Goat Bones

I had been trying to meet Neil Gaiman for a long time. I admired this  genius of a man for many reasons. One being his work, of course. I found such wonderful things in a Neil Gaiman story, but truth be told, more for his career. Oh, what a career. Yes, the Rock Star of the Literary World, but more than that was the fact that he had made his own brand into a kind of genre all by itself. 

Nothing quite like a Neil Gaiman book. 

So, being a fan I wanted to meet him and being a writer I hoped for some of the magic to rub off. A “Look, Andy, I believe in your story telling so much, that I’m going to endorse you.” Or, “I’ve decided that you and I should write a book together!” 

When I lived in Chicago I went to “A Night with Neil” to celebrate the release of the Graveyard Book. There he read chapter three from the stage and delighted one and all. Ever the showman, his thick mop of black hair, his deep English accent and of course, the wondrous prose. 

Well, there the cost of admittance was one book and the book came autographed. No line up for autographs because when Neil does a signing too many people line up and he is there until 5 o’clock n the morning. Damn! 

Anyhow, after the reading, he did a Q and A with questions from the crowd, he pulled the questions out of a hat that were written before the show started, because if he were to take them directly from the crowd, we would have been there until 5 o’clock in the morning!

Someone (not me, I didn’t put a question in the hat, because I almost never do what everyone else is doing, since birth I am like this) asked him what the secret is. You know “the secret” to being, well, like Neil. He said “Goat bones! Goat bones! Propitiate the gods with goat bones.” And we all had a wondrous laugh and then he, of course, said, “to write and keep on writing and to start with short stories because you can complete them and when you complete things, you see how they are to be done and then after awhile, you can complete bigger things and see how they are to be done, too.”

At the end of the night, I walked away feeling like I had just had a very nice time with a great writer and great speaker. And I had. 

But, I had already written short stories AND novels, and so, not being like anyone else, I endeavored to meet Neil for real. Not just a member of the crowd, but really. 

Some time passed when I saw that Neil was going to be in Montreal for World Con. Holy Moses, I packed my things traveled three thousand plus miles and went. 

Aside from Montreal being a fantastic city and me being thrilled just to walk its streets, I plotted and schemed on how to meet Neil face to face, up close and personal whereby he was sure to say something like, “You know, Andy, I’ve read your manuscript, and I have to tell you, its bloody good and what’s more, you’re bloody good and you’re going to be my new co-conspirator and write American Gods, The Sequel with me!”

Yes, yes, yes!!!

The problem was one didn’t just walk up and talk to Neil. Hell, no. There was protocol,

One morning I was walking, getting my coffee and scheming, when I happened upon a huge line for a Neil Gaiman book signing. Shit! Quick. What to do? Go and buy that Neil Gaiman book right there and jump in line and meet this demigod mug to mug. And that’s exactly what I did. With Unread Neil Gaiman Book tucked under my arm, I got in line. Waiting and waiting.  And then the guy in front of me turns around and says “what number do you have?”

“Number? Number? Ah, what number?”

“Well,” he says, “you gots to have a number, you see like this. And I don’t know if me number is small enough to get into the signing before Neil has to be at that panel discussion.” 

“Uh…”

“Don’t you have a number?”

Nope. The Big Dork didn’t have shit. And no raffle number = no signing by Neil. 

Crappola. 

That’s fine. I got schemes and I got plans and I got backbone. 

When Neil entered the panel room, standing room only, but I was lucky enough to get a seat, everyone clapped. I remember watching him walk up, shaking his mop of bushy black hair and I thought–no, actually said to my friend who I had dragged along, “Maybe that’s what I have to do, get a big head of bushy black hair.”

Anyway, the panel was very Neil of course and all very charming. 

But, time was running out and I had yet to get my personal meeting with Neil. Oh, you could have coffee with him! But no, you had to win that too. 

No, no. That wouldn’t do. I need a sure fire thing, I needed an inside track. 

The night when the Hugo was given Neil won, of course, for The Graveyard Book and gave a speech wherein he said, “Funny that I won this, because I don’t even write Science Fiction” and of course, no one cared! Anyway, with that night came all the after event parties. So many parties and so many opportunities to meet Neil. 

