Modern Writers Rock!

Modern & Futurism

I’m completely in awe of the modern writer.

When I began my writing career dinosaurs were still roaming the earth. This was well before the age of computers. Longhand was the preferred way of drafting, typewriters were the critical tool. Manuscripts were sent back and forth by mail. My agent and I would talk by telephone or the occasional letter. Later, we both mastered email and thought we were very modern. Publisher meetings were face-to-face. Now, all of this feels so archaic, so yesterday. Those days may seem romantic to some, but they are so used up. It’s good to move ahead.

Back then, writing was a solo business. I worked alone, out of contact with others when I was writing novels. For nonfiction, I beat the streets and the telephone. My contacts were limited to interviews, mostly. There was no need for much social interaction, except for the occasional conversation with a fellow writer. Today, everything is different. The modern writing life demands more dimension, greater diversity, and involves more skills. Today, the recluse writer cannot make it in the business.

I like the changes. I think today’s writers are more rounded, more complete in working their way through the perils and pleasures of writing. They are involved in the real world, not just the closed universe of writing. They are members of a large and vibrant community that stays in constant contact. The writing life is no longer a static landscape. It’s alive.

It’s also obvious that social networking is critical to modern writers. This is a big change from the old days, and I think it’s a major step forward. Writers are now expected to crawl out of their dens and interact with the real world. Communicating with others is critical to successful writing. Gone are the days of the unsocial writer. This is great for both writers and their readers.

Today’s writers need to understand more about the publishing end of the business than my generation ever considered. That’s also a plus. Publishing used to be quite a secret society, penetrated only by successful writers who had good contacts in the business. Now, publishing is an arm of writing, a part of the process that modern writers need to work through and accommodate. It means that good writers also need to get a grip on important business aspects of their careers. Another step forward. Modern writers play a critical role in their own success. Yesterday, they were rarely more than bystanders.

Back in the day, marketing was mostly the purview of the publicist and the publishing company. Today, it’s the shared responsibility of the writer. So, the modern writer is closer to his or her market, more familiar with how book visibility can make or break a career. This means that writers can directly impact their sales in a positive way. That couldn’t happen back when. Us dinosaurs waited around to see what happened, for better or worse.

Today, there is a demand for many important skills necessary to succeed. The modern writer has new tools of the trade, powerful ways to network, insanely easy software to help at each step along the way. These tools are critical to a writing career and the modern writer knows how to use each of them. In the dinosaur days, these tools didn’t exist. We all fumbled around, trying this and that until we hit the right combination. The power that these modern tools bring to today’s writers wasn’t even on the radar yesterday. Back then, our skills were much more limited and our eyes never turned to the power of networking.

The list is a long one but the point is simple.

Our modern writers have tools and opportunities that weren’t even in dreams back then. Of course, this also means more work for the writer, more competition and much more involvement. All of this is a good thing, I believe. Today’s writers are more well-rounded, more outward-looking, and have much more business sense than my fellow dinosaurs. In other words, they are more complete individuals.

So, I’m in awe of today’s writers. They bring much more to the table than the ability to sling words together in a pleasing way. They bring completeness to the process. These writers seem more whole, less cloistered, from the geezer-writer point of view. As individuals, they seem more balanced, involved and approachable than my fellow dinosaurs. I like it.

Forget the nostalgia of the recluse writer of yesterday. Give me the modern writer and I’ll show you someone real, involved and aware.

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Pickpockets Love Their Writers

English: Dominique Pickpocket

The Internet is awash with flim-flam, scams and pickpockets targeting a new generation of writers. Unless you’re a seasoned scribe, tethered by the martial art of protecting your assets, it’s best to keep your purse or wallet under lock and key. The predators are out there and they’re just waiting to lighten your monetary load.

