Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Mistress of Mince (A Play in One Act)

This little ditty won a writing challenge a few years ago, and I wanted to share it as a special treat for my blog and Facebook fans/friends.  It was my first attempt at writing in Iambic Pentameter or mimicking Shakespeare's style.  I do hope you like it.  Please--comments welcome.  If you know of a place I can submit it for publication, let me know that, too.

The Mistress of Mince

A Play in One, Short Act

ACT I. Marcus and Efennama are sitting on the stone steps of his
                       castle, enjoying the sunny afternoon. He is posing for her, reciting
                                        poetry of his own creation. She is a married lady, very unhappy in her union.

Marcus:      Come to Albion, thou weedy, rough-hewn lout!

Efennama:   Thou hast spoken well, my Lord. Pray, say on.

Marcus:      For, the morrow's light doth break soon softly,
                  So blench thou not at wisdom's sufferance.

Efennama:   'Tis true, for England's land is luminance;
                  And low brow's babble makes for fool's fodder.

Marcus:      Tell, dear Efennama, what malapert
                   reason brings thee to this palace of rheum?

Efennama:   "But I, who never knew how to entreat,
                  Nor never needed that I should entreat,
                  Am starved for meat, giddy for lack of sleep,
                  With oath kept waking and with brawling fed:
                  And that which spites me more than all these
                  wants, He does it under name of perfect love;
                  As who should say, if I should sleep or eat,
                  'Twere deadly sickness or else present death.
                  I prithee go and get me some repast;
                  I care not what, so it be wholesome food."1

Marcus:      The prescribed remedy for thine hunger
                  sits in my hand, so glad am I to give't.
                  For pie's r's squaring is n'ere enough to
                  satisfy, but those whose minds rest upon
                  Descartes' durst vision make mirth like "Honey Pie".

Efennama:  Relieve my suffering, and lay upon
                  me thy level-headed verbage's score.
                  Dear Lord, I can go no further: O,
                  I die for food! Here lie I down, and measure
                  out my grave. Farewell, kind Lord.

Marcus:     Nothing attends a picnic more than mince,
                 so shall we fillest our bellies thus hence.
                 Combine 1/2 lb beef suet, chopped fine
                 4 cups seedless raisins are so divine;
                 2 cups dried currants will add needed zest,
                 1 cup coarsely chopped almonds to go next.
                 1/2 cup coarsely chopped candied citron
                 Something to hang our 1/2 cup figs upon;
                 1/2 cup chopped orange peel to soon follow,
                 And 1/4 cup chopped lemon peel on the morrow;
                 4 cups chopped apples will add the fibre,
                 Nothing's sweeter than 1 & 1/4 sugar
                 Spices notwithstanding, 1 tsp nutmeg
                 1 tsp allspice, 1 tsp cinnamon
                 1/2 tsp cloves, 2 & 1/2 cups brandy
                 And in finale,1 cup dry sherry.
                 To be mixed together in thy largest bowl,
                 And sauteed in brandy, with sherry for soul.
                 In weeks of three we shall attend the mix,
                 In the lag, my eyes upon you transfix.

Effennama: My Lord, regail me with your riddles, pray.

Marcus:     In battle I rage against wave and wind,
                 Strive against storm, dive down seeking
                 A strange homeland, shrouded by the sea.
                 In the grip of war, I am strong when still;
                 In battle-rush, rolled and ripped
                 In flight. Conspiring wind and wave
                 Would steal my treasure, strip my hold,
                 But I seize glory with a guardian tail
                 As the clutch of stones stands hard
                 Against my strength. Can you guess my name?

Effennama: Thy wisdom would preclude my meagre guess,
                 And you wouldst not be answered with reason.

Marcus:     Do try, dear beauty.

Effennama: A flag.

Marcus:     Merry, thy meed is meet to be named, and
                 so now give name to the very battle.

Effennama: Kind Sir, it was the Battle of Naseby
                  that set aright a nation's yearning for

Marcus:     Thou ist my Bohemian Girl, forsooth.
                 Do me the honour of kissing my lips.

Effennama: Haply, you wouldst have me make of thee a
                 Cuckold for certain? For thou surely foins
                  a ballow for my occassion, dear heart.
                 Were it not for my own weakness of mind,
                  I wouldst surely lay no place of nonce for
                  thine meaty and lusty palter.

Marcus:     You mistake the eager air of my Speech;
                 For it is indeed liberal with ruth.

Effennama: Perhaps Bermuda has kept this meaning
                  For its triangle hidden, from cogging
                  Greeks who wouldst as quickly make of it a
                  sport whose determinate manner would
                  surely daff every honourable woman
                  within its region. For love comprised of
                  a set of three vertices whose woof is
                  hardened, can only vouchsafe a vizard
                  of scathful deceipt.

Marcus:      Is it your intention to shent me my
                  liberality of compassion? Thy
                  gaoler is a heavy mistress, indeed.
                  Can your eyes not look upon love's visage,
                  for the sake of love's true first kiss, and not
                  for the thorn hidden on the rose's branches?

Effennama: My Lord, thou hast worn me down in this game,
                  So I must surrender the match point to
                  thee, and prithee protect my foolish heart.
                  Life's meaning changes with each morrow,
                  and this day I must needs redeem its
                  implying. Our bendbradnes hast been much,
                  so now I bid thee good'night my kind Love.


1 Kate, in The Taming of the Shrew, IV, 3

Friday, August 27, 2010

Man, Being a Slackass Just Doesn't Pay What it Used To

This week I let my hair down.

Knowing that this week I was not to peek prematurely at my novel for its impending edits, I've been slacking off.  Well, not really, but for me, who's used to 16-hour days pounding out stories and promotion, yeah, it's been slacking.

I did sell a story on Monday to a local magazine with national distribution.  I'll post a link to it here when it's finally ready.  The story is called Freaks and Geeks, and was penned a few years ago when I visited my family in West Virginia, and my nieces begged me to attend the opening night of our county fair.  I pulled it out Sunday night, did a good deal of what's called punch-up, or making it funnier, and sent it off on a whim at 12:30 a.m.  She bought it at 8:05 a.m. the next morning, as soon as she got into the office.  Sometimes, it feels good to not have a whim lead off into left-field somewhere.

I've spent a good deal of time this week catching up on my television, although with the summer in re-runs, there's not much I enjoy except for CBS's Friday evening Flashpoint.

I went to my costume-fitting last night for my upcoming gig of playing a spook in the 's haunted house.  It's a paying gig, so I'm thankful for that.

I sent out my first query letter to PenguinUK on Monday evening for Gaslight.  They sent me an automated response saying they couldn't be bothered with a true response, unless their editors thought my manuscript worthy of "entering in to e-mail communications."  Otherwise, I won't hear anything, period.  But I've heard that's completely normal, so no worries.

So with all this new-found freedom, to last another whole two days before I can't stand it any longer and get back to writing full-time, I'm going inSANE.  I thought I would appreciate not having the self-imposed deadline.  But instead, I'm hating it with everything in me.  I've learned something very valuable through this experience:  I don't feel like myself unless I'm writing.  I need the daily grind of getting those passengers out of my head and onto the paper where they can behave themselves the way I tell them to.  I need to feel as if I'm creating something special, that will touch others in the way my story, A Sleep To Startle Us has touched so many others who have read it.  And since we're on that subject, what is YOUR excuse that you haven't read it yet??

In other news, my cat box needs cleaning.  And I'm putting it off till tomorrow.

So anyway, that's been my week.  Productive, in a different sort of way.

And now if you will excuse me, it's time for my show.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Gaslight Journal is finally DONE!

Approximately 23 minutes ago, I officially finished my first, full-length novel, The Gaslight Journal.

Begun back sometime in 2001, this book was originally a fluke of an idea.  Because I've said previously that I had no confidence in my writing, I did not work seriously at the thoughts of ever finishing this book, let alone trying to shop it around for either a publisher, or to make available as a Kindle title, which I plan to do.  I am shooting for an early to mid-November release date, hyping the publicity for Christmas.

It was around this time that I also joined an online writing group on Usenet.  That group of people that I met there, taught me a lot about life, growing up, the value of friendships of people you've never met, and how with just a little relentless encouragement and a whole lot of craft, I was the only one holding me back from doing this.  Some of those people--Steve W., Barry A., Joe K., Alaric M., Bob W., and Amanda P., are still close friends and confidants to this day.  To be honest, I have no idea where I would be in all this, if it hadn't been for their kind hearts, and taskmaster discipline.

