Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Simple Guide to Using Poetry as a Guide for Your Prose

[Sorry for not updating today. I had plans but I had trouble with sleep]
If there is an official terminology for what I describe here, I do not know it. When in the midst of inspired writing, I let everything go. I write to the spine of the story most often whether it is main plot (or storyline), or subplot (etc), unless the inspiration comes during editing (which I treasure beyond gold) and centers around a specific scene.
When my inspiration comes in the wholesale form I am aware I have a lot of editing to do to compress my prose. I tend to write in a wide open style using way too many words to describe a simple thing or action. It looks good on my word count, but I know I will be reducing the inspired work to one-third or less.
When I go back to my work for editing my mind goes into free verse mode.
John Holcombe describes free verse this way: "When free verse lacks rhythmic patterning, appearing as a lineated prose stripped of unnecessary ornament and rhetoric, it becomes the staple of much contemporary work. The focus is on what the words are being used to say, and their authenticity. The language is not heightened, and the poem differs from prose only by being more self-aware, innovative and/or cogent in its exposition. "
I have to avoid the poetic self-awareness, but otherwise I am trying to reduce, compress if you will, my meanderings into a compacted version with single words that could convey the meaning of several sentences. If you have read any of my first drafts (of which I have posted a few) you have witnessed my wordiness. I am not so worried in didactic writing, such as this post, as simplicity and repetitiveness enhances the learning experience.
There is no need to discuss my inspiration during the editing phase as authenticity and innovation explode from my, otherwise clumsy, fingers.
Compression does horrible things to my word count, but by the time I am editing word count no longer has meaning. In fact, during the first draft I use it simply as the only sensible metric available to envision progress. As Holcombe says "The language is not heightened..." In that I take it to mean that one doesn't reach out for esoteric phrases that require a dictionary and thesaurus to read.
To me, story telling is all about drawing in the reader so that they can vicariously feel the emotions of the characters and empathize with thier predicaments. To be pulled in so deep that their world, filled with their own troubles, disappears for a while and they are carried along by the river of your story.  [And , yes, I start sentences with prepositions way too often :-) But awareness of your flaws is the first step to overcoming them.]

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why Be Secretive About Your Writing

If you were to ask me what my current novel is about, I am liable to tell you it is about 65,000 words.
Why be secretive about my work? Don't I want to interest people in my story. Yep, I want to. My problem is I am a pure story teller. I am not trying to be rude. The problem stems from my desire to get my story onto the printed page (well, at least the hard drive of my computer). Perhaps when I am old and forgetful enough to hide my own Easter eggs, I will open up about my #WIPs. But, for now I suffer over each request to "tell me what it's about."  If I were to open up and reveal the details of the story, I have thus already told the story. Why tell it again? I lose all desire to continue.
I made this mistake when I was learning my craft and left behind a huge number of what could have been great stories. But, considering my state of learning, it is probably just as well. I lacked the ability to tell those stories as well as I would have wanted to.
I do have regrets over one MS that I had finished a draft and a half of, only to have hurricane Katrina destroy it. I remember nearly every line of that MS and it centered around a concept that had been floating around in my head for over twenty years.
I will never go back to that novel. It will never be rewritten. Even though I originally had been so inspired as to have finished the first draft in less than a month. In my mixed up confusion of a brain, I have already told that story.
I'll admit there are some who can repeat their stories over and over again and still put pen to paper. I believe the true story teller wants his audience to experience the emotional impact of their story fresh and strong. While there is something to be said for wearing the old comfortable shoes, that, to me, is for the reader not the writer. If you wish to pick up one of my novels over and over again, more power to you. I've a few novels that I find comfort in rereading myself. But please, don't ask me what my Work in Progress is about.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are Indie Pubs Selling Themselves Short?

