Sunday, February 20, 2011

Readers are merciless... don't go in there without ammunition.

I have a warning for any would-be writer that might read this. No matter how good you are at what you do, the first time you walk out onto the stage, people are going to start booing. Loudly. Maybe even toss some oranges or something. It's gonna sting, at the very least.

Just accept that. For one, there are people out there who set up in the business of criticizing. Reasons are many; their own failures, jealousy, general anger, you name it. But, for that moment, it's aimed right at your face and it's going to sting.

If you accept that, you can push through it. You can win your crowd. And one thing I've learned by accident is that it isn't even as much about how magically you are able to lace words together as much as it is about avoiding mistakes. I hate rules, but I do belong to that lot that believes you should know the rules before you start breaking them (because, then, you can break them with admirable style and intent to create, rather than just wreck, form).

What are those things to avoid? There are a million of them. On, we started a discussion about what irks writers when reading (not your average reader, granted; quite critical in comparison) and I found some common complaints.

Don't let your ego stand in the way of your story. Don't praise yourself. Don't ever let your words draw attention to your skill--making a reader pause while reading to think about whoever wrote the story they are reading--instead of just letting them run away, escape, disappear into the land of your story. Don't do cliches in any form. Literal cliches (It was a dark and stormy night... He got what was coming to him... and they lived happily...), stereotypical cliches (the lead woman doesn't have to be a leather-clad bitch with a black-belt in whack-yo-ass to be strong... not all black people like chicken... not all white people are dorks...), or even descriptive cliches (her hair was a flowing waterfall... her eyes were a well of darkness...).

Give your readers something new, but familiar enough to digest (don't hear me wrong; you wanna go way out? Wanna go for all-new, zero-familiar? You can win doing this, definitely... just harder to grab a large audience unless you really do it well). Give them a full disconnection from you, the author, and a total connection to your story and characters. Don't hear this like I'm coming up with it; hell, I gotta learn this stuff myself as a writer, but this is what people are saying. This is what readers are wanting and what they are not wanting. Give them believable without boring them. Give them zero cliche anything. Give them a reason to pick up your next piece. Give them hope that we writers haven't fallen into a Venus Flytrap of mundane repetition born of formulas and pre-fabricated constructs... shake it up.

My 2.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

There are things to hate about yourself

Of the many things worthy of being labeled "hated," when I look at my behaviors over the past 30-odd years, I can easily hate stupid things I've done, times I've mistreated people, and times I didn't stand up for what I believed in. And that's just scratching the surface, but that's all negative stuff, so today, I'm gonna write a little about what I like about myself.

Really, it's just one thing.

My favorite hockey player of all-time is Alexander Ovechkin. If you had seen how badly I despised the Russians (Soviets) during the 1980 Olympics (think Miracle, cuz that movie nailed it) you would have never thought, in a million years, that I could like a Russian player. But Russia has changed, and so has her people.

Ovechkin; he's not the "face" of the NHL (reportedly, the whiny crybaby, Sidney Crosby is) with his missing toof and devious grins. What OV brings to the game besides his talent and, imo, far more important than his talent, is pure passion for this game.

I draw a parallel between OV and myself when it comes to what we feel passion about.

I genuinely believe that if everybody on the Earth disappeared except for OV, he'd still go shoot pucks into nets. He was born for it. If I had the same happen to me, I'd still write. Everyday. No audience required.

That tells me a couple of things about myself (and, by association, OV). I don't need any attention for what I do, even though I'm always seriously concerned about how my readers are reading and enjoying/not enjoying something I wrote. That's part of my motivation, no doubt; I think to myself, sometimes, when I write, "What can I put on paper that will make a reader wiggle in her seat, smile, cry, and, when it's all over and she puts the book down, make her think to herself, 'I didn't waste my time reading that. I gained something; maybe it was just something about myself... maybe something about people or the world at-large, but I gained a significant something from that story, and for that, I'm at least somewhat pleased with the author's work and would read him again.'"

That is a sentiment I feel deep in my heart.

But underneath that, I'm a writer who doesn't need an audience. Confession; part of why I write is because I actually enjoy reading what I write. Do you do that? I'll look through some books and begin reading some and decide one or more is boring; I'll be thirsting for some exciting words, and the quickest way to stumble across some, for me, is to write them. I won't say I write for me; I don't, specifically, but if everybody in the world were gone, yes, I'd write for myself. And I'd be writing for anybody who might come along in the future.