I highly encourage you to find a good, active online or face-to-face writing group.  The benefits of an online group, are that it's easy to post excerpts or short stories for critique, and many, many people have the benefit of making comment, so you get many varying POVs.  Plus, my favourite, being able to post stories, comment and commiserate, all without leaving your chair or changing from your peejays.

The downside of a group of this nature, is that you generally have to wade through several timezones before you get an answer, sometimes waiting for days or even weeks in some cases, as people are extremely busy and the level of posting is in high volume.  The other drawback is that because each poster is in equal probability an amateur as well as a published, experienced author, you never know, without trial and error, if the advice you receive will truly work for you.

The pros of seeking out a face-to-face writing group, inherently, are the same as an online group:  you learn how to give--by mere repetition and discussion--effective constructive critiques, and you get them in return, which, since true writing is only in the RE-writing, will only make you a better writer.  You also have that immediacy of advice, because once you read your excerpt, you then have the luxury of hearing its immediate affect on those listening, and they can offer comment while the work is still fresh in their mind, and they haven't had an ample amount of time to think about it, which often happens in online groups--people have lives to live between the time they read your story, and the time they have to comment, so opinions are sometimes in jeopardy of changing in that time, and you just don't have the access to those visceral, gut-wrenching opinions.

The downside of this sort of group, is that you have to get dressed before you leave the house.  Oh, and you have a specified time to meet each and every week, rain or shine.  You can't just sit back in your cozy armchair if the snow is too deep and you don't feel like reading Shteeve's latest tome until in the morning.

As you can see, both groups have benefits and both have their drawbacks.  As to which one will work better in your situation is entirely up to you, but the important and only thing is, that you find one and become an active part of it.  Those who offer critiques and read our stories are an integral part of the writing process.  Even if your average reader does not know how to place into words why your story sucks, if it's not polished and snazzed up, is rife with misspellings, grammatical errors and typos, he will simply know it does, and that will be more than enough to kill your sales, because avid bibliophiles TALK.

Now that my own group disbanned about a year ago, I am also, in want of a new, constructive and active group, because I'm not nearly done writing--I'm just getting started!

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Seel So Dirty

At first, my motives were very pure and even altruistic:  just post your book so you can get honest critiques and suggestions for improvement.

So, that's what I did.  And I felt good.  No, I was proud of myself.  I could see it now:  Mother Theresa would be having her agent get in touch with me, just so we could take a meeting, and all so she could find out how I do it; how I keep up this constant and tireless persona of humility and selflessness.  I know, I know--you're wondering the same thing.  It isn't easy being a martyr.  Every time some assbag author would write to me privately, begging a backing for their book in return for them backing mine, I would, with quite a swelled head, and righteous indignation in my fingertips, would write them back a blistering e-mail (it was so hot, I eventually had to have it lanced), chastising them for being so shallow, and how could they, and my favourite, "I don't resort to extortion."

Yep.  That oughtta do it.

The few days my book was there, I got compliments and suggestions that poured in by the screenful.  People who never read historical fiction were now telling me they were fans, and all because I had a brilliant pitch (something we'll discuss in later blogs and how you can do it, too), gorgeous cover and incredible flow to my writing.  Aw, you're so sweet, but really, it was nothing.  People who loved and wrote historical fiction all the time were telling me that I had nailed the dialogue of the period, I'd set up the scene and time period perfectly, and my characters, while feisty and fighting against class standing, were still likable and you wanted to root for them.

Then on Monday night, purely by accident, I hit the wrong menu button that ended up taking me to the home page and not my menu page.  Right there, on the front page of the HarperCollins web-site, was my book, The Gaslight Journal, sitting at Number 1 for the week's listings!  That's right, number 1.  I was stunned.  So stunned was I, that I did the Bugs Bunny rubbing of my eyes just to make sure I wasn't seeing things.  (why he thought that always worked, I'll never know)  I was so excited, that I did a screen capture of it, cropped it, resized it and sent it in an e-mail to my folks for proof.  NOW let dad call me an idiot.  Well, he still called me an idiot, but now he's at least proud of my idiotic accomplishments.

Then last night, I went there again, just to sneak another peek, to make sure it was real, and there, shining in the number 1 spot again, was my little book.  Oh, the joy my heart felt, swelling it to nearly 1 1/2 times its size.

Today, I got greedy, and went back for more.  Oh, the feeling of sneaking into my browser at 5 a.m. when no one else's up and looking.  Knowing the rest of the world is asleep and you're sitting there, in your footie pajamas, alone and all sneaky.  I had to have one more peek.

I'm not ashamed to say, that fame is a fleeting, bitch of a person who rips out your egotistical heart and stomps on it with both gold, spiked heels.  Not only was my book no longer there, it wasn't even in the top five anymore.  I did the Bugs Bunny thing with my eyes again, but this time, it didn't help.  It did not materialise my book from thin air.

Now.  The next part is crucial to the denouement of the story, so pay attention.  Suddenly, and without forethought or warning, I began to care that my book wasn't in the listings anymore!  What was happening to me?  I felt this sinking in my heart, this feeling of, "Oh, crap, how do I get it back," and all the while trying to be altruistic and feel the right thing:  many people before me have said to never get caught up in your own press; never allow the accolades be the reason you write; never try and make fame happen.  Just do it for the sake of the work.

But...but...isn't it okay to care, even a little??  Shouldn't your book be a thing of beauty that makes you proud and makes you want to show it off to others?  I mean, if we look at it closer, isn't that the reason we write a flawless, good-grammar, right-punctuation, no-plot-holes book to begin with?  So people will like it and we can be proud of what we do?

Sure.  And my feelings were normal--I realise that.  And they were harmless.  I got excited that my book was up there, because it surprised me completely, and I got sad when it wasn't anymore.  The trouble comes in caring so much that you allow it to make you quit writing completely.

Now, I will admit, that for the last hour, I've been over there, backing every book I could find, in the hopes that someone might return the favour.  Suddenly, I'd abandoned my stringent principles of altruism, for the cheap thrill of another rise to #1.  I don't know if it will work, but as I said in the beginning of this ride, I'm willing to share my experience--both good and bad--with you guys and see what comes of it.  I know that I might still have been over there backing, "Dolly's Secret Diet to Bigger Boobs" if my browser hadn't crashed.  Thank God for crappy Windoze.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Does anyone know how to get a watering can out of a vagina?

We'll answer that question in a moment.

Today I've been skulking around some of the Amazon discussion boards (when I clearly should've been writing), and I've been noticing a trend in those annoying-but-oh-so-necessary threads that allow you to self-promote:

Most writers have NO CLUE how to title their own book.

Mark it down, you heard it here, first.

While I see ad nauseum articles about how to design a very high-end book cover or have it done professionally, I have not seen ONE article pertaining to how an author should title their upcoming short story, essay or novel.

You might be asking why this is so important.  And I'll tell ya.

Usually, when you've got a lazy Saturday afternoon with nothing better to do, you'll brave the snow to head down to your local Barnes & Noble and start perusing the books available.  And while you don't consciously recognise what's happening, there are sinister and silent forces at work--they're called Psychology.  As you walk through the stacks of books, your eye is subconsciously heading toward the cover with the most appealing colours, interesting character depictions, and artist's composition.  You are unaware of it, but your senses are being assaulted by the psychology behind the marketing.  Once you see something interesting that "catches your eye," then you look at the title.  If your book passes the first two Turing tests, then you automatically turn it to the back cover and begin reading the synopsis, trying to find what it's about.  If you have then passed all tests, you decide you can pass the wallet test and head to the counter to purchase the book.  Then on Sunday, you spend your winter afternoon huddled in a sweet leather armchair, covered with your favourite woobie, and a cup of steaming tea, and you devour your book, getting lost in those interesting characters who first beckoned to you from that cover.

But what about in this digital world?  Well, we don't necessarily have the luxury of browsing tons of listings of books.  Sometimes, books are only listed by their titles.  I'm not discounting the continued need for a decent cover.  If you hang out at the Amazon discussion boards for any length of time, then you'll see that when an author is promoting his book, he has the option of inserting a hyperlink into his post that will then reference his book for sale on Amazon or on Amazon Kindle.

But there IS no picture.  Only a link.  And a title.  What then?

