Archive for the ‘creative writing’ Tag

Categories Shmategories: Figuring out Goodreads and Amazon   Leave a comment

emptyauditorium

If I had a fan room, this is how it would look.

There is something inherent to being a real author. You have fans, you answer tons of e-mails every day, you sign copies of books for people in obscure “cool locations” and you probably have a cutie in a low cut dress lingering in the audience wanting a little more than just a glimpse into the “Mind of Marcus”.

But i’m not there yet, i’m far from it.

I spend a lot of time now going through goodreads forums, looking at different categories and sub categories, seeing who reads what and why, learning the ins and outs of how not to flame someone, how not to post something incorrectly on a wall. It is a haze of “read this!” promotions, “seeking authors for interviews” on various websites, shouts for guest bloggers, rave reviews for books i’ve never heard of, learning about categories like “New Adult”, which is NOT “Coming of age”, but more like “Young Adult” (but sexier and with more grizzled, heavily tattooed men on the front covers). There are the giveaways, the tips on promoting and writing, people asking questions from authors, “self-published authors” versus “indie” authors. People have websites that will promote your book if you promote theirs, people are seeking candidates to interview for radio. Each interview post i’ve seen has literally hundreds of replies. The writers are out there en masse, they are hungry and they are stepping around wielding keyboards like ancient maces.

So for the last two weeks i’ve been lost in this world, trying to figure out how to give advice and scream from my personal soapbox at the same time without much result. The point of this website is to find readers, and readers really mean ” putting your book  in the correct category”.  So i had to take a step back and figure out how to really categorize my book. When I think of how my book is written, I think of like… Rules of Attraction, or Bright Lights Big City. Not necessarily in the exact writing style, but in the narrative. But big boys like Bret and McInerney are heavyweights in the literary world. Their projects went the twelve rounds, came out bloody and bruised and lived to stand the test of time. Now their stuff falls into “literary fiction” category which is really high brow stuff. (Think of people who say words like “curmudgeon” and you’ll know the crowd i’m talking about).

But am in that category? It is possible, but it seems to me that only after significant fame is your book really categorized as such. I know my book is definitely NOT “New Adult”, but probably a mix betwen “Coming of Age” and “Literary Fiction”. In the haze of goodreads posts, I came upon someone who gave me some pretty good points on how to categorize my book and followed suit. Because I am an (egad) “person of colour” it might be easy for many people to take liberties on the supposed tone and layout of my book. My book however, is more about “Americana” than any particular racial demographic. The characters are all Jamaican (two black guys and one blasian dude) but the focus of their lives is… well, life. I rarely even focus on the “issue” of race, versus the “issues” of life. I learned this mistake after putting my book in the “Urban” category on Amazon and having it listed next to such gems as “Tranny 911”, “Thug Luv”, “Ballad of a Bitch” and “Child of a Crackhead”. (NOTE: I am not making these up, type these names into the Amazon search engine for yourself)

I realized I put a bit too much trust into Amazon’s algorithms, and it wasn’t a sweet cup of tea seeing the books i’m now associated with. So i’m going to tweak the categories and revamp. I even discovered there is something called “Hipster Lit” (y’know books about artsy ‘it kids’ with loads of disposable income and no responsibilities) and I felt that fit my book also. Earlier today I punched”hipster lit” into the  Goodreads search engine and immediately saw lots of books that felt like me pop up.  Books with funky covers, interesting titles and “seemingly different” stories. So i’m not the kind of guy who writes a book and spends the next year huffing and puffing his chest and introducing myself as “NAME+AUTHOR”.

I’m the kind of guy who only gets excited when I know that i’m close to the pie, and its not even in the oven yet.

Writing ramble and the Kindle Gamble   3 comments

ALANBLOGPIC

Today was one of those days I wrote (so far) about 11 pages of a short story. I’ve been really working on getting back into the mental wagon of writing, and mainly this involves writing a lot more. That probably sounds pretty simple, but for anyone who does active writing, its not necessarily “easy” to write frequently, if you don’t have topics that motivate or interest you. For me, my attention floats between writing about language learning and then writing about observations of my daily life or things I feel might be of interest to people. Since I haven’t actively blogged on this site for quite some time (leading up to the release of my new novel), that means in a way that I wasn’t very interested in sharing much for a while. Regardless of that, i’ve been doing more writing across different lines, and i’ve noticed a few things.

It doesn’t matter what I write.

This adage seems to make sense, because writing is simply a function. I don’t really need to write swaths of epic prose to feel like i’m gaining momentum. The occassional blog post or lengthy e-mail does wonders to get the brain back into gear. What daily/almost daily writing does is just get me back into  the habit of seeing writing to be a normal thing. I doubt i could have woken up at 4 a.m written for two and a half hours one month ago because I wasn’t actively writing (I was working on editing the book and doing the launch). But now, I feel more in tune with just diving in, and i’m hoping to get a couple other projects out of the way and have more “product” out there.

Old projects are good kickstarters.

