There Ain’t No Writer’s Block

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After all the hoo-ha about publishing, it’s a good idea to get back to writing, don’t you think? I hear many would-be writers say they have some great ideas but don’t know where to start when it comes to committing those ideas to the written page.  So here’s my opinion on that with a sample process and some random examples:

  1. Make a statement on a blank piece of paper that encapsulates you idea.
  2. On a new sheet of paper write a locale for the idea. If it has grandma’s fried chicken, iced tea, and maybe watermelon, you might want to place it in the Southeast U.S. Or maybe set the idea in Montana, with thoughts of the good ol’ Southeast. If boots come to mind, and maybe a steak, you can’t go wrong placing it in the rural Southwest U.S.
  3. Who is gathered around grandma’s dining table, or in her kitchen? Name them. What are they doing, besides putting on the feedbag? Who are they talking to? Is that pair of boots hurting the wearer’s feet? Does he/she want to take them off? Are the persons involved speaking their minds? Or do they harbor thoughts they don’t wish to speak aloud? Why?
  4. Now look back to that first sheet of paper. Are the locale and characters expanding on your great idea? There’s a better than even chance that they are. If they aren’t, what idea seems to emerge from the locale and characters  you’ve written about? Is that idea more enthralling than your original idea? If so, start fleshing out that story. If not, adapt the idea on the other piece of paper to fit your locale and characters.

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Most of the time this sort of exercise will get the writerly juices flowing. You see, I don’t have much patience with writer’s block. I hate to put it in these terms, but writer’s block is more often than not a case of timidity or laziness on the part of the writer. It’s your excuse for not writing. Sorry, but there’re just too many ways to jump start a story or novel to trifle with writer’s block

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Rationalizing Self-Publishing

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Once established as a hybrid writer, why would you publish your own work, other than for monetary reasons? And by the way, self publishing isn’t always going to CreateSpace, iUniverse, etc. In my case I’ve bitten the bullet and established my own publishing business, Gridley Fires Books, LLC, and that’s strictly for monetary issues. But let me ask the question another way. How do you decide that publishing your own writing is the way to go?

Here’s an example:

After my wife died of cancer and my mourning had quieted a bit, I resolved to write a memoir—an accounting of her cancer travails, beginning with her first inkling of the disease and ending with her death and burial. I wanted to memorialize that time for personal, emotional reasons, but I also wanted to do it to help understand the treatment process and why it came about that a cure or remission wasn’t forthcoming. In mapping that time out, largely with the help of notes taken, hospital reports, and insurance documentation, I quickly realized that I couldn’t write that story clinically. There was too much of our personal relationship to grapple with. And so the story I wished to write would become something of a true memoir. Still, there was a need to have some rather clinical segments in the proposed book, so I inserted several “Just The Facts” sections, in which I gave technical information about cancer treatment, home care, necessary equipment, and various bits of advice to both cancer patients and those caring for them at home.

You can see this isn’t a conventional structure for a memoir. Plus, I had wanted to use the book, once published, to increase awareness of cancer issues, such as early screening, the treatments themselves, and how to deal emotionally with a loved one suffering cancer. Thus it will, within a few months, be published under Gridley Fires. My campaign for cancer awareness will begin with a few select cancer sufferers receiving courtesy copies.

An unconventional structure for a very unique and specific use – and that virtually compels publishing oneself rather than through conventional channels.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Magic as Metaphor

 

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Some story collections are simply that – stories you’ve saved that may have been published in literary journals and the like, stories that hopefully have some thread connecting them, no matter how tenuous that thread might be. This is the case with Collateral Damage and Stories. AM Ink saw fit to publish this collection too, although only two of the stories had been published previously.

To me, the big draw would be the very long story (you can call it a novella), Collateral Damage, and from the comments I’ve heard to date, readers are drawn to this story. In fact, thanks to promo work by MindBuck Media, I had a rather glowing review of this collection from the Asheville Citizen-Times, and this novella sat center stage in the review. I hesitate to call this collection magical realism (it’s not), but elements of each of the stories strain the limits of credulity.

In writing this sort of story, these “magical” bits are really metaphorical elements that allow the author to hammer at certain points to be made without seeming preachy or didactic. For instance, in one story, a “magical” baseball allows the writer to speak of the obsession with sports while allowing the baseball to assume a rather charming role in the story.

