Posted: January 1, 2020 Filed under: Commentary, Opinion, Uncategorized, Words to Live By, Writing | Tags: Commentary, Creativity, Editorial, Jeff Bowles, Opinion, Words to Live By, Writing to be Read
The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.
The Creator in the Creative
Creativity is a hard thing to nail down. I should know. I’ve tried many times. It’s universal, yet it can also be inconsistent. It’s one of the most primal urges we have, but many people stifle the creative impulse within themselves, which must suit them, but which is really a damn shame, if you ask me.
Sometimes, our creativity is like a good friend. At other times, it abandons us completely. In the face of tragedy, trauma, or just a really nasty string of bad luck, who the hell feels like writing anything? It’s hard to make cool stuff when you’re feeling low. But our creativity is never really gone for good.
In some spiritual traditions, the creative drive is an extension of the same lifeforce with which we make babies and raise families. I kind of like that sentiment, because in many ways, the projects we take on, the stories we tell, the art we make, it’s not unlike our very own precious yet finicky offspring. If there is a central intelligence in the universe, a oneness to all things, then certainly creativity is the most primary law residing therein. After all, most people’s concept of God is God, The Creator, not God, That Lazy Dude.
I’ve been creating things my whole life. I like to write songs, like to tell stories, I paint sometimes, and the fact of the matter is I never feel more at peace and connected than when I’m knee-deep in my work. It’s a buzz, really. It keeps me feeling good all day long. It’s also kind of frustrating sometimes, as I’m sure you’ll agree. To write a novel, for instance, requires intense focus and a terrible long-term memory, because if I actually thought about how often I’ve failed, I probably wouldn’t want to write at all.
If not for the unsettled nature of these things, I could live my life inside my art and never leave. Never even peek my head out to see what’s happening in the world. I also don’t have any children, which simplifies things, I suppose. My wife and I had no luck conceiving. As much as 15% of couples have fertility issues, and it makes you wonder about the connection between that essential lifeforce inside us and our ability to propagate on any level. I know that during the worst of our disappointment, I wrote more than I ever had before. Story after story after story. Mostly sad, sometimes nightmarish. It’s funny how your mental and emotional states can seep into your writing.
I had to learn to get good at creation, because for a very long time, it felt like there was nothing else for me. One can almost imagine the cosmos having one or two sloppy first drafts. There were many days I opted to spend time alone, probably because it was painful for me to see my wife in such misery. We were both hurting. We both needed to feel our pain, and then hopefully one day, to heal from it. She really wanted to be a mom, and as it slowly became clear she wouldn’t get that chance, I pursued her in ways I hoped would get through to her, despite her depression and angst. I wrote a lot about fertility. I wrote about miscarriages and frustration and having a life you’re not sure you want anymore. And I have to wonder if I had become a father, would I have worked even half as hard? I needed that energy out of me, needed to express it in some constructive way.
And I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? One little act of creation has the power to shape the world. Some people even believe we have the ability to create our own realities through sheer willpower. In New Age spirituality, they call it the Law of Attraction or the Law of Resonance. The spiritual self-help book The Secret cracked that whole thing open for mass consumption, though the basic metaphysical presumptions behind it are reportedly eons old. What is consciousness? Can you feel it? Manipulate it? Is consciousness conscious in the sense that it walks and talks and blinks and cracks a joke now and then? Or is it patient and observant within us, sleeping yet not asleep, wistful and dreaming while we strut around, the emperors of our little empires?
Many people perceive malleable seams in the fabric of reality. In practical application, sitting down to write a story is not unlike constructing a whole universe from thin air. Making gold from lead, that’s sort of the joy of being alive. At least it is for me. The fires that forge whatever I want, they burn brightly. It’s not such a stretch to imagine an unconscious connection between what I dream and how I live. And some forms of creativity are born in even hotter fires still.
Love, I’m certain, has spurred more creative endeavors than any other human experience. Unrequited love, for sure. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt the sting for someone unavailable or uninterested, but honestly, it makes for fantastic art. Hallelujah, at least it’s good for something, right? There is a kind of sacred triumvirate between the heart, the head, and the drive to create. I love my wife dearly. I love that I am afforded the joy of loving her. I write for her as much as for anything else. It’s a privilege and a wonder.
We can drive ourselves crazy stewing in our own unexpressed romantic juices. And it’s not like artists aren’t known for craziness, right? Take a van Gogh, lop off the tip of one ear for a woman, and they’ll never let you hear the end of it (pun not intended). It’s a matter of pride for some, carrying that torch. I prefer to carry nothing at all, or at least a slice of pizza or something, but that’s just me.