I've seen authors over there dance in their descriptions, sort of like a monkey-grinder in a really bad circus.  And all the while you know, that they really have NO clue about how to do a decent and catching description, either.

But, one lousy problem at a time.

One thing I've learned in writing comedy, both stand-up and fiction, is that the more descriptive you can be, the better your joke or anecdote.  Comedy is in the details.  So why then, are there all these books that begin with "How to Catch a Killer, or How to ________?"  Or, "The ________, Book One?"  Maybe because no one has ever told these new authors that a good title is just as effective in acting as the hook for selling your book, as a good back cover description on a hardcover edition.

Let's do an anatomy of this for a moment.  Last week when I was posting my first downloads to the Kindle boards, I noticed something quite interesting:  The post simply entitled, "Bitch," got twice as many viewers as the post entitled, "Blood Alley."  And again yesterday with my two new releases:  an old friend from my writing group congratulated me on my writing, and when I told him about my collection of short-stories geared for men, he said, "Hey, love the cover, love the title.  Will check it out."  Six hours later, he had it downloaded.  Last night while posting my new collection of comedic short-stories and essays to Kindle, my roommate happened to walk by my computer and said, "Hey, I LOVE that title."  Zen In the Art of Absurdity (Comedic short-stories and essays that will make you want to shove forks through your eyes)

Tell me which of the following covers is more appealing, sans titles, and which you might be inclined to purchase:

Take a good look at this cover--and it is an actual cover from one of my recent books.  By most industry standards, it would be considered a crappy cover, and I would agree.  There's nothing but a gradient on it.  No composition, no characters, no hint of what the book might even be about.
Now take a look at this cover:

Again, not much composition, although with this one, I took the concept of the story to which the cover was attached, and at least added some composition.  So, by all accounts, this is a much better cover than the last one, wouldn't you agree?

Would you believe the first one has sold more copies than this one?  The one above belongs to my flash-fiction story Bitch, and this one to my short-story, Blood Alley.  (all of my books are available in the widget along the right-side of your monitor)

Why?  Because the cover design was sheer genius?  Sure, I'll take it, but follow along.  I contend, it's because in the digital medium, where one is not afforded the chance to peruse stacks and stacks of books at one's leisure, at least on discussion boards where people go to search out new digital releases and aren't always shown the cover first, it takes a darn good title to pique one's interest.

And sadly, I think that's an important topic being dropped from author's minds and blogs.  With the markets now being oversaturated with new releases, it's constantly assaulting a potential reader's senses, and we, as authors and writers, need to up the stakes and get serious.  We need to stand out amongst all others if we want to sell books and articles, and the best way, I've seen so far, in doing that, is to have a title that grabs your reader by the throat, chokes the life out of them, and forces them to cry uncle by saying, "Okay, already!  I'll read your book!"

So, congratulate me, I'm obviously the first to discover it.  Mark it down.

I would love to hear people's opinions on this, because, and it's been known to happen--rarely, but still--I could be completely full of shite.  Weirder things have happened.

So.  Why the strange title to this post?  You're at the bottom of this thing, done reading now, aren't you?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I'd like to thank the academy...

Are we so used to rejection and the sky falling that anytime something wonderful happens, it shocks the living doo right out of us?

My response:  a vehement 'maybe.'

I preached a few weeks ago about this business being nothing but farming:  with each new contact we make, with each new eBook submission, with each new shiny dollar we use to bribe friends for their support, we...are...planting...seeds.  And like real plants, they take a while to grow.  Some may even forget where they planted, or what seed it was.  But when they finally come to fruition, it makes us feel all warm inside, like we've finally really accomplished something.

But why does that continually surprise us?  Why are we so geared toward failure, and accepting that as the norm?

Yesterday, I learned, quite by accident, that my upcoming novel, The Gaslight Journal, is now sitting in the number one spot at the HarperCollins web-site for the week's listings.  (I'd like to thank the academy...)  I've worked very hard at my writing--especially that book, because it was a genre that I love to read--am a huge Jane Austen, Edith Wharton and Henry James fan--but was wholly unfamiliar with as a genre in which to write.  In fact, I'll give you guys a little secret--the entire book hinged off one comment; the first comment that popped into my head one snowy, Christmas evening.

"Her bustle hit the ground, hard."

Don't ask me why bustle was in there, but it was, and I suddenly could actually see the story unfolding before me.  It was as if a movie was playing in my mind.  There were the snow-covered small-town streets, her black boots with the buttons, getting knocked over by a group of handsome, but moronic college men (who, we eventually learn, actually know her), and walking home from the train station to her childhood home.  I could see it all so clearly, that I had to immediately begin dictation.

And now, here we are, too many years later, and up to chapter twenty-six.  Why too many years?  Why didn't I just get it out when it began?  Because I had no confidence in my abilities.  Oh, I'd plunk away at it as the mood hit me, but never really took it seriously as a discipline until recently.

Which brings me to my essay thesis.  I think the reason we become so surprised when something wonderful happens for us, isn't because we didn't plant the seed, but because we did, and we weren't convinced that anything would come from it.

What is the first sensation we are faced with just a few seconds after birth?  That's right--the doctor kicking our ass--he slaps it.  And we cry.  I know, it's a wholly physiological response to getting the phlegm out of the lungs as quickly as possible, but I like its metaphorical purposes as an allegory.  It's this harsh introduction to reality that kind of sets the tone for the rest of our lives.  Judeo-Christianity tells us that we are born morally bankrupt, into a world of sin thanks to Adam and Eve's being an apple short of a baker's dozen.  There are a rare few who believe that people are born decent, but that's a load of crap.  I don't believe that.  I believe we're born with the odds stacked incredibly against us, and from the word 'go,' we spend most of our time fighting for what we truly want out of this life, which, if when analysed, make us dig deep into that dark, survival-centred place.  We fight ourselves, in the hopes of making peace with who we are.  We fight our parents for the car, for freedom, for adulthood.  We fight the world for peace, for fairness and for respect.

We fight our entire lives.  And we see failure.  Statistically, the odds of us succeeding are also stacked against us from the outset.  So we learn to fight the odds, too.  And we get knocked on our asses--plenty.  And we get our hopes dashed--plenty.  We see our dreams broken into tiny pieces, and if we can't recover, then we take pieces of that dream and slash our wrists with it.  (Hey!  This is pretty good stuff.)

All of this to say, we're groomed pretty much from the beginning to expect failure for most of our lives.  It's even in our vernacular:

"Don't get your hopes up."
"No one expects you to work miracles."
"Aw, better luck next time."
"Without bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."
"Why can't you do anything, you idiot?  Do you think you're too good to stay here on the farm and milk the cows......."  Okay, so I threw one in from my parents, but follow along.

And my favourite, by comedian Steven Wright:

"People always tell you that practice makes perfect.  And then they fake you out and tell you nobody's perfect."

This society as a whole is completely obsessed with failure!  And your "supportive" friends only reinforce it, with their condescension.  "Aw, you'll do better next time," while at the same time they're jumping up and down, happy that you failed and they still have a shot.  And maybe that's why I screech so loudly when something good finally happens.

People, we are not jockeying for position, here, we're all in this moronic soup together!

Where was I?

Oh, yes:  Why, oh why do we pay taxes??

And, scene.

What happens if it works?

My friend Lelia has that in her sig file, and I love it.  It is so antipodal to the normal way we view life, always trying to prepare for the contingency if it breaks.  In fact, we're so focused on that, that we never prepare ourselves for what to do when it finally works.  Maybe that's the reason some self-sabotage themselves before ever becoming successful.  They never prepared themselves mentally for handling the situation when they finally hit it big.

And mental preparation is needed for success.  Just ask those folks who are busy being successful.  But they probably won't have time to return your call.

How about, for the next week, I challenge you to begin planting seeds, preparing for the time when you are successful?  At the end of the week, come back here and post your experiences with it.  I'm curious to see how it goes.

Now, and I'm not just saying this:


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

That'll Be Seven Lipsticks, Please

Book Cover
In honour of my new collection of short stories coming out day after tomorrow on Amazon Kindle, I'm giving y'all a freebie...story, that is.  Hey...why have Canadian friends if you can't make fun of them?

Hope you love it, and any praise and comments are welcome.

"Oh, for god's sake, just pay her," said Sam's wife, as she felt the urge to sneeze.

