Why Can't A Woman Write The Great American Novel?

This book review, by Laura Miller, was originally posted on Salon.com today.

Every few years, someone counts up the titles covered in the New York Times Book Review and the short fiction published in the New Yorker, as well as the bylines and literary works reviewed in such highbrow journals as Harper’s and the New York Review of Books, and observes that the male names outnumber the female by about 2 to 1. This situation is lamentable, as everyone but a handful of embittered cranks seems to agree, but it’s not clear that anyone ever does anything about it. The bestseller lists, though less intellectually exalted, tend to break down more evenly along gender lines; between J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer alone, the distaff side is more than holding its own in terms of revenue. But when it comes to respect, are women writers getting short shrift?

The question is horribly fraught, and has been since the 1970s. Ten years ago, in a much-argued-about essay for Harper’s, the novelist and critic Francine Prose accused the literary establishment — dispensers of prestigious prizes and reviews — of continuing to read women’s fiction with "the usual prejudices and preconceptions," even if most of them have learned not to admit as much publicly. Two years before that, Jane Smiley, also writing in Harper’s, alleged that "Huckleberry Finn" is overvalued as a cultural monument while "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" is undervalued, largely because of the genders of the novels’ respective authors; the claim triggered a deluge of letters in protest. Alongside the idea that women writers have been unjustly neglected, there has blossomed the suspicion that some of them have recently become unduly celebrated — an aesthetic variation on the conservative shibboleth of affirmative action run amok.

Onto this mine-studded terrain and with impressive aplomb, strides Elaine Showalter, literary scholar and professor emerita at Princeton. Showalter has fought in the trenches of this particular war for over 30 years, beginning with her groundbreaking 1978 study, "A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists From Brontë to Lessing," and culminating in her monumental new book, "A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers From Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx." Billed as "the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000," "A Jury of Her Peers" has to negotiate the treacherous battlefield between the still-widespread, if fustian insistence on reverence for Great Writers and the pixelated theorizing of poststructuralists hellbent on overturning the very notion of "greatness."

Showalter is certainly the woman for the job. One of the founders of feminist literary criticism, she has also written about television for People magazine and confessed her penchant for fashion in Vogue. Unquestionably erudite, she has always striven to communicate with nonacademic readers, and her prose is clear, cogent and frequently clever. She has insisted that themes central to women’s lives — marriage, motherhood, the tension between family and individual aspirations — constitute subject matter as "serious" and significant as traditionally masculine motifs like war and travel. Yet she rejects the preference of many feminist literary scholars for emphasizing "culture importance rather than aesthetic distinction," and she doesn’t hesitate to describe some of the writers discussed in "A Jury of Her Peers" as artistically limited, if historically interesting.

Read the rest of this article at Salon.

When To Schedule Bookstore Events (And When Not To)

This piece, by Yen, was originally posted today on The Book Publicity Blog.  While it’s geared toward mainstream authors and publicists, indies can benefit from this advice as well.

Friday night I was chatting with a novelist friend who said she was a little surprised her publisher wasn’t sending her on a book tour, given that her last four books have sold well (and that she had offered to pay her own way).  Admittedly, bookstore events have seen better days.  Still, it surprised me when my friend mentioned her publicist had refused to schedule a New York event for her.  (She’s a native New Yorker, who — four bestselling books ago — managed to pack The Corner Bookstore to within an inch of the fire marshal being called.)

Very mysterious.  Something wasn’t adding up.  Although we aren’t the same readers who catapulted Jacqueline Susan’s Valley of the Dolls to bestsellerdom as she road tripped across the country 40 years ago, a popular author speaking in her hometown is, well, a pretty safe bet.  (Or at least, as safe as they come.)

 This got me thinking about why bookstore events should and shouldn’t be scheduled.  For the benefit of authors and book publicists, I’m listing some issues to consider while planning an author’s schedule.  (Thanks to the tweeps who already contributed to this post and readers please feel free to add your own ideas in the Comments section — or by emailing me — and I will try to update the post.)  Also, do share the list with all and sundry if you think it will be useful.

 

Why you should not schedule a bookstore event:

Topic: Some books, often of the self-help variety (finance, parenting, self-help, some cooking and humor) simply don’t lend themselves to bookstore talks.  It doesn’t mean readers won’t buy these books — and it doesn’t mean talks won’t work in other settings — but are 50 people really going to pop into Barnes & Noble to listen to what types of nonallergenic foods they should be feeding their babies?

Timing: With a handful of exceptions, bookstores like to hold events within about a month of the book’s publication.  Stores typically schedule events between two and six months in advance of the event / publication date in order to have time to adequately promote their events.  This means that suggesting events two weeks before a book’s publication date will not elicit a favorable response.  From anyone. 

– Hidden Costs: As The Bookish Dilettante’s Kat Meyer points out, even if an author pays his / her own way, events take time to set up and money to promote.  Event coordinators often work odd hours and typically aren’t planted in front of their computers when they are in the store.  They’re also juggling dozens of events and publicists and dates.  Case in point — I first got in touch with one events coordinator in December about an April event.  Between my trying to sort out the author’s availability and her trying to sort out the store’s availability, we only just finalized a date — two months and numerous email messages later.  Then, once an event has been scheduled, the store must then invest time and money in promoting the it.  This just isn’t a process that can be ironed out with one phone call.

 

Why you should schedule a bookstore event:

The author is local.  Many bookstores try their best to support local authors.  Plus, they know they can count on the support of the authors friends and family members.  (Fortunately for authors and bookstores, although these are the people who probably could wrangle free books from authors, they often end up buying books to support the author.)

The author has a good track record.  Often, the best predictor of how an event will go is how the last (somewhat recent) event turned out.  This is one of those situations in which no track record won’t hurt an author (there are plenty of first-time authors who draw healthy crowds to bookstore events and plenty of stores willing to schedule events with these authors), but a good track can really help. 

