An extremely good conversation in my literature class about intelligence (Inspired by Ted Chiang’s The Great Silence). We talked about other species that fall under the definition of intelligence, which is “the ability to understand and apply knowledge.” Considering Alex the Parrot and Koko the Gorilla, and other species: crows are problem solvers and remember faces. We discussed dogs, cats, and others. Is love, as an abstract idea, understood and applied by animals? And then – is intelligence found in showing love?
This is what good literature should do. Teach, delight, and create wonder.
Some authors are unhappy when readers see something in their story, novel, or poem that was not intended.
I subscribe to the theory of reader response. Our work is going to touch different people in different ways; readers are going to get out of it something related to what they bring to it, so if they don’t see what we originally intended, they are not wrong, nor did they read it wrong, they are merely giving the writer an insight.
I, personally, am thrilled when readers see something I hadn’t intended. For my novella, West End, one reader said the melancholy of the main character haunted her. Other readers believed some of the characters might have actually been spirits or ghosts. One of the characters, I left open. His questionable appearances deepened the story and the effects on the main character who is dealing with depression.
However, when another reader felt that the son might have been a ghost – it made me go back and reread my own work!
Once the story, novel, or poem is out there, readers are going to take away or put into it whatever is in their own toolbox and we can not control it. We may not like it – I had one person mistake me for one of my characters – but we do have to accept it. I usually thank the reader for their insights, regardless of what I feel about the response.
All readings are good readings!
If you’re interested in reading West End – it’ll be on sale Saturday and Sunday. And – then let me know what you think!
January 19th, is the 210th anniversary of Poe’s Birth.
Although many people are content with the reason of Poe’s continued relevance in our society is the stereotypical tortured artist. There is no doubt he was tortured, and for reasons of which we are all familiar; he was an orphan who lost every women he ever loved.
His battles with alcohol, I believe, are highly exaggerated. But it makes for a good story. I’m not saying he never drank – he drank to excess plenty of times, he may have officially been an alcoholic as we understand the word today; however, it was not a constant. There were many years through his marriage to Virginia that he did not drink or drink to excess. Before his death in 1849, he’d joined the Sons of Temperance Movement – to get people to stop drinking.
The reason Poe has remained relevant throughout the years is his work touches our deepest fears and deepest desires. He has continued to inspire other writers
and artists of all types.
He wrote far more than what we, today, consider horror. He wrote essays, literary analysis, investigative pieces. He wrote about street paving, Stonehenge, and he was inspired by what he read in newspapers. Berenice and others were inspired by stories of grave robbers in local papers.
The famed portrait of Edgar Allan Poe was taken three days after his suicide attempt in 1848.
And, Eddy, my imaginative fiction, was inspired by that suicide attempt. He bought two bottles of laudanum on a cold winter night meaning to do himself in. He’d lost Virginia and felt he had no one. (Laudanum contained opium and derivatives of morphine and codeine.)
For Poe’s Birthday, I offer an excerpt from the novella:
He stumbles from the pub, slips, and falls on the iced over bricks of Boston’s November streets. Save for the muddled voices beyond the closed door, the street is quiet as his body thuds to the ground. His breath billows in front of him as he gasps and grumbles and struggles to his knees, then his feet, to regain his drunken balance.
The gaslamp on the corner offers a wavering yellow glow for the struggling figure on the lonely winter night. Thin strands of hair blow in the chilled breeze; he runs his hands over his head, straightens himself before he pulls at the sagging overcoat and tugs it closed.
Remembering the tinctures of laudanum pried from the chary pharmacist, he hurriedly shoves his hands in his pockets, retrieves the bottles.
His heavy breath mounds in front of him and, for a moment, he can’t see; then the luminous cloud of brandy scented air dissipates. The medicines are intact. Relieved, he stuffs them back in his pocket and buttons his jacket.
“Edgar,” someone calls from the corner; the noise from the pub trails the swarthy figure out until the door slams to a close behind him. “You alright?”
Edgar waves him off without turning around.
The thick shadow chuckles as he staggers in the opposite direction.
The winter is freezing cold, but the snow hasn’t endured. Small white crystals pile in corners and fill the air. The icy rain soaks him before he reaches his chamber on the second floor of the boarding house. The room is small, impersonal, but warmer than the street. An unlit lantern shimmies on the desk as he unsteadily seats himself, glances out the window.
A barely discernable outline disquiets the otherwise muted darkness on the corner of the street below. He knows it’s the black dog that’s stalked him his whole life. Suddenly angered, he shoves himself forward, pushes the unlit lamp aside and topples the ink jar.
