Tag Archives: writing

How to become a famous writer

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Years ago, ruffians from the English department posted a gag flyer on school bulletin boards showing a hopeless oaf pictured with the quote: “Yesterday I couldn’t even spell ‘writer.’ Now I are one.”

For me, that flyer began a long-time distrust of high school and college English departments. The reasons run deep and belong in another post. Suffice it to say, English departments aren’t high on my list of steps to take in becoming a famous writer. Instead, I suggest the following:

Don’t Write Good.

Readers don’t like good even though many of them claim them have to have read “the good book” and that they adore every novel that features people who helps the homeless or who starve their families while donating time and money to the Salvation Army.

What readers really want is bad. Why do you think they liked The Da Vinci Code? “Christ, you’re telling me Jesus was married? Where can I get my copy?” They like heroes who use unnecessary force (as seen on the show “24”) because those tactics bring the kinds of results that generate closure to readers fighting for simple answers that work in a complex, politically correct rules.

It goes without saying that readers also buy books with back-cover blurbs like “Nymphomaniac Defrocks Beloved Priest in Forgotten Monastery” and  “Shy Housewife Kills Terrorists in Downtown Chicago with Illegal Weapons Stolen from Wimpy Cops.”

Commit a Crime

Writers with platforms sell books. If you threw your mama from a train, you have a much better chance of writing salable books than a hapless MFA-graduate whose “platform” is (a) writing good, (b) An MFA, and (c) A resume filled with angst-ridden poems and short stories set in an unbelievable universe where angst-ridden stuff actually gets onto bestseller lists.

A criminal record shows prospective agents and publishers you know how to catch the public’s attention and produce a novel that will sell 50,000 copies or more and attract options from Warner Brothers and 20th Century-Fox. What you don’t want is a novel that might attract options from the Hallmark Channel because it produces material from authors who write good.

Caution: Judges and lawmakers generally won’t allow a person to profit from a crime. If you write a novel called How I Threw Mama from the Train, your earnings will be confiscated if you really threw your mama from a train. Write about something else, using your fame as a criminal to get the attention of agents, publishers and readers. Your stuff might sell if you write good even though writing bad is better.

Become a Movie Star

If you’re a movie star or a famous Hollywood personality who looks like a slut or a stud on the red carpet, you can become a bestselling author even if you’re illiterate. How? Ghostwriters, darling. A sure way to get a publisher’s attention is by “writing” a memoir or novel based on a true story that dishes out plenty of scandal about your co-stars, lovers, and agents. The public adores stories that tell them their favorite stars aren’t really as pure as the driven snow. A bonus for movie stars is writing a book about an issue even if an expert writes it for you. Do this, and you’ll soon be testifying at Congressional hearings even though you probably know less about the issue than the average man or woman on the street.

The famous movie star approach also works for famous senators, representatives, governors, politicians and other idiots who are smart enough to understand that readers want your name on their coffee tables even if they never read a word of the drivel between the covers.

Plagiarize, Get Caught, Repent

Create a novel with a compelling plot, multidimensional characters, and a jaw-dropping title that, under normal conditions, will probably sell only one hundred copies.  Not to worry. This novel will have a secret weapon, and the big payoff comes when the secret is discovered: you’ve stolen thousands of its words from famous novels. When people find out, you’ll deny it, of course. Your readers will hate you. As your crime becomes harder to deny, you’ll claim “fair use.” That won’t work, but it may keep the wolves from your door for a while.

Finally, you’ll issue a news releasing claiming that Satan told you to do it and that your heartily sorry and never meant to harm anyone. You’ll refund the money you’ve made off the book and check yourself into a rehab center. Several years will go by. People will forget you. That’s when you strike with a book written in your own words. Readers will buy it like hotcakes because folks love repentant sinners who reform and start walking the straight and narrow. Even the New York Times bestseller list and Oprah will love you.

Your English teachers will never share any of these secrets with you. That’s okay, because nobody really needs those people as they much one needs oneself and a plan for success that really brings in the big bucks.