Ebooks or PODs (print on demand) are easy and cheap to publish with the advent of Kindles, iPads and that ilk.Now this movement should produce a large number of (those traditionally known as) vanity books, as well as, many high quality books (perhaps experimental) with which traditional publishers were not willing to take the economic risk. A short definition here: vanity book = some author's poor quality pet project that is not economically viable. The problem here is that you have two types of books bunched into the same indie pub market. The ideal way of distinguishing between the two would be price. Here's where we run into the big problem. Many poor quality book authors drop their price low enough that the average ereader is willing to take a chance on the book. Usually, that price is comparable to garage sale prices. The high quality books can be divided into two groups. Books of authors who's prime directive is to obtain cash and books of authors who's prime directive is to distribute their art to as wide an audience as possible. Do you see the mishagas that results? Poor quality books at rock bottom prices along side high quality art (inventive, experimental) books by artists who snub their noses at the mighty dollar (Euro, Rupal, Yen, etc). On the other hand we have work-a-day authors with quality books wanting to make money. I can guarantee, without seeing the stats, that the quantity of poor quality books far outweighs the high quality books, by simply understanding the human psyche. So we have a market flooded with low cost books. One might see a comparison to the '90 Japanese flooding of the US market with low cost memory cards, driving competitors out of business. So quality indie pubs are getting outsold by crappy books. As their income drops our quality authors lower the price to make up for the loss of income by volume. It doesn't take long for all three types of books to be selling at $.99 a piece. The big loser of course being the authors who are trying to make a living. Now take a look at the books by well known authors that traditional publishers are selling on the emarket. Yes they are selling at a discount from paper books sold in brick and mortar stores (including their Internet outlets), but they are not trying to compete with the indie pubs and their prices remain at high retail market value. Are you indie pubs diluting your marketability by panicking and lowering your prices? I give you an emphatic YES.
If you want to avoid traditional publishing for whatever reason, don't abandon traditional marketing. I'm talking about shutting off your computer, getting off of your lazy asses, and hitting the road, stopping at the high volume booksellers and speak, autograph. Get onto radio and even TV talk shows to promote your books. Show your faces and attempt to become a household name. Yes social media and blogs helps to promote books. But I have never seen such a lazy marketing concept a blog tour.
Consider these two scenarios:
"I just saw a blog by (insert name here) they sound very interesting. I'm thinking of buying their book."
"I just saw (insert name here) speak at Barnes and Noble they presented themselves very well and I got an esignature from them on my copy of their book."
Which author do you think will get noticed and sell books at a higher price?

Monday, September 26, 2011

4 Methods of Showing not Telling

1.  A single painting decorated the faded mauve wallpaper. The painting was of Marcy's father painted when he was in his twenties. Her mother had often commented on how handsome he was at that age always with a far off look and a bright gleam in her eyes. She did not do so anymore. If she remarked at all about the painting, which wasn't often, it was usually to ask who that man was.

In 5 sentences we know something of Marcy's mother's style, her current medical condition and the history of her relationship with her husband

2. She turned quickly startled by her revery interrupted and there he was as beautiful as ever. She stared, working her mouth open and closed saying nothing for far too long. She had slipped into that silly girl's shoes at the sound of his voice. Realizing she hadn't said anything, she blushed. She hadn't blushed since he had left her and this one made up for old times. She felt hot in spite of the October winds.

This is Marcy meeting an old beau. Notice he is described as beautiful rather than handsome. This is a word a lover would use vice a friend or stranger. We know how she feels about her state of mind as a younger woman. We also get clues as to her love life since their break-up and the torch she still holds.

3. She felt him draw a large breath that caught midway. A hot tear struck her forehead and rolled down the bridge of her nose. Marcy slide her arms wide and wrapped them around this stranger and lover.

Missing here is that Marcy had expressed her anger of being left behind and then an intimate moment as she leans into him. But it is easy to see with the catching breath and a single tear his lingering feelings toward her. They are both caught up in the memories they had and although they are strangers today they feel their way back to the time they were lovers.

4. “Come to me,” She looked to the dark sky and howled again.
The wolf let out a small whine and licked his nose. this woman's soft words and howling reached into his vengeance hardened heart and softened it.