“Get outta here, you wretched creature.” The incensed command lost in the night.
Recovering the secreted bottles of opium from his coat pocket, he sets them side by side in front of him. Unsteadily he tugs the lid from one and snorts in a single gulp.
Much love and luck.
I’d hate to disagree with our dearly departed master musician, Tom Petty, but the waiting is not the hardest part – That’s a myth.
Waiting is the easy part.
If I haven’t lost you yet, let me explain.
Some people spend their lives waiting. They dream of doing more, but they create excuses of why they can’t or why they haven’t yet. They’re waiting for…. fill in the blank…. the right time, the right place, until they finish this, until that happens. It’s an excuse.
When you’ve moved forward and accomplished something, the waiting becomes the easy part.
The hardest part is jumping over every damn hurdle that life puts in front of you.
The hardest part is avoiding those people who want to limit you.
The hardest part is not buying into the self doubt that holds many people back.
The hardest part is doing the work. And then doing more work.
The hardest party is putting yourself out there and face the possible criticism.
The hardest part is never giving up.
Rejection is not the hardest part – it’s just part of the whole. The whole world is not going to love everything we do.
Waiting for the results is not the hardest part – that’s part of the whole.
Motivation or inspiration is not the hardest part – not even sure that’s part of the whole, but it helps.
Action is what is required to be successful.
Sometimes, action makes others around you uncomfortable. They’ll try to criticize your forward movement as wrong action. I can’t tell you how many times people have harped on something I’ve done as if I’ve ruined my chances at success, when in fact it was a step in the right direction.
I’m unclear if it’s a fear of rejection or the fear of success itself that keeps people stagnated in excuses. If they become successful, their lives will have to change. They’d have to continue to work, to duplicate their success.
I consider it is not a fear of failure – because, by not trying, aren’t they failures already? Or maybe that’s it – they can claim they never “got their chance,” when, in fact, they never actually took a chance. That’s the true failure.
Success follows action. Action takes work. As long as their is forward movement, there is no failure. As long as one doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up, there is no failure.
Don’t wait. Move forward. Slowly. Consistently. Misstep and get up again. Keep moving forward.
Sometimes, I wish I was the driver of the Karma truck. But, I suppose, being a writer is better. Still have the problem of sitting too long, but we get to exact revenge too. The best kind of revenge – in print.
Many years ago, sharing some big life altering event with a friend, she responded, “I guess these things happen to you because you’re a writer.”
Of course, life awry, I didn’t think this is the best response a friend could give – but, then again, maybe it was. Because it’s true.
What writer hasn’t written the demise of someone who’s wronged them?
We writers have a way of writing life into our fiction. We work out our demons, our personal challenges, and by putting it out there in our fiction (or even in our creative nonfiction), we do one better than reap revenge, we are relieved and we are relatable to others who have gone through similar situations or similar emotional upheavals.
Recently, my life became vexed by a certain set of people and circumstances which caused great stress and loss (how’s that for vague?); and true to form, one of my writer friends said, “sounds like a great book!”
It damn well does.
But, first, I had to roll my eyes and throw back my head. I just wanted some sympathy, some empathy. But she gave me more than that – she gave me purpose, building from ashes, and a way for me to transmit sympathy to another by relating to a scenario which many of us have experienced. (I know, still too vague.)
However, the tragedy still fresh and the skin still tender, I’ve written on outline and will start on the book when the callous scars over and the sensitivity has dulled.
Darrel Laurant contacted me some time ago about featuring my book, West End, on his project website. I’m only happy to now have him talk about that project here.
Completing and publishing a book — any book — is a noble accomplishment. Unfortunately, it’s only half the battle.
Writing, publishing and marketing used to be co-joined triplets, or at least close cousins. Now, though, they have drifted apart into separate entities. As a consequence, the new mantra from publishers turning down a manuscript has become: “We really like your book, but we don’t think we can sell it.”
What you realize, as you skim over the Top 100 best-selling offerings on Amazon or even the hallowed New York Times list, is that “marketability” now has very little to do with what we used to perceive as “quality.” Not that a well-written book can’t be successful, but writing well is no longer a crucial requirement, writing not-so-well no longer a deal-breaker.
The good news is, thanks to current technology and increased self publishing options, almost anyone who really wants to get a book published can now do so. The bad news is, almost anyone who really wants to get a book published can now do so.
The fact that 30 million or so books are now listed on Amazon has drastically changed the rules of engagement. The issue is no longer getting published, but getting noticed.