Malcolm

 

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Take our characters into your hearts, minds, souls and worst nightmares

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“Publishing is hard. No doubt about it. But sometimes authors get so caught up in the publishing aspect of the profession that we forget the reader doesn’t give a darn how the book was made, researched, written, published, or promoted.” – Hope Clark

 We really don’t want to tell you all that because why would you want to know that any more than you want the details about how your prospective new lawnmower was made? Instead, we much prefer you knowing that we hope you’ll enjoy a good story and then take our characters into your hearts, minds, souls and worst nightmares.

Hope Clark wants to be persuaded a book has a story that will probably interest her more than that it’s cheap or free or the author’s hard-fought debut novel. I feel the same way.

On the other hand, unless a writer is well known and can fill his or her blog with news about upcoming book signings, conventions and other appearances, or–perhaps–the progress of a feature fill that’s being made from one of his/her books, the rest of us don’t have bookish information to provide in a weekly blog.

So, we talk about the subject matter in our books hoping, for example, that people who love mountain climbing will read a post about it and then see that the author has written a novel with a mountain climbing theme with a plot sounds interesting and a story fits within one of the genres the individual likes. The gurus say that if an author writes weekly posts–or even tweets–that say nothing but “buy my book” s/he is spamming his/her own readers. I agree.

That leaves us with talking about the subjects and genres we love and hoping that our posts attract the kinds of discerning readers who are will see possibilities in our books. However, I’ve learned a few cautionary things about this idea:

Caution

  • Murderers don’t read mystery thrillers about murder and mayhem unless the novelist includes how-to-do-it tips.
  • Using a lawnmower in your story line doesn’t attract people who mow yards or sell lawnmowers.
  • If you whine to prospective readers that writing your latest novel made you insane, they will be too superstitious to buy it.
  • Footnotes attached to everything in the novel you researched (cited with sources) or experienced (cited with names of witnesses) do not “ramp up” your story’s appeal. (I know, Lincoln in the Bardo breaks this rule.)
  • Forget about the idea of committing a sensational crime and then writing a based-on-a-true story novel about it. Most jurisdictions have laws that won’t let you profit from the bad that you do unless you only imagined it.)
  • If you put spells or subliminal messages in your books that force your readers to buy more of your books, it’s probably best not to mention it.
  • Saying your novel is just like the novel of a famous writer will cause (a) more people to read the famous person’s novel,  and (b) people to ask why your novel isn’t also on the bestseller list and the well-known review sites.

When it comes down to it, I don’t even know why I read what I read, much less how to write something that somebody else will read. My reading habits are all over the map, so how anyone would include me in their target audience is beyond me. Most advertising/promotion software has probably figured out by now that the words “free” and “cheap” really turn me off. I suppose it’s possible that the NSA/CIA/FBI track the books I read and sell that information to publishers. If so, thanks for spying because I keep coincidentally finding plenty of wonderful stuff to read.

As for my own writing, I write about what interests me and hope that I’m not the only person on the planet who finds such stories fascinating.

Malcolm

Since so many people love fast food, I based my latest e-book short story, “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” on fast food. So far, McDonalds hasn’t agreed to included a copy with each Happy Meal.

 

 

Some days, writers are flat too tired to write

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Even the words of a decent blog post don’t come to mind.

This list of the day’s events doesn’t sound that arduous:

  1. Up at 7 a.m.. after five hours of sleep (typical)
  2. Emptied the dishwasher
  3. Ate breakfast.
  4. Cleaned frying pan and put plate in empty dishwasher
  5. Picked up garden soil and potting soil at Home Depot (still in the trunk of the car)
  6. Got four new tires put on the car and found out the alignment was messed up (wait time = 90 minutes)
  7. Bought a new coffee pot (took two stores to find one)
  8. Picked up a few groceries
  9. Lunch (not proud, it was a cheap TV dinner)
  10. Made a vat of beef stew (still simmering)
  11. Watered new veggies and flowers outside
  12. Wheeled garbage bin back up next to the house
  13. Cleaned up a hairball
  14. Fed the cats
  15. Publisher reminds me Eulalie and Washerwoman will be on sale on Kindle on Friday (don’t want to get in trouble by neglecting to mention that)
  16. Poured a glass of wine (just before burning myself out on this exciting post)

–Malcolm

The many worlds of fiction are calling you away

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“I know I walk in and out of several worlds each day.” – Joy Harjo

I won’t try to second guess what Harjo, winner of the 2017 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, meant exactly when she mentioned several worlds. If you’ve read her 1983 book She Had Some Horses, you might suspect–as I do–that her “several worlds” are more than figurative. The title poem, which I can never read often enough, says the horses are sand, are maps, contain ocean water, are the sky’s air, fur and teeth, breakable clay, and splintered from a cliff. Throughout the poem, those horses are everything else.