My friend and I wandered the parties, one hotel room to the next, looking for the one with Neil in it. After a good hour, we finally got the punch line, Neil isn’t at these parties, dude. 

Then came the big question: where’s the real party? You know, the Neil party?

It was fated, a fortuitous stroke of amazing luck, that shortly after that, we got onto the elevator and told the guy operating it that we wanted to go to the “real party where Neil was” and he took us. 

The bottom floor. Ding, the door opened and here was the gala. 

Ah. Yes, where all the New York editors were, yes, oh, hello, that’s a luminary in the literary universe, oops there’s another one. I tried talking to a girl who was happy to talk with me the night before at a common party and who very purposely and visibly stuck her nose in the air when she saw me at this party. 

Yes, my dear, I see how its done now. 

Well, needless to say. It was now or never. My friend had left shortly after stepping out of the elevator, because, he said, he didn’t want to be somewhere he wasn’t wanted. No bother, the road to Neil must be walked alone. Begone, traveling companion, you have served me well, but we are at journey’s end.

The golden chalice was near at hand and I carried with me the favor of the gods. 

After some more milling about, some eating of the food, I was feeling pretty good that no one was bum-rushing me, no bouncer kicking me out. Yes, well, like I said, the gods favored me this night. 

And then, as if a spot light shone down, I saw Neil. 

Amidst a flock of his Clarion students (missed that one) he posed for a photo. Yes, it was Neil alright. I waited just out of sight, lurking for the right moment. Plan? Pure bravado. Just walk up and stick out my hand and…

And…

And…

And what? Say, “I’m your biggest fan”, “Hi, I loved Neverwhere”, “Hey, sir, um, can we write a novel together?” 

No.

I’m not going to crash this party anymore. I’m not going to be “that guy.” No. What is he going to do for me, that I cannot do for myself?

Make me famous? Hahahahahahahhahaha. 

“Goat bones, Andy, goat bones.”

Enough. 

I backed away. I turned and walked out. I left the hotel. I left the con. I walked to my hostel, yes, hoStel, where the beds were cheap and the beer cheaper and I smoked a cigarette thinking, I didn’t meet Neil Gaiman. tonight, or today, or this week. No, but I met someone else. He doesn’t have bushy hair or an English accent, but he is someone who really can help me in my career and who really will write the next book with me.

I traveled all this way to meet myself. 

I’m still a Neil fan, but I’m a Anne Rice, Stephen King, China Mieville, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker fan, too. A so-many-others fan. And more importantly I am an Andy Schwarz fan. 

 

Indie Author Digest #102

So many developments since I decided to jump out into the abyss I figured I should install an update. I was going to wait for some major achievement, but it’s the little steps that are so important. 

For years I had been doing this thing as regards my art: trying to figure out what’s wrong with it. Man, what a sink hole that is. You get so desperate for feedback and approval, it reduces you to a lump. And that’s how I had approached my art for several years. 

As a lump. 

Once, my wife said to me, “I can count on one hand the number of days your writing has made you happy.” 

My God, what a statement. What a statement. I wondered how something that is supposed to bring me such joy and happiness and fulfillment only brought such heartache. 

Last year when Damnation Books offered a contract to publish DOM, I cried. I cried. Because finally something was good enough.

Recently, I’ve changed on the subject of my writing. And its good. A couple things happened. One, I decided to just do this indie thing. I mean, no more doubts. Off into the water. That alone brought relief. Because the absolute worst thing is doubt. It will stop you more than any cement wall. You just end up holding yourself back. So, I dispensed with the Doubting Thomas routine. 

Second, I decided to blog about the intimate details of it. To hell with trying to keep some public facade going. All sunshine and rainbows. No, I will give the real nitty-gritty. The hope, dreams, loss, hopelessness. All of it. Well, doing that made me real. At least to myself. I’m not a clown trying to make the kiddies laugh at my jokes, anymore. I’m the drunk clown now, getting grease paint all over my cigarette. 

