Wyrdwend

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

WRITING FOR A LIVING

Yes, You Can Make a Living Writing Fiction! 10 Tips from Elizabeth S. Craig

 Make a Living Writing Fiction: Follow these Ten Steps

By Elizabeth S. Craig 

I’ve been asked by everyone from writers with day jobs to high school students if it’s possible to make a living as a writer.  The answer is easy—it’s definitely possible.  The next question is trickier to answer—how does one go about making a living as a writer?

Although some writers hit it big with a blockbuster book, the rest of us need to work harder and smarter. We need multiple books with multiple income streams to make it.

Here are my tips and best practices for making a living writing fiction.

I’m doing it, myself (if I weren’t I’d definitely be looking for a day job):

1) Write a popular genre that you enjoy reading and writing.

If you’re looking for commercial success, it’s best to choose a genre that’s popular with readers. There are readers who avidly follow new releases in their favorite genre, reading as many as they can get their hands on. Writing for those readers makes discoverability much easier than writing ‘a book that’s so unique, it’s impossible to categorize’ (something I’ve heard a writer say before).

But the second part of that tip is equally important—it’s vital that you choose a popular genre that you enjoy reading and writing.  If you’re branding yourself to a genre, make sure it’s one you know inside and out. This will be much easier if you like reading those types of books.

2) Know what readers expect from the genre.

There are always specific conventions to follow.

Most genres have a particular pattern to them…readers expect to see the stories constructed a certain way. These conventions are helpful because they give us guidelines to follow.

It’s fine to ‘think outside the box,’ but probably better not to start out that way if we’re looking for success. It’s better to experiment after we have a more loyal readership and even then it can be tricky.

I’ve known well-established writers who flouted cozy mystery conventions and suffered poor reviews and angry readers because of it.

If you’re not sure what the conventions for your chosen genre are, step up your critical reading and note similarities in the books. Read customer reviews of these novels on retail sites to see what’s worked and what hasn’t for readers.

3) Write in series.

Readers enjoy reading series and writing in series definitely makes the process easier for authors. With series, we have a set story world, characters with developed traits, and a structure to work from. It’s a terrific time-saver and a way to quickly create more stories without having to reinvent the wheel each time we start a new book.

4) Write quickly.

If you can release at least one book a year, you’ll soon find yourself in a position to make more income.

Having several published books makes it easier to run promotions. You could lower the price of the first book or even make it free. You can give a book away to readers as an inducement to join your email newsletter list.  Aside from the promotional aspect, having several published books gives us more ‘real estate’ and visibility on retail sites.

You can also write faster and more accurately by keeping a story bible for your series, noting any facts that you’ll need to know for future stories (character eye color, style of dressing, lisp, the street the protagonist lives on).

That way you won’t have to take time to reread your own books to research basic facts about your series.

Another way to make the most of your valuable writing time is by giving yourself a short prompt at the end of each writing session to remind yourself where you left off and what you plan on covering next.

5) Self publish.

I write three series, all of which started out with a trade publisher.  I’m continuing two of them independently.

That’s because I realized that I was making more money by self-publishing than I was by publishing at Penguin-Random House…with fewer self-published books.

6) Publish well-edited, well-designed books.

Happy readers make for repeat readers. Make quality part of your brand.

Self-publishing, it’s said, is a misnomer. It takes a team to create really solid products.

7) Make your published books work harder for you.

  • Have your books available in print as well as digital. Use both CreateSpace and IngramSpark to maximize your international reach.
  • Expand into audiobooks.
  • Make your books available in foreign markets and subscription services through distributors like PublishDrive, StreetLib, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords.
  • Get your books in libraries through OverDrive, Baker and Taylor Axis 360, and Bibliotheca CloudLibrary through the previously mentioned aggregators.
  • Accept paid public speaking gigs to talk about your books and your writing process.

8) Continue learning about changes in the publishing industry, better promotional methods, and emerging markets.

Invest time reading blogs that inform self-published authors, such as:

9) Be responsive to criticism.

Read your reviews, especially the critical ones.  If enough readers comment or complain about a particular aspect of a character or your stories, consider making a change to strengthen your books and make them more appealing to readers.

10) Work smarter instead of harder with marketing to open up more time to write.

Promo can eat up time better spent writing. Make a focused list of promo areas you want to pursue and then mark the time to research, create, and implement on your calendar (Facebook ads, BookBub, etc.)

But also consider working smarter and setting up strategies that will help you in the long run without the continuous investment of time.

  • Tweak keywords and keeping book metadata consistent for better discoverability.
  • Link to your other books in your back matter.
  • Make sure to have your newsletter signup link in a variety of places, including your email tagline, website sidebar, back matter of your books, and Facebook page.
  • Inform your newsletter subscribers whenever you have a new release.

This approach won’t appeal to all writers and isn’t right for all writers. This type of production schedule is intense and multiple releases each year can create pressure for the writer. It can take a while to see significant returns…it’s usually a slow build. But for those of us who’d rather write instead of pursuing a day job—it’s worth it in the end.

***

What other tips have I missed for writers interested in writing fiction for a living? And thanks to Anne for hosting me today.

By Elizabeth S. Craig (@elizabethscraig) February 19, 2017.

Elizabeth writes the Southern Quilting mysteries and Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin Random House and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently.

She blogs at ElizabethSpannCraig.com/blog  and curates links on Twitter as @elizabethscraig that are later shared in the free search engine WritersKB.com. Elizabeth makes her home in Matthews, North Carolina, with her husband and two teenage children.

(Note from Anne: Follow Elizabeth on Twitter! Her “Twitteriffic” links are the best way to keep up with the publishing industry that I know! )

 

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Fall to Pieces: A Southern Quilting Mystery

When a quilting event falls to pieces, Beatrice works to patch things up.

Dappled Hills quilters are eagerly anticipating new events at the Patchwork Cottage quilt shop. The shop’s owner, Posy, has announced ‘Sew and Tell’ socials and a mystery quilt group project.

