Saturday, November 12, 2016

Selling Books, One-on-One

Scott D Parker

Last Saturday, I conducted my first author talk/reading. I was one of three featured artist for the event, the others being my wife, Vanessa, and her jewelry art, and JZ Selewach and her encaustic artwork.

Here’s a picture that Yolanda Pope, good friend of the SugarLand Art Center and Gallery, took and sent to me. Frankly, it looks a little like I’m conducting some sort of orchestra or trying to describe just how big a fish I caught. I think many folks talk with their hands and I am certainly in that category.

Going into the author talk, I determine to do a combination of biography and reading. Basically, I told my story for the audience. All but a few knew nothing about me going in, so I wanted to introduce myself, explain how I got there, the trials and tribulations of writing stories and publishing them, and talk about ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES, the new novel published this month.

Back in 2011, I did something I had never done before: I acted in a play. I followed that up the next couple of years with other plays, all of which were at church. The point is that I learned that I have a comfort level when talking in front of people. I never knew I had that, but it has proven to be a good trait to have not only as a professional fiction writer but also in my day job as a technical writer. All of this is to say I felt pretty comfortable giving the talk last Saturday. True, the first couple of minutes were a little nervous because, let’s be honest, everyone has a little bit of stage fright, but I settled in quickly and, from what I could tell, made a good presentation. Then I did a short reading and, almost as soon as it started, it was over.

Then I got the thrill that all writers enjoy which is to sign of my books that had just sold. I talked to every person that wanted to talk to me, whether it they wanted to ask me additional questions about the writing process or, in the case of a fellow gallery member, how to actually go about writing her own book. All in all it was a fantastic experience.

For the first time, I realized that personal contact, the one-on-one experience, can be a key factor in convincing future readers to try me out as a writer. I know that this concept is blindingly obvious for other writers ahead of me in this profession, but this was the first time for me. Something clicked. It was very empowering, and I hope to have many occasions to do it again in the future.

How about y’all other veteran writers? Have y’all had success with author events? How about in non-traditional events, where traditional means bookstores or libraries?

Friday, November 11, 2016

We need good art.

What a week.

Do you wanna destroy shit? Because I think I'd really like to destroy shit. What, exactly, I don't know.

I've had a very hard time thinking about what I would write today. I had some really different ideas about where we'd be today when I was trying to plan my blog on Monday.

What a week.

I see a lot of my creative friends in different stages of anger and despair, and I feel it, too. I've seen people joke that "at least we'll get good art out of this," and I hope they are right, even if I think the joke is a little crass. If you're like me, the stunner this week has left you wondering what you can do, and there's no shortage of suggestions on the web right now - so I won't bother telling you where to volunteer or send money - I'm just going to ask you - no, beg you - to keep making art. Keep writing. Write your ass off. Put your heart and soul into it and make good fiction. Keep the gears moving and put something in front of people that moves them.

Because anyone who doesn't understand what fiction can do (and maybe especially crime fiction) isn't paying attention. Empathy isn't something we are born with. We learn how to interact with people, we learn how to relate to each other, we learn how to read and process others' emotions. If you put a book in front of someone who doesn't think much about what it's like to be poor, to be a junkie, to be black, to be gay, to be in a hopeless situation - you have the opportunity to open their minds.

We need good art. We needed it last week and we need it this week - and we're never going to stop needing. So go make it.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

NaNoWriMo: Day 10

By Steve Weddle

If you're doing NaNoWriMo, then today you're hitting word 16,670, give or take. Day 10.

I don't know who you are (take that piece of tape off your webcam, silly) or how you write, but for many folks, getting to word 25,000 is a big deal, a spot where everything changes. Maybe you've exhausted a sub-plot. Maybe you've begun to realize that your main plot isn't quite as airtight as you'd thought. Maybe you've convinced yourself that your main character's motivation is rubbish. I don't know. I don't know you. (Maybe put the tape back over your webcam, k? And clean yourself up. What? You've been getting up at 3am to write? Staying up until 1am? Wow. Nice work. )

Plow through. Or stop and outline. You're in this big NaNoWriMo thing, but one size doesn't fit all. That's the problem with a program. Sure, it can start off motivating you, but you'll work differently than others. You'll struggle getting started. Or hitting your stride. Or you'll sprint on the weekends with 6,000 words, but the workweek will slow you and the following weekend you're worried you've lost your mojo. Friend, I get it.

So I present for you today some motivationing.

9 authors who published their NaNoWriMos like badass MoFos (bustle)

8 more (including Water for Elephants and Wool and Night Circus)

From authors you've never heard of to authors you have, the lists are long and extensive.