Anyone who has owned a dog knows the meaning behind a small whine and a nose lick. This wolf was confused and we get a strong sense of the past and present with the altering of his heart.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Genius Deconstructed

You may be wondering why a humble guy like me would use the word genius in the title of his blog or maybe you aren't. In either case I'm going to explain it to you.
I am a certified genius, no brag, just fact. I have nothing to brag about because I had nothing to do with it. It would be like bragging that I have blue eyes or that I am left-handed.
[warning mind numbing mathematics ahead skip this paragraph if you have a fear of numbers]
There is irony in this story so lookout for it. My I.Q. is in the top 1% of the world population. Wow, that sounds impressive. Let's break that down. The wold's population is roughly 6,800,000,000 (that's 6.8 Billion with a B). 1% of that is 68,000,000 (68 Million with an M). Now since my I.Q. score is within the .2% of the bottom of the percentile that means that I am grouped with 13,600,000 (13.6 Million with an M) at the bottom of the larger number. Quickly doing the math, there are somewhere between 54,400,000 and 68,000,000 people in the world who have a higher I.Q. than I do.
This genius doesn't appear to be that genius anymore, eh? No ivory tower for me. I must live among the peasants.
Let me clarify one misconception. Geniuses are not smart.
I sense confusion. The tern genius is a term used to describe people who have scored above a predetermined mark on a test designed to measure a nebulous attribute which psychologists have named Intelligence Quotient.
These so-called I.Q. tests do not test knowledge (that is what SAT and ACT tests are for). So I could have just enough intelligence to speak and not enough to come in out of the rain and still be considered a genius according to psychologists.
So (I hear you thinking, not really just kidding about that), what does an I.Q. test test?
Here goes. An I.Q. test measures one's speed and accuracy in performing certain tasks and it measures one's ability to determine obtuse spacial relationships within an allotted time period. There are a few other attributes it also tests but I think you get the idea.
All in all I.Q. tests somehow, with some degree of accuracy, measure the speed and completeness with which one learns new things.
Here is where I start getting shifty. Several factors determine how much of that I.Q. is actually used in learning something new. One factor is, how much one is interested in learning the new thing. If I'm not interested in learning cabinet construction many people with markedly lower I.Q.s will learn this ability much faster than I will.
Here is the biggie: If I don't realize that either I don't already know a subject or that a subject requires learning I'm an idiot.
How could this happen you ask? Book learning does not fall into this category. Social interaction in which there is no formal training is ripe for all the reasons to remain ignorant. Many items I thought I knew. Others I didn't even know existed and still others I wasn't interested in learning.
So there I was a socially inept genius, who thought that people appreciated someone who corrected their erroneous statements and enjoyed hearing obtuse factoids just as my teaches did in high school.
I'm sure you have heard of the four types of knowledge but I will repeat it here.
There are the things that you know you know, things you know that you don't know, things that you don't know that you know and things that you don't know that you don't know (i'll wait for those who need to re-read that).
The most dangerous of the four is not knowing what you don't know. One might look at this and think well if you don't know about it what's the problem? The problem is when you think you know about it and think you know it but you are completely ignorant on the subject.

Genius Divorces Wife of Four Years Two Daughters Involved

Madrid, Spain

Just released from the United States Air Force Information Bureau so called genius was unable to keep his nuclear family from splitting.

Genius Marries for a Second Time to a Demanding, Jealous, and Domineering Woman his Young Girls are also Involved

San Diego, CA

A local genius leaves his Christian  faith behind and becomes a Jew in order to marry a shrew. His children follow in his wandering footsteps.

Geniuses Second Marriage ends in Failure and Loss of Connection of Daughters

Hampton, VA

Transplanted genius not only loses his wife, but his children and grandchildren in a bitter divorce.

Genius Studies Reasons for Bad Relationship and Becomes a New Man

San Diego, CA
He returns to his Christian roots and finally figures out that he has to learn to be in a relationship.

Smart? Yeah, right.

