Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Getting It Up and Keeping It Up

When I began writing as a career few years ago, all my friends and associates were awed to be in the company of a writer.  They wanted to know plots. They wanted me to do readings. They wanted copies of chapters. 

The bloom is off the local fame rose now.  Few of my friends and associates have any idea of which book I am writing now, which book I am editing now or which I am publishing now. When I am forced to change the topic of conversation to writing when I am with them, they feel compelled to change it back to something (anything!) else very quickly. 

The motivation to sit down and write now must come from within. The friends have f_cked off and the money has not come in yet.  What powers me to get it up to write every day and to keep it up is INTRINSIC MOTIVATION, as opposed to that other more fleeting kind--extrinsic motivation. 

Although, I must say, I have met a woman recently who seems, initially at least, to be interested in reading and writing. That's kinda thrilling.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Save the Cat !!!

photo courtesy Catherine Dubois, my editor

Yesterday, I blogged about finding time to write.  Since I believe I have met very few people who don't want to write a book, I don't think anyone needs me to tell him or her what to write about.

I can tell you how to learn  how to write. Find a book by Blake Snyder entitled Save the Cat.  Read it.  Do what he tells you to do--exactly what he tells yo to do, and you will have a pretty good book. Period...

I have read  six other books on writing (there are hundreds more) and I have been post-graduate schooled in writing, but none of that helped me for spit. Blake Snyder's book is fun to read, lighthearted, direct, and simple.

Although Snyder is telling you how to write a screenplay, the principles apply to literary fiction. Follow it exactly. I know I said that above. Maybe you need to hear it again. Follow his plotting guidelines exactly. No, as a first time writer, this formula will not hamper your creativity. You are not James Joyce. If you were James Joyce and living today no one would read you anyway. You have to be dead to be James Joyce. Plot your book and develop characters according to Blake Snyder. Did I mention that you are not James Joyce?

After you have the book written, have a competent editor edit it. Maybe talk to my editor, whose link is in the "links" list. Her name is Catherine and she will drive you crazy.  You deserve to be driven crazy because you are a novice (bad) writer, and being driven crazy is just punishment for thinking you can actually write something readable. Pay someone to clean up your mess.

So let me recap:  Sit on your ass. Write a book the way Blake Snyder tells you to. Have it edited. Learn to dumpster dive or marry a doctor while you wait to be published.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Why write? 

Man has been described as the only tool-making animal, or the only animal with an opposable thumb, or the only animal with language or the only animal with a soul and all kinds of other "only" things.  I propose adding to the weight of this "only" nonsense with my own "only", while first giving a nod to Bonobos (pigmy chimps) who do tell simple stories in human language using touch screens.  We are the  storytelling animal, then, that  tells long and complex stories with complex language, grammar, and syntax.

The urge to tell stories is probably hardwired in the human brains. I have a hairdresser who has a book about living on the farm as a kid, a mechanic who has a book about divorce, a friend who has a book about sexual exploits, and another friend who has a book about senior citizens.  Not one has committed these books to paper yet, but hearing that I write, they are all interested in telling me the stories and telling me how desperately they want to write it all down "someday".

I wrote in a previous blog that the principle barrier to writing a book is just getting the ass in the chair and staring at a blank page or screen long enough to start putting down some words. That is still the main reason nothing gets done--no ass in the chair. "Well, I just don't have time." is the universal excuse I hear for not applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. True to a point....

Somehow a whole society got sidetracked into consumerism. We all have to work two jobs, and our wives have to work two jobs to support a house that could easily house ten to a hundred families in India, multiple cars, boats, ATV's,  snow machines, six TV's, five computers, four cell phones, two two-week vacations, and a partridge in a pear tree. It takes a lot of work to keep WalMart's stock on the rise. "We really need a four-slice toaster and we need it in red to compliment the red in the new tile on the floor. I saw one at WalMart that would be perfect."