This comes from me digging up some very interesting short story projects I had either started, or made a basic concept of. In my post about a week or so ago, I wrote about how to be a ten page a day writer. I explained quite clearly my method, and it has a lot of do with a certain clarity about what you are writing. The picture above is about a page and a half description of a short story/short film concept i had. It clearly illustrated basic character motivations, scenes and the general flow from A to B of the idea. After mulling it over in my brain for a few hours, a stream of thought hit me and I started writing the first draft non-stop until I hit eleven pages. What was funny about this project is that I COMPLETELY forgot I even wrote this idea down!  I call this “mad scientist fuge state”, where I have a cool project idea, blaze out a detailed concept and then forget it soon after.

Working on this is a welcome sort of break as I slowly push my novel, Sex, Drugs and Jerk Chicken.  It is a little tricky to be doing all the PR and online interviews and marketing for your own book, and I felt that I need to be getting a project or two off the ground during this process. I’m looking at doing some “Kindle Singles” as a way of sharpening my writing again and hopefully gaining some exposure if the editors at Amazon find my work interesting. I spent all of Saturday morning designing a Kindle Single cover for a story of mine “Misses Cats”, and I felt like polishing another two or three stories (just in case) I decide to do a bigger submission. It’s been about two and a half years since I’ve actively written on a blog (other than my language blogs) and this feels interesting again. I think i’m getting back into it, but i don’t want to talk too soon. What has definitely changed in my self-perception on what i can do as a writer. Releasing a novel gave me a small kick in the gonads, but hasn’t left me with a massive ego either.

Big goals can help push smaller goals.

This is what i’ve observed about how I am mentally thinking about structured projects after releasing my novel. Years ago, I made plans to release a book of short stories based in different locales. I even sent out the top 7 stories i’d written up to that point, got a set of quality readers, gauged their interest and found the top contenders. Then, after doing that, my readers unanimously selected “Gaijin Girl” as their favourite written story, and eventually, it was published in an eidtion of Yomimono, a Japanese literary journal. Later, another story from that set, “Sleep” would be published again in the same journal two years later. Now, I’m about to push a third story, “Misses Cats” from that set as a Kindle Single. Sometimes you have these awesome writing periods, and you don’t realize the gems you are mentally creating when you are in the zone. So, in this scenario, the “bigger goal” was the novel I recently released, which was a bigger mental hurdle than say, releasing a book of short stories. But either goal felt quite daunting a year ago, but only two weeks after releasing the novel, doing the short story thing doesn’t seem like a big deal, and what’s cool is that I have loads of content. From my previous short story projects, I think I might already have about fifty plus pages of content for a collection of short stories. Because i’m sort of getting into the zone, I think with some effort I can start popping out a few more stories, or fleshing out stuff i’d already started. So this is my Monday morning ramble about writing and my current process. I’ll get back into my “journeyman” introspective babble at some point, but these days I can’t really bother to blog about “real life” since my mind isn’t focused in that way.

I guess i’m back in writer mode for the time being.

Gas Masks and Epic Scenarios   1 comment

memaskclub

This could translate well into written text

There are many ways to write about things; to sit and dream up stuff that makes your toes curl or your heart race, or you can mix it up. I’ve had many an experience, and sometimes I like to test the limits of fun within a specific atmosphere. Jamaicans for the most part (in a club situation ) are pretty laid back. People sip their drinks and dance to music, but there aren’t any women raving on the countertops doing shots and diving face first into a tile floor. I mean i’ve seen girls at the club giving lap dances in skirts so short everybody knew Victoria’s secret, but other than that, it doesn’t get much further out there.

Me and a friend were trying to rally some people up for a Harlem Shake video vibe that night, but the crowd was a bit dead. We wore the gas masks anyway.  I wish someone had taken a picture of me dancing with a girl in the gas mask. I can only hope.

To me sometimes this is the real meat of writing interesting things, testing your own mental borders in both the real and unrealistic world. Dancing with three girls while wearing a gas mask and trying to swallow liquor give you some future creative leeway.

yes, those are twin rifles hidden in her lace stockings

yes, those are twin rifles hidden in her lace stockings

I mean what’s the story of this girl here? Is she some would-be-assassin, a horny girl looking for a guy, or a human cyborg? Even more important, who is the dude beside her dressed like a  fireman street crossing warden hybrid? These kind of things are fuel I gather. Fuel that makes certain books more palatable, because you have reference points, images and moments that you can copy, expand upon, or twist however you want.

Since i’ve jumped back on both the blogging and mentally creative gravy train since I just dropped a novel, Sex Drugs and Jerk Chicken these things have been coming to mind more often. But if you live an epic life, you can write about epic things. Or if you have epic reference points, you can make epic allusions.

I think the point expression is simply to express, to flow through the ins and outs of your own mind, make sense of the raging maelstrom of memories circumstances and data you’ve gathered in your life, regurgitate it in a readable form, and then let the chips fall where they may.

