Tuesday, April 22, 2014

No Leads to Yes: Examples for Writers

I saw the Billy Crystal special on cable TV about 700 Sundays where he talks about his youth and how he wanted to be a NY Yankee or a comedian, or a very funny baseball player. I thought about my early ambitions and realized that we come to ourselves through a long series of ‘Nope, not that,’ or even ‘Been there, done that.’

I only wanted to be a writer -- a Great American Novelist. More specifically, I wanted to be F. Scott Fitzgerald. I didn’t want to be Zelda, the wife of a famous writer. The lifestyle was not my focus, but the stories.

I liked how Fitzgerald used anglo words and sneered at the French language that his buddy Hemingway only side-stepped.  I liked that Fitzgerald exposed the pretension of the new money classes and didn’t require a happy ending for a love story.

Later I discovered Lillian Hellman and wanted to be her, except she was so uncomfortable in her skin (when young). She told the stories from the point of view of the women, even though they were victims of the plot rather than driving the plot. Margaret Atwood does something similar, displaying the women as powerless in a stilted marriage or without funds or smarts to make a difference.

But why not a story where the female lead character drives the action?

You will suggest Sylvia Plath, I’m certain. Nope, not that.

There’s Carson McCullers, of course. Southern Gothic was her genre, and I was influenced by The Heart is a Lonely Hunter that I read at an early age. McCullers was sorta chewed up by the NYC writer’s lifestyle, though, as was Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird).

These stories are presented as confessions, a slice of life, illustrations of the era. Plots were outgrowths of situation following that axiom to write what you know.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
– Dr. Seuess

But my life was boring – well-raised, bookish, affluent, Midwestern (not from the South where they seem to suffer more deeply). So … Nope, not that.

I liked action adventure stories like The Perils of Pauline or Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. I wanted the woman to drive a real plot. Why was that so much to ask?

So I read more stories by women in the fantasy genre like Louise Erdrich who brings in mythical elements from Native Americans, and Juliet Marillier’s series about a Daughter of the Forest. The girl protagonist was typically young and imbued with unusual powers of seeing. Other genre writers sent 14-year-old girls into battle in full armor and wielding a 24-inch battle sword. This impossible heroine makes the same choices a guy would make, except she’s gender female (often a cross-dresser like Arya in Game of Thrones). Nope, not that.

I read Robin Hobb’s many series (series-es) that start with The Assassin’s Apprentice. Hobb certainly has the chops for the fantasy genre with immediacy and surprise. (Dragon warming stations: still too funny!) I wondered why the primary character was not a girl. The female characters (in the early series) were relegated to stilted roles of a candle-maker and a misunderstood queen who wielded minimal powers through example and patience. The many lady-aunties accomplished small victories behind the scenes while presenting a benign presence at court. Nope, not that.

Is the same true for you, dear writer who is reading this blog? Do you come to goals for what you want to accomplish by what you know you don’t want to reinforce? Here are some of my standards I impose for my own stories:

·      Girl protagonist (past age 18) who drives the story
·      The protagonist isn’t isolated – knows her mother and sisters and cousins and opponents
·      Real problems that real women have to solve (without pretending to be a boy)
·      Believable obstacles such as no voice in public and no funds to achieve goals
·      A plot that has a crescendo at the end, not slice of life
·      Each character grows during the story arch (even the men)

This last goal is a pet peeve of mine that I call the Lee Remick syndrome. She played opposite Jack Lemmon in The Days of Wine and Roses. They were both drunks and he went through all the stages including getting clean but backsliding. She kicked him out so she could raise their daughter in a stable life, but he visited during his many ups-and-downs. Each time she opened the door, Remick looked the same, not a line on her face. She may have worn the same wig for the whole movie that spanned a couple of decades. Nope, not that.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Where are the Readers?

“In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. 
Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.” 
― Oscar Wilde

My son moved to California in his twenties, and we talk through email and Twitter. He visits in the summer when we gather at my mother’s table in Indiana with uncles and married siblings and nieces and nephews. At one event I remember, he was telling me about an article he had read about the Gulf Wars. I asked if he meant a Time Magazine article because I had read it too. I felt an odd sensation that we received news from the same physical source.

News anchor Walter Cronkite in the 1960’s was well known for his departing catchphrase "And that's the way it is," followed by the program’s date. No longer does one personality define the daily news and establish a narrative for anticipating the future.

The promise of the internet was connecting people without a mediator dictating the news, democratizing information so a user can gain several perspectives. The reality of the internet, however, may be that society is fractured.

People live in information silos now with cellphone conversations that trump talk with dinner guests, and success counted by volume of online visitors more than service to the local community.

I can gain information anywhere, so I seek those outlets where the viewpoints agree with my tastes – painted china rather than decals on motorcycle tanks.  I can ignore or discard the white noise of competing ideas and cling to bloggers who share personal experiences similar to my own.

My ideas are never tested in competition or debate. I live in the bubble.

