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Ultimate Blog Challenge: Risk more

There’s a scene in the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Parisin which Owen Wilson’s character meets Salvador Dali. I’m a fan of

Woody Allen

Woody Allen (Photo credit: ThomasThomas)

Dali and Adrien Brody makes him weird and charming and, at that moment, obsessed with rhinos. After meeting Dali, Wilson’s writer character (an undisguised Woody Allen surrogate) starts to think that he needs to let his imagination off the leash and be more creative with his writing. I do wish more writers took chances and drew outside the lines.

Experimental fiction has a bit of a bad rep and sometimes for good reasons. It also gets a bad rep for bad reasons and the big bad reason is the author’s fear. Too often we hear that readers want to be made “comfortable” with a story. Agents and editors want “the same thing only different” from the successful authors they happen upon. You can write a competent mystery, thriller, romance — whatever your flavor — but I don’t think you can do anything great if you don’t stretch at least a little bit. Playing it safe means going with the tried and true. There’s plenty of that already.

The reader and writer in me is screaming, “No!”

A writer wants to do something more, different and great. A reader wants to feel like they are in confident, competent hands so they won’t invest a lot of time in a book and three-quarters of the way through discover the story has gone off the rails. Take your risks but make it plausible within the context of the book. I’ve just put a book down because an author made a choice that was implausible and annoying. For the first chunk of the book, we understand we are dealing with astronauts just back from Mars. After the three-year mission is over, they discover that one of said astronauts isn’t what he appears to be. He’s an astronaut impersonator. Really? Maybe that would work for some people, but it didn’t work for me and I put the book down, possibly never to pick it up again. I’ve got a lot to read. Life’s too short to waste on books that don’t work for me. If the author had made the astronaut impersonator the guy who messed up more, the conceit might have worked. Instead, the non-astronaut is the ultimate astronaut. Yeah, right. Got a brain tumour? Hand the scalpel to the brilliant amateur because he’s read some books and has a fresh take on this whole “surgery” thing. Ugh.

Please do take risks with your stories.

Go to unexpected places and surprise me.

Make me believe

(because I really want to believe.)

Midnight in Paris isn’t a great movie, but there is something very appealing about a cadre of artists in Paris in the ’20s who interact with each other, bounce ideas off each other and critique and encourage each other to reach beyond the norm. Too many people were living lives of quiet desperation (like now) while Hemingway or Gertrude Stein asserted themselves and their art as an important value, not a frivolous hobby. I don’t care for Stein’s writing at all and I prefer Hemingway’s short stories, but how noble to be so invested in art for art’s sake! Are we still invested in art or is our attention too fractured? Is there an equivalent to Paris in the ’20s now? Or have we devolved in our expectations of the value of art so much that we melt into the lowest common denominator of art critic: a mewling pack of trolling eunuchs at the harem with nothing to offer but barely literate, troglodytic snipe and snark in one-star book reviews?

Midnight in Paris succeeds only so much as nostalgia for an ex-pat community of artists in the 1920s succeeds, but I do love elevating art. When two hoods in an Elmore Leonard novel or a Quentin Tarantino movie or a Guy Ritchie film have conversations that you don’t expect, that’s a writer taking a risk to bring us more beyond the usual schtick and making it work. That’s “a Royal with Cheese.” That’s “Leave the guns, take the cannolis.”

Smack your reader with something they don’t expect.

Make them love you anyway.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Author Blog Challenge 16: Why ebooks?

One of the writing prompts for the Author Blog Challenge questions how we came to choose ebooks. Did you ever see the movie Annie Hall? Woody Allen gets stopped by a cop after crashing into several cars. He drops his license and the cop says, “Pick that up.” Woody tells him he has to ask nicely because he has a problem with authority. The cops sighs and says, “Please.” Woody picks up the license. “I just have a thing about authority,” he says, “don’t take it personally,” as he tears the license to bits and lets the wind carry the shreds away.

Cut to a few years ago: I was at a writing conference in Victoria, British Columbia. There I met the first person I’d ever met who had given up on paper books completely. It was ebooks or nothing for her. It was the early days of early adopters and missionary zeal. It all seems evident to most of us now, but at the time, the self-publishing revolution was still new to many. Naysayers and doubters noted that Stephen King had tried an ebook and it hadn’t achieved flight. Actually, what hurt that venture was a lack of convenient reading technology and he said he wouldn’t continue the story instalments if there was an insufficient audience of subscribers. It wasn’t the death knell to ebooks. Mr. King was just a little ahead of the audience. Seeing the future at that writing conference was the moment I’d been waiting for: the technology was catching up with my anti-authoritarian temperament.

Sex_Death_&_Mind_ControlFor me, the revolution was less about ebooks per se and more about the potential for achieving autonomy. I began to prepare in earnest. I stopped buying Writers Digest and started researching the net for all the latest information. I didn’t want to read the old guard’s bias toward so-called “real” publishing still evident in industry magazines. The web was full of what I needed: new friends and DIY information.

