A few years ago, when I was kicking around ideas for a blog, trying to come up with how and what I wanted to present to the world, I developed an alternate online persona. You see, I had decided that I needed a persona to take on the enormous and then-seemingly unconfrontable task of blogging to the world.
Perhaps you have had such notions before. Some super-personality that can do things you can’t. The one who shows up when you have to address a crowd and whips said crowd into gales of laughter without even feeling a twinge of nervous tension. The one who charms his way out of any bad interpersonal situation you may have gotten yourself into. That kind of thing.
Well, this persona was that way online. Online, he would be able to amass hordes of followers, friends by the hundreds, Likes by the millions. This online guy would blog and all around the world, people would tune in and hang on his every word. This guy had a signature fashion mark, he wore blue boots.
His name: Michael Blue.
Now, Michael Blue came and went pretty quick. He did a kind of exit stage left in all of about three days. But in those three days, he burned very brightly. He was, after all, The One and Only Michael Blue.
Well, life has a funny habit of knocking you sideways and shortly after the birth and death of my super-person, I entered into the Divorce Chapter. The Divorce Chapter wrote itself very wildly and incoherently in a sort of fugue state, stream of consciousness. Many portions of this special chapter did the literary equivalent of describing the wall paper for three pages, followed by a spate of expletives and then a round of poetic verse. A very incongruous chapter indeed.
It wasn’t too long after that I met my new wife-to-be and experienced the joys of a blooming love interest all over again. Life, as you know, has a habit of moving on, whether you’re ready or not.
Anyhow, it was on one of those evenings when I was telling my new love interest about all of my special details when I remembered an old, old friend. He came unbidden to me, but there he was in all of his colorful splendor.
I began to tell her of my blue shoe wearing brother, when something very odd occurred. I had not expected it at all, but, well, there it was right before my eyes. Mr. Michael Blue had changed.
Gone was the somewhat aloof youth who could blog to a million subscribers and here was the man himself. He walked like Nicolas Cage in Face Off, an almost dancey swagger. He possessed all the grace of Andy Kauffman’s Tony Clifton. And when he spoke, a cheap southern accent oozed from his lips, a speech which had to do mainly with womanizing and self-aggrandizing.
Here was the new and improved Michael Blueshoes.
He wore those fancy blue shoes, but also that cheap suit, and those silver rings. He didn’t shave but once every three or four days and he drank like a fish.
Well, my new wife-to-be had an instant rejection of our new party guest. I mean, without so much as thirty seconds, she adamantly informed me that she hated Michael Stupid-Ass Blueshoes.
What was I to do? Well, there was nothing I could do. I did admit that Micheal Blueshoes was as obnoxious a relation as ever there could be, especially with the smell of stale liquor on his breath. But he was having one hell of a good time strutting around like some kind of defunct peacock, telling his lewd jokes and proclaiming himself a master of sexual exploits.
You see, from one angle, Michael Blueshoes was exactly what I needed him to be. He liked about two things: booze and women. He simply could not be emotionally hurt. He didn’t care one iota what people thought about him. And that swagger. My God, he was so full of himself, there simply was no putting that boy down. “No sah, Michael Blowshowes was gonna paint this here town red, honey! Red as rain, ah huh!”
I even found pictures of Michael Blueshoes on my computer I hadn’t known existed. It seems a couple years earlier he had done a little photo shoot with a fedora and a fake black rose. The images were blurred, appropriate for an alter-ego, but there they were, about five photos in all. Oh, I remembered taking them, but only now, had I realized who they were.
The very sight of them unnerved my wife-to-be.
Michael Blueshoes called me out then. He wanted to know, basically, if he and I were going to go and do all the things he wanted to do. And we would do all of that in those blue shoes, of course. “Just gotta put on the shooooes,” he would say. “And off we go! To the staaaars!” Needless to say, I knew that if I went off with Micheal Blueshoes, I wasn’t coming back.
Years have gone by now and Michael Blueshoes every now and again makes an appearance. He always enters the same way. He swaggers in stage left, some lascivious quip on the tip of his tongue, a smile that has nothing to do with, well, anything, but his own antics. And he usually offends my wife for a few minutes before slipping away again to do whatever deeds he does.
And then last night someone else showed up. Someone quite unexpected. Her name: Sassafras Redshoes. And just guess what she wants?
Does anyone know why whenever a foreign character in a movie talks to the main character in the foreign language, the foreigner has to say mean and disparaging things to the main character about the main character? A long dead running joke about how foreigners are always secretly making fun of us, I guess.
I grow so weary of these kinds of cliches. Smelling fear is another one. Always have to “smell” the fear. Yawn. What does fear smell like? Sweat? Why can’t they ever smell the sweat?
Scenes where one character is peeing. Game of Thrones likes to show characters peeing. Why? Added realism? Do we really need to see the tinkle time?
