Advice on Writing and Publishing

booksBeing an author can be a job just like any other job: raking leaves, coding software, flipping pancakes, working as a mercenary in the Golden Triangle, you name it. I say “can be” because many writers choose not to treat writing stories as a job, but consider it a hobby or something of a similar nature. That’s fine. Both approaches are equally valid. However, I’d like to address the writing-as-job approach.

A recent post by Michael Bunker, author of Amish science fiction and other works, makes the assertion that one shouldn’t ask other authors for advice. I tend to agree with him due to two reasons: first, most authors don’t know what the heck they’re talking about (as most authors don’t sell many books), and, second, the modern publishing industry is such an apparently chaotic and random world that anyone claiming to have a comprehensive theory of how to deal with it is essentially whistling in the wind (or a huckster).

Don’t get me wrong. Individual authors do sometimes achieve partial enlightenment, just like certain restaurants can successfully cook certain items on their menus. Author Jones might figure out a bit of wisdom in relation to pricing. Author Garcia might stumble on a clever way to secure reviews. Author Xianjing might discover the path to serial pacing. However, like I said before, nobody has the comprehensive theory. In fact, most advice is poorly thought out and written mainly to draw tangential attention to that particular author’s books.

Therefore, if you do want advice but are wisely reluctant to ask other authors who either can’t write their way out of a paper bag, or aren’t selling enough books to support their mocha habit, where do you find advice?

Here’s my advice (ironic, isn’t it, that I’m offering advice as an author after saying you should steer clear of advice from authors?): given the seemingly chaotic nature of publishing, seek advice from people who have absolutely nothing to do with publishing.

Go ask your plumber or your banker or your local swami what their advice is. It might not make any sense. It might make a lot of sense. It might make a great deal of sense simply from the perspective that people are people, entertainment is entertainment, and money is money. Ask your newspaper delivery boy (does such a thing even exist anymore?), your hair stylist, your stock broker, your local politicians.

You might be surprised at what you hear.

And if your swami says something inscrutable, such as, “the bullfrog of wisdom hops onto the lilypad of Marxism,” well, there just might be something in that. True, you’ll have to spend some time unpacking his utterance, and it might result in a brain aneurysm, but you might end up with the key to Jeff Bezos’ mind.


Jobs jobs jobs and Michael Bay’s Transformers

If you are in need of a job, may I suggest working on a farm? True, the work is back-breaking, exhausting and often involves hours of being bent over like a croquet hoop (if you’re picking strawberries). However, there’s work here in California. Plenty of it.

In other news, I recently made the mistake of watching Michael Bay‘s current Transformers. $6.50 for a late afternoon ticket. Kids were off camping with the grandparents, wife was down in LA visiting her grandmother, self was alone and in need of seeing robots blow stuff up. So, I went to see Transformers. This might be the understatement of the year, but they blew up a lot of stuff in that film.

That’s also the plot line: an exciting story in which robots blow stuff up. Or smash stuff.

The film seems to be doing very well, scooping in tons of money here in the States and overseas (see: Michael Bay laughing all the way to the bank). But there’s not much of a plot. So what does that mean? My storyteller’s mind stumbles and trips on this. I guess one answer is that Mark Wahlberg has a lot of diehard fans. I also guess that’s not the right answer. Maybe the answer is just that a lot of people like seeing robots blow stuff up. Or smash stuff.

By the way, Mark Wahlberg is an immense improvement on Shia LaBeouf (or however you write that kid’s name). Better actor. Generates more empathy. Plus, he doesn’t go around getting plastered and tossed out of nightclubs and generally behaving like a lobotomized chipmunk.

Which means a lot of people don’t really care about coherent stories, as long as there are robots smashing stuff, and there’s a cute girl who wears short shorts for most of the movie.

Hmm. This has implications for writing stories.

In other news, I ate my first Moon Pie. Ever. I only made it through two bites and then a great deal of my body said, “what the heck is this?” and “get this away from me now or I’ll file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services.”

So, no more Moon Pies. And no more stories with coherent plots.