It begs the question, do we have to be in pain to make good art? Or perhaps in some kind of rapture? Religious art is made in the latter, pop songs and pop books the former. Peak experience is universal, though not in any form universally understood. The creative mind is often also the jealous and overly dramatic mind. Love makes you feel that way. I suppose pain does, too. All the tragedies of the world couldn’t fit into a million books, but don’t think people haven’t tried.
Essentially, creativity is a salve. It’s soothing. It boosts your brain chemistry, all those wonderful joy hormones, and it produces an effect like falling in love. Surely, if there is something of a higher nature in us, our creativity is its first mile marker. If you’re a particularly creative individual—and if you’re reading this article, I figure you must be—then wear it proudly, and don’t forget it’s one of the things that makes you who you are. I wouldn’t even know myself as Jeff Bowles if I couldn’t put the right words down on the page or strike just the right notes on a guitar.
High-mindedness is all well and good, but the truth is you’re human, you’re mortal, and at some point you will not exist in the form you enjoy now. Which makes it even more crucial for you to follow your star and use your talents and your natural spark and intelligence to turn lead into gold. Never underestimate the power of a good mystery. Perhaps it doesn’t matter where our creativity comes from, how it manifests. Maybe it’s enough that we perform the work of our kind, which is to say, the work of the universe itself.
Have you created something great recently? Something you’re really proud of? Share it in the comments section below. And meet me back here same time next month. We’ll have another chat. 😊
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Posted: July 25, 2018 Filed under: Blog Content, Inspirational, Poetry, Writing | Tags: Art, Art Rosch, Humor, Inspiration, Opinion, Poetry, Poets, Writing
Poets are more important than the poetry they write. Imagine a world in which there are no poets. How dismal! The poetry, though…that’s merely a by-product of what work is done by poets. The work of being a poet is the act of being different, unique, distinct. That’s what poets are for. They represent the odd, the inspired, the depressed, the struggling, the eccentric. They do this work with language, with words. The poetry may rhyme, have meter, or be abstract, modern, free and strange. No matter. Poets are like Christians or policemen. There are times when we need them, desperately. We count on Christians to keep promises. We count on policemen to help us when our neighbors get into a fight that’s keeping us awake all night. We count on poets to be slightly off-kilter, to be weird and unique. Their weirdness gives us permission to also be weird, because I’ve never met a human being who isn’t….weird.
If poets are weirdlings, madmen, people who view the world through a creative filter, then we must sustain them. Losing poets would be a calamity, an apocalypse. It would be like having all the glaciers melt. Where will our water come from? Where will these pieces of verse that are of little utility, yet so necessary, where will they come from?
Dewdrops on spider webs;
sit lightly with life.
That’s the shortest poem I’ve ever written. Or this one, also eleven syllables:
So coos the mourning dove:
come to me, my love.
I began reading and writing poetry because my girlfriend in high school loved poets. It came easily to me. I am, after all, one of those weirdlings, a true eccentric. The poetry has far outlasted the girlfriend. I’m still interested in poetry. I still love this ability to take a virtual word-photo and bring life into its papery texture. Okay, okay, I’m done. Now I’m reaching, I’m crossing that thin membrane between inspiration and bullshit. We don’t need to do that, not with poetry.
The poets will take care of poetry, hopefully for as long as humans exist.
The greatest thing that ever happened to Arthur Rosch was his awful childhood. Growing up in a dysfunctional family he had no choice but to get angry, rebel and follow his path to becoming an artist. His first duty as an artist was to cultivate obsessions. He proceeded to do this with gusto and learned that there is no substitute for a good obsession, compulsion or addiction to gain insight into human nature. It was a girl who inspired him to write poetry and novels. Writing is the refuge of his later life, after forty. It took him that long to wear out the obsessions. Rosch believes that part of a writer’s apprenticeship is to spend at least twenty years being mentally deranged. He loves jazz, science fiction, literary fiction, Rumi’s poetry, travel, history, dogs and cats and his wife, who is half Apache.
His multi media blog can be found here: www.artrosch.com
Visit his photo blog at http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv
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Posted: March 15, 2017 Filed under: Fiction, Screenwriting, Screenwriting, Uncategorized, Weekly Writing Memo, Writing, Writing Tips | Tags: Opinion, Stories, Writing
How do you find the time to write?
Can you be a writer when you have a full-time job?
Or a family?
I have a brilliant story idea but I’m just so busy…
The above are all questions are just a few ways people have essentially asked me “how can I be a writer if I don’t have time?” Every time I hear it I have a mixed reaction. I like it because it shows that these people understand that writing is a craft that takes time and work and dedication. It shows they respect that it doesn’t just magically happen. As a writer, I appreciate that because many, many people think writers just throw some words on a page, easy as pie.
On the other hand, I absolutely abhor the question. The reason I dislike it is because writing is like anything else someone wants to do, if they really want to do it they find the time. There’s no magical secret to how writers find time to write, they just make it happen.
