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.

“Angels” Official Release

SHIFT_TENSE_3_ANGELS
ANGELS– the third and final installment of the action-packed Eshu International novel, Shift Tense, is now available at Amazon.com

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In war, expect treachery above all else.

Framed for murder, Eshu International is caught in the crossfire of the war’s final offensive. Hunted at every turn by former allies and new enemies, the pressure mounts as their corporate employers demand they complete their original mission: assassinate the charismatic rebel commander, Professor Harun Hamid. No matter the cost.

Killer drones, child soldiers, rival mercenaries, a nation ravaged by genocide and civil war, ANGELS is the third and final part of the Eshu International novel, SHIFT TENSE.

***

Part One “Red Flags” HERE
Part Two “Soldier Dreams” HERE

The first Eshu International novel, “Running Black” is available HERE

Thank you all very much. Enjoy.

Writing advice to myself


1. READ MORE POETRY
You got too many words, dude. This isn’t an essay. You don’t have to explain everything. Most readers are smart enough to fill in the blanks. You don’t have to jerk them around like a dog on a choke-chain making sure they get the point. (nudge, nudge. wink, wink. hint, hint) It’s about the music of language. It’s about economy of prose. No, more then economy, it’s precision. Traction. Poetry exercises those muscles.
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” – Mark Twain

2. MAKE THE STORY STRONG ENOUGH
That it’s banging to come out. Being clever, cute, coy isn’t enough. It’s not sermonizing, regurgitating philosophy, sociological exposition. It’s about people: their struggles, failures, triumphs. Inform, exhort, emote, sure. But beyond that. More than entertainment, titillation, distraction – it’s supposed to transport.
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”
― Ernest Hemingway

3. EMBRACE THE LEARNING CURVE
Writing stuff that sucks is the only path to writing stuff that doesn’t suck so much. Deal with it. Settle in for the long haul. Like the lottery, you stand a better chance of getting hit by lightning than your first novel becoming an international bestseller translated into 17 different languages turned into a H-wood blockbuster. And while we’re here, there already was a Bill Shakespeare, Steven Pressfield and William Gibson. (Mervyn Peake, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Dan Abnett, Jeff VanderMeer…) You ain’t him. And the brute fact is you probably don’t have the innate talent to be a literary peer. But that’s no excuse to not be yourself and write the stories God gives you.
“Anything worth doing…”

PS:
Pay for a good cover.
Use Beta readers for substantive feedback.
Pay a Copy Editor
Keep it fun. Write what you want. You want $$? Write porn. But you ain’t, so it needs to be innately satisfying.

Ranger Martin and the Zombie Apocalypse

Day of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead (great movie!) The Walking Dead… we have quite the appetite for rotting flesh, don’t we? *snirk*

Fellow genre writer Jack Flacco’s debut novel “Ranger Martin and the Zombie Apocalypse” continues in this fine tradition with a story about a grizzled survivor, a rusty pick-up, and his trusty 12-gauge. Protecting fellow survivors, uncovering an insidious conspiracy, and above all, blasting away at hordes of shambling undead is what this is all about.

The genuinely refreshing thing is while RM is fraught with tension and action, (and zombies) it keeps from decomposing into ponderous, grim darkness with a salting of black humor and a light tone. Thankfully, the book keeps on the side of a good old-fashioned Saturday morning cartoon rather than descending into a relentless, dreary tale of survival. It’s the undead with their tongue firmly in cheek. If you’re looking to waste some time with some good old-fashioned Zed-blasting, this is the book for you.

Be sure to click through to his Website to stay notified of the release date. I’m looking forward to more from this guy.

* Full Disclosure: I know the author through online venues and received an ARC of Ranger Martin.

Writer or Salesperson?

Couple recent experiences drove home the notion that successful writing these days isn’t so much due to good prose as slick promotion. A recent Writing Conference standard “Ten-Minute Pitch” where you get a hasty sit-down with a real ‘literary agent’ had a friend discussing not her books/stories but her online presence. Then, a local seminar by an indie author was all about full-time marketing and not an ounce about craft.

No more ‘Can you write?” but “Do you FacebookPintrestTumblrTweetBlogGoodreadsAmazonPromoBlogTour?”

I know as much effort and creativity go into marketing a product as the making the product, (maybe more) and I get that advertising/promotion is important, but it feels like shill and gush have priority over plot and character. Save recommendations from friends, family, known-authors, my trust factor for ads and 5-Star reviews is waaaay down lately. Is it just me getting grumpy in my dotage, or is there some validity in this assessment?

I’ll end with today’s serendipitous post from Seth Godin “Marketing Good”

Marketing good is the McMansion that looks good at an open house but isn’t particularly well built or designed for actual living.

Marketing good is the catalog of gimcracks and doodads that entices the casual shopper but sells stuff that ends up in a closet.

Marketing good is the cover of a magazine decreed by the number crunchers in the newsstand sales group, not the editors and the readers they care about.

Marketing good is sensational or edgy or somehow catchy, but is a service that never gets renewed.

As you’ve guessed, marketing good isn’t actually marketing good, not any more. It’s just junk.

Second and third order recommendations and word of mouth and the way we talk about the things that are “good good” is the new marketing.

Your initial response rate, newsstand sales or first episode ratings are a measure of old-fashioned marketing prowess. Now, we care an awful lot more about just plain good. Or perhaps, if you really want to make an impact, great.