Monday, March 30, 2015

Bestselling Books of the 20th Century

It's strange how so many bestselling novelists of the 20th century have been almost completely forgotten.

I was reminded of this truth today after looking through Daniel Immerwahr's webpage "The Books of the Century: 1900-1999."

Winston Churchill hasn't been forgotten, but how many would remember him as a writer of several bestselling novels from 1900-1915.

Harold Bell Wright was the first American to sell 1 million copies of a novel and the first to make $1 million writing fiction.


Frank Yerby was the first African-American to earn $1 million from writing novels.

Lloyd C. Douglas was one of the most popular American novelists of the 1930s and 40s, and his novel The Robe sold over 2 million copies, yet he only wrote his first novel at the age of 50.

A curious omission is Erle Stanley Gardner, cited elsewhere as "the bestselling author of the 20th century at the time of his death." Apparently he sold well and often, but not well enough to make the Top 10 in any given year.

Irving Wallace wrote many bestsellers in the 1960s and 70s, yet if he is remembered at all, it is as a purveyor of "junk fiction."

In the 1980s, we see the yearly roll call of the familiar ficitonists who still feature on bestseller lists even today: Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre, Tom Clancy, and Danielle Steel.

John Grisham, king of the legal thriller, topped all others throughout the 1990s.

Immerwahl lists "critically acclaimed and historically significant" books for each year alongside the bestsellers, and rarely do the two lists match in more than just a couple titles. So readers are buying books not so highly regarded as literature but more what you might call "cheap thrills" provided by genre fiction and their leading proponents.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Starbucks Writers Colony

There are 2 kinds of Starbucks people: those who order a drink and stay, and those who order a drink and leave (I won't even include the freeloaders who walk in and stay and never order anything).

It seems like the most interesting people order and leave. But of the people who stay, a lot of them write during their time in the café, and I have to consider them part of the Starbucks Writers Colony.

I know there are few like me writing novels and stories. Some people I can see across from me are writing emails. That's all they do in Starbucks, just compose emails. That's their form of writing. Maybe I should write a novel composed entirely of email messages going back and forth--something like John Barth's novel Letters, but I imagine someone has done it already.


Some guy seems to be working on a patent. I see him on the USPTO website looking at the diagrams. He must have an idea for a new product and is filing his own application, or maybe checking patents for ideas to help him finish his idea, and to see what is already out there. Something like a novelist checking Dickens for ideas on characterization.

I hardly ever see anyone writing in longhand anymore--except at Starbucks. I know if I sit there long enough, someone will walk in, whip out a pen and notepad, and start writing. Happens all the time.

For some, their writing consists entirely of typing in the URLs of websites. And then they sit and read and click. The writing has ended.

I've seen a few that seem to be messaging someone back and forth, but not very often. I imagine I would see a lot more of it at a Starbucks near a school.



I see a good number of businessmen in the DC area working on their Powerpoint slide presentations.

Sometimes I can see the monitor of someone sitting in front of me and she is working on a school paper using Microsoft Word. I don't like to see other people's computer screens. I feel like I have enough to think about without getting involved in the lives of strangers.

When seeing someone else's monitor, the ones who worry me are the computer geeks watching strange graphs flow along their screen. Are they monitoring the wifi activity of the others around them? And can they see what others are typing?

It gives me a fuzzy sense of camaraderie to see another novel writer at Starbucks. Strength in numbers, I suppose. It never occurs to me to wonder what kind of book they might be writing, just that they are writing a book--any book.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Real Writers Don't Fear Distractions

A real writer can't be distracted by the internet or loud noises because a real writer can't be distracted by anything!

A writer can't live in fear of the internet, loud noises, cars out on the street, and so on, and then somehow hope that he can get away from all of it for a few moments to write the next chapter of his book. Any writer who is easily distracted and keeps procrastinating by surfing pointlessly on the internet is purposely avoiding his narrative.

Fears & Excuses of Writers:
  • Internet distractions
  • Noise
  • People talking
  • Barking dogs
  • Traffic noises
  • Airplanes flying overhead
  • Loud music
  • Feeling hungry, need to get food
  • Sound of rain, wind
  • Want to go out somewhere
  • My story idea isn't really very good
  • I'm not cut out to be a writer
  • I have other things to do
  • I have writer's block (I wrote in another post that I never think about this because I'm always writing many different things at once, so how could I ever get it?) 
If you are a victim of distractions and procrastination, then something is wrong with the story you are trying to tell. You don't believe in it. Your mind detects something unsatisfactory about the plot.


I think the paramount reason anyone would hesitate to continue writing a story is because the writer doesn't believe in what she's writing anymore. The narrative just isn't going as well as she had hoped. The plot has taken some turns that don't add up, or the whole thing seems too hokey, or the dialog isn't believable.

It's the story itself that causes the writer to find excuses: surfing unrelated websites on the internet, loud noises, loud music, crickets chirping, elevator down the hall. The excuses snowball because it's not the distractions that are creating an inability to write--it's the story. It's isn't going how you envisioned.

