Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Let’s Show Off

Recently, several of us explored ways to expand our little co-op. Having failed to heed the Universal Caution against volunteering, I volunteered to organize two ongoing projects — Writing Prompts and Critique Groups — that might induce authors to participate. Most of those who commented on my ideas supported them. (I suspect they were just happy somebody offered to do something, but I am grateful nonetheless.)

Let’s begin with a Writing Prompt. This isn’t a competition, but all submissions will be shown off in a Show Case posted here on Writers Co-op. Here are some guidelines: Pick a genre, any genre. Use approximately 6 to 1,000 words. The goal is to stretch our author muscles and produce a piece worth sharing with our friends.

The first prompt is: Atrophied.

Submission Instructions: By Monday, October 4, attach your work (as a .docx or .pdf) to an email addressed to me at stranscht@sbcglobal.net. I’ll put them together in a Show Case post here on Writers Co-op for Friday, October 8. (I’m thinking this could be a bi-weekly challenge. What do you think?)

And if we all share these projects through our own personal blogs, Facebook pages, and soapboxes, authors who have never heard of Writers Co-op might take part, too.

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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 

_________________________________

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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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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humor, scams, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Get Big Money Now! Click or Call!

As writers we learn from everything we read, don’t we? The good, the bad, and the ugly. This includes certain laugh-out-loud-funny, grammatically challenged examples of criminal hucksterism that flood our desktop computer and cell phone inboxes daily. These suspect come-ons are designed to tempt us into sharing personal financial info that will lead to immediate disaster and the draining of hacked bank accounts.

I take delight (yes, I’m weird that way: amused rather than irritated) in poorly written spam-scam e-mails that routinely hit my inbox. Even when the suspect communication is grammatically and syntactically correct, there is oftentimes an over-the-top, maniacal energy quality to the socially engineered “call now!” or “click here!” pitch that both alarms and repels. (Leastwise the literate, discerning receiver of such junk e-mail spams.) Here is a baker’s dozen of the best that have entertained me this year, with my considered (though not communicated) replies. 

Would you like to secure your level and be all monies? 

Carl: “Umm . . .” 

Stimulus is available to you now! Mistake if delay. We can give you advance on government checks. 

Carl: “Thank god! East European scammers to the rescue. Uncle Sam is such a slacker!” 

Would you like more money? If such dreams contact ______ at _____ and get approved while only ten minutes pass. 

Carl: “I’ll give you five . . .” 

Respond to Check Adventure today! 

Carl: “Yes! No.” 

Many are the peoples whose accounts fall off due to errors that are not their faults yet bills keep coming. How to resolve? It starts by saying “I want gold.” 

Carl: “I want gold! I want gold! I want gold!” (A beat.) “F#@k! Nothing’s happening . . .” 

We have been trying to complete your application for $10,000 – $100,000. Many pay only $50 a month or less. Approval come quick as you e-sign, so why stop? 

Carl: “I Googled your company.” 

Three times now you no respond to so much money. 

Carl: “And I shall ignore you three times more . . .” 

In just two minutes your life can change. 

Carl: “I’ll bet!” 

Carl, your $10,000 is here! Please contact us so that we can complete the bank transfer. 

Carl: “I don’t wish to own a bank; please send money in the mail.” 

Are you short of cash? That is not your fault. Get what you need today. 

Carl: “I am gratified and reassured! I knew being poor wasn’t my fault. 20k in small bills, please.” 

So many people have happy bills now that they modify with extra dollars. Call our operators to learn how fast you can change the bills. 

Carl: “Joy tremors! I call so fast we go back in time to modify sad-face debts.”  

We tried to reach you by phone and failed. So now we reach out with money that starts by clicking this link to see what amount. Almost everybody get big money! Bad credit is no problem to us.  

Carl: “Well sure; that makes sense–who needs good credit to get ‘big money’ ?” 

And my personal favorite for enthusiastic succinctness, the pitch that began: 

Money everywhere! 

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Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Poem Composed After Reading Gertrude Stein

As Monty Python used to say: “And now, for something completely different . . .”

Gristle Zippers

Hell is a horror is a belt is a house.   