But one day, instead of emailed quilt instructions, the quilters receive a disturbing message about a fellow quilter. When that quilter mysteriously meets her maker, Beatrice decides to use her sleuthing skills to find the killer before more lives are cut short.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

Creative Nonfiction magazine seeks TRUE personal stories or profiles about people starting over after a failure or setback. Up to 4000 words. Paying market. $3  submission fee. Deadline June 19, 2017

C.G. JUNG SOCIETY OF ST. LOUIS ESSAY CONTEST $10 ENTRY FEE. Theme: Memories, Dreams, and Sensualities. They are looking for personal essays that add something unique to the conversation about Jungian ideas. Winners will have the opportunity to read their essays at our conference, Jung in the Heartland: Memories, Dreams Sensualities, October 2017. Winning essays published on the website. 1st Prize: $1,000. 2nd Prize: $500. 3rd Prize: $250. 3,500 words. Deadline: May 1, 2017.

LitMag pays up to $1000 for short stories! $250 for poetry and short-shorts. No reprints. They don’t consider work that’s previously been published either in print or online (including personal blogs.)

Write non-fiction? Impakter Magazine is looking for non-fiction articles and interviews (1000-3000 words max) in 4 verticals: Culture, Society, Style, Philanthropy. Articles about politics are also welcome but need to meet the magazine’s standard of high-quality content.  The magazine publishes daily (except week-end) and each piece attracts 10-40,000 viewers (in majority college-educated millennials). No submission fee.

Publish with the Big 5 without an agent! Forever Yours, Digital-first Romance imprint of Hachette is now taking unagented submissions, from novellas to sagas (12K words t0 100K words.) No advance. 25% royalty. Professional editing, design, publicist. Print books over 50K words.

ROMANCE AUTHORS! Here’s a list of 31 small presses that specialize in romance and do not require an agent for submissions. Also compiled by the Authors Publish Newsletter.

25 PUBLISHERS YOU CAN SUBMIT TO WITHOUT AN AGENT. These are respected, mostly independent publishing houses–vetted by the great people at Authors Publish. Do check out their newsletter

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YOUR BOOKS UNIQUE ANGLE

Identify Your Book’s Unique Angle: One Approach

Mary KeeleyBlogger: Mary Keeley

Last Sunday a church friend and I found ourselves in a conversation about the recent presidential election and potential ramifications thereof. They’re hard to avoid lately unless you’re a mole. The service was about to begin and we needed to get to our seats, but the short interlude of sharing diverse vantage points prompted an idea to share with writers who struggle to identify a unique angle for their books. A fresh approach is a must if you want to grab the attention of agents and editors. Unique angle

Here’s why. A unique angle is one of the first things they look for in a proposal. If it isn’t apparent from the beginning, chances are it won’t get read beyond the first two pages. This is especially true for new writers but also for established authors, because there are no entitlements in publishing. Published authors have to maintain the edge if they hope to get the next contract. So treat the search with a positive attitude because the return will be great.

Your special angle is your friend for these important reasons:

  • It makes your story or your nonfiction book stand out from all those other similar books out there. Think like an editor. Why should he publish your book when there are others already available that say essentially the same thing? Or tell a very similar story?
  • It tells you what to include in your book and what to leave out. Knowing your boundaries makes the writing easier.
  • A fresh new approach makes your book more interesting, which in turn will attract more readers.

But finding that new and different angle can be the hardest challenge in the writing process for many writers.

Here is one approach to help you. Begin by recognizing that the most exclusive part of your book is YOU. You are a unique individual with experiences and perceptions as singular as you are. Dig deep to recall people, personal and worldly events, places, and even objects that made a memorable impression on you over the years. No one else will have an identical response to yours. Use them to your advantage. Ask yourself:

  • Why? Be specific.
  • How? In what ways did it affect your future perspectives, likes and dislikes?
  • When? Was the time and place important to the impression it made on you?

Next, think about how you can use your noted particulars to differentiate your book. Perhaps for assigning a quirk to your protagonist that affects her reactions to events in the plot? Can you also use this to add tension and crises in the story? You might be surprised by ideas that pop up about how to skew your Christian living book’s theme. Even a little bit can be enough to produce a unique angle. Or it might take more thought, but at least you have some tools to work with.

Your personal reactions and impressions are unique to you, but you are not alone in them, so don’t hold back because you think you are a strange exception from the majority. Chances are the reader following you’ve been attracting already feels a connection to your personal impressions in subtle ways.

How did you arrive at a unique angle for your WIP? If you are still working on it, what is holding you up? If you have a different method for pinpointing a fresh angle, please share it.

TWEETABLE:

Your book needs a unique angle to get agent and editor attention. Here is one approach to finding it. Click to Tweet.

Here is one approach to help identify a unique angle for your novel or nonfiction book. Click to Tweet.

UNTOLD LAYERS

Untold layers of a man, say I

But three most vital and prime: Body, Mind, and Soul.

vitru_man_large

Of Body – movement, grace, strength, and sensation
Of Mind – craft, thought, apprehension, and creation
Of Soul – his inmost Self, Endurance, Honor, Truth, and Love

Untold layers of a man, say I

On Three All Other Things Depend

MY ADVICE TO WRITERS (and Everyone else)

The other day someone asked my advice on how to conduct myself as a writer. Or actually, to be more accurate, my advice on how they might better conduct themselves as a writer based on my prior experiences. Since writing is basically a “lonesome occupation” requiring a great deal of commitment, isolation (to a degree I’ll explain momentarily), focus, determination, self-discipline, and real work. They were having trouble dealing with the “lonesome” part of the occupation.

I repeat my advice to them here in the case this assists anyone else. Of course this advice could just as easily apply to artists, inventors, poets, songwriters, and even (to some extent) entrepreneurs of all kinds (all of which I am) with but a few minor modifications. So this is my Highmoot for this Wednesday.

