Monday, October 3, 2011


Hello World.

 Today is Sunday,  'BREAKING BAD' day. I have loved this AMC  series since day one.  Brilliant, shocking. Hilarious. Television as God meant it to be. Alas, this  fourth season is a drag, no philosophical dialogues, no heart-wrenching moral decisions. Just good-guy, bad-guy meth cookers and dealers. And Walter White, former hero,  becoming the creep you love to hate.  Still,  there is Walter White's son, a handsome boy impaired by teenage angst and celebral palsy. The dreamily handsome young actor,  RJ Mitte, who plays the son does, in fact, have cerebral palsy.

This  is  innovation: The first major television series featuring an actor with a genuine disability.  Watching the show each week - RJ Mitte  struggling with his crutches,  his slow walk,  his hesitant enunciations - we become aware of a  huge demographic missing in the media. Where are the physically and/or mentally challenged people that are so much a part of our society?

Though I loved Tom Hanks in 'FORREST GUMP,' the retarded Gump was super-sized,  a Disney-like character  who made millions of dollars,  publicly mooned LBJ in gratitude for Vietnam,  and married the girl of his dreams.  A fairy tale.

But,  remember 'I AM SAM' starring  Sean Penn? A beautiful Oscar-worthy movie, about a retarded man fighting for custody of his child.  Perhaps it too bordered on the fairy tale with its happy ending. But here is the difference... the cast was made up of real,  mentally-challenged men who  played Sam's buddies.  Their halted speech and sly, tender taunts, made the movie memorable, human,  deeply touching.

So now  we turn to books:  Jo Nesbo,  author of  international bestsellers, THE SNOWMAN, REDBREAST, DEVIL'S STAR,  is currently the reigning bad boy of Norwegian  crime fiction.  His body of Nordic Noir is based on  highly  creative serial killers,  much blood and gore.  Nesbo is  good, he's excellent.  But here is what lures me into his  books. In each novel,  Harry Hole,  the alcoholic detective- hero  visits his sister, Sis, who has Down's Syndrome.  Sis is functional,  she has a boyfriend,  she babysits,  she makes meatballs.  But, of Sis,  that is all we ever know.

I  am curious about  Nesbo's nod  to Down's Syndrome,  how  in each book he dutifully  mentions  'Sis,'  her boyfriend, her little accomplishments,  all whittled down to one  meager paragraph.  Then back to the serial killers.  As a reader,  I find this puzzling, even  gratuitous. As a person with Down's Syndrome,  I would find it insulting.  Perhaps it is an acknowledgement to someone the author  knows and loves. (As  Walter White's son is an acknowledgement to someone the series creator knew and loved.)  So I wonder why then Sis can't be a fully fleshed-out character  in Nesbo's novels,  one who  happens to suffer  from a congenital disorder caused by the presence of an extra  chromosone, which causes a mild to moderate  mental retardation. If such a sister functions in real life,  why can't she function as a character in a novel?

I don't know,  perhaps I am reaching.  What I would like to see  is more media,  especially novels, involving  characters  with real disabilities.  If we  write bestsellers  about  apocalyptic  wars, ethnic cleansing, mass mutilations, how is it we cannot write books  featuring main characters  with disabilities?  Last  week in a small Texas  town, a girl named Marian Slick was crowned Homecoming Queen at half-time during a football game. Cheerleaders wept with joy.  Thousands of spectators stood and cheered as      she steadied her crown and waved to her fans.  Marian  Slick  has Down's Syndrome.

All right,  maybe that's  too feel-good for a novel, or  movie of the week.  But I'm thinking of all the  other millions of people in the world with various disabilities, who manage to function and even procreate as  normally as their lives and society allows them.  What are their stories,  their  comedies and  tragedies? If they are characters in their daily lives,  may they not also be characters in literature?

 My cousin Malia  feels I  am going to  extremes,  that I am taking a Diane Arbus approach in my writing,  only highlighting society's misfits.  In my first  story collection,  HOUSE OF SKIN,  I wrote about  skinned, tattooed humans,  drug addiction,  paraplegics,  dysfunctional families.  In the second collection,  CANNIBAL NIGHTS,  I write about  assassins,  mass rape, incest, fetal alcohol syndrome. (I also write about love,  the loss of it, the search for it,  the human need for it, which is how humans transcend themselves.)

I argue that these are real stories, about real people,  I cannot write fairy tales. And so we come  to  my dear friend,  Andre,  whom  I have written about earlier  in these  blog-postings, and who  has given me permission to write a  fictionalized version of his life.  Andre is a handsome man,  a world-class online poker player. A lover of books,  an FBI profiler.  He also suffers from the condition known as albinism.  The lesser-prefered term is albino.  Andre is  uniformly pale almost to transparency.  His eyes are pale,  his thick  hair the color of butter.  In grade school his nickname was Vanilla.

