Ice Pick Soup

VeronaTake a time journey to legendary Verona. Meet the Intuinoobs, Bubblers, spies, poets and catacomb crawlers. Return via a premier stage play in Newfoundland and have dinner in Kansas. Briefly step into the night line life of Alexis Mandell.

Short story, fiction, 13K words. Free. PDF format.

Download it here: Ice Pick Soup

Back then it didn’t matter who you were. It only mattered what you wore and how much you could drink on a given Thursday. – Unknown Poet of the period.

The best things in life are short, including people. – Orion Smiley, from the home land.

If you must make a point, never make it so sharp as to puncture yourself. – Verse from a Vin Intuinoob drinking song.

The Ice Pick Soup Saga

Summary of the Collected Works

A Note

Gregor and I have been invited to spend some time in Sogni, near legendary Verona. We will be meeting with the Intuinoobs, Bubblers and a number of other local characters, including catacomb crawlers. We can be contacted at:

Digipoint Locator ID: 395864385109:AA1:4004

using the approved trade craft and beamer protocol. We will also forward updates to this location as appropriate. In the meantime, thank you very much for the past year of fun and friendship.

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Writers and Their Rejections

Rejection Therapy logo

Most of the writers I’ve known over the decades had one goal in mind – publication. They reached for the gold standard of traditional publishing. Most of them never got there. It usually had little to do with their talent.

Many of these writers deserved better. They should have been published. Their work was excellent, polished and moving. But, somewhere along the line, they gave up. They reached an impenetrable bulwark that sidetracked their work and talent. It was the wall of rejection and, for some very talented writers, it was too much to overcome.

Rejection is a tough issue for anyone. In the world of writing, it’s inevitable. For those writers who set the gold standard of publication for themselves, it sometimes became the breaking point. Understandable, right?. However, for those writers who eventually made it through the desert of rejection, there was a potent reward waiting.

The question is one of perspective, self-confidence and experience. It all boils down to how you value rejection. Here’s one way to look at the issue.

Agent rejection. Agents live on the work and talent of writers. That’s the nature of their business. Good agents are looking for long-term relationships with their writers. There’s a reason for this. Once that first book has been published, the chances of future publishing opportunities increase exponentially. Beyond that, getting published opens up doors of opportunity in related areas. Good agents understand this kind of critical mass. It’s why the best of them thrive on long-term relationships.

The bad news is that top notch agents are rare. Most are only interested in signing a writer whose work can be quickly published. For these agents, it’s a numbers game. So, you’re just a number if you sign up.

Now, ask yourself this: Do you really care about being rejected by an agent who doesn’t care about you? The answer should be obvious. Their rejection is, after all, just the opinion of an individual who has no vested interest in your writing career. That kind of rejection is a blessing.

Take a look at Online Publishing and E-Hyphens and E-Agents for a bit more.

Disney Rejection Letter, 1938 (detail)

Publisher rejection. Rejection by other than a recognized publishing house is just as meaningless as rejection by the disinterested agent. Online publishers are everywhere. If the house is not established, not recognized by readers and writers, their rejection means nothing. It’s just another opinion from yet another person who has little or no interest in your writing career.

Even rejection from a major publishing house means little. There are countless examples of publishers rejecting famous authors. The publishing industry is littered with this wreckage and misdirection. If you spend some time reading about the careers of famous authors you’ll quickly see the kinds of monumental mistakes often made by major publishing houses. These stories are legendary and common.

Rejection by critics. OK, you’re published. Here come the critics, frothing and foaming at the mouth. Maybe you get panned. Is that rejection? Of course not. It’s nothing more than an opinion, typically written to please the critic’s readers. It’s wise to remember that critics are not writers. Many are frustrated, unsuccessful writers. They are hawking opinions designed to please their own readers. That’s their job. They are nothing more than opinion sellers, and you know the old warning about opinions, right?

To see the critic review game at its most ugly, take a peek at Paid Reviews Rock Your Pocket.

Rejection by readers. Yep, this is the one that really matters, if publication is your primary goal. It must be measured in only one way – book sales. The “review comments” below each book title mean little. They may make you feel good, angry, frustrated, whatever. But, in the final analysis, these comments are frosting, bitter or sweet. What counts is whether or not your book is selling. At the end of the day, it’s the reader that counts, and his or her opinion is expressed in terms of books sold.

There is only one exception to the rejection game – you. Yep, you count. Your opinions matter. The reason you write is important. Your goals are important. If you’re a writer, there’s a good reason, and it’s always personal, always important.