Hielo y Fuego

Yo no comprendo mucho español, to be honest. Even though I grew up working in the fields with plenty of Spanish-speaking folks. I did learn, however, a great respect for the humble jalapeno. Anyway, I’ve started securing translations of some of my books recently in Spanish and Portuguese. Fire and Ice is the first to come out of the kitchen. Hielo y Fuego, translated by the cheerful and efficient Ines Galiano. It’s currently available on Kobo, iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In other news, I’m tackling a new project that has everything to do with writing books but nothing to do with me writing books. It’s secret for now, but revolves around the fact that I’m more of a reader than a writer. To be honest, I could care less if my books don’t sell another copy. While I love writing, writing is it’s own fulfillment. However, the thought of never being able to read another book…well, that’s a completely different kettle of chanting fish. Never having another book to read would be horrible. Thus, the secret project.

All shall become clear in about two months.

In other news, garden gnomes are making a stunning comeback in the state of California. They’re even voting. Early and often.


Hotels and Guilt Complexes

I’m not saying that hotels are constructed as guilt complexes. That would make for an interesting contractor resume. “Yes, I specialize in single family dwellings, light industrial, and guilt complexes.” What I mean to say (what I’m mean to say) is that I profoundly protest the fact that so many hotels these days try to strong-arm you with guilt every time you use a towel, turn on the sink, or hop on the shower (only hop into showers if they have non-skid mats; otherwise, you’re going to hop, slip and break your neck: a series of events celebrated in a failed Dr. Seuss book called Hop, Slip and Snap!).

Save the planet while you enjoy your hotel getaway.

No, actually, no. I’m not interested in saving the planet via reducing the amount of hot water I use in the shower or dutifully using my towel multiple times. I’m on a getaway. Get it? I’m getting away from the petty cares of everyday life. Which means I’m planning on not thinking about saving the planet while I’m getting away. Got that?

I’ll leave saving the planet to Superman and the spandex-clad bureaucrats of the EPA.


Four and twenty blackbirds…

JesseNestNope. No plans for blackbird pie. The feathers get stuck in your teeth and I’m no royal to demand such gourmet fare. However, blackbirds are a perennial perplexing pest of the most pestilent persistence on our farm. A pox on their house. Among other things, they are a plague on our strawberries, settling on them like a black cloud of winged demons and feasting like there’s no tomorrow. Well, there will be no tomorrow for this little nest of pre-blackbirds. That’s Jesse, my middle son, with his recently discovered nest of five blackbird eggs. He’s a brilliant Lego architect, connoisseur of frozen yogurt pushups, and all-around cheerful little soldier. He does not have a shred of mercy for blackbirds (as he is also a connoisseur of strawberries).


RT Bookfair, Aspiring Authors, the end of the World, etc.

So, the RT Bookfair just occurred in New Orleans. It’s one of the deals where booksellers and authors and readers show up to mingle and meet and buy and giveaway and all that sort of thing. The indie authors and smaller presses with nonreturnable books (ie., books sold on consignment) were put in one room and the traditional pressers were put in another. A lot of indies have been grumbling about this, particularly in light of an RT staffer who referred to them as “aspiring authors.”

Well, you know what? Who cares. It’s not the end of the world. At least you haven’t been kidnapped by Boko Haram thugs in order to be sold into slavery via a forced Muslim marriage. Heck, it could always be worse. The Spanish Inquisition could start up again, right on your lucky little doorstep.

Speaking of the end of the world, I’m starting to grow a bit weary of all the dystopian novels. I realize trends are things that people jump on (like: flying carpets, trolleys, and spiders that stroll across your kitchen floor), but the trendification of publishing is starting to become a Sight to Behold. A trend begins and then a vast wave of similar widgets surge their way across the landscape, singing in chorus and all painted the same color (see: have I seen those abs before?).

It would be fascinating if someone did a study of publishing and analyzed trends. Did trends occurs in the Ye Ancient Dayes of Yesteryear like they do now? Twilight…instant vampire trend! Hunger Games…instant dystopian trend! Some book with abs on it…instant New Adult trend! When Tolstoy published War and Peace, was there an instant Massive Russian Novel trend?

I’m thinking…no.

Okay, back to the Seal Whistle. 109 pages so far. I’ve noticed something interesting while writing this story (and, by the way, if you haven’t read my Tormay trilogy, the Seal Whistle takes place in that same land…go read The Hawk and His Boy if you don’t know what I’m talking about; it’s free). I started out with a specific plot in mind, specific characters who are from the Tormay trilogy or related in certain ways to those books. The characters have strongly asserted themselves in the process and are basically demanding page time to do what they want. Even if it really has nothing to do with the plot. I realize that authorial wisdom says one should edit and prune out such passages. However, these characters will probably beat the stuffing out of me if I do that.


