Monthly Archives: February 2013

In The Company Of My Betters

It has been a slow build for me, this writing life, but when I look at where I started (absolutely nowhere), to where I have come (Just this side of nowhere), I know there has been movement, even if it has been slow.

When I first started writing, I had role models, a whole big bushel of them. I looked up to dozens of writers whose words had touched me in some way. I read and re-read their stories, hoping to emulate them in my writing, and in so-doing mimick their skill in my craft, and thereby affect others in the ways they had affected me.

I quickly realized, as I got further into my own writing, that spending too much time emulating someone is a sure way to failure…not to mention plagiarism.

Once I started attending the Surrey International Writers Conference, I found something I needed much more that a role model: A Mentor.

Bear in mind, this did not happen instantly; you don’t walk into the conference where they hand you a crisp name badge, a pen, a conference package, and a mentor who will spend every ounce of their own strength in order to make you awesome. For me, it took several years, much hard work, and a great deal of perseverence, but I was lucky enough to have someone – two someones, in fact – take an interest in me and my writing, and gave me goodly chunks of their time, to help me improve.

When I look at what success I have had (limited though it may be), I can trace it’s origins back to these two people (who I will not embarass by naming in my dross of a blog). With several kind words, even more stern ones, and a few kicks upon my bulbous ass they steered me in the right direction. The rest, I discovered, was up to me.

So, I took what they had given me, and used it to build the foundation of what would become my own voice. I worked, and slaved, and cranked away at my writing desk until I could patch a story together that wouldn’t spring too many leaks when asked to hold water.

It was a slow build, but as my craft moved foward, I found amazing things to be happening. Instead of gawking in open mouthed wonder from a bench in the hallway, I was invited to sit at the bar, bestselling authors on either side of me. Instead of listening with rapt attention, drool coming from the corner of my mouth as I tried to figure out what everyone was talking about (what is this pacing you speak of, and why do I give a shit about cadence?), I was an active participant in discussions about the craft of writing, and the condition of storytellers. I found that sitting in the company of my betters I actually had something useful to contribute, which is one of the greatest personal victories I’ve ever achieved.

Like I said, the movement has been slow, but at least there is movement. I’ve got one book published, a short story that looks like it’s going to be published in an anthology in the fall, and a little blog that only half a dozen people read, but none of them have told me I suck…yet.

These are things that I likely would not have been able to do without help.

None of us are in this writing life alone. Writing, in and of itself, is a solitary craft, but the learning of it is seldom, if ever, done in complete solitude. If you are willing to put in the work, and listen to advice when you’re lucky enough to get it, then you can and will reach your goals…it just might take a fuck of a long time.

Do not despair. Do not give up. Keep writing. If you do these things, I have no doubt that you will one day find yourself in the company of your betters, with some pup at your elbow dying to hear what you have to say.

Just make sure you remember that we all started just this side of nowhere and pay forward what assistance you had.

Thanks for reading.

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Affectations of Swagger

The world is moving on, and I’m not sure I like the direction it’s going. Our culture, the ideals and tenants of proper behaviour, are being replaced by a new set of values. The ideas of courtesy, good nature, manners and common sense are being replaced by loud mouthed little shits in Ed Hardy t-shirts who seem to care for nothing and no one but themselves.

The idea of do unto others as I would have them do unto me has been replaced by do unto others as often and as ridiculously as I possibly can, and then hope I don’t get caught. 

Now, I am not one to stuff people in a box and make them into conformists: I wear t-shirts and jeans, and have an unhealthy devotion to “hair metal”, and if everyone were just like me the world would be fuck boring. I am of the firm opinion that people should be allowed to dress as they please, read what they want, listen to whatever strikes their fancy, and write the story that speaks to them. That being said, I’ve seen a kid with a purple mohawk three feet high hold the door open for an old lady, and clean cut businessmen drive over people and then flee so they can’t be held accountable. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie to be a good person, but you can’t spend your whole life being a douche bag.