Forget rejection. Don’t obsess about opinions. Devalue the importance of acceptance. Find out why you write, what it means to you, where it fits in the symphony of your life. Rejection will always be at your doorstep. Just step over it and move ahead. It’s not always the best writer who reaches the finish line. It’s often the most tenacious.

Finally, here are a few articles that may be helpful. Keep in mind that publishers, agents and critics would have no purpose without writers.

The Undiscovered Writer

The Established Writer

Writer vs Author

The Unselfish Writer

Selfishness

A while back, I came across a comment that posed the question of selfishness as it applies to writing and writers. It was a bit of a two-parter that morphed around the subject. The first part of the question asked whether or not an unselfish writer should give away his or her work for free. The second part wanted an answer to the bigger question of “what is a selfish reason to write?”

I think there was more to these questions than met the eye when I first read them. The comments were posed as a challenge more than an observation. Still, they were interesting enough. How does selfishness and writing come together? How does selfishness, or lack of it, play into chasing word art?

A few readers may need to don the crash helmet for what follows. It’s purely an opinion piece, so don’t get too worked up over it. Geezer-writers get to stretch their mouth muscles from time to time.

The first part of the question, whether or not a writer should be paid, is pretty simplistic and obvious. I’ve written a number of posts about this topic. Since I’ve been writing all my life, I also have pretty strong feelings about it. If you’re a worthy writer, you should be paid for your work, period. The only exception is when you choose to offer your work for free, for some personal reason that makes sense to you. There’s an entire section on this blog, along with several individual articles, that speak to the need for writers to be compensated for their work. It’s a no-brainer.

But getting paid for your words is a tough business. Few writers ever achieve that goal. As I’ve mentioned many times, some of the best writers I’ve known never made it in a financial sense. They were great word artists but they never had the chance to make their work pay. This is one of the reasons that I’m such a strong proponent of self-publishing, to level the playing field for writers who would otherwise sit it out on the sidelines for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent.

Pay as You Exit

Should you be paid for your work? You bet, so long as your work is worth the money. In the end, your readers should be allowed to make that decision, not publishers or alleged “publishing companies” that populate the Internet. It’s all between you and the reader. The only way to know if you can make writing work for you is to get your words out there and hear what readers have to say about it. Readers vote with their money, which is just the way it should be. Publishers have lost their importance through their own greed and immoderate behavior. Get your words out there, and do it on your own terms.

The second part of the question is a little strange. I’ve never been asked the question in the past but it’s worth a thought. What is a selfish reason to write?

I don’t find much selfishness among my fellow writers. However, they mostly write books, novels or nonfiction. A few of my writer-friends are journalists. I do see a good deal of selfishness among bloggers, though. I find lots of attention-seeking behavior out there.

Now, to some extent, attention-seeking behavior is inherent in anyone who writes seriously or as a career. We want to be noticed, one way or another. We may write for ourselves, at first, but we publish to be read. At some level, that’s attention-seeking. I doubt that any seasoned writer would argue against this relationship.

attention seeking

But it goes beyond that acceptable level with so many blogs. There are endless posts directed at only one purpose – driving readers to the blog. There are so many words that have this sole purpose that it’s a day’s work to just get through them to the true nuggets of good writing. This kind of behavior is so obvious and transparent that virtually all readers recognize it when they see it. It operates at a level of commercials on TV, except that every so often you run across a really funny, entertaining TV commercial. Not so often with most blogs.

This kind of writing is selfish. It is not intended to convey valuable information, entertain, enlighten, share or contribute to others. It is designed to point back at the writer and do nothing more. It’s a way of putting notches on a virtual blog-belt that says, “Hey, look at me! I now have 34,534 followers!” Well, if you’re into quantity as a writing goal, it surely serves some purpose. It just doesn’t work for me.

If the blog is commercial in nature, I get the point. However, if it’s intended to be a personal blog, and the whole point is to drive readers to the blog, it shows up in the posts and in the writing style. This kind of writer is not trying to share. He or she is trying to collect. In my view, that’s selfish.

So, are writers selfish? The good ones, those who work it out as a living, the journalists, the worthy novelists, and even the occasional strong blog writer are not selfish. They are sharing something of who they are, what they think, how they are feeling, what they’ve learned along the way. They are not selfish. They are writers, even if they remain undiscovered for a lifetime.

Asking if writers are selfish is like asking if a writer is any good at what he or she does with their art. The best writers move well beyond their selfishness and find reasons to create words that are genuine and tangible, meaningful in some way to their readers. Those who cannot get to this point simply don’t make it in the business. There’s too much competition from good, genuine writers for the purely selfish to survive the cut.