First editionsBooks on the Nightstand’s Ann Kingman reminds us that some stores host first edition book clubs, whose selections can be dependent on an author coming to speak and sign books.   Also, for certain types of (mostly) genre hardcover books — mystery, science fiction, romance, etc. — but some others as well, signed first editions go over really well with readers whether or not the books are selected for book clubs.

The store requests an event.  For logistical and financial reasons, publishing houses can’t schedule events at every single store that requests an author.  (And certainly, successful events have been held at stores that did not request authors.)  But when a store expresses interest in an author, it can be a sign they’ll try their darnedest to get a crowd and sell that book.  Michele Filgate of Reading is Breathing (and events coordinator at the Portsmouth, NH RiverRun Bookstore) says events are critical for independent bookstores who are trying to be/become community — as well as reader — destinations.  (Not that events aren’t important for the chain stores too.)  Plus, an added benefit, courtesy of Teleread’s David Rothman: hand selling.  Author appearances keep books at the forefront of employees’ minds (and at the top of their recommendation lists).

An investment in the future: Published & Profitable’s Roger C. Parker notes that events can teach authors what questions readers will ask and what topics they’re most interested in.  For authors who have more than one book in the pipeline, events can be a good way to build a following.

***

What are your pros and cons?  Have you ever scheduled a bookstore event when you didn’t feel it was appropriate?  (Or vice versa?)

You can find many more articles on topics related to book publicity on The Book Publicity Blog.

From Little Ventures Small Wonders Emerge

This piece was originally posted on The Age on 1/24/09.

If you want to publish stylish and unique books, you don’t have to be a big concern, writes Simon Caterson.

IF SMALL is beautiful, as the economist E. F. Schumacher asserted, then Melbourne may boast of having a micro-publishing scene that is very attractive. Dozens of tiny publishers are producing everything from handmade recipe books, fiction and poetry to popular non-fiction and even book-like objects that defy classification.

According to the publishers, the diversity and eclecticism are just the points. Micro-publishing, they say, is all about the freedom to publish anything you want, whenever you want, in any form you like. There are as many different approaches to micro-publishing as there are publishers themselves, though the freedom gained via low overheads and small print runs does not exclude the possibility of producing books that appeal to a wide range of readers.

At the more entrepreneurial end of the micro-publishing spectrum is Arcade Publications, which has identified a gap in the market for short, inexpensive, carefully designed books covering aspects of Melbourne’s hitherto unexplored history.

Arcade made its publishing debut in 2007 with Lisa Lang’s pocket-sized biography of eccentric millionaire and philanthropist E. W. Cole and its next book, due in March, is about the equally colourful figure of Madame Brussels, the notorious brothel-keeper who accommodated the rich and powerful during the era of Marvellous Melbourne.

Arcade’s Rose Michael says that "the whole enterprise is a very close-knit ‘familial’ affair", which means that publishing decisions can be made quickly and that each person involved has a say in all aspects of the publishing process.

"Having worked in larger companies, you have so many decisions made by committee, and things are owned by so many different areas. In micro-publishing, you are able to just kind of do stuff around an island bench."

For Michael and her business partners, Dale Campisi and Michael Brady, publishing is just one aspect of the firm’s expanding operations. Arcade also produces walking tours with Hidden Secrets Tours, including the popular Melbourne by the Book walking tour of literary Melbourne.

Campisi regards literary events and communication as complementing one another. "We all love a good event, and the purpose of our public activities is mostly about creating community around our publishing output. Storytelling is not a solitary activity."

 

Read the second half of the article here.

The Problem With Self-Publishing

by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

[A version of this article originally appeared on loudpoet.com]

 

Unless you’re a traditional publisher with a vested interest in the status quo, or an insecure writer who puts a lot of stock in the name of one’s publisher, there’s really nothing wrong with self-publishing that’s not a problem for the publishing industry in general:

  • Too many mediocre books being published? Check!
  • Minimal marketing support for the vast majority of books being published? Check!
  • Too much up-front money being put towards vanity projects? Check!
  • Lackluster editing and/or pedestrian design? Check!
  • Huge, out-of-control egos in need of a reality check? Checkity check check!

Except for Marvel and DC Comics, very few publishers have the kind of brand recognition that can influence sales at the retail level. Their strength is primarily on the backend, their ability to get books onto bookstore shelves and into influential critics’ hands. Ask 100 people in a bookstore who publishes Stephen King, or Stephenie Meyer, or the “For Dummies” series, though, and you’ll likely get a blank stare and a shrug from 75% of them.

Most people would say their decision to read a book comes from some combination of three criteria: personal interest in topic/genre, recommendations, and sampling.

Only the latter point is really influenced by a traditional publisher, as theirs are the books most likely to be on a bookshelf available to browse and sample, but between Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, free samples via the Kindle and iPhone, and smartly designed and optimized author (or publisher) websites, even that isn’t an obstacle for any book, self-published or not, that hits someone’s radar via the other two, significantly more important criteria. In fact, the ability to sample a book digitally opens it up to a much wider audience than having 1-2 copies in a bookstore, buried in alphabetical order between a bunch of similarly unknown authors’ names and unimaginative titles.

Distribution and visibility aside, the most commonly noted “problem” with self-publishing, of course, is that self-published books mostly suck and there’s so many of them being cranked out every year that finding a good one is a near impossible and not terribly worthwhile task. While literally true, it ignores the larger reality that taking a stroll through any Barnes & Noble or Borders in search of a good book can be a similarly frustrating and unfruitful undertaking.

The fact of the matter is that writing a book is hard; writing an objectively good book is even harder; and writing one that can survive the subjective tastes of influential critics, well, that’s practically impossible.

Just ask Stephenie Meyer, best-selling author of the Twilight series, who got ripped by Stephen King in USA Today a while back: “The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”  I’ve never read any Potter or Twilight novels, but King’s criticism of Meyer’s writing is one I’ve seen made many times, in a variety of places, of both of them.