My friend published her book and completed a blog tour and grew her Twitter following to 2000.  She did giveaways on her blog and in Goodreads, and solicited reviews everywhere. But the book had no sales. She complained bitterly that she lived in a “Kuiper belt” with other writers touting their books and no readers.

My book on Goodreads has 375 people who have marked it “to read”, and seven reviews. Maybe the others friends are waiting for a fresh giveaway. An odd concept, though, that devalues the work of the writer. Goodreads friends only commit to reading a book that’s free.

In fact, so much reading is necessary to get to the content that we have energy only for skimming. I can return to a blog, or do a fresh search, if I “need” the information.

I recently participated in a Twitter frenzy where friends broadcast their blogs on the same day with a specific hashtag. Except we retweet and follow new people and count the increase in volume as success. None of us read the blogs. We only note the titles for kudo replies.

Everybody’s a writer. Where have all the readers gone? 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Blogging Replaces the Art of Letter-writing

"The word that is heard perishes, 
but the letter that is written remains." - Anon.
(and on the internet, remains forever!)

The world today has so few standards, I was surprised to find a new set.  Structured standards for blogs have replaced letter writing and may push that diurnal activity into a discipline worth revisiting. My book promoter even recommends a collection of blog entries offered as an ebook for appeal to a different kind of reader.

Letter writing has a long tradition, of course. Famous letter writers:
  • Marcus Aurelius to his son: more useful for today's reader than to the boy, perhaps
  • Paul of Tarsus to the churches he established
  • Lord Nelson to his mistress Lady Hamilton
  • Eleanor Roosevelt to a journalist friend who critics want to call her lesbian lover
  • W.E.B DeBois to his daughter - journey of an educated ex-slave in America
  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh's (simpy) love letters

Ben Franklin was a pamphlet writer and publisher. He even printed colonial money. His writings would fit well into the discipline of blogs with memorable taglines -- A stitch in time saves nine. Franklin published the Poor Richard's Almanac, useful because it listed the daily times the tide went out in Boston Harbor so sailors could manage their shore leave.

Franklin's best advice was 
"Let all men know thee, but no man know thee thoroughly."

For us regular people, blogs are quickly supplanting the need/use for letters.  Advice from which writers before the age of blogging could easily transpose to the blog format?

Susan Sontag: On Photography
Stephen King: On Writing
Neil Gaiman: 8 Rules of Writing

Many of these musings were archived on Brain Pickings.  My favorite is Ray Bradbury's "How List Making can Boost Your Creativity."

Standards for quality blogs are dictated by the software known as Wordpress.  I have wanted many features added to my blog site that Wordpress doesn't allow. Plus, I must cooperate with actions that Wordpress rewards. For example, titles should be a certain size, along with section headings at a certain 'level' for the gobots to easily catalogue ideas for search engines

Once a blogger gets comfortable with the limitations of the software, the best (by today's standards of most visited) blogs have these features:

·       from a person with experience in the field
·       to a specific audience who are trying to break into that field
·       with a how-to lesson (optimum 7 steps)
·       presented as a list with examples offered as links
·       includes decorative images (statistics as charts only)
·       exclude the personal journey; lessons learned only
·       brief and terse -- let me repeat -- nobody wants to see how many words you know

What did I neglect in this post?  Some advice for me?

Monday, March 10, 2014

5-Star Reviews on Amazon!

A Treat for Sci-fi Fans  
From RCBR for Amazon

Take a doctor with memories of a distant past – memories of other planets and aliens. Add an eclectic group of traveling companions, pepper nicely with metaphysical twists and turns and a dash of Canterbury Tales storytelling and you have a book that rocks.

I loved the characters in SEVEN BEYOND and all their intricate lives all woven together on a journey. Stories unfold and friendships blossom but don’t forget we have aliens and far way planets and maybe even another race of people.

Loved this book as the author really delivered a great tale.

A+++++ all the way.

Quality Sci-fi Read
From Diana L for Amazon

As a huge fan of sci fi, I settled in to read this book. I was immersed almost instantly. The story in SEVEN BEYOND is told by several characters and the attention to detail is spot on.

We join the journey of the traveling companions and the author keeps all the stories straight for us as there is a lot going on in this story.

Lady Drasher Elizabeth Tasgneganz was probably my favorite character. She brought a lot to the story and engrossed me the most throughout this read.

If you like sci-fi that goes a level above and delivers a story that you remember long after you finish reading- I suggest putting this book on your reading list.

More than Sci-fi
from Kohearn for Amazon

This book SEVEN BEYOND, while a great sci-fi read, is also a cool story of friendships with a healthy metaphysical dose added. We follow along with the group of traveling companions as Dr. Meenins searched to uncover his past. Haunted by wispy memories of faraway places (as in planets) and alien races, the good doctor sets out to reclaim his past.

The characters are exceptionally well crafted and the details really impressed me.
If you like sci-fi reads that are not average run of the mill stories, then you want this author on your reading list. Excellent read.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Author Interview for New Release SEVEN BEYOND

Marc:  Great to see you again. Did you cut your hair?

