Monday, January 31, 2011

How to justify blogging

I've heard about 100 different opinions about blogs/bloggers. My thinking at first was... how pretentious! What would make a person think that if I don't have time to get a Wall Street Journal or NY Times in my day that I would somehow find time to follow their meandering views on the world? I mean, if they were that good, wouldn't they be writing for the big names already?

Fine. We're nobody. But collectively, we are a force of boom-pow proportions. Consider this; two or three people have major editorial power over a given large press. In all the history of mankind, what has happened when a few people at the top got to filter the information that everybody on the bottom was able to see? This is a cross-spectrum phenom. Consider politics. Police forces. Hospital administration. Government contracting offices. Oooh, the sweet, sweet smells of bribery and loot to the people at the position of gatekeeper. Whose honor endures?

You, me, the whole lot of bloggers and posters and commenters e-wide have snatched that power mercilessly out of their hands, now, haven't we? Mmmm. Closing my eyes for a second... That does something for my soul. Right now, I'm Anthony Hopkins, sniffing Clarice through the holes in the re-enforced Plexiglas. The common man--the nobody (me)--can now shake a story or view like a tree in the back yard of a safe-house and see what manner of booty falls out.

I don't have one of those three crooks over my head right now. He can't say, "We're working that pro-religion angle on this one, Kierstead, so sully the atheist protesters," to which I would respond, "What? Why?" to which he would respond, "Came from the top, I don't know," to which I would respond, "Lick my waddle, monkey man, I'm out." Well, I am out. I'm over here, where the money isn't pushing the message. I'm over here where my beliefs of what's good and bad, valuable and true, where my angles are motivated by my soul which I like to believe is fairly representative of the average person's.

Oh, we have power. We are justified.

I can't tell you how many of my friends insist on getting their news from the BBC. Is it any wonder?

Isn't it possible, though, that maybe I'm just constructing a comfortable blanket of supposition so that I don't feel like I'm a self-absorbed asshole who actually believes people give a jolly damn what I write? No. No, that's not Kev. (I mean, look what I just wrote; the thought of it threw me into the third-person... all kinds of crooked).

Maybe everybody has a price. Would I write that angle (pro or anti-whatever) if it fed my family? How could I say no to that? (I'd quit, actually, and go work somewhere else, but how can you blame a person?)

The larger the sample size, the more accurate the survey.

Do blog. Over-run the gatekeepers and let us all in!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My first book is for sale on Amazon; Yay!

Finally. Finishing a book is like removing a mobile home that was crushing your throat while having... chocolate...

Kindle (and Kindle for PC; free) version is available now! (or just click on the book cover at the top of the post)

Book description follows:

Mankind’s worst critic just landed on Earth. Fortunately, so did his owner.

Altinison Borahamen (Alt) along with his super-intelligent, shrewd, curmudgeon of a pet, Khan, decide to make their pit stop on Earth stand for something meaningful. Instead of just collecting some materials that they need to repair their navigation and communications system, they make a critical decision.

They decide it is time, finally, to make contact with humans.

Alt decides to write his story with brief input from Khan as they hide on Earth—a story that he believes will warm humankind up to the idea of in-the-flesh contact with aliens without making himself and Khan targets or disrupting life on Earth for the worse. He will try to gauge when humans are ready, and when they are, he and Khan will emerge.

Alt’s story illuminates the history of aliens on Earth, the mistakes humans have made and are making without preaching, the details about several different species of aliens including one dangerous species, what his home is like, and the technology that will launch the world not decades into the future, but centuries.

Unlike most sci-fi stories, his is a colorful and understandable tale of failures and triumphs, of science and emotion, and of brand new comedy shared between Alt, his species and his pet. You don't have to be a sci-fi enthusiast to enjoy this book! It has the "ET" element of humanity and understandability.

Read the stuff you like and write like them. Wait one second...

