Tag Archives: artist

Would You Sell Your Soul on Amazon?

If that headline sucked you in, that means I’m learning. The art of the huckster. The pitch and woo. The bait, the push, the draw, the close.

"What are you selling, Johnny?" "Whaddaya got?"

“What are you selling, Johnny?”
“Whaddaya got?”

What am I selling? Just the same thing you’re selling. The same as you and everyone and their mother. Sally Fields, the president, the man in the moon. I’m selling me.

I’m selling my Facebook profile, my Twitter tweet, my ether charm. If you go for any of that, maybe you’ll go for this here bridge I’m trying to unload. I’ve also got some pet rocks and a slightly used personality. But don’t take my word for it—rent my personality for a few days and purchase it later if you like. And I can make you the sweetest payment plan you ever did see.

I’ll bet you’re tempted. Am I right, or am I right? Your curiosity runneth over like George Lucas’s bank account. Now there’s a man who can sell.

Me? I can’t help myself. It’s not like I’ve always longed to get thick into the selling game. It’s not like I was born to be the the poster child for Glengarry Glen Ross II. But self-publishing’ll do that to you.

Sure, you can write a book and choose to do nothing with it. Reaching an audience? That’s asking for loads of aggravation. But if you prefer foregoing that peace of mind, welcome to the new Madison Avenue. Query agents. Query publishers. (Query’s fancy talk for sell.) Or publish the thing independently.

Every step of the indie way there’s another consideration involving the old flim and the flam. There’s selling the book to proofreaders, getting blurbs and reviews, designing the cover, lining up bookstores and readings and the media. You might even try to sell to a reader or two.

Sure. That’s what I’m up to. Watching the shill hit the fan. But there’s just thing more, one last piece to figure. And it’s the mother of the whole shebang. It’s at the drop-dead center and heart of all this soul-mongoring. Who’s the yoyo that sold me on the idea of writing a book in the first place?

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The Hell With Worms

The smallest things can do a number on you. Fill you up or tear you down. Rip you up, apart, sideways. Blow you away, blow you to kingdom come, blow your mind. It doesn’t take much.

A couple nights ago I dropped in at a nearby reading series. Good stuff for the soul. The guys who run it don’t know me that well, so they’re still glad to see me. I find it a welcome escape from the isolation routine of writing. They welcome me, and they read to me. They present original things—some more original than others—things they’ve created, things they’re serious about, things they’re excited about. For me, that’s better than a bottle of Centrum or a hoity-toity cocktail.worms

So this one egg gets up. His piece recounts a half-year in his life as a grade school teacher. Maybe he’s not the next F. Scott Hemingway, but who is? He pulls off some nice gags, works in a poignant moment or two, and it’s got a good beat to it. I’ll bet he’ll never believe what bit threw me for a loop.

This is a local guy, right? He’s local, I’m local. That’s what you get most of the time at these readings, but not entirely. You can’t count on it. You never know. But in this case, sure, the bird’s local. He’s so local that, when I least expected it, he references this neighborhood park just two blocks from my house. Just a small thing. An easy thing. A throw away bit.

I smiled out of recognition. Actually, I downright beamed. In the midst of this writer’s foreign experiences, this moment hit home big time. I experienced a great dose of pleasure in sharing recognition for the familiar plot of land at the end of my street. Then zoom! It hit me. It struck me. Like a flash. I won’t go around the bend and talk thunderbolts, but zounds if it wasn’t good enough to spark a low-watt bulb.

The moment struck a chord, and that chord connected me to the format of his presentation, to reading, to writing, to literature, to all of goddamn art. And the humble idea that washed over me was this: that very moment is what art’s about.

I’m not talking about glib references to local haunts or shallow name dropping. I’m talking about that feeling of recognition. Can you pull off that recognition moment with an observation, a bit of dialogue, a particular series of actions or the denouement?

If you can make a reader register hard with some form of truth, then you’ve really done something. That’s something to shoot for, baby. But you’ve got to aim high. Awful high. Who wants to aim low, anyway? All you’ll hit is dirt. Maybe bag a worm. Worms ain’t for me. Sure.

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Money is Art Shmart?

Do you like dough as much as the next guy? Apparently the next guy likes it like a kid likes fun. Blind, unthinking, hypnotized. He needs it like a wildfire needs some schmuck with a match.

I belong to lots of writers groups. I get a lot of links from writers. I scan, skim and read tons of industry blogs and put in plenty of related research. I know it’s a business. I know that side of the endeavor’s the point for most of these groups and posts. But I can’t help but reel from the abundance of crass commercialism.

Do not pass go, etc.

Do not pass go, etc.

Here’s a big-daddy tip to keep your readers turning pages. Find out how to generate more five-star reviews on Amazon. Here’s how to suck up to an agent or a publisher. I get that. There’s a major business side to this business. But once in a while, at least every blue moon or so, just as an exceptional goddamn change of pace, could someone hint that there’s an art aspect to all this?

That hint is out there if you look for it. If you’ve got a high-powered sight on your browser or your RSS feed. If you can weed through ninety percent of the cold, harsh, show me the money takes out there.