In writing a novel  about Andre am I being opportunistic?  Sensationalistic?  No.  My hope is that I can introduce readers to a  sympathetic yet fascinating character who suffers from a condition most people don't understand, and maybe along the way educate them to what albinism is: the inheritance of two recessive genes that  prevent the body from changing the amino acid tyrosine into pigment.

I can think of old-fashioned  novels with disabled characters,  a congenitally blind detective,  a surgeon  born without a leg. An autistic soldier-hero. But I can't think of many  contemporary novels with such characters.  I  would love to see more.  If they exist,  I hope readers will  bring me up to date in your comments.  There a millions of stories waiting to be told,  based on lives of people who,  because of their disabilities,  remain invisible in society. We see them, but do not really SEE them. We do not  record them. Because of this our literature,  and our society,  suffers.  And readers are left less enriched.

 Our lives are just a moment in time,  a quick little dance of particles. The beauty of humans is our infinite variation.  Our abilities, inabilities, and disabilities.  Perhaps  its time to step out of this  mental Ice Age of fiction and let our characters reflect real people, all the spurious and genuine and tragic facets  of each life.

Herman Melvile said, "What shall be Grand  in thee must needs be plucked at from the skies, and dived for in our depths,  and featured in the unbodied air."

 We are in a creative universe.  Let us then create.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Hello World.

It is four weeks since my last posting.   I have been adrift in the ethers,  learning first-hand how deeply this digital  revolution affects  our lives,  right down to our DNA depths.  As an  author  struggling to survive in these recessionary times,   I made a decision eight months ago.  I joined the legions of writers who are now electronically self-publishing backlogs  of their writing.  I did this in innocence and exuberance, and a need for income.  And yes, I did it out of ignorance,  never  dreaming that the  reverberations of that decision  would  cost me my credibility  in whatever is left of  the world of  print publishing.  

In January, 2010,  I signed a contract with one of the Big 6 publishers in New York for my next novel.  I understood then that I,  like every writer in the business, was being coerced into giving up more than 75% of the profits from electronic sales of that novel, for the life of the novel.   But I was debt-ridden and needed upfront money that an advance would provide. The book was scheduled for hardback publication in August, 2012,  and paperback publication  a year later.  Recently that publisher discovered I had self-published two of my story collections as electronic books.  To coin the Fanboys,  they went ballistic.  The editor shouted at me repeatedly  on the phone.  I was accused of breaching my contract (which I did not) but worse, of 'blatantly betraying them with Amazon,' their biggest and most intimidating  competitor.  I was not trustworthy.  I was sleeping with the enemy.

My lawyer  quickly pointed out that the  first collection, HOUSE OF SKIN, PRIZE-WINNING STORIES,  had been e-published  in December,  before I signed the contract with the publisher,  so they immediately targetted the second collection, CANNIBAL NIGHTS, PACIFIC STORIES, Volume II, published recently in July.

Most of the stories in both collections had  each been published several times before,  first in Story Magazine,  then again in The O'HENRY AWARDS  PRIZE STORIES anthologies,  the PUSHCART PRIZE stories anthologies,  and THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, 2000, anthology. And, over  several years  both collections had been submitted  to each of the Big 6 publishers in NY.  I still have their rejection letters,  including one from the house I was now under contract with.  So you might say these stories were, in a sense,  recycled,  sitting  in my files rejected.  Yet,  as published collections,  this Big 6  publisher  suddenly found them threatening.

So, here  is what the  publisher demanded.  That I immediately and totally delete CANNIBAL NIGHTS from Amazon, iNook, iPad, and all other e-platforms.  Plus,  that I delete all Google hits mentioning me and CANNIBAL NIGHTS.  Currently,  that's about 600,000 hits. (How does one even do that?)  Plus that I guarantee in writing I would not self-publish another ebook of any of my backlog of works until my novel with them was published in hardback and paperback.  In other words they were demanding that I agree to be muzzled for the next two years, to sit silent and impotent as a writer,  in a state of  acquiescence and, consequently,  utter self-loathing.

The vice president and  publisher of that house called my agent, offering extra little sweetmeats if I would just capitulate and 'adopt the right spirit going forward.'  This somewhat sinister and semi-benevolent attempt at  mind-control fascinated me.  It became  crystal-clear to me  that the issue wasn't a supposed  'breach of contract,'  on my part, but the publisher's fear and loathing of  the  profoundly threatening Goliath,  Amazon.  Since CANNIBAL NIGHTS in no way 'resembles' or would 'injure' sales  of the book I had sold them (an entirely different subject matter) I was not in breach of my contract.  I stood firm, and refused to capitulate.