So stop reading blogs and get back to your 1,667 each day.

You've got this. You've just gotta keep getting those words down.
"There may be people who have more talent than you, but there's no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do." - Derek Jeter

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Benefits of Distraction

Sometimes writing is a war against distraction. Social media's the number one culprit for me, and I know I'm not alone. And of course the election has a lot of folks wound up with anxiety, and how can you write freely when your mind is preoccupied with people who exist in reality and not just in your head?

I've always been a daydreamer, so my writing has always been my distraction from current events and whatever is bothering me. I still enjoy the odd movie or television show, and I am always reading a book--it's part of the job--but I try my best to make the fantasy world in my head my escape hatch from the real world. It helps make writing less of a chore and more of an enjoyment.

Anxiety has been a problem for me since childhood, and I've used all the forms of self-medication out there. Some of them I still do. But the one that's always worked for me is immersing myself in a story and letting myself be free with it. Writing without expectations, or for any particular audience except myself. It doesn't always produce highly commercial material. I have an English degree with honors and I also love ridiculous action stories and pulp tales, so I often amuse myself with ideas not everyone else will "get," but I try to make them entertaining for anybody. The references and homages are lagniappe for readers who are familiar with them. I don't do it to show how clever I am, it's just a "what if" for me, and as Stephen King says, most stories exist as answers to a "what if" question.

So many writers don't seem to enjoy writing. It's become a cliche, and a bad one. It's the suffering artist trope for people who aren't starving. Writing may not always be easy, but if it's as torturous as some claim it to be, they could save a lot of trouble and jump naked into a sticker bush instead. And this isn't meant to shame those sharing doubts and struggles. We should be free to share our problems, but we're doing young and new writers a disservice by painting it as a lifetime of mental anguish. Is it a tough row to hoe? It can be, and I respect writers who make a go of it, whether full-time or with a day job. The business side of it is rough. But the work, we all began because we enjoyed it. And at some point, you need to get back to that.

It's like the old joke about the bear hunter, who has the worst luck. The bear gets the drop on him, and offers him a choice of humiliation or death. (You can Google it, if you must.) And each year he goes back, set on avenging his pride, and the bear taps him on the shoulder ... by the fifth year, the bear says, "Admit it, you're not coming out here for the hunting." And that's how I feel about people who complain about writing all the time. Are you doing it so you can play the tortured artist and get sympathy? Like the John Banville article that caused the kerfuffle a few weeks ago, when he used writing as an excuse for bad behavior. (Julian Gough, like Joanne Harris and David Simon, has a fine response to that nonsense).

I'm terrible at sports, so I'll use the martial arts metaphor. You start because it's fun. I suppose this is playing catch, as a kid. Then you struggle to become the best you can, you compete. But at some point, maybe you aren't a hall of famer or a sensei on top of the mountain, but you return to doing it for enjoyment. In my writing career there's a lot of struggle ahead. I'm only getting started. But I'm bringing the lesson I took from ten years of getting my ass kicked on the mats with me. You've got to learn to enjoy the struggle. And that's how it is with my writing. The piece I'm working on now has evolved and I'm just about ready to finish it, but I struggled a lot with what the story was. A lot of anguish for a five thousand or so word story, really. (Sometimes they write themselves, this one made me think, the hardest work of all).

This post will appear after the election, but it was written Monday, the day before the country made its decision. And the story was the perfect distraction from the unending spectacle we've come to accept as politics. They'll be covering Election 2020 before the votes are counted. What better distraction from it than your own fantasy world, where you're in charge? Put that teeth-gnashing apoplexy to work. Otherwise the bear wins.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

President Firefly

Thank goodness the day of days is finally here.  What's at stake is clear, and it's not a joke. Still, this year more than in past years, Election Day has prompted me to go to the movie I can always watch when I want to see the absurdity of politics distilled into 70 or so ridiculous minutes.

No matter who wins today, it's doubtful we'll get a president as up front about his plans as President Rufus T. Firefly.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

To Begin Anew (Novel)

I recently started Hank Worth Book Three, and oh my. I’d forgotten what the beginning of writing a novel is like. Just like giving birth – you forget how painful and terrifying it is until you do it again.
So now I sit in front a computer file with a measly few thousand words in it. And all that empty real estate in front of me. Pages just waiting to be filled – with sparkling prose, gasp-inducing plot twists, and astonishing character development. No pressure, right?
But then I think about it from the opposite direction – I think of all the possibilities. All the different plots I could twist. All the difficulties I could throw at my characters. All the people I could kill. And that makes it seem not so daunting. It makes it seem fun. And so I get to work.