That being said, I know some people will still want ideas for finding time to write, so here are some ways I find time to write when I am slammed with other life responsibilities:
If you really want to write, then you’re going to have to find the time elsewhere. If you don’t want to cut back on work, hobbies, free time, etc., then your other option is to cut back on sleep. Either get up an hour earlier, or go to bed an hour later, and use that time to write. You don’t have to do it every day, even an hour a week will add up in the long-term. The point is, the time has to come from somewhere and sleep is something everyone can cut back on now and then without too much consequence. So pick a day a week to try it and go from there.
Can you eat lunch and type at the same time? How about when you’re watching a movie or listening to music? Can you talk while you do household chores? What about when you’re driving or hiking or whatever your hobby is? When I’m on long road trips I use a tape recorder to plot and outline, develop characters, and sometimes even write a few pages. You can do this while out and about doing things like hiking and such as well. I know several authors who do this, and some even send the audio out to be transcribed for them to make things easier. It takes some adjustment to get used to writing in this fashion, and it’s not always your best writing, but getting something down on the page so that the next time you have a break you can revise it makes for better progress than not writing at all.
Every Spare Minute
Basically, this is the main option. Every spare minute you have you try to write. Even if it’s just you wake up in the morning and jot a line down, take a shower, jot another line, eat breakfast, jot a line, go to work, jot a line a lunch, work some more and jot a line again a dinner and before bed. If you do that all day you should at least have a paragraph if not a whole page. Writing is done one word at a time, and while it’s not the most efficient method for writing, the little lines add up throughout the days/weeks/months and before you know it you’ll have a finished piece of work. So anytime you can add another word, sentence, paragraph, and so on, you should.
I know the above advice is nothing brilliant or even particularly new, but sometimes as writers we all need reminders that if we want to write, we have to find time for ourselves. There’s no magic secret or perfect writing opportunity that’s going to appear in your schedule. You use the time you have, any way you can, using any medium available, to get words on the page. Yes, it may not be efficient or look anything like the “dream writer’s life” but you’ll be writing, and you can’t be a writer if you don’t write.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice in her Monthly Memo on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next month to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.
Posted: February 1, 2017 Filed under: Commentary, Fiction, Screenwriting, Screenwriting, Speculative Fiction, Stories, Uncategorized, Weekly Writing Memo, Writing, Writing Tips | Tags: Books, Fiction, Novel, Novels, Opinion, research, Tips, Writing
As almost every writer knows, anywhere you go to discuss writing will always have someone proclaiming their tried and true rules for writing that you MUST follow. Post on any writing forum whether it be for screenwriting or fiction and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of eager “expert” or “professional” writers ready to tell you exactly which rules matter and which are hogwash. Yes, many of these writers have published novels or sold scripts and are professionals in the industry, but does that mean their rules are THE rules to follow?
Let me say that again – Absolutely not. Just because someone has sold a script or published a novel or piece of writing doesn’t mean that they will be able to give you rules to writing that will be guaranteed to work on your story. If you put every writer who ever sold something in a room and asked them to come up with a master list of writing rules it’d be impossible. There’d be factions who think you can never write in present tense and others who think a description of the weather should never start a novel.
There’d be groups who think the epitome of literary or cinematic genius is one specific piece of work, and others who think that same work is a crock of shit. If the people who are actually selling works of writing cannot agree on what makes good writing, and which writing rules are always true, then how on earth can a newbie writer even dream of making it in the industry, let alone be brave enough to even try to put words on the page?
Ultimately, all of this boils down to one single fact about writing: There are hundreds of rules for writing, but one of those rules is that there are no rules. Now before you dip out of this article, because that’s a useless piece of advice in the previous sentence, give me a chance to elaborate.
Writing is a subjective thing. Every story is going to require following a different mix of rules to make it work. That’s why whenever I write a post about the “rules” of writing, I try to explain which situations the rule applies to, and where it might not apply. Also, every writer is going to have different opinions about what makes a good story, and every publisher/studio/audience is going to have a different opinion about what they find marketable and worth buying. If this is true, which based on the evidence presented through comparing a wide range of published and produced pieces of writing it is, then the one and only real rule for writing is that you have to know the “What” and the “Why” of your story.
Essentially, knowing the What’s and Why’s of your story is all about researching the genre or style of writing you want to write by studying the existing works in that genre, and being conscious about your story and your writing choices so that you can answer the following questions on each project you work on:
- What writing “rules” do you have to follow for this particular story? In general, writing rules are not actually rules at all, but rather they’re typical or common guidelines of storytelling that work or don’t work based on previously existing works. So knowing what “rules” you have to follow just means you know which “rules” actually apply to what you’re writing, and which don’t. If you’ve done your due diligence and prep work before writing by studying other works that are similar to what you want to write, then you should have a general idea of what the common rules of that style or genre of story are, and which might apply to your story.