At this point, the writer needs to think about why the story isn't cutting it and what can be done to change that. A new plot twist? A different ending? A new, dynamic character? Somebody gets killed? A new element needs to be introduced into the narrative to act as an alarm clock to the writer, wake her up, and get her excited about the story once again. Something happened between the thrill of beginning the narrative at page one and arriving at the point down the road where any little distraction is welcome because the story just ain't working anymore and the wheels are coming off.

If you feel good about your story, your plot, your characters, your ending, you'll want to keep writing. If you don't, you'll pick an excuse and go with that. My theory is if you are having trouble continuing with your story, then the problem is the story, not you or all those supposed distractions.

If you're locked into your narrative, a Steinway piano could come crashing through the ceiling and land right next to you and you wouldn't lose track of your thought. I've had people slam things down on tables right next to me but I don't react or forget what I'm doing because I dissociate myself from noises and don't allow anything to derail me when writing.

I've written a number of posts about how writers absurdly keep seeking--yet don’t really need--quiet. And the idea that needing "quiet" and an absence of distractions is a smokescreen for a different problem. I must sound like a broken record by now.

My short story collection:


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why Would Writers Stay Off The Internet?

Why are they hiding?

One reason explains why anyone chooses to stay off the internet: Fear.

Old people fearful of computers. Young women avoiding stalkers. Writers burned by lousy reviews from clueless, jealous readers?

I'm enormously skeptical of those who fear the internet without some kind of solid reason for it. Did they once prowl the internet but suffered a bad experience, and that’s the reason for shunning it? Safety and security from all the criminals who live online? You can lose a lot of money to online scammers. Come to think of it, you can do the same offline, but your chances of being scammed are cut in half if you stay away from the internet.

To my surprise, some digital scribes are counseling writers and authors, of all people, to stay off the internet. I see someone by the name of Emily Gould has written an opinion piece for Salon with this advice. I didn't notice it until now because, seriously, who reads or writes for Salon or follows what they say except radicals whose opinions are worthless? I've never once thought: I really need to check Salon for some great opinions!

And sure enough, Gould's advice is downright silly. Writers should take long walks or do volunteer work instead of spending time on the internet. This is a great Exhibit A of why I don't read Salon.

A writer needs to be on the internet to build an audience and interact with a following, and to promote his writings, especially when there are thousands if not millions of writers online hyping their books. If you want to be a well-read author, is it rational to ignore the digital world? Sure, some can succeed while doing that--roughly something like 0.01 percent of all authors.


Any writer not on the internet and not already a success needs his or her head examined. Sure there are dangers and things to fear. Idiot reviewers who prove they don't understand a book they review (I can relate), revealing unsavory details about oneself that may repulse some readers and customers. So the answer is...hide yourself so nobody knows what you think?

When I think of people not online, what image pops into my mind? Rural, small town America. A farmer plowing his fields. Uncle Joe on Petticoat Junction. Mayberry RFD. The Indians of the Amazon region in South America. I don't think of authors. Maybe because I see every day on my twitter feeds how many are out there already.

The power levers of the world make it harder to stay offline. The push is insistent from educators and the government to find more reasons to stay online. That sounds ominous, doesn’t it? “Educators” and the “government” are without question the two biggest worries we have right now for keeping a great country and not deteriorating into some banana republic. The White House, Congress, Washington DC and the “teachers” in schools at all levels. When I think of those things, I think of the Robot on Lost in Space: “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”

A writer can't let fear dictate her strategy for building a reputation. A writer doesn't back down from that. A writer out-writes her critics and naysayers and emerges victorious in the end. A writer without that belief surely lacks self-confident in her abilities to set original ideas on digital paper and win the war of words.

Check out my books:






Monday, March 23, 2015

Meeting Your Fictional Character In The Real World

There she is, sitting right there in the corner of the café. My fictional character come to life! What would you do? Would you walk up to her and tell her that? "Excuse me, but I invented someone exactly like you in one of my books!"

This happened to me in a café not long ago. I saw a girl walk in whose physical appearance resembled a character in a manuscript of mine. But as I surreptitiously watched her at her seat across the room, it gradually dawned on me why a fictional character of mine had come to life. The conclusion came into focus like a photograph slowly developing into view at the bottom of a tray of chemicals.

I learned from that real person that my fictional character was nothing but a stereotype, and a lot of women could walk in the door and resemble my fictional character. The more I thought about it, the more I understood that I hadn't really invented a three-dimensional person in the fictional sense, in the way an author like Charles Dickens created "real" characters.

Yes, I had met my fictional creation in the real world, but it was nothing extraordinary, because a lot of women fit the description of my character, and seeing someone with those attributes in close proximity to me was no cause for great excitement. Instead, I felt deflated since I knew I had merely sketched a rough stereotype in my manuscript that needed fleshing out so that she would become something much more unique and rare and lifelike, and reducing the chance that she would stroll in the door of my café.


And it caused me to realize I need to read some Dickens novels to see how he accomplished that, and what can I learn about creating realistic fictional people from him. And it all started because some woman walked into a café and reminded me of a fictional person I described in a manuscript.

