Tuesday, June 21, 2011


 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.



Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Hello,  World.  

This is my third posting.  Students and readers and  soon-to-be/hope-to-be  authors are always asking me about the importance of covers and titles of books.  My response:  Worry about your writing first.  Its your best promotion tool!  Nothing is more important than that.  Intelligent writing compliments your reader.  They will become your fans.  Revise,  revise until your sick of it.  Take a break,  a long weekend,   then revise again.  And don't give up.

Joe Konrath, ("The Newbies Guide to Publishing" blog) submitted his  novels  for years before he was finally published.  By then he'd collected over 500 rejection slips.  When he stacked up his rejected manuscripts the pile (originals, not copies) stood over NINE FEET TALL.   Think of it.  Now his books sell in the hundreds of thousands.

Back to  COVERS AND TITLES.  Our  most basic sense is smell.  Its how we survived in caves in the age when pterodactyls flew.  But sight,  ah, sight!  Our eyes  have evolved into  the great monopolists of our senses.  Eighty percent of the  body's sense receptors cluster in the eye.  You see a striking BOOK COVER,  and you pause.   You are,  repulsed  or,  ideally,  drawn.    The main thing is to make a reader   REACT.  A cover should be somehow memorable,  unique.  Most people forget book titles,  but they always remember covers!

  I have bought books by unknown (to me)  authors,  just by their covers.  This is how I discovered Michael Ondaatje,  one of my all time favorites (THE ENGLISH PATIENT.) A couple lying in a bed.  It was the gentle way the man's hand lay on the  naked woman's back that induced me to buy the book,  IN THE SKIN OF A LION.  It was gorgeous.

For a moment,  I'll pimp for my own book,  my first ebook,  HOUSE OF SKIN, PRIZE-WINNING STORIES.   The  cover is the back of a fully tattooed man.  A simple yellow background.  Distinctive font.  Most people have loved that cover.  Some folks were repulsed,  or puzzled.  Until they read the first story in the collection and saw the connection.   The cover has gotten considerable  attention.  Love it or hate it,  no one can forget it.  (Credit to the cover designer, not to me.)

A cover can also be so beautiful,  so aesthetically pleasing,  it draws you in,  transports you.  Look at Dee DeTarsio's  novel,  THE SCENT OF JADE.  Its gorgeous.  Green, lush trees,   flowing waters. The suggestion of the tropics (well, Costa Rica where in fact its set.) I saw the cover and knew I had to read the book,  and thank god, its  wonderful!  It lives up to the cover.  But the COVER drew me first. Check it out on Kindle.

Want to be frightened, nearly repulsed?  Check out Joe Konrath's novel  ORIGINS.  The smoldering, piercing  eyes of the creature,  the promise of apocalyptic horror.  I had to buy it because I am drawn to dark fiction that's well written,  and to anything relating to ...the Devil.  (I know he exists, I think I saw him driving a cab in New York City. )  Anyway,  the cover is mesmerizing.  You are repulsed, and scared, but drawn. The concept of the novel is even more frightening.  It lives up to the cover.  And there will be a sequel.

Now, for TITLES.  Again,  they should be memorable.  They should intrigue the  reader, make him/her want to explore the novel or story WITHIN.  But they must have content behind them.  Don't use a title just for shock-effect,  or because its lyrical.  Your content,  your writing,   have to live up to the title.  Sometimes when I finish a story or novel,   I  do extra  research on the subject before I can give it a title that does it justice.  Now that may just be answering a need that calls to the hunter/gatherer in my genes.  But ten times out of ten, a little research helps.  It gives you  more authority on the subject.  And may introduce a fascinating twist to the title.

WITH TITLES,  KNOW WHAT YOU'RE SAYING.  And, why your saying it.   You have to have muscle behind that title.  And  it will show up in the content.  The title of my upcoming ebook story collection,  CANNIBAL NIGHTS,  sounds like  a horror-story collection.  No,  I don't do genre.  So maybe I made a mistake.  But I wanted something that drew readers in,  even though its taken from a story entitled "Cannibal Nights,  Colonial Afternoons,"  about Gauguin in the Marquesas Islands  in his last morphine-addled,  syphillis-ridden days (and the mystery of who really painted his last canvases.)  Does the book title work?  Or will readers will feel manipulated?   Oh,  dear. Time will tell.

Another story in the book is called "The French Foreign Legionnaire's Batard," (Bastard).  About a  Tahitian girl who goes to France searching for her biological father,  a French Foreign Legionnaire who had once done military duty in Tahiti (Alas,  its still a  commonwealth of France.)  Its a long title,  but I hope intriguing.  I had another title but then  did some  research on  the French Foreign Legion,  and  came up with this better  title.  (Again,  my hunter-gatherer genes.)  "Assassin Orders Peking Duck"  is another story in the collection.  I must confess,  its less about  assassins and ducks and more about loyalty,  love and loss.  But once I decided on the title,  I was hooked.  Again,  time will tell if it works.