How Does One Write Epic Fantasy? Black Widow Spiders!

Woops. I almost suckered myself into writing on that topic. Not gonna happen, because my insurance policy is simply not adequate enough. The battle between Tolkien’s moral vision and George Martin’s bleak nihilism is a deadly one, fraught with many stories found on the continuum between those two poles. Many a farmboy has come to grief on that battleground. One day, perhaps, I’m going to write a doctoral thesis on the foundational philosophies of the genre, but not today.

Actually, that’s a bit of a dream of mine. Back to school for a doctorate. I’d love to study literary theory. Not the lame marxist critique or feminist critique that most blockheads teach in academia (sorry, I have no pity or patience for such ivory tower chowdermumblebrains), but a critique theory that actually delves into the aforesaid moral vision of the oldsters (Tolkien, Chesterton, etc) versus the post-modernism of Martin, Cook, and others. One’s vision and understanding of the world shapes one’s stories. There’s no getting away from that, and there’s no getting away from the moral or amoral responsibility (can I say amoral responsibility?) that goes hand in mailed glove, regardless of the careless and shallowly constructed excuses of many of my contemporaries.

So, me for a doctorate and my wife would tackle a master’s in Jane Eyre. She’s currently re-reading Jane Eyre for about the twentieth time right now. I’m definitely the fifth wheel out when Jane and Mr. Rochester are in the house. Cambridge, perhaps?

Yesterday, I drove onto a work site where we were tearing down some old fences and replacing them with new ones. I arrived just in time to see one worker suddenly break into a frenzied impression of Michael Flatley doing his Lord of the Dance (Riverdance?) routine. Only, I doubt Flatley could’ve done such fast footwork as this fellow. There was a certain lack of rhythm and grace in his movements, but, boy, was he fast. He was also doing a lot of hollering at the same time. Turns out that he had just flipped over a large masonry block and uncovered a nest of black widow spiders. Several adults and about forty Barney-aged youngsters (Barney and black widows–now that’s a perfect combination). They all came boiling out like the four horsemen of the apocalypse (well, the forty-four horsemen, if we must be precise). Hence, the dance impression accompanied by the frantic yodeling.

Spiders as terrifying as those that planned to sup on Bilbo and the dwarves. It just goes to show you. You never know when life might become epic, fantasy or not.


Rare Interview of Master Criminal Greg Downs

I first met Greg Downs when I was serving in the French Foreign Legion in Namibia. We were taking fire from a heavy platoon of British tourists. Ladies, mostly named Hortense or Mabel, elderly and wearing those  tight compression stockings that assist in varicose-vein sublimation. They had the usual assortment of mortars and 6-inch recoilless rifles and RPGs. Plus, they had a sniper the Namibians called the Suet Death Pudding who could shoot the cigar out of your mouth from three miles out. We were pinned down, outgunned, out-womaned, and in need of backup. I remember Greg well because he had the foresight to bring a cooler of pastrami and stone-ground mustard sandwiches on a nice marbled rye, and a few bottles of cold beer. He was a good man. We lost touch, however, when he went to work for the Chinese Tongs in Macau. Mostly smuggling guns and pharmaceuticals and misfortune cookies into Belgium.

Anyway, I ran into him recently at a performance of Swan Lake at Carnegie Hall. Mikhal Gorbachev was dancing lead, along with Al Gore as the Prince. It was a hard thing to watch, but that’s why I always bring along a flask of the even harder stuff. We got to talking during the intermission, while people were running out, screaming about the end of the world and hollering stuff and looking nauseated.

While I know Greg, I’ll pretend I don’t, for your educational sake.

So, while I know you, for the sake of discussion, who are you?

My name is Greg, but who I am is rather difficult. I think the answer has to do with writing, at least somewhat, or I wouldn’t be here, would I? It started in highschool, when I wrote and published some short books on Kindle, my Song of the Aura series, which is when I met Mister Christopher here.