But without question you could meet not just an adumbrated stereotype, but your thoroughly-described three-dimensional fictional character in the real world. In my mind, that's within the realm of possibility because if you describe a fictional person with enough detail, someone in this world of 6 billion people likely possesses all those attributes. We know all the variations of possibility. And the likelihood is great that someone somewhere possesses all those attributes that you gave to your character. What is implausible is you and that real person meeting at the same time and the same place.

A Brief "Whiff" of the Future

But it is much more likely—even a guaranteed certainty—that you would meet your fictional creation if you have, unknown to you, described someone you will meet in the future, and your mind subconsciously has already seen the details of that person in a phenomenon I'll call a "whiff of the future." It seems in accord with the idea among some physicists that time is circular and not simply linear. Einstein said the past, present and future overlap and exist simultaneously but in different distant locations. ("The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion.").  I think there are forces at work which we don’t understand that can cause you to describe a real person you don’t know and haven’t met—but will in the future.



You access a brief "whiff" of the future—a meeting with a woman in a café—and you write about her based on that future information. And when the time comes that you meet her in the here and now, you see she is exactly as you imagined her because you did see her in that brief "whiff" of the future. Well, I'll leave it for the physicists to decide if this scenario is possible.

I've felt this brief "whiff" of the future that subsequently became reality several times, and my theory is that if I've felt it, so have others. I suppose it's something like "reverse deja vu," in that you feel something that will happen rather than think you're experiencing something that already happened in the past.

Suppose you did see someone who resembled your fictional creation down to the last detail—even the clothes she wears, and the handbag she carries. What would you do? Introduce yourself and tell her about it? Schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist? Write a blog post about it?


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Amazon Used Books And Condition Dishonesty

I no longer trust the descriptions of the conditions of used books sold by the Amazon marketplace dealers. They keep overstating the quality of their books and I'm often disappointed when I see them in my own hands. Some of the books I don't even want to keep and need to look for another copy. The process turns out to be a complete waste of my time. This is another good reason why I've switched to digital books wherever possible.

I suppose I'm being tough when I call it "dishonesty" rather than "optimism," or an honest disagreement of opinion on how to judge the condition of used books. Someone like me isn't going to buy a book listed as "good" unless I'm desperate, but I will always buy one claimed to be "very good." I'm sure those who sell books on Amazon for fun and profit know about people like me.


Recently I bought 2 used books from 2 different vendors on the Amazon marketplace. Both books were described as "very good." But when I received them and looked them over, the pages of both were yellow. And on one of them, blotches were on the top, side and bottom edges.

These books were not "very good" but simply "good," average copies at best. So I've lost the trust I had in marketplace vendors and their descriptions since they keep overstating the condition of their books. I've yet to receive a book whose condition was understated. With digital books, I have no such worries. No yellow, brittle pages, splotches, underlining, highlighting and other things that greatly diminish my enjoyment of a used book.

Buying a book sight unseen is always a gamble, especially if you are the kind of person like me who hates poor copies that have been handled roughly and with no concern about the resale value. I never highlighted any books of my own because to me it depreciated it in my own eyes, regardless of the resale value. A highlighted book is a maimed book, like an injured animal that's lost an arm or a leg. Whatever value or necessity I would have in highlighting passages is outweighed by the diminished physical attractiveness of the copy.


Some readers seem oblivious to all these considerations that destroy my enjoyment of a book. They blithely underline passages with no thought about the long-term value of the book, They mark it up apparently because they are students and need to remember those passages as important for their future exams or papers yet to be written.

A better idea seems to me those multicolored bookmarks that can be taped to each significant page. That page can be referred to easily while not permanently marring the book. And later, the bookmarks can be removed, leaving a pristine copy for yourself or others. But...so many people are not seeing it my way.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Do You Trust Your Cafe Barista?

The good barista earns the trust of her customers by consistently crafting high-quality drinks made to specification.

Do you trust your cafe barista will make your drink the way you wanted? A few of them, I do. I know from experience that they are reliable and competent drinkmakers and whenever I'm in the mood for something special, or if I have a free reward burning a hole in my app, I'll go ahead and order one of the most expensive potions on the menu.

Some baristas I've learned I can’t trust to make me a dandy drink, I know there's a good chance they'll screw it up, so when I see them standing behind the syrup dispensers, I just order the regular coffee. I don’t want to waste a free drink if I suspect the barista won’t concoct a delicious brew. I wait until I see a familiar, trusted barista behind the counter, then I order the big fancy drink.


I don't think a barista would poison me or add a drop of something not on the standard ingredient list, although such actions are not unheard of. Some are just uncaring and incompetent. They aren't meticulous. It's a temporary job, not a career, and are seeking to leave for something more in harmony with their life's dreams--and with better pay.

Some cafes I won’t even enter anymore after a bad experience with a clueless barista. One time I order a frappuccino and it tasted like it had no sugar or sweetness in it. It was the most horrible drink I've ever had anywhere. So you can understand why I've never set foot in that café again, and that was years ago.