Here are a few of the most notorious pickpockets who specialize in writers:

The agency fee scam. This one has been around for quite a while and it’s simplicity itself – a literary agency that charges “reading fees.” The gimmick is straightforward enough. You send your masterpiece to the agent and he or she will read it for a fee and send it back to you, usually with some inane one-liner that proves to be meaningless. In fact, your work may have never been read at all. Wow. These bottom-feeder “agents” are the worst. No reputable agent would ever charge a reading fee, or any other up-front fee. That’s not how the game works. Established and trustworthy agents operate on a commission. That commision is based on book contracts and, in some cases, personal service contracts. No other fees are charged. None. Not even postage. If you come across an agent that charges a fee of any kind, especially a reading fee, run away immediately. Before you contact an agent for any reason, do a background check. This is when the Internet can be your friend. Writers rate agents and they often do it in public. Learn from the experiences of others and never, never pay a fee to any agent. Never. A good agent will want to establish a personal relationship with you, to help your career. That’s how good agents succeed. They do not make it on one-time fees.

Be your own publisher. Check this one out on Google and you’ll find an amazing number of hits. There’s usually a charge for some “how to” book or an online class attached to the offer. These gimmicks proclaim how easy it is to become a publisher and keep all your profits, as well as make some money on other writers. Well, in some ways it is easy – too easy, which is why there are so many flaky online publishers swimming around the Internet. However, there is nothing easy or simple about publishing, if you choose to do it with even a little integrity. Seasoned writers know this and they avoid flaky publishers like the plague. Don’t be picked clean with this scam. You don’t want to be a publisher. You want to be a writer who values your own publisher. Keep the relationship the way it was designed to operate in the first place.

How to become a great writer. Nope, this just doesn’t work for anyone. These scams usually involve classes, workshops, books, whatever – all of which are purchased with the promise of making you the best writer of the century. Just think about it for a moment. Who are these people? If they know so much about writing, why aren’t all the major publishing houses crawling all over them? What gives them some special knowledge, so special that you have to pay for it? Forget about it. If you want to take some writing or literature classes, stick to your local community college or university. Even then, these classes will never teach you how to become a great writer. They may improve your skills in certain areas, which can be helpful, but that’s all. Becoming a great writer is a matter of hard work, practice, reading, writing and learning the trade your own way. If you really need a guru, dig up a writer who has already made his or her bones in the business. Perhaps you’ll get lucky. Lots of established writers are willing to lend a hand to a new generation when they can.

Paid critiques. This one is becoming ubiquitous. You pay an individual to critique your work, someone who often refers to himself or herself as a “coach.” OK, the idea seems worthy. But, give it some thought. It’s like the writing guru I just discussed. Who are these people? Are they established, well published authors with some solid credentials? No? Well, then why pay someone whose lineage is questionable to critique your work? What’s their opinion worth? If you want this kind of critique, the best place to go is to your audience, to a select group of readers whose opinion you trust and whose feedback you value. Why go to some self-appointed “coach” for what amounts to nothing more than a paid opinion? Really? Pass on it, always.

Online anything. OK, that’s a bit broad, I admit. However, why would you pay anyone to mess with your work when that “anyone” is unknown, faceless, unproven, and disinterested in your growth as a writer? That’s like letting your beloved Fido run free on the highway. It just makes no sense. It does, however, lighten your cash load, if that’s your goal. Your writing career will not flourish on promises, only on accomplishments. You are in charge of that end of the business and it all comes down to commitment and hard work.

The bottom line is that your writing, and your career as a writer, needs the personal touch. Your personal masterpiece must not fall into the hands of predators in the hope that it will somehow become the world’s masterpiece. Your growth as a writer is a long-term proposition. It is not something that can be purchased, bargained, or remade instantly by any alleged guru. However, it can grow naturally and become more vibrant over time. The ways to make this happen are all personal, all free, and all your own to enjoy.

When it comes time to have your pocket picked, legitimate agents and publishers will do the job and do it right. That’s the way of the seasoned writer. You should settle for nothing less and pay for nothing more.

Here are a few articles that may be of some help:

Paid Reviews Rock Your Pocket

Online Publishing

E-Hyphens and E-Agents

Writers Flock to Tipsy Turvey

Kurt Vonnegut speaking at Case Western Reserve...

The Internet is awash with tips for writers. Some are excellent, many are cliches, and a few of them are both practical and original. Here is a short collection of some of the most interesting. I like these because they are the opinions of other writers. After all, who should know better.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” (Stephen King)

I re-wrote the ending to “Farewell to Arms”, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.” (Ernest Hemingway)

Start as close to the end as possible.” (Kurt Vonnegut, one of the eight rules for writing a short story.)

