I hate marketing

There, I said it.

I don’t want to be that guy joining forums, groups, discussions just to pimp my wares, a naked ego clothed only in my latest’s back-cover blurb and a Smashwords coupon code. Drive-by marketing is obnoxious, transparent, tiresome at best. And what with Mark Driscoll’s “Real Marriage” dust-up, the last thing I want to do is use ResultSource

I know advertizing and promotion is essential; a good book never read is the same as a bad book. The question is how to carve out the time to invest rather than impose? To locate places of genuine potential interest rather than spin up the hype where it’s unmerited? And contribute genuine support to other members of those online/physical communities?

Time is a precious commodity. With everyone already busy enough, it’s tough to maintain already established connections. And it’s getting more difficult to wade – to even want to wade – through the sludge these days. With ‘The Barrow Lover’ up next, I’m seriously struggling with how I’m going to honestly and earnestly promote it.

Any thoughts here?

Collecting Smoke and Packing Springs

I’ve come to terms with being a slow writer.

I’d love to write faster, to sit down and let the fluid flawless prose flow from my fingertips like in the movies. Except that only happens in movies.
Or, I could be like the poet in Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk (below) and have a tornado of inspiration surge through. But it just don’t work that way for me. “Mulish” was the word Ms Gilbert used. I can relate.

Sure, I have breakthroughs, moments of clarity. Even (dare I say) sparks of divine inspiration. But most of time, ideas build slowly, coming from all manner of places. Like wisps of smoke on the wind, I collect them: bits of a song, a sensation, a turn of phrase or quote, a scene or a snatch of dialog. Sometimes just a character’s name or a place. (I have a notebook filled with random, unrelated Post-It notes, plus a separate notebook for each project.) Then, after an indeterminate amount of time, I’ll peer in the cupboard to see if anything has coalesced.

Idea sparked, there’s still the matter of hammering it out. But fiction isn’t an essay or a three-point sermon, and writing prose is precisely where poetry gets me in trouble. Growing up I read and still do read a lot of it. That translates into a constant internal challenge not simply for economy and traction, but the music of language. The right word in the right place to generate rhythm of thought and sound across the sentence, the paragraph, the entire story.

It’s like packing springs- one misplaced and they all pop out. Or that Mouse Trap Contraption Game. Properly done, the reader should move through the story’s tricks and turns like that marble without stop all the way to the end. Not saying that I do it all the time, but that’s the goal. Like holding a Horse Track Betting sheet, I stare at my keyboard and realize the winners are right there in front of me.

Shift Tense complete, The Barrow Lover nearing completion, and the next Clar1ty Wars plotted out, I’ve opted for ‘the drip’ method this year- a little bit on a consistent basis – rather than periodic guilt-wracked spasms. No, my schedule doesn’t allow me to write every day. But I can write four/five times a week.

These last 6-8 weeks I’ve been doing a short session in the morning followed by a short session in the evening. I get material down on paper, then come back and hammer it into shape. And punch out a little more material. Which I hammer into shape the next session, and gets me a bit more new material, and so on. The proverb about eating an elephant in little bites comes to mind.

After all, writers write and I have to say it’s been working well so far.

Best to all of you in the new year, especially you writers.

BTW – I highly recommend Ted Kooser’s Poetry Home Repair Manual to every aspiring writer, regardless of genre.

Here’s that TED Talk. Worth the watch.

Book Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo

Acclamations like ‘haunting’, ‘profound’, ‘powerful’, ‘poignant’ are pinned so casually on every donkey these days, it’s tough to describe your feelings when you actually encounter it. Having finished the novel last night, my sense at the moment is one of deep gratitude; that the novel was written, that I got to read it, that I’ve never experienced anything like the trauma of the Balkans in the 90s, that my life is so comfortable and blessed… I could go on. You get it.

This little book lands in the category of ‘one everybody should have to read’, not for it’s stark portrayal of modern war, but that it depicts the resilience of the human spirit despite them. It’s a testament to the stubborn notion that beauty and truth, love and art, abide despite cruelty. It’s one of those books I wish I was able to write.

You can read a plot synopsis and other reviews at the Amazon link below, but I for one genuinely recommend you purchase (beg, borrow, steal it even) and read it. It’s a worthy of being one of your first books for 2014.