Writer-selfishness has nothing to do with money, with getting that advance and royalty check. It has everything to do with sharing that part of yourself that may touch your readers.

Anything else is selfish.

Blog Comments and Knicker Hitching

AmarcordWhen it comes to blogging, I’m still trying to get my knickers hitched up properly. I’ve been at it for less than a year. Since I’m an old fogy, blogging came very late to my game. After 45+ years of writing, it was something new to try, a fresh way to exercise and exorcise my muse.

I’ve come to really enjoy the experience. Reading other blogs is fun and doesn’t take up much time. I’ve seen some great talent out there and, well, some lesser luminaries. My collection of “must read” blogs is tight but the quality is outstanding. When I don’t have the time to cruise through my blog list I feel as though the day has slipped away too quickly.

My favorite part of the blogging experience is reading the comments following my posts. I’m not much of a stats person. It’s not the kind of thing that yanks my tail much. The “likes” are fun because they give me a chance to check out a new blog. But it’s the comments that always make my day. They are pure prime rib for this carnivore.

AmarcordMy blog is meant for writers, mostly. I have a secondary character (Gregor) who makes social commentary and tries to deliver humor. But Gregor also talks to writers. So, most of my visitors seem to follow suit. They are typically writers, and some very good ones. When these readers are moved to leave a comment, I feel as though I’ve done a good job and that my fellow-writers have found some value in my words. It’s easy to push the “like” button but it takes a bit more effort to leave a comment. When a reader leaves me with a word or two, that’s a big payoff.

I’m also very impressed with the quality of comments. These are sharp folks, who can express themselves clearly and in a limited space. I like that. They often bring a big sense of humor along with them, especially when it’s a comment to one of Gregor’s blatherings. They banter and tweak, which makes my day. They thrive on fun and they’re not afraid to show it out loud. It’s a feel-good thing. I appreciate the smiles and chuckles.

Then there’s that geography thing.

Call me naive in the ways of blogging but I’m blown over by visits from across the world. OK, I’m severely provincial, so it’s a big deal in my quiet life. Better still, these folks can handle English with aplomb. Hell, I could never get past Pig Latin 101. The truth is that I’ve never been that good at my native language. I’m impressed that so many of these commentators are bi-lingual and so articulate. They remind me how small is my world, how absent my grasp of languages and other cultures. I admire these folks.

AmarcordMostly, these reader comments show me a strong sense of community, a gathering of people with similar interests from different places and perceptions. I like that. Since I live in a very rural area, these commentators open up my world in a big way. I suppose I could gain much by traveling more frequently, but I’m an old geezer and lazy by nature. Home is just fine. So, I travel through the world with the folks who take the time to comment on a post. They share their unique view of things, they give me a chuckle, they tell me about their world through their words. They are my teachers.

I thrive on these comments and appreciate them. The bottom line is that these short sentences are my reward for writing. They are gifts given freely and with a genuiness that is inescapable. There’s no better way to begin the day.

Thanks to all of you who have commented on my posts. You’ve made my blogging journey fun and endlessly interesting.

(Images from Fellini’s Amarcord. If you haven’t seen it, you have a real treat to come. It’s a writer’s movie, a lesson in real character development. It’s also very funny.)

Writers’ ROI (Return On Investment)

Spurious Causality

A number of years ago a friend approached me with a compelling idea. Would I be willing to write a book (under a pen name) that his organization could use as a fundraiser? I suppose this idea had been used many times and in countless ways, but it was new to me. My friend knew that I was interested in the cause he represented so it was an easy sell. It also appealed to me because I could keep my writing sharp while lulling through those “between project” times. There was no downside to the idea.

Fast forward. I’ve done this same thing a few times in the intervening years and found it to be a terrific experience. I loved the projects because I believed in the causes. As a writing workout, it had everything I wanted in terms of interest and freedom. I got to choose the topics, present them my own way, and know they would be appreciated and used in a positive manner.

When this kind of writing was still new to me I did some fumbling around to find the right formula. It took a little time, but it all finally came together. Now, I’m a true believer. My hope is that other writers will take up this kind of project for their favorite causes.

Here’s what I learned about this type of writing. It’s a personal formula, so there’s lots of room for improvements and tweaks. Just some highlights.

