Monthly Archives: March 2014

Everything Counts in Large Amounts

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“Write a 1000 words a day. You’ve got to be madly in love. Don’t listen to your friends – they can’t help you. Write whatever you love – science fiction, romance, soap opera – it doesn’t matter.”
- Ray Bradbury
 
Spanning the summer to winter of 2013, I’ve been striving to write a minimum of 3000 words a day, so the advice of Ray Bradbury to produce 1000 a day is far below what I’m cranking out. Sometimes I reach it. Sometimes I fall short. Sometimes I surpass it. Depends on the day. But, I think I’m getting there more often than not. I did the math and I was maintaining an average of over 2300 words a day for 5 solid months.

There was never a point in my life where I dreamed of being a successful writer. I always dreamed of being a successful prolific writer. One day, not that long ago, I realized, being prolific didn’t elude me because I hadn’t found success. Success eluded me, because I hadn’t made the commitment to become prolific. Holding at 3000 words a day in a sprint should help. After all, maintaining a mere 1000 words a day indefinitely, means I’ll be producing 3 novels of 100,000 words every year. That’s not too shabby.

Not all authors aspire to compose prolific work.

That’s okay. You don’t have to be prolific. We can’t all be Issac Asimov.

There’s no crime in being less productive.

The sin is in those horrid authors who pretend to be prolific.

Recently, I stumbled across a woman selling full priced novel ebooks that are 25 pages long. 5000 words. Give me a break. That’s pathetic. Needless to say, all of her book reviews are negative – from readers who felt swindled and are complaining that she was charging the price of an entire book to read a single chapter.

I get so angry when I see these greedy hacks watering down the industry of publishing with their piss. If you’re publishing your book one chapter at a time, you’re a greedy fucking asshole. If your stories truly are only 5000 words, then compile a book of short stories. But to sell them one at a time is horribly deceptive to readers. Seriously, if you do that to people, you’re a piece of shit.

There are a large number of authors out there who love to rip off the public and swindle as much money out of people as possible. The most common ways to do this are twofold:
1. Divide standard 300 page novels into 100 page novella trilogies; artificially dissecting a story in order to make a trilogy where there isn’t one.
2. Give the novellas huge fonts and big margins as a way to artificially increase the page counts. That way people see a book is 320 pages and they think they’re getting a lot of value for their money. Truth is they are buying a 100 page book that has been falsely inflated through sneaky formatting.

This commentary is my humble way of trying to protect readers and warn you about those shifty authorfuckers.

Most readers don’t pay attention to page counts or word counts. You read a description of a book and it sounds interesting and you say, “Oh, I think I’ll check that out!”

Now, if you’re standing in a bookstore, physically hold a book in your hands, it’s pretty easy to see how many pages the book has. If it’s 80 pages long and they’re charging you three times the cost of a normal paperback, you can say, “Hold on a second! I’m getting ripped off!” However, if the page count is high and it’s got some heft to it, always make sure you flip it open and check out the printing. Did they use that sneaky trick of making a super huge font and really small margins just to make the book look longer? Don’t let them rip you off that way either.

Online, it gets a little trickier. You can’t physically see the book so, the page layout can be misleading. Usually when you’re online, it’s easier to judge the quantity of story you’re getting by checking the word count. Obviously a longer book doesn’t automatically mean a better book, after all, one of my favorite books, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is under 10,000 words long, but for goodness sake, it’s a complete book and it’s reasonably priced! No one should have to pay the price of a novel to read something that only amounts to one chapter. For this reason, I always include the word count of all my books. On average, most novels are anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 words. My first was 190,000. My second was 104,000. Honestly revealing the word count is the only way to legitimately measure the length of a book, since “page counts” can be easily rigged to be nearly any number you want. Many authors won’t expose the word count of their stories. Some of them don’t give you the word count because they don’t realize it’s important information to share, others won’t give the word count because they figure readers aren’t smart enough to know what it means, and then you have those who hide their word count, because they don’t want you to know they are selling a 5000 word book for the price of a full novel.

To readers out there, I challenge you to scrutinize the words counts of books. Don’t just look at page counts.

To authors out there, I challenge you to be honest. Admit your word counts. Make it conspicuous. Have the decency to post the numbers and don’t puff up your books to higher page counts just to try and make more money.
 