Last week,  I received from their lawyers an official letter terminating my contract with them, "...for permitting Amazon to publish CANNIBAL NIGHTS, etc...." and demanding back the $20,000 they had paid me  as part of their advance.  Until then, this publishing giant is holding my novel as hostage,  a work that took me five years to write.  My agent assures me I am now an 'anathema' to them.  

  I  sit back and  view  this fiasco in two ways.  CANNIBAL NIGHTS is my best, best writing.  Perhaps  it's worth $20,000 to finally have it published and presented to the world.  For that, I thank Amazon. Or,  perhaps  it's worth $20,000 for a writer to discover who she's really in bed with.  Sleeping with the enemy?  Perhaps.  But now I know who the enemy is.

This is not a tale of woe.  Its a cautionary tale,  a warning to other writers.  I welcome your comments.


Monday, July 25, 2011


Hello World,

This posting is a  heartfelt  thank you (Mahalo!)  to the readers who have  so generously purchased  my latest ebook,   CANNIBAL NIGHTS, Pacific Stories Volume II,  a  sequel to my  first collection,  HOUSE OF SKIN PRIZE-WINNING STORIES.  Since so  many of you are  curious about the genesis of these  stories,  I  hope  to give you a little insight into how I researched and wrote them.

CANNIBAL NIGHTS is a darker collection than HOUSE OF SKIN.  The stories range from Navy SEALS  (and the women who love them)  and Al Qaeda terrorists,  to a father's  adultery,  to slave-ships roaming  the Pacific in the 18th and 19th centuries, kidnapping and enslaving hundreds of  thousands of natives. A story set in the Marquesas Islands deals with Paul Gauguin in his last days, riddled with syphilis and morphine addiction.  In other stories,  a  modern-day Tahitian girl searches for her biological father,  a French Foreign Legionnaire.  An Australian Aborigine  exacts payback from  white men who gang-raped her.  And a brother and sister struggle to find normalcy and even happiness, while burdened with life-long affects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Do I create these tales  from scratch?  No.  But I build,  I construct one story out of maybe three or five that I have heard,  or  personally experienced.  My cousins in Honolulu know several retired Navy SEALS.  Sometimes we sit and listen,  stunned,  to  the stories they tell  of their  combat experiences.  I knew the parents of several college students  killed  in the Al Qaeda  nightclub bombings in Bali in 2003.  I  tried to merge  all these  stories until 'ASSASSIN ORDERS PEKING DUCK' evolved,  a tale that is  tragic but somehow ends hopefully.  The narrator is  a young woman forever searching for her father who abandoned her.  Readers have pointed out to me  that this is a theme that runs through  earlier stories.  Even my novels.  I was not aware of it  during the writing.  But in fact,  I never knew my father  well.  After my Hawaiian mother died at a young age,  my father  left our islands. Growing up, I saw him only intermittently.  Perhaps it is what we most long for that circumscribes our lives,  and  ultimately  becomes the  running subtext of our work.

For three months  I lived in Tonga,  setting of 'GEORGE BUSH AND PAPA AT THE PARADISE.'  During that time one of the maids at the  Paradise hotel  discovered her father was having an affair with a tourist.  It broke her heart  and she spent months thinking of how she could make her father pay. (There really was a life-size portrait of George Bush in the lobby!)  I left Tonga before the story resolved itself,  so I orchestrated an ending. Tongans are such a warm and beautiful people, so  deeply dedicated to their children,  that I wanted to ennoble both the wife,  and husband. I wanted them to have  a happy ending.  And I wanted the young girl to mature and learn to forgive,  and  come to understand the imperishability of  love.  That it can be tested and survive.

'MYSTERIES OF RAPA NUI' is based on the tragic history of Easter Island.  The ecological devastation  and the unspeakable  tragedy  of how their male population was nearly wiped out by slave-ships roaming the Pacific.  I have visited Easter Island and  heard stories of  huge sacrifices the women made, attempting to hide their men from the  notorious Blackbirder  slave ships.  This 18th and 19th century practise of kidnapping and slave-trading was rampant in the Pacific, coinciding with the  slave-trade flourishing  in the Atlantic,  yet so little has been written about it.

'CANNIBAL NIGHTS, COLONIAL AFTERNOONS' is based on the last year of Gauguin's life in the  Marquesas Islands  after he had been deported out of Tahiti,  a French colony,  as a drug-addled rake and libertine.  In that period he was in a morphine-induced stupor,  yet he managed to paint some of the most magnificent  portraits of his life.  There has always been the question of who helped him  complete the last canvases as he began to fail and death approached.  I took 'authorial license' in portraying these last days and who might have  helped him and even,  in some instances,  repainted his portraits completely.  More importantly, I wanted to portray how in the colonialist period of that time - when the Church over-ran the islands and taxed the natives to near-starvation - a young clergyman befriends Gauguin,  sees  through his eyes the bigotry of the Church,  and learns how Art, true Art, goes deeper than religion.  