To date, I have published three books: one, a collection of novellas and short stories, two, a novel reimagining King Arthur’s world through the eyes of the (guy you thought was the) villain, and three, a big hulking fantasy epic compiled from that series I mentioned. Nowadays I mostly just doodle, write poetry, blog a little, and go to college.

One day I’ll know who I am, too. Then I’ll tell you.

Speaking of King Arthur, what are your thoughts on modern education and its role in either encouraging or stifling creativity?

I just read Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, where the kids are given more and more information in school, are schooled earlier and earlier, and learn less and less of what will actually give them meaningful lives. I think we’re on the threshold of that. Creativity is not killed by modern education, not judging by all the creative public-schoolers I’ve met, but it’s giving it its best try.

Ray Bradbury was a good man. I have fond memories of that evening he shot up a Taliban bar in Kabul. Good times. Speaking of the Taliban, what are your thoughts on the self-pubbing/indie movement?

I think it’s a great way to encourage people to write more, read more, and generally get involved. It does have a tendency to create a swamp of various amateur books, but I think 50 Shades shows us that everywhere is a swamp nowadays. So really, we have a lot to gain by people taking their writing and their careers in writing into their own hands.

I’m with you there. 50 Shades is to books as Robespierre is to democratic rule. I’ve even heard that those geniuses in Hollywood are in pre-production on a film version. Do you think Hollywood is maintaining its creative edge or losing it?

I think a lot has been lost from a thematic point of view, but a lot has been gained in a visual sense. We have a lot of really good ways to portray events and characters that we didn’t have before… but we don’t use a lot of that potential. Instead we just blow more things up. And then more. I am watching less and less contemporary film nowadays so I think I’ll stop there.

Contemporary film seems to be all about the big name actors and actresses who, frankly, seem to be mostly several noodles short of a bowl of Vietnamese pho. Lately, that’s exemplified by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” end of their marriage. The subtext in that is they are crazier than mercury-addicted loons. Speaking of marriage, do you think marriage should be arranged by the State?

No. See 1984 for details.

Ah, yes. 1984. Every year is 1984 these days. So, what is creativity and how do we access it and are we truly individual with it?

Got to admit this is my favorite question and I was waiting for it the whole time. So naturally instead of answering it directly I want to go on a tangent. Plato, in his Ion, reckons creativity as a sort of inspiration that begins in a Divine Source (the gods), and proceeds down in a chain from the gods themselves, to the poets and artists, to the performers of poetry. I find that idea a lot more interesting than calling creativity a mush mix of social/political/historical/psychological sources that kind of bubbles up from us every time we put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it now were). Think about it. What if creativity was not brainwaves, but a Divine Light we could tap into? What if our creativity, what you might call our artistic self, is like a crystal that the light shines through? When we hone our artistic craft, we chisel at, refine, and polish the crystal. We determine its shape by the life experiences and art experiences we have, and this shape, whatever it is, will reflect the Divine Light in a different way. So if this were true (I don’t know if it is, but it’s worth thinking about), then creativity is something beyond us, which we nevertheless have a good amount of individual control over. So, yes and no, as the elves say.

Very wise of you to retreat to the elves. I’ve always admired their thought processes, but not their sartorial sense. Too many tight pants. Speaking of tight pants, do you think the government is hiding information from us on things like extra-terrestrials, etc?

I could answer that question, but then I would have to kill you to protect my employers.

I trust they’re paying you well! Thanks, Greg, for taking the time to come on by and chat. If anyone wants to learn more about Greg Downs–the man, the writer, the cheese expert–stop on by his blog and spend some quality time.


Tall duck and handsome

tall duck and handsomeWhy? Because we can. That’s why. After all, lots of people seem to be interested in such qualities in their personal ads. With the alteration of a few letters, of course, but language is fluid these days…so, what does it matter?

At any rate, this just goes to show you that if you can’t pronounce the letter R, you might be in trouble in many different ways, not the least of them your love life. Or your culinary life. Or you love of culinary things.


Manhattan Cocktail Parties

Manhattan Cocktail PartyFor some odd reason I’ve had this image stuck in my head for years. I’m not an illustrator by any stretch of the imagination, but I finally scribbled down my mental rendition. I don’t know why, but the scene makes me laugh. Snooty cocktail party at some Tribeca loft, young financiers glad-handing over drinks, and one guy turns to his girlfriend and introduces a couple he’s just met… File this one under Random, that’s for sure.