THIS IS MY ADVICE

This is my advice after having worked for myself for decades. I’m about evenly matched between being an introvert and being an extrovert. I too do my very best work alone. However I prime myself by going out and observing people. Going to places that are active, like labs, industrial complexes, malls, museums, libraries, city streets, performances, college campuses, Vadding, to shops, exploring other towns, theaters, etc.
I do this for a day or two about once every two to three weeks.  Although depending on my work schedule I may not be able to do it but once a month. Nevertheless I do this as much as I can and regularly schedule such things.
(Aside: One place though I never go to is coffee shops. Everyone there is on their computers or cell phones and the interactions are limited and about all you see anyone doing is staring at a screen. Coffee shops are, for the most part, horrible and pretentious work environments, with people tending to merely congregate together in order to appear to be working, when in fact they are not truly working – they are seeking to socially escape real work by the public appearance of a displayed but primarily unreal act of “business.” On this point I entirely agree with Hemingway, coffee shops and cafes are the very worst places to do any actual and real work, though they give the plastic social facade of appearing to be busy.
The very same can be said to be true about coffee shops as “observation posts” on true human behavior. The types of human behavior evidenced in most coffee shops is unnatural, artificial, pretentious, deceptive, and rehearsed. People in coffee shops and cafes are extremely aware that they are being observed, indeed this is one reason so many go there, to observe and be observed (in a sort of pre-approved, socially accepted and promoted play-act), in the place of actually working. I almost never trust the close observations of human behavior I make of people in such environments. Such behaviors tend to be no more “real” than the work supposedly occurring in such places, and just as artificial as the plastic illuminated screens they seem so utterly devoted to, and the technological implements they are eagerly seen to be worshiping. My advice is to skip such places entirely if you can and go rather to where real work can be done and you can make true observations about actual behaviors, be those human or animal. Places like I mentioned above. End Aside.)

Then I come home and my mind and soul are primed with observations and ideas and stories and poetry and songs and invention concepts and business proposals.

When I’m at home and working, and tire, or am bored, then I go outside and clear land, hike in the woods, explore the nearby lands (I live out in the country), go fishing, track and observe animals, climb trees, cut down trees, cut the grass, etc. I said I do my best work alone, but actually I do my best work alone while doing something physical, and then I work in my head as I labor. Both because it is excellent practice to work in your head as you labor (the bodily labor frees the mind to wander and work) and because working while you labor is an excellent Mnemonics Technique. Sometimes I’ll write entire poems, songs, scenes from my novels, sections of business plans, create prototype inventions in my head, etc., then memorize the same and store them in Agapolis, my Memory City as I am physically laboring and only after I quit and go back into the house will I write down what I created.

I know modern people are not big on memory or Mnemonic Techniques (so much the shame for them), but I learned such things from the Ancients and the Medievals and if you ask me a superb memory and good control over your own memory is a far better set of skills and capabilities for a writer (or most anyone) to possess than a thousand cell phones or a hundred laptops or tablets or even a dozen internets. A good memory increases not only your overall intelligence but is fundamental to establishing, developing, and properly employing an excellent vocabulary. So practice writing or creating first in your head (after all you can do such things even when you have no access to even pen and paper), then fully memorize what you do, and only then write it down. Such exercises are not only important to do (because of what I mentioned above), but will pay many dividends in any of your creative endeavours and enterprises. Rely not just upon mere technology for your best creations and for your most important works, but rather upon what you most deeply impress upon your own mind and soul. That is both where creation begins and where it will be properly shaped and forged and worked into worthwhile and well-crafted final products.

I don’t know if this helps you any in your own creative enterprises but my advice is go out at least once a month, or as often as you need it, and do nothing but observe and generate new ideas. Then let them ruminate and percolate through you and within you.

If you thereafter feel all cramped up and unable to work smoothly then do something strenuous and physical outside. The labor will do you good and also set our mind free to wander. Then when you are primed and relaxed go to work.

To simplify to a very basic formula: Prime + Observe + Labor + Work + Memorize = High End and Valuable End Product.
After the necessary revisions for proper refinement, of course.
REWRITE OFTEN.

But just because you work alone doesn’t mean you are a prisoner of your environment and just because you work alone doesn’t mean you always have to be alone.

Go wander, go labor, go explore, go meet new people, go people watch, memorize, and then actually Work. Don’t just wade into crowds and pretend to work.

Actually Work.

Be extremely good for ya. And it will probably make you a helluvah lot better writer than you’ve ever been before. No matter what you’re writing. And it is awful hard to be lonely, or a slack-ass, when you are actually doing Good Work.

That’s my advice, take it for what it’s worth.

PACKAGES, SAMPLES, AND STOCKWORK – HIGHMOOT

Going to attend an author’s conference and seminar tomorrow.

Already have my packages, seminar samples, and stockwork prepared and in order for presentation…

THE SCALE OF YOUR WORK

Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer

Jay McGregor

CONTRIBUTOR

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
The London Book Fair lands on an unusually sunny three days in the capital. The scorching rays – rarely seen at all, let alone in April in the UK – seem at odds with a closed-off indoor book fair. But that hasn’t stopped scores of page-turner enthusiasts scouring the giant exhibition centre’s main floor, looking for publishers to schmooze, books to buy and advice to receive.

It’s the advice from authors who’ve ‘made it’ that seems to resonate most with attendees. Seminars and workshops are scattered in between the stands – all packed with a baying audience that fire off seemingly endless questions. They’re all trying to piece together an escape route out of the doldrums of full-time work.

One man, Mark Dawson, has a queue of wannabe writers lining up to speak to him as we sit down for an interview. Dawson is one of the self-publishing success stories that Amazon likes to wheel out when journalists like myself come knocking. But Dawson’s success isn’t down to simply publishing his crime-thriller series and hoping for the best.

Dawson has become an entrepreneur. With the self-publishing platform, he had no choice. The tactics he employed to promote his series aren’t game-changing, or even particularly clever, but the scale in which he implemented them is what made the difference.