We come to 'THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGIONNAIRE'S BATARD,'  and  again, it is a story comprised of several stories.  During my many trips  to Tahiti (culturally,  they are very close cousins to Hawaiians)  I met several 'fatherless'  women  born to  mothers  who had had affairs with French Foreign Legionnaire's  during their  military duty in Tahiti.  Several women  had actually lived in France and spent years trying to locate their Legionnaire fathers.  I began to wonder what would happen if one of them found her father.  How the  drama would unfold.  My biggest challenge  was the ending of the story.  I struggled to make the characters sympathetic,  but was the ending  plausible?  Only, you, the reader can tell me.  I am anxious to know from  your  responses if this story works.  I hope so!  For, during the writing, I fell in love with both characters.  They are  each damaged, and lonely,  and searching.

' FLASHNESS,' set in Australia,  is based on a story I heard while traveling there a few years back.  It happened  after  the  Columbine High School tragedy in the U.S.  I knew the background of how Aborigines were massacred when England  deposited boatloads of  its convicts on their shores,  and so the story automatically fell into place in my mind.   It is a dark, harsh tale of payback,  but I hope readers will also remember the suffering and wholesale slaughter  of Australia's Aborigines by white convict-settlers,  that continued for two hundred years

The last story, 'CELL FATIGUE, '  was very difficult to write.  Like Native Americans,  and many other under-represented  minorities,  Native Hawaiians have an  extremely  high percentage of alcoholism,  and  thus, their children suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  I have seen people struggling all their lives with this condition.  The story was initially so dark and potentially hopeless,  I  revised it  least 20-30 times.  It began to depress  and defeat me,  and I put it aside for weeks.  Then one day,  epiphany! I began to see it as a love story between a  brother and sister trying to save each other's life. Then it became  instantly deeper,  more meaningful to me.  The characters  slowly transcending from victims to survivors.  I now saw  them as heroes, and  when I finally wrote the  last page,  I was overtaken with emotion.  (Only when I completed this  story did I realize it was also a kind of memorial to my dear brother, Braxton Rowan,  a soldier and  hero,  who died too young. )

Looking over the entire body of CANNIBAL NIGHTS,  I see that  what I  have written is  a collection of love stories.  Though dark,  and often violent,  they are tales of people  searching for the  love of a father,  or brother,  or the love of women sacrificing their lives for their husbands.  There is the love of a clergyman for an artist,  and the love  of that  artist for his Art.  The love of an Aborigine  for her tribe, and for  her  ancestor,  cold-bloodedly murdered.  Finally, the deep love of a brother and sister, trying to survive.  

I hope these  stories  will speak to anyone who has  suffered the confusion of being a mixed-blood,  or to  anyone,  male or female,  who has served in the military and suffered Post-Traumatic Stress.  I hope they will speak to anyone who has ever lost a child,  or betrayed  or abandoned a child,  or,  conversely,  anyone who has ever searched for  a parent who abandoned them.  Lastly,  I hope they will remind you  that our fate is not determined,  that we each have choices.  And that, after all,  especially in these cataclysmic times,  love is still the basic need that drives us,  that renders us still-noble,  still-supremely human.

Again,  thank you, mahalo,  for  your support.  I  sincerely hope you enjoyed CANNIBAL NIGHTS, and  I look forward to your questions and comments.

With aloha,   Kiana


Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Hello, World.

Remember that ad for Ultra-Slim cigarettes, targetted at women?  "YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY, BABE!"  Even then the tobacco industry knew cigarettes were killing us.  But, hey.   It was a multi, multi-billion $dollar business.  And it was run by men.  (Of course,  cigarettes were killing men, too.)

Well,  recently I came across a similar ad in an old Glamour magazine from the 1980s.   Half of the photo  showed a turn-of-century chrone with six kids hanging on her apron.  The other half showed a  girl driving  a Porsche convertible,  hair flying in the wind.  Caption?  "CELEBRATE YOUR FREEDOM!"  It was an ad for Birth Control pills.  Those little miracles that  wiped out centuries of female oppression,  allowed  women  sexual freedom, and a way to finally chart their own reproductive kismet.  The Pill,  which celebrated its 50th birthday in October,   created  the most  radical  change in human history. It was of course manufactured by  colossal,  multi-billion $dollar  drug companies,  an industry run by men.