Nothing figurative there. I see it as real because when I’m there, reading, I’m in that world, and she did not say, like sand, like maps, like fur and teeth, etc. When you read and when you are where the words take you, you are no longer in your safe bed or your easy chair or at your desk. You are in a place where “She had horses with eyes of trains.”

NASA Photo

If you write, you are where the words have taken you, perhaps with Joy Harjo, in a place where “She had horses who licked razor blades.” The typewriter, yellow tablet, or PC slip away, and now you see the bright cold day where the clocks were striking thirteen, where the screaming comes across the sky, where there was a dark and stormy night where the rain was falling in torrents, where Mrs. Dalloway bought flowers for herself, or where stars are living and dying.

If you read and/or write, it is hard not to talk in and out of several worlds each day. The words conjure you there. Those words are your quantum entanglement, placing you simultaneously at one place and another place, and the place with the strongest attraction is where you attention is, often more within the book than your safe bed or easy chair. Perhaps the call of sleep, the ringing of a phone, another person entering the room, or a thunderstorm will draw you away from the horses “who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.”

That sudden change of worlds can be like dying or being born. It’s often wrenching like being pulled suddenly out of weep water or stepping into a fire. Sometimes the worlds blur the way dreams and waking moments tangle together at dawn. Sometimes you’re sure you safe bad is made of sand, is a map, contains ocean water, is fur and teeth, breakable clay, and a splintered sliver from a red cliff. Worlds can tangle for readers, writers, dreamers, and anyone else with an free-ranging imagination.

You become a shaman when you read or write. To the logical observer, you appear to be a man or woman reading in bed or a man or woman writing a book at his or her computer. They can’t quite see that you are the sky’s air and the ocean’s water.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?

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In his Salon interview with five authors (“Figuring out that page-turning quality is tougher than it looks”), Teddy Wayne asked, “How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?”

I especially liked Sara Flannery Murphy’s (“The Possessions”) answer: “I always remind myself that I’m not entitled to anybody’s attention. That way, I feel a lot of gratitude for the people who do listen, knowing that they’re giving their attention to me freely and generously.”

Authors have been asked this question for years. Some are considered arrogant, egotistical, and vain, filled with self-importance as though they are kings and queens who must be served by millions of little readers. Some write that they write and hope the readers who like their plots and characters find their books.

Some authors are very commercial: they have a knack for knowing what sells well and how to keep writing it so that over time they develop a reputation for delivering stories in their genres of choice that are guaranteed to keep their fans forever turning pages and waiting for the next book.

Some authors are more comfortable in niches and (perhaps) believe they’re lucky if anyone finds their books.

Today, a lot of authors think the way to success is to sell stuff cheaply. Maybe that works. But really, the thing all authors are asking their readers to give them is their time. Whether those readers pay 99¢ or $29.95 for the book, the time it takes for them to read the novel, short story collection, or nonfiction is more valuable to them than the cash. Whether they read the book in an afternoon, a long weekend, or a few pages every night for weeks before going to bed, they had unlimited options for spending that time. But they chose the book.

That’s why I like Murphy’s answer. And frankly, there’s no way to truly thank a reader who has spent many hours “freely and generously” reading something we’ve written other than doing our best to tell the story well.

Malcolm

 

What if our muses are aliens from other worlds?

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“The Muses are the inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts in Greek mythology. They were considered the source of the knowledge embodied in the poetry, lyric songs, and myths that were related orally for centuries in these ancient cultures. They were later adopted by the Romans as a part of their pantheon.” – Wikipedia

museMany of us learned the classical definition of muses in school. We had to memorize their names along with those of all the other Greek and Roman gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines, and ill-defined entities.

When we studied long-dead writers whose books were part of the acceptable canon, we quickly saw that many of their muses weren’t from the pantheon, but were imagined as wispy, ephemeral (real or imagined) women who–when captured by artists–looked like they were dying of consumption or, possibly, syphilis.  I told my professors I didn’t want anyone or anything like that hanging around giving me writing advice. This met with disapproval.