To date he has sold over 300,000 copies of his series about an assassin called John Milton. Dawson says he pocketed “ six figures” last year and he’s on course to make much more this year. And he’s got plans for bigger and better things for this series outside of print form.

SUMMARY PITCH OUTLINE – HAMMER, TONGS, AND TOOLS

It’s Thursday meaning Hammer, Tongs, and Tools.

For the past few years I’ve been developing Tools to assist me in my career as a fiction writer, songwriter, and poet. In preparation for pursuing those careers.

I have decades worth of Tools regarding my business-careers as a business, copy, and non-fiction writer, and inventor (and as a poet, I’ve been a poet since I was about age 8 or so), many of which I have been posting to my Business Blog, Launch Port.

But here in Wyrdwend I’m going to start making it a habit to post some of my more useful Writing Tools in the form of Templates. I’ll arrange them all into a sellable book, or e-book, or workbook, something like that, maybe in a year or so. I’m too busy right now.

I’m giving you permission to use these tools, or to use them as idea-generators to make your own. Tools, as opposed to actual Works, I consider more public property than proprietary or personal intellectual property. Yeah, in book form I’d consider them mine, but in this form, if you find them useful, then use away.

Each week, barring some unforeseen exigency, I’ll be posting a different Tool, or a different kind of tool (writing, songwriting, poetry, etc.) that you can make use of in developing your own works. Some of these tools I modified from tools suggested to me by others, some contain partial information or design components from other sources, many are entirely my own creations.
To start I give you a very, very simple and easy to use tool. Nevertheless it should (if properly employed) contain vital and succinct information about your Work (Book or other Major Work) that you can use as an elevator pitch, to formulate a written pitch, or to simply keep the fundamental and primary elements of your work clear, distinct, and easily marketable.

SUMMARY PITCH OUTLINE

Opae (Title):

Date Begun:

ONE SENTENCE DESCRIPTION OF BOOK:

ONE PARAGRAPH DESCRIPTION OF BOOK:

ONE PAGE SYNOPSIS OF BOOK:

TWO TO THREE PAGES FULL DESCRIPTION OF BOOK:

I GET SICK – TUESDAY’S TALE

I used to breed Great Dane pups. Well, half Great Dane, and half Saint Bernard. I call them American Superiors.

So that I could keep one descendent from every generation and so that (going back four generations now) others who wished them could have one. Best dogs I’ve ever had. Best dogs I’ve ever seen.
But dogs are dogs. Their methods of breeding, reproduction, and birth are hardly easy, civilized, or elevated. Sometimes they’re just brutal. Which reminded me a lot at the time of things I’ve seen with and out of people too.

So I wrote this short story about em both: dogs, and people. Because when they are both high and elevated, they are both noble indeed. And when brutal and beastly I get good and damned tired of watching them kill (intentionally or otherwise) and of burying em…

So for Tuesday’s Tale I’m telling ya, sometimes I Get Sick.

I GET SICK

My bitch killed two of her own. There were only four to begin with, so it was a real blow. To all of us. As much as I love my bitch, and think she’s much smarter than average, it was totally unnecessary. Had I not been already exhausted with overwork I could have seen it coming. Could have prevented it. Should have prevented it, but truth was, I was just plain too late. I get sick of being too late. It always ends like hell, and the payoff is lousy.

With her breed of dog you have to watch the pups carefully. It’s not that she’s a bad bitch in any way, or an uncaring mother. She isn’t. Actually it’s quite the opposite. She cares a lot. Which is why she killed them. Too much of love is deadly in her kind.

We’d been through this before. It wasn’t our first rodeo, for either one of us. I knew how she’d litter, and what the follow on would be. She birthed for two days straight, but slowly. Very slowly. Again, normal for her kind.

Six pups in all, one blue, one brindle, one gold, three black. All of the coat combinations possible given her jet-black coat and the complex coat of her sire. But two were stillborn, a black female my kids named Zoë and a huge pup, twice as big as any of the other two combined, we named Goliath. It was bad he never drew breath. From his size at birth alone it was likely he would have been a prodigious monster. Maybe the biggest my bitch had ever bred.

But four lived. A black female we named Jade, a golden male named Leo, a brindle called Peter, and a beautiful blue (always the rarest in appearance) I named Seanna, meaning “blue gray wave.” They all thrived for five days. My bitch had more than enough milk to nourish them all. Leo grew the largest, Peter next, Seanna was the smallest, but fed the most, and yet Jade too did well. Her fat belly often swelled with what she ate.

On the fifth night I gave up watching the pups anymore. Just let their mother do all the tending. She was doing a superb job, and although I knew that being a Great Dane, and about two hundred pounds, she would be a danger to them until they were three or four weeks old, they all seemed well. I could go back to bed at night, let my bitch care for the pups alone and without my interference. I was already almost sick with overwork and lack of sleep. All night den-father to the litter seemed overkill.

The next morning I got up late, having overslept from previous lack. I went downstairs and looked at the thick blanket on my den floor where my bitch and pups should have been. But they weren’t there. She had moved them all up onto the couch. I ran over, afraid of what it meant, but it was too late.

She had two wrapped in front of her, her legs bent at an angle almost as if she were a human mother hugging them to her. She was licking and grooming them. I snatched them away immediately and placed them back on the floor. Then I looked for the other two.

Sometime after she had placed them on the couch they had slipped behind her. They were caught between the large seat cushions, dead and suffocated. One dead perhaps ten or twenty minutes, one dead probably not two or three minutes earlier. Both were still warm. Leo lay above Jade, a familial yet senseless fellowship of death.

I tried what I could with a syringe to resuscitate them both. But rigor set in quick with Jade. Leo stayed warm and pliant for nearly an hour. I thought at first he might have been comatose, instead of dead. But I could find no sign of breath or heartbeat, even a suppressed one. Eventually he too stiffened.

