co-op

Social Media Distancing

– by Sara M. Zerig

As you’ve heard, the world is on lockdown for something called COVID-19. As a result, some of us have more time on our hands to contemplate the unprecedented (in our lifetimes, anyway) social distancing orders. Others, like first responders and the medical and grocer communities, have less time for this. But never fear, everyone has time for social media.

Early in the melee, a friend of mine posted a brief but thoughtful article to her Facebook page about how this could be our worst hour or our finest, and how we conduct ourselves will be the determining factor. The piece went on to list suggestions on how to do this. I “liked” the article because I thought it was a beautiful sentiment.

Later that day, I scrolled through a battlefield of comments on my friend’s post. Why don’t we do all these things during flu season? … Please educate yourself on the differences between Corona and the flu … Fact check, please! [link] … Yes, fact check! [link] [link] [link] You get the idea. Suffice it to say, the point of the article my friend had posted was lost.

I get it. We all have our opinions, and we have the right to express them. Some of us have unpopular opinions and at times become overly passionate about them. Do NOT get me started on bicyclists who fail to follow the rules of the road among cars. It isn’t pretty. Social media allows for an easy and engaging way to spark spirited debates, and the internet provides debaters a wealth of sources to support each side. I usually find it entertaining. Lately, though, not so much.

It seems every time I log on, someone is telling me how I should think or feel about all things Corona, and shame is the theme. Shame on you, if you are gullible enough to believe social distancing is the appropriate response; shame on you, if you are so arrogant that you don’t. Shame on you, if you are so ungrateful that you are are daunted by having to homeschool your children – you get to be with them, while essential employees don’t. Shame on you, if you aren’t on a ventilator and have the gall to fear for the economy. And for that matter, shame on you if you don’t fear for the economy, you elitist snob. We’re not all independently wealthy, you know.

I don’t know why I find this so different from political posts. Those are also aimed at dividing people through ridicule of different perspectives. Maybe it’s because political debates have been the norm as long as I can remember, while social distancing is uncomfortably new. Or maybe my friend’s early post landed too well with me. Turning on each other at a time like this feels like an embarrassment to the human race. In the immortal words of Taylor Swift: I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.

Good news! I can practice social-media-distancing and spend that energy on more creative activities. And I’m gonna do it. Just as soon as I post this blog. Shakespeare is said to have likely written King Lear from quarantine (don’t challenge me – I will find three questionable sources for every one you send me saying he didn’t). No, I am not suggesting that my romance-in-fantasy-settings books equate to Shakespeare, but I can provide an escape for people who enjoy that genre. This seems like a more positive way to spend my time than scrolling through COVID posts.

This is not a blog telling you to quit social media and create. It’s just a thought. An idea. An update on what’s going on over here, from one quarantined writer to others who have my virtual support and online respect. As my twelve-year-old daughter says too frequently: You do you, boo. Imma do me.

Friendly wave from at least six feet away,

Sara

Sara M. Zerig is author of the contemporary fantasy-romance AoX Series. “Unearthed” now available in eBook format on Amazon for Kindle (and Kindle app), Apple iBooks, and Barnes & Noble for Nook (and Nook app).
View more posts: https://saramzerig.wordpress.com/

Photo by Thought Catalog, http://www.upslash.com

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About Writers, book sales, editing, inspiration, Literary critique, publishing, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

My First Story

 – by Adam Stump

When I chose to start writing fiction professionally (if that’s what you could call what I do–professional), I didn’t do so because I thought that I’d make money (I’ve made about $12), and I didn’t do it because I thought I was a good writer (I have yet to win my Pulitzer). I did it because I had stories to tell. If anything, I’m a storyteller, not a writer. I only write when the storytelling muse abducts me (usually at 2AM), and I feel like I have a story worth sharing. These stories usually percolate in my subconscious for months or even years before I write them down. When I finally do write them down, they come out mostly complete and usually pretty good.