 One of the worst places I’ve seen this is the gym (where I spend a good portion of my spare time). Young men stalk around, all carbon copies of one another,  their chins stuck in the air while they glare at nothing with sour expressions on their faces. They seem to think they need to fit into some kind of mold that requires they behave poorly and treat people with discourtesy. It seems that they are not satisfied with their lots in life unless they can bully someone into thinking they’re tough.

This attitude doesn’t seem to be innate, however, and if you catch one of these young men (or young women) in a room alone they have nothing to say. Without a mob mentality to guide them they don’t seem to have a personality of their own. They don’t have the depth of life or the strength of character to have any swagger of their own, they just seem to be borrowing it from some greater source that makes them into assholes. It is all just affectations and hot air. It doesn’t come from themselves, and it doesn’t mean anything.

Where does this rampant disease of poor behaviour and weakness of character come from, then? I’m really not sure. I’ve ranted before on this blog that reality television is largely to blame for the ills of the world, but can that band of misfits really be held to account for all these troubles? I’m not certain, to be perfectly honest, but I do know that a solution has to be sought.

And I think the solution can be found in a story.

Let me be clear that I am not talking about specific stories. I am not referring to morality tales that teach us right from wrong, and bend all our behaviour to a standard societal norm. Like I said before, a world full of people who are all the same would be awful (can you imagine if you had to wake up every day to a world full of people that all looked like me? We’d all kill ourselves from boredom!). What I think we need is more story, more tales, that allow kids – and some adults – to begin that most feared activity: Thinking.

When you read a book you are required – forced – to think. You have to deal with different points of view, different personalities, and different ideas that are not your own. Even if you don’t set out to do so, you cannot help but think about these things, and thinking is good for you.

In every book I’ve ever read, I’ve identified with one character in the story more than any other. As I grew, and read more, and started thinking about what I was reading, I took cues for my behaviour from the heros I identified with. I didn’t prescribe to any specific doctrine that was preached at me from the pages of a particular book, but I took the varied and eclectic points of view given to me by the storyteller and used it to start my thinking about the world around me. I really do believe that what I read when I was growing up helped make me into the man I am now, and I’m not completely disappointed when I look in the mirror.

I don’t think you should fill up a pillow-case with books and beat the shit out of the next mannerless prick you see. Neither am I saying that more reading and more stories would fix all of the worlds problems – If someone decides to read a book about mass murder and most identifies with the serial killer then we might have a problem. What I am saying is that if people read more, and thought more, then it might even us all out a little.

We, as storytellers, have a responsibility to give back a little. We have a duty to pay forward the thoughts and inspirations that made us who and what we are, and hope it reaches someone. Your story may have as simple a function as making someone think about one line they read in your writing, or it may be so grand that it changes their entire lives. It might just give them a smile and get them through a bad day, or it may pull them through the deepest crisis they have ever experienced in their lives. All of these effects, big and small, are equally important, equally valuable.

There is much that I see wrong with the world, and that is why I write. I write about the way I think things ought to be. I write about what I think matters. I write so that someone might read my story and take something from it, whether it be a chuckle or a different perspective on life.

It is up to us, the storytellers, to help the world move forward, but in a good direction.

I hope you’ve read this post and have had a couple thoughts of your own.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Don’t be a Grumpy Bastard

Let my qualify the title somewhat, since I feel a tad hypocritical, seeing as I am often grumpy, and occasionally a bastard: Don’t be a Grumpy Bastard all the time, and as seldom as you can manage it.

I spend a large quantity of my time with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, but life is difficult when you go through it constantly angry at something. It’s tiring to always be yapping discord and misery about whatever topic is infuriating you at the given moment.

I have seen other writers, storytellers who are successful in their own right, who are so pissed off about everything that they don’t have a kind word to say about anyone. They are hyper-critical of other stories, and can’t admit they like something (unless they are trying to be a kiss-ass) because they seem to think that by doing so they diminish their own success.

