What makes good literature?

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.” parrot.jpgConsidering 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.

Read The Great Silence here

What’s So Scary?

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“Don’t be afraid of failure.  The reality is that most people successes rise out of the ashes of their previous failures.”

From a new documentary on Netflix titled Creativity. The narrator is talking to the creator of Game of Thrones. The creator is talking about how many times he’s failed.

I started this to say – what are you afraid of?

Then I wanted to ask – what if there was no such thing as fear? What would you do? What could you do?

I want you to think about that. What if fear was not in the human range of emotion or thought?

 

Professionalism

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Some people do not understand the basic rules of professionalism. Speaking to, writing, or responding to an editor or publisher should be undertaken with care. These people are our colleagues in the best sense of the word.

I’ve worked with a few literary journals and have talked to editors at others. The things authors say and do completely surprised me.

I’ve only had a single editor be so completely unprofessional I became embarrassed for her (and forwarded her email to her boss). On the other hand, I’ve dealt with a number of writers who have taken pride in their unprofessional behaviors.

One writer posted a snarky response (he supposedly emailed) to an editor. Whether he actually wrote that to an editor is one thing, it’s quite another message to post it on social media for all to see. He may have felt he had won the battle, so to speak, but what he actually did was show how unprofessional he behaved with a colleague, and what a risk other editors or publishers might find him to work with.

We can disagree with editors, publishers, other writers, but there’s no reason to verbally attack or otherwise be rude to anyone in the industry. Taking your private issues with public companies to social media is a mistake on any number of levels. Just like employers look at social media sites, so do publishers.

I had one publisher ask me for all my Promote-Your-Brand-On-Social-Media.jpgsocial media links. While some writers told me not to hand it over, I felt it was part of my job to have these available to people in the industry. I maintain social media sites for this reason. Publishers don’t want to just know if writers have a following, but how they’re interacting with readers, writers, and others on those social media sites.

Being rude in an email, speaking arrogantly on a call, and posting disagreements publicly will not further a career.

I do understand it’s quite popular in our society of late to act like an arse and expect to be treated like a king/queen; however, it gives a poor impression and people will not want to work with a person who acts like a spoiled child.

Writer Services – Required or Rip-off?

ripoffMany companies (and writers) offer services to writers. Having someone edit your story is a good idea. Having an agent or company help you with setting up a strong structure might be helpful.

However, what is there to protect writers from poor service, someone setting up shop without valid prior experience? I’ve heard many, many stories of poor editors, promised services left undelivered, etc.

I don’t think writers should have to pay for interviews or reviews – yet some writers have found themselves suckered into these “services” with the promise of sales.

The writer needs to do some background research, ask for credentials and satisfied (perhaps even unsatisfied) customers to chat with before purchasing services. Don’t go by the reviews the company or person promotes on their own website, unless you can reach out to those people personally. Too bad there’s not a yelp for writer’s service.

Recently, I did my own research on a few companies. I googled the “authors” they’d used as their positive reviews. The first author/service reviewer I couldn’t find at all – not on amazon, no website. It well could be she uses a pseudonym, but why would she not use a name people could find? Another reviewer claimed to have gone from no sales to 100,000 sales in a month’s time span. When I googled this author, they had one ebook available for purchase. It did not rank very high according to the sales figures I have access too; I found the claim to be overstated. While he may have doubled or tripled his sales, I don’t see any evidence that he has become a best seller on any available websites or lists. Consider the reason authors might make these claims: to be featured on the website in order to garner more readers and sales.

Do your research, writers. If a writer or service, company, or agent won’t or can’t supply you with references or a tax id # or a business license #, what’s your evidence they can do the promised job?

Writer Wednesday: Writer and Writing is a Relationship

heartI know people say writing is a commitment, but it’s more than that. Writing isn’t “like” a relationship, it IS a relationship. A writer must be involved with the whole process of writing, must love it, need it, want to continue to work to make it better. It takes commitment, time, dedication, and the desire to move forward in life with writing.