Or we could all live modestly, work three-day weeks and write books that other people working three day weeks could read on their four days off.  We could donate the other two work days to the unemployed, so that they could live at least 2/3's as well as we do and have 5 days off to read the books we write or to write books of their own. And since we would  all be working less and earning less, we would be in low or non-taxable brackets and the evil men in the Military/Industrial conspiracy that runs our government wouldn't have the tax dollars to start wars or bail out Wall Street Criminals.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Image courtesy of renjith krishnan

I know who dunnit and I know how he dunnit and I know why he dunnit and I know who catches him, but I don't know how my wily detective duo catches him (or her)--what mistake has this evil-doer made that will lead my intrepid team to bring him to justice. This is where a good sit-down bull session with one of my kind coconspirators comes in.

Now kids, adult substances are not at all helpful to anyone in any creative endeavor, they produce torpor and a false sense of awareness, but they are often useful as lubricant in a brainstorming session that can solve problems that come up in the plotting of a book or movie. Writing is a lonely pursuit, but coconspirators can lead the way out of a corner that the writer's plotting has painted him into. (Yes, I am aware of that grammatical mistake, Catherine ((my editor)).

And sometimes it's just nice to have a beer with a buddy. Burp...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Writing for Money

Since I decided to transition to writing for a living from my 34-year full-time photographic career, for reasons I will not go into here,  I have been aware that the biggest part of my job is selling my writing, not writing it.  I, of course, strive for excellence in the craft of storytelling, but realize that, if I build it, they will NOT come, unless I drag them to it.  

The art of selling e-books, and I believe e books are the future format of all writing, is a subtle, intricate, and complex system of "working" the internet that is not immediately obvious to a novice. These systems are "out there" and knowable, but still strange to anyone who has not lived on the Internet full-time for a few years. After exploring the methodologies, and taking steps to implement a few (writing this blog every day is one of them) I have almost convinced myself that pitching an agent to rep me in the paper publishing world is easier.  Publishing on paper is not the road to riches now, if it ever was, but still conveys a measure of prestige that almost makes up for the fact that it is as cruel as exploitive a world as the music business.  "Screw the Artist" is the official religion of paper publishers.

So in the interest of getting screwed and wishing to avoid all the boring, technical and repetitive tasks connected with e-book marketing, I am writing to agents to rep my best work--Surfing Vietnam. It is taking me about 2 hours per pitch, as I am trying to tailor the pitch to agents as individuals. As the positive response rate, I figure is about 1 in 100, I will have 5 full work weeks in on my first 100 agent pitches to get to the point where one of them wants to see the whole manuscript for consideration after reading my pitch letter and synopsis.

And no one is paying me anything to do this. I wonder who gripes more, farmers or artists?  Probably farmers, but we artists do it with more flair...! 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Stealing from WiHi

This whole blog entry was first written to the WiHi yesterday, and since I don't want to waste such profundity on just one person, I am posting it here. 

When I first started writing, less than three years ago, my friends were enthused and amazed.  They wanted to hear every detail and begged me to read them the latest chapters and sat in rapt attention drinking my beer and listening.  That's over.  Most don't even know the title of the current book I am working on and when I mention it, change the subject to what they did on the weekend. I am not complaining, well, maybe just a little. I am making the point that applause can't be the driving force driving a writer to write.  What started out for me as performance (and I love to perform!) has turned into an ordinary job, and not a very exciting or rewarding job either. 

Yesterday, I spent hours perfecting one pitch letter, gleaning phrases from ten different sources to build a well-structured pitch to an agent.  When I got done, I was disappointed with it. Oh, it was good, but it was far short of great. One pitch to one agent for one book with a one in a hundred chance she will want to see more and a one in a thousand chance she will sell it to a major publisher and a one in a hundred chance the book, once published,  will take off... Do the math on the hours of work I did for one a shot at The Bigs. 

On the other hand, I made a net of $3.68 before taxes on my e-book sales in the first five days I had them listed, on an investment of about $5000 (editing, covers, translation, printed samples, etc.) and a time investemnt of ?????? who knows how long.  I am currently getting a return on the monetary investment of 5.6 %,, which is better than I am getting on my money market investments and about the same as I got on a recent real estate investment that I kept for about 5 years. The return on capital is good, and will get much better in the days ahead, but the pay per hour is a tiny fraction of what I could make flipping burgers.