Stella:  Hey, Marc… What’s new?

Marc:  I see you have a new release of SEVEN BEYOND pending for March 1. 2014.  The Midwest Book Review paragraphs are flattering, but were dated for 2003.  Is that correct?

Stella:  A decade ago, can you believe it?  Seven Beyond was published by a small press that later went bankrupt.  We thought to offer it again – this time worldwide – in the Amazon pool of fantasy ebooks for 99¢.  We can reach Goodreads friends and Twitter friends living in the UK by this method.

Marc:  But why now, when readers are waiting for the release of Book IV of the Doliva Saga?

Stella:  Book IV is titled SignalStone and is ready for the proofreaders.  I was waiting until I had dug into events for Book V, tentatively titled SeaStone, before the release. 

Marc:  Is it hard to let go?

Stella:  Ha, ha… You know me so well. I had a twist ending for SignalStone that I was trying to resolve for each character in the next book.  But the writing is coming along, so I feel ready to spring the surprise.

Marc:  Yes, well… Those are writerly notes that the reader cannot know.  What are you intending with this new release of Seven Beyond?

Stella:  Promoting a fourth book of a series is complicated. What appeal to readers who have only read the first book, or who are just introduced to this writer?  So we thought to offer a stand-alone novel that shows writing style, to win fans who later dig into the Dolvia Saga from name recognition.

Marc:  Seven Beyond is separate from the books already published?

Stella:  Yah, yah.  A separate worldview. Unrelated. Some of my favorite characters I ever developed are in this book. Lady Drasher, especially, whispered in my ear while I was writing, demanding more lines of dialogue and commenting on other characters.  When she started talking to me about characters in a different novel that I was writing, I knew I had to kill her off.

Marc:  Are you giving away the plot?

Stella:  There’s lots of plot to discover. Dr. Meenins is a channeled Longist, meaning he doesn’t remember the 800 years of his life, who must accept his guilty acts in the past before he can lead his race to the new colony to be settled here on Earth.

Marc:  Aliens are among us?

Stella:  We are them, and they are us, and I am the walrus. Koo-koo-kachu.

Marc:  You’re certainly in a good mood today.

Stella:  The ebook cover of Seven Beyond is stellar. And early reviews are positive. But more than that… I put myself into this effort. Seeing it listed on GoodReads and Amazon and the other distributers gives me a feeling of completion. I can like myself now.

Marc:  Well, I certainly enjoyed the book when I read it. Dr. Grammario was my favorite character. What does that say about me?

Stella:  That you read the classics, maybe. 

Purchase 99¢ ebook at Amazon today! 
See BookViral review!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Preparing Fresh eBook Launch

Busy, busy...  Seven Beyond is ready for a 3/1/14 launch as a 99¢ ebook on Amazon Kindle.  Still lining up new release caches for the announcement.  Getting excited, though!

Synopsis:  Dr. Christopher Meenins is 800 years old and doesn't remember his past. Accompanying him on his journey of discovery are the powerful Lady Drasher Elizabeth Tasgneganz, the pedantic Dr. Virgil Grammario, the mysterious—and possibly alien—Linda Deemer. Christopher is haunted by memories of alien places and of a race called the Longists. The group travels to the one place on Earth the Longists might reappear: a remote abbey inhabited by an order of nuns known for their mystical insights and quality brandy.

Memories of David Shanklen—once Meenins’ patient and perhaps also his mentor—trouble Christopher's dreams. Shanklen claimed that he was kept prisoner in an alien zoo maintained by the Longists. Through Shanklen, Christopher must confront the secrets of his past to find the New Restingplace of the Dead.  The travelers exchange stories during his quest à la The Canterbury Tales, and the discovery of the restingplace grows out of their long friendships.

Watch this space for reviews.  If you have a connection or want an interview with the writer, please comment.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Greetings from #Chiberia

Now that the snow is melting before the next big system blows in… a moment to reflect. At +16 degrees, the day was 25 degrees warmer than on Monday. I waited at a stoplight when another consumer from the grocery store spoke. “At least we can breathe the air, loosen our scarves.”

“And I ate everything in the house,” I added. “Let me open this can of green beans that I bought in the summer.”

“I was eating dry cereal,” she smiled. “Dog biscuits were looking good too.”

A person has to like herself to tolerate a Chicago winter living alone. But I like my characters and wrote 200 pages, so the time was well spent. The confinement and sensory deprivation actually helped with developing fresh scenes in Book V of the Dolvia Saga. Juggling the many characters and deciding their fates was a great puzzle (glass bead game) for the dark winter months.

I’m almost sorry to return to teaching where I read student papers instead of reading the newest free fantasy release on Kindle.

When schools were closed for two days, students who started online classes celebrated their choices for avoiding the expressway and posting on DBs from the warmth of the living room. 

I live in an integrated society. I’m glad for the work and for my avocation.