I don't know.  Maybe I'm all wrong.  Who would have thought the title  WAR AND PEACE (yawn) would be a novel that ranked up there with the Bible.  MOBY DICK?  Oh, please.  How intriguing and seductive is that?  Yet, its  one of my favorite books of all time.  LITTLE WOMEN?  Enough.

 I have an albino friend, Andre, (more about him in another blog.)His albinism has caused loss of vision in one eye, and so he mostly does audio-books when his good eye tires.  But he's an inveterate  book-lover and likes to cruise his three rooms of paperbacks,  nose to  the spines,  smelling that good musty book smell,  that in the odorless,  digital future,  we will one day mourn the passing of.   Andre  is constantly scanning  new books and title just to keep abreast.  Most of them he finds redundant.   He has  formulated  a theory:

Books  should  have ONE-WORD TITLES  only.  The background should  always be DEAD-WHITE.   The brilliance of the writing within  should  compensate.  Huh?  That to me is brain-rape.  Who could survive such a white-out?  Imagine it in stores,  on your computer screen.  Anyway. After the long haul of writing a book,  authors deserve to  cut loose a little,   throw paint at  a  canvas,  explode with novas blazing outward from our spleen.  In other words,  like hyper-inmates,  let us have our fun,  and splash around in our covers and titles.  Ideas!  Ideas!

Eventually,  if the gods are good,  we will come to our senses,  remember who we are,  who  our target audience is,  how we want to be remembered.  And  we will arrive at sane and memorable COVERS  and TITLES  that will   enhance the content of our books,  so that they  will stand forever irrefutably...  unalone.

(On the other hand,  Andre,  one of the most memorable covers I have ever seen was Don DeLillo's novel,  WHITE NOISE.  Two words.  On a dead-white cover.  And it was brilliant. )


Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Hello, World.  This is my second posting.

This blog site is  going to be about writing,  GOOD WRITING.   There seem to be millions of blog postings  on  HOW TO PUBLISH,  HOW TO MAKE MONEY,   HOW TO STALK AND KILL AGENTS & PUBLISHERS WHO REJECTED YOU.    

Does anyone talk about quality writing anymore?  Does it matter anymore?  I say YES.  No matter what genre you're writing in,  sci-fi, horror, thriller, vampires, werewolves,  thrills and chills, fiction, memoirs,   good writing still counts.  

Authors forget that readers are generally intelligent  (perhaps more than we are,  that's why they're not writers).  They yearn for more than just knife-flash and blood. They want human feelings and thoughts and reactions.  They want character,  the basis of all good writing.  When we delete that human element we insult the reader's  intelligence.  Eventually we  lose that reader.  Except for those of you on trust funds,  readers supply our 'daily bread.'

I have a friend who sleeps in her dead father's underwear.  Another friend keeps his dead cat in the freezer.  Eccentric,  perhaps.   It doesn't matter to me,  because  they're both brilliant writers.  Not best-sellers,  just conscientious writers  who handle words like jewels,  who care about the  structure and placement  of a written  thought, a mood.

 Jake,  the cat-in-the-freezer man,  says when he's  searching for a  perfect word,  he turns into a blood hound on the scent.  He  writes fast,  and only slows down when he's searching for that word. It may take hours of brooding and mooning over this word and that.  "But when I find it,  I feel every hair follicle in my scalp react."   Extreme?  Well, yes.  But then he loves words the way he loved his cat. A perfect word  can make his day.  Imagine.

Trish,  whose father left her  a trunk filled with reams of unpublished poems,  war medals and -perhaps an oversight -  his underwear,  says she doesn't stop to read what she writes.  Four days a week she writes non-stop all day.  "It's exhausting. Numbing.  When I go to bed at night,  I'm out like roadkill."  On alternate days she edits what she wrote.  If she's lucky out of these pages come a few gems.  "And then I try to string the gems together and hope somewhere in there is a plot and characters  who readers will love."

Okay.  These are not your everyday writers.  Not your everyday people.   Jake is 35,  mauve-haired, and dresses  rockabilly goth.  He's  twice divorced because, he says,  he couldn't handle small-talk.  Trish is early 40s and lovely,  with eyes  like Marion Cotillard,  but she  avoids groups of more than three.  Never married,  she  thinks she's allergic to children and men's deodorants.  They both have night jobs.  They like the night.  They're friends,  but wary,  little in common but writing.  Ordinary, everyday things they find impossible.  Hard things, like writing, come easy.  They live for words. The sound of  words,  the derivation of words,  the  mystery of them.

I don't know.  Maybe writers this intense burn out early.  Ten years ago they were  each  bestsellers.  Jake wrote noir  novels.  Gorgeous and  tight,  reminiscent of Raymond Chandler.  Trish wrote intelligent romances with arch, quick-witted  heroines.  Classy dames who wore their pearls on the inside of their blouses and used words like 'cognoscenti.'  