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” (Anne Lamott)

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place…. Something more will arise for later, something better.” (Annie Dillard)

What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’” (Maya Angelou)

William Stafford, explaining how he managed to be so prolific, said: “Every day I get up and look out the window, and something occurs to me. Something always occurs to me. And if it doesn’t, I just lower my standards.” (www.daringtolivefully.com)

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” Mary Heaton Vorse (www.daringtolivefully.com)

If it sounds like writing, I re-write it.” (Elmore Lenoard)

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” (George Orwell)

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” (E. L. Doctorow)

When you can’t create you can work.” (Henry Miller)

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” (Elmore Leonard)

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” (Stephen King)

I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling them a story, and I don’t want them to get up until it’s finished.” (James Patterson)

Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” (Ray Bradbury)

Writers Workshop: The Nonfiction Proposal

New Paperback Non-Fiction - Really?! 07/366/20...

There are lots of different ways to construct a nonfiction proposal. It’s easy to search the Internet and come up with some very good advice (and examples) about this subject. Anyone who writes and publishes nonfiction certainly understands that the proposal is the key to generating interest in your writing project. It’s critical to the entire process.

In the nonfiction world of publishing, it isn’t always necessary to have your project completely written before you step into the proposal end of the business. This is especially true if you’ve already established yourself in an appropriate genre. However, even if this is your fist foray into nonfiction, the proposal may be enough to get that critical attention and, hopefully, a writing contract.

Over the years, I’ve found a simple technique that works for me. Agents and publishers seem to like it, and it manages to get their attention as effectively as any other method. There is nothing special or secret about the way I construct a proposal. It’s just an amalgamation of the knowledge of others and a lot of experimentation with what works and what does not.

My technique is based upon two concepts: simplicity and compactness. I understand that agents, publishers, editors and their kin will not spend much time studying any proposal. Rather, they will give it a moment’s attention and either pass it over or delve a bit further. So, your proposal must be tight and manageable yet provide enough information and appeal to demand a deeper look.

My nonfiction proposals look like this:

A few sentences of introduction (or overview). This must be brief and need only state the nature of your proposal and a few words about yourself. The key is brevity. I never let this go beyond 5 or so sentences. This is certainly not the place to gush, sell, or bore your reader.

A list of chapter titles. Now, this is just a list and nothing more. In nonfiction, the chapter titles had better convey what is to follow or you’re lost. If, for some reason, you use less informative (perhaps more “leading” titles), you can follow each chapter title with one descriptive sentence. It’s important to keep this to a single, tight, interesting sentence. It should immediately follow the chapter title and clearly be associated with it.

The complete Introduction. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I don’t believe in long Introductions. You can see some examples on this blog. I think it’s important to be very careful when writing your Introduction. It should really shine and strongly carry your reader onward. I usually put this in front of the chapter list, but not always. I’m not sure which is the best method and I’ve changed-up on this part over the years. In fact, it may not even matter.

That’s it. I know it seems short and, perhaps, simplistic. However, it’s worked well for me over the years. It gives the reader a less overwhelming feeling, which often happens with proposals. It also provides enough information to both point clearly at your topic (chapter titles) and display your writing talent (Introduction).

If you’ve found a nice way of creating nonfiction proposals, won’t you share it?

Griffin, The Man Who Rocked My World

It wasn’t the first book I read but it was the one that ignited my passion to write, a passion that lasted a lifetime. The book was Black Like Me, written by John Howard Griffin.

The book was first published in 1961, by Houghton Mifflin, and I read it the same year. I was 15 and going into my first year of High School. This was an impressionable age and a time in America when everything was about to change. A new generation was beginning to look at who we were as a society, and they weren’t comfortable with what they discovered. Griffin’s personal journey in writing his book was a poignant and timely reminder that we all needed to reconsider what was important in our lives. I caught that fever immediately, thanks to the words of a man I would never meet.

At the time, Griffin was not considered an especially important writer. His work was known to some but he was not a household name in literary circles. Griffin was about to take the art of investigative journalism into the mainstream with his passion for fairness and equality. He would take the rest of us along for the ride and give us a legacy that proved to be unforgettable.