Pixar movies fit into this, too. They are always good. And they are always the same. But they’re good. But they’re the same. UG!
Some are more partial to a series. I listened to Wizard’s First Rule and then my wife listened to all the books in that series. If I hear “You’re a rare person, Richard Cipher” one more time…!
A new one, at least from what I can see, is vomiting something that resembles a raw egg.
And the last one that always makes me shake my head: why, oh why, do the actors never drink the liquid? Coffee, water, wine, fake wine, they never take a real sip. Ahhhh! Why not? Do they really do that many scene takes that taking a sip in every re-take would constitute an overdose at the end of the day?
So, here’s the big question: is it wrong to have circus freaks?
When I was a young man, in my home town of Hutchinson Minnesota, every year the carnival would roll into town. From where they came, I have no idea, but with them, came a host of sundry characters and one really pretty girl.
Oh what a fun time that was, too. My friend Paul would always get the wrist band for unlimited rides, because his parents were “rich.”
Me, no wrist band. I was too poor for that. Oh, I went on a few rides here and there, but not unlimited like my wealthy friend. He also had a full refrigerator at his house and the only time we ever had a full refrigerator was after Thanksgiving dinner.
Anyways, I remember very distinctly passing a trailer. A big, extended trailer with giant air-conditioners hanging out of the back and a canned barking reel going, that said, “Come see the fattest woman in the world. She’ll keep you warm in the winter time and cooool in the summer time!”
Well. I was fifteen years old and this was a good, Christian town, mind you, and right there in the middle of this Puritan settlement was…this? Coooool in the summer time? Huh?
I didn’t go see her, I was too scared, but damn it if the image of what may have been in there ever leaves me. I can only imagine.
So, is this immoral to have such spectacles on display? I don’t think she was enslaved against her will. I am quite certain she went willingly where ever the carnival traveled. And got paid too.
The most famous example is, of course, Joseph Merrick, otherwise known as The Elephant Man. I mean, what else was Merrick to do? He made his living as a freak.
Bearded Ladies have always been a mainstay of the freak show.
Now, I am not saying this isn’t sad, for certain it is, I am just wondering if we should consider it…well, immoral.
Is social media and internet communication making us neurotic? How many times a day do you check your emails? How often do you look at those SEO stats? Do you ever just stare at them waiting for them to go up?
Do you sleep with your phone? When you wake up in the middle of the night, do your fingers navigate to your email? Twitter feed? WordPress app?
What is happening to us? Or is it just me?
I remember when I used to write letters and send them with a stamp. Many people nowadays probably don’t think we used to do that. But back then, you couldn’t check the mail box every five minutes because the mailman only came once a day.
We have all these ways and devices to stay connected and yet, we compete for each other’s attention more now than ever.
Maybe if I post about puppies and babies you’ll look at this. Maybe, I have to put a giant, inflatable gorilla on this blog and then you’ll be drawn in. (Do those things really sell cars?)
I see authors giving away, not books, but gift cards. Real money.
Where does it end? I think the need for instant gratification has gone too far. Sometimes I want to throw my phone in the river and walk away, but I am afraid that the resultant panic attack will make me dive in after it.
Maybe we missed something along the way.
So, I’ve been going on a Stephen King role on Audible with the Tommyknockers and now I am almost done with The Dark Half. I purchased Cujo and am likely to read some of the Bachman books too. In other words, I got off the fence on Stephen King and became a fan in the true sense.
So, here’s the point: every main character seems to be a writer.
I had heard somewhere along the line, in my many travels, that one is not supposed to have main characters who are writers because it shows that you’re needy or some such. I say bollocks to that. Writers apparently make great main characters.
Looking over my own stuff, most of my characters are detectives or amateur sleuths. I used to do a lot of PI work, logged a few thousand hours as a surveillance operative and once went under cover and infiltrated a suspected fraud ring, so, having been an amateur sleuth myself, I guess I have a natural bent toward that. But more, I find it pretty helpful to have a clue-hunter for a protagonist because in the process he seems to find the plot too.
Any opinions on what profession makes for the best protagonist?
Well, I got Prizm up. So, this little image on the side of the blog page here actually clicks through to the right Amazon page now. Hurrah!
Can you pass the wine, dear, no not the bottle, the carton, thank you. It is truly cause for celebration. I mean, really. That book has taken quite the journey since its inception in 2007. Didn’t take that long to write, of course. It had other detours. Which leads me to this blog post.
Some people may be wondering whether or not to self-publish (go indie) or go with a small press. I had that question too. I don’t anymore. In my mind there are two levels: big New York House and Indie. The in-between doesn’t work. Not for me and here’s why.