I was reading, on my favorite writer's site (, a post about learning style and technique. An overwhelming response that I hear to the common writer's questions is that you should read the stuff that you like and note the author's style, trying to duplicate it.

I'm not so sure about that.

Maybe emulating your favorite authors will get you to the highest levels of riches and fame; hey, they got big, right? How could copying their style not work?

If writing were a fish tank I could keep in my living room, I'd shake it up every week. I'd never let it settle into the boring constraints of rules and history. I want new. I want to see unique. But most of all, it would be a shame to never see new fish because all the fish in the tank, although they came in unique and only needed to develop, were trying to look like the other fish in the tank.

If you read too closely to learn style, you will lose who you are as a writer. It can be argued that any writer is really only writing as a result of what he has learned from other writers (from reading or being taught) but I disagree.

A creative writer invents.

Maybe it has roots in his education or maybe it's fresh fruit from his creative mind. I'm not against learning from the pros, but consider this; how many of the world's greatest authors can say, "Yeah, I was a huge (famous author name here) fan and I decided to write that way, and that's how I made it." They got where they are because they looked around and said, "F this. I got something that doesn't already sit on the shelves of these bookstores and I'm bringing it with authority." Bring yourself. With authority.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Things that make writers tick

I'll admit that Donald Maass's The Career Novelist got me thinking about this, but I agree with his sentiments and have stuff to add.

He likes novelists. Not just writers. Well he likes writers, but apparently he loves novelists. He says it has something to do with their intelligence and unique insights.

I've read elsewhere that the sign of a great writer is that he or she will have an excellent BS detector; a well-functioning radar for untruths (Ernest Hemingway is the origin).

I could quote all day what famous people have said about writers, but then, that's already been done, so I'll do new.

There is a magic to what motivates a writer to write, I'll say first. I sincerely worry that if you work too hard to deconstruct the structure around that motive, you could kill the motive. If you look too hard at why you write, you may find something you don't like. The basics for writing motivation, as told popularly, are: expression, a story to tell, recognition, money, fame, emulation (of a respected author) or acceptance.

Your motivation for writing could be because an elementary school teacher told you you were good at it and, Hell, maybe she was just trying to make your day (if you think that's true then you must read the rest of this post, please). Could be a friend or family member that told you you were the greatest writer ever. Could be a lot of stuff. Part of it for me was opening a fiction book and literally thinking, "Are you serious?" I knew immediately that I could do much better than the author I was reading. It's fairly common among writers. But I had the hope-casting, inspirational compliments, too. (See last blog post)

When you cook all of these goodies up in a single pot of psychology (I was an English/psych. double major, writing concentration, but never graduated because I didn't need to), you come up with an interesting cast of characters. Novel writers, or anybody who is willing to write long stories, has to have an interest in lacing words together to create feeling. I'm tired (seriously tired) of the artist analogy--particularly the painter one--that compares the writer to the artist. A writer is not an artist. Words are not art. Communication is art, but not words. Words are not art anymore than a tube of acrylic paint is art. And even after you write them, they are not art. Art is a thing you can look at, right now, and get a feeling. One single (however complex) wave of feeling. It could be ugly, distorted, beautiful, eerie, disgusting, overwhelming, dismissal. Some feeling comes. Words are not the same....

What a story does, it does in stages. It happens with a flow of a song but the length of a day's work. It's not art. It's a long, complex dance. A writer can get this dance onto paper and may not even have a full comprehension of what he has done in the mind of the average reader, and that's where talented, younger writers can thrive. If a younger writer knows the pitfalls and can set his imagination free, he can leap right up onto the levels of the older, more experienced writers but that is a rare exception. The stories he writes must ring true, and because of the limited experience of the young writer, widespread wisdom and truth is difficult to sprinkle across his story. The old, and arguably, antiquated "Write what you know," rule still has a firm place in the thoughts of the successful, younger writer ("It is unbecoming for young men to utter maxims." Aristotle). But even with the young writer, the story is told in stages. It unfolds.