“It simply follows that quantity produces quality. Only if you do a lot will you ever be any good. If you do very little, you’ll never have quality of idea or quality of output. The excitement and creativity comes from a whole lot of doing; hoping you’ll suddenly be struck by lightning. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. The history of literature is the history of prolific people. I always say to students, give me four pages a day, every day. That’s three or four hundred thousand words a year. Most of that will be bilge, but the rest… It will save your life!”
- Ray Bradbury

BOOK REVIEW: “A Voyage to Arcturus” by David Lindsay

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“What does it matter if something is old? Charles Dickens said any book you haven’t read is a new book. What does it matter whether it’s old?… I don’t understand what this lemming-like dementia is about constantly having new stuff. When was the last time you read the totality of Steinbeck or Faulkner or Katherine Anne Porter or Shirley Jackson? Everybody always wants something new, new, new – and that’s what’s killing life for writers. This dementia for ‘new’ is ridiculous. It turns everybody into a back number… We’re dealing with a more and more illiterate and amnesiac constituency. It’s impossible to get a readership that will follow you, because all they know is what they knew yesterday… And so when I hear this what-are-you-doing-lately thing, or that the Edgeworks books are bringing back all of my older books, I say, ‘Yeah, they’re real old books – like five years old!’ See, I do go off on these things. And if you ask the wrong question, I get real cranky.”
- Harlan Ellison
 

Back in the winter of 2000, while living in Cleveland, Ohio, I crewed on the Academy Award Nominated film American Splendor starring Paul Giamatti and my friend Madylin Sweeten.

A few days into the production, I handed out copies of my first novel, The Gothic Rainbow, to various members of the cast and crew. Two days later, Paul Giamatti gave me a copy of one of his favorite books – A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay.

Paul Giamatti is a bright guy, earning degrees in both English and Fine Arts from Yale, where his father was a professor. When such a well-educated gentleman recommends a novel, you tend to listen and Paul told me, “This is a really bizarre book. But I think you’ll appreciate it.”

Wow. He was right on both counts.

A Voyage to Arcturus is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. David Lindsay is like a literary Terri Gilliam, even though A Voyage to Arcturus was published 20 years before Terri Gilliam was born.

David Lindsay was 40 years old when A Voyage to Arcturus was published in 1920 and it was his first novel. By today’s standards, this book is completely surreal and strange. “Kooky” as my grandparents would have said. I can’t imagine how people must have reacted when it came out almost 100 years ago. Readers must have been tripping their balls off. The story is about a man who travels to another planet and goes on a voyage across the alien landscape, meeting a myriad of outlandish characters along the way. I’ve always loved stories that are very avant-garde and experimental in nature. Stories that break the conventions of writing and don’t follow the standard paradigms and established story structures are often the greatest joy to read. In that sense, A Voyage to Arcturus does not disappoint. The saga has no real plot per se. I mean, the main character is traveling across this planet, but there isn’t much of a defined goal or purpose in mind. Or, maybe I’m just not educated enough to understand the purpose. Supposedly, the characters he encounters represent different teachings of philosophy and his experiences in the tale are reflective of these various principals. Heck, I didn’t catch any of that. I just enjoyed the story as a very queer odyssey into a strange universe (not like “limp-wrist” queer I mean like “far-out” queer). In truth of fact, critics who have cited the philosophical metaphors may be over intellectualizing a little. After all, when an alien at the start of the fable asks the main character why he came to the planet, the main character even replies, “Will you think it foolish if I say I hardly know?… Perhaps I was attracted by curiosity, or perhaps it was the love of adventure.”

Our protagonist has no idea why he’s there, or what he’s doing, and neither do we. It’s fantastic. How exhilarating to encounter a piece of fiction that doesn’t lay out a storyline, but instead merely says, “Come along with me. I’m not telling you where we’re going or why. Let’s just go.”

The journey of the main character, named Maskull, is entirely solitary and linear. Meaning as he meets different people along his pilgrimage, they never reappear later in the story. That approach to storytelling certainly breaks conventions. We’re accustomed to the hero meeting people who join him on his quest and accompany our hero until the very end. But such is not the case in A Voyage to Arcturus. Maskull meets people, interacts with them, sometimes only briefly, sometimes for several days, then he moves on. Again, it’s a very weird way to tell a story and yet, it still works. There’s something quite refreshing about reading something so unusual and unexpected.

Not only is the world filled with astonishing landscapes and peculiar creatures, but as the story goes on, the main character develops new appendages like a tentacle growing out of his chest which later is turned into a third arm through some magic crystals. At one point he grows a third eye, which of course gives him the power to see things differently. In that way, it kind of reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. Just as Alice changes size and shape as she moves through Wonderland, so too does Maskull in A Voyage to Arcturus constantly have new sensory organs appear and wither away, depending upon where he is and whom he is with on his adventure.