I have gotten two novels published with small presses. Each time I made the mistake of thinking that going with a small house would open me up to a fan base. I thought that if I was on their roster, I would be introduced to their loyal cult of eager readers. These things were assumptions on my part and I have no one else to blame. Really, I don’t.
I was very hungry for validation. I wanted that seal, you know, the one that looks like a passport stamp and says, “This Work is Certified Good” displayed on my book covers. I wanted someone else to say, “Kid, you got a future here!”
Yeah…all that went out with the manuscript you wrap up in brown paper, tie together with twine and mail to yourself because you’re too poor and too romantic to get a real copyright.
In order to understand this ridiculous mindset, you have to understand this next part. As a young man growing up, I loved bookstores. We had a B Dalton’s or something very similar in the local mall of my one horse town in Minnesota. And I would go in there and stare at the books, the covers, mesmerized and in love. When I found out about Dungeons and Dragons, well, no other places on earth could hold such wonder for me.
Every few months when I would visit my mom in dirty, stinking Minneapolis, down on Hennepin Avenue in that section eight apartment that smelled like boiled cabbage, after eating government issued cheese and powdered milk, we would go to the big bookstores. Well, it was Narnia all over again and better, Dark Narnia.
In those days, my parents (dad and step-mom) wouldn’t let me have that stuff. Now, get a load of this, it wasn’t drugs that I smuggled into my room, no pot or booze (though once I made a terrible, chalky wine out of apple cider in a glass jug at the bottom of my closet for six months) or even nudie photos. No sir, I smuggled in books. Novels and artwork.
Once my dad caught me bringing in The Art of Dragonlance under my over sized T-shirt. Long and tiresome (oh, my God) family “discussions” were had over the image of the dark wizard with a dragon’s head hanging in block and tackle behind him (Raistlin Mejere, in case you’re wondering) and so, I read my secret books at three a.m., my eyes wide, mind ablaze with all that wonderful, dark imagery.
I remember staring up at the wall, the whole wall, where Piers Anthony’s books were displayed thinking: who is this guy and how do I get a wall of books devoted to me? I started writing Tales of Mulglania when I was twelve and got about two pages into, well, maybe four, handwritten…oh, it was so painful, I had no idea what I was doing and, well, I gave it up, but the images, the story, would bloom in my mind like some kind of angelic vision, and I would wander all around the parks and deserted farm roads, eyes cast skyward, divining visions and fancying myself some kind of other worlds prophet.
Well, my dream was and is to see my books on the shelf. To go into B Dalton’s or Barnes and Noble and see that wall of all my books. So, now you can see why, in going with a small press, craving approval and validation, played such a huge part.
I don’t think I am alone in this. I think artists need that. After all, they spend untold hours creating things with the purpose of having them viewed and appreciated by other people. That’s all it is. Not having your stuff viewed and admired…well, it’s like being a ghost, I mean, you’re dead. No one sees you.
Therefore, I went with two small presses and wish I hadn’t. Without slinging any mud, for this is not what this post is about, I found that what I can do, on my own, produces a far superior product. In the one case, no editing was done. Zero, zilch. I didn’t believe it, until I got the manuscript back and looked. Oh wow. Nada. And the cover, oh, as kindly as I can put it, was not competitive.
But then, who can I blame? In theory, I should never had submitted a manuscript with even one tiny error. Okay, true, but if I’m going to edit it myself, promote it myself and…the artwork I am commissioning now is (sigh) miles and miles and miles above what I was getting for “free.” Only, it’s not free, you pay dearly.
It is a hell of a thing, I suppose. A small press will want you to promote your books anyway, every step of the way. You will have to work harder at promotion too, because you won’t be able to do things like change pricing on Amazon, update descriptions and categories and otherwise steer the destiny of your book as well as if you owned the rights.
In one case I found that I had signed away audio rights. It’s too bad because my own voice is perfect for that piece. I don’t say my voice is perfect for everything that I write, but that one, it is. When I inquired about it, the publisher did not want to relinquish those rights and was conveniently absent when I asked about actually producing the audio book. I will eat my shoe if they make an audio book out of that thing. Without hot sauce too.
But there again, my fault. I should have paid attention, should have…what, cared? I was too enamored that someone else thought the work was “good enough.”
In the end, the work was always “good enough.” Better than “good enough.”
All that is the downside. The upside and it is an “up” is in one case I got to see how a pro editor operates. That helped me. Though honestly, the thing that helped me more was reading. It’s almost laughable, but if you just read a lot, so much of this stuff becomes apparent.
I don’t think you should do it all yourself. I mean, you need perspective, you need someone to say, “air brush the nipples” so to speak and hunt for typos, tell you when one paragraph will work quite nicely instead of three. Well, I do, but you can pull all that together yourself.
I still want a New York publishing contract (or several), not because I think it will help me produce a better product particularly, but because it will open up distribution lines and exposure.