Sadly, some baristas just can't be trusted with anything beyond the basics. Tall coffee, and a standard breakfast sandwich. Anything more and I feel like I’m asking for trouble--and sometimes I get it even with an order of nothing but simple coffee. I've noticed some baristas have trouble distinguishing a request for Blonde coffee and hear it as Bold instead. I've written earlier that I've had trouble with a few minority baristas serving Bold coffee instead of the requested Blonde. Honest mistake or not?



Speaking of race, there isn't a single barista on earth I trust enough to discuss race relations, of all things. I can see conversations like that getting out of hand. Wouldn't surprise me if Starbucks' wrongheaded idea leads to fisticuffs--if not a bit more. We've reached a point where the world wants chaos, and will have it anywhere and everywhere, including cafes included.

A lousy barista can wreck an otherwise groovy café. Just like one annoying customer can wreck the entire seating area environment and make all the good folks go elsewhere.

Some baristas you can talk to, and they know how to converse with customers. They have stories to tell; they’re fun people. Others, I wouldn't even try. I want as little communication with them as necessary to complete my business transaction. And I'll spurn the race relations offer if asked.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Authors Who Tweet Nothing But 'Buy My Book!'

I follow a lot of writers and authors on twitter and I find myself losing respect for those who tweet nothing but "Buy my book!"

The necessity and value of retweeting the same thing many times so more people will see it isn't lost on me. That's the way it works on twitter. If you tweet something only once, very few people will probably see it and many who wish they had seen it will miss it.

If you follow a couple thousand people (at the least) as I do, tweets are constantly racing along your timeline. So many tweets speed down the screen that you can't possibly look at all of them, much less click on every link in every tweet. You would need to do that all day every day, including at night, and even then you wouldn't have enough time.


Having said that, I should think any self-respecting writer would use twitter for more than that, and seek to win over persons like me who are looking for something beyond a plug for your book. You're a writer and twitter is for writing, right? Or are you so limited as a writer that you can't think of anything else to tweet? Isn't a real writer compelled to tweet something beyond a sales pitch if he's spending time on twitter anyway?

Is there nothing else in your life besides your book you would care to tell us about?

  • Bake a nice pie?
  • Meet a weirdo at Walmart?
  • Yoga class?
  • New shoes?
  • Your favorite TV show?
  • Something stupid a politician said?
  • Current event in the news?
  • Your sports team?
  • The weather?

There is no end to the things you could tell us about in the space of a few seconds besides "Buy my book!" I can't be the only one contemptuous of such authors who have nothing to say but "Buy my book!" How can they be worthwhile authors?

I have much more respect for writers who announce new blog posts, or even just some "frivolous" tweets informing me what was purchased at Whole Foods. I mean, anything, just anything more than "Buy my book!" gets my respect and I think much more highly of those writers than others, and I'm much more inclined to read their posts, click their links, and even buy their books!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Do People See The Real You Or A Distortion?

I know what people think about me without exchanging one word with them. It's a skill I've developed my entire life. I'm not claiming psychic ability; it's something more akin to seeing a finished puzzle from just a few of the pieces, or recognizing the hidden phrase on Wheel of Fortune from just a few revealed letters.

And what people think about me is all too often just dead wrong. It's a common error: people will fill up an empty wine glass with their own favorite vintage. They look at me but see themselves, as if I'm a mirror.

People assume I think like they think, believe what they believe, like what they like, and want what they want. And if they discover a difference of opinion on any topic, they assume that it doesn't matter. They don’t mind, therefore I don’t mind. The problem with this thinking is that a lot of things matter to me that just don’t seem to matter to others who revolve in my circles.


A lot can be found out about me with a simple Google search. It's not like I'm hiding what I think. Just on this blog alone are several hundred posts from me about all sorts of things.

When people look at me, they see a distorted image, not the real person. People want to see their own fantasy. They fear reality, truth. They hope the fantasy is real, or that the reality becomes the fantasy. I'm sure it must have happened to someone at some time, but no, it hardly ever works like that.

Look at the politicians people vote into Washington, for example. Fantasy versus reality in stark contrast: What happened to the person I thought I voted for and why is he doing what I never thought he would do?

Am I to blame? People fill in the blanks with what they would like to be there, and then accept that false vision as reality. Am I somehow deliberately leaving crucial blanks about myself, despite the blog posts and everything else. Am I pretending I'm an open book when truthfully I'm an enclosed room without a key? Is all my "openness" on the internet an illusion and it adds up to nothing more than a hollow manikin with all the vital internal organs missing?

Dealbreakers

When interacting with any kind of person I don't know well for any kind of reason, foremost on my mind are what I call "dealbreakers." A dealbreaker is something I learn about the other person that would preclude my continued interaction with him/her, the possibility of close friendship, lunch pal, running buddy, and so on all down the line.

It could be they like a musician I hate, or their politics is the opposite of mine, or their behavior in relation to me or others violates my own concept of proper etiquette.