- Why are you following or ignoring these rules? Every time someone tells you a “rule” for writing, it’s important to understand why the rule exists, and where it applies. For your own work, always be able to justify why you’re breaking one set of rules, and why you’re following other rules. You may not have to follow all the “rules” in your writing, but people come up with these various rules for a reason, so understanding why they exist will help you understand why you need to follow certain ones and ignore others in your work.
- What is your setting, characters, plot, etc.? If you don’t know this when you’re writing, then your writing will probably be all over the place. Some people can free-write and discover a lot of these details as they go, but it is almost universally true that having these elements solidly in mind before writing will make your writing stronger.
- Why are you choosing these characters, this setting, that plot, etc.? Ultimately, the core of writing is to make deliberate choices and to be able to justify those choices as being ones that serve the story. Every character, setting, plot device, and elements of your story down to word choice can have a major impact on your writing. The more deliberate and conscious you can be in your choices, the more your writing should come together to tell a successful story.
As you can see, this one and only writing rule really boils down to being conscious about each choice you make in your writing and constantly asking yourself why whenever you are presented with a “rule” that someone thinks is universally true. All of these “rules” people come up with regarding writing are the results of people looking for the magic formula to a guaranteed sale on a piece of work, and they find it by looking for common elements across sold pieces of writing. While it is often true that these elements do exist, there are also just as many pieces of writing out there that break these trends.
Every story is its own thing and has its own identity, and I’m a firm believer that if you focus on serving the story rather than trying to force it to fit pre-existing rules or expectations, then your story will be better for it. I’m not saying you’re guaranteed to sell it, no one can guarantee that, but I am saying if you stay true to your story even if it means breaking the rules, your story will be stronger.
The important thing is to know what “rules” exist and to be able to justify why you broke these preconceived rules that people have and to show that you did so consciously. Ultimately, people aren’t going to focus on whether you broke the “rules” or not with your writing when deciding to buy it, they’re going to focus on whether you’ve put in the work to construct a compelling story that people want to read. If you do that, nothing else matters.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice once a month on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next month to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.
Posted: December 30, 2016 Filed under: Book Review, Books, Fiction, Inspirational | Tags: Book Review, Books, Inspiration, Inspirational Fiction, Mian Mohsin Zia, Novel, Once, Opinion, Review, Reviews
Once – Ask Me Anything, Not Love by Mian Mohsin Zia, is a inspirational tale of the struggle for love by one man, Morkel, whose brand is “M–, No Time for Love”. But love strikes when it is least expected and who you would least expect to fall under it’s spell. Although it is a love story, it’s no romance and there are no HEAs in this tale.
I can’t deny that this is a cute story, but I had a hard time suspending disbelief, due partially to the fact that the characters weren’t deep enough for me to be able to care, and also because the dialog did not feel real to me. People just don’t talk that way in my experience. The characters are idealistic and I felt they acted in ways that were very unrealistic, as well. Morkel, the protagonist, comes off as being full of himself and he claims that as a novelist, he can read people, yet when love walks up and stares him in the eye, he doesn’t see it.
That being said, it is a well structured story with a clear character arc. Morkel changes as he realizes his own need for and ability to love. I found it very entertaining, but the ending was disappointing for me. I guess I’ve come to expect a HEA when I think of a love story, and I felt the promise of the premise was not fulfilled.
I will admit that Mian Mohsin Zia puts out a quality eBook, with very few typos. Obviously, he spends the money to have it edited and promote it right, as well. I suspect this may account for his amazing popularity as an author. In self-publishing, it seems, you really do get what you pay for.
Once – Ask Me Anything, Not Love is a love story from the male perspective, a unique and entertaining tale, but not a romance. I give it three quills.
Posted: December 19, 2016 Filed under: Books, Commentary, Promotion, Publishing, Self-Publishing, Writing | Tags: Books, independent publishing, marketing, Opinion, promotion, Publishing, Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, Writing
This series on publishing has been a lot of fun to create, and I hope maybe there are some of you who have read all of parts 1-9. I started it because I found that while those in my academic career seemed to be in favor of traditional publishing, with many instructors providing information about self-publishing as an option only reluctantly, while authors all around me were getting their work out there by self-publishing their books.
As I looked into the topic more, I found that some folks used the terms independently published and self-published as if they were interchangeable, while independent publishers are really smaller independent publishing houses that are not among the “big five” traditional publishers. As stated in Part 2, for the purposes of this series that is how I will refer to and view independent publishers.