As I said somewhere else, I may not ever be rich or famous, but I can tell you by one early sign who will make it as a writer (this is not to suggest that absent this sign, a writer fails; it's just saying that when this sign is present, that writer can't fail): the writer who sits down to write and whose pulse begins racing and the feeling of at least brief elation washes over them when they realize how fun and engaging it will be to tell this part of this story; when they won't go to sleep or are late for work or don't hear the TV in the background because they are zoned-in, locked-on, and firing away at the keyboard to produce word greatness (let's not get carried away; don't need eyes rolling back in the head... don't need wetting yourself), that writer, provided they aren't just going through a "phase" and can get that feeling year after year, time after time, they are going to make it if they choose to try in writing. I'd bet a big, fat boat on it.

What I actually like about myself (and there's little that I bother liking about myself; mine is a gaze outward) is that no matter how far I rise up any ranks, I'm you. My focus is the common man and woman. Because common is where I came from and common is where I'm returning to; common is a place I never have left. I will know, no matter how much buzz surrounds my work or me that I'm nothing. I'm just one more guy. We humans have a very specific and, when examined, odd string of things that gathers for us positive public attention. I don't strive for that. So, when and if I get it, I will hand it away... I would gladly miss an interview on Oprah to give books away in a kid's cancer hospital. I would look at snooty, famous people (while among their ranks, on camera) and say things like, "Get real, goofball. You're no better (and I hope, no worse) than anybody else."

So, as I said, I have few things to like about myself but I think one of my faves is my refusal to let any success elevate me above the people I came from, live among, and will return to. I'm also fond of my general passion when I like something (hockey, writing, fighting for those unable to defend themselves, despising racists and sexists) and my character that would make me take a bullet for any other human.

The rest? Marginal, or worse. At least those things I hate about myself are unofficially goals/projects that I aim to correct. What about you?

Monday, February 14, 2011

NOTHING is as powerful as people believing in other people

There are two people, in particular, that believe in me as a writer more than any others.  They aren't family; they are both very intelligent, and they show their faith in my writing with deeds, not just words of praise.

For the purposes of this article, I have to dip back real quick; look back about 8 blog entries where I told you that my high school English teacher told me she would be reading one of my books one day (only to later say, "I don't remember saying that," which, to me, is saying, "You can write?  Really?"  I was so deflated).  By the time I found out that she didn't even remember saying it, I had already completed my first novel and been published and paid as a feature and sports writer with the North Pole Independent Newspaper and even interviewed Olympic gold and silver medalist Tommy Moe.  THAT was the power of what she said to me that night (all of this was not only during military service, but I was also coaching a little league football team at the same time I started writing for the paper).

The fact is, she did say that on my graduation night.  She said, "Kevin, I'll be reading one of your books someday."  And the fact is, it did make me go forward, swinging my word-chete through the thick vines of the jungle of published words.  She, one person, made me believe I could do it, and I did do it.  So, even though she had forgotten, and essentially, with forgetting, withdrawn her vote of confidence, her initial words were a bridge for me; thing is, by the time she yanked that bridge away (unintentionally, I'm sure) I had already made my way to the other side.

When I started in college two years after the deflation and declared my majors, I showed my academic advisor my story.  He called me to come to his house with he and his wife; he was pumped.  Loved it!  Another believer.  But I was tired.

I had already been accepted by a literary agency (Thornton Literary Agency) where, at first, my novel was rejected, but upon re-write, it was accepted under the condition that I participate in their writer's workshop(s) which was fine with me.  The book was scheduled to be released under the Electric Umbrella or some such thing, right around 1998.  But nothing happened.   Unless I'm mistaken, Thornton went on a hiatus or straight out of business.

Deflated.  Again.

Spent the next 13 years working on computers and copiers.  Didn't see writing happening.  Yet, all the signs were there.  I would go over to and instead of reviewing products (which actually earned you money) I would be writing in the Writer's Corner section, fiction, which paid nothing.  When I was done, although I had written a few genuine product reviews, I was heavy about 130 pieces of literature that I had created.

So, without getting too far into my personal life, I'll say that this past summer, I was in a position to take another shot at doing the whole novel thing.  I had labored in my head for years over my first novel, and it felt like a brick wall.  So, I wrote a fresh one, Name of Alt, and haven't taken a breath since, with my third book to be released next week or the week after (already released on Kindle/Nook platforms).

But how did I do it this time?  What was different?