A few years ago, I was at a conference where the main speaker (don’t remember his relat 1name) said, “You have to be selfish. You must take the time for yourself, for your writing.” He went on to say he spent every Friday at a hotel with his writing. (are you picturing him checking into a seedy, no-tell motel with an old typewriter?;-)

My friend joked, “Noreen does this thing where she actually spends time writing.” My regular action became fodder for humor because he is a writer, but he falls under the category of non-writing writers like many others.

Life happens. We have families, pets, jobs, homes, tons of responsibilities. But notice that list – I put family first. People we love comes first. This is why a writer might consider writing as a relationship – so they give it priority.

I schedule things around my writing whenever possible. I will make doctor appointments, meetings, and everything I have power to plan secondary to my writing by scheduling them before or after my planned writing time.

Once a person considers themselves in a relationship with their writing, they may relat 3naturally form relationship goals! If writing were a romantic relationship, how would you handle it differently? Would you want to go to sleep with it or wake up with it or both? What would you want to give it? Would you spend more time with it, going over the details, working it out so it was just perfect, going over it and over it again to work it out nice and smooth? What do you do for your significant other? Take it out to dinner? On vacation?

Writing, like a lover, needs constant attention and nourishment. Placing it on the back burner means we may never get to it. It’ll be there, but not as warm and flush as we’d like. Being in a relationship with writing means the needs of both are fulfilled. Writing is fresh and flowing and continually improved and the writer is happier, more productive.

We do this because we love it, we are driven to do it. Treat writing like it’s important to you.

Think of writing before you fall asleep, when you wake up in the middle of the night just to say one more thing.

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What Do Published Authors Know?

Recently, I read a mini article posted on a blog of sorts, wherein the writer called out Stephen King’s book On Writing, concluding that “famous writers don’t know Jack.”

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WOW! Really?

 

I was shocked and offended. And I assume that is the reaction she wanted to elicit in order to bring traffic to her article or her own website.

Let me clarify that I am not an avid Stephen King reader. I’m not much into science fiction, but I have been reintroduced to his work upon reading Doctor Sleep, the continuation, in some sense, of The Shining. I have read On Writing some years ago. I’m pretty certain it’s still on my bookshelf as it’s required reading for anyone who wants to write – whether you like it or not. And my favorite essay of his, which I sometimes share with students is “Why We Crave Horror Movies.”

Therefore, I’m not defending a writer I love with a passion but an author I admire with sincerity. And I am taking issue with the blogger’s lack of professionalism in her disrespectful and disingenuous response to a successful and prolific author.

Stephen King

In Academia, occasionally members of the community in praising literary fiction take issue with popular literature. In one such class, when someone asked about King, the instructor responded – “In 100 years, no one will remember him.”

Yeah, I’m guessing someone who has written over 50 novels as well as over 200 short stories, among others projects will be remembered.

Again, my issues with her article is that she comes across as disingenuous. I don’t believe she really believes King is wrong, I think she wants to make a name for herself and create a controversial reaction and bring traffic to her website, so she can look at the numbers and get a little thrill when it pops up instead of actually presenting sound and original ideas. I say this because she didn’t actually say much of value.

This blogger’s premise is that writing is a gift and it is done intuitively, so authors don’t necessarily know how to explain writing. Understood. As well, she takes issues with some basic rules that I’ve learned since third grade. She says, “we’d all end up sounding like Stephen King.” Not necessarily so.

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Her final claim: “You can do anything, provided that you can pull it off.”

 

Well, duh! You can break every damn rule of writing if you’ve got a story so great that Hollywood will buy it and the publishers are going to make bank from it.  Dare I talk about The Hunger Games?  As an English teacher, it hurt my eyes to read the numerous punctuation errors. But, as one of my editors said, Story is King. It’s the story that matters, not the comma splices that most non academics won’t even notice.