Enter a new era,  "The  Age of Infertility." An age  of bestselling books entitled EVERYTHING CONCEIVABLE.  TAKING CHARGE OF YOUR FERTILITY. A world of  Fertility Centers, ovulation kits, infertility shots,  and  bioethecists telling women they should have planned ahead.  A new kind of  medical and bureaucratic Hell of doctor's waiting rooms and  insurance companies that are  lasar leaps  away  from the Liberation we thought we had achieve with the Pill.

  Hello?  Did I miss a segue?  Yes,  I'm afraid  millions of women did.  Now younger women in their 30s who've been on the Pill for 10 or 15 years,  refer to the  pills  as 'Death Pods.'   Because those 10 or 15 years were their  prime child-bearing years.  Now that they want to have children  their bodies are in REPRODUCTIVE BACKLASH.  Inadvertently,  infertility has become the Pill's primary side effect.

Why does this suprise us?  Because in our eagerness to be stand-alone human beings,  empowered with our reproductive rights,  women forgot basic biology:  fertility is an offering of Youth.  The body we woke up with after 10 or 20 years on the Pill is,  putting it mildly, not the one we started out with.  Body rhythms change, so do organs,  and cells. Our stockpile of eggs becomes depleted,  what's left is not exactly prime quality.

(Let me say that I  was one of the lucky ones.  The Catholic Church forbade the Pill,  so I got pregnant instead. Only after my child was born, and I rebelled and left  the Church,  did I go on the Pill.   So in some wacky, Byzantine way, the Church  may have saved me from being childless.)

Now,  granted,  the Pill did not directly create the field of infertility medicine,  but it has turned it into a gigantic  multi multi-billion $dollar  industry.  Run by men. (Sound familiar?)  Childless couples and single women are now  depleting their savings accounts investing in  in-vitro fertilization,  or test-tube babies,  which has been the  last word in infertility treatment since  the late 70s.  But only now has the attempt at  IVF become almost epidemic,  a last ditch-try at  biological parenthood.   Success  rates are  dismally low if you're over forty.  Mid-forties only a 12% success rate.  Over forty-five the odds,  less than 2%.

And with IVF we have the risk of birth defects especially with women over forty. Worse,  insurance companies will not cover  costs, which  range from $12,000-15,000 per cycle. When IVF fails, there is grief and mourning,  and women berating themselves for their lack of foresight. And only now,  after the fact, are doctors telling women, "Oh! You should have frozen your eggs in your twenties."  In fact, young women in their teens and twenties ARE now freezing their eggs for future fertilization.  But for the  infertile over-30s and 40s and evern 50s  that information comes too late.

 (Yes, there is always adoption,  which I wholeheartedly endorse.  But we are talking about the Pill and infertility  here.)  What I want is someone to tell me that the geniuses behind the research and develop-ment and  marketing of the  Pill,  DID NOT KNOW, or anticipate,  a future of infertile women.  I want someone to tell me that women were not used as guinea pigs.  And that even now,  they are once again being used as guinea pigs  in this latest  tango with infertility shots, and infertility pills,  and the whole new cornucopia of medicalized technology promising to produce viable fetuses,  but not guaranteeing  children born without defects.

I want someone to tell me, fifty years after the advent of the Pill,  why even  Margaret Sanger's grandson publicly demands to know "WHERE IS THE BIRTH CONTROL PILL FOR MEN?" It would be so easy.  But,  again,  the drug companies,  those Goliaths profitting so magnficiently  from women,  ARE RUN BY MEN.  When confronted by legions of women  demanding  the Male Pill,  drug company spokesmen turn  coquettish and shy.  The cost of clinical trials ' would be  astoundingly high.'  'The impact of upending cultural norms would be global, and would reverberate for generations.'  They have not yet found a male pill with 'zero side effects.'  After fifty years?   Oh, ladies, lets  face it.  The real rock-bottom  truth is the  same as it was in the Bible.  Men don't want their reproductive organs fooled around with.

Yes, the Pill saved our lives.  I embraced it.  I embrace it now.  Yes, it brought women's rights  out of the Dark Ages.  The right to  serial sex partners, equal pay,  the right to run for President of the United States.  But, look. Our bodies are still under the control of the Goliaths -  the drug companies.   Who, by the way,  long ago perfected the Male Birth Control Pill.   They just won't release it.  Think of the billions and billions  of $dollars LOST  if, finally, the Goliaths  allow women to have drug-free bodies.  If, finally,  they give us back the right to our reproductive selves. The Pill took a certain biological control away from us, and that control was  Empowerment.

 Release the Pill for men.  Freeze their  young,  unadulterated sperm,  and then let them deal with potential sterility for a few decades.  IT'S THEIR TURN.