It’s true that the vast majority of self-published books are vanity projects, most by authors who never bothered to attempt to go the traditional route because their primary goal was getting the finished product into their own hands, not the “validation” and “legitimization” so many tend to associate with a traditional publisher. As a result, the closest they’ve come to being edited is a cursory reading by a couple of friends or family members followed by compliments and encouragement to pursue their dreams. It’s like a poetry slam where 10s are mandatory; most of it is self-indulgent dreck with a narrowly defined audience of one.

Less typical, but often lumped in the same category, is the wannabe author whose work probably wouldn’t get past the critical eye of an editor or agent without a revision or three, and goes the self-publishing route of out of frustration (or pride), usually in hopes of landing a copy on an influential someone’s desk to become the next one-in-a-million success story who nails a lucrative publishing deal after proving their worth. While this certainly does happen, it’s rare because of the stereotypical stigma that still defines self-publishing for those on the inside of the industry.

Finally, and for whom Publetariat was primarily created for, is the ambitious author who understands that, no matter who their publisher is, they’re going to have to bust their ass to market their book and hand-sell it to as many people as possible, one copy at a time, in person and online. These are most often non-fiction writers with a niche expertise and poets — and to a lesser degree, REALLY ambitious comic book creators and fiction writers — who have the ability, innate or developed, to perform in front of a crowd of tens or hundreds (or online, millions), able to schmooze just as comfortably on a one-on-one level as on Twitter.

These savvy authors tend to have built a platform for themselves over time — something almost every traditional publisher pretty much requires these days — and know how to use it, attracting a loyal tribe and continually nurturing it.

For these entrepeneurial authors, there aren’t any problems with self-publishing at all, as they stand to reap significantly greater rewards for their greater effort. If anything, it’s traditional publishing that has the problem, with expectations for the same level of author effort in return for minimal marketing support and a much smaller cut of the sales of each book.

For these authors, self-publishing is ultimately a question of independence, and for them, Publetariat is a community where that independence is encouraged and honored, while also serving as a much-needed support system.

Nope, no problems here!


Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Spindle Magazine. He’s won some poetry slams, founded a reading series, co-authored a book of poetry, and still writes when the mood hits him and he has the time. Follow him on Twitter: @glecharles

Shout Out From Canada

Hello from the still mostly frozen north!

 

I’ve long been a firm believer in the successful future of indie publishing, and as a writer on the verge of taking the leap, this certainly seems to be the place for me.

 

Now, off to read and learn.

Vive le self-publishing!

 

Another day at the keys.

   After finishing a project to the point of publishing a new book, I find myself sitting at the keys of my computer staring at a blank screen.  My adrenalin in high and I have a hard time sitting still.  It is my time to write and write I will even if it kills me.

   Story after story pushes to the fore front of my thoughts and begs for release. There are so many words that want out of my head it is hard to choose which ones to type.  Some times I think it would be easier if I had writers block.

   To calm my self, I pull up the published manuscript and find the minor mistakes that slipped through the editing cracks.  "OMG," I think, "how can I let anyone see this."  I want to hide in a closet with embarassment.

   Then I push myself up to the computer and let the emotional turmoil roll out of my fingures.  Somehow it turns into words.  Sometimes it is good and sometimes not, but I have taken my turn at the keys and met my goal of typing for the day.

   Day after day I will do this until one day I find the story to focus on.  Soon the production begins and I find myself anticipating the publication of another book.

   I promise myself, "soon I will find that groove." Until then, "It’s just another day at the keys."

Sondi

 

The POD Pocket Guide to Marketing & Selling Your Book on Amazon

Have you written a book? Self-published it? Need to know what to do next? It’s time to market and sell your book! But where do you start?

 

In today’s growing technological society, the internet is the best place to start promoting yourself as an author. You can write a book, publish a book, and market it all on the World Wide Web. But again, where do you start?

 

Amazon.com is the world’s largest online bookseller today, but at times, it can be quite overwhelming. There are lots of pages of books with lots of links to take you to lots of different places. But you only have to start with one page…your book’s page.

 

Everything you need to successfully market and sell your book is right there on your book’s own product page. And everything you need to know to get started is in this book! The Deluxe POD Pocket Guide to Marketing & Selling Your Book on Amazon now includes The POD Diary, the candid story of one self-published author’s journey in the world of POD.

 

Just want the goods, and not the diary? No worries.  There’s a condensed version also available.

Also downloadable to your Kindle here!

Or in any E-format at Smashwords!

Book Review: ‘How NOT To Write A Novel’, by S. Newman & H. Mittelmark

I am not currently writing fiction, so this book was more for pleasure reading than related to my own writing.  Still, I had to write about it as it is truly a must-read for every writer.

How Not To Write A NovelHere are my comments on How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide

  • The premise of the book is that authors/editors/publishers would never agree on what makes a great book, so this is a list of what makes a terrible book. Basically, how to ensure your book never sees the light of day.  

 

  • The book is a series of little examples of bad writing with a following explanation of what to fix. Each is named something appropriate e.g. Linearity Shrugged: In which the author assembles the novel in no particular order. 
  • It was laugh out loud funny – and I am not someone who usually guffaws on the morning commuter train! Some of the bad writing is truly terrible, and more amusing when you can recognise some of your own in it somewhere! The skill with which they have constructed the shocking pieces is evident! 
  • Brilliant bad sex scenes, and excellent extras on How Not To Sell Your Novel as well 
     

After reading this book, I actually felt as if I could have a go at fiction writing and then use this book as a checklist to make sure I had not made any of the mistakes they outline. 

Definitely buy this book if you are a writer (or want to be!) 

 

Available at Amazon etc How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide

 

Here is a list of other recommended books for writing, publishing and internet marketing.

Stealing Wishes now available at Smashwords

I came across a website called Smashwords this week (which is actually responsible for leading me here to Publetariat…Thanks, Mark!).  For those who may not know, Smashwords is a new Ebook Estore that was just launched last May.  It’s an excellent opportunity for indie authors to upload their work at no cost and instantly have it available to readers in a multitude of formats.  You also set your own price and get to collect 85% of the royalties.

