Saturday, June 16, 2012

Simply Saturday: Now Serving Meat and Potatoes of Life

The house where I grew up is a small three bedroom rambler style that was the uglies shade of 1970s orange I have ever laid eyes on in my entire life. Thankfully, someone has since had the good sense to change the color. The house is in a small town in the country, about ten miles as the crow flies from the shores of Lake Sakajwea.

In this little house lived myself, my siblings, our mother, and various pets over the years. Despite growing up poor as dirt, our mother provided us with everything we ever needed. When she would come home from work, she made dinner. It wasn't just any dinner. It was the meat and potatoes kind of dinner. We were not allowed to eat in the living room glued to the television. We ate together at the table. We discussed our day, picked at each other, laughed, and enjoyed the time we had together. There were a few times in which we told on each other for little acts of indiscretion, or in my case, told on myself for lack of forethought before I spoke. Never, ever tell of your greatest feat of the day at the swimming pool when you're supposed to be grounded. These things do not go over well with Mom. I couldn't help it, I jumped off the diving board for the first time that day. But, I digress...

In our little house we didn't have a VCR or an Atari game system. For the longest time we didn't even have a colored TV. It didn't matter to us, or for that matter to most of the kids who lived in the small town. We were all outside enjoying the meat and potatoes of life. We had too much to do to worry about whether or not we were missing something on the magic box in the living room. The TV was more of an entertainment piece for grown-ups. Prime time television? We didn't know what that was. We were out playing hide and seek in the dark, or other games. We built snow forts in the winter and tree forts in the summer. Kick the can was an awesome variation on the traditional hide and seek game. We had snowmobiles and horses to ride. There were frogs, turtles, and even snakes that needed catching. We had no time for sitting idly on the couch stuffing our faces with the deliciousness of chips, candy, and other munchies. We were living life.

As a person who endeavors to write, the importance of these past experiences plays a significant role in the process. The saying goes, write what you know. How can an author know anything if they haven't experienced the meat and potatoes of life? I wonder sometimes about the quality of writing. I wonder if the experience of sitting on the couch watching television or playing video games will effect future stories. Will it effect the stories that my grandchildren will read? I wonder if this is where telling and showing becomes difficult.

I have recently read a blog about the show don't tell technique. Although showing is important, telling has it's place in writing also. I think what matters is how we tell. What are we showing when we are telling? Look at all the greatest storytellers of all time. They showed more than they told through their animations, voice inflections, and descriptive wording. Thoreau is a prime example of the showing through telling. When you read his stories of his experiences, he is telling it, yet showing the reader the beauty that surrounded him. He is telling of the deepest thoughts and emotions that lived within him. He was serving up the meat and potatoes of life; as he experienced it.

Is the mantra of show don't tell really that important authors should be ostracized from the writing world, simply because they choose to be different?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Musings: The Culture of Writing

As a person, I have worked in diversity and inclusion for a very long time. A lot longer than any paying position on a resume could reflect. However, it does not make me an expert on the subject, especially the legal aspects. What it does make me is a more cultured person, not any better or worse than others.

In our present day world, this cultured aspect of life is becoming more important. This is true especially for those of us who choose to write. No longer are we writing for the local or regional market. It is the global market that looms before us. As such, and this is only my humble opinion, it is my duty to ensure what I write accurately depicts the world as it is. Even if I have created a whole new world, such as in The Butterfly Fields, I still must practice diversity and inclusion in my work. Why? Because the market demands it.

What I know to be diversity extends far beyond race. Diversity is the cultures, traditions, lifestyles, histories, and subcultures of every group of people in the world. I once argued that the homeless population is a subculture of the urban lifestyle. It is part of the fabric which creates the tapestry of the diversity in any city. The same is true for the goths, industrialists, hipsters, generations, etc. We all, in our own right, contribute to the vibrancy of the world. This reality of our times should be reflected in our novels, novellas, short-stories, and essays.

People of all walks of life enjoy reading about themselves in a positive reflection of their reality. People like to be included. If we, as writers, are going to appeal to the mass global market, we must gain a satisfactory knowledge of those with whom we share the world. It is really a no brainer when it comes to modern marketing - of any product or service. If the goal is to expand the market base into the global market, the author, business, or organization must first understand those to whom they wish to sell their product.