Mommy white-faced, clench-jawed, smoking dollar bills   

green green angry   

our rabbit-eared television    

blares vacuum tube pophisses &   

fingersnap jingle-jangles upon the raptured children   

twixt game glows & sporting ejects   

better soaps & tires, softer sheets, sparkling dishes  

a fork is a fork is a fork   

chow down to father. Chow down. To father. Chow  

down to. father. Chow. Down. To. Father.  

How now cows aflutter  

vulcanized rubber sighs to do, to go, to be

gathered imbecility docility virility   

conditioned by Madison Avenue to consume, to obey   

gun-metal blue the guns, knives, grenades, berets   

foundling war: writhing rhythms   

’mongst blinkered-tinkered-sphincter’d toys    

beribboned chests & broken-backed books.    

O joy! O joke! O death! Deaths.   

Fall silent in the nave   

the grave of mind.    

–Carl E. Reed

——————–

Author’s note: Gertrude Stein would not approve of this poem. It is contemptibly bourgeois and thoroughly unconvincing in the trite, commonplace sentiments it proffers as subversive and borderline anarchist; also, it is cretinously conventional in grammar and structure. Moreover, it makes too much sense; hence violates the core principle of Dada: purest pointlessness. 

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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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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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Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

BOGART LAUGHING

And now for something completely different, from Guest Author Michael DiMatteo.

I was having dinner with Humphrey Bogart last night. We’re not friends. In fact, we never met as I’m still alive and he’s been dead for some time now. Yes, I’m talking about that Humphrey Bogart, the one that was the original-original member of the Hollywood Rat Pack. The same guy that starred in what some consider the greatest movie ever made, Casablanca. I don’t know if that’s true, I’ve never seen it (you can start to boo right now if you wish – get it over with).

Anyway, for some reason, I was having dinner with him. He was in a tux and seated to my left. The entire dream was first person, meaning I was seeing things through my own eyes. Ironically enough, my mother was sitting across from Bogart and I, and for some reason, I was standing the entire time. The room we were in was a banquet hall, and while you could hear glasses clanging, the only light in the room was shining on our table, kind of like we were the spotlight of the dream. That’s how it works, right? If you can’t be a star in the movies, at least you can get the spotlight in your own dream.

I was witty. I had all these clever one-liners, and I was stealing the show. Bogart, to his credit, allowed me that spotlight, as someone of his stature would. Why does he need to be the star of the show when he is the brightest star in that cosmos? So, I went on countering the conversation with my witty one-liners and Bogart continued to laugh, a diamond pinky ring on his right hand, and a drink in his left. My guess was some sort of scotch, the ice peeking over the top of the maple colored liquid. The entire scene was surreal, as it should be seeing as I was dreaming.

Then, I looked across the table at my mother. She was not amused. She was dress to the nines, and her hair was piled high. She had a dark sequined dress and really looked great, but she also had that look that only a mother can give when she is unhappy with her son’s behavior. My father was next to her, but he was hidden in the shadow of the spotlight, so I couldn’t see how he was reacting.

She said, “Do you think that all of this is funny?” Again, a look that could cut ice.

“As a matter of fact I do,” I responded. Bogart thought that comeback was funny too. In fact, I had Bogart in stitches the entire dream. I’ve never been that funny, but on this night, in this dream, Bogart was having the time of his life.

My mother shot me another look. “I think you’re getting out of hand,” she said, “and I don’t think any of this is funny. Mr. Bogart isn’t here to laugh at your jokes.”

I paused for a moment, then looked at Bogart. He looked up at me, took a swig from his glass, and started laughing again. “Well, he’s laughing now, Mom,” I said. Then, we all started to laugh.

It was then that a noise outside of my window took me away from my moment with Bogie sans Bacall. My brain switched back to reality and focused on the noise outside my window. I listened carefully to see if someone was trying to break into a car on the driveway. I thought about getting up and peeking through the blinds, but I was too tired. We have insurance, so if they want the car that badly, they can have it, I thought. Then, I drifted back to sleep for a couple more hours. I wonder if Bogart would think that’s funny too.

http://bestoftimes31.blogspot.com/

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