As best as I could reconstruct from what I saw their mother had probably went to get on the couch during the night to take a break from feeding them all. To take a little rest, maybe get some sleep. She’s used to laying on our couch or lounger as part of her normal routine. Then she heard one or more of them whine, demanding more milk, or her for her warmth. She had retrieved them all to be with her, carried them in her mouth to where she was, because after all she wanted them near and it was far more comfortable on the couch.

But they were too young still, and she far too large. Greta Danes bitches will often crush their young if left unwatched, and never even notice. An accident of nature they don’t think about until after death has claimed his prize.

She felt terrible afterwards, as did I. It took her awhile to figure out, but once she did she moaned and groaned. It was really my fault though. She’s a dog. But I’m a man. I knew what could have happened, and I had let myself become over-confident. That after a couple of litters she already knew all there was to know, and that with such a small litter to tend no real harm could befall form her loving but clumsy efforts at tending her pups. At two hundred pounds they were no match for her mass, and because of her breed, her unchecked affections were lethal and sure.

And, of course, I could have put up all of the cushions before I went to bed that night. That way she could not have placed them on the couch, where they could suffocate beneath her, caught between cushions many times their size, and crushed under a mother many times their weight. I could have also risen earlier. I had missed saving Leo by less than five minutes, and missed saving Jade by half an hour or less. But in all of these things I had been over-confident and stupid, had let exhaustion and lack of sleep and preparation blind me to risk. If anyone was at fault, it was certainly me. If anyone is to blame, the blame is all mine. And just as with any reckless, unnecessary accident or tragedy, there is always someone to blame. If you’re ever really willing to be honest about it.

That didn’t comfort their mother though, any more than it comforted me. Knowing how a sorry thing happened is very different from having prevented it. But at first she didn’t understand either. So she walked in rapid, worried circles around the small bodies, tried her furious best to lick them back to life, and when after an hour she finally realized they were absolutely dead, she demanded to go outside and tried to dig a hole to bury them in. I went outside and spoke to her softly, knowing she couldn’t understand me, but finally she looked up and left off her task. She didn’t need to understand me; she knew they wouldn’t be moving again. And so I guess she was sick of digging her holes.

Why is it that I’m the one that does all of the burying? I often ask myself that at times like these. I’m always the one putting the bodies down. I’m always the one digging the holes, or making the arrangements, or watching the corpses get planted.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

I know my time will come. It’s inevitable. One day someone will plant my mortal remains, and that doesn’t bother me at all. It’s just a body, and well hell, I like it and all, but it seems a poor ride into eternity. It seems very fitting to me to shed it in time. I’ll have other places to be by then anyways.

But until then, on days like today, I have to wonder, what makes me so damned special? How come I get spared, how come I’m the one always left behind? As many times as Death has vested me, smiled, shook my hand, spoke to me like an old friend and wished me well, he’s never once asked me to follow him anywhere else than someone else’s grave. Just recover from whatever hit me so that I can be the one to execute his rites. His silly, tiring, pointless rites and rituals.

Friends, family, victims known and unknown, even my dogs and animals. I’ve inhumed them all. Planted them all. Entombed their last remains so often that all that remains to me is but a shadow of what I used to know. Used to feel. About them. About myself. I get sick of being the one to do all of the burying. I really get sick of it. A disease without end. A task without profit.

And so one day, one day God help me, just send me a cure.

THE GRASS IS DEAD

I disagreed with him on many things. I thought him an outright fool on more than one issue and occasion.

(Yes, yes, I know how literary “icons” and the modern intelligentsia and the types of men who believe politics to be the answer to all existence – human or otherwise – like to cluster around each other to breathlessly and mutually glorify their own supposed genius. But I am far more skeptical of “modern genius” in all its many fictional forms. As a matter of fact I rarely see any real evidence of the supposed “modern genius” of self-styled “modern geniuses,” and their numberless cohorts, ever, or at all.)

But narrowing his views down to the strictly literary disciplines I did often agree with him on these scores: there is a new illiteracy (not in the inability to read and write, but in the poverty of having ever read or written anything of any real value at all), and letter writing is dead and with it much of higher human writing.

Otherwise the Grass is dead too. I doubt it will ever green again.

Günter Grass, Nobel-winning German novelist, dies aged 87

Author of The Tin Drum and figure of enduring controversy
Günter Grass

Monday 13 April 2015 05.38 EDT
Last modified on Monday 13 April 2015 09.40 EDT

The writer Günter Grass, who broke the silences of the past for a generation of Germans, has died in hospital in Lübeck at the age of 87.

German president Joachim Gauck led the tributes, offering his condolences to the writer’s widow Ute Grass. “Günter Grass moved, enthralled, and made the people of our country think with his literature and his art,” he said in a statement. “His literary work won him recognition early across the world, as witnessed not least by his Nobel prize.”

“His novels, short stories, and his poetry reflect the great hopes and fallacies, the fears and desires of whole generations,” the statement continued.

Tributes began to appear within minutes of the announcement of Grass’ death on Twitter by his publisher, Steidl.

In the UK, Salman Rushdie was one of the first authors to respond, tweeting:

The Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk had warm personal memories: “Grass learned a lot from Rabelais and Celine and was influential in development of ‘magic realism’ and Marquez. He taught us to base the story on the inventiveness of the writer no matter how cruel, harsh and political the story is,” he said.

He added: “In April 2010 when there was a mushroom cloud over Europe he was in Istanbul and stayed more than he planned. We went to restaurants and drank and drank and talked and talked … A generous, curious and a very warm friend who also wanted to be a painter at first!”
A life in writing: Günter Grass
Read more

Grass found success in every artistic form he explored – from poetry to drama and from sculpture to graphic art – but it wasn’t until publication of his first novel, The Tin Drum, in 1959 that he found the international reputation which brought him the Nobel prize for literature 40 years later. A speechwriter for the German chancellor Willy Brandt, Grass was never afraid to use the platform his fame afforded, campaigning for peace and the environment and speaking out against German reunification, which he compared to Hitler’s “annexation” of Austria.

Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig – now Gdansk – in 1927, “almost late enough”, as he said, to avoid involvement with the Nazi regime. Conscripted into the army in 1944 at the age of 16, he served as a tank gunner in the Waffen SS, bringing accusations of betrayal, hypocrisy and opportunism when he wrote about it in his 2006 autobiography, Peeling the Onion.

The writer was surprised by the strength of the reaction, arguing that he thought at the time that the SS was merely “an elite unit”, that he had spoken openly about his wartime record in the 1960s, and that he had spent a lifetime “working through” the unquestioning beliefs of his youth in his writing. His war came to an end six months later having “never fired a shot”, when he was wounded in Cottbus and captured in a military hospital by the US army. That he avoided committing war crimes was “not by merit”, he insisted. “If I had been born three or four years earlier I would, surely, have seen myself caught up in those crimes.”

Instead he trained as a stonemason, studied art in Düsseldorf and Berlin, and joined Hans Werner Richter’s Group 47 alongside writers such as Ingeborg Bachmann and Heinrich Böll. After moving to Paris in 1956 he began working on a novel which told the story of Germany in the first half of the 20th century through the life of a boy who refuses to grow.

A sprawling mixture of fantasy, family saga, bildungsroman and political fable, The Tin Drum was attacked by critics, denied the Bremen literature prize by outraged senators, burned in Düsseldorf and became a global bestseller.
Günter Grass is my hero, as a writer and a moral compass
John Irving
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Speaking to the Swedish Academy in 1999, Grass explained that the reaction taught him “that books can cause offence, stir up fury, even hatred, that what is undertaken out of love for one’s country can be taken as soiling one’s nest. From then on I have been controversial.”

A steady stream of provocative interventions in debates around social justice, peace and the environment followed, alongside poetry, drama, drawings and novels. In 1977 Grass tackled sexual politics, hunger and the rise of civilisation with a 500-page version of the Grimm brothers’ fairytale The Fisherman and His Wife. The Rat (1986) explored the apocalpyse, as a man dreams of a talking rat who tells him of the end of the human race, while 1995’s Too Far Afield explored reunification through east German eyes – prompting Germany’s foremost literary critic, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, to brand the novel a “complete and utter failure” and to appear on the cover of Der Spiegel ripping a copy in half.

His last novel, 2002’s Crabwalk, dived into the sinking of the German liner Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945, while three volumes of memoir – Peeling the Onion, The Box and Grimms’ Words – boldly ventured into troubled waters.

Germany’s political establishment responded immediately to the news of Grass’s death. The head of the German Green party, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, called Grass a “great author, a critical spirit. A contemporary who had the ambition to put himself against the Zeitgeist.”

“Günter Grass was a contentious intellectual – his literary work remains formidable,” tweeted the head of the opposition Free Democratic party, Christian Lindner.
Günter Grass in quotes: 12 of the best
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The foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was “deeply dismayed” at the news of the author’s death, a tweet from his ministry said.

Steinmeier is a member of the Social Democratic party, which Grass had a fraught relationship with – after campaigning for the party in 1960s and 70s, he became a member in 1982, only to leave ten years later in protest at its asylum policies.

“Günter Grass was a contentious intellectual who interfered. We sometimes miss that today,” SPD chairwoman Andrea Nahles said.

While there were plenty of tributes recognising Grass as one of Germany’s most important post-war writers, social media users swiftly revived many of the controversies of his divisive career, bringing up his membership of the SS and his alleged anti-Semitism.
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Speaking to the Paris Review in 1991, Grass made no apology for his abiding focus on Germany’s difficult past. “If I had been a Swedish or a Swiss author I might have played around much more, told a few jokes and all that,” he said. “That hasn’t been possible; given my background, I have had no other choice.”

The controversy flared up again following by publication of his 2012 poem What Must be Said, in which he criticised Israeli policy. Published simultaneously in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Italian La Repubblica and Spanish El País, the poem brought an angry response from the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, who saw in it “a disturbed relationship to his own past, the Jews, and Israel”.

Despite his advanced age, Grass still led an active public life, and made vigorous public appearances in recent weeks. In a typically opinionated interview for state broadcaster WDR, which he gave in February after a live reading from Grimms’ Words, Grass called his last book a “declaration of love to the German language”.

He also talked about how the internet and the loss of the art of letter-writing had led to a “new illiteracy”. “Of course that has consequences,” he said. “It leads to a poverty of language and allows everything to be forgotten that the Grimm brothers created with their glorious work.”

He also remained critical of western policy in the Middle East (“now we see the chaos we make in those countries with our western values”), and talked about how his age had done nothing to soften his political engagement.

“I have children and grandchildren, I ask myself every day: ‘what are we leaving behind for them?’ When I was 17, at the end of the war, everything was in ruins, but our generation, whether for good reason or not, had hope, we wanted to shape the future. That’s very difficult for young people today, because the future is virtually fixed for them.”

GETTING MEDIEVAL

Wow. While doing my research this morning I just happened  (if you believe in that kinda thing) to run across Jeri Westerson’s Literary blog.

I have read several of her books, and as a matter of fact Shadow of the Alchemist was the last I read. I consider her one of the very best historical fiction authors (male or female) working today. I highly recommend her works, and her works have also influenced my own writings. So she is my Highmoot post for the day.

Here is the blog address: Getting Medieval

Here is her latest blog entry:

 

MAN WORKING

For the rest of this week I will not be posting any original content to this blog or any of my blogs. Recently, due to my work schedule and other obligations, I have had very little time to work on the overall construction and the technical aspects of my blog(s). I had planned to complete those aspects of my blogs long ago but other things kept interfering.

So this week I have decided to spend the entire week finishing my originally planned construction-plans of my blogs to make it easier for agents, editors, publishers, and other songwriters and writers to find me and to communicate and work with me.

To that end I will spend the rest of the week finishing my original plans and retooling this site.