In the writing of The Butterfly Fields, I acted with intent to include various words from different cultures in the world. I did this to reflect the cultures of the people in the story. I am not clever enough to create an entirely new language such as Klingon or Elven, but I am clever enough to utilize the translation tools available. I acknowledge that one must be careful when using online translation tools. I also consulted various language dictionaries, and people I know who speak those languages to ensure no unintended faux pas occur.

The Butterfly Fields is primarly written in the English language, however there are Irish and French words sprinkled throughout, with references to Romani and other cultures. My understanding of different cultures of the world has given The Butterfly Fields an authentic cultured flavor that we do not see in the usual novel. Or, do we and we just don't realize it?

As  you read your latest novel pay attention to what makes the characters so rich and vibrant. Is it the descriptiveness of their appearance and mannerisms? Or, is it the underlying culture displayed in the character's history, psyche, current or past circumstances, family life, etc?

Diversity is everywhere.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tootsie Pops and Other Suckers

P.T. Barnum is credited as saying (although he really didn't): There's a sucker born every minute. No matter what you are selling, there is someone who will buy it. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we've been hoodwinked, swindled, duped, wrapped up like Tootsie Pops and appropriately labeled - writers and readers alike.

Ever since the introduction of independent publishing, there has been a host of authors and readers bemoaning the price point issue, poor quality of writing, review manipulation, the deletion of reviews on Amazon, and the list goes on and on.

What's the dealio? Why is everyone complaining? Is this not the very dream we have wanted since infancy? To write in our own styles, our own poor grammar and punctuation, and have as many books as our eyes can feed on?

Through our own collective hopes and dreams we have created this mess. YES, as writers and readers, we have some responsibility and accountability to take in the whole fiasco. Gone are the days of the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the amazing mega-authors, and every aspect of the olden days of publishing. Why? Because we can.

As writers, instead of pushing forward with our dreams in the good old fashioned way of hard work and perseverence, we marched straight into the battlefield like good little soldiers. The odd thing is, the war isn't ours. It's not our fight. Yet, here we are pawns on the great chess board of the on-line ebook retailers. We willingly put on our Tootsie Pop wrappers, armed with our stories - good or bad - and began feeding at the holy grail of all publishdom, the internet. We don't profit from the endeavor, at least 99.9% of independent authors don't. What we do is make a profit for the online retailers, while scraping up crumbs from the cyberfloor.

Authors all over the internet are lamenting the decision to price their books at the low, low price of free or 99 cents. About the same price as a Tootsie Pop sucker. Or in some cases, a whole bag of Dum Dums. Oh yeah, if you are an author you totally get this. The bulk of what editors and agents call the slush pile has been moved off their desks and flooded into the marketplace. In theory, it seems to be an editor's / agent's dream come true. No more tasting flavors they don't like. However, in reality, it has caused problems for everyone - especially the readers.

In an effort to sell in quantity vs. selling quality, the readers have had to be enticed with more than just a chewy chocolatey center, no...this required a full on specially priced blow pop with the price points of free and 99 cents. Unfortunately, more readers are finding themselves with sticky ickiness stuck in their hair. What once promised hours of reading pleasure, now seems to be resulting in buyer's remorse. Amazon's 'See Inside' seems to prevent many of these catastrophic hair mishaps from happening, but not always. However, despite the great amount of empathy for readers, it is a free market. Buyer beware still applies. If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. If the readers keep buying the 99 cent ebooks, and downloading the hordes of freebies they also bear some responsibility for the current market mayhem.

We make our own decisions when it comes to what we sell and what we buy. As authors, we will just have to pick our favorite flavor, package ourselves in our Tootsie Pop wrapper and hope for a Chief Shooting Star. The liklihood of any independent author rising to fame and glory is pretty slim. The sucker manufacturers will continue to reap the profits, and readers will continue to risk gum in their hair. That's the way the market works today. 

Sometimes our mothers had to say things to us that we did not want to hear, but she did it anyway. At least my mother did. One of the things she would say, not in these words, but the sentiment was the same: QUITURBITCHIN also known as Suck It Up.