Now Jake is embarked on a  psycho-killer thriller about a Catholic priest who loses his sense of hearing,  and learns to lip-read.  Sort of.  Its a scary tale, but the scenes in the confessional  are  hilarious.   Trish is writing about a female  medevac pilot in  Afghanistan.  Both novels  are contemporary.  But  when they talk about the works,  they sound like 18th century scribes,  dabbling away  with their inkpots and quills. They do not sound burned-out.  

 They talk about rhythm and  grammar and syntax, the subtleties of  diction,  and  sentence variety.  And about  the humanness of their main characters,  their trustworthiness as a judge of things.  Jake talks about the  loss of innocence in the priest,  and how his loss of hearing sharpens his sight,  and insight.  "Its really a story about the church's power,  greed,  and mendacity.  The more the priest learns,  the more he questions,  and rebels against.   Each morning when he puts on his robes,  he experiences a primal transference...like wearing the skin of an animal you're afraid of."

Trish talks about the  surreal life of a female  medevac pilot in combat-zones.  She has interviewed such women  and flown with them, overwhelmed by the smells of gas and blood,  and burning flesh, which she will translate  to the page in graphic detail.  But she will also describe  with poignancy  the class ring on a finger,  a still-warm helmet,  and the  look in the eyes of weary  soldiers as they complain about  their  loss of taste.  Of memory.

 I listen to my friends,   these two fabulists,  lost in the world of details that will authenticate their characters ...make them come alive  for readers in  a rich and vivid  moving tableau.   I can't wait to read their  completed novels  because,  again,  they are extraordinary writers.  I want to be engaged heart and soul with the deaf priest on the trail of a killer,  and the war-weary medevac pilot,  Pauline.

I look forward to  having my knowledge of priests and pilots broadened.  And maybe to even question my beliefs  about  organized religion,  and war.  But mostly I look forward to rich, lush writing that makes me pause and look up from the page in wonder.  Writing that will somehow have in it a kernel of morality.  As all good writing must have.  And,  who knows?  Perhaps these kernels of morality serve to reinforce whatever is noble in us,  the reader.

Trish's father wrote  deeply moving poetry about  the Phoenicians who invented the color purple, but also practised child-sacrifice.  And he wrote  about  manifest destiny and death.   Sometimes  she  sleeps in his underwear,  hoping his  genius will enter her by osmosis.  Or,  perhaps it is just a way of grieving.  Jake is not ready to  bury his  beloved pet.  He knocks on the freezer each day before he starts to write.  These are harmless quirks.  We writers grasp at anything we can for inspiration.  For,  who knows where the muse is lurking?  Your father's  trunk.  Your freezer.

   Mahalao,  thanks.    Kiana



Monday, June 6, 2011


  Hello,  World.  This is my first blog.  

Hello to  your mitochondria, and centrioles and genomes,  and all those marvelous ecosystems that contain and define each of  us.   Hello to our  individual differentiations and speciations.  And by the way, do you know that each of us has a particular scent,  different from all the other billions of human ecosystems on this earth?  Some wayward  microbe, or strand of lost nucleic acid,  or wacky molecule of enzyme  leaves us each with a particular,  unique smell.  Or,  so they say.

And so I woke this morning wondering about the particular  smell  of V.S. Naipaul,  the Nobel Laureate who's being lambasted all over the media this week for ONCE AGAIN  letting loose with  misogynistic,  denigrating opinions about women writers,  living and dead.   Women writers are 'inferior,'  he says.  We  are  'sentimental.'   No  female writing  compares with his.  He says.  Not even Jane Austen.  Not even Nadine Gordimer.

Why is everyone  enraged?  This is his 'same ol same ol'  patter, his  worn out  song-and-dance on matters literary, as well as his categorical judgements on other races, other religions,   even other species.   Oh,  let him be.  Waste no more energy  denouncing  sad-eyed Naipaul.  Still, with all his exhalations and vituperations,  I wonder  what his particular  micro-smell is.  What odor of his is caroming around the room,  even  the planet,  exploding against  the molecules of other   human beings.  Suggesting perhaps a million micro mind-twitches.  (Oh dear,  is misogynism  contagious,  like a contact-high?)

Because Naipual is dapper in dress  and very much a Brit in spite of his Trinidadian-Indian origins,  a friends suggests that he might smell  of  Guerlain's English Leather,  with a touch of curry.  I think too obvious.  Another friend suggests decay.  She is sure that  behind his no-lip expression lurks bad teeth.   Someone  else  suggests  the smell of bitter lemons.  The caustic smell of lye.  Of carrion.   Even, flatulence.  But these are not cellular levels scents.  These are judgements.

Just now I am thinking of Naipaul and what i smell is ...nothing.  An existential smell.  Perhaps one only he can smell.  Essence of self-involvement.  A projection of  inner confidence and  complacency that makes him more attractive to himself.    "I opinionate,  therefore  I smell."

Thank you,  Mahalo!  Comments and opinions welcome!