LINK: The Cellist of Sarajevo at Amazon

“Your books suck!”

“Your books suck!”

“Yes, they do. But not as bad as some others.”

***
Critics go with the territory – walking out your door means you’re fair game.

Here on Cape Cod, you can’t help bump into artists. I’ve met dozens of people with an excess of talent, a better eye for color, light, texture, detail, who have that gift, that creative lightning, who could make far better stained glass windows than me. But they don’t make windows. I do. So mine are better than theirs. Same thing with writing. (or sculpting, or painting…)

The learning curve requires you write your first book before you write your second, and anything worth doing is worth doing well, worth doing poorly at first.

Oh, and my monthly remittance from Amazon just showed up. Again.

Story fragment 1

Wrote this sample a while back at the request of a company working on a Post-Apoc RPG. Don’t think their project ever took off but I was pleased with this vignette.

***

Trying to get back home…

Balkanized

A neat little term to make someone at a desk feel better. A word-trick to contain what happens when the reins of civilization slip and life-long neighbors flip psychotic overnight. Hell vomits mind-numbing savagery on some little town or village, like Satan’s timeshare, and we expect a clinical description. It is life ripped out by the roots, a world torn and shattered, bodies draped over charred rubble accenting a certain brutalized emptiness.

Like dabbing antiseptic on a gut wound; the sleight-of-hand won’t stop the bleeding, but maybe it’ll take away the sting.

Balkanized…

We were just trying to get to safety. To friendly lines. Back home.

I drew on the stub of my cigarette, embers on the filter, and looked through the binoculars again. The hollow eyes of a hundred broken windows stared back at me. Nothing. No motion. No sound. Not even birds. The town was empty – or at least made to look that way.

I keyed the mike. “I want security 200 meters out on both flanks. No visitors this time.”

“Roger, Boss. 200 meters out. Anders thinks Putin Guard tore through here last week. Probably won’t be anything left.”

“Yep. Probably not,” I sighed. “But we have to look anyway. We’re low on everything. And,” I patted my vest pocket. “I’m out of cigarettes.”

“OK, boss, whatever you say. Two out.”

I cradled the mike and pounded on the roof. “Smiley! Crank her up. We’re going in. Keep your eyes peeled for a gas station.” As the Bradley lurched into gear I grabbed the .50, unlocked it and swung it forward. “Knowles. Load up a TOW. I don’t want any surprises.”

“Sure thing Sarge. Last one though.”

“Well then let’s hope we don’t need it.”

The remnants of my company broke out of the tree line and start downhill into another nameless east European town.

We found two gas stations. Eventually. Both had been raped clean. Whoever it was missed the rental center though. There was a warm dry garage with a lift and tools still scattered across the workbenches. More important there was a 200 gallon diesel tank in a concrete shed out back. Its tin roof had collapsed in the fighting and the scorched frame of a trunk was melted into the asphalt in front of the door. Easy to miss it if you weren’t desperate and didn’t know what to look for.

“Round up everything that even looks like it still works. Bring up the truck and have Dureky’s squad drain this thing. We can fuel up once we get clear of this place. I don’t like being confined.” I jumped down out of the hatch. “Stay here and keep an eye out – I’m going scrounging.”

I kicked in the metal side door and let that rusty dead air and sewage tang billow out. I peered into the gloom of the office area. There’s got to be a break room. Stepping gingerly over the threshold, I started my search. Right away I came across a row of scattered bones shrouded in moldy suits. Lined up in one of the larger offices, all of them were face-down with their skeleton wrists zip tied behind them. Civilian casualties from the early days. Probably the first wave of riots and retaliation. I keep looking.

And there it is: end of the hall next to the bathrooms. Thank Christ the vending machines are still there and one of them has cigarettes. Sobranies, Davidoffs, even Magnas, all dirt cheap Russian smokes but still. I break open the back and start stuffing my cargo pockets.

CRUMP

I feel the explosion through the walls. I freeze. My radio squawks.

“Contact! Contact! I got heavy contact east. Anders is gone. So’s Travino. Michaels is pinned down. It’s Putin Guard! Say again – Putin Guard. I see 3 BMP3s and one, two T80s. I need back up now.” Heavy fire hammers in the back noise.

Shit. Crumpled packs fall from my fingers. I snatch up my M4 and start running to the sound of guns.