One of the reasons I enjoyed writing this publishing series was that I am fortunate to know many authors, from all three publishing models, and I was able to gather many different viewpoints, examining it from all sides. Overall, I was able to obtain a pretty healthy balance between the three models. I interviewed self-published authors Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch. In the traditional publishing arena, I talked with children’s author, Stacia Deutsch and historical and biographical author, Mark Shaw. I was only able to interview one independently published author, YA author Jordan Elizabeth, but to even it out, I also interviewed two independent publishers, Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press. And for a nice rounded point of view, I spoke with my friend and children’s author, Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models.
Now is the time to look at the series as a whole and see what conclusions can be drawn. While I think all authors secretly long for a traditional publishing deal, because being picked up by a major publishing house is ingrained in us as a symbol of success, I see independent publishing houses as a feasible alternative to holding out for the big boys, which can take a long time and for some of us, may never pay off. In some instances, debut authors have a better chance of being picked up by a smaller independent press. With both these options identifying markets which would be a good fit for your work, preparing submissions, writing cover letters and queries, synopsis and outlines will take up a lot of time which might be better spent on writing stories. Once accepted by either a major or a smaller publishing house, the author may be expected to do a good portion of the marketing and promotion, as well, although services such as editing and illustration may be provided.
The upside to signing with a traditional publisher is that the major publishing houses pay out an advance on projected royalties, so major money can be seen in your near future. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties. Of course, as Tim Baker pointed out in Part 2, the flip side to collecting a sizeable royalty is if your book flops. It would be a drag to have to pay it all back. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties.
For self-published authors, there are no advances, but they keep a higher portion of their royalties than with traditional or independent publishing houses. Still, there is no big money now, and no guarantee that there ever will be. Authors may be waiting a long time for their writing to pay off.
As Stacia Deutsch mentioned in Part 4 of the series, traditional publishers provide professional editing and illustrators, to be sure your final product is of good quality. I believe this is true of independent publishing houses, as well, but you won’t find it available through the self-publishing process; one reason self-publishing carries with it such stigma. Gatekeepers insure the book you put out will be the absolute best it can be.
Despite the stigma surrounding self-published authors, due in part to a few self-publishers who like to take short cuts in lieu of putting out a quality product, there are some very good self-published authors out there. As Jordan Elizabeth pointed out in Part 6, self-publishing has a lot to offer. Self-published authors have a lot more control over their work than traditionally published authors, who do not chose their own cover art, and may not even get to keep their own title.
As Jeff Bowles pointed out in Part 1, another possible advantage to self-publishing is the ease and relative inexpense for today’s authors. You can publish a book with Amazon almost for free, and collect either 35% or 70% of your royalties, depending on the price you place on your book. I can attest to this as it is what I did with my short story, Last Call, and it didn’t cost me one cent. At least that way, if my story doesn’t rise to the top of the best sellers lists, (which it hasn’t), I really haven’t lost anything. The important thing to remember when self-publishing is that you need to put out a quality product. It is worth it to find a good editor, and for all of us starving writers out there, an editor can be employed for a minimal expense. I also suggest utilizing a good critique partner when funds are low, but be sure to have some type of editing done, by someone other than yourself, before publishing your book.
Although Amazon has made publishing extremely easy and inexpensive for authors, they have also monopolized the industry and are making it more difficult for independent publishers, as Caleb Seeling explained in Part 8. Learn more about the negative effects Amazon has had on the publishing industry in the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s report, which emphasizes, from a consumer standpoint, the need to buy local and battle monopolization. If readers heed this warning and buy their books from local independent, or chain, bookstores right down the block, the publishing industry may change yet again.
Amazon’s monopolization affects authors and reviewers as well, as is discussed in What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for “Writing to be Read”. As much as Amazon’s review policies effect the reviewer, they also effect the authors who are depending on those reviews to get their books sold.
Author Mark Shaw gave us a heads up about vanity, or subsidy publishers, charging unsuspecting authors exorbitant fees to publish their work as Mark Shaw warns in Part 5. They prey on authors who desire to get their work published so bad that they are willing to empty their coffers to do so. These publishers can get outrageously expensive for authors, so don’t be drawn in. The kicker is that even if you publish on Amazon or Create Space in order to fit your budget, you still may need to spend quite a bit of time and/or money on marketing as Art Rosch tells us in Part 3.
Independent publishing houses, also referred to as small or medium-sized presses, work along the same lines as traditional publishers, but they don’t publish as many books each year as the big five do. In addition, they tend to be more specific in what they are looking for, with most having very specialized niches that your book must fit into to be published. Although all independent publishers may not follow this practice, publisher Caleb Seeling says he actually seeks out authors whose work fits into his niche. In any case, authors should be familiar with submission guidelines of the publishing house they are submitting to, whether large or small. In her article, How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher, Jane Friedman, of The Hot Sheet, (the publishing industry’s news letter for authors), offers some great tips on what to look for.