Sam pulled a twenty dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to the woman, who merely stared at him, and Sam made the "take this or I'll shove it down your throat" gesture. Again, she only stared.

"Skect toords implu zurk bans?" she said.

"Um, excuse me?"

She repeated the phrase.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand. No speaka Canglisch." He laughed at his own joke.

"Look. Illll precipitation fork to strotches, stomples and snofrels. Dude to snowfall, stouth, and then northern manges, okay?"

"Honey, DO something," said his wife. "I gotta go to the bathroom."

Slowly, he said, "We no speak Canglisch." Again, he chuckled at his brilliance.

This seemed to register recognition with the woman as she inserted a device into her mouth and began again.

"The proper term is Englanadian, by the way. You're not from here, eh?"

"No, we're not. We ran out of gas right outside your lovely hockey arena so could you please take the money and allow us to go on our way?"

"Ironical, isn't it? After twenty years of marriage, suddenly he's out of gas," Sam's wife chimed in.

The woman continued to stare.

"Can you please take my money?" he said.

"FINE!" the cashier said, loudly. "See that machine over there?"

Sam nodded.

The woman's speech began dripping condescension and slowed as if Sam were needing his eye chart translated from Japanese, or Canadian, for those of you still following. "Take your little twenty, put it into the slot and wait for it to make the conversion. 's that simple."

"OH!" Sam said. "Currency conversion, of course. Why didn't you say so? I didn't realise we were that far over the border. Be right back."

As Sam walked away, the cashier chuckled to herself. "Oh, just you wait."

The machine looked much like an ordinary ATM, but larger. Sam was clearly impressed.

"Gosh, honey, I remember the day when you had to take your money to a bank, fill out forms, stand in line, deal with some embittered teller who would rather be at home with a good crochet hook...look at this! It's got everything."

"Oh, for god's sake, just put the money in, I gotta PEEEEEEEEE!"

"Right. How hard can it be?"

Spoken like a true man.

Sam placed the twenty dollar bill into the slot, the tv screen blinked a bright yellow. "WELCOME TO THE CCC. CANADA CONVERSION CONTROL. PRESS ONE FOR ENGLISH, TWO FOR SPANISH, OR THREE FOR ENGLANADIAN."

"What? No Canglisch?" Sam pressed one as he chuckled.


"Am I standing here?" Sam pressed one.


Sam snorted. "Wha? Only in Canada. All right, one."

"THANK YOU," said Stephen Hawking.

Another screen blinked out a menu:







Sam thought carefully. "Wait, this is a trick question. Canadians don't have fingernails, and Americans have the market cornered on sweaty socks." He hit the letter C.

Hawking's voice sounded pleased, or, as much as he can. "TAKE YOUR CURRENCY, AND THANK YOU FOR VISITING CANADA. CLOSE THE DOOR ON YOUR WAY OUT."

Five tubes of lipstick dropped down the chute.

The couple stared incredulously.

"What is this? Did I hit the Cover Girl machine instead of the Currency Converter? If I put in a token, will a concealer pop out? What happens if I get three blue eye shadows in a row? Will I win a date with Tammy Faye Bak...."

"Honey! Just ask her."

"Oh, miss . . . ." Sam strode over with all five lipsticks held high in the air. To the untrained eye, he looked like a transvestite terrorist about to rob the place, armed only with a lipstick and not a half bad pair of legs, but that's just this narrator's opinion.

"Your stupid machine gave me cosmetics instead of cash. I want my money back."

The girl only shoved an English to Canadian dictionary in his face.

Oh. Did I mention his dialect was atrocious?

Frustrated at Sam's atrocious dialect, the woman inserted her device.

"Look. There was no mistake. You put in a twenty dollar bill, yes?"

Sam shook his head.

"And you got five lipsticks, yes?"

Dejected, Sam shook his head.

"Then what are you complaining for? Are you ready to pay or not?"

Sam shoved the pack of gum onto the counter and waited for a total.

"That'll be seven lipsticks, please."

"WHAT?? I put the pack of gum on the counter, tried to pay for it with a twenty, you told me to go convert myself and now you're telling me I'm short? That would make the gum cost over . . . .

"Twenty-seven fifty." Even at critical bladder mass, his wife's thinking was clearer than his own.

"Our conversion rate isn't based on the current rate of conversion, it's based on the current rate of conversion that it was yesterday, but not yesterday's conversion rate, rather, what yesterday's current rate of conversion would be at tomorrow's rate of current conversion, which would make it today's current converstion rate."

The vein on Sam's temple bulged.

"All I have on me is a twenty . . . .er, five lipsticks. Where can I get more cash? Do you have a regular ATM?"

Now, there comes a time in every man's life when he unleashes hideous phonemes and wishes immediately he could suck them back in like fishing line up a Weedwacker. Fine examples of this would be, "I do," or, "I didn't know she was your sister..."

Sam soon realised the stupidity of the comment when the girl let out a huge laugh. Before she could say it herself, Sam cut her off.

"Yes, I KNOW. This is Canada, you don't HAVE real money. How stupid of me."

"Just get back in your car, drive until you get to the Big Chicken, then make a left. There's an ATM across from the plastic Stanley Cup."

"Honey, hurry back. Miss? May I please use your bathroom?"

"Sorry, hockey game patrons only."

"I'm desperate. How much for a ticket?"

"That'll be seven lipsticks, please."

John Candy--may he rest in peace--could have heard Sam's wife's torrential scream of agony. The cashier took pity and sold Sam's wife a ticket for just five lipsticks, although she was miffed that there was no Tahitian Rose among the tubes.

She began her journey and noticed a television showing David Letterman.

As she turned she could hear David's voice trailing in the background:

"Let me tell you the top ten reasons you won't find an American trying to light a Canadian fart...."

Just through the next set of doors lay the hockey arena, and she guided herself into the seats. The little boy next to her was holding a pennant with one of the team's names.

"So who's your favourite team?"

The little boy held up the pennant so she could see the name.

"The Canadian Weather Channels."

"So who's the other team playing?"

"The Fig Newtonians," said the little boy.

"And heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's the concession guy!"

"What are you doing here, little boy?" said Sam's wife.

"My dad is Ed McMahon, and he's announcing. What are you doing here?"

"I have to go to the bathroom."

"Oh," and he went back to munching on his box of green onions.

"Good news, Figs, you may have alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllready won!"

At that moment, Sam yelled into the arena. "Has anyone seen my wife?"

"Honey! Right here. Did you get the cash?"

"No. Why are you sitting in a hockey game with two teams who can't even come up with decent names?"

"Because the only bathroom they had was for patrons and I had to buy a ticket."

"Let me guess: it cost you seven lipsticks."

"Five. She took pity."

"So why aren't you in the bathroom?"

"Oh GOD!" She sped off toward the restroom.

Five minutes later, Sam's wife emerged with a satisfied look on her face he had only seen on their wedding night when she was too drunk to make love.

"So, Mr. Hotshot. Why didn't you get any money?"

And back to reality.

"Yes, I've been wanting to talk to you about that ever since the Big Chicken. Why does our account say we're overdrawn?"

"How should I know? You've had the ATM card. How much does it say we're over?"

"According to this slip, seventy-three lipsticks."

"Let me see that," and she snatched it from his hand. "How can that be? We had real MONEY in there when we entered this land of inflated nod. What did you do?"

Just then, a scream shot through the hallway. A teenage boy was standing just a few feet away with his arms waving wildly. He was mumbling something about driving directions.

"Mister, someone, anyone! Please help."

Sam stepped up. "What's the problem, son?"

"It's my dad, he's lost. My mother was yelling at him to pull over and figure out where we were, but he refused, thinking we could make it anyway. Does anyone in here know how to give directions?"

Sam's wife looked at her husband with a huge smile. "Go ahead, honey. Show em your stuff."

Sam's chest puffed up as he walked forward. "Son, don't worry, I can help, and you won't need directions."

The boy led Sam over to a bench where his mother and father sat arguing. He introduced himself.

"Do you have a map?"

All three tourists looked horrified and the boy spoke up. "Yes, sir, but we've never opened it. Do you know how hard they are to fold back up? In fact, no one's ever seen one folded after use. Oh, there are urban legends about it, but no one knows for sure if it's true. It's like Osama Bin Laden--people talk about him and suspect he exists, but no one's ever seen him."

"Son, hand me that map."