Go back farther for a little history: Before Amazon, ebooks and CreateSpace, there were vanity publishers and scandals and writers defrauded, writers ignored by the establishment and a market that was very much a buyer’s market. By “buyers” I don’t mean actual readers like now. I mean agents and editors who were reluctant to take a chance on new authors. I didn’t even bother knocking on the palace door.

I had worked in traditional publishing for five years in a variety of capacities and I wasn’t that impressed with most of my colleagues. Almost all of the publishers I worked with from those days are gone. Harlequin (where I got my first publishing job) is still around. So is Douglas & McIntyre. That’s about it. Cannon Book Distributors, Lester & Orpen Dennys, The Canadian Book Information Centre, and numerous publishers I repped are all bankrupt and gone.

Instead, I wrote for myself, not a nameless agent’s whims. I went away and did other things: magazine columns and editing. I dabbled and freelanced. I wrote short stories and entered contests and several of those ended up winning awards. Eventually those stories found their way into my collections (Self-help for Stoners and Sex, Death & Mind Control.) I wrote several books, but given my experience with traditional publishing, I was averse to even trying to get my work published. I just wasn’t interested in going anywhere to a gatekeeper on bended knee. Let the palace burn. My practice was to write a book and then, before I could even think of sending it anywhere, I wrote the next one. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? Like Woody Allen in Annie Hall, I was headed to jail and I didn’t care. Jail was preferable to being a cog in a machine. I hate having a boss so much, I haven’t worked for anyone else since 1991.

With self-publishing, finally what some considered a flaw in my character can be a virtue. I approach the work not as a self-publisher, but as a publisher. I have higher hopes and lower overhead than all those companies I worked for so long ago. It’s not a question of whether founding Ex Parte Press and doing the DIY thing is a good idea. My personality allows nothing else: Does not share toys, does not play well with others. Many are familiar with “ex parte” from watching Law & Order. The strict Latin definition means “from one.” Sure, I still hire out jobs I need done that other people can do better, but basically, Ex Parte Press is “from one.” Is it scary? Sure. But then, this morning, I got two beautiful reviews, one for my new crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus and the other for Self-help for Stoners. I get all the blame and all the credit and I didn’t have to ask permission from The Man. I haven’t felt this free since I was twelve when I didn’t have to work at all. I am Spartacus. I am Woody Allen in Annie Hall. I am a child again. I am a free man.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , ,

Can an artist produce too much?

Close up of Allen's statue in Oviedo (Asturias...

Image via Wikipedia

When comedy screenwriter superstar Ken Levine wrote An Open Letter to Woody Allen‏, he got a lot of feedback, positive and negative, on his blog. I encourage you to read his post, but basically he told Woody Allen to slow down and take a break in the hope Allen will make fewer movies, but better movies.

Here we have one artist telling another, I used to love your stuff, but your recent work disappoints me, so stop. I’m a bit sympathetic to that sentiment in that I’ve expressed some frustration here over the work of Jeff Lindsay, creator of the Dexter character.

The first Dexter book was great. Then the series went downhill (though I have yet to read the very latest so I’m hoping for the author’s redemption.) My objection in a long ago post was that in book three of the series, the lovable serial killer was doing very dumb, unbelievable things. The protagonist was sucked into a supernatural story and taking his elementary school-age kids to gory crime scenes as little serial killer apprentices.

I suspected that, since the Showtime series Dexter is such a hit (and well-deserved), maybe Lindsay’s agent and publisher were pushing him to make hay while the sun shone and pump out those books to the ravenous masses! (The reviews on Amazon backed me up on this. I wasn’t the only one who felt the author lost his way.)

So, while I understand Mr. Levine’s plea, ultimately, writers write for themselves first. If Woody Allen is happy with his script (and is still making money, employing people, finding financiers etc.,…) then he can do what he wants. I heard a rare interview with Woody Allen recently. He was shooting in London and having a great time doing it. He writes and directs to suit himself first and, if you want to play, follow along, too. Otherwise, go enjoy something else. No one’s forcing you to go to a Woody Allen movie. A lot of people don’t go now who used to, but I’ve read that most of Allen’s movies make the majority of their box office outside the United States. (There is a hint of Americanocentrism in Mr. Levine’s post, so perhaps that’s what informs his stance.) 

When I saw one artist tell another to produce less, I realized that I was guilty of the same thing with Jeff Lindsay. I love the Dexter character. I mistook that emotional investment for ownership of the character and its author. As long as the books are still making money and Mr. Lindsay is enjoying himself, it’s not up to me or anyone else to tell him to stop or slow down. It’s up to me to say, “Well, sadly, that’s not for me anymore. Too bad. Fortunately, there are millions of other books to read so I’ll go check those out…and console myself with the excellent TV show Jeff Lindsay’s work spawned, Sunday nights on Showtime at 10 p.m. EST.” 

Filed under: book reviews, Books, getting it done, Media, movies, , , , ,


Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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