In Part 7, Nancy Oswald points out one of the big advantages to publishing with a small press is the more personal relationship between author and publisher. Whereas a traditional publishing house may not be able to put a name with a face, independent publishers work closely with their authors because they only have a few at any one time. Independent publishers may also have a shorter wait time for publication than traditional houses, which can be quite lengthy.
And then there are the new kids on the block, like Curiosity Quills Press, which are hybrid publishers, offering various combinations of traditional percs with self-publishing author responsibilities. These small independent presses may charge authors for some services, like subsidy publishing, but they also provide a certain amount of author copies at no cost, provide author support, and the services they do charge for are optional. You can find out more about this new model of publishing in my post, Hybrid Publishers: What are they all about?
After hearing from the experts, it seems no matter which model you choose to publish under, there is still a lot of non-writing activities required of authors, including marketing and promotion, resulting in the need for Today’s Authors to Wear Many Different Hats. Of course, you can also do as author Jeff Lyons suggests in his interview with Arwen Chandler, and hire a third party to handle such tasks, so we, as authors can get down to the business of writing. The only problem I see with this is that you must make money before you can spend money, paying someone else to do the tasks that don’t come as naturally as writing does.
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Posted: November 5, 2016 Filed under: Commentary, Film Review, Screenwriting, Screenwriting, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: Movies, Opinion, Review, Reviews
The first word that came to mind after seeing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was peculiar. The movie is peculiar. I went into the film knowing next to nothing about it. I haven’t read the book, I think I may have seen a trailer at some point but don’t really remember it, and I hadn’t looked into the story at all. All I knew about the film was that it was directed by Tim Burton, it was based on a book, and it was about some kind of school for gifted kids.
I am a huge fan of fantasy films, and I love Tim Burton’s work, so I was super excited to see what this movie had in store for me. That being said, by the end of the film I couldn’t quite put my finger on how I felt about it, other than that one word I mentioned above—peculiar. The film is just peculiar. It’s beautifully shot, and the actors, especially Eva Green, do a wonderful job, but the film didn’t leave me feeling satisfied. It left me with a lot of questions, and a few complaints.
Visuals and World
I like starting by talking about something I liked, and this film was visually beautiful. It had some great shots, and everything from the camera angles to the clothing was spot on for me. The style and artistic elements of Tim Burton’s films are always one of my favorite parts, and this film was no exception. The one thing that truly kept me hooked throughout was the visual element, and just the fact that I was enjoying looking at the film.
The other element I really liked was just the concept of the world. I loved the idea of Jake traveling through the time loops at the end, working his way back to the peculiars. I’m not sure I have a clear idea of how it would work, but I do think I got enough of a sense that it was believable. The details they gave at the end as well were just enough to create this sort of romanticized image of his journey back to the group without extending the final act unnecessarily, which was perfect.
I think the biggest downfall for me in the film was the fact that the real goal and conflict of the story took more than an hour to get to. I know because I looked at my watch when they finally started discussing Samuel L Jackson’s character and why they had to stop him. I don’t mind a long movie, and I don’t mind giving the plot time to build and unfold, but this film felt like it just took too long. Yes, the visual elements of the movie were stunning and wonderful, and it was a fascinating world to get lost in, but I wish we could have got lost in it while the plot was moving forward.
From the moment Jake first sees Samuel L Jackson’s character outside his grandfather’s house to the moment we finally learn he’s the antagonist almost an hour had passed. I usually have a good memory for details in a story, but by this point in the film I had almost forgotten that Jackson was in it and I was mostly just trying to figure out where the story was going. I feel like part of the problem that made the story seem like it was standing still was that Jake’s goal in the story initially was not to find out what happened to his grandfather, it was to see if his grandfather told the truth. The moment Jake arrives at Miss Peregrine’s we know that he was and then Jake has no real goal, no conflict. Yes, there’s still some information he can find, but he doesn’t actively seek it.
If there had been slight more focus on the thing that killed his grandfather, and more determination behind Jake’s search for answers, I think the time it took to get to the plot wouldn’t have been as bad, but it still went on too long. Getting lost in the world was great, but it felt like the plot paused for a short period of time while we got immersed in the world. Instead, entering the new world should have boosted the plot into action.
The one thing that really surprised me about this film was that there were three big plot elements that I felt were too big to have been missed. The first is a simple one—Jake’s parents. I love Chris O’Dowd, but the parents disappear from the story when they’re there at all. I guess I could buy the whole impulsive trip across the world for the story, but once they get there the dad becomes almost a burden to the plot. Instead of being a smooth element in the story, a problem Jake has to work around to get where he wants to go, it feels like the dad is forced into the story in a clunky way that makes it completely obvious that he’s supposed to be in the way of Jake’s goal. It’s never more obvious that the dad doesn’t fit in the story then at the end—he doesn’t even get a proper wrap up of his plotline! While I think Chris O’Dowd played the role beautifully, and he always makes me laugh, his character never comes back into the story at all, making it feel like the whole plotline shouldn’t have been in the movie.