Writers are obviously the losers in this not-so-brave new world, but so are readers. Books go surging past us like flotsam on a flood-swollen river, never to be seen again. If it was published in 2016, it has already become a relic.
The idea of Snowflakes in a Blizzard, which started three years ago, is to become just one small voice shouting: “Whoa!”
I spent more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and columnist, wrote a lot for magazines and Websites on the side, published two books that sold over 3,000 copies each locally, and won a lot of writing awards from the Virginia Press Association.
In some occupations, all that would have helped ease my transition when I retired from journalism to write books full-time. In the publishing field, I had to check it all at the door.
When my first novel, “The Kudzu Kid,” went up on Amazon, I was excited. I now had my own little niche, exposed to the world. I had a publisher who, at least in theory, was prepared to spread the word. I had a distributor to transport my books to the far corners of the nation. Smiling contentedly, I sat back and waited for the orders to pour in.
And waited. And waited. Eventually, it dawned on me that since nobody outside of Central Virginia had ever heard of me, the odds of anyone randomly clicking on my Amazon page were infinitesimal. Why would they?
At some point during the mini-funk that followed, aggravated by the winter blahs, I was standing in front of my living room widow in Lake George, NY, watching it snow, when this thought occurred to me: “Getting noticed for a new writer these days is like a snowflake trying to stand out in a blizzard.”
A few months later, I started the Snowflakes in a Blizzard blog.
Each week, Snowflakes highlights three books. They could be novels, poetry, short stories, non-fiction, memoirs or a hybrid. What they have in common are that they are a) unique in some way and b) could use more attention. The “template” for every book is filled out by the author and goes individually to each of our 3,000-plus followers, complete with a few reviews and a sample chapter. It’s a way of getting one-on-one attention.
Also, it’s completely free. I like that for several reasons:
First, it takes the pressure off. Charging for a service is all about making a promise — in this case, pay me and I’ll sell books for you. I can’t do that, because I have no way of tracking who might have purchased a book because of a Snowflakes post they received.
Second, it makes for a better vibe between me and other writers. They are colleagues, not customers.
Finally, I don’t feel competitive with any other writer-friendly blogs or Websites. In fact, I’d be delighted if a thousand other sites sprang up just like Snowflakes in a Blizzard, because that would still not take care of all the writers who need such a service.
You may have heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. In the case of the book-buying public, the enemy is our very human tendency to stick with what we know. Early in our lives, most of us have settled in on what food, music, movies and, yes, books we like.
This fact unquestionably drives the book publishing business. It has become a lot like politics — survey the public to find out what they think they want, then give it to them. It accounts for the focus on genres, the reliance on best-seller lists and the dicotomy of wealth between the top one percent of authors and everybody else.
I don’t like to point fingers at the publishing industry, because they need sales to survive. So do agents. I do, however, think that the current glut of books has contributed in many cases to tunnel vision and laziness. What used to be “Wow, this is a great book — we need to tell people about this talented new author,” has morphed into “Oh, too bad — it doesn’t have the right genre for our demographic.”
This genre fixation is one of my major gripes about the book business today. Instead of offering unique work that only they could produce, some authors are “writing to genre,” following a list of pre-prescribed rules in an effort to “fit.” Yet so many of the books that made a big impact upon arrival — think “In Cold Blood,” “The Color Purple,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Roots” — probably would have flunked the genre test.
To their credit, a lot of small “indie” publishers do seek out and nurture talented new writers. Sometimes, they are richly rewarded for it.
My other gripe is the attitude held by some gatekeepers that they are doing writers a huge favor by publishing them. I growl, internally, every time I see this on a Website: “If you don’t hear from us in two months, it means we’re not interested.”
How much time and trouble would it take to type “Thanks, but not for us,” and hit “send”? Or maybe, “We’re thinking about it.”
This lack of communication shows a naked disrespect to authors who, after all, just want to enter into a business deal with them. Think of how you’d feel if you walked into a restaurant, sat down at a table, and were then ignored for an hour before you finally got up and left.
OK, so the creative universe is awash with other books. Publishers and agents can be uncaring, potential book buyers unlikely to try something new, both realities especially hard on new writers who haven’t yet accumulated prior publications, lots of good reviews or a book club fan base.
So what can we do? I make no claims of being an expert (I’ve never had a best selling book, so what do I know?), but I do have some suggestions.
I invite you to check out the Snowflakes in a Blizzard site, and perhaps even follow it. Or, you may have a book you’d like to have featured, or know someone else who does.
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and I love to talk about writing, any time.