The Anxiety of Non-Influence

cover life of clouds

I had this image in my head of a father telling his little girls stories to teach them lessons. The stories were about clouds and he sang them in an old fashioned, rhythmic way.

The little girls have images in their heads, familiar sounds from far away and long ago.

But Daddy’s not there. The songs are gone. And a piece of the girls got lost somewhere.

This is what I think of when I think of Life of Clouds.

But the story really has a lot to do with anxiety. So many of our young people experience anxiety and depression – and these girls are suffering.

There’s hope though. Somewhere, there’s always hope.

When they believe it’s about you….

cover of west endI’ve written so many stories from first person point of view. At first, I was nervous because people did ask – is that real? is that you? and even contacted me and said – I know that’s about you.

So, it does make a person nervous about what they write and publish.

But at some point, you’ve got to let people think what they want to think. None of it will affect you in the long run.

I had an editor refuse a fictional story because, he said, it’s memoir and ultimately we didn’t ask for your personal story.

I thought – it must be good if he thought it was me! But I didn’t bother to correct him. It was a fiction call and I’d submitted fiction. If the editor didn’t realize the “I” didn’t necessarily represent the author, but the character, he is probably not the editor I need to work with nor the journal I want to be published in.

I worried about this with West End – my first big publication. One of the big criticisms girl on train tracks.jpgfrom someone who believed they knew me thought it wasn’t a realistic portrayal of me. I had to tell him because the character was not me! While the same story convinced another person that I’d led a secret life prior to moving to California.

Possibly, one of the convincing elements of the story is the setting. The place, the west side of Cleveland, where I grew up, is real. You can trace the steps of my characters who walked the path passed the baseball field and lost themselves on the train tracks, or those who played in the abandoned buildings. The streets are still there, the houses still stand, except the one which burned to the ground – a vacant lot interrupts the landscape of the neighborhood.

West End was a passion project. It was for the kids who I’d known and those I didn’t who never made it out. But it wasn’t me. Maybe parts of me live there in the pages and parts of me live on those streets.

Ultimately, you can’t allow another person’s possible opinion of you affect your writing.

Writing with Bones

I think I read Writing Down the Bones maybe more than 20 years ago.  I do believe it’s still on my bookshelf. I keep books that have spoken to me.

writing-down-the-bones.jpgAlthough one website says it’s a good book for beginning writers, I think we might all find some inspiration in these pages.

In yoga, sometimes we go back to level one, we go back to the training. After so many years of doing it, so many teachers putting their own twists on it, so many times we’ve worked with (or around) an injury – it’s good to go back to the basics.

I see nothing wrong with doing that in writing either.

Writing Down the Bones – a book by Natalie Goldberg. This site gives you a generous sampling of the book.

I’m planning to pick it up again – see what else I can learn, what I might relearn.

Free Reads

cofffee.jpgWhat’s better than coffee?  FREE COFFEE!  Or coffee that someone else bought for you.  And that’s what happened to me the other day. I ordered my coffee and the guy said – “On me – because you’re a great teacher!”

That coffee tasted better than any coffee I’d had of late.

So – for you – free reads.

Here’s a story of mine – originally printed in Avatar: All the Beautiful People.

And here’s some freebies from other authors: 23 Free Stories

If you’re a kindle subscriber, there are many more stories!

Interruptions…

I’m going to interrupt the flow of this blog , but windex1.jpge really should talk about how we deal with interruptions to our work.

I try not to take phone calls during my work time; however, sometimes I have to. A doctor appointment, a work call – all important, can’t wait until later. At least with those, you know you won’t be on the phone long.

The other day a friend called me. I hadn’t talked to him in over a month, so I wanted to see how he was. We live in different times zone, which makes scheduling time for a chat rather challenging. I told myself, even upon answering, that I wouldn’t talk long. But we did get carried away in catching up.

Set boundaries. I finally did tell him I needed to get back to my writing. He understands. Many people don’t, so I don’t regularly say that. I do tell them I can talk to them later or that I’m in the middle of something – both of which are true.

Phone calls and text messages are easier to put on hold – put the phone in the other room or turn it off. It really is not that hard.  Having children or spouses is a whole different topic, which I’m going to talk about during another blog.

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Right now, as I said, I need to interrupt the flow of this the gold tooth.jpgblog with an announcement.

You can win my short story, The Gold Tooth! Click here. This is only for a limited time.

Long lost sisters are reunited at the reading of their mother’s will. Celeste who has cared for their mother in her declining years is awarded a small, broken music box. The force of nature, Nancy, who hasn’t been seen they were teenagers, is awarded the entire estate. Before they leave the office, Nancy is given the option to exchange the estate for the box. Nancy laughs off the incredible offer and moves into the estate. What’s discovered in the music box could cost one sister her freedom and the other her life.

Writer Wednesday: Sharing is….?

climbing helping  team work , success conceptIn a writer’s group, I asked a specific person how one would use a certain program. They responded with, “I’d be glad to show you; my rates are very reasonable.”

I was shocked into silence. I asked a simple question, and they wanted to charge me for their answer?

But, then again, they have the right to earn a living by selling their knowledge.

How often have I given my knowledge for free? I could charge, I thought, for all the information and skills I’ve accumulated over the years.

But – wait a minute – writers really don’t make that much money, and we’re all strugglingshare3 in the same boat of trying to get our books, articles, short stories, or other out there to larger audiences.

Think of being on a life-raft and you are the one who has the clean water, or maybe the secret to cleaning the water, would you really sell it to another passenger? Some people would.

There’s a story from a Gladwell book about how post-its came about. (To simplify:) One worker in the paper department bumped into someone from their glue department, they both talked about what they were working on and the problems there were having. If only we could….   and boom – two collaborators came up with an idea worked together to bring that to fruition by sharing their expertise and invented something we all use (and made billions for 3M!).  Companies like 3M, Apple, Google, and others now use that theory to come up with new ideas, products, and solutions for every day problems!

shareWhen we all work together, we all become better humans. I want to share my ideas and experiences and share other writer’s with you, other ideas with everyone who desires to listen.

I have a job; I have many jobs. I’m not about to take advantage of others who are students in life or in writing and try to make a buck from them. I’d rather share my knowledge. I’d rather help my fellow passengers on this journey.

Thanks to all who have shared their knowledge with me. Thank you to those writers who give of themselves and their resources to make a better writing community.

When we work together, we can all benefit.

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Friday Feature: Snowflakes in a Blizzard, Darrel Laurant’s Project to Assist Writers

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.

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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.

  1. Look at the myriad niches that might be hidden beneath the main thrust of your book. These could include the setting, the occupation of main characters, a societal issue that is addressed, etc. Find some on-line clusters of people who reflect those nooks and crannies and send them a sample chapter. Do everything you can to show a publisher or agent that your book will, indeed, have a ready-made audience.
  2. Don’t forget the local connection. After your book is published (or even before), show up at your local newspaper office, meet the book editor, and suggest a review of your book. Don’t forget the little free papers than have mushroomed everywhere.
  3. Arrange similar meetings with small bookstore owners in your area.
  4. Set up as many book signings as you can handle, including businesses other than bookstores.

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 writersbridge@hotmail.com, and I love to talk about writing, any time.

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Much luck, Darrell. Thanks!
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