One part of the story that I loved and really stood out to me (and again, from reading more philosophical studies of the narrative, it seems I’m not the only one who was left awestruck by this passage) was the part where Maskull describes the color of a plant, which reads:


But what was peculiar about it was its colour. It was an entirely new colour – not a new shade or combination, but a new primary colour, as vivid as blue, red, or yellow, but quite different. When he inquired, she told him that it was known as “ulfire.” Presently he met with a second new colour. This she designated “jale.” The sense impressions caused in Maskull by these two additional primary colors can only be vaguely hinted at by analogy. Just as blue is delicate and mysterious, yellow clear and unsubtle, and red sanguine and passionate, so he felt ulfire to be wild and painful, and jale dreamlike, feverish, and voluptuous.

 
Wow. Was that amazing or what? Therein lies a case where the book will always be better than the movie. How could you possibly capture ulfire and jale on film? Impossible. Unfilmable. You couldn’t do it. That is the kind of writing I love. The idea of a new primary color and the attempt to describe it? What an inventive and innovative thing to write. And how intriguing to describe something that truly defies the imagination. I have a damn vivid imagination, but I can’t picture ulfire or jale. I see ulfire as maroon. I see jale as a shade of violet. But those aren’t primary colors. So the way I’m picturing them isn’t correct. This is why I adore a book like A Voyage to Arcturus. Not only does it challenge you on a philosophical and intellectual level, but the author paints such a grand and fantastical world, it even challenges our imagination to visualize it. Heck, I even love the names of the colors. Ulfire and jale are wonderful words. Easy to pronounce. Not outlandish and ludicrous. They sound like genuine names of colors. You can easily imagine those words printed on Crayola Crayons… only I have no idea what the hell the crayons look like.

If you’re looking for a novel that is very mystifying and beautiful and imaginative and literally paints a world in colors you have never seen, check out A Voyage to Arcturus. As the book is nearly 100 years old, it is now in the public domain, so you can get ebook versions for free. As Paul Giamatti said to me, “This is a really bizarre book. But I think you’ll appreciate it.”

Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye

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“You see, all my characters write the book. I don’t write the book. All these characters come to me and say, “Listen to me.” And then I listen to them and I put it down, and the book gets written. That’s how I write, you see. All these lovers surround me, and they love life and they tell me about it.”
- Ray Bradbury
 
You know that feeling when a book ends.

All these characters and emotions and friendships and conversations and adventures and loves and wonderment and hate and laughter and tears and triumphs and tragedies and salvations and retributions and justices and injustices and moments and thoughts and ideas and insights and beauty that have changed your life for the better… and now you have to say goodbye.

Bad enough that all the real people in your life abandon you. The imaginary ones do it too.

That sense of loss and bereavement is something only you passionate readers can understand. Those of you who fall in love with those boys and girls on paper. Those of you who worry about their hardships in your day to day life, because they are so visceral to you. You worry about characters on the page even more than some people you know in the real world. After all, the world in the book is far more real than this place you’re in right now, isn’t it. This world is the dream. The book becomes your reality.

When I began to write my first duology, The Vampire Noctuaries, in 1993, I had already known the characters for 2 years. They wouldn’t leave me alone. They kept on talking. Kept on showing me things. I couldn’t get them out of my head. Anytime something in my real life reminded the characters of something, they were sure to start speaking up again. Next thing I knew, I was daydreaming about them all the time.

By the time I finished writing the first book, The Gothic Rainbow, I knew them intimately. They were more than friends. They had become a part of my psyche. Part of the fabric of who I am. After all, we are defined and shaped by our experiences and therefore, for every author, our characters become not just imaginary people in a book, but they are part of the story of our lives. Of our very being. You can’t talk about the life of J.D. Salinger without talking about Holden Caulfield, or J.R.R. Tolkein without Bilbo Bagins, or Mark Twain without Tom Sawyer, and by that measure, they not just imaginary characters, they are a very tangible facet of what defines the existence of these authors.

The Vampire Noctuaries are a very dark story. Very grim. Very depressing. And frankly, my real life became a lot better after I wrote that first book. One of the biggest reasons it took me 16 years to write a sequel was because I had started living a much happier life and I really couldn’t bear to return to those shadows.

Once I did return to that world, and I wrote the last sentences in the final book, something very unexpected happened. I fell into a terrible depression. It took me several weeks to pull myself out of it.

You know all that sorrow we feel when we finish reading a great book with characters we love? That grief is nothing compared to how it felt when I finished writing a book. I had no idea that would happen to me. I never thought about it. I never considered the possibility. It never crossed my mind. Because, you see, I didn’t feel remotely upset when I was done writing the first book, because I always knew there was more to write. I spent 16 years knowing there was more to the story. 16 years knowing anything the characters continue to whisper or nudge me about was always something I could write down later. By never writing the last book, it kept all my friends suspended in a state of endless possibilities. There would always be a new adventure to compose.