As such, after my decision to write a story to be published (by someone else), I chose a story that had been rolling around without any clear definition in my brain for quite some time. I used a lot of elements from my childhood in upstate New York as well as a story I had heard while I lived in Pittsburgh. I remember furiously clacking away on my keyboard as the story poured onto the screen of my laptop.

The recipe for that story was: One part nostalgia, one part adventure, and one part terror. I produced a story that I thought was one of the best that I had ever read. It truly was one of the best I had ever read, because it was exactly what I wanted to read.

That first story taught me a lot about writing. I was so proud of it that I sent it to several friends because I thought that they would enjoy it. They, in turn, tore the story to shreds (in my mind, anyway). As I picked up the proverbial pieces of my story (and morale) from the floor, I was in shock. I didn’t know how anyone else wouldn’t find the story to be the best that they had ever read.

Then, I re-read my story and saw that the critiques (that’s really what they were, not attacks) that my friends made were accurate, valid, and necessary. I performed my first ever critical revision on my first ever story. I shaved a couple thousand words of nostalgic description, I increased some characters, rewrote a few scenes, deleted some scenes, and (most shocking of all), I changed the name of the story.

The story was originally titled “The Storm Drain.” Can you imagine reading a story with a title like that? I can’t. My best friend and inspiration for writing, N.D. Coley, told me to change the title. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to punch a hole through the wall. But he was 100% right. I changed the name of the story to “Keep Off the Grass.” It’s a line in the story, and he told me that the story had named itself. In retrospect, I agree.

After learning that I’m not the best writer in the world and that I need critical feedback and revision and even title changes, I produced a decent version of the story and began shopping around for a publication to publish this electronic packet of blood, sweat, and tears. I got rejection after rejection after rejection. I knew that I could self-publish, but I thought that this story was good enough to be accepted by someone else for publication–others would view the story as something worth sharing with their readers.

Every rejection letter that came back was virtually the same: “This story is just an homage to Stephen King’s Stand By Me,” a book I’ve never read and a movie that I’ve never seen. I didn’t even know the premise of the book/movie. I’ve since googled it and can see that the comparisons are valid. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that “Keep Off the Grass” is a good story. I’d also say that, for all the valid criticism, there are only so many plots out there when it comes to general fiction. I happened to stumble upon a plot that Stephen King stumbled upon, as well. The plot doesn’t belong to him or to me, but to the consciousness–the ethos–of storytelling.

Fast forward a few years and countless rejection letters to today. I opened up my email and the first thing that I saw was an acceptance letter from an editor who wants to share my story in his magazine. He didn’t say anything about Stephen King or Stand By Me. He said that it was a good story and he wanted to feature it in the upcoming issue of his magazine.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would follow from reading that email. I literally wanted to scream and shout. I wanted to pound on pots and pans and run outside screaming that I had been published. I felt even more elated than I did when I actually received my first acceptance letter way back when. Why? Because this is my first story, and it’s part of my story. It’s still nostalgic for me, even if it’s been heavily edited and gone through a couple critical revisions since the first time I sat down to my laptop to capture it in writing.

The purpose of this post, though, isn’t just to give you some history of my writing, but to encourage you the reader. Have you written a story? Has it been rejected, but you still think it’s a good story? Keep at it. If you truly believe it’s a good story, keep sending it out. Don’t give up! I thought this story would be my first published story. It’s not. It’s a few years old now. If I wrote it today, it would probably be a different story. However, it is what it is. And it’s a success story. It certainly didn’t start that way. If you’re discouraged with your writing, don’t be. If it’s really good stuff, others will recognize it. As authors, we might have little control over the body of the story–maybe it’s the muse or maybe it’s the editorial team dictating the story–but we still control how the story begins and, ultimately, how the story ends!

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About Writers, inspiration, Research, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Muse

Above: Gilgamesh Tablet #11

We writers appreciate a good muse.

While researching to write a story set in ancient Mesopotamia, I came across a museum reproduction of a Sumerian tablet containing the oldest story that we have found to date. The epic of Gilgamesh, of course; and of course I bought it. It helps me to write when I can connect something tangible to the story.