However, every good writer should know the “rules.” And I’m using that term loosely here. A writer should be familiar with what has come before, what others are doing, as well and what others believe the rules should be.  How many people have commented on Picasso’s blue period, ignorant of his background, and said “I could do that!” Picasso learned and practiced the rules. Then he chose to break them. When I break a rule of writing, I ask myself: “Is it for effect, and is it resulting in the desired effect?

I say: “Break that damn rule if you want. Just know why you’re doing it and if it’s working.” If Stephen King breaks a rule, even his “own” rule, I imagine he knows it and knows why he’s doing it. I don’t think On Writing is prescriptive; I believe it’s meant to be descriptive.

So, I suppose I don’t even have that much issue with what she said, but it’s how she said it. Stephen King is an award winning, multi-best-selling author, show some respect. That’s called Professionalism. You can disagree with someone, you just want to do it respectfully.  She says she leaves the “writing instruction” to the “less qualified people -“.

king3.gifREALLY?  The author of over 200 short stories is less qualified than who – YOU?  How many books have you published?  I looked her up. A few “middle grade readers,” a nonfiction book, a few short stories. She says she prefers to tell people how to get published.

I go back to her line, “famous writers don’t know Jack.” How unprofessional can you be?

I teach a business writing class (among others); I run the class like a course in professionalism. And this is something I would say is an absolute NO! We can disagree with anyone – I tell my students – but we should know how to respectfully disagree.

As a writer, I see a lot of unprofessional behavior. (I in no way claim to be perfect myself).  I belong to writers’ groups and read (more than I post) in these online writers’ groups. And it can be things like this – open to the public – that can get a person in trouble. You never know who you are dealing with on the other end of that computer. Random arguments, stupid comments, and radical, unqualified statements can hinder one’s success.

I was asked recently by a publishing company for my CV. This is not a problem; I sent it right over. Why would I not?  I posted asking for advice about the CV, for future reference. Some people seemed beside themselves, as if a publishing company asking for my CV was out of line. The publishing company is my potential employer. They are entitled to my CV and, as a professional writer, I want to show it to them!

Now, what if I had written a blog such as that – disrespectfully and disingenuously criticizing one of their best authors? It might cause the publishing company to think twice about even looking at my work, let alone looking at my CV. The cold, hard fact in this world is most companies are not going to hire or work with people who are unprofessional. While they may want people to speak their minds, they don’t want people publicly running off at the mouth. Charlie Sheen and any number of actors learned this the hard way.

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I am not at all saying that we shouldn’t voice our opinions! If you disagree with anyone, you should be able to, and have the absolute right to speak your opinion. I’m suggesting it be done with polite professionalism.

Who is this author of a few middle-grade books to be criticizing King? She is never going to convince ME or many writers that King is wrong. However, had she respectfully disagreed with his views on the certain aspects of writing, clearly stated her reasoning – it would have been far more professional and more believable! I would have read it, taken her opinion into consideration, and possibly even agreed with her. However, by her announcing that he is “less qualified” and doesn’t “know Jack,” not only do I question her intelligence and her integrity, she’s possibly offended people she’d rather have as friends or colleagues. (You’ll notice I didn’t link her article here. I’d prefer not to give attention-seekers more attention).

I, personally, would rather respectfully disagree with people than announcing contrary opinions for the sake of readership. I guess being boisterous will get you noticed. But, it will also get you noticed, if you know what I mean.

I’ll take her words, “You can do anything, provided that you can pull it off.” – Yes, yes, you can. You’ve seen numerous examples of people running off at the mouth about others and nothing happened to them or their career. However, are you sure you can do it and not experience consequences? Have yking5ou built up enough credit, have enough backing, or whatever else you need, to make certain you will not face consequences. OR – have you done this, seen it done, heard it done, and the person hasn’t gone very far in their career. Hmmmm.  Might be a reason.

Say what you will. I suggest you say it with respect.