The Beat of the Conundrum

Allen suffered from agoraphobia but was the adventurous sort. One could find him exploring the guest bedroom as if it was uncharted territory. Ah ha! A new box atop the dresser in the very pink room. Why pink you may ask, and I wouldn't be surprised if you did.
It was, indeed, an artifact left by his wife. And by left I mean at the height of Allen's disease his wife left for the corner store to buy a loaf of bread and forgot to return. This of course left Allen feeling very sad and lacking anything onto which to spread his peanut butter.
While Allen acted oddly, he had survival instincts that would make Daniel Boone proud. He discovered that one could cut waxed paper into bread sized squares and it would hold peanut butter just fine. It not only sufficed as makeshift bread, but Allen found that he liked the fact that the paper didn't interfere with the taste of the peanut butter as bread had. He was elated. That is until he ran out of peanut butter.
Mashed canned peas was a poor substitute, as was pureed artichoke hearts. He was no longer the happy-stay-lucky Allen. He combed the yellow pages(tm) for a fast food delivery service that delivered peanut butter and waxed paper. There were none. He attempted to plant the nuts from a can of mixed nuts in an old ivy pot. After six weeks of tender care and hunger pangs he gave up on that project.
He was growing weaker every day, so weak he didn't even venture from his bedroom any longer. He feared the worst. Yes, my friends, he feared he would have to venture outside of his domicile in search of supplies.
There he stood in front of the door. Although it was summer he had donned sweat pants and sweat shirt in his favorite color, gray. Over that he had placed a hoodie he had found on the floor of the closet. Judging from the tightness of the purple garment he surmised it belonged to that woman that used to roam the rooms there. Tennis shoes, that is to say running shoes, or maybe cross-trainers or walking shoes, he wasn't up on the latest shoe fad, over his stylish gray socks. He had topped this menagerie of textiles with a fedora hat, with feather, that had belonged to his father, if he remembered correctly, which was doubtful.
The door was a barricade. The strength of it Allen found reassuring, knowing that if he had accidentally bumped into it he would not be thrown out into the street to be attacked by who knows what. Which reminded him. He ran to and explored the umbrella stand, disregarding the fireplace poker as too obvious, and the samurai sword as possibly unlawful to carry, the same with the sawed-off shotgun, eventually finding an umbrella with a stiff point that could be used to fend off all sorts of wild beasties and yet not an obvious weapon.
He returned to the front door now prepared for anything short of a medium or larger sized dragon. He stood there immobilized by fear. Perhaps a football helmet? No, he didn't want to draw attention to his vulnerabilities. Would a hard hat fit under his fedora? What a silly thought, after all he didn't own a hard hat. He took a moment to place himself in the en guarde position left hand above his head, legs spread. And his umbrella pointed forward and at the ready. Well, retuning to his former position, that certainly made him feel less anxious to wield a weapon with such professionalism and grace.
The door stood there, blissfully ignorant of Allen's fears, with all seven locks in place and battened down. Allen reached out and twisted the knob on the top deadbolt. At the creaking and click of the lock fear overtook him, causing him to flee at top speed to the bedroom furthest from the front door, where his bravado reasserted itself and he raised the umbrella prepared to do battle with whatever could penetrate the remainder of the door's defenses.
The telephone rang. The umbrella flew into the air, Allen dove to the floor, and avoided being impaled by the umbrella by a quarter turn. It merely bounced off of his skull, undamaged. The phone rang once more. Allen with an air of savoir faire climbed to his feet, sat on the bed, and answered the phone.
“Hi, may I speak to Caroline please,” a female voice asked perfunctorily.
Not wanting to sound rude, Allen answered with approval, “You are certainly welcome to as far as I am concerned, although, I must admit, I am curious as to why you believe you need my permission.”
“Ummmm...Wha?...Is she at home?”
“Sorry I have no clue. In fact I don't even know where her home is.”
“ this the Melton residence?”
“It is indeed.”
“Are you saying that Caroline has left you?”
“Well I didn't say that exactly. But now that you mention it, I would have to agree with that assumption.”
“Uh huh. Well, your name is Allen right? I was headed to the store and thought I would ask if I could pick up anything for you?”
The heavens opened up and angels sang hosannas.
Allen was shaking with excitement, “Could you please pick up ten rolls of waxed paper and thirty jars of peanut butter for me?”
“Ummm... wow... I...I....guess I could do that.”
“Just leave it on my front porch. I'll mail you a check.”
“Are you doing okay, Allen,” she asked doubtfully.
“I'm excellent thank you,” Allen hung up the phone.
Allen jumped for joy and danced around the bedroom. He stopped suddenly. The supplies would be left outside. So close and yet so far.
Perhaps he needed the shotgun after all.