I uploaded my most recent book, Stealing Wishes, and I have to say I’m well pleased.  I’m selling it there for just $3.99.  That’s almost $1.50 cheaper than buying it for your Kindle direct from Amazon.  My book’s page also allowed me to include tags to help find the book, links to websites where readers can buy hard copies, and my book trailer. 

Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, has a great thing going on and you should definitely check it out!  With the Ebook craze quickly catching on, a site like Smashwords puts indie authors ahead of the game!

Best wishes,

Shannon Yarbrough

www.shannonyarbrough.com

www.smashwords.com/books/view/766

Book Video

I finished a new video for the Monster Love Book.

You can check it out here:

The Monster Love Book

Mother Ghoul’s Curses and Rhymes Video:

Mother Ghoul’s Curses and Rhymes

The Night Before Halloween Video:

The Night Before Halloween

Enjoy!

I dare you.

Sondi

How To Be Successful

This article, by Michael R. Hicks, originally appeared on his site, KreelanWarrior.com.
 

I apologize for the rather sensational title of this post, but I got to thinking the other day about my own struggles to get where I am now and thought that it might help someone with their own life journey.

 

I’m sure you know that you can drop a fortune at Amazon or anywhere else on books and other stuff to help you learn how to “be successful.” I’m not saying that stuff doesn’t work – it very well may – but I’ve never responded well to that sort of thing. I mean, let’s face it: how many of us confess to ourselves that we’re not successful? On top of that, how many of us really have a clue about what being successful means for us as individuals?

 

The key, my friend, is in goals. Let me give you an example from my efforts as an aspiring (starving) author:

 

Back in 1991, for various reasons best left unsaid, I decided to do something rash: to write a novel. I had set myself an extremely challenging goal – in part, I must confess, because to that point I felt I’d achieved very little in many ways – although I never really considered it as such. I spent the next four years (part-time) writing In Her Name, then probably another six months editing and revising it. I didn’t really praise myself at that point like I should have – hey, you deserve to pat yourself on the back if you do something like that! – but I did manage to finish it. But that’s where my goal-setting – and success – ended: I shopped it around to a number of publishers at that point, and got the customary rejection notices. But there were other things going on in my life at the time, and without a firm goal I just shoved it aside for about a dozen years.

 

Then the Amazon Kindle came out, and I finally decided to give publishing In Her Name another go, this time on my own. But this time, I set a conscious, stated goal. If you don’t have any goals set, you have no way of measuring your success; you have no benchmark. And believe me, I am not a big goal-setter! This was totally alien to my way of thinking. I normally just bumble along in life, but publishing a book – being an author – was a dream I’d had since at least high school. Hell, I’d written the book already – that part was done! All I had to do was get it out there where somebody might trip over it and maybe even buy it.

 

So, with that firm goal in mind, I did all the stuff necessary to put it out in the Amazon Kindle store and Mobipocket (and later into print), and it started pulling in some sales. It was exciting: people were buying my book! But then I started to notice that I was checking the sales figures all the time, and would really get bummed when there were dry spells. When the first reader review was posted on Amazon, it really made the week for me. And then more reviews were posted – all of them four and five stars (so far) – and I got psyched. But I would still get into this funk about where it all was going. Would the book be a success? Would I be a success as an author?

 

That’s when I had a bit of an epiphany: what exactly did it mean – to me – to be a successful author? How was I going to really measure that? What was my goal now that I had published a book?

 

I think all authors have the same dreams: wind up on the NY Times bestseller list, have your book appear on Oprah, have it made into a blockbuster movie, make a bazillion bucks, and so on. I certainly have those dreams, but after I thought about it a while, I came to the startling conclusion that the best indicator of my success as an author was that people enjoyed reading what I’d written. And I don’t mean just members of my family who wanted to humor me, but people I didn’t know, who didn’t know me, but who checked out the blurb on my book and liked it enough to plunk down their money to buy it, then came back and spent their precious time writing a review of it. Will I sell a bazillion copies and chalk up some of those dreams I mentioned to you? The statistics are against me, but I don’t really care now, because in writing that book I’ve actually achieved three major goals – successes – in my life:

 

  • Writing In Her Name in the first place. And it’s actually three novels in one, so technically I should give myself triple credit!
  • Getting the book published. This was a particular achievement because, taking the self-publishing route, I had to do every bit of it myself, from cover art to promotion.
  • Learning that I’d written a story that people enjoyed. This was, by far, the most rewarding of the three things I’d achieved in writing this book. The money from sales is always welcome – and Oprah, I’ll be happy to be on your show, anytime! – but the inner satisfaction I get at hearing what people have to say about In Her Name is a very precious reward.

 

Anyway, while this example was about a guy (me) writing and publishing a book, the underlying key is the same for anything: you have to make goals for yourself, both to help guide your life and give you some feedback on how the heck you’re doing. And then you have to focus on them and follow through. If you find that every day you’re just doing the same old crap and don’t seem to be going anywhere, it’s because you haven’t set any goals! You’re not working toward anything, so your just spinning on the ol’ hamster wheel. Yes, you don’t want to aim the bar too high: just aim for something you think you could do, then work to achieve it!

 

And forget about excuses (particularly that you don’t have time): part of giving yourself the gift of success is prioritizing and making some changes in your life. Just as an example, if you’re really out of shape, set yourself a goal of run/walking a 5K race this year (that was the goal my wife and I set for ourselves fitness-wise last year). That’s three miles, and there are tons of places that hold 5K events. Even if you’re a total couch potato, if you started now you could at least walk three miles by mid spring – think of how good it would feel to cross that finish line, even just walking! So, instead of sitting on your widening rear end and watching TV for that sixth hour of the evening, why don’t you take the first hour of TV time and just go for a walk? Take the entire family!

 

Another example (and this is dedicated to a good friend of mine): if you’re stuck in a job that you hate, look around for other opportunities. Even in this crappy economy right now, opportunites can be found. But only if you look! Maybe you’ll find something soon, maybe it’ll take a while. But if you set that goal you’ll have a benchmark to measure your success. There are times when my own job drives me nuts, but all in all it’s great. And I firmly believe that people shouldn’t have to work at jobs they hate: you spend a third (or more) of your life at work. Even if you don’t really enjoy your job, it shouldn’t totally suck.

 

So, think about that and see if it helps you. Think about some things you’d like to accomplish in your life, then – as Chalene Johnson says – write them down. Tape them up on the refrigerator if you need to, then work toward them. Every day. If I can find success in my life, with as much of a bumble as I normally am, you can, too!

 

Please visit KreelanWarrior.com for many more posts on the subjects of self-publishing and Kindle formatting and conversion.

Good Ideas vs. Bad Ideas

This post, by author and screenwriter Marshall Thornton, originally appeared on his blog on 2/7/09.

 

I’ve come to believe that there are no such thing as bad ideas. Yes, Tom Green did make a movie called Freddy Got Fingered and that was a bad idea. But, Tom Green in himself is not necessarily a bad idea. Nor is a story of a young man who falsely accuses his father of sexually molesting his younger brother a bad idea. It’s only by putting them together that you come up with something that didn’t make a lot of sense.

 

And that’s the thing that writers have to remember. Your ideas need to belong together. You can’t just string a bunch of good ideas together and expect the whole thing to be great.

 

Each idea, each part of your story, has to have an organic and, hopefully, thematic connection to the rest. By organic I mean that the ideas have to arise out of your main character – they have to be things he or she would actually do. If your main character is an unrepentant liar, they can tell the truth – at the very end of your story. They can’t lie one minute and tell the truth the next. Even if it seems like a good idea on a scene by scene basis.

 

The same goes for theme. Your theme can’t be, say, the elusive nature of truth at one point and then abruptly shift over to the damage dishonesty does to relationships. Keeping your theme on track is particularly difficult in longer forms, like a novel. But when it comes to theme it is important to stick to one idea.

Read more of Marshall’s blog posts, and learn more about his work as an author and screenwriter, here.

Interview with Indie Author Norman Savage

Just a few short months ago, Greenwich Village author Norman Savage was on the verge of earning a book deal with a large New York publisher for his memoir, Junk Sick: Confessions of an Uncontrolled Diabetic.

Then in October, the market crashed, consumer spending seized, and the publishing industry was suddenly less willing to take risks on unproven authors.  The deal disappeared.

It’s a story we’ll likely see played out over and over again as talented authors learn they no longer have a home in the highest caste of authordom.

Norman Savage is an author who deserves to be published.  His storytelling is vivid, raw and unforgettable.  In Junk Sick, he chronicles a life of addiction, diabetes and hard living that at age 62 has left him with deteriorating health, the scars of quadruple bypass surgery and four amputated toes.

But Savage doesn’t want our sympathy.  No, he wants something else.

I’m proud to present an interview with Norman Savage, who last week published Junk Sick on Smashwords.   In our interview, Savage spoke openly about a life lived teetering on the edge of euphoria and oblivion.

Warning:  This interview contains mature language and subject matter not suitable for children.

[Mark Coker] – Describe your new book, Junk Sick: Confessions of an Uncontrolled Diabetic.

[Norman Savage]   –  Junk Sick is my attempt to bring all that was fractured in my life–family, diabetes, drug addiction, alcoholism, women, jobs, madness, mayhem, ecstasy and suicide ramblings–into a coherent and readable whole.  It tries to explain how and why I married two different conditions–diabetes and addiction–into one unitary structure, me.   Both acts–the taking of insulin and the injecting of dope or the drinking of booze–implies intent and desperation, each of them uses a syringe to bridge one world into another and all the substances are short-acting.

[Mark Coker] – How long did it take you to write the book?

[Norman Savage]   –  About 20 years, though I’ve been writing most of my life.  I began publishing my poetry in little mags and presses in the 1960’s.  In fact, Susan Graham Mingus, the wife of the late bassist Charles Mingus, first published me and had Andy Warhol take the pictures for the spread.  The first draft of <span style="font-style: italic;">Junk Sick</span> was written circa 1985 and then from a kind of cowardice brokered by booze and dope it was shelved.  From time to time, I would re-engage and edit it, but not until Thanksgiving of 2007 did I really begin to edit and update it.

[Mark Coker] – When you first contacted me, you had just lost out on a potential book deal for Junk Sick with Farrar, Straus &amp; Giroux.  What happened?

[Norman Savage]   –  In 2007, I was invited to the Thanksgiving dinner of an old friend who I’d met almost thirty years earlier at a bar where I worked.  I’d always declined previous invitations because I’m never really comfortable around most people I don’t know and am not much a fan of polite chatter.  I never really know what to say.  But I’d lived a solo life for a long time now at that point and thought I needed the company and a home-cooked meal.  Joanie was, and is, a terrific cook.

It also was a kind of challenge to myself to see if I still had the "chops" to engage the human race in social situations.  She, too, had become a bartender in a pretty famous saloon in the West Village and so I thought there’d be other barflies as well, which made it easier to rationalize.  As it turned out I met a woman that evening who had been an editor at Doubleday and was most interested in biography and memoir–she helped Brando pen his.  I told her that I, too, wrote, and had written a memoir.  I’m sure she was being polite by offering to read the first chapter of what I’d written and gave me her email address.

Within a week she contacted me and was very enthusiastic about what she’d read.  She wanted to read the entire work and thought that three agents who she knew would also be interested.  After reading the work she called with encouraging news.  She thought that Cynthia Cannell, a very prominent literary agent, once a VP at Janklow Nesbitt and now owner of her own boutique lit agency would be the person to best represent it.

Right after New Year, Cynthia called me.  She, too, thought the work terrific and wanted to meet.  After meeting, she suggested I edit three sections which she would send to senior editors she knew.  Sometime in March one of those editors at FS&amp;G called and said she’d be interested provided I was better able to "marry" the diabetes with addiction.  This to me was wonderful news.  It gave me an opportunity to go back into the work, update it, and use the cutting edge of "new" psychological advances in making sense of what I and every other addict and diabetic experiences on various levels.

I returned the newer version back to her late July, early August.  She read it and liked it.  She told Cynthia that she was giving it to another senior editor and should he like it as well she was moving it up to the marketing and sales division.

Then we didn’t hear.  And didn’t hear.  I felt in my bones there was something wrong.  That "something" began to become clearer as the economy began to unravel.  At the end of October she called Cynthia to tell her that FS&amp;G was not going to go ahead with new writers and unknown material.  A few weeks after that, Cynthia learned that she was let go after many years of service.  Cynthia suggested that I keep working on my new novel and then she’d revisit the "scene" with my work after the new year.  But that didn’t sit well with me.  I began to look for alternatives.

[Mark Coker] – What led you to Smashwords?

[Norman Savage]   –  Serendipity.  I was researching how to serialize my memoir and/or novels online when I came across a forum where some person spoke about your site as a publishing tool.  Curious, I took a look and liked what you had to say about it.  I didn’t decide to actually publish there until I fooled around–for a couple of days–with my own blog.  Deciding that a blog was not the right way for me to go in getting an entire serialized on it, I then contacted you.  I’ve never had much faith in the publishing industry, or industries in general.  Their existence is by and large for one purpose:  to make money.  How that’s done is usually dictated by what they think the marketplace is, or what they can manipulate the marketplace to be.  And that’s usually the lowest common denominator.

We’ve all heard stories of some of our finest artists never seeing the light of day–in their lifetime–because the powers that be didn’t believe that their audience was either ready or could appreciate the work of these people.  At one time, and not that long ago, if a senior editor at a publishing house thought well of your work they could (though it still could be a fight), get it published.  Some of the best publishers and editors could take risks, and they did.

Now, before a major publisher takes a chance on a "new" voice, they have to run it by the sales and marketing department and they try to see whether or not it will sell 25,000 copies or else they usually won’t take a chance on it.  They try to crunch numbers, but usually go by the past in making decisions:  what used to sell.  They can no more discern that than Hollywood can predict what movie we go to see.  Everyone plays it "safe."  It’s like never falling in love because you never want to get out of your own hip pocket.  And the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

We know, of course, that most of the stuff that gets to us is dull, mind-numbing.  Whether it’s in print, on a canvass, film, or music hall.  It’s repetitive shit and, for the most part, having nothing whatsoever to do with our lives as we know them.  In order to get published you now have to go to and come out of "writing workshops"; actors and directors come out of "film schools" or "acting workshops"; painters out of "A Fine Arts" program, etc.  How many writers or actors or painters that are in the public eye today come out of the streets, madhouses, jails?  How many were vagabonds, hobos, trapeze artists, merchant seaman, janitors, dockworkers, street sweepers?  How many talk a living language?

Thoreau once told a young man who wanted to learn river navigation not to go to college, but to get his ass on a ship.  You learn by living.  Drink, have a few bad love affairs, drink again (or shoot some dope), get up at 5 a.m. and go to a job you hate, come home to woman you can’t stand being with, but can’t stand being away from, hit the keys like you’re in a heavyweight fight–because you are–and get up the next morning to do it all over again, and do it for many many years.  Go on welfare, food stamps, grab on a rope tossed over, think it’s going to save you only to find no one on the other end and just go until the living stops.  And it will, soon enough.

I know there is good stuff out there that’s being overlooked by the mainstream boys who will continue to publish safe shit:  diet, gardening, how to, celebrity, and formulaic fiction and non-fiction that fits their idea of what writing is.  It rattles their balls and their hearts when something different comes along.

However, there’s a problem that you face as well:  since this is intended to be the most democratic medium to get stuff up on, how does the reader evaluate all the stuff that floats in this ether world?  How much do we have to wade through to get a kernel of what we’re looking for?  We complain, bitch and moan about critics, but the good ones filter some of the shit and saves us god awful time.  Beside, some of the best fights are between critics; sometimes they’re better than the "art" itself.  Hard to draw the line.

[Mark Coker] – How important is it to you to reach an audience?

[Norman Savage]   –  All writers/artists want an audience.  We’re all "talking" to somebody, even if it’s to ourselves.  Even Emily Dickensen, not the most outgoing of gals, had this one guy who she was hot for.  Her poems were directed toward him.  In a way it’s only to prove that we’re not mad and all this breathing and pain was not a waste of time.

[Mark Coker] – What’s the connection between diabetes and addiction in Junk Sick?

[Norman Savage]   –  I wrote Junk Sick after completing a heroin detox and then, faced with no job prospects, but living with a generous woman who loved me and was paying the rent, decided not to let all that I knew about diabetes and addiction, up until that point, go to waste.  I knew that there was not a book that tackled the diabetes from an emotional perspective (there’s still very little of that today).  I did not want it to be a "how to" book or one that just gives a very clinical definition on how to cope with a chronic illness, psychopathology, or a new diet.

Diabetes implies deprivation, sacrifice.  I was diagnosed at age 11, and for a kid, coming into and going through puberty, that’s a high wire act without a net.  I wanted the book to represent the chaos of growing up in a crazed Jewish family in Coney Island, coming down with a disease that no one was equipped to handle or cope with intelligently and, left to my own devices, how I managed to assuage the feeling of being "damaged."  I thought that other people, diabetic or not, who try to cope with life’s madness, could gain some insight as to what governs them and maybe, in one way or another, get some insight into how they’re feeling and acting.

[Mark Coker] – In Junk Sick you write about how music, literature and art served as salves to calm your "crazy fascistic masochistic impulse of creation."  What do you mean by that?

[Norman Savage]   –  It’s scientifically and psychologically proven that when a person engages the arts–reading, writing, really listening to music or looking at a painting–our minds secrete a certain amount of endogenous opioids–the bodies natural morphine–to soothe the system.  It is not something we’re conscious of, but we do feel the effect.  Why, we must ask, do we engage with those things if we derive no pleasure from them?  We actively seek pleasure in our daily pursuit to avoid pain.  Artists are no different, except that in their art, when it’s going really well, those same hormones are triggered.  Every artist at one time or another got in "the flow" and usually that’s what they mean.  Eugene O’Neill, that quintessential alcoholic expressed it this way, "Writing is a vacation from life."

But this is where it starts to get fucked-up.  You can’t be "in the flow" all the time.  Shit, sometimes the gods are not good, the words don’t come, the paint has no color, the sentences make no sense, the kid is crying, the wife needs to talk, or fuck, the water is stopped up, the landlord is screaming for his rent, the car has a flat, your tooth just broke, your shoelace snapped…

You know that in order to do this shit you need "time" but you never have enough of that–there’s too much shit to do.  So what do you do?  You deny yourself pleasures.  You don’t do things that normal people do all the time:  movies, TV, sex, companionship, food, etc.  Now I’m not saying that you become a fucking monk, no, but that you try to give yourself enough time to try and let whatever art you have from whatever word gods sit on high to get through.  So the artist is a bit "fascistic."

"Masochism" is, in a way, the flip-side of that:  somewhere in your insanity you must enjoy whatever hell you’re putting yourself through.  There has to be some secondary gains.  You do have some kind of hidden agenda that you’re not aware of or copping to.  And, of course, you do remember those times when the work was going good, even though your life was in the shitter.  Those pockets of peace are worth a great deal of madness.

[Mark Coker] – Which authors or artists inspire you?

[Norman Savage]   –  All writers/artists are inspiring if they’re not bullshit artists because even the bad ones you learn from.  You know some of them are pretenders, phonies, fakes, frauds, but they give you some courage and anger to do it your way.  But the few who’ve been where you have get you through some hard days and nights and others, especially at the beginning of your writing allow you to be who you never thought you were allowed to be or are.  They opened up, dynamited, gone over and around, what was or wasn’t there before:  Hubert Selby, Jr, Jones/Baraka, Ginsberg, Eliot, Pound, Miller (Henry), Roth (Philip), Pynchon, Pound, Bukowski, Celine, Purdy, Hamsun, Morrison, Marquez, Crews and others, of course, many others.  And, then, you got around to what the painters and musicians were doing and saw color and rhythm and tried to marry that, too.  It’s style, man.  You create it; you swing to it.  It’s yours and yours alone.  It can’t be copied and it can’t be faked.  You just know it when you see it, hear it, or read it.

[Mark Coker] – What drives you to write?

[Norman Savage]   –  Mostly biology.  It’s not a big thing; it’s much like pissing–when your bladder gets full, you just have to empty it because if you don’t the whole goddamn system implodes.  Toni Morrison said in one of her great novels, "Sula,"  "if a writer doesn’t practice his craft, that craft will eventually turn against  him."  I don’t know if I got the quote exact, but it’s close enough.  It is very difficult for me not to think a certain way, in a certain style, to a certain music.  If I deny that–and I’ve tried to do it, sometimes for many years–I’ve usually wound up fucking myself.

I’m sure it’s a selfish thing, too, bound up in ego and all manner of forces, some of which I know and others I have no idea about.  I suppose, when it comes down to it, it’s about "fucking" as well.  I was always good with the women, but in the short term.  Writing has most of the time satisfied my libidinal urges:  striking hard at the keys, blasting letters onto a white sheet of paper, penetrating a canvas or the airwaves.  And now, as my body betrays me, writing has not, my mind has not.  The gods have certainly been gracious and have given me more than my right share.

[Mark Coker] – You write openly about your various addictions to a laundry list of legal and illegal drugs.  Do you regret or treasure these experiences?

[Norman Savage]   –  "Regret" and "treasure" are two words that are not easily addressed.  Each usually contains some of the other.  It’s like a woman saying she loves you and you are unable to respond, whether you love her or not.  It’s never that cut and dried.  I know that people would like "simple" answers, but for them there will only be hard days and nights.

I "regret" wasting a lot of time tethered to a habit, but then again, I regret wasting a lot of time going into another ridiculous job.  Alcohol and drugs opened up ways for me that were unsuspected, and they led me to other things that I wouldn’t have come across without altering my normal sense of reality.  They helped make sense out of things and provided different ways of seeing and experiencing, not necessarily all good.

But, as I’ve said earlier, there’s a lot to be said for "bad" experiences, too.  They are part of the whole, whatever the "whole" is or becomes.  They have also fucked-up and altered certain relationships, and given others pain, that never did them or myself any good.  But then, again, without them, I might have bitten the bullet before I had a chance to sort some of this out.

When I first started to experiment with drugs, I was lucky enough to be around some people, smarter than me, who used drugs as a tool and they taught me ways to work with various substances.  For me, though, they finally became a way for escape, escape from what was really best in myself and, after losing what control I had, I had no way of returning to my previous state.

But, to answer your question, I do treasure many experiences–from making connections with things when alone and thinking, to experiences with others in the most common situations–and regret the dishonesty, to myself and others, that bordered my own particular cowardice and what fueled it.

[Mark Coker] – How is it that you’re still alive after struggling with diabetes for 50 years and nearly continuous drug addiction for 45 of those years?

[Norman Savage]   –  Luck, brother.  Never underestimate it.  Yes, we work and plan and scheme and pray and think we’re on top of our game, but dumb providence makes the difference in a great many respects.  And fear, don’t forget down home gut-wrenching fear; that will get your attention.  My memoir makes clear just how helpful "luck" and "fear" were and are.

My genes, except for the "diabetic" one (if my disease wasn’t psychosomatically orchestrated), are apparently good.  Also, within my madness and mania, I never missed an insulin shot, ever.  The doctor, who became my friend, and took care of me for a long time, was a past president of The American Diabetic Association, wasn’t judgmental, and always was not only in my corner, but gave me other docs to sort out other ills.

Women were always far better to me than I was to them and kept me going long after I should have "stopped."  I’ve been clean for a couple of years now and stopped on my own.  I kicked junk three years ago by going into a looney bin and then coming out and getting on a public Buphenorphine program, then stopped going there after being clean for a year, and stopped drinking two years ago because I wanted to.

I do not like the word "recovered" or "recovering."  I used to go to a lot of AA meetings and never liked all the hand-holding, sharing and higher power kind of thing, but I did like, and needed, the social lubricant.  But I stopped going at a certain point.  What exactly am I recovering from?  Desire?  How the hell can you recover (and why would you want to?) from "desire?"

People drink or drug because there is an absence inside us, and we "desire" to fill that  absence.  We fill it with drink, drug, sex, others, TV, gambling, eating, working, or praying.  But that kind of desire remains, always.  Usually it’s the misguided desire for the other:  mother or father.  And that "other" is dressed in drag, disguised.  It’s finally false and utterly impossible to reproduce.  But we still search.

I believe, it’s only when you try to come to grips with that that you get on with it and go on.  There was a huge study done by NIAAA comparing what mode of "therapy" worked best for the drug addict/alcoholic.  They compared AA, therapy, and pharmacological interventions.  Each of them were dismally inefficient.  Most people who do stop using alcohol and/or drugs and who were really addicted (not those fakers who go on TV or to meetings wanting to meet people and get laid, published or "networked"), do so by "spontaneous remission."  They just decide one day that they’d had enough and quit.  Quietly.

[Mark Coker] – What’s your day job?  What are some of the other jobs you’ve held over your lifetime?

[Norman Savage]   –  I’d rather not mention my day job.  It’s legit and it’s hard, but it suits my purposes.  Aside from being a bartender from time to time and before I had four toes amputated, I was a non-profit whore.  Whoever wanted me,  I lifted my skirts for.  I taught, wrote grants, counseled kids and adults in alcohol and drug treatment settings, taught nurses and interns about diabetic management and skills (circa, 1984), drove taxi’, worked supermarkets, administered grants in major medical institutions, and worked with kids who had ADD & ADHD.

[Mark Coker] – When I asked you for ten things about you, you listed, "the impossibility of not lying."  Do truth and fiction blur to you?  Is your memoir truth, fiction, or both?

[Norman Savage]   –  Yes, "words" are a construct.  They’re made up.  It’s like trying to tell someone your dream.  Yes, you can almost, almost describe it, but you can never quite get the colors right, the texture right, you can never really say what you mean.  Some, of course, are much better at getting at the right word than others, but, brother, that takes a whole lot of work.  "Words," too, are straightjacketed;  they strain and crack under the weight of too many tongues.

I try to get it right, at least as "right" as I know it, but I’m sure if other interested parties were to describe the same experience they had with me they’d remember it, see it, and word it in other ways.  Truth and fiction indeed do blur.  My friend, Jack, calls it "friction."  Melville, too, in his great work, "Billy Budd," (or was it "Benito Cereno"?) says this about the rainbow:  how can you really tell where the blue ends and the orange begins, and then to red, to green, to yellow, to fuscia, to purple, to gold?  How do you really tease those things out?

My memoir is as close to "truth" as I know it for me.  I did not make-up or fabricate any of it; I didn’t have to.  Dizzy Dean, a once great baseball pitcher, once famously remarked:  "It ain’t bragging if I done it."  Other people would disagree with some or all of it.  That’s O.K.  Let them write one of their own with their own take on things.  What is always fiction is how I put the words together; one word, one sentence after the next.  In that respect, it’s entirely up to me.

[Mark Coker] – Have you been truthful in this interview?

[Norman Savage]   –  Yes.  Today.  But as this cat Zizek said, "I’d rather be inconsistent, than inconsequential."  If I learn of something that makes more sense to me, then I’d be a fool not to entertain that.

[Mark Coker] – What do you want written on your epitaph?

[Norman Savage]   –  There’s a writer who I’d admired long before I came to correspond with him briefly, Harry Crews.  There’s something he said that I’d like on my gravestone.  And, Mark, since I don’t know many people these days, maybe you’d be so kind?  Here’s what I’d like on the rock:  "I never wanted to be well-rounded, and I do not admire well-rounded people nor their work.  So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people.  The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design."  I want to leave a stain, Mark, I want it to say that I was here and lived it through.

[Mark Coker] – Thanks Norman!

Where to buy Junk Sick:

Junk Sick: Confessions of an Uncontrolled Diabetic is available at Smashwords for $2.99 as a multi-format, DRM-free ebook.  Visit http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/715

To learn more about Norman Savage, visit his Smashwords author page.

This interview originally appeared at the Smashwords Blog.

Reviews for Lulu Authors

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Have you self published your book through lulu.com?  Then you are in luck!  My name is Shannon Yarbrough and I’m the creator and lead reviewer for The Lulu Book Review.

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Who am I?

Greetings!

My name is Shannon Yarbrough and I live in St. Louis, Missouri.

I self-published my first book, The Other Side of What, in 2003 with Xlibris.

In 2006, I republished a much affordable version of that book with Lulu.

Last year, I published my second book, Stealing Wishes, also with Lulu.  It has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award this year.

I’ve also had several short stories published in various anthologies with traditional publishers.

I’m also the creator and lead reviewer of The Lulu Book Review.  We read and review books published through lulu.com.

Being a huge advocate and supporter of indie authors and the POD community, I recently published The POD Pocket Guide to Marketing and Selling Your Book on Amazon.  The title says it all.  It’s a quick look at the top ten ways to improve your sales on Amazon.com.

All of my work is also available on the Amazon Kindle.  And I’m currently at work on another novel and on getting my books up on Smashwords.

Best Wishes,

Shannon Yarbrough

www.shannonyarbrough.com

www.lulubookreview.com