I can’t get out my sanctimonious apple box and climb on board to wave my flag of idiocy too terribly much, because I’m critical of other writers when something especially irks me (see my previous posts about Stephanie Myers and Snooki, if you need examples of my grumpiness).

Criticism is a part of the writing life, whether it is the friendly faces in your writing group quietly telling you to make some changes to your manuscript, or a critic in the New York Times telling the whole world your writing is shit. We can extrapolate that to conclude that examing and criticizing other work is also part of the writing life, but be careful it doesn’t become a habit; you have to remind yourself, every once in a while, that it is okay to like something someone else has written.

When you look at the greater universe of writing, at all the collected works of the storytellers both long dead and currently in the market, you have to remember something vitally important:

We are all in this shit together.

The publishing industry is an tumultuous entity right now; there is a big, and largely unknown, flux happening with the propogation of e-books – and the piracy that comes along with it. Several small “brick and mortar” bookstores are closing, while giants like Amazon post huge profits. The publishing world is a bit of a shaky place, and it is a time when we should all be leaning on one another to keep our balance.

The success of another writer is good for you. Why, you might ask as you gnash your teeth and pull your hair out? Because, as much as we may hate some author who writes an abysmal story that sells 100 million copies, there is value in that story – even if we think it sucks. When people are reading those books they are at least reading. And if they start reading what we consider trash, they might put down the terrible book and pick up something a little better. And that is good for everyone.

When you look at the success of another writer, don’t be jealous, even if you hate them and want to throw them down the handiest set of stairs. Instead, be grateful. Be grateful they are making their contribution in the best way they know how, and be grateful that contribution might make the publisher enough money to allow them to take a chance on you and publish your story that likely won’t make them a cent.

I am as guilty of being a grumpy bastard as anyone – and likely even more. But even a goon like me can see that life is a much better place when you strap on some manners and realize that we writers are a community – well, most of us anyway – and we’re all walking the same, ugly, ditch-filled, troll-infested road. We’re much better off traveling in packs; it’s safer that way.

So, come on. We’ve got a long way to go.  

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A View of Reviews

I recently read, on a couple different sources, that there is a “campaign”, by people who are upset that the new/final Robert Jordan book is not going to be immediately released as an e-book, to give the story a bunch of “one-star” reviews on Amazon. They are, apparently, hoping the “campaign” will either sewer the sales of the book, or bully the publisher into releasing the book digitally.

To this I must say: “Get your collective heads out of your asses.”

In my mind reviews serve a distinct and important function. They exist so that people can get an idea of how other readers feel about a book, so they can decide whether or not they want to spend their hard earned money on a story. They do not exist so that a group of people can complain that the book is not available in the format they prefer.

For the writer, reviews grow ever more important the closer you are to the beginning of your writing career. For someone like me, who is getting their work into the market for the first time, a positive review is a validation that someone likes our work and we’re doing something right. A negative review, as long as it isn’t filled with pure hate and venom, might give us an idea of something we’re falling short on, or missing in our writing (of course, we also might choose to completely disregard the negative review and focus on the positive, which I don’t think is a bad thing either).

When I get a review (and I’ve got all of 7 on Amazon.com), I like to see what the reader thought, and how, if at all, my story affected them. It is extremely gratifying when someone enjoys my story, and lets me know about it. It makes my day. It motivates me to keep writing. Even if someone contacts me, either through a review or via the email on my website, and tells me my book is shit, at least I know someone besides my Dad has read it.

I really do think that reviews can be a valuable thing, if used in the right spirit. But to throw out negative reviews, without ever having read the book, is just ignorant, and a little silly.

It is unlikely that most of us will come face to face with the author of a book we particularly liked, but it can be a meaningful medium of communication to post a review of a book where the author is likely to see it. It can be a big deal, especially to some unknown tool like me.

So, if you like a book that took someone three years to write and find a publisher for, then it would be awfully cool if you took 5 minutes of your time to share some of your thoughts. It will serve the writer, and other readers as well.

Thanks for reading.

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