Amazingly enough, every single time someone has smashed through a dealbreaker at breakneck speed, s/he didn't have the slightest clue what s/he just did and the significance of it. At that point, it's all over with me, yet the other person continues on his or her merry way unaware that the "deal" has been broken and anything more is pointless.

I explain it to myself by remembering that people get caught up in their own agenda, and forget the other person in the social transaction. Their preconceived notions are all wrong, yet they just don't see it. Yet no matter how often it happens, I'm still surprised.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Are You A One-Genre Writer?

From reading writer profiles on twitter, it seems most define themselves as a citizen of one and only one genre township. Writers write either mysteries, romances, spy novels, science fictionthrillers, or historical novels, but it seems few cross beyond the city limits to write all kinds of things.

I've noticed I have trouble remaining within the boundaries of one genre. So far I've published a mystery novel and a collection of non-mystery stories, and my next book will be something different. It's probably not the best strategy from a marketing standpoint to keep jumping all over the literary landscape.

I see so many writers on Twitter list their genre in their profile, and first my thought is always, but don’t you want to write other kinds of books? Or are you in the stage of building up your authorial reputation and you’ll tackle those other types of books later when your audience is willing to stick with you no matter what you write? Is it all about acquiring a solid reputation first? 



I marvel at writers who live in one genre and never leave it. I don’t know how they can do it. I want to write all kinds of books and I have ideas for various kinds of books, so how can I ignore all that and keep a narrow focus on just one genre and ride that white horse to success? I suppose I could simply translate all my ideas from several literary categories into one genre and it might work. 

I suspect some writers want to cross back and forth between genres but feel it isn't best for business, and a writer needs to cultivate a reputation in one type of narrative and then later seek to broaden her writing after she has already built an audience. J. K. Rowling and her mysteries, for example.

Conan Doyle wrote his Sherlock Holmes mysteries but felt he had much more in him and wrote other kinds of books: science fiction, plays, poetry, and historical novels. I like to think I'm comfortable in writing all kinds of things—fiction, poetry, drama, essays, scholarship.

Some famous authors use a pen name to publish books in a secondary genre. Rowling, for example published her mystery "The Cuckoo's Calling" under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.



But I can admire an author who rides that Pegasus one-genre horse and gallops to literary stardom. I suppose they don’t need to do anything else because that’s what they want to do—Saul Bellow, John Irving, Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre. the list goes on.

On the other hand, Tom Wolfe moved from the “nonfiction novel” to fiction with a social commentary bite; for example, “Bonfire of the Vanities,” his modern version of Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair.” I see a lot of “evolving” among famous authors who eventually broke from what they wrote at the dawning of their careers.

Some feel the impulse to venture into other realms of the universe of belles-lettres, some don’t and never stray from that one golden pathway that led the way to a palace in the literary heavens. The feeling of missing out? Or written out in a genre? Or bored with the same old thing and it's time to try something else? I guess “everyone is different” is the appropriate cliché here.

Take a look at my books:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Writers and Crowdfunding Campaigns

Is crowdfunding a viable option for writers trying to research, write, publish and market their books?

Self-publishers must pay all the costs in absence of a deal with a traditional book publisher, and hopefully the book will sell enough to earn it all back and more. But many writers look for financial help from the public in exchange for copies of the finished book, or other enticements.


I browsed 3 popular sites: indiegogo.com, kickstarter,com and gofundme.com.

Indiegogo seems popular with writers. Right off the bat, the "Writing" page lists a number of campaigns well on their way to achieving their goals of several thousands dollars in donations:

Postcards From Richard Siken has raised $9,000 of a projected $10,000 with a month to spare.

The Gift of Stuttering has raised $11,000.

Confessions of a Boudoir Photographer has raised $5,000.

My Life with the Shakespeare Cult has raised more than its $2,000 goal.

On Kickstarter, I see some unqualified successes:

The Storyteller's Dictionary goal was $6,000, yet with over a week to go the pledges are over $21,000.

Bike Boom -- The Book. The funding goal was 6,000 British Pounds and the pledges have topped 11,000.

The Boy Who Spoke to the Earth -- A Children's book. The goal was $25,000 and the pledges are at $39,000 with still 3 weeks to go.

Other campaigns are struggling a bit. Coffee Trail Book, a proposed book about stories from coffee houses in England, is hoping for 12,000 pounds but has raised just 600 with 10 days to go.

Moving over to Gofundme I see:

Kari Moroz garnered the $600 she had requested to "Help me get my book published!"

Eric Moss has raised $565 of a project $1,500 after only 3 days in his "Help bring my book to market" campaign.

Naomi HS has raised $1,060 of $4,500 after 5 days of the campaign "A Writer's Dream -- Nailah's Passion."

Writers offer standard enticements to reward donors for their help:
  • a digital copy of the book
  • a paper copy of the book
  • a signed copy of the book
  • a thank you on the acknowledgement page
  • a signed photo of the author
  • a personal meeting with the author

I wouldn't exactly call it a stampede of authors looking for crowdfunding. Some of those who tried have succeeded but others have failed. The successes have interesting stories behind them and have captured the attention of donors that something about the book or idea is worthwhile, or maybe just the person seems like someone who deserves support.