(joke)

Third, I decided to do this: experience my emotions and see what happens. That is strange. I was so used to reacting to the situation and feeling bad about not being some famous icon that I was just drowning. So, I sat back and let them go. This last week I just roller coastered between hope and despair. I considered giving up. For real, just saying “fuck this” and making more money or feeding the homeless or something. Then I thought, Yeah, you’d just go out and write a fucking novel. 

That didn’t let me off the hook.

Then I realized. I am a writer. I just am. Always have been. Always will be. I’ll be a writer even if no one ever reads anything I write. That put some demons to rest. The demon that just loves to tell you how much time you’re wasting. And the other sonovabitch that tells you what a loser you are. I’m not a loser, I’m a writer. 

This is all rather personal melodrama, I know, but I am putting it here because these are MY barriers. These are the reasons I haven’t succeeded the way I want to. 

Then at some point this week, I became enamored with another idea: opportunity does not always appear in the guise you think it should. I had watched something happen with my business. Something magical that I had never dreamed of and it meant taking my day business in a direction that was profitable but not what I had planned. But who cares? It’s still opportunity. 

Well, the internet gives a lot of opportunity to writers. You can publish your stuff. Duh. So, I decided it was okay to accept the opportunity, rather than fight it because it didn’t or hasn’t appeared in the form of me being miraculously discovered and given a $100,000 advance, or a Twilight or Harry Potter phenom. Because maybe I’m not writing that kind of book anyway.

The Buddhist principle of being like water became my new philosophy this week. Flow like the river, not crack like the oak tree.

And then I decided to communicate en mass. To just let it go and not be ashamed of what I had to say or write. To not worry about whether I am being socially acceptable, presenting a “right face” or whatever. But to be genuine, to be myself as a writer and an artist.

These things have been plaguing me for so long, I can’t tell you. I didn’t really even know what they were. I was just…punishing myself, I guess. 

Then I got to work and started playing around with cover design. I never knew MS Word could do so much stuff. I designed two covers for short stories and cut my cover design bill down from $200.00 a pop to $15.00 for stock imagery. I would post them now, but haven’t bought the images so don’t think I’m supposed to yet.

This was huge for me.

I had thought that I HAD TO HAVE an artist. And could not do it without an artist. Well, actually, I had been designing covers and telling the artist what to make already. So…if I could just learn a little bit about MS Word’s design templates, I just might be able to do it.

The first one got a thumbs up from the wife straight away, while the second one got shot down out of hand. Then I redesigned it and got a “Wow.”

This, for me, is freedom.  It takes the limit off what I can post on Amazon. It takes the stress off, financially. You have to realize that I have about 1,000,000 words of material that I have been saving to my hard drive. Some of it is previously published, most not. That’s a fair amount of material and it all needs covers.

I also began formatting my first Smashwords short story. I am using Mark Coker’s book called Formatting for Smashwords, or something similar and he just walks you though it. There again, I found, hey I can do this. I am learning all about Word too and feeling better. 

 

Then I went back to DOM. It just isn’t getting reviewed. And it actually galls me and breaks my heart at the same time. You see, I know it’s a good book. I just know it. But…nothing. Makes me crazy.

So, I decided to apply my new attitude to the problem and went online to see who the hell reads stuff. I found this: I am all about helping you out in any way I can. I would also love to do interviews to go along with your reviews if you are interested. I would love to help promote your book in any way that I can.

I about fell out of my papasan chair. And that is not easy to do. You can break the base, but hard to fall out. Anyway, the penny dropped.

I have been barking up the wrong tree.

Next penny.

I have been engineering my own defeat.

Next penny.

I have been making the whole world responsible for my failure.

I would do this: approach my friends to read my book. Well, they are my friends, right? Wouldn’t they, shouldn’t they read my shit?

Yeah, but they’re not readers. Many even say, I just DON’T read and I feel bad about this?

I feel shunned about this?

You hear all the time, know your market. I never knew what that meant.

I looked up someone who agreed to do a review for me awhile back. A reader. I found 2,000 books on their to-be-read list. What?

I started to understand.