Last month we watched a movie about a  Pill-taking career-wife who has been rendered infertile.  Her husband divorces her for a younger woman who can give him children. She drives herself off a cliff.  A few nights ago we watched an old Turner Classic from the 50s,  THE BEST OF EVERYTHING.  An unmarried woman becomes pregnant and, out of shame,  suicides with sleeping pills.  Oddly,  the theme song of both movies was  something sentimental called,  "Its a Woman's World..."  

Oh, really?

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Hello World.

Today I need to address an important question that writing-students keep asking me.  They have completed their manuscripts after dozens of revisions and my modest input.  But now they are  reluctant to approach agents,  hesitant to move forward and submit their books  to print publishers.  Why?  Because  the world of print-publishing is foundering.  many publishing houses have folded.  Bookstores are closing left and right.  Why should  writers  bother with submissions?

Now world-class writers like J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter)  are  going independent,  self-publishing their books electronically.  Rowling  recently made  global headlines with this news.  She will not have to share royalties with a publisher on her ebooks.  She is her own corporation now.  She  might be a billionaire,  if not she's close.  But her basic motivation in launching into ebooks is  not necessarily  MORE ACQUIRED WEALTH.   "I want to reach  young readers who have never read a book in print,  who were born in the digital age.  All they know are  ereaders,  so that is how my Harry Potter books will reach them."  Simple,  logical.  She's planning ahead for the  looming  generation.

Then there are brilliant,  literary writers like John Edgar Wideman whose books I love,  his novels are  set primarily  in Philadelphia  and  deal with the tragedies,  high drama,  sacrifice and stateliness of  working-class African-American families.  Wideman recently became a 'cross-over' author,  still writing his brilliant novels for print publishers,  but also uploading his first collection of short stories as an independent ebook.  He will undoubtedly  produce more ebooks.

In an interview with Publishers Weekly,  Wideman talked about the frustration of waiting a year, even two years,  for his books to be published by established print publishers.  He talked about the sense of empowerment of choosing one's own cover,  one's own font,  of the thrill of having one's work published and offered to reader's within a month of completing the work.   I, too,  am now a cross-over author,  or as some of my colleagues say,  'a defector.'   With three novels print-published, I am now also an indie ebook author of a short-story collection (HOUSE OF SKIN, PRIZEWINNING STORIES)  and another on the way.

I  do have another print novel coming out next year,  THE CHINESE SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER,  but after that,  who knows?  I may be dropped by the publisher as a  'defecting author,' another 'rat deserting the ship.'   Unlike Rowling and Wideman,  my motivation to turn to indie ebooks was pure economics.  I am trying to save my own life.  Books are my only source of income,  prices of my novels are set too high by the publishers.  With  the recession,  sales  of those books  have dropped considerably.   My ebook is currently outselling all of them.  

But  when writing-students ask if they should cut to the chase,  forego the rounds of expected rejections in the print world,  and go straight to the independent-ebook route...MY ANSWER IS NO.  Writers like Wideman and, to a more modest degree, myself,  already have a  reader-following from  our print novels.  In other words,  a 'fan base.'  Its a snap of the fingers to upload your book onto Kindle, Nook,  and  other ebook platforms.   But it is a tedious, energy-sapping,  confidence-draining task to go online  for hours everyday to promote your ebooks,  to attract readers,  to beg them to buy copies.  

Not all ebook writers are successful,  some  sales are dismally low.  These  authors  have not edited sufficiently,  their writing is sophomoric at best.  Many of their facts and locations are wrong,  lack of research,  their book-covers are amateur and dismal.  Or,  more often,  they simply don't yet have a reader-following.   This is where  established  print publishers have the advantage.  In the best of all worlds,   they buy your book,  they edit the manuscript  professionally,  they check your facts,  and discuss  cover-concepts with art departments. They decide how to market you. They make you an author,  a bona fide  pro!

BUT...Here is the downside:  They take a huge percentage of  the profits from  your book sales.  For every  $15 trade paperback sold, the author earns only 8 or 10 percent.  On your ebooks,  print publishers will try to  take more than 75% of each book.  Think of that.  Plus, fewer and fewer books are being bought by print-publishers. They want big names,  guaranteed bestsellers. They don't have time to take risks on first-time authors because the print-world foundering,  figures from  FORTUNE AND FORBES  suggest it is dying.  We are definitely in an evolution,  and  ultimately  the digital world will prevail.  Ebooks are already far outselling printed books. The world of books will never die.   Intelli-gent humans  must always and forever feed our imaginations!  But the book-world as we knew it 10 even 5 years ago is evolving into something new.  We  have yet to know what that  'new' will ultimately be.