As I said, as it stands now I plan to add no more original content this week so as to finally finish my original designs without interruption or any more delays.

However you can still find a great deal of useful content in the various Categories already present on this blog, and on the Categories of all of my other blogs. Just pick the categories that interest you and browse at will. Uncategorized will allow you to find everything.

I will also be sharing useful articles, content, and posts I find on other sites as I run across them and time allows. But most of my time this week will be spent on blog development.

Thank you for being a Reader and Follower of my blogs, I appreciate your patronage and hope you find my blogs enjoyable, entertaining, and most especially, useful.

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?

A good one from a friend of mine…

Goal Setting for Writers (Firsts in Fiction with Aaron Gansky)

In our latest Firsts in Fiction program, Aaron Gansky and I chat about how writers can set goals for the new year and how goals for writers differ from goals of others.

Firsts in Fiction is a weekly netcast designed to help new novelists and other writers of fiction get a proper start. It’s also a fun place to hangout. It is broadcast live at 6:30 pm Pacific each Wednesday on Google Hang Outs. The show is posted later on YouTube, http://www.aarongansky.com, and here at http://www.altongansky.com. The audio version can also be heard on iTunes or Stitcher. Click on the Firsts in Fiction tab above for more.

Enjoy.

 

– See more at: http://altongansky.typepad.com/writersconferences/2015/01/goal-setting-for-writers-firsts-in-fiction-with-aaron-gansky.html#sthash.m2NM0lNa.dpuf

THE CURSE OF BAD ASSUMPTIONS (about EVERYONE ELSE)

I very often agree with Pinker’s insights and criticisms, especially regarding linguistic and intellectual matters. And in this case I think he has a point as well. At least in part.

On the other hand the equally weighty criticism of this critique of the audience is as follows: 1) it assumes that every reader and audience (or even a significant proportion thereof) is ignorant, whereas in fact literacy is at an all-time global high, and most people intentionally ignorant of a particular subject matter would not be reading your words in the first place if they truly were, 2) it assumes that your insights, definitions, and assumptions (as a writer or supposed expert) about a particular subject matter are the correct ones (and that in itself is a patently false and often easily disproven position), and 3) it assumes that the writer himself is a sort of knowledge expert (as modern men wantonly and ignorantly define the term “expert“), and few things are both as personally disgusting to me and as effortless to successfully dispute as the idea that the majority of writers are expert (modern or otherwise) on any given subject matter in any way at all. (Of course I could easily marshal other such arguments against the “curse of knowledge” premise, – sounds awful scary doesn’t it, but that is enough to work with at the moment.)

In other words just because you are writing on a given subject matter, or feel yourself qualified to write upon a given subject matter, is not evidence of any kind that you actually are qualified to write on a given subject. That shouldn’t stop you, and indeed it won’t stop most writers, and throughout history has never stopped most writers, but it should at least give you symbolic pause about your own expert assumptions about your own supposed expertise.

I do not in any way assume my audience is automatically ignorant or uneducated on any subject I write on or they read on, I do not assume that even if they were ignorant (of either a term or an idea) that they could not easily rectify this situation themselves with a modicum or research and effort, I do not assume that my writing will be “bad” merely because my audience’s intellect does not soar to my vaunted levels of erudite elocution and elucidation (interject here the proper level of sarcasm you feel might be warranted by this comment), and I do not assume that merely because I am well educated on a subject that either my conclusions, theories, or definitions cannot be incorrect. Those would be wholly unscientific and ridiculous assumptions on my part about both myself, and you, the reader.

This is the multitudinous, pretentious, and totally self-fabricated bullshit of the modern writer, modern literary theorist, the modern “expert,” and the so-called writing coach. (Or indeed almost any kind of modern coach.) It is everywhere and reflexively repeated as the common and self-evident wisdom of all good writing – Dumb it down boys and girls for you are the rarefied mental wonder of the ages whereas your reader is the dim-witted lackey who struggles to pace himself against your enlightened – whatever it is you are so dammed enlightened about (and it must be something important, after all, you’re a writer – so Hooray for you Einstein)!

Truth is this is merely a modern conceit to the modern man about what he assumes about the modern mind. That being his own mind. The modern man thinks himself smarter than everyone else and he does so without even a hint of self-irony or self-reflection. And this is, to a very large extent, why modern man is as modern man so obviously is.

I am no dammed “modern expert” on any subject matter and have no wish to be. I hold forth on probabilities as related to reality as best I can determine such things, I do not hold forth on my own expertise. To hell with that, and the probabilities entailed by it.

Modern writers often border perilously close upon the idea that subject-matter knowledge makes their writing automatically admirable, correct, useful, and illuminating. It only makes their writing informed. At least informed about what they are informed about. Which may or may not be correct. But they assume that just because it is informed this is the same as being correct. Whereas I know human nature and psychology far too well to automatically make any such laughable assumption about any information presented to me on such a flimsy foundation of validity – informed and correct can lead to entirely different conclusions about reality. I’ll let you guess which one is likely to prove the more accurate of the two approaches, because Truth be told, I suspect you don’t need my help at all.

See how that works?

I have no more automatic respect for the supposed genius and infallibility or absolute correctness of a writer, any writer, including myself, than I believe most actors give Wise Life Advice.

We (writers of any kind) like to think ourselves brilliant and Wise. Truth is we’re a dime a dozen and that’s intelligence and Wisdom on the cheap. Sure enough.

I always try to keep that in mind when examining my own ego and assessing my own writings.

The Source of Bad Writing

The ‘curse of knowledge’ leads writers to assume their readers know everything they know

Updated Sept. 25, 2014 12:06 p.m. ET

Poor wording drains vast sums of money from the economy, writes Steven Pinker. Nick Cunard/Zuma Press

Why is so much writing so bad? Why is it so hard to understand a government form, or an academic article or the instructions for setting up a wireless home network?