What's the downside? You may not reach your fundraising goal, and that could be discouraging. And if you do achieve your goal, you'll need to live up to the promises made, and hopefully nothing offered that you wouldn't really want to do, such as lunch with big donors.

What happens if someone achieves the financial goal but decides not to publish a book anyway, and can't see the project through? In other words, grab the money and provide nothing in return for all the donations, as has happened with some types of projects such as a board game at the link above? Possible lawsuits? Would anyone bother? Lifelong loss of personal reputation?




Thursday, March 12, 2015

Writers and the Search for Silence

Are Writers Afraid of Noise?

I suppose it depends on what kind of noise it is. Some noises aren't that loud and are pretty much harmless to a writer's frame of mind. Others demand your attention and seem like auditory bullets fired at the poor writer clacking away on her laptop keyboard. Some noises are so loud or so low they can kill, I've heard.

I'm a tad skeptical of the quiet business, and the idea that a writer needs it and should seek it out. I wrote earlier that most people live in big cities, and therefore so do most writers, and modern cities are noisy, and if you want to be a writer you need to adjust to the noise and write your best while enduring it. I think my pronouncement stands.

The need for quiet must have arisen from the great early American writers who emerged from New England and lived "north of Boston" and similar hushed locales up there. They were surrounded by quiet (excepting the occasional chirping bird I'm sure), they succeeded, and therefore that's what writers really need.


Running Away From Noise To A Writers Colony

I'm guessing the vast majority of writers are like myself and have never attended a writers colony.

You pay--how much a night? Something like $50--for how long? Something like 3 weeks. Grand Total: 21x50=$1,050). Wait a minute. I just read the fine print. Add on the cleaning fee (daily or one-time?), the wifi fee (hey, wait a minute, you're not supposed to spend your time on the internet), and an application fee.

And the magic just flies off your fingertips and solidifies into words on those formerly blank pages, and you end up with a bestselling Nobel-worthy novel? Is that how it works? It must, I'm seeing colonies described as "magical" by someone who was there.

The whole point of a writers colony seems to be to find "a quiet place to write." The implication being that you can't write anything worth reading, or at least something worthy of a prize, unless you find that peace and quiet advertised at the colony.

Don’t colonies imply a certain type of noise along with them? Birds, tree branches and leaves fluttering in the wind, a bit of rain, maybe even thunder. And what of the creaking house, the other writers trudging up and down the creaking staircase, walking back and forth to their rooms on the creaking wooden hallway floors, the sound of their typing, their coughing, maybe even their breathing? Doesn't that add up to a lot of noise? And you're there for, what was it again, peace and quiet? And you start wondering where is that list of "house rules" so you can complain to management about all that racket? But I'm sure if you took a noise meter with you the decimal count would be much lower at a colony house than in an apartment in Manhattan.

I ask myself, what's holding me back from writing great books--a lack of quiet? A too-noisy environment?



Is the search for silence what draws these writers to the colony? Surely, but it seems preposterous. What's cheaper: a couple weeks at the colony or a pair of earplugs?

And you're paying for what, 3 weeks? You have to get back to your job, don't you? I imagine if you don't have a job, you're in a quiet place already. For many workers, 2 weeks of vacation time is all you have. Seriously? You're writing a novel in 2 weeks. Yeah, some people do, but wouldn't it be more realistic to go away for at least a month? I can see a month, bare minimum. Imagine the cost. Bestselling writers only.

But 2 or 3 weeks suggests it's not about writing a book under what are advertised as "quiet" surroundings. "Quiet," I might add, is a relative term. My definition of the term is likely at odds with many other writers. Some people would say, if a few birds are chirping in the tree outside, that's not quiet.

It would be nice to see some statistics from writers who worked on books at colonies. Were most of them bestsellers or award winners? Did they set the book world on fire with those silence-inspired manuscripts? The quieter the environment, the better the prose, isn't that the way it works?

How many writers who attended colonies wrote books, how many were published, what did they sell, and what was the critical appraisal, and how does that compare with books not written at least partially at these quiet colonies? What, no one has those metrics? I'm shocked.

The colony experience seems but a brief respite from whatever environment the writer typically finds herself. What happens when she leaves the colony and once again she is surrounded by noise? Her writing goes all to pieces again?

Searching for silence seems to me something like a quest to find the Fountain of Youth, or El Dorado.

Should Writers Fear Silence? Suppose you were subjected to a total lack of noise--I mean nothing. You're in an isolation chamber. No sound can penetrate. You can't hear anything. How long before you went crazy?

Outer Space As A Writers Colony


I've heard it's extremely quiet in outer space. It would make more sense to blast off in a rocketship and travel beyond the earth's atmosphere and spend some time writing your book way out there. I'm sure it would be more quiet than some creaky old house in New England. Assuming again the idea is to find that elusive quiet that writers so desperately need.