This particular piece contains the first written account of the Deluge. It’s the tale of a man asked by his god to build an Ark so he, his family, and the various animals could survive a Great Flood that other gods were causing to destroy mankind. The -literally- funny part of this version is why the gods wanted to kill us all off: Human were too noisy and annoying. (Yup, this definitely rings true to me.)

Over the years I’ve collected other items to help ground my thoughts into a story. See:
https://writercoop.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/writing-charms/

What about you? Is your muse tangible? Or maybe it’s music? Or is it something else entirely?

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About Writers, book reviews, inspiration, Poetry, Stories, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Probing Dhalgren

“Be glad you’re not just a character scrawled in the margins of somebody else’s lost notebook: you’d be deadly dull.”

The first time I read Samuel R. Delaney’s masterpiece, I didn’t know a couple of things. In 1975, I was neither privy to writing techniques nor did I know that Dhalgren would become recognized as one of the most profound science fiction novels of all time. I was simply riveted by the setting and the characters. When my Lady gave me an unusual edition this Christmas, I re-read that story I remembered so well from 44 years ago. (It never occurred to me at the time that I would see the year 2020 either, but, that’s another blog.)

If you write sci-fi, then you must attempt to read, or re-read, Dhalgren. If the first scene grabs you, you will be reluctant to put it down 800 pages later. Disclaimer: Like Joyce’s Ulysses, you can’t understand Dhalgren until you’ve read it and once you’ve read it, you can’t explain it. But here are three clues.

Dhalgren presents reality on the edge of perception, before we process it. “Even if the quotidian surface sits on it a bit askew.”

+++Finally Dragon Lady called down: “You still okay…?”
+++“Yeah.” Kidd took a breath. “I’ll tie the rope around him. You can haul him up.” He slipped the rope from under his arms, pulled it over his head, but left it around one shoulder; he stepped forward on the oozy filth, stooped, and tugged a leg from where it had wedged between two blackened bumper plates.
+++“… is he alive?” Thirteen called.
+++Kidd took another breath. “Naw.” He pulled at the arm, got a grip around the chest, which was all soft against him. His own shirt front soaked immediately. Blood dribbled along his forearm. Standing, he dragged the body back a step. A foot caught, pulled free; the leg fell back against his thigh — his thigh wet, warm, to the knee. Dragging it, limp, reaching for the rope, he thought: Is this what turns on blood and blade freaks? He thought of Tak, he thought of George, hunted in himself for any idle sexuality: he found it, disconcertingly, a small warmth above the loins that, as he bared his teeth and the rope slid through his sticky hand, went out. “Let me have another couple of feet!” Well, he had found it before in auto wrecks, in blue plush, in roots, in wet wood with the bark just stripped.

In that moment before we process reality, censorship is not possible.

Often, the real world occurs on the edge of a dream.

Ahead, he could see the taller buildings. Smoke had gnawed away the upper stories. Stealthily, he descended into the injured city.
It does not offer me any protection, this mist; rather a refracting grid through which to view the violent machine, explore the technocracy of the eye itself, spelunk the semi-circular canal. I am traveling my own optic nerve.

Note the slip from third person into first person.

The story is show-no-tell to the point where the reader knows no more than is seen through the eyes of the main character, who struggles to understand what he is experiencing.

The smoke was so thick he wondered if the glass were opaque and he only misremembered it as clear–
Well–” Madam Brown pushed open the cracked door– “what do you think of the Richards after your first day on the job?”
“I don’t think anything.” Kidd stretched in the over-thick night. “I’m just an observer.”

In the end, each reader is left with their own thoughts about Dhalgren. “I would never presume to say what they meant,” Ernest Newboy, the poet, says when asked what poems mean. To me, Dhalgren is epic poetry in prose.

And that’s all I got; three clues and an ongoing fascination. What did you take away from this novel?

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