The entire arena hushed as the boy handed him the map. Within mere mortal minutes, Sam had shown them the way to their mother-in-law's home and began folding. The teen wasn't convinced as Sam grabbed the map. "Mister, are you sure you know what you're doing? I mean, you could get hurt."

Before the teen could continue, Sam bent over to tye his shoe, and when he raised back up, he was wearing a cape that had the letters "MF" emblazoned across his chest.

Everyone in the hallway gasped.


"Look at that!"

"You sure that stands for map folder?"


By the time the crowd's excitement had died down, Sam had folded the map exactly as it had been, crease upon crease, fold upon fold. The crowd was so in awe, they broke out in spontaneous applause, and Sam's wife continued to smile.

After the tourists thanked him and the crowd died down, Sam and his wife began making their way towards the front of the arena, arm in arm.

"Honey, I never get tired of seeing you use your powers for good. I love you."

He kissed her nose and said, "Why don't we get out of here?"

They approached the exiting turnstile.

The cashier once again was manning the gate. She smiled and inserted her device. "That was a nice thing you did for that family back there."

"Thank you, kindly. We're going home now. You have a good evening."

"Uh, sir, just a minute. You need a ticket to get out."

"Oh, okay then. How much?"

"That'll be seven lipsticks, please."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

You've completely lost yer mind!

Charles Dickens
We should be proud of our books and writing that we produce. Otherwise, why put in the time?

I'm finding it amazing how defensive these authors on Amazon can be if they have only dreams of becoming a big-time, NYC-published author with one of the big-6 publishing houses.  With any mention of the actual numbers involved, they suddenly get Tourette's-Syndrome and start squawking that you forgot this expense, or that one, and eventually end up making my original arguments for me.

My most recent discussion on Amazon, started because yet another author, who isn't published, decided her only recourse was to seek out big-house publication.  When I questioned her on this, and began using real math to demonstrate my point, she replied that no independent author had very big chances of producing a best-seller, and then went on to say a great book sells itself.  I don't think she was even listening to what she was saying.  So according to her faulty logic, no indie author is EVER capable of producing a great book, and that's just BS, pure and simple.  There are plenty of great authors who can consistently produce great books and then some idiot comes along and decides that simply because they were self-published, well, then they must be rubbish.

THAT is rubbish.

This conversation began because she was upset that some editor hacked up her work and made changes that she missed, so in order--in her mind--to keep this from happening, she was going with a big publisher in the future.  Wha??  You don't think an editor, paid big bucks, has ever hacked a MS to death and worsened its potential?  My god, they're not robots, they're human and very adept and capable of making mistakes.
It is just as easy now to learn to edit your own work as it is to sign a contract with someone (If you've already found an agent, but that won't happen on a first book unless you get published with a smaller firm first.), as it is to join either an online or face-to-face writing group and really open yourself up to LEARN from the critiques you'll receive, and then give. Once on a short story, my friend, author Barry Aitchison from Melbourne had me cut my 1,500 word story in HALF--well, less than half--down to 700 words. I quietly cursed him every time I hit "delete," but you know what? That taught me a LOT about engaging my critical eye when it was time, and what kinds of editing things to search for. Also improved the story 100%. I learned how to make one pass for tense; how to make one pass for active voice; how to make one pass for clichés; how to make another pass for superfluous verbiage; another for plot holes. I've often heard it said your work needs to go through at least 17 read-thrus before it's near enough ready for submission. By becoming involved in active writing groups where serious constructive critiques are given, you WILL learn how to do a proper, line-by-line critique, which doesn't necessarily benefit the author as much as it will benefit you.

I just think all of this tendency to almost "hero-worship" these publishing houses and their staff is very dangerous, not to mention myopic.

Here's the math I did:

Some things that aren't being considered when an author gets it in his head to go the big 6 route, is this eBook thing now on the table. A publisher, no matter how good a negotiation your agent does, does not usually go over 4% royalties on the eBook portion of a contract. Yep! There is no guarantee that they're going to have a good enough distribution team to push enough to sell, because with Amazon's 70% royalty rate, you don't lose most of your eBook sales, and with the market not nearly ready to reach its tipping point, eBooks are still on the rise of the explosion. Kindle has just added games and wi-fi, another huge appeal to some.

But, let's do some math for a minute.

If you publish with a major publisher (And let's take into account the rising popularity of eBooks), for an average +80,000 word MS, in hardcover, they'll probably price it around $25. But eBooks can't go for that much--people would lynch you. So, they price it at $9.99--still too high, but you can't tell them this because they're big-shot publishers and they think you're some po-dunk writer who doesn't know anything because you use y'all as a verb, so that's what it will go for on Amazon. 4% of that, will be $3.99. If you place your book on Amazon Kindle for $9.99, then you keep $6.99, realising that it won't sell for this price.

However, here's what most people miss in this hastily-drawn discussion: The initial math seems to point in favour of a major publisher. Looks like you're keeping more money, right? Wrong. Look harder. Because your eBook is priced out of the stratosphere, and your publisher is hard-headed and you can't tell him he's shooting his own foot at that price to spite his leg, your book won't sell as many copies. If we break it down into the same time frame, and re-do the math, let's see what happens:

In one month, J.A. Konrath has sold, on his own, 10,000 eBook units. He never prices a MS over $2.99. He keeps 70%. He has just made, in his pocket, $20,900. If he had kept his MS with a publisher, the eBook at the higher price won't sell as many, because people don't want to pay for digital, as well they shouldn't. So let's say the book sold half as many, which, at that price, is very ambitious. That would be 5,000 units, at $9.99 for 4%. He would've made $19,000. Or rather, he would've lost $900.

Now. All this to say, consider the math when shopping for a major publisher. Yes, they would do your book cover; yes, they would do some marketing and distribution; yes, they would use their editor. But is losing money worth that? Because what they don't tell you, is you don't get full-time distribution or publicity.  What they don't tell you, is, like a record company advance, all of your printing/publishing/design costs go against your advance and you begin in the hole.  Joe had been with Hyperion for 4 book releases, when on the fifth, they stopped promoting him, stopped setting up his book tours, stopped pushing distribution, and this is as his sales were rising exponentially! From what I'm hearing, most large publishing houses will NOT push a new release for longer than 2 months. That's about the shelf-life of a new release now, because with all the independent releases, it's flooding the market. Sad, but true. So the publishers, like men, are happy with you until they find something better to come along. So even while he was under contract with Hyperion, he was the one who had to set up book/blog tours; he had to do his own advertising; he had to do his own edits and line up a book-designer (I design my own since I do graphics and web-design, so if anyone needs help....) [Joe and I met in my online writing group so he learned in the same arena that I did how to do his own editing. Of course, Strunk & White's Elements of Style never goes out of style, and the full version is now online.], he had to write 7,000 letters to libraries asking for signing/reading dates and letting them know of his release. HE had to do the leg-work, and that seems to still be a huge misconception with large publishing houses. New authors think they'll have it made once they sign a contract. Not so.
The truth is, these large places don't do as much for authors as they used to, because the market is moving too fast and they're trying to stay ahead of the curve. So they shift the responsibility for TRUE promotion onto the author while they're out there looking for something better.

Which brings me back to my original point. If you're needing to do most of the legwork anyway, why not at least make your 70% back on return?

Needless to say, this woman painted me to be the idiot, and so to keep the peace, I ended the conversation by saying I'd see her book next to mine on the best-seller list.
Guys, confidence is great when approaching your work.  Like I said in the beginning, if you don't believe in it, why bother?  What becomes dangerous and the thing I find myself railing against, is when a new author still believes these publishing houses are going to cure all their problems; are going to save them from themselves and their dingy lives; are going to magically make it all better.
If that's what you think, you're in for a delusional ride.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tales from the CriBt.

I had a killer audition today.

At 11:00 a.m., I called Nathan and told him I wasn't there yet--that I would be a little late.  He assured me it would be okay.  But I felt like crap about it.

I met him at a huge warehouse that used to be a local department store, with its windows blackened.  His was the only vehicle in the parking lot, which made me a little nervous, but never-the-less, I went in anyway.

I began by filling out some paperwork, and then we talked for probably an hour.  He was happy to share his concept with me.

It's a sub-genre of science fiction and speculative fiction called, "Steampunk."  But in 1980 and 1990, it came to prominence as an entirely self-contained sub-culture.  It's fiction set in Victorian-era England during the time when steam power was still being used.  Remember the movie "Wild, Wild West?"  Steampunk.  There's also one called Dieselpunk.