Yes, I still want to see that wall.
I recall a conversation with my mom. We were talking about reading and how that compares to watching movies and she said something that has stuck with me like superglue. She said, “For those who don’t read for pleasure, they never know the richness that comes with reading a book.”
So often, I tell people that I am a writer and get this response: “Oh, I don’t read anymore.”
It makes me wonder, why the hell not? It makes me mad. I don’t say you shouldn’t watch TV or movies, but does this have to be mutually exclusive? I mean, come on!
So, here’s my list of why you should ACTUALLY read fiction:
1) Reading makes you smarter. Once upon a time, I did a jewelry show. It was a sales gig. I took the job because I got to travel and I wanted to sharpen my sales skills. Well, I ended up learning a lot about the shopping habits of women, but in the bargain I made this strange little discovery. Every once in a while, someone would come to the booth who I could relate to. Strange to say, but I mean, me personally. Not me the sales guru, the Fabio of semi-precious stones, but lil’ ol’ me.
These people, about 1 in 75, were wonderful. They got all my jokes and my references to seemingly random things. They were articulate. They were…literate! It was actually uncanny how well those people could carry on a conversation about all kinds of things.
Well, everyone of those 1 in 75 were readers. I know because I got wise to it and I started asking them. They read. So, I concluded: WOW, READING MAKES YOU SMARTER!
2) The book is better than the movie: Everyone has heard that one a thousand times, but I will say it again a different way: the book is A LOT better than the movie. Get it? Almost every movie is based on something written, and I don’t mean the script. I mean a book, a comic book ,a short story, a written story. So…seems like a no brainer to me!
3) Reading is more enjoyable than watching movies or TV: Now, at first you could debate this, reasoning that you can get the whole story in two hours versus, say, twenty-five. Yes and no and more at no. The movie or TV show, only has an hour or two to engage the audience.
That means they have to edit the story down to the highlights. It’s like watching the Cliffs Notes. YOU MISS A TON! And that ton is what gives you the richness my mother was referring to. That ton is why the book is always better than the movie. It’s the multi-layered, sophisticated and in-depth version. In other words, the highest quality rendition of the story.
4) Reading allows you to use your own mind to create stuff and therefore allows you to create the story too: Okay. So, ever watch a movie and say, “Hey, that’s not what (that character) looks like!” Or “That’s not how I would have imagined it.” Well, when you read you look at your own imagination. Your mind makes up the images you are reading about. Well, so what? It’s more enjoyable when it’s yours, that’s what. And the character and the world and the universe, become yours.
A visual medium overrides your own mental constructs and just gives you an image. It’s like this, ever had to find your way around town using a map? And then after a few times of using said map, you don’t have to use the map anymore because you learned the route. Well, let’s say you go and use a GPS. A funny thing happens. No matter how many times you travel that damn route, you don’t ever seem to learn it. Why? The GPS takes the place of your thinking mind, that’s why!
Well, if someone else has to provide images for you all the time, after awhile, you won’t be able to provide your own and you’ll just wind up a gaping, drooling fool.
5) Reading is cheaper: I mean, go to the movies and eat five table-spoons of popcorn, then compare that with an e-book or a big, fancy hard copy book. Or buy Game of Thrones episodes. Yeah, pretty obvious!
6) Saying “I’m not a reader” just sounds really bad if you think about it: I mean, what if someone said to you, “I’m not a watcher” or “I’m not a thinker” or “I’m not a speller.” Saying “I’m not a reader” makes it sound like you are unable to read, which is bad for the old personal public relations department and won’t impress any girls!
7) Reading promotes literacy and literacy preserves the language: It’s important that we preserve the language. English is the most expressive language in the world. It’s quite beautiful. No other language has the color and depth that English does. We have so many words to describe so many things and the same thing. It really defies belief. Other languages are cardboard by comparison. We should use it so we don’t lose it!
8) Reading imparts wisdom: When you read, and I am talking fiction here, you find these little pearls, these kernels of wisdom planted in the text. They just happen. They are spontaneous. These nuggets of wisdom are part of what makes reading so rich, as my mother was saying. And you simply will never, never, never get that from a two-dimensional movie or TV show. That medium is just not expansive enough to hold that much culture.
9) And all that leads me to my last and, probably, most important point of why you should read. It’s like this: A government has a very, very hard time controlling a free-thinking and educated populace and that needs no further explanation at all.
Oh, it might take you awhile. More than one book to get back in the groove, if you’ve fallen out, but as surely as I am sitting here writing this, I can tell you, that if you read, you will, sooner or later, prefer reading books to watching them. You will grow tired at the pale and vapid, by comparison, versions of your favorite stories that you pay so much for in the fancy, modern-day cathedrals called movie theaters. You will return to your roots, as a reader.