Back to my writing-students.  Should they  (And maybe you,  a first-time author?) forego the usual print-route,  and proceed directly to electronically publishing your book yourself?  Again  I SAY NO... that is...NOT YET.  It has always been my belief that in this brief flicker of time we are each allotted...we should  dare everything.   At least once.  If you jump into self-publishing your books,  you will never know the thrill of submitting your work to print publishers.  Of maybe having conversations with editors,   of hearing suggestions from them.  Of knowing that euphoric sense of feeling drunk with Hope. Nor will you experience the massive deflation of  a rejection letter,  and the grief and despondency of a 12th and 20th rejection letter.  Or the final heart-stabbing realization that no one  wants to  publish your book.

Conversely,  if you go directly to self-publishing you will never know if your book MIGHT HAVE BEEN BOUGHT and published.  Might have gotten good  reviews.  Might have  sold a decent amount and even  earned you  a  second book-contract! You will simply never know.  In advising you this way,  I'm going  diametrically against the sage advice of the Grand Guru of bloggers, Joe Konrath,  whose blogsite THE NEWBIES GUIDE TO PUBLISHING,  was voted one of the best 100 blogsites in the country by NEWSWEEK.   (I urge you all to read all of  his blogsite from beginning to took me several days to complete it. I don't agree with all of his theories, but the man's  instructions on self-publishing  saved my life.)

Now,   Konrath believes print publishing is in a MAJOR DEATH SPIRAL,   that no sane writer should think of approaching print publishers today,  that we all should be self-publishing and uploading our books  for ereaders and keeping, not sharing,  our profits from book sales.  He's 95% right.  But I keep thinking of my  writing-students, the hope and joy and probable grief that they will miss out on by not giving print publishing a try.  We're writers,  we've  should experience all  emotions,  hope,  fear, dejection, rejection,  all-out  grief.  We should take chances.  If you choose to go directly to self-publishing you may always wonder "should I have tried the other first...?"  "What if...what if...?'    You will have deprived yourself of the  gift of that experience.

So again  here is my  recommendation to  my writing-students and any first-time authors.  If you're undecided,  and still leaning toward print-publishing,  give yourself the opportunity to submit your work to print publishers.  But also...GIVE YOURSELF A TIME-LIMIT!!  Give it six months, a year.  If you have not sold your book by then,  I would definitely switch tracks and go to indie ebook publishing.  Digital is the new norm.  And the competition is growing.  Hundreds of thousands of out-of- print books  are now being revitalized through ebook publishing.  Estate/trust heirs  of famous dead authors will soon be rich.  

Okay.   So,  you don't have a reader-following yet.  Well, neither did  John Locke.  No one had ever heard of him.  He's  a mystery writer  who cleverly  prices each of his dozens of  ebooks at .99.  Locke   has just become the first indie  author to sell ONE MILLION books as ebooks.  He has been at it less than a year.  Joe Konrath,  the  myster/thriller writer will  sell about 500,000 ebooks  this year.  These are the uber-sellers.  Yes, they're the exception.  But there are dozens of first-and second-time ebook authors,  many women,  who are writing  genre books,  sci-fi, vampire, thrillers,  romance,  who are selling several thousand copies of their books  each month.  Each book ads to their fan-base.

And don't forget  Amanda Hocking,  a twenty-something  author who just reversed gears. After self-publishing for several years  (MY BLOOD APPROVES)  and gathering a huge following of readers,  she  recently sold her next  couple of books to St. Martins Press for  several million dollars.    You see where this cross-over thing is going.   Authors who couldn't  originally get print-published,  self-published their ebooks, and when those books become bestsellers,  the print-publishers come courting!   Its not an ethical pickle,  its that right now there are no hard and fast rules.   There is only which  decision you make.

The important thing is to...GET STARTED NOW.   Set up your time-limit if your going the print-route.
One year of your life won't kill you.  While your sending out queries to agents and/or publishers and waiting, waiting, waiting,  you will NOT  be wasting time.  You will be working on your next novel.  Or,  you will  be learning all about self-publishing ebooks,  knowing if you go that route,  whatever profits you earn will be yours.  All yours!

Thanks.  Anyone with suggestions or opinions on this subject,  please chime in!


 Another   thing I want to touch on   here  is:  AUTHOR BABBLE.   Too many beginning writers and established writers and in-betweens forget that once we begin writing for an audience,  which is what we all aspire to...we become public figures.  Whether you're a bestseller,  or your audience so far only extends to your immediate family,  you are inviting public scrutiny.

A twenty-five old in unitards and combat boots, raking in major bucks from  her bestselling  Zombie series,   a suburban mom  who pens bodice-rippers,  or a Nobel Laureate  all have this in common:  they are being scrutinized.  And in this  age of instant media-access, our voiced opinions and behavior  seriously affect how readers read  us.  Or,  if they will read  us at all.

 One night in a dreamy, highbrow mood,  I misperceived the exclusivity of  a limited audience on a late-night talk show.  The host and I were relaxed,  wandering from the 'meaning of literature'  to silly,  existential things - like how can authors make a living without  turning  commercial and selling out their souls?  Somehow we drifted into loneliness,  and how dogs make the best companions for writers.  A man was in the news that day  for having  beaten his dog,  then set it on fire.   I,  a dog-lover,  said  the man should be taken out and shot in the head.  I volunteered to do it.  Shoot him in the head.  That   late-night interview went viral.  Months later at a book festival,  a woman walked up to me and said, "Oh,  you're the writer who  wanted to shoot someone  in the head.  Joking or not, I found that offensive."  She did not buy a copy of my book.

 The scrutiny grows exponentially with every book your write. Every appearance you make.  A close friend  Anna,  appears at  dozens of  booksignings  every  year, and dozens of  writer's conferences.  She's obsessively driven to promote  her books and  refers to herself as a 'book-whore'  even in interviews.  Anna  has  published five novels,  one a bestseller.  In a review of  that bestselling  novel,  the reviewer  (of a major suburban newspaper ) referred to her as a self-described 'book-whore. ' That word still  follows her across the Web.

Writing is solitary,  sometimes excruciatingly boring. At times we yearn to be cutting-edge comics,  or  political hipsters,  or big-mouth do-gooders,   and we forget. We forget the perils of verbal  dilettantism,  or verbal abuse,  or publicly outting our biases and hatreds.  And it  comes back to haunt  us.  Readers are loyal,  or frivolous,  but they will  always react.  What I'm suggesting is,  however little,   or however much,  you think of yourself as an author,   there is now a part of you that should live up to those  readers' expectations.  

Writing is a lofty  endeavor,  even if its about  inter-galactic infanticidal maniacs.  People  assume, like idiot savants,  we're touched by the hand of god.  So. Divorce your spouse,  elect to have trans-gender surgery,  become a born-again  Mormon polygamist - whatever your particular quirk or deviation,  try to articulate/execute it with a touch of class,  that is,  with restraint,  and preferably in private.  No matter how successful a writer becomes,  we are  not exempt from the higher civilities  of  accepted human behavior.

 I know what you're thinking.   Writers are  supposed to be renegades,  anarchists,  blowing up  the  barriers of societal norms.  Telling the high-priests to f-ck off.  How to be that and still be palatable, and  inoffensive?  How to link our tiny selves to our giant narratives,  so that our  private  grievances and struggles seem universal?  Its difficult,  we're complex.  Complexity seems to be the  ultimate ingredient in art.  Complexity and  ambiguity, what Keats - that  poet of  cognitive dissonance - called 'negative capability.'

  Here is a prime example of what I'm trying to say:  Patricia Highsmith,  that  elusive mystery writer of the 1950s  was almost forgotten for several decades.  But with the endorsement of Graham Greene and other  such luminaries,  her novels were resurrected,  so  there has been a frenzy of posthumous adulation since the  late l980s.  Even movies have been remade of her novels,  STRANGERS ON A TRAIN,  more recently in the 1990s  THE TALENTED  MR. RIPLEY (Jude Law, Matt Damon).  Her  literary forte was  how  she wrote about cold-blooded  humans,  stylish murderers who got away with it.

 I  have found  her writing rather  bloodless, nevertheless fascinating.  Not a writer you could love,  but one you might respect.  But  recently as I was  finishing THE TALENTED  MR. RIPLEY,  I  discovered  that in  later life,  Highsmith  repeatedly and publicly proclaimed  herself rabidly  anti-black,  anti-semitic,  an outspoken hater of gays.  (This from a woman who came out as a lesbian in the 'silent 50s.')  Such blatant racist  hatred does not pop out of one's forehead overnight.  It had been seeding all those years of her writing.  After I read that  profile on her,  and similar others,  I flipped back through STRANGERS ON A TRAIN  and  THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.  I  reread  sentences and  dialogue,  and saw more clearly the  repugnance  of the subtext. The  reverberating  lack of humanity in her characters.  The  lack of  regret or grief,  or heart.

Now I understand  that  Patricia  Highsmith will not endure as other than a dated,  genre writer.   She does not  address or explore  the depths of  our  human emotions.  She did not feel them.  As an author,  and a human being  she is/was  predictably repulsive.  She wrote about nineteen novels after the two above.  Two is enough.  She has lost me as a reader.  I think of  Highsmith now with great distaste.  A mediocre writer who went in and out of  vogue,  and  ultimately should have kept her mouth shut.

Thanks.  Comments?  Chime in.

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

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 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!