Imagine the quality of your precious prose written in outer space that would undoubtedly be far greater than anything written here on noisy earth! Hello Nobel Prize!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What Do You Read For Your Writing?

What books I read is mostly determined with an eye toward helping me with my writing. I first turn to my favorite classic authors for ideas for my own fictional stories and novels.

As I read one of these stories, one question is always on my mind: How can I turn this classic story into one of my own, with my own stamp on it, my own setting, characters, and plot? My favorites include: Faulkner, Hemingway, Nabokov, Poe, Kafka, Borges. For literary influences, I stick to the best.

Many of the stories in my collection "Queen of the Chess Cult" were inspired by the books of these authors. Which author has given me more ideas than any other? It must be Poe. Virtually every story he wrote inspires me with my own ideas. For me, these authors are launching pads for my personal literary rocketship.


Sometimes I'll think of an idea for a story, and my mind will match it with a book I've already read by one of my favorite authors. So then I'll look up his story and see how he used a similar idea. It's as if I'm an apprentice learning from a successful author. I may have a few keywords vital to my idea, and I input those into Amazon Books and see what titles and authors appear in the search results.

This leaves me precious little time for "leisure" reading, which I define as any reading I do for fun and not with any idea of using what I read for ideas for my own stories--although that could happen after the fact anyway. I can't even remember the last book I read for "leisure" purposes.

Whenever I buy a new book, I'm expecting it to give me some writing ideas. For example, I just picked up a couple J. M. Coetzee novels because something I heard about them suggested to me that I might be able to learn from them for my own literary purposes. If I don't think a book can give me some writing ideas, it's doubtful I could find the time to get through it, since I'm always checking other books for inspiration.


For my blog, I look to literary essayists for ideas, such as John Updike and Edmund Wilson, and think of ways to write something topical in today's world that they might have written decades ago.

Time Crunch

I think of books I want to read but doubt I will finish: War and Peace, Saul Bellow's novels, Philip Roth, Charles Dickens, lots more where those came from. It would be rewarding to read through their entire oeuvres, but with only 24 hours in a day, it seems unlikely.

I often wish scientists could change the earth's rotation to double the hours in a day to 48. I think then I would have time enough to read everything I want with plenty of writing time as well. I feel a time crunch these days with no relief in sight. Too many novel and story ideas and books to read and write with a limited supply of time to finish everything.

The News Purveyors

News websites give me ideas as well. I like the idea of writing a novel "ripped from the headlines" with trendy topics, such as drones. It's my expectation whenever I browse through my twitter news feeds that I'll find plenty of real world scenarios that would make good plots and characters for fictional stories.

But news sites tend to agitate me since all the major mainstream media sites are politically slanted one way or the other. Honest journalism is a rare commodity these days, so I'm always considering what I read as the product of a political mentality, rather than a journalistic mindset. But still, anybody who doesn't get ideas for novels from reading the news in today's world just isn't trying.

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Referential Mania and the Writer

I first heard of the concept of "Referential Mania" from reading Vladimir Nabokov's short story "Signs and Symbols" many years ago.

It's the idea that everything that happens in the world is a reference to oneself. Innocuous events and coincidences are seen as having personal significance, despite the appearance that these are just random events having nothing to do with anyone.

Psychiatrists have identified a number of examples--that people on TV are talking about the viewer, newspaper headlines were written as messages for the reader, lyrics of a song are about the listener, and so on. See the Wikipedia article here. I take comfort in knowing Virginia Woolf thought birds outside her window were singing Greek choruses.

But surely someone who suffers from Referential Mania every day must be insane? People who think the TV and newspapers are discussing them all day every day are crazy. Who thinks such people are sane? And their insanity is surely obvious to all normal observers.

My personal examples of what would be called Referential Mania fall under a different category. In the Wikipedia article above, the examples suggest the others knowingly and deliberately discuss and make reference to the affected person. But I'm seeing the opposite: events occur that involve others, however, they are completely unaware of what is transpiring.

Convergence

As if by coincidence, things approach and gather together around the person to his chagrin, resulting in a situation where his immediate intentions are thwarted in some way. I call this phenomenon "Convergence." For example, when walking down the street, I’ll approach an intersection. Along the way, no cars will turn to the right at the intersection and in front where I am about to walk off the sidewalk and into the street before arriving at the sidewalk as it continues on the other side of the street. Yet, right at the moment I step off the curb, a car appears as if out of nowhere and arrives at the same moment I arrive at the intersection. The car either waits for me to cross or just keeps on going and I have to stop until it passes by.

And after this little “convergence” is over, there are no more cars turning right until I approach the next intersection. And that’s when another car suddenly appears with the intention of turning in my path. It's as if some sort of synchronicity exists with my approach to the intersection and the appearance of a car that wants to turn.

But it seems silly to think the universe works that way. This sort of thing is chalked up as a coincidence, yet how can it be when it occurs countless times over a long period of time? And this is just one example of many.