The second thing that surprised me is the reveal of the twin’s powers at the end. Throughout the film I wondered about the two of them as they were the only ones to not have their powers clearly shown or mentioned (unless I missed the first mention). At the end when their masks are lifted and the woman turns to stone, it immediately made me think two things. 1. Oh, that’s cool. 2. Wait, why didn’t they just do that to Samuel L Jackson in the house when he first came into the time loop? Their powers defeat the whole movie.
If we had learned about their powers earlier and there was some kind of explanation about why they couldn’t use them all the time—such as on Jackson’s character—it would have ruined the reveal, but it would have kept the sequence of events justifiable. By not having this, we got the cool reveal of their powers at the end, but it makes all the other characters look stupid. The twins could have dropped into the pit with all the evil people and turned them all to stone. They could have done it the first time they saw Jackson. They could have followed Jake downstairs when he goes to rescue the birds and done it then. Not justifying the lack of use of their powers creates a huge plot hole.
Overall, I did enjoy Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children despite the flaws. As I said above, visually it’s just a fun movie to watch, and seeing Eva Green embody Miss Peregrine was fabulous. She really is wonderful in the role. The plot holes and issues mentioned above are just things that made the movie go from great to just okay for me. I’ll have to watch it again at some point to see if there’s something I missed regarding the twins or the father, but overall I think the first word that came to mind when watching the movie is the right one. It really is peculiar. It’s fascinating, and alluring, and I wanted to love it, but I just couldn’t get lost in it the way I wanted to no matter how hard I tried.
Posted: October 24, 2016 Filed under: Action/Adventure, Books, Fiction, Opinion, Promotion, Publishing, Writing | Tags: Action, Blindogg Books, Books, independent publishing, marketing, Novels, Opinion, promotion, Publishing, Self-Publishing, Tim Baker, Traditional Publishing, Writing
Today I want to talk a little about definitions, because people often independent publishing as an umbrella term to cover authors who are self-published, as well as those authors who are published through an independent publishing house. I’m guilty of this, too, as the title for this article series does not differentiate, although the series will be looking at all three options. From here on out, I will differentiate between self-published and independently published authors, and refer to smaller presses as independent presses vs, the larger publishing houses, which shall be referred to as traditional publishers.
In Part 1 of this series, I interviewed self-published author Jeff Bowles to get his thoughts on the publishing industry as an emerging author today. Today’s interview is with Tim Baker, the author of nine novels, two novellas, and a collection of short stories, all self-published under his own brand, Blindogg Books. I’ve had the privilege of reviewing many of those books and can tell you he writes a well crafted story. His publishing credits include Living the Dream, Water Hazard, Backseat to Justice, No Good Deed, Unfinished Business, Eyewitness Blues, Pump It Up, Full Circle, Dying Days, with Armand Rosamillia, and Path of a Bullet. You can contact Tim Baker or find out more about his work by visiting his website at blindoggbooks.com.
Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us?
Tim: My love for reading came early in life when I discovered Treasure Island and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at the age of ten.
A high school journalism class and a creative writing course in college turned my love of reading into a love of writing. In 1988, I began writing a book called Full Circle, which combined my love of writing with my interest in Karma. A chain of events caused the unfinished, handwritten manuscript to be tucked into a box. During the ‘90s, my time was divided between raising my son, owning a home and building a career in engineering, leaving no time for writing. It remained untouched until February of 2015 when I dusted it off and completed it for release in November 2015.
By the time I moved to Florida in 2006, my dream of penning a novel was all but forgotten…until one night when a dream rekindled my passion for writing.
Then, in April 2007, I had a dream about two old friends and a submerged box of gold bars. The next day I found himself trying to figure out the story behind the dream. By the end of that day, the impetus of a story had formed and I had scribbled out two chapters in a spiral notebook.
One year later, my first novel, Living the Dream, was complete and the dam had burst — I soon followed up with my second novel Water Hazard.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Tim: The funny thing is that I never really wanted to be an author – at least not consciously.
Even though I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing…it wasn’t until after my first book was published that I realized I was an author. All of a sudden I was an author – which was fine, because by then I had come to the realization that I loved writing.
Kaye: What made you decide to self-publish?
Tim: It wasn’t until after I completed the manuscript for my first novel (Living the Dream) that I started thinking about having it published. After a year of research I had learned a great deal about the differences between traditional publishing and indie publishing, and I decided that indie suited me better – primarily because I had read dozens of accounts about the overwhelming odds of landing a traditional publishing contract. I was not thrilled with the prospect of putting the fate of my novel in the hands of somebody who could shoot it down for any reason at all. This just didn’t seem fair.