Inside were 3 huge sets.  Well, 4 actually, if you count the graveyard.  (Gosh, I love Halloween.)  The one to my right was some famous Victorian person's home.  The back story being fed to me as we toured the home, was that the owner of the home, back in 1920, found her 10-month-old baby dead in its crib.  I learned this as we stopped by the first scene, that of a Victorian living room.  Nathan had certainly done a fantastic job of set-dressing, for there were roaring fake logs in the fireplace, illuminated candles both in sconces and candelabras, as well as a huge hole in the middle of the ceiling.  I had meant to question him about that, but he was talking so fast and with so much knowledge, that I knew he would eventually arrive at an explanation.

He caught me off-guard with his next question:  "Do you see this portrait?  It's called a sleeping portrait."

I'd heard the term only from "The Others," that creepy-good M. Night Shayamalan film with Nicole Kidman.  And before I could comment on it, Nathan informed me that the portrait was real.  Of a real baby.  Of a real, dead baby.  A sleeping portrait.  Apparently, that part of his story was true--these people had found their daughter dead in her crib.

Over the fireplace, was another "sleeping portrait."  Of an adult female.  Again, I waited for him to arrive at the explanation, and when he told me the portrait was of the real mother of that baby, it all made sense.  She apparently had found the child in her crib one night, and when she found it dead, she removed it from the crib, sat down in her rocking chair and held the baby.  She wouldn't let it go.  For the doctors.  For the police.  Not even for her husband.

Finally, two weeks later, she is exhausted, overcome with grief, and stinky--let's not forget stinky--from holding that dead, decaying baby in her arms for two full weeks.  Finally, her husband steps in, forcing her to relinquish their daughter, and the woman suddenly snaps.  She hangs herself in the living room, and the ceiling caves in after her.

Interesting point that I never knew:  in Victorian homes, when a family member would die, they used to dress the drawing room up in honour of the dead.  They would put the coffin on display so the mourners could view the body.  But sometime after the turn-of-the-century, the practice was stopped, when some smart-ass at a party decided the practice was too macabre, removed all traces of the dead, and decided to dub it the "living room," in honour of those still with living to do.  Hey, when you've got that much living to do, well darnit, you need your own room.

In the second set, another extremely creative back story was fed to me.  Many years ago during the World's Fair that was held here in Nashville at the turn-of-the-century, there were tons of booths in front of the wooden Parthenon structure, where people could sell food, trinkets and memorabilia.

One electronic apprentice also had a booth in front of the Parthenon.  But because the guy he worked for wasn't entirely altruistic in his motives, he blocked traffic to this other guy's booth, and thus, no one even knew he was back there.  This really pissed the guy off.

Skip ahead to after the fair when the apprentice and his assbag boss have a major falling-out.  The apprentice decides to set up his booth again, only this time in a store front where he can gain investors in his newest electronic invention.  Because the apprentice was nearly bankrupted by his boss, he decided to store all of this equipment in one of Tennesse's many hidden caves.  Little did he know, that each time he had hooked the machinery up, a portal opened and the equipment would steal the soul of any person in that room at the time.  He died before he could ever return to unearth the machines.

In 1990, this man's son found the equipment, and without knowing its horrific history, hooked up the machines, which again opened the portal and sucked out the souls of anyone near it.

In the third attraction, a bio-hazard has occurred and those infected are unable to leave the laboratory.  Infected by an organism of unknown origin, its unique qualities attack the life of its host, but while ravaging their bodies, the side-effect is that it then prolongs their life.  For every minute infected, their life is lengthened by one minute.

Nathan had me then enter the second attraction with the mannequins and machines, where I was to develop an improvised character that would hopefully scare him.  I've never worked in a haunted house before, but knew this was not your typical slasher/blood/gore/high-school-girls-screaming-in-your-face haunted house, so I relied on my extensive improvisation training to create something completely unique.

It worked.  On his first pass through, Nathan jumped back like a pubescent school-girl and yelled when I lunged at him.  He said out of all the times he's auditioned actors, only one other person was able to scare him, and that was not easy to do.  He had me do one more character, then I had to prove I could scream without hurting my voice (Hey mum!  That vocal major sure paid off, finally!), and then it was over.  Whop, bam, boom.

He's notifying us next week by e-mail, but I'm fairly sure I have a great shot at it, as it seemed to go wonderfully, and we got along as people.

Did I mention it pays?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling!

Well, not really.  Just the Perseids meteor shower at its perigee tonight at 10 p.m. your time.  And what is even cooler, is that along with the meteor shower, the planets of Saturn, Mercury, Mars and Venus will be putting on a showing as well.  This doesn't happen too often.  Seen in more detail with a scope, you can still locate them with the nekkid eye.

I absolutely love star-gazing.

"Now, Carla.  You hooked us into reading your blog about writing and comedy, and now you're talking about the stars?"

Well, don't writers need to be knowledgeable on a whole variety of topics?  I think so.  Years ago, when a fellow beginning actor asked me if I recommended that they attend college, I gave a quick and hearty, "You betcha!"  So many times the lure of quick fame and fortune precludes any real reasoning where career choices are concerned, and it burns me.  Why would one assume that simply because you've chosen a field in the arts, that no formal training or even working knowledge of life will be required??  Who set this ridiculous precedent?  Who decided it was okay for any aspiring artist to embrace their moron-ism (Read it carefully.  It doesn't say Mormonism.  Just so we're clear, but just to be safe, I welcome your hate mail.), and then head full-force into their chosen artistic endeavour?  No one that gave me advice when I was just beginning.

Katherine Mayfield has a fabulous little book that I highly recommend, entitled, "Smart Actors, Foolish Choices."  I used to know Ms. Mayfield, and I think for anyone starting out, whether it be acting, singing, magic, writing, etc., this is a fantastic book and I can't recommend it highly enough.  She has so brilliantly captured the lethargy, laziness and sense of entitlement that a beginning artist feels, and how to stop being that way.  Many things impressed me about her book, but I think the biggest thing I took away from it was her insight at how, if we're not on-stage, writing a book or performing a concert, then we tend to slip into depressions, drink too much, take too many drugs--anything to not feel the low that comes from not having that performing or creative high.

See, so many who are just beginning have this idea that if they become an actor and be famous, then it will automatically fix all the problems in their lives.  Or, if they become a writer and begin work on their book, then that will fix their problems.  The problem with that logic, is that no one realises going into it that they aren't on-stage every hour of the day, or on camera every minute they're on set, or writing on a project every minute of the day.  You'd become a cranky old witch if that were the case.  And self-medicating isn't the way to handle that.

Learn to become comfortable with your down-time.  Get a hobby; make new friends; join a book club.  Just don't box yourself in by needing to be involved in your profession so much.

Remember, there is life after the last chapter, and life after the final, "CUT!"  So do all you can to learn about it and enjoy it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It was a Stroke

Just 20 hours after I swore off writing, here I am:  back again.  And most of you show-offs predicted this would happen.  Why?  Probably because you've been there before.  Someone gives you a bad review, or they yell at your cat, or whiz on your car tire, and suddenly, you've given up the ghost; decided it wasn't worth it.  Those were expensive tires!

I often watched my mother behave in this way--and am sometimes convinced that this is where I honestly learned it (you know:  nature vs. nurture)--when something didn't go as she expected or someone didn't like what she did.  She was also an artist.  She was an amazing writer, and had wonderful potential, but her abilities were cut short too soon from a stroke in December, 2002.  Before that, she was a wood-carver.  She made beautiful wooden sculptures that she sold at fairs and craft bazaars.  And all during that time, she sang.  She had dreams of becoming a country-western singer since the time her mother flatly told her she was too ugly to become a dancer--a Rockette, specifically.  I guess it's true what they say:  families are good at handing down the love.  I've never heard the family say, but I suppose my own great-grandmother had a hand in creating the monster that resided in my grandmother.  She probably squashed her dreams, too.

All while growing up, well, from the time they discovered I was a musical and artistic prodigy, I've been at odds with my mother.  At age 10 when I learned this truth about myself, is roughly when the trouble began.  She never supported anything I did.  In fact, it was always her first instinct to simply force me to live in the real world.  "I'm only doing this for your own good.  Get in there, put the oil paints down, change your clothes, and meet me back in the yard so we can weed the garden.  You can't live inside your head all the time."