What will I do with my day today? I will work on my book, whose title my friends can't keep straight in their heads, write another pitch letter to a dead-tree agent, write two pitches for reviews of my e books from book bloggers, and, if I have time, research the arcane and twisted ways of using Twitter to get rich. Now, I'm gonna take my dog for a run, and then do a weight work out.

NOTE: Updated figures. My return on my $5000 investment has gone up to 7.975%  with the sale of more books yesterday. My compensation for labor has not even gone up by a penny per hour, however, even with the latest sales.  But art is a labor of love then, eh?

Monday, August 22, 2011


I am gong to pitch a New York agent today, before the sun goes down, to take Surfing Vietnam.  In my old office I had the walls papered with rejections. In my new office, they reside in a drawer.  I resolved to never again try to bust into the world of dead tree publishing and to only self-publish e-books--more money, more freedom, less bullshit.

My thinking has changed, but only as far as SV is concerned. SV is literature, damnit!  And important literature--literature with a heart, a soul and a conscience...For that reason, I think it will be a long hard sell in the "e world". My detective series will sell and so will How to Kill Your Wife, if only for the title. But I have had friends and advisors tell me I should attempt to have SV scrivened  upon a dead tree, and so I shall try once again. They think it deserves the vainglorious prestige only a book with the imprimatur of a major NY publishing house.can have.

Best to the WiHi, who promises to follow this blog after first reading some of it this morning. If she and thee wish to gaze into my navel with me every day,  I can only thank you, hope you read my books and comment once in a while, as you deem appropriate.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Time and Satan's Laptop

Peter Gzowski, late lamented Canadian broadcaster and author said, "The art of writing is the art of the application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." J.A. Konrath says, "There is a word for a writer who never gives up....published."

Writing on a laptop that has the ability to connect to the Internet is fiddlin' with the Devil. At the click of a cursor, the author can be doing something far more interesting than describing a character's clothing or a room in a hotel.  There are e mails, Facebook updates, Tweets, girls in bikinis, cheap gadgets to buy, auctions to follow, and other author's blogs to read.  They are all gifts from the devil.

A resolution to not go anywhere but Microsoft Word for 10 minutes or an hour or two hours, crumbles into dust when the first girl in a bikini walks by or that special camera lens auction is only 10 minutes from ending. No, stronger medicine is called for than mere strength of will.

I have taken to walking to a gazebo 300 feet away in my bare feet across gravel and rough grass, leaving my Rocket Stick Internet connection thingy at home, so I can't get on the 'Net without walking back to get it.  That is what works for now.  In the winter, I will have to get one of those time locked cigarette packs and put the Rocket Stick in it.

So, how hard is it to write?  No hard really, as long as The Devil can be kept at bay somehow.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

First Post about Writing

Writing about writing seems kinda lahdedah hi-toned nonsense, but so is writing about one's self. Hell, I guess I'll just commit both sins of pretension at once.

I was talking to a WWWIHHI last night, Woman With Whom I Have Honorable Intentions. So let me coin an abbreviated acronym right here and now: WiHi.  So I was talking to this WiHi and she said in reference to a book she wants to write that she feels "a sense of obligation" to writing it. I can see that.  Some stories, and I am sure hers qualify, must be told.

I wrote my first book, SURFING VIETNAM  as an apologia (look up the word; it does not mean "apology") for a youth spent in a very confusing and often self-destructive search for "the light". I felt an "obligation" to write this for any children I may have spawned in a youth spent sowing some wild oats. No, I do not know they exist for sure. Surely it is one of the curses of approaching old age that one writes an apologia.

The second novel  HOW TO KILL YOUR WIFE is a highly imagined and extremely fictionalized account of a divorce I am familiar with. The emotional tone is true, the details and facts are made up. It is not an apologia, it is a toilet flush.

The detective series I am engaged in now, the first volume of which is FOUR JOHNS AND A JILL,  I first wrote as a screenplay.  I felt this series had no particular personal or social value except as a fun entertainment and a possibly profitable venture. As I write the second book, I am seeing the relationship between the two characters (both extreme types) within a Jungian framework of male and female archetypes. As the series progresses, my two detectives will explore a lot of issues concerning sexual identity and integration and balance within the personality.  And still be fun to read!!!