Kaye: How did Blindogg Books come about?
Tim: Blindogg Books came about because my research taught me that indie authors need a brand for marketing purposes. I also learned that there are at least 3 other published authors named Tim Baker…so I decided to go with something other than my name.
During the 90s I raised and socialized puppies to be guide dogs for the blind…eventually I picked up the nickname “blind dog” which was changed to blindogg for internet identity reasons. When I needed a name for my brand I thought Blindogg Books had a nice ring to it. (for more info on this go to my blog)
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?
Tim: I’ve had this conversation with many people and I like to sum it up this way;
Independent publishing is a “good news/bad news” situation. The good news is that anybody can publish a book – the bad news…anybody can publish a book. The vast majority of indie authors produce quality work, however the fate of their work depends on the book buying public, so when potential readers read one of the few indie works that just wasn’t ready for publication (for whatever reason) they tend to paint all indie authors with the broad brush of low quality. So even though it’s very easy to have your work published, it’s very difficult to convince readers who have had a bad experience that your work is worthy of their money.
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing?
Tim: Not having any experience in the traditional world I can only speculate. I have to think that having the power of a large publishing house behind you for promotion and advertising is a nice relief from self-promotion. I also think it would be nice to get a big advance for a book. On the down side, I wouldn’t want to work under a contract which dictates when I have to finish a book. I’ve also heard that those big advances are only good if you sell enough books to cover the amount advanced. Obviously we all think our work will sell – but if it doesn’t (for whatever reason) I’d hate to have to give money back!
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?
Tim: I’ve had this conversation with many people and I like to sum it up this way;
Independent publishing is a “good news/bad news” situation.
The good news is that anybody can publish a book – the bad news…anybody can publish a book.
The vast majority of indie authors produce quality work, however the fate of their work depends on the book buying public, so when potential readers read one of the few indie works that just wasn’t ready for publication (for whatever reason) they tend to paint all indie authors with the broad brush of low quality. So even though it’s very easy to have your work published, it’s very difficult to convince readers who have had a bad experience that your work is worthy of their money.
Kaye: How much work do you contract out? Book Covers? Editing? Etc…?
Tim: Everything!! I write it – then let others do the things I’m not qualified to do. This includes editing, formatting (for kindle and paperback) and cover design/layout. Many indie authors try to do these things themselves, but I would rather pay somebody to do it because I know they’ll do a much better job than I will and I won’t be wasting my time doing something that somebody else could do in half the time, leaving me more time for writing and marketing.
The most important one of the lot (in my opinion) is editing. Any money spent on a qualified editor is money well spent. Hiring your high school English teacher or a friend/relative who is “really good at English and reads a lot” will not give you a professional quality job.
Nobody knows more than me how difficult it is to fork out hundreds of dollars foran editor, but I want my books to be the best they can be.
Kaye: So, you’re saying self-published books that aren’t of good quality stigmatize the reputation of independently published books in general?
Tim: Yes. Readers, like all consumers, don’t want to waste money on sub-par products, so if they buy an indie book that is poorly written, edited or formatted they are likely to assume that this is the level of quality for all indie books.
Kaye: Do you think one of the major contributing factors to this stigma is authors who don’t want to spend money to have their books professionally edited? Or do you see other causes?
Tim: Absolutely. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. As I said above, many indie authors think editors are like dentists – a necessary evil. I think a qualified editor is more like a good tailor. You can buy a suit off the rack and it might look decent, but a suit that is professionally tailored will make you look outstanding – and people will notice the difference!
This is not to say there aren’t other causes.
People who write a book without trying to learn even the most basic “rules” lower the bar for all of us. I hate using the word rules, let’s say guidelines…whatever you want to call them – they are critical to producing a book that will make people want to read your next one. These days there is no excuse for not learning how to write a good book. There are a gazillion websites and blogs out there devoted to teaching people how to write – use them. Most of them are free.
But – the best way to learn how to write is to read. Learn from the good books as well as the bad…
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
Tim: I don’t have an exact number, but my conservative estimate is that for every hour I spend writing – I spend three hours marketing. I tell people all the time – writing the book is the easy part…selling it is where the work starts.
Kaye: Would you recommend your chosen path to publication, to emerging writers? Why or why not?
Tim: I’m not sure how to answer that – mostly because my path wasn’t chosen as much as it was found. I had no idea what I was doing – so I did lots of research – the most valuable of which was learning from other writers. So for any emerging writers who may be reading this I can only say this…there is a ton of information at your fingertips. The internet and especially social media can help you find the path best suited for you. Get out there and tap into it. Ask questions, do your research and learn from those who went before you.
I want to thank Tim for sharing his thoughts on the publishing industry and his advice with us. Be sure to check out next weeks interview with self-published author, Arthur Rosch, on Writing to be Read.
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