Stephen King calls them the Constant Reader. Well, they read ALL THE TIME. That’s who you want. Not the mother-in-law if she’s not also a reader. Not the Non-fiction reader. Of course, if you bark up the wrong tree all the time, you’re going to be disappointed all the time. And you have to understand that readers have huge lists of books to read. I do too. I buy books I never read. And I only review because I am a writer and would want someone to do the same for me. I wouldn’t normally write a review. 

It made me stop taking it all so damn personally. 

 

And I am not talking about being the obnoxious social media guy who only wants to talk about his book to every would-be reader he can find. I just mean, there are people who want to help and you should approach those people.

That’s it. Makes it pretty simple. No more banging my head against the wall because all my Goodreads friends don’t go out and buy my titles or whatever.

Anyway, it’s the simple things. This week saw a lot of simple, but powerful changes in me as regards my writing, my writing career and what I am doing.

I am taking control back from my demons. And I’m pretty sure that has to be done before anything else can be. 

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps someone else out there who may be feeling…well, frustrated. 

The Best Way to Do It (on paper!)

Yeah, I was going to do a post about cliched sayings that it seems every book has to have, like when someone always ‘smells fear,’ but I decided to just go for the jugular and talk about a local favorite. (Don’t worry, this post has a Disney rating.) 

Let’s face it, sex in a book is kind of…usual. I personally kind of expect at least one sex scene. Our characters are supposed to be life-like and so, they do it. I also think we’d feel a tad bit disappointed if the two star-crossed lovers didn’t hit the sack at least once. 

What is the best way to portray this very human need? Do we…dress it up in the language of floral anatomy? I always loved the “his stamen” references. On the one hand you could say it’s pretty weird that anyone would draw an analogy between flower and human sexuality. And on the other hand, you have to admit it’s pretty cool that flowers are sexual. It’s like nature did that just for writers. 

You’ve got Heinlein who doesn’t really have sex scenes, but just mentions it throughout the story, a sort of novel-length tease. Piers Anthony too. I don’t call these sex scenes, so much as nudity. This is an okay method if you ask me, lets you do all of the imagining, which may be better than having it described in great length, ad nauseam.  

Erotica does it’s thing with the use of all the slang and four letter words. I guess that’s the stock solution to sex in a book. It’s effective in that it gets the job done. A good “down in the trench” engineering approach when you want a fail-safe method. But somehow it seems we should treat the subject with a bit more respect. 

I will never forget the sex scene in Stephen King’s It. At the time, I had been reading something about how you’re not supposed to say “feel” but describe the internal physiological changes taking place. So, instead of saying, “he felt excited” you would say “adrenaline flooded his brain” or some such. Well, in It that advice is taken way too far in the sex scene at the end. Reads like a medical manual, describing all the internal glandular processes that take place during the deed. No sir!  

I think the best writer on sex scenes is China Mieville simply because he doesn’t sugar coat and leaves a lot to the imagination. In The Scar he has a sex scene between this guy and his girlfriend who has her lower body grafted into a machine chassis, so her legs are metal caterpillar tracks. If you’ve ever read his work, you’ll understand. Anyway, the line is “and somehow they managed.” 

Whoa, I bet they did! You just don’t have to write anything else.

I’ve always drawn on the old romance model in my writing, I guess because that’s what I grew up thinking was a “sex scene” in a book. But I don’t really like it. I became a fan of Mieville’s, “And then they *&@*#” approach. Just come out and say it all crass and shameless.

There’s other ways too. Diana Gabaldon mixes in all the violence with it, which I can’t say does very much for me. But hey, maybe that’s historical accuracy. I’d be pretty upset if I was eating haggis too, I guess.

You’ve got the Philip Marlowe approach. Jeeze. He just takes and doesn’t care. You have to admire that only because the dames are always too happy. What a Svengali!

But in the end, I think I am casting my vote for Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witch Series. Pretty good on the steam, but not overboard on the details. A good balance of taste, I thought. Then again, I have not read 50 Shades of Gray, so…  

 

What do you think? Any examples of particularly good or tasteful sex scenes in books?