The most popular explanation is that opaque prose is a deliberate choice. Bureaucrats insist on gibberish to cover their anatomy. Plaid-clad tech writers get their revenge on the jocks who kicked sand in their faces and the girls who turned them down for dates. Pseudo-intellectuals spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.

But the bamboozlement theory makes it too easy to demonize other people while letting ourselves off the hook. In explaining any human shortcoming, the first tool I reach for is Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. The kind of stupidity I have in mind has nothing to do with ignorance or low IQ; in fact, it’s often the brightest and best informed who suffer the most from it.

I once attended a lecture on biology addressed to a large general audience at a conference on technology, entertainment and design. The lecture was also being filmed for distribution over the Internet to millions of other laypeople. The speaker was an eminent biologist who had been invited to explain his recent breakthrough in the structure of DNA. He launched into a jargon-packed technical presentation that was geared to his fellow molecular biologists, and it was immediately apparent to everyone in the room that none of them understood a word and he was wasting their time. Apparent to everyone, that is, except the eminent biologist. When the host interrupted and asked him to explain the work more clearly, he seemed genuinely surprised and not a little annoyed. This is the kind of stupidity I am talking about.

Call it the Curse of Knowledge: a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The term was invented by economists to help explain why people are not as shrewd in bargaining as they could be when they possess information that their opposite number does not. Psychologists sometimes call it mindblindness. In the textbook experiment, a child comes into the lab, opens an M&M box and is surprised to find pencils in it. Not only does the child think that another child entering the lab will somehow know it contains pencils, but the child will say that he himself knew it contained pencils all along!

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows—that they haven’t mastered the argot of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

Anyone who wants to lift the curse of knowledge must first appreciate what a devilish curse it is. Like a drunk who is too impaired to realize that he is too impaired to drive, we do not notice the curse because the curse prevents us from noticing it. Thirty students send me attachments named “psych assignment.doc.” I go to a website for a trusted-traveler program and have to decide whether to click on GOES, Nexus, GlobalEntry, Sentri, Flux or FAST—bureaucratic terms that mean nothing to me. My apartment is cluttered with gadgets that I can never remember how to use because of inscrutable buttons which may have to be held down for one, two or four seconds, sometimes two at a time, and which often do different things depending on invisible “modes” toggled by still other buttons. I’m sure it was perfectly clear to the engineers who designed it.

Multiply these daily frustrations by a few billion, and you begin to see that the curse of knowledge is a pervasive drag on the strivings of humanity, on par with corruption, disease and entropy. Cadres of expensive professionals—lawyers, accountants, computer gurus, help-line responders—drain vast sums of money from the economy to clarify poorly drafted text…

TWICE NOW – THE TWO FRONT WAR

I have learned something over the past week. Twice now I have made faulty observations on the internet. Once I looked at a picture and thought I saw something I didn’t (I was actually viewing a different type of car instead), and just yesterday I saw a comment made by one person and it was actually made by another. I apologized in both instances and that’s no big deal when it happens every now and again, after all even Holmes and Spock made occasional mis-observations. It happens to everyone. Haste, distraction, lack of full information, wrong information, lack of proper focus, these types of things work against everyone on occasion and inevitably (if not corrected or compensated for) lead to human miscalculations.

But two such mistaken observations in so short a time period out of a well-trained observer?

I am an astute and accurate observer on almost every occasion, being long trained for just that.

I have however apparently found a noticeable fault or defect in my observational skills. One which I must learn to compensate for.

By long practice going long periods of time without sleep barely effects my observational skills to any detectable degree. I have learned through habit and practice to let my focus drift easily through tiredness and exhaustion but when it is really required then to for brief periods of time sharply focus my attention on my target to compensate. Even if exhausted or having gone through long periods of sleeplessness I generally hold a certain part of my consciousness in “reserve” so that when it is needed I can call upon it to make accurate observations regardless of how tired I might be. I’ve been able to do that since I was a kid. And I’ve honed that skill over time until it is instinctive and reflexive.

When I am in pain I have over time learned to use the pain itself as a focusing and observational tool, running my observations down the length of my pain to sharpen my focus, when needed, of a person or a situation. The pain itself becomes a line of focus which will actually sharpen my observations and intensify my sensory perceptions. This is an especially useful ability when sympathizing with a victim or analyzing a crime scene from the victimological point of view. Pain allows me to sharply focus my observations along the same basic lines as how the victim must have likely viewed a situation as it occurred. So pain can actually be very useful for me as an observational tool in those types of situations.

Usually though I face exhaustion and chronic pain as separate entities or occurrences, not a sort of “combined force.”

But apparently long periods (a week or so) of chronic pain coupled with sleeplessness (in this case because my injury makes sleep difficult – I am not suffering insomnia as much as pained sleeplessness or foreshortened periods of rest) has both such a dulling effect upon my focus and such a distracting effect upon my senses that it skews my observational capabilities. Badly.

I begin to see things that are not there, or to be more accurate I tend to “displace people, actions, objects, or events from one source to another.”

Apparently this is similar in some ways to my mind fighting a two front war. One war is against exhaustion (the sleeplessness which dulls my observations), the other against distraction (the chronic pain displacing my attention and focus from one thing to another). This is the conclusion I have reached anyway and it seems a logical one to me. The evidence (of how my observational methods and skills have been recently skewed) seems to support the hypothesis.

Now, being forewarned and having made a probably accurate diagnosis as to the cause, I will need to discover a method to compensate for such a set of circumstances in the future. More rest and the reduction of chronic pain being obvious lines of resolution, however there may very well be times in the future where I face this same set of circumstances in a way I cannot immediately resolve through either pain alleviation or accumulating rest. So I should figure out a method of compensation, just to be sure.

And now that I am aware of this observational defect I am also aware of the limitations (or a chief one in any case) on my observational capabilities. Forewarned being forearmed.

Nevertheless, at the moment, I still don’t have an effective or real solution to this defect and limitation.

Maybe in time I can now devise one.

We’ll see.

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