I’m sure there’s plenty of starry-eyed sights and blogs out there, all about dreamy aspirations, inexperienced hopes and unprofessional, uncommitted wannabes with naive principles and the raw inspiration to match. That’s swell, and let them have at.

I’m talking about writers who are “out there,” the pros and seasoned authors hitting their heads against the walls of keyboards and publishers and agents and magazines and ebook distributors. Do they still have the fire in the belly? The magic in their fingertips waiting to cut loose? A lit spirit drunk on the idea of achieving the purely creative?

Maybe most of these people and places still got it. Maybe they simply don’t get around to expressing art for art’s sake, for one reason or another. Could be a matter of time, platform and format, or I might be missing a trick altogether. Sure.

But I’d sure like to read about it every once in a great while. I can’t expect to achieve any kind of literary greatness. That’s beside the point. It’s what I strive for. That’s the point. Something special in the words, the flow, the ideas and their translation to the page. That’s what it’s all about and that’s why I do what I do. I’m compelled, riveted by it, obsessed with it and hooked like a strung-out addict.

And as long as I’m at it, how about making as much money as the next guy? I wouldn’t kick.

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On a Roll and Keeping It There

The wondrous free-form, ambiguous, loop-the-loop writer’s life. Freedom and shackles. Self-imposed, self-made and selfish. No grounding, no way, no how. It’s another dimension of space and time way beyond taking hold of your television set. It’s all that and a bag of chips with a double espresso and four fingers of  hooch thrown in.

Whoever said freelance got that right. Free is right. All ways round. Time, pay, you name it.

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

That's life...

That’s life…

It’s all in for me. I don’t know any other way to do it. Load the chambers and start blasting. Throw your hat in the ring without taking it off first. Go gangbusters. Go for broke. Throw in the kitchen sink and jump right in after with a good plunger. Sure.

If you throw enough stuff at the wall, will any of it inevitably stick? Depends on the wall. Depends on the stuff. Maybe it depends on your throwing arm.

Talking for myself—maybe I’ll talk for you another time—everything in this life is subjective, relative, a matter of perspective. With that in mind, I’ve been on something of a roll as of late. I just took a quick look-see at my honor roll of writing to glean I’ve had nine pieces published in 2014. So far. On the boards are an anthology and two podcasts. Maybe a podcast series. And I’ve got my first book up my sleeve, though it’s scratching me like the devil.

Attaboy stuff? Rah rah? Go get ’em? Maybe. Very tentatively maybe. This writer’s routine is being entombed in a vacuum chamber. And some lug nut forgot to install the off switch. I’m talking isolation with a capital I. Solitary confinement with pages for walls, words for bars, and imagination for the key.

So I tell myself I’ve published more than one piece a month this year. And that sounds pretty good to me. Sounds like I’m on a roll. And it’s only natural to wonder if I can keep it up. The whammy is not leaving it up to publishers and e-zines and magazines and the like.

Jellyroll, sesame seed? Writing roll, piano roll? The matter of getting on one, finding your balance and staying there—in the end it’s not up to anyone else. It’s up to me, baby.

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Bang—You’re Alive

Sometimes you’ve got hold of something. Something special. Maybe not special enough to cause men to forgo sex and women to forgo chocolate. But something uncommon enough to keep you from interrupting to refill your coffee, or special enough to make you put off that meal for an extra hour, or five, or six.

At a minimum, I write three three short stories every month for my subscription series. That’s about 15,000 words right there. Month in, month out. Add to that other assignments and projects, and you can imagine my head’s pretty well buried in the keyboard. It’s a crazy mix of artistic pursuit and work ethic. And it doesn’t allow a whole lot of room for sightseeing, detours or prima donna moments. But that’s how you do it. Whether you’re full time, part time or any time you can make the time. You’re always at it.EH

Working “short” as I do, I’m winging it most of the time. Usually some sort of hook starts it off. A choice bit of dialogue, a clever murder gag, an inventive piece of hard-boiled action. Deadlines force me to run with it and run with until I run out of time, pounding it out as best as I can until the very end.

Those are a lot of the practical aspects of my work. The artistic portion might prove a heap less romantic than many might think. At its simplest, the ongoing challenges don’t get any more basic. Can I write better? Can I make a particular piece better? How do I make this scene or dialogue play?

There are also larger lines at play, artistic aspirations that weave through isolated sentences and paragraphs as well as entire bodies of work. Can I write a yarn that centers on ethnic differences without referring to the likes of skin color? Can a hard-boiled yarn address euthanasia? Can I craft a certain story backwards and tell it as end, middle and beginning?

All those artsy-shmartzy and working stiff approaches rolled into one can feel like a journeyman experience. Hour by hour, day by day, plugging away. Nose to the grindstone while putting your heart and soul into it. That’s one peculiar mix. It can become cool at times, a reserved undertaking, no different than putting in a shift, only the shift never ends.

But once in a while you get a breakthrough. Or that cliche aha, eureka moment. You find yourself in the midst of a scene or an arc or a story idea that shakes you up like a mixmaster. That’s a moment