Griffin’s book was a nonfiction, intimate journey that captivated American readers. The fundamentals of the story first came to light as an article in Sepia magazine, who helped fund the writing project. When it appeared in print, Griffin’s experiences instantly drew readers from across the country. The story demanded a full treatment in book form, and what a powerful book it became!

“He who is less than just is less than man.” ―...

The story line dealt with race relations from the most personal aspect imaginable. For those who haven’t read Black Like Me, I won’t throw in any spoilers. I’ll just tell you that it presents the experiences of a white man who went through extraordinary measures to penetrate racism in America by pretending to be a black man. The narrative deals with his travels and personal encounters in the deep South. Through them, Griffin exposes the pain of a segregated, prejudiced America that was so prevalent at the time. He also tells us about a handful of wonderful, incredibly generous individuals he met along the way. The book reaches highs and lows worthy of the powerful point Griffin was trying to make.

It was not just the story line that moved me, powerful as it was. It was the sacrifices of the writer, his determination to get to the bottom of the story, that rocked my young world. All other books seemed tame after reading Griffin. Here was a writer who lived his work, who had a boundless commitment to the story he was chasing. Griffin put no limits on himself to learn what it was like to be black and live in the U.S. in the late 1950s. No one had ever put this kind of experience into written form in quite the same way. It opened my eyes to cruelty and indifference, but also to the willingness of some to extend their hands to the downtrodden and ignored. It showed me both the best and worst in our society. The mosaic it offered was compelling, penetrating and wholly personal. This was the kind of writer I wanted to be, someday.

Griffin made me love the importance of nonfiction when done the right way. Before Black Like Me, I wasn’t especially interested in nonfiction. Now, I understood just how a great writer could move me with something real and tangible. There was nothing dry in Griffin’s writing, nothing impersonal or academic. It was raw and real. It was all painfully true. It was groundbreaking.

There were other writers who strongly influenced me at that young age. Some specialized in fiction, some nonfiction. They all played their part in moving me further into reading and writing. But it was Griffin who started it all with Black Like Me. Even today, the relevance of his work remains strong. That’s surely the mark of a literary classic.

John Howard Griffin, the man I never met, will always be one of my heroes.

Big Daddy Conlang Fathers Famous Offspring

KlingonsConlangs begot Artlangs. Science fiction writers and readers know this relationship well, even if they’ve never heard the terms. Constructed languages (conlangs) gave birth to artistic languages (artlangs). In doing so, we all inherited a fresh, fascinating vision of science fiction, mythology and fantasy writing. Artlangs opened up a very different reading experience, one that has immense staying power.

Conlangs and artlangs are a science unto themselves, an intricate study of linguistics. But we needn’t go that far to find their value. For writers, they are creative forms of expression. They are a means to add dimension and authenticity to a story line that’s intended to carry us away to other worlds and other times. They are a powerful writing device.

The Big Daddy, conlangs, has been around for a very long time. Early examples can be found from very different parts of the world across many centuries. The Lingua Ignota, created by Hildegard of Bergen, is dated from the 12th century and meant to express the language of angels. Dante Alighieri chased the perfect Italian vernacular. Kabbalistic scholars tried to hunt down and record the original language of higher beings, much like Hildegard. The list is a long one. These were the original conlangs, never designed for the pure enjoyment of readers. They served other masters.

For our purposes, artlangs are of special interest. Artlangs are not intended to be a functional, useful language. They have no real-world practicality. Instead, they are expressions and reflections of the writer’s art, a way to weave a deeper, more sustainable tale. Artlangs give characters their own special language, a way of communicating that is unique to them. Obviously, this makes the characters even more fascinating, more real to readers. It doesn’t matter that the language is incomplete or that we have little idea about its meaning or complexities. A well-constructed artlang drives us deeper into the characters and makes them come alive on the page.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

The popularity of artlangs began to take hold in the early twentieth century, probably with the publication of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. He is considered to be the modern father of using an artlang to enhance his characters and story line. It was J. R. R. Tolkien who formalized the use of artlangs when he created an entire family of interconnected languages for his characters. He was so fond of artlangs that he lectured publicly on the topic. For artlangs, he became the great publicist and the writer to emulate for fantasy, myth and science fiction.