There wasn’t much to speak of in the way of angst in getting the collection published. Since I have a relationship with Mike Aloisi of AM Ink, I asked if he’d like to see the collection (he did), he offered to publish it, and to date it’s doing quite well. This, then, is how it happens on one side of the established hybrid publishing tandem. Tomorrow,  the other side of hybrid.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for COLLATERAL DAMAGE and STORIES. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

 

THE SOCIAL COMPLEXITIES OF WAR

 

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The novel is a living thing, an organism, if you will, mirroring the people and the societies it emerges from. Most reckon its original emergence with Daniel Defoe’s works, Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe in the early 1700s. What has made it increasingly popular is its take on the lives of common folk, their concerns and daily lives. As the novel has grown, it has drawn to it the deeper psychology of its characters as well as the subterranean reaches of these characters’ social orders, their geographies, their languages, their commonalities as well as their conflicts.

Kirk Kjeldsen’s latest novel, Land of Hidden Fires, touches many of these literary points in depicting the people and geography of Norway at the outer reaches of World War II. His story begins with a girl, Kari DahlstrØm, who grows curious about an American fighter aircraft that has flown over the family farm. She searches it out supposing the plane has crashed (it has), and nearby she encounters its pilot, Lance Mahurin. Kari has a yen for adventure and greener pastures and seizes on the pilot’s predicament to lead him to safety in nearby Sweden.

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Along the way, Kjeldsen gives us a spectacularly written narrative of the Norway winter, reminiscent of a Jack London story or two. Their escape isn’t simple, however; they are being pursued by a cranky German officer, Conrad Moltke, and his patrol, within the harsh environs of the beautiful Norwegian countryside. Danger nips at both party’s heels, not only as a consequence of war, but because they have placed themselves in a forbidding clime, which becomes a metaphor for the war itself.

Kjeldsen’s ambitions here seem formidable. His story and characters display traits that are near-archetypical of humanity – the urge to survive by both cleverness and pure determination; yet Kari’s and Lance’s goal opposes that of Moltke and his patrol. To ice this idea, there is the chaos of language to contend with: German, Norwegian, and English. Kjeldsen gives us a taste of these in passing, but even these scant mentions add to the increasingly combustible story Kjeldsen fabricates about the social complexities of war.

The author holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from USC, and it’s clear that he’s learned how to organize war’s fog into a workable piece of fiction. It’s a rare writer who can emerge from the shadows of academia with a fully mature prosaic voice, and it’s also clear that Kjeldsen is on the way to developing such a voice, one that just may eventually echo within the same halls as Graham Greene, John LeCarré, and Robert Ludlum.

My rating 17 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Deciding To Go Hybrid

Don’t get me wrong – – The publisher of Sam’s Place: Stories, Mike Aloisi of AM Ink Publishing, has treated me great. His people have designed great covers, set up professional layouts, paid promptly, and before Sam’s Place: Stories launched, he called me to talk over strategy for marketing, to answer any questions I might have, and to generally get to know one another. And he provided an audio version of the book! All this with the realization that literary fiction (he claims me as such) doesn’t sell as well as some of the other niche markets he’s involved in.

So why look for greener pastures?

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It’s really a question of anticipating expected interest in certain books I might write. Take, for instance, the next book published in my name, We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile. This book came about because I was so tired of seeing our two political parties call one another names and, in the end, accomplish little in the citizens’ name. So what would happen if this situation were carried to an extreme? The result was We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile. But what to do with this odd piece of fiction. It’s dystopian, to be sure. But how could I pigeonhole it in order to pitch it to an indie or traditional publisher? I scratched my head on that and came up with nothing.

Meanwhile I had set up my own publishing company, Gridley Fires Books, as an LLC concern for just this eventuality, and I decided to publish We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile through Gridley Fires. What did this entail, cost-wise? Cover design, of course, set up fees to publish through Lightning Source, and initial publicity though Kirkus Reviews. Incidentally, Kirkus gave me a very good review of this book, even featured it. All right, why have Gridley Fires bear the cost of publication, since an indie publisher, for instance would likely bear all those costs? Because I didn’t have to share sales with a publisher. Thus I could discount the book to bookstores and make a significant profit. If the book had been published by someone else and that publisher had taken their cut, discounting it to bookstores would usually leave me with a break even proposition or, if I was lucky, less than a dollar per copy sold. Simply a question of mathematics dressed in dollars. As it turns out I’ve done better monetarily with We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile even though I’ve sold less units than Sam’s Place: Stories has so far sold.

So this is hybrid publishing: so-called self-publishing (in my case through a legal entity, Gridley Fires Books), which in my case affords me an advantage tax-wise, and through indie publishers. BTW, my outside publishing isn’t limited to AM Ink Publishing; I have my first hardback book out with a small military-related publisher, Omonomany. I hope to  have something to relate on that subject soon.