Once I completed writing Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival, all the possibilities had been exhausted. There was nothing left. My friends were gone. I could hear their voices no more.

Never did I imagine I could miss imaginary characters so much. I’ve lost flesh and blood friends in my life that I didn’t lament losing half as much as these fictional people.

I know many people would think that weird or strange, but it’s really not at all.

As human beings, we don’t really fall in love with people. We think we do. But we don’t. We don’t fall in love with a physical being. We fall in love with personalities. We don’t fall in love with what a person is, we fall in love with who they are. Their spirit. Their passion. Their outlook on life. Their dreams. Their hopes. Their humor. I’m not implying a physical presence is irrelevant. Obviously, there’s certainly a desire and a need for physical attraction and interaction and intimacy. Don’t mistake my sentiments for pragmatic nobility. I’m a shallow bastard just like everyone else and it’s a lot easier to fall in love with a girl when she looks like Aly Michalka instead of Keith Richards. My point is that falling in love is more than just a physical connection. After all, when a loved one dies, we don’t stop loving them, just because their physical body is gone. Right? We continue to love people who no longer exist. Their emotional connection remains. And that is what we fall in love with – how they make us feel when we’re around them. Their presence in our lives changes us forever and our feelings for them don’t vanish just because we can’t touch them or hear them talk to us.

How are fictional characters any different from a deceased loved one?

You still think it’s crazy to fall in love with imaginary characters you never met? Look at how many people fall in love over the Internet without ever meeting face-to-face. Messages and emails and phonecalls are enough to get to know a personality, to discover all the parts of a soul that are lovable. Keep in mind, these kinds of love affairs existed decades before the Internet was even invented. Before the Internet, generations ago, people would exchange handwritten letters and fall in love with pen pals, all over the world. In fact, in my personal life, not in a book or anything, I know a married couple who met and fell in love as pen pals. He was from England. She was from California. And they’ve been married over 20 years. Falling in love with someone you’ve never met, with a person who is just words on paper, is not crazy. It has been happening to people for centuries. How is the ink in the letter from a pen pal any different than the ink of a character on the pages of a novel?

Fictional characters have passions and opinions and dreams and hopes and humor and beauty, just like real human beings. In fact, fictional characters have everything a real human being has, except a physical body. When it comes to personality, a fictional person can be just as vibrant and alive and complete as any living soul. Therefore, falling in love with imaginary people isn’t strange at all. In fact, developing feelings for imaginary people might be even easier, because we are often exposed to their deepest thoughts and secret feelings; we get glimpses into their psyche that we never experience with people in the physical world. With imaginary characters, we get to know who they truly are, with no lies, no pretense, no betrayal. Even their imperfections and flaws are everything we dream them to be.

There was a time, when a girl I was dating finished reading The Gothic Rainbow, she told me that she felt sorry for the character of Helle. She said she wanted to get Helle a glass of milk and some cookies and take care of her.

I replied, “You know she’s me, don’t you?”

“What?” the girl said.

“As an author, every character in a book filters through the prism of the writer. Helle is largely based upon many girls I’ve known, but there’s also a little bit of me inside her. You do realize that, don’t you?”

The girlfriend didn’t really say much of anything in response, because she was horribly inarticulate and about as expressive as a plate of lima beans. Nevertheless, I think perhaps she began to understand what I’ve been trying to convey in this entire commentary. Fictional characters are still real people with their own morals and beliefs and agendas and loves and desires and dreams.

Believe me when I say, there is no shame or oddity in falling in love with imaginary people and seeing them as your friends. Corporeal people are a constant source of disappointment. Incarnate people will abandon you. They will betray you. They will lie to you. They will lead you on and make you think they care about you, when in truth they only care about what they can get out of you.

Imaginary characters will never do that. Makebelieve characters will always be there for you when you need them. They will never expect anything from you. They will never let you down. They will always remain loyal.

We never need to say goodbye to characters in a book. They will always be there. We can always spend time with them, talk to them, bring them with us. There is no need to give your heart to lovers who will never cherish it. There is no need to nurture friendships that will serve only to forsake you. Unlike any living person, the characters of your dreams will love you forever and befriend you for the rest of your life.

So, when you reach the end of a book, do not despair. That is not the time to say goodbye. That is the time to start a new chapter with soulmates who will live in your heart for eternity.
 
“The only thing worth writing about is people. People. Human beings. Men and women whose individuality must be created, line by line, insight by insight. If you do not do it, the story is a failure.”
- Harlan Ellison