My friend Andre reminds me that in the history of mankind, stories were originally scratched in dirt and on walls, then etched on the skins of animals. The Incas told stories by knotting strings. Ancient Chinese scrolled calligraphy on cliffs. The origin of paper is up for grabs, there are many variations. But not till the 15th century were books printed on paper. Mass-produced books only came into existence in the 19th century. Then, think of it! whole flocks of epics erupted from the pages for the common man. And now we're in a new and massive sea-change: electronic books.
(If I sound like I'm in catch-up mode, I am. I only began writing and uploading ebooks 6 months ago.
As you can see, this blogsite is new. I still don't know how to 'network' effectively. I can Twitter but get totally teched-out on my Facebook page. I try to log in to Kindleboards, and end up in a beer hall in Munich.)
Now, as mentioned in an earlier blog, my friend Andre is albino. His albinism has affected his vision so he's nearly blind in one eye. He has always been a lover of printed books, transported by the smell and feel of them. But in the past two years he has begun to rely on audio-books to save his eyes, and on ebooks where one can - with a click - enlarge the fonts. Since he's an insatiable reader Andre is becoming a ebook addict. He finds the far-reaching and unending realm of ebook offerings a never-never land where the socially maladroit elusive-reclusive can drift and dream and pick and choose, and never show his face.
Andre works at home, his hours are his own. Sometimes for entire days he hits the Internet, sleuthing through myriad bookstores and platforms, the mind-blowing warehouse of Amazon, as he tries to grasp the enormity of this digital funhouse the whole world now inhabits. He unearths fascinating facts, outlandish claims, apocalyptic schemes and offerings. He has become my book detective, my media P.I. He calls himself my Bibliodick.
Of course, in this age of oversharing, Andre has become addicted to Facebook and Wikileaks where great masses of previously private data are now thrown out as public. As a Russian ( born in a rusty bathtub in Valdivostock) he is fascinated with the West, and the rest of the 'free' world, as we rush headlong into an all-consuming 'outting' of our personal, cultural, and political lives. How will we exist without privacy? He asks. How long can we stand it? I wonder this myself, as I discover my home-address posted on Facebook without my knowledge or permission, while Mark Zuckerberg swans around mouthing pro-privacy bromides.
"We're in warp-speed metamorphosis," Andre says. "Its out of control. Much too late."
Like Andre, against my better judgement, I have become addicted to certain blogsites. One thing we both agree on: nine out of ten sites are devoted to HOW TO MAKE MONEY ON YOUR EBOOKS. How to increase sales. When to drop prices, when to increase them. When to blog-tour, when to not. What I want to know is...WHERE ARE THE SITES DEVOTED TO EXCELLENT WRITING? Old-fashioned, hardcore discussions dedicated to The Craft. If you know, please tell me. Guide me there.
Appropos of The Craft, here are some basic questions adult writing-students have recently asked:
1) Q) Do I make Outlines when starting a book? A) YES! I didn't in first novel, and constantly got characters confused, time confused, locations confused. Its like going on a long trip without a map. MAKE AN OUTLINE. You don't have to stick to it, but it gives you something tangible to follow until you know where you're going. Change it as you progress.
2) Q) Why am I told by everyone to date pages, or at least chapters? A) SO YOU DON'T LOSE YOUR MIND. Have you ever revised a chapter 5, 7, 10 times, and then got the revisions all mixed up? Date, date, date every page, when possible.
3) Q) This is my third published novel. I consider myself a pro. So why does my agent say to keep everything? I'm dying to throw the bad stuff out. A) Because you don't know where your brain will be in two years. Old stuff today might seem new stuff then. In one god-awful draft, there might be one brilliant sentence. I have a tradition called CANNIBALIZING. I keep old drafts of novels and stories, and constantly steal the best phrases and sentences from them when working on something new. When that draft is completely exhausted of good stuff, my friends and I give it a burial, even a little headstone. "Here Lies A Draft Who Gave Her All."