Be ContentMake no pitch in the book. It’s only necessary to add a single, discreet line to let readers know that your book will funnel all profits to the chosen cause. I like to add this as a brief line in the Introduction and within the traditional back-cover teaser. This seems to work best. There’s no reason to beat the drums. If you do a “hard sell” in the book you risk a big turn-off with the reader. Not good.

It must be relevant. Obviously, you want the topic to be relevant to the cause. There must be a clear tie-in that the reader cannot overlook. If you’re trying to fund-raise for a hunger project there’s no point in writing a tome about aircraft design. This is the point at which you work closely with the cause folks to come up with just the right idea.

"Timeless" Clock 時計 Sign, Asahikawa ...

It should be timeless. These writing projects need to stand the test of time and go on for years to be really effective. Time-sensitive topics don’t work well when you’re doing a fundraiser. What does work well is a topic that remains relevant over a long period of time. You want the book to have a strong shelf life.

It should not be unnecessarily long. With this type of writing project, the usual rules of novel length do not apply. In fact, I’ve found that a rather short book with tight, easy to digest chapters works well for most readers. It’s not necessary to spend thousands of words on character development or story line meanderings. Simple is best. Also, the book must move along.

Chapters need not be sequential. It’s OK to write a book that a reader can pick up at a moment’s notice, turn to any chapter, and begin reading. This seems to work better than creating a work that demands linear reading, front to back. The formula I prefer is to create a book in which any chapter can be read as a standalone piece of work. Obviously, there must be an overall tie-in that holds everything together. Readers seem to like this technique.

Graphics are not always necessary. Although graphics can enhance any literary work, they are not critical to this type of writing. Graphics help, but a book written for the purpose we’re discussing can be quite simple and still be very effective. I point this out because the cost of printing and publication can directly relate to the graphics content of the book regardless of how it is to be published.

Book Signing

Go to the events. It really helps your cause if you can attend events and sign copies of the book as they are purchased. This is not only a great way to thank the cause supporters but also a means to generate interest from potential readers.

Keep your causes separate. It’s not wise, nor proper, to mix your messages when promoting a cause-related book. This must be a personal decision, though. Just as you use a pen name for these creations, it’s best to keep your other work apart. Focus on the cause and the book it represents. There should never be any selling involved when you promote this kind of book. That responsibility belongs to others involved in the cause.

Feel good about yourself. This is the reward point of your contribution. With each book sale, your cause can grow and become more powerful. That’s the “feel good” part of the process that should not be overlooked. As writers, we all want others to read our words. If we can put our books in front of new readers, and feel good about it at the same time, we’ve been well rewarded.

So, why not give it a try? It’s the kind of offer that any forward-looking cause can appreciate and you’ll feel very good about your labor. A guaranteed return on your investment.

The Leaky Writer

The Plumber

I’m not thinking about straight-ahead journalism here. Not news reporting, scientific papers, pure history or anything of that ilk. I’m thinking about the creative writer, the fiction author, the storyteller or the humorist. I’m absolutely talking about the poet and that special kind of writer whose genre cannot be defined.

I’m thinking about the story behind the story. It’s all about the leaky writer.

It’s cliche to even mention that all writers are ultimately writing about themselves. Sure, the thought is worn down, overused, just accepted as part of the writing game. But it’s also true and it’s an enormous slice of the reading experience, if you pay attention.

We read the story, the novel, the screenplay, whatever. We like it. The characters are compelling, the story line moves us in some way that we appreciate. But underneath it all, hidden behind every scene and each character who slides through the pages, lurks the life of the writer. It’s the leaky writer syndrome and it’s universal.

Sometimes we aren’t even aware of the leaky writer. His or her personal story goes unnoticed, camouflaged by the plot and the players. That other layer sleeps deeply and may never rise to the surface. Even in these cases, it’s there. It’s always lying in wait for the reader, for just that right and careful reader.

Creative writers are leaky writers. It’s not an intentional action, not some subtle plan designed to layer two or more stories into a single piece of work. In fact, the leaky writer doesn’t usually know he or she is leaky, at first. That subtle story comes out later, maybe in the editing process, maybe in a later draft. Sometimes the back story lies dormant for years or decades and only surfaces later in life.

Many excellent writers never recognize their own leaky writing. It’s an unconscious process, a free-form exercise in art and storytelling that just happens in the background. They write a single story but they are telling two, or even more. It’s their own back story that serves as the foundation for all they have created. It’s the very soul of their art.

Drip emitter

Do you recognize these leaks when you read? Sometimes they are so subtle, so diffuse, that they almost disappear. Still, they are lurking back there, just waiting to surprise you when you least expect it. These are the hidden treasures, the path that leads you back into the writer’s heart and mind.