Human Roadblocks

Inside a building, I walk through a hallway and approach an intersection with another hallway running perpendicular to mine. People stand at the intersection and talk while suddenly blocking my path across the hallway. A clear path to my destination is impeded.

I don't think the people are talking about me. I don't think they have even noticed me. They are like unwitting actors in a play. It's as if a secret puppet master guides them without their knowledge.

It gives me the impression a secret cosmological force it as work telling their subconscious to stand in a manner that blocks the hallway for anyone approaching from my direction, such as myself. They “converge” at a point that acts as an obstacle or “roadblock” to me. Yet they don’t seem to notice me. And this happens all the time, so how can I chalk it up to mere coincidence?

I find it hard to believe no one else experiences this. Surely I can’t be the only one. I suspect others simply accept it as coincidence, or it's just that most people aren't very observant and don’t notice what is plainly happening in front of their eyes. Unlike me, they don’t think, “It’s those secret cosmological forces at work again!” As I writer, I notice small details overlooked by the average person.

Coincidences are supposed to be rare events. Something that happens almost every day isn't a coincidence by any definition I've ever read. One could say it must therefore be Referential Mania since those are the two options, but my suggestion is they are neither and there are more possibilities not admitted by the psychiatrists or others.

Oddly, I've never experienced this "convergence" phenomenon at a café. Somehow, any café is a respite from these cosmological games I must constantly endure elsewhere. They act as a sanctuary and afford me a certain amount of immunity from these unseen forces.

And it’s not just because the cafes are indoors. I’m prey to those cosmological convergences at many other indoor places—shopping malls, restaurants, libraries, hotels, you name it. Something is here beyond insanity or paranoia.

My theory is every person experiences Referential Mania in some way and there is much more to the phenomenon than we know at present.

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Friday, March 06, 2015

Music for Writers While Writing

Does music help a writer write and what kind of music do writers play while writing?

Some authors say they can't listen to music while writing but suggest songs for Spotify playlists that might go well with reading their books. It seems those Spotify playlists are more about reading the finished books, rather than what was heard while writing them.

Amazon's MP3 store isn't much help. I'm seeing albums designed for Readers but precious little for Writers. Assuming those songs would work just as well for wordsmiths, the most recommended are Classical pieces one would expect: Schubert's Ave Maria and Unfinished Symphony, Chopin's Preludes, Haydn's symphonies, and Beethoven's piano sonatas.

But these selections are all stereotypical of what the average person would think a writer would listen to while knitting together her novel, or just reading one written by someone else. Soft, smooth Classical music. I think it's a very narrow interpretation of music for the process of writing manuscripts.




One wonders who is the person selecting these songs and what prompts him to include those and not others pieces. It's a product that taps into “group think.” It’s not for individuals who go their own way. And don’t more and more readers and writers dance to their own tune these days? Taking it to the limit, the author-musician would compose his own music, record it, and play it during his own writing sessions.

But what about music that's more dynamic and "jarring"--hard rock and heavy metal? I've listened to jolting music many times while writing. It depends on my mood. 

My guess is the vast majority of writers listen to their favorite kind of music while writing, and will stick with that musical genre as long as it takes to finish the book.

How many writers change their music depending on what they write—a mystery, bloody horror novel, romance, or science fiction? And suppose the writer creates a special playlist for each genreassuming she writes in several sub-categories.


Or could it depend on where the writer may be—her usual place at home or at school, at work, in a café, at a friend’s place, in a hotel, or overseas on a vacation? I don’t always listen to the same kind music when writing. Now that I think about it, I hardly ever do that. I have no favorite musical artist I fire up to accompany my typing. Oftentimes I'm in Starbucks in the morning and therefore at the mercy of whatever they play, so it’s not a big deal to me. I’m accustomed to hearing different artists. But I’m wondering now if most writers would immediately name one specific performer that they always play whenever they write? Are writers paired with an individual musician? Or like me, it all depends, and every artist is a potential writing companion.

I like the idea of mentioning all these possibilities because my guess is that the vast majority of writers haven’t really given it much thought. You mostly write with the same sort of accompanying music and don’t even think about changing based on what you’re writing or where. You probably have a favorite artist that you automatically listen to whenever you write so the music helps tuck you into your comfortable writing zone and away you slide down the page word by word. Or music is banned during your writing sessions and that's that.

What kinds of writing would be best matched with what kind of music? Some thoughts:

Horror   Heavy Metal 
Romance – Classical Strings/Blues 
Mystery – Beethoven/Jazz
Science Fiction – Atonal/Serialism 
Spy – Jazz/McCartney 
Action Thriller – Rock/Hip Hop
Christian – Bach/Handel 
Comedy – Country/Classic Rock/Top 40 
Post-Apocalyptic – Industrial/Alternative 
War – Orchestral/Top 40/Swing 
Historical Adventure – Top 40/Taylor Swift/Whitney Houston/Kelly Clarkson 
Foreign Setting – Local

Do most authors in these genres listen to the expected music while writing? Do Romance writers like the same kind of music, while Horror writers prefer something else, and so on?

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