Oh yeah?  Trust me:  my passengers in here like me better than anyone out there.  And it's easier to make friends.

But I digress.

I spent a lot of time growing up fighting for, and defending my desire to work as an artist.  And another portion of my time fighting with my mother.  It wasn't until I was out of the house and on my own for many years that I began to understand the nature of her behaviour.  In a word?  The big green monster.  In four words?  The big green monster.  Jealousy.  Allow me to put on my armchair psychologist hat for a moment.  When children are denied the basics of survival while growing up, they tend to become very competitive adults, and unfortunately, daughters are not out-of-bounds.  She just didn't know how to support me like I needed.  Once I realised this, I let her off the hook, after being angry at her for so long.  I finally let it go, and began to feel empathy for her.  I began to understand that it wasn't an inherent hatred of me that caused her to become threatened.  It was an automatic response that she neither understood, nor could control.

About six-months before her stroke, however, there was one day when I sat down with her to talk.  I saw that she was a very changed person, but I couldn't understand the change.  She explained to me that she suddenly awoke one morning and realised she had been blaming the entire world for her bad choices; she had been angry that she had left too many regrets in her life, and she was now on a new path:  she vowed to never again live her life of middle-age with any regrets.  When I pressed her for details about what this meant, she informed me that her one, golden dream had been to become a singer, so she had already formed a rehearsal band and had set a gig date for early December.  I was amazed!  I couldn't believe this was the same, whiny, self-deprecating woman that had raised me.  She was so full of confidence and joy.  I'd never seen a look of real joy on my mother's face like that except the day when Luke and Laura got married from General Hospital.

So then what happened, Carla?  Well hang on, I'm getting to it.

On December 4, 2002, my sister woke me at 4:30 on a Monday morning to tell me mum had suffered a stroke.  It wasn't until weeks later upon questioning my dad, that I found out that on Friday night of the previous weekend, she was sitting at her computer in the afternoon, and was complaining of numbness on her right side and a slight headache, but she didn't worry about it.  She was only 58, why should she?  She went to band rehearsal that night as usual, with the headache.  By Saturday night, she still had the headache, but was stoked enough to play the show, and she was so high from it that she barely noticed the headache, continuing numbness and now the slight drag to her right foot.  Then on Sunday after her adrenaline levels returned to normal and the pain of the headache really set in, she had my dad take her to hospital, where they wanted to do an MRI, but my mother, having the sensibility of a cow, told them no, just give her the usual shot of Demerol to calm the migraine.

That was at 10:00.  At 11, she kissed my dad good-night, went to bed, and when he went to bed at 1, she was sitting on the edge of the bed, unable to speak and looking through him.  He called my sister, a registered nurse, who called the ambulance for him.  When they got her back to hospital, they began administering the blood-thinners, but you only have a 2-hour window from the time of the first symptoms to administer them for any hope of reversal.  She'd been suffering with the first signs of the blockage for 3 days.

When I spoke to the doctor that morning, he told me 75% of her left brain lobe was fried.  She was in for a long road of therapy.

So.  Long story short, how is she today?  Still not great.  She can speak a little, but can she still sing?  Like nobody's business.  In fact, since the stroke hit her primary language center, it affected her speech.  But somehow, she can sing on beat and in pitch, better than she can string together two words to form a sentence.  That's my mum--always doing it her way.  And visiting that farm is a regular sitcom, what, with my dad's grunts and whistles and mum's clicks and hand-gestures.  They seem to have found a creative way to communicate.

And who's now my biggest fan?  Yup.  My mum.  But not just a fan, a supporter, too, which is what I never had before.

So now that my crisis has passed and I've learned something from it, I can move on.  One of the two manuscripts on which I've been working, is a dark comedy about the relationship with my mum, both pre- and post-stroke.  Hey--might as well put this crap in my head to good use somewhere, right?

I Think this is one of those Hideously Disfiguring Disappointments I Warned you About

Some have it, and some don't.

Ever get sick of hearing this?  Sure, because it rings true--I know you.

But how does one really gauge if they "have" it or not?  We grow up listening to the nice encouragement of our families, friends and sick strangers who don't know better.  And for a time that's all we need, really; just to know that the people who love us, love what we do as well.

But what about when we're older?  I got a nice, hot slap in the face today when I read my first review on Amazon.  As you can guess, it wasn't promising.  Lessee, how did it go?  Oh, right:

"...$.50 would've been too much to have paid."

That shrank every piece of confidence in me.  Why?  Because this person put his hard-earned dollar into purchasing something from me that he ended up hating.  That bothers me a LOT.  My parents raised me to be a perfectionist (And then belittled me for it, but follow along.), and so I use that as my barometer for a lot of things.  Realistically, if what you produce is not perfect, then it doesn't stand a good chance of competing with the best out there.  And in this world of self-publishing, well, you have to step up your game:  no two ways about it; you have to stand out in order to get a good following.  This entire niche has opened the door for excellent writers who couldn't get a deal with idiot publishers too stupid to know they had gold on their hands before, to now begin self-publication, getting their wares out there, and the competition just got even higher.  The entire market is going to reach a tipping point sooner or later, but right now in this jungle here, close to the ground where new authors like me are fighting for survival, well, a bad review can kill a career before it gets going.

I'm sad for the person who believed in and trusted me to give him a good product that he would enjoy, and well, I failed.

But, it's okay.  It's not like I had tons of crap up on Amazon for download anyway.  Or it's not like I put a whole huge amount of my life into this.

Is it the review making me this way?  No.  It was merely the review that confirmed what I've always suspected.  (I guess you could say this is one of those hideously disfiguring disappointments I mentioned.)  Even though I've never had confidence that I could write, I always wanted to.  Always wanted to support myself through my art, no matter what it was.  And, it stings a bit when you find that adoring public you had in your mind during the writing of that massive tome, wasn't all that impressed with said tome when the time came.

So, this will probably be my last post here.  Thank-you to the few of you who decided to follow this dreck from my fingers.  I hope I haven't disappointed you, either.

I'm going to have some chocolate and pretend I'm invisible.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mother of God--You call That Writring?

Now.  Before most of you come after me with a lynch-mob and a chain-gang and any other hyphenated nouns, hear me out.

With all of this self-promotion going on lately, it's afforded me the chance to read a lot of blogs, announcements, excerpts and simple posts to many, many, *sigh* many boards, and one of my predictions seems to be coming true:

While self-promotion has opened the door to many reputable writers now being able to publish backlists of titles that they couldn't sell for a song and a pizza coupon to most publishers, it's also created a backlash of schlock now available for human consumption on the market.  And two things jump out at me from this:

  1. Those who seek to publish with a DTB publisher for the prestige, will get, to borrow a phrase from a fellow writer, not shagged, but shanked.  You simply cannot dip your toe into the water of DTP while looking down your nose at it.  And if the only reason you're doing it is because you already have that prestige from a large publishing house,  It's not some accessory a serious writer can put on or remove on a whim.  It's a serious, hard way of life if you wish to be successful.  And here's what doesn't make sense to me:  why bother giving away your eBook royalties at 4-10% if you can skip the middleman and simply publish it yourself for 70%?  Why go through all that bother with a major publisher, if your intent is simply to garner a name for yourself?  Hey--ask JA Konrath about that.  I knew him before he was anybody from our online writing group, and every now and then when he had time to pop in, he'd gladly share his experiences as a freshly-minted author, and trust me--it wasn't all roses and bank accounts.  So what if he had book tours, advertising and press releases backed by Hyperion?  Guess what?  And he'll be the first to tell you--HE was the one that still had to write over 700 letters to libraries notifying them of his books and seeking reading day privileges.  HE was the one who had to constantly stay in touch with his agent and make sure his titles weren't sitting on shelves collecting dirt.  My point, is that while he may have seemed to be the golden child with the backing of a large publishing house with a lot of reach, still HE was the one responsible for a lot of what he accomplished, so don't think eBooks are just an afterthought for the writer who happened to kill another tree before they came along.  Because they're quickly accounting for a large part of North American book sales, and now with Amazon UK, sales in Europe.  Mr. Konrath may be making not only his mortgage and the rest of his bills now with his eBook sales, but he worked incredibly hard to make the system work for himself, which is another thing that's got publishers hopping mad at him.  I say go for it, Joe! 
  2. With the onslaught of schlock, comes the onslaught of schlock writers.  Hey--that crap has to come from somewhere.  Already today, just this afternoon, I've seen a horrible, horrible book description that ranted more on Kindle vs. NASA (??) than it ever did with what the book was actually about, and an excerpt from a novel series that looked as if it could've been written by a very crazy-smart fifth-grader.  I realise we need to keep books on a general reading level, but my point is that this sweet, well-meaning man could've taken his writing a little more seriously and hired either a professional editor--which most ego-driven writers will not shell out money for--or at least located either an online or real-face writing group where he could've work shopped this thing and gotten it in working order.  But, you could tell he edited the thing himself, and it made me sad.  This guy had probably ten other titles to his credit, mostly all fantasy, which I just don't read, but you know he and his sweet wife from the deep south had big dreams of him becoming a novelist.
In addition to that retina-singeing circus, I've endured posts from people wanting to be serious writers who have no clue how to spell, use a comma correctly, or even simple grammar, and this was just in their discussion posts!  Listen up:

If you waste your precious time in posting to boards and blog comments so as to get you noticed as a writer, then for cheeze's sake, take pride in yourself by learning how to spell-check (If you're so learning-disabled you can't spell.  Dictionaries are a marvelous invention.), use correct spelling and grammar (It's called online Strunk & White--never goes out of style), and stop, OH MY GOD stop, using texting in your messages.

Yep.  That's been my day.  An amalgam of bad spelling, lousy grammar, and writers interchanging "their with there with they're" and not knowing the difference!  And me, with a type-A personality and an activist spirit, well, it's been a hard day of decisions as to whether (Not weather) I should kindly approach them and correct them, or, be passive and lethargic, and simply bitch about the problem and not lift a finger to help make it better, all so I won't hurt their feelings.

So.  What do you think?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How to market your talent if you cross-pollinate (Some practical guidelines)

The publishing world (I promise, this ties into acting and other arts.) has changed very quickly with wi-fi books; i.e., Nook, Kindle, app readers for smart phones, and so now not only is an author faced with writing on his next upcoming release, but he's also shouldered the responsibility for the marketing, publicity, the advertising, and it takes a My days with Lupus and Fibromyalgia, are at least 16-hours, all of it writing: my upcoming novel release in the fall, my blog, and I was notified last week that I've not only been accepted at AuthorCentral on Amazon, where I can contribute, but I'm also now contributing author at other sites, have a guest column coming out on one on October 4, and am a featured author at two more.

If you create it, they will come.

At first, I just had my web-site. So then, big deal? Now what? Most all of my previous web-design clients have been artists: actors; directors; musicians; and authors. Most authors. Word-of-mouth. I haven't spent one dime on advertising. I've never had to. And the biggest thing that I, as a webbed-mistress have harped to my clients, is that they need to exploit themselves as much as possible. We spend all this money on professionally-photographed headshots, acting classes and clothes for auditions, but we think we can get by without a web-site? Or if we don't, then we design our own web-site and business cards?? Uh, no.

Here's a quick run-down of the first things I tell my clients once we get their site live:

  1. Get business cards, and if your web-designer hasn't designed them to look like your web-site, then at least find a company who will, or who will get the design close. Your web-site should be your first portal to new "fans" on the web, and it represents you in EVERY way, so make sure your business card, which is the first portal to new fans in real life, matches the rest of your promotion materials. I always try and design a business card template for my new clients, unless I find they already have them, then don't waste money making new ones. Use up what you have.
  2. If you wish to incorporate your identity, then hire a professional logo designer. This person will be able to design a professional logo that will A. stand out in the mind of anyone who sees it, and B. will make it look good either on the side of a bus, or the side of a pencil.
  3. I encourage anyone like an actor, director, voice-over, musician or comic--anyone who needs a promo pack--to have it professionally done.  Part of my job as a web-designer (Which put my skills as a comic and writer to work.), is knowing how to present my client's company or my client in the best possible light, and that means knowing how to BS the hell out of the process. I don't mean make things up--I mean, to know how to put advertising spin on the product that's being advertised. There is a heirarchy of information that newspaper editors consider all the time when involved in layout for the next edition. It's a skill that comes from years of working in design, watching the trends change on a dime and keeping up with the technology to do it. Also, unless you're Mr. Serious, have this designer incorporate a little levity into your copy, be it web or promotional materials. Now, I will acknowledge there are some pretty nice site templates available now like Joomla and WordPress. But, however pretty the template may be, you are still responsible for its content, and isn't it better having someone who knows what they're doing, so you can concentrate on what you should, and that's learning new monologues?
  4. GET THEE TO A FACEBOOKERY. Ok, so it's not Shakespeare, but you get my meaning. Let's admit it: you're *going* to waste time on it anyway, so why not use it to your advantage? I have not only my personal page, but also now have a "fanpage," where I advertise upcoming stand-up gigs as well as books I have available for download. And I can interact with anyone there, which, if they're a fan of your work, makes the people very happy.  There are new social networking sites cropping up all the time, but when you're just starting out, in order to save yourself some time and sanity, stick to the big ones: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, GoogleConnect and LinkedIn. Most require profiles, so either give your web-designer one piece of copy of what you want written so that they can do it for you, or you will spend much time filling out profiles and preferences.
  5. Get a blog. I resisted this like the plague for a long time, then suddenly last week when my career exploded, I realised its value. People WANT the personal touch when it comes to you, their public figure. If you're a director, then blog about your current production, or the time when you directed "Titanic." If you're an actor, blog about your current production, or the time you acted in "Titanic." People are nosey--it's in our nature--so play your strengths to this human weakness. There are ways you can link a blog into your web-site, or, some people even have just a blog, which its capabilities and power are being expanded all the time, for photos, videos, even audio. Some buy just their domain name and then host it on the Blog servers.
  6. Pretend you are already a star. Wha?? I do it all the time when no one's looking, so make it work for you. I don't mean go out and buy expensive crap you can't pay for, I mean advertise yourself and get your name out there as if you were already a big-name. "But Carla, I'm not in this for fame."  Right--and I look like Christie Brinkley instead of David Brinkley.  Fine.  Your motives are your motives, but remember this:  your "fans" who purchase your product or see your show will treat you like you're famous, so give them what they want.  I learned this week on one of my sites where I contribute.  This one lady, an author with a novel already under her belt and a new one due to be released soon, had a mentor. A publisher, I think. And the first piece of advice she was given, was to do just this very thing. Now she has a huge fan-base, and is primed and ready for sales as soon as the novel hits Kindle this fall. See, people LOVE confidence. Not hubris, but sheer confidence. And to put yourself out there and have yourself marketed as if you're John Malkovich instead of John Doe, well, people, even if their reaction is negative (Who IS this guy, and who does he think he is?), will be forced to sit up and take notice.  Write your promo copy as if people have been living under a rock because they don't know who you are!  Make them feel stupid for not knowing you.  (Hmmn. Says he's got a movie coming out. Guess I'll see how good he really is. Once that happens, you've got them hooked. Hey--it's how it happens.)
  7. WRITE A GREAT NOVEL; BE A TREMENDOUS ACTOR; DIRECT SO WELL YOU ARE INDISPENSABLE. In wrapping up, all of this fluster in advertising and hard work, well, it won't mean a hill of beans if you neglect the basics, and that is to learn all you can about your craft and make it better.  This works no matter in what area of art you are. Why take the time to get Joe Blow located in your line-of-site and get him enticed into watching your upcoming movie, if your acting skills are no better than Heather Graham??  You've wasted all that time and energy and for what?
  8. Do not give up. This business is fickle, so when you put on your advertising hat, be thicker-skinned than when you are wearing your artist hat. Think of it this way: every time you fill out another profile, orpost to another discussion thread, you are planting seeds, and seeds take time to root and come to monetary fruition.
  9. Specifically for actors: Do NOT stop living your life. You're on-stage or in front of the camera maybe 4 full hours out of an 18-hour day, so go back to school, take a floral design class, learn basketweaving. Stop falling into depressions because you're not in a job. I love and highly recommend the book by Katherine Mayfield, called, "Good Actors, Bad Choices." She discusses this in-depth. Get it.
So. How is this working for me? Well, let me just say, that in one day, yesterday, I not only sold my first 3 downloads on Kindle, but I also landed a paying comedy job. 2 download units were from Facebook, as well as the audition notice.

All this to say, do not dismiss out-of-hand the power of social networking until you've been "unfriended" by it. :D