When you write, do you see your own leaks? Are you even aware of them?

I’m not. Mine all happen in the dark and I usually don’t recognize them until much later, if at all. Sometimes, a close friend or lover can ferret them out, point directly at them, and slap you across the head with an outcome. Sometimes they just stay dormant, maybe forever. Even when they seem to disappear, they are critical to the writing process. It’s the heart of the art.

Does this happen to you? I’ll bet it does, all the time. If you’re a creative writer, you’re a leaky writer. In fact, if you’re an artist of any kind, you’re just filled with leaks, always working at least two story lines at the same time, usually unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes. Your art is at least half an unconscious process, a wonderful synergy that makes creation meaningful and fun.

Go back and look at something you wrote a while ago, maybe years ago. Read it for the hidden story line, looking for the leaks. Sniff out those little tells, that subtle tapestry behind the story you created inside your piece of art. Over the years, you’ll find your personal story in those leaks. You’ll discover a little more about who you are as a person and an artist.

So, the next time you read for pure pleasure, keep an eye out for those leaks. They are just waiting to be discovered. In them you’ll find the soul of the writer and his or her story.

Richard Nixon may have needed plumbers but you don’t. Keep loving those leaks.

The Producer, A Lazy Writer’s Travel Guide

English: Old barn in Rural Ontario, Canada

Let’s set the scene.

I live in the boonies, the absolute rural environment. Out here, chickens run free everywhere, neighbors have four legs, and roads are mostly unpaved. We’re talking rural with a capital “R.” For a writer, nothing could be more relaxing or peaceful. However, it does tend to take you away from the mainstream.

I get requests to do media work, either in front or behind the camera. It’s one of the niceties of being a writer and I enjoy these encounters. However, I’m not fond of short trips, especially if they involve dealing with the TSA and their kin. These one or two-dayers are a complete drag, so I just don’t do them anymore.

Enter the TV producer and his or her crew. They want my help on a series, a production or some interviews. I balk about going outside my primal space. You can see the problem, right? But it’s not a problem for the producers. They are motivated and adept at making this all work out. They’re willing to brave the boonies to get the story. Bless them.

In the past few years, I’ve hosted producers from the UK, Australia, Canada, that kind of thing. Each has brought their crew to my front door, into my house, braving the wilds of this isolated outpost. Each has done it with grace, good humor, and outstanding organization. They are my most favored guests because they are respectful and fun.

camera crew

Each crew has given me a little piece of the outside world, a taste of their homeland, their culture and their world view. In other words, they’ve educated me. They have shared their big world with my small one. It’s a great way to travel if you’re lazy, like me. There’s nothing like having a new country knocking on your front door.

Sometimes the crew didn’t speak English as their first language. However, their English was excellent. They made me realize how insulated I am, how provincial. I can only speak English. They’ve mastered more. This is something I wish I had accomplished when I was young. Now, they’re faced with a rather boring, boonie-ridden geezer who can’t speak their first language. Is that a problem? Nope. They’ve been there before. They know the drill.

The crews are always polite. They come for a day or two, do their work, and leave everything as they found it. A member of one of the crews actually wanted to wash dishes after my wife provided a light snack. Think about that. She was from Canada and spoke French as her first languge. Obviously, she was raised right, eh? How often do your visitors offer up that kind of courtesy? I’m not talking about good friends or relatives. I’m talking about strangers at your door.

Sometimes the crew and I go out for lunch or a light meal. There’s not much around these parts so the dining choices aren’t great. In fact, they are downright simple and boring. None of the crews complain. Since they were all from different countries, they were caught up in their new environment, wondering about the oddities of rural living. They were in the moment. They were having fun. So was I.

These production crews are light on their feet and deep with a sense of wonderment and humor. They obviously enjoy their work, love meeting people, and lie in wait for the next laugh. I see these qualities with American crews also. But the crews from other countries take it to a new level. These are happy people and they bring their unabashed liveliness with them.Rural Living

They also bring joy to my life. They make a lazy writer’s existence interesting and fun. Through them I get to experience a different side of life, a freshness that can only come from an encounter with a different culture. Sure, the work is routine for the crews and for me, too. What makes it special is, as always, the people behind the work. They are a special cast of characters who put a little tingle in your life and open your world a bit more.

Being a writer is a wonderful life experience. It opens so many doors. Chief among them is the chance to work with creative people from other countries. They have always been a pleasure for me, a change in the scenery that I always appreciate and enjoy.

I consider them friends, even if we never meet again.