Saturday, August 11, 2018

Strangely Moved

Writing is all about habit.  I recently moved house and with the move I somehow left my old writing habits behind.  Or so it seems.  The fact is I’ve had two non-fiction book assignments in a row and my true love has had to wait.

My house didn’t come with a writing nook.  It was a tough market this year and finding some kind of suitable domicile before my apartment lease was up proved a trick for which I wasn’t prepared.  I thought there would be lots of choices, but instead it was catch as catch can.  Writing nooks weren’t in this year.

Still, my usual chair was still available and I settled in to try my morning writing.  I had a story accepted for publication—the first time in over a year—and I realized that what I was missing was the drawing in of new material.  I need to see how other people live.

There’s a bar within walking distance.  A trendy one that serves only local brews.  There I noticed the beard was back.  I have an old-growth beard myself, more of the Hemingway variety than the more trendy bald-on-top, hirsute-below model.  I also spied a tattooed young lady who’d’ve made Bradbury pen The Illustrated Woman.  So that’s what other people do.

My designated driver took me down a country lane dotted with stone houses.  Not the kind that have faux stone panels that speak of false premises, but the old variety built hard on what would’ve been a rough, horse-trodden trail.  Houses that had witnessed a ton of human drama.  Houses with as many stories as ghosts.

Perhaps I did lose my box full of old writing habits when I moved.  Tucked into some shadowed corner of a moving van and deposited at the next client’s house.  But the freedom of getting out and about revealed that there’s still a future of writing ahead.  And a new story will be appearing in coming weeks.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Writing Rearranged

Jo March had her red cap (before such things were tainted) and writing nook.  Those of us who write also have our habits.  Thing is, circumstances change.

For the first time in over a decade I’m moving house.  Most specifically, I’m moving from an apartment into a house.  I’ll keep my day job, but I’ll be telecommuting—whatever that is.  Here in my apartment I awoke very early in order to accommodate public transportation.  My writing time has been very early.

Weekends have taught me that sleeping in disrupts writing.  Indeed, my freshest time is way before dawn.  My mind is sharp and alert.  I’m productive.  I’m energetic.  I’m also not as young as I used to be.  One of my more self-indulgent activities is to allow myself to sleep until 5 a.m. on a Saturday.

I wake up groggy, uninspired.  I sit down to write, weary already.  Only with great effort can I shove the pen.  I really don’t want to sleep any more, but I don’t want to write either.  I must have a fever!

This makes me fear for my new lifestyle.  The few people in my life say they’d like to see me keep more normal hours.  Not go to bed until 9 or 10.  Be better rested.  Better adjusted.  And what of my writing?  What will become of it?

Houses with writing nooks are not easily affordable these days.  My new house has a gnarly, unfinished attic.  It could have enough privation to make a suitable writing space.  Freezing in winter, stifling in summer.  I can see myself up there amid the storage boxes, hunched over my desk, bleeding out my soul in words.

Writing is all about habits.  Mine, it seems, are about to change.  There’s no way I’m going to be buying a red cap.  But maybe I can learn a bit from Jo after all.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Drafty in Here

Maybe you’ve noticed it too.  You finish a story and you’re impressed.  It came together better than you had imagined it would.  You might’ve even surprised yourself with how nicely it fell into place.

Excitedly, you send it to publisher after publisher.  In their various polite ways of writing pinhead letters, you know you see something they can’t.  You start rewriting.  Changing things.  Some carpentry here.  Some cosmetic surgery there.  Better now?

Once again they yawn and say no.  This just doesn’t interest or excite them.  They’re looking for something you just haven’t got.  Meanwhile, you’ve marred your original piece, the one that spoke to you in a way that made you certain you had something to share.

After a while you turn to other things, leaving it in your drawer of unpublished gems.  I read a biography of L. Ron Hubbard once—don’t worry, I’m not a Scientologist.  Hubbard got his start as a science fiction writer.  He’d keep a roll of butcher paper rolled into his typewriter.  When he finished a story he’d rip off the paper and send it in.  Publishers loved it.

Now, I’m no L. Ron Hubbard.  (If I were would I be living in a place like this?)  But I know good stories when I see them.  I’m an editor too.  I’ve got to wonder if the endless editing, polishing, and rewriting that we do is somehow draining the life from the newborn, unwashed story.

Today few people remember Hubbard as primarily a sci-fi genius.  His world is long gone.  Send things in on butcher paper and they’ll tell you to revise and resubmit.  And by the way, only use Submittable.  

Sometimes I’m tempted, I’ll admit, to going to Submittable, clicking my cursor in the submission box, and start typing.  The worst that could happen is what already happens after endless revisions, refinements, and long agonizing over the ending.  Or the beginning.  Hell, even over the middle.

This blog post, I have to admit, is only a first draft.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Writing Dynasty

In the never-ending quest to be published, I’ve turned to nonfiction.  In nonfiction, you see, all you have to do is convince someone you’ve got an idea nobody else has had.  It took me a few years to figure that out, but then I’ve always been a slow study.  Even doctorates don’t help.

I keep working at my fiction.  It’s where my heart is.  I just finished reading a book, World War Z, by Max Brooks.  Now, I know it’s a matter of taste—this was on the New York Times Bestseller list—but I didn’t care for it.  It wasn’t that well written.  Yes, it was a new idea but so is the one I’ve been trying to get published for a decade now.

What happened here, I wondered.  Then I looked closer.  Max Brooks is Mel Brooks’ son.  Yes, History of the World Part I Mel Brooks’ son.  Blazing Saddles Mel Brooks’ son.  I was reminded of a bit of advice from Writers’ Marketplace back when print books still existed: “Are you famous?  Come on in!” (That’s a paraphrase.)