This is an aspect what motivates me to write sometimes, whether i’m writing from the perspective of a Japanese woman (I wrote a story called Misses Cats) or if i’m fiddling with a new concepts. Images, sights  and sounds are the fuel, my mind the channel, and my fingers the weavers of the fabric of my creations.  So, at times I guess its good to be the guy in the mask, or the guy raging behind a model paid to pretend she’s a statue.

mrrager

Novel Anatomy part 1: How to be a ten page a day writer   3 comments

   

flabs

This is maybe what ten pages a day looks like after a while

No, you don’t need a Black Sabbath album, a vial of coke, a magical leprechaun muse and a mountain of skittles to write ten pages in a day each day. In fact, I’ve discovered there’s only one thing you really need: clarity.

I’ll illustrate.

More than once I’ve had ridiculous, high energy bursts of writing that resulted in me writing 10-35 pages in a day. Yes, I’ve written a max of 37 pages in a day (not that I can repeat such Herculean feats often). Whenever I’ve had these sorts of days, it wasn’t so much about being “in the zone”, it was more about being extremely clear about what I wanted to write, with a burning intensity to get it out.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know the process of writing takes some plotting and planning and chewing pens or pencils and wandering around wearing tweed (possibly plaid) trying to find inspiration in your environment. But if you are very clear about what you want to write, there is nothing really holding you back.

So, I noticed this in two instances.

One instance was when in 5 days I wrote 120 pages of a sci-fi manuscript that had been eating at me for a while. The story was so clear in my mind that I didn’t do any research, didn’t write down any plot or do any significant character development. I just sat and wrote. Idly, I said to myself “if I do 20 pages a day, I’ll have two hundred pages in ten days.” So logically I started the process (in them thar days I didn’t care much about such  things as “limits” and “burnout”)

But the story (which revolves around some super human kid with powers and such) was so clear in my head that I didn’t even need to take a break. Every scenario from the introduction and the first few chapters were already in my head. So I just wrote. I did twenty pages the first day, and then did an average of twenty-five the next few days. When I hit 120, I realized I ran out of plot! So I had to stop, and think.

Now, the point isn’t the fact that I stopped, it was that I used up all the clarity that had made me so speedy with the writing.

Another time, I wrote 105 page manuscript in 11 days. It was a sordid emotional affair:  me breaking up with a girl and releasing my angst in written prose. Again, I was super clear on what I wanted to write, and had a burning intensity to get it on paper which resulted in a novella.

So do you have to break up with a girl to write ten pages a day? Hellz no.

Recently, when doing the final legwork for my latest novel Sex, Drugs and Jerk Chicken  I had a few ten page days and a few two page days. The ten page days were always days when I knew

(a) exactly what I wanted to write in extreme detail

That’s it.

You can make it happen pretty easily too. Of course we don’t all have those burning ideas raging in our minds that make us lose sleep, but we can create the same result without the seemingly candy-fueled rage.

Say you want to write a few chapters. Each chapter is five pages. All you need to do is write a paragraph or two describing the sequence of events and then importantly, what people talk about, where they go, and how they react. This builds “environment” which you don’t want to think about when you are writing. Once this is done, what tends to happen is that as you write, you focus less on the plot and more on the visuals and the dialogue or whatever, and you get the chapters done and have time to review etc. All you need is a piece of paper and a marker. (i like markers because they squeak when I write). How much description you write is relative only to one thing; how clear the idea already is in your mind. Sometimes you are 70% there, sometimes you are only 15% there. The more info you give your brain, the easier it will be to flow come writing time. I have examples of both below.

SHORTDESC

That is  pretty simple description, but you’d be suprised how long I had been puzzling this beforehand. I “sort of” knew what I wanted to write, but it was killing me. After I wrote this, I was able to quickly write a draft of the chapter and then fiddle with it for a while till i had it where I wanted it. That piece of paper translated exactly into SIX written pages. But that was a chapter where I kind of had a relative idea of how I wanted to shape it. Let’s say you have a more complex idea. No worries! As the French would say, ce n’est pas problem ici mon ami!  Simply repeat the process with more details as shown below.

longdesc

That page has material for two chapters. What I did was illustrate to myself how these two characters met, how they might hookup, little things they might talk about or what she might tease the character about (in this case the character is Tony). That translated into one 7 page chapter and  had the meat for another 6 page chapter. So two written pages with light description translated to 21 pages. So let’s say you just did enough for two chapters. Six plus seven equals… voila! Thirteen pages.

Now maybe you have a shorter chapter or a longer chapter or whatever, but this is the basic principle through crazy observation that i’ve learned. Once it is clear, or you make it much, much clearer, it is much, much easier to write. We all have different writing styles, but its much easier to write about the ” Man bleeding from his ears after the bomb went off in the deli he had been going to as a boy which happened to be the same place he met his girlfriend who went to join the army but loved talking about Norman Rockwell paintings after they made love” versus “some guy who got injured in a bomb blast”.

The first description gives you a lot more fuel for the proverbial fire because you can start making different connections and leverage your writing based on those things. The second leaves you in the chair, pen in hand staring at the bird taking a crap on a branch outside your window.

Which path will you choose?
   

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