Well, one thing was experience, both writing and living experience and in publishing.  I'm older.  Seen more stuff, done more stuff, learned more stuff.  Another thing was taking the fresh angle and really committing to the first novel.  The biggest thing, though, was a friend.  She said she knew I had talent and that I should go for it.  I shrugged that off.  I had heard compliments before, in passing, but people had other things to do besides stroke this writer's ego.  They were living life; tough lives.  But she kept at it, telling me I needed to keep writing.  She was proofreading for me.  She was doing critiques for me.  She was advising.  Then, recently, she came out of the blue with some financial support for promotional items.

She not only believed in me, but she absolutely refused to let me kick my momentum over into a ditch while I went back to a life of dead ends; work that was all wrong for me--a life that I was not meant to live, because I was born to write.  You that write; you know that feeling, don't you?  It's just not negotiable.  Needless to say, my first book is dedicated to her alone.  And since then, I have another friend who has jumped on with equal enthusiasm and help with the administrative stuff and moral support and promotions.

These two people genuinely believed, and do believe.

That's why I'm doing this.  There is no other reason; my need, my desire, my thirst, my nature to be a writer in this lifetime, for my time on this world, was going to fail and go unquenched.  Too much competition.  No audience.  Bills.  Procrastination.  I would have failed, floundering around in other work, unhappy, but for them.

Thank you, Jo and Tanya.  I don't care how many gazillions of bucks I make, I could never do enough to feel like I paid you back, because you kicked me in the ass and kept my focus on the trophy.  Without you two (and my resulting fans), I was and am nothing.  Thank you, very much.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Take on John Gardner

Just wanted to recommend pretty much anything by John Gardner. I read one of his stories directed at "young" fiction writers which (and the Boston Globe agreed with me) was attractive as an adult aid, too. Right now, I'm reading his book On Becoming a Novelist and I've read a half million books about this business and to be honest, John Gardner, Donald Maass (literary agent, gives the nitty gritty) and John DuFresne (The Lie that Tells a Truth) are solid gold.

Suffice it to say that I haven't read everything those three authors have written, but I've read enough to make the leap to say this; I'd trust anything they put out as useful and absolutely necessary to the aspiring fiction writer and/or novelist.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I was doing some reading yesterday and today. I won't mention any names, and why bother? Assholes live all around the world. Consider it a general piece.

Some people just aren't happy. You can tell them, sometimes, by the way they treat others most of the time. Show me a person who seems to criticize other people at least as much as he does anything else, and I can just about assure you one of two (or a combo) things is happening. 1. They are trying to reduce others to produce lift in their self-worth (as perceived by others, themselves, or both) or 2. They just aren't happy and don't want anybody else to be, and as a result, they don't want anybody else to succeed.

There's nothing you can do about those people, really, except avoid them as much as possible.

Little story. Two years ago at my mom's 70th bday party, one of my sisters and I made a pact. Not sure why we did it then, but we did; we decided that we absolutely must try to peacefully push negative people out of our lives and block new negative ones from getting in. Negativity is like a contagious cancer. It just spreads. It's ugly.

I'm not a person of extremes, either. After all, what if a friend is complaining and needs a shoulder? That's negative. Do you abandon them? Of course not. I'm talking about people who just sit there like a steaming crab, bubbling at the mouth in their own poison, waiting for the next target to spit it on. Get them out of your life, and I swear it, you will not only feel a lot of weight come off of your shoulders, but you'll begin to see, maybe for the first time ever, that happiness is attainable.

It really is, even if you have things to do/feel every day that are dreadful, you can take those in stride far easier if you don't have the poison-people wiping their ugliness on you. Try it. It could be somebody close; a parent even. If it is, just gradually talk to them less, telling them (if you want to be overt) that you are trying to keep a positive outlook on an already difficult life and it helps you to avoid hearing negative things about other people and about the world (I'm not talking about ignoring the news or going into denial; I'm talking about avoiding people who always have something negative to say about other people, places, or things).

If you're not happy, this "launch" can make you happy. If you are already happy, this "launch" can make you extremely happy. Give them a chance if you want; tell those negative people that part of your new outlook on life is trying to keep negative "statements," (therefore not indicting them) out of your life so you're really trying to surround yourself with more neutral or, gawd forbid, positive people.

If you trust anything I ever say--only one thing, ever--please trust me on this. Get the poison-people out. :)


Name of Alt is now in paperback!


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Newest Book Released: The Lost Dialogues of Table 18

The plot thickens :)

This book is based on actual conversations between myself and a "pirate."

When I sat down with this pirate to talk, I was not prepared for were he would take me. Or where I would take him, in return.

There could be a booger industry. There is reason and meaning to life. Sand is a terrible thing. Hah Vahd graduates should be tortured. This is where fun meets logic and philosophy for some belly-bouncing laughs.