A century later, artlangs are everywhere. They have become a vital part of creating a good myth, strong characters, and lasting memories of fictional story lines. Here are a few other writers who have used artlangs to create enduring stories and engaging characters:

Anthony Burgess, Samuel R. Delany, Suzette Doctolero, Diane Duane, Suzette Haden ElginFrank Herbert, M.A.R. BarkerUrsula K. Le GuinBarry B. LongyearMorioka Hiroyuki, George Orwell, Karen Traviss, Christian Vander, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Jordan and Christopher Paolini.

There’s also a world of artlangs all around us in other forms of entertainment. Consider these: Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings (movies), Stargate SG-1, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Game of Thrones, Avatar, Dune and the Myst series of computer games. The list is enormous. Artlangs are expected, even demanded by readers, viewers and game players.

For any fiction writer, it’s important to remember that artlangs can go a long way to captivate readers. It’s not an easy task to construct an artlang and use it effectively. Artlangs demand consistency, an implication of clear meaning, coherency and a unique tonal quality that sticks with the reader. It’s something that cannot be overused or it will lead to utter confusion. Treat it like salt — a little goes a long way. When it’s done right, there are few techniques more potent than following a character through a story line in his or her own language.

To help with your artlang inspiration, here’s a famous proverb:

bortaS bIr jablu’DI’ reH QaQqu’ nay’

Get it? Its Klingonese, one of the most popular conlang/artlang constructions ever devised. It’s also one of the most complete and, like a living language, it’s still evolving.

Revenge is a dish best served cold,” uttered by Khan Nooien Singh in Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan.

Qapla’!

Soul Letters: Chris Kluwe

Soul LetterWriters are renown for their ability to construct moving, passionate letters. It’s a natural byproduct of the craft, usually garnered after decades of toil and trials. However, they are not alone when it comes to creating a unique style of missive, the soul letter, that faithfully holds its creator up to a mirror. Soul letters speak to more than the recipient, touch upon more than the topic at hand. They provide us with a personal, faithful glimpse of the writer. These letters hold nothing back, regardless of the writer’s intent. They lay it all bare for us to ponder, each sentence in a white hot light. Although they will never be considered great literary endeavors, they are superb unto themselves. They are written from the heart and lay bare the soul. They are honest.

This letter deals with a very charged issue – gay marriage. However, the politics of the issue are not the focus of this article. They are the back story. Regardless of your views on the matter, this writer created a soul letter. It tells us so much about himself, his passion and his view of the world. Like all soul letters, it is genuine.

The letter was written by Chris Kluwe, a professional football player. It was directed to Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Maryland State politician.

Dear Emmett C. Burns Jr.,

I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words):

1. As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should “inhibit such expressions from your employees,” more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindfucking obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit.

2. “Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment, and excitement.” Holy fucking shitballs. Did you seriously just say that, as someone who’s “deeply involved in government task forces on the legacy of slavery in Maryland”? Have you not heard of Kenny Washington? Jackie Robinson? As recently as 1962 the NFL still had segregation, which was only done away with by brave athletes and coaches daring to speak their mind and do the right thing, and you’re going to say that political views have “no place in a sport”? I can’t even begin to fathom the cognitive dissonance that must be coursing through your rapidly addled mind right now; the mental gymnastics your brain has to tortuously contort itself through to make such a preposterous statement are surely worthy of an Olympic gold medal (the Russian judge gives you a 10 for “beautiful oppressionism”).

3. This is more a personal quibble of mine, but why do you hate freedom? Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way shape or form, affect your life? If gay marriage becomes legal, are you worried that all of a sudden you’ll start thinking about penis? “Oh shit. Gay marriage just passed. Gotta get me some of that hot dong action!” Will all of your friends suddenly turn gay and refuse to come to your Sunday Ticket grill-outs? (Unlikely, since gay people enjoy watching football too.)

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter, in some small way, causes you to reflect upon the magnitude of the colossal foot in mouth clusterfuck you so brazenly unleashed on a man whose only crime was speaking out for something he believed in. Best of luck in the next election; I’m fairly certain you might need it.

Sincerely,
Chris Kluwe

P.S. I’ve also been vocal as hell about the issue of gay marriage so you can take your “I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing” and shove it in your close-minded, totally lacking in empathy piehole and choke on it. Asshole.