Your reason for writing is not necessarily important. I can predict who will be a great writer by one sign; if a writer tells me that he or she gets a strong adrenaline pump when they write something in their story because they know, not think, but know on the deepest levels that the thing they just wrote will move people and if they like that feeling (some do not, believe me), then that writer, if they choose to make it a career, will succeed.

The first argument against my theory might sound like this; the calm writer that writes something to the tempo of Walden or Huck Finn (I respectfully abbreviate; this is a blog, yo), what, they won't be a success? I didn't say that. All I'm saying is that nothing, but nothing, can stop a writer who experiences a pleasurable elation when he writes--if his heart rate rises and he writes in that half out-of-control state, something special happens. When the desire to get a story out is trumped only by the need to feel that familiar (and it must be familiar rather than rare) adrenaline rush, I would bet large sums of money, if I had them, that that writer will make it.

The things that make a writer tick are not important; all that matters is that the writer tick, and tick hard.


Friday, January 21, 2011

A pathetic statement of mission

I'm a judgmental reader. For that reason, I'm a judgmental writer. To know if you are too, just look at anything you wrote a few years ago or earlier. Do you cringe?

When I first sat down twenty odd years ago to write my first fiction novel, I did it because on my high school graduation night, my senior English teacher walked past us and looked up at me on the bleachers and said, "Kevin, I will be reading one of your books one day." Now, before you go thinking how fuzzy that would make you feel, let me say this; four years later, when I came back to town and a friend and I visited her at the high school, I said, "I finished my first book." She said, "Really?" I said, "Yep; after what you said on graduation night I figured I should get started and just kept at it and finished one." She said, "What did I say?" I told her. She said...

"I don't remember that."

I felt like a shiny, pretty, Superman-shaped balloon that had been let go to float away, slowly deflate... maybe land in a waste-treatment facility.

Anyhow, in spite, I kept writing. And because I was always interested in writing, I read. I read just to read, and I read about writing. Hell, I wrote about reading. Look at me! I'm writing about writing!

I'm not a famous author but one should ask: how many authors started out famous? How many rejections did authors like Stephen King and J.R.R. Tolkien face? I'm published as a newspaper reporter; the newspaper was so small that my first check, for $80, bounced on the first try. Had to come back a couple days later and try again. How is this type of struggle different from those authors that fought from zero to become great? And what is great to you? Is it the money? Fame? Freedom?

Since then, I've written mostly non-marketable opinion and humor stuff. Now I have a few books written that vary in "genre," if we must; sci-fi, humor, contemporary. Meh. The advice books tell you to never switch genres; to figure out what you want to write and stick to it (or, if you insist on switching, be prepared to have to win repeat customers all over again).

What I think I best represent is two-fold; I represent the spirit of the writer and I'm committed to giving something to other writers. Part of my motivation is selfish; I don't want to read crappy stuff, so if I can help improve the pool, improve it I will. But the main drive behind my commitment to helping other authors and to keep the spirit of the writer burning bright wherever I can set a fire with my torch is my belief that life means nothing without leaving something. Not land or some cash for your kids and grand-kids. Not a building or a landmark or something that can die as you did/will, but to leave something behind that can genuinely help others or pass on the experience of life as written by an author who experienced and/or imagined a thing in a way worth telling.

Regardless of your religion, chances are you can agree that time here is short. The most meaningful contribution that I can imagine one might leave on this mud-ball is a well-written story. Please, LEAVE US ONE!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The gnawing beast in the writer's stomach

If you write, you know him.

He sits in there, in your stomach, chewing. He doesn't want to hurt you. He just wants to get out.

He doesn't care if he ever becomes rich or famous... doesn't care if he is looked at with admiration or condemnation. He is an itch, a pain, and a time bomb wrapped up into one splinter and he must come out. He must be written or he will kill you.

This is not a hobby. This is not an art, to us. This is survival...