No doubt, having a famous parent also counts.  Joe Hill has gained a reputation on his own right, but everyone knows he’s Stephen King’s son.  These are the writing dynasties the publishing world adores.  As if ability passes down with the genes.  Privilege certainly does.

I’m trying to keep a more positive attitude these days.  After all, I am the son of a high school dropout who married a career alcoholic.  I’m not dead yet, so that counts for something.  I’ve also been writing fiction since I was a tween.  Some of it my teachers (who knew nothing about publishing) urged me to send it out to magazines.  Somehow fame in a town of 900 counts for little.  Can’t even guarantee sales of a grand.

Brilliance comes in earnings potential.  My Medusa novel’s been with a publisher for over a year now.  Last August they expressed interest and then came the radio silence.  So it goes.  My child writes too.  Her greatest chance is if I start a dynasty.  It’ll probably be a nonfiction one, if any at all.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Greasing the Wheels

Writing’s my retirement grease.  If I have to explain the concept to you, obviously you’re not up to date on the Simpsons.  Well, come to think of it, it’s been a few years since I’ve watched it myself.

Willie, the groundskeeper at Springfield Elementary is saving the grease from the school kitchen’s traps for his retirement.  Homer, on one of his get-rich-quick schemes, has been collecting spent grease to supplement his income.  When he targets the school, Willie spies the truck sucking up the goo and cries out “My retirement grease!”

Daily work is not only non-satisfying, it’s also time-consuming.  I sit at work thinking how there’s little to do and I could be getting so much writing done while I sit, staring at a screen, waiting for an email to pop up.  I don’t make enough money to retire.  My plan had been to die on the job, but then I realized, if I could make money on my writing, I’d have some grease.

Right now the lubrication is coming from non-fiction.  I’ve actually got two non-fiction contracts on my desk and my poor fictional self is suffering.  There’s no future in non-fiction.  Agents only want clients with high profiles and university posts.  Those of us who are working stiffs only get agency attention when we break through the glass walls, ceiling, and floor.  Shattered glass everywhere.  Retirement grease flows.

You see, I’m not making a bid to earn a living as a writer.  I’m realistic enough to know that’s impossible.  I would, however, like it to be my retirement grease.  Otherwise it’s die in an unfulfilling job, waiting for an email to pop up.  Is there anything so wrong with wanting to supplement your income a bit?

My last non-fiction book earned less than $100 in royalties.  That won’t even pay for one week’s commuting bill to work.  Willie is my guide.  I grew up working-class, just like he did.  And he knows the value of some retirement grease.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Author v. Writer

Being published because you’ve managed to string some words together and bought a publisher’s interest with your money doesn’t make you an author.  I once read that Donald Trump has written more books than any other president.  Really?  A functional illiterate is an author?

We struggling writers know better.  Writing is a lifestyle, an outlook on life.  We carry around notebooks, slips of paper, or electronic devices that are crammed with thoughts and observations.  We spend quite time either scribbling or typing.  We create meaning.

Books are a commodity.  There was shock in the publishing community when an Amazon spokesperson referred to books as simply another form of merchandise some years back.  Publishers blanched.  Books are so much more than paper and ink.  They are miniature universes, cheap.  Anyone can afford to be a god of a secondhand cosmos.

Trump has been famous for many years and famous people have no trouble being published.  I crawl out of my warm bed at 3:00 a.m. into a chilly writing nook to ply my avocation.  I make very little money for my writing.  I do it nevertheless.  Friends can’t make out the logic in it.  There is none.

Being a writer is a way of life.  The lucky few find agents and publishers who pay them handsomely for their thoughts.  Often they aren’t the best thoughts, either.  That’s not an arrogant statement, it’s simply an observation.

Generally I don’t write with money in mind.  Marketability is synonymous the death of creativity.  Still, struggling writers are only human.  If someone came to me and said, “Can you write something like this?  I’ll pay you…”  wouldn’t my answer be yes?  This is the rack on which writers are strapped.

Who wouldn’t resent being compared to Trump?  Writers are a liberal literati.  Our thoughts go beyond accepted borders.  Here be dragons and drag queens and diamonds made of dung.  We recognize no limits.  We bow to no potentates.  Unless, of course, someone offers us cash…

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Horrible Writing

As a writer of horror (and the greatest horror is in trying to get published) I watch horror movies.  Part of the fun is that some poorly made movies can be quite good while some studio productions can be awful.  The difference is in the writing.

I’m sure we’ve all seen horror films that are dashed together startle scenes and gory with no plot or storyline.  Good escapism they may be, but they leave you hungry.  The mind craves a story to follow, even in horror.  Especially in horror.

I’ve recently entered the market for buying a house.  I’m a first time buyer.  Probably it wasn’t a good idea to binge watch the Amityville trilogy.  The first film is okay, being loosely based on the book.  The second film is more disturbing than scary and that’s because of an evil father.  The third is pure tripe.

Amityville 3-D has plot lines raised and dropped like fire bombs over Dresden.  So spare in its writing that actors are frequently given no lines, they stand stupidly watching things that’d make a warrior scream.  No wonder the screenwriter was billed under a pseudonym.

I’m not picking on this film alone.  The point is that what makes a film good is the writing.  Of course, if you’re reading this blog you probably know that few people like to pay for writing.  Literary magazines sometimes try, book publishers actively try to avoid, and some movie producers abhor paying writers.  They are, however, the ones who spin and weave the threads that make whole cloth.

It’s a curious state of affairs that those who come up with the ideas, the story line, the narrative arc, are devalued in the process.  Perhaps its because we struggling writers yearn for whatever we can get.  Society prefers cheap entertainment.  When it gets what it pays for, as in some horror movies, it will complain.  After all, it’s less costly than paying a writer.