4) Q) How do I keep my cast of characters straight. A) No-brainer. Make a FILE for each character just like a living person. Date of Birth, name, color hair, eyes, etc. When you see something in a mag-azine, a profile, a photo, throw it in the file. As it expands your character does too.
5) Q) Is it still plagiarism if the author is dead? A) (Hard to believe this is a real question from an educated human being. ) IT IS PLAGIARISM! Whether the author is a prophet from the Upanishads or a two-year old infant who's been published. Its true there's nothing new under the sun, but try to express yourself in words that come from YOU, your experiences, your DNA, your unique spin on this thing we call life. Read! Read! The more you read the more you'll gain confidence and a voice. Brilliant writing doesn't come from borrowed feelings.
6) Q) How often can I use the "f" word in a novel? A) SELDOM. The less you use it, the more effective it is. I use it sparingly, for emphasis. "That dog ate my f-cking shoe!" Its really the dog the character is mad at, but somehow the shoe gets "f-cked." I can't explain it. This is how people talk. AGAIN, I prefer to use the word for emphasis, or even humor. But NEVER, NEVER when describing the act of love. Otherwise it reduces the most intimate act between two people to mere fornication. A glottal stop. (Unless that's what your aiming for. But that's another kind of book. ) Again, the less you use it, the more of a wallop "f" has. But definitely use it. Its part of our vocabulary. (More Q and A's in forthcoming blogs. )
Just now, Andre has emailed some interesting morsels he has gathered about ebooks. What states have the highest ebook readers per capita? Alaska. North and South Dakota. Utah. Wyoming. Surprising? No. These are rural states, that don't attract free-standing bookstores. Enterprising writers might think of locating their next books in...Anchorage? Sitka? Fargo? The more remote and rural, the deeper a character can be. Two many characters dilute a book. Novels set in crowded, metropolitan centers, generally make me sleepy. Except for Don deLillo's UNDERWORLD.
A last morsel from Andre who hit on a blogsite offering a no-fail recipe for "WRITING BEST-SELLING EBOOKS." "...Your novel must be forward-moving. Don't linger on language. Extract data, move on. Don't forget most purchases are based on brief excerpts. You need to hook readers right away. No sappy intros, no operatic overtures. There should be blood on the walls by the second paragraph. By the end of the book, all but one character should be dead. Ebooks are the NEW FORM. Used in a pulpy kind of mode, they're a way to say IMPORTANT THINGS."
My favorite sentence: "Don't linger on language." lol
In a more serious vein: Anyone who loves books, writers, writing, who loves the evolution of a genius writer's career, please check out Ray Bradbury's NBA AWARDS Acceptance Speech from 2000, which I just discovered. I think Bradbury is/was a genius and I always loved his work. Even if you hate sci-fi, horror, martians, zombies, etc. please read his speech. He's the godfather of the current Twilight/Blood Approves/Vampires/Werewolves trend, but his acceptance speech is filled with love for the classics, Melville, Tolstoy, Faulkner, etc. Its brilliant, hilarious, and humble. EVERY WRITER SHOULD READ IT! Google: RayBradbury/ NBA /Acceptance Speech.com
Recommended Reading: READING LIKE A WRITER, A Guide for People Who Love Books and Want to Write Them. By Francise Prose.
Also: An oldie but goodie sure to blow your mind which I just discovered.
DHALGREN. By Samuel R. Delany. (A gay, African-American Sci-Fi genius. Published in 1975, now revived.) An 800 page monster like MOBY DICK, NAKED LUNCH, and CHOCOLATE RAIN rolled into one. Gorgeous, profound, rambling,visionary, postapocalyptic, sci-fi prose/poetry. A vortex of pure textuality. Now a cult classic, Jonathan Lethem calls DHALGREN, "The secret masterpiece, the city-book labyrinth that swallows astonished readers alive!"
Alohas for now.