But on to my next publishing adventure with AM Ink (I’ll probably post on this next week).

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for WE ARE STRONG, BUT WE ARE FRAGILE. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

A Gift In The Lap

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Serendipity does happen, perhaps on a small scale, and even to novelists struggling to be heard within the literary din about them. Somewhat exhausted from the learning curve my first three experiments in novel writing and publishing had wrought, I decided to while away a year writing some short fiction. I had devised a scenario set in a rural Alabama pool hall/beer joint. About Alabama I knew a little; about beer joints and pool halls I knew quite a lot from my college days in Louisiana. The gist here is that I decided to write a piece of short fiction every month of the year, each set in or about such an establishment I called simply Sam’s Place. From this I hoped to uncover a really good story or two that might gain notice.

Some eight months into this project, I selected one story and sent it to a publisher in Massachusetts, who was soliciting stories for an anthology he planned to publish. Not too long following my submittal, I received his reply. He liked the story and wanted to include it in the anthology, but he also presented an alternative. I’d written in my submittal letter that the story was one of a collection I was currently writing. Instead, he wrote, I wouldn’t mind seeing your collection with an eye toward publishing it.

Wow!

Talk about serendipity. Still, it was a case of a bird in the hand versus one in the bush. I opted to send him my collection. But, I replied, I’m only some eight months into this. That’s okay, he replied back. Take your time, get the stories in good shape and I’ll look at them.  Finally, the twelve complete and to Mike Aloisi, the publisher, I sat back and crossed my fingers. He replied later that he needed at least sixty thousand words and I only had around 45,000. Can you write more? Of course I could but I don’t want to write fluff in order to get to the 60, ooo. Fine with him. I continued writing, adapting one rather long story I’d already written. Finally at some 55,000 words, he said he’d publish the collection.

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This experience made two valuable points: first, you never know from where a break is going to come from and the scenario that evolved with this indie publisher couldn’t have happened with one of the big publishing houses. It took almost another year, but my collection was published as Sam’s Place: Stories.

Next: My turn as a hybrid publisher. And what the hell is that?

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for SAM’S PLACE. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

A Turning Point

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My third book, The Blue Bicycle, proved to be a turning point, both in writing and in publishing. As I wrote in my last post, while there’s always something to learn, voice and style to smooth out in a piece of creative writing, I was beginning to doubt whether I could compete with accomplished writers in attracting publishing contracts. So I set out to find out whether my writerly chops showed promise or not.

I spent the better part of six months writing a novella consisting of four parts, about a young boy abandoned by his parents and living with a colorful old man – his great-grandfather – who proved to be both enlightening and dangerous. Each of the four sections was written in a different tense and varying point of view. My logic here was that in writing something as complex as this, any holes in my writing ability would be glaringly obvious.

With the novella finished, I decided to submit it to a professional editor to see just what I and it were made of. A month or so following my submittal, the editor called, asked me to visit her and we could go over the manuscript face to face. She lived in another North Carolina town not far away, so I swallowed hard and agreed. In short, she only had three major complaints with the manuscript (I say “major” in a relative sense), which were easy enough to fix. Most of her comments, however, were laden with praise.

At about this time, I was awarded a gift – a summer-long writer in residence position to work with the famed Doris Betts. Over that summer, with her critiquing both short and long fiction projects I was working on, I gained from her enough insight into fiction writing to to eclipse a full decade of struggling to learn how to write on my own.

But back to The Blue Bicycle.

I accommodated the editor’s few comments, cleaned up the manuscript, and decided to hit a few agents with it. My second or third submittal brought a response back from a widely known New York agent. He really liked the story and was sorely tempted to represent me. But, he said, its complex structure would make it very hard to sell. And novellas were looked at by traditional publishers during that time with jaundiced eyes. So no, he wouldn’t represent me. Sorry.

A month or so later my good friend, songwriter and performer Eric Taylor, hit town and while we had a beer, we talked shop. I told him of the near miss with The Blue Bicycle. The trials of music publishing apparently aren’t that far removed from  those of books -Eric’s comment: “So this guy told you that you’ve done your job with this manuscript, but he couldn’t do his.” A unique perspective that, and bitingly humorous.

I shopped the manuscript around some more and eventually decided to do the
CreateSpeace thing again. Not an especially good choice, I subsequently discovered, but the readers who have found The Blue Bicycle  loved it. In fact, it’s been my bestselling book world-wide.

Oh, and by the way, American publishers may not like novellas, but European and British readers do.

Next, my writing bears fruit. Serendipity prevails in my favor.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for A PLACE OF BELONGING. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.