Later, when my muse showed up on a dark and stormy night, she turned out to be a whisky-drinking, spell-casting woman who looked (I’m not making this up) like a hell’s angel biker. She had a “write this or else” kind of attitude. It took us a while to come to an understanding.

But now I’m starting to wonder if all those Greek goddesses, consumptive women, and more modern whisky-drinking muses are illusions or, worse yet, aliens taking their instructions from a fully cloaked mothership in orbit around the earth. I often thought cats got their instructions from a similar source, but that’s another post.

So, here we are, slaving away writing fiction, all the time thinking we’re making it up, using our imaginations, joking about what our muses want and don’t want, &c., when it turns out, we’re drones taking dictation from a race of beings from (possibly) the Klingon Empire who want to hack into our brains and influence our destiny via what we perceive to be home-grown works of art, music, drama, and literature. Sort of like the matrix, but worse.

Is there a way to prove this? Of course not. All attempts at proof will–due to the prime directives of our otherworldly muses–sound like fantasy, science fiction, fairy tales, and insanity. I also notice that whenever I try to sabotage my muse as a way of protesting the mothership scenario, I get writer’s block. The only way I’m getting this post written at all was by drinking my muse under the table. (I’m trying to hurry before she wakes up.)

I’ve tried a variety of witches’ and conjure women’s spells, but they seem (so far) capable of getting rid of haints, demons, and the hexes from bad people. Muses are another kettle of spirits. So far–after a lot of dutiful testing–I’ve learned that they’re susceptible to booze. Here’s what that means. You’ve got to practice learning how to hold more liquor than your muse can hold. When she’s drunk and you’re not yet drunk, you can write, paint and compose without interference. For me, that means keeping a bottle of single malt Scotch and/or a quart jar of moonshine on the desk at all times.

If you want to be your own writer rather than the pawn in somebody’s cosmic game of chess, you might want to consider the benefits of this approach. Sure, you might go broke or die of liver failure, but that’s a small price to pay for the sanctity of your art.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Eulalie and Washerwoman” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” novels he wrote while trying to get rid of haints.

Writing based on the slings and arrows of outrageous childhood

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“I see shame as part of a process of becoming free: to create or, yes, to love. These sometimes have to be fundamental acts of disobedience to one’s upbringing or conditioned view of the world. In other words, one can feel ashamed of what one’s doing while at the same time knowing it’s the correct thing to do. I don’t doubt that, for me, part of the satisfaction in the act of writing is that it violates numerous taboos of my childhood that still weigh heavily on me. In the moment of writing, I can be free of them.”

– Rachel Cusk (“Outline,” “Transit”), in her Interview in BOMB

“One learns one’s mystery at the price of one’s innocence,” Canadian author Robertson Davies said. That is not only true of those cursed to write, but often serves as the reason they write and what they write about.

tabooThe taboos of childhood come in all shapes, sizes, colors and strengths. Some are merely household rules which seem odd, unfair or simply different than the household rules of one’s friends. They twist into the more grotesque shapes of poverty and abuse and every sacred truth that becomes a lie through the epiphanies of growing up. They are the political and social injustices we see through young eyes and the corruptions we feel to the marrow of young bones.

For Rachel Cusk, they are the seeds of the stories we will write, and we can thank our lucky stars that writing is the manner in which we learn to be free of them rather than everything ill begotten from drugs to terrorism. What the psychoanalyst’s couch cannot cure, our fiction finally harvests the strange fruit of those tainted seeds sown long ago.

Unfortunately, one must re-live those slings and arrows to bring them to life in a story. Doing so is like choosing a nightmare over a good night’s sleep. But the process is very cleansing and the weight of the world, or at least one’s past, becomes noticeably lighter and happier once the mystery behind the writer’s life and work is finally understood.

The results need not be heavy, depressing books. They might be mainstream, commercial romances and thrillers. Sometimes they’re page-turning yarns with exciting plots and an unobtrusive message (or no message at all). Yes, they’re also comedies and satires, and even poetry so sweet and dear that no one sees the vinegar within the words. Perhaps they only hint at the taboos they cast out, and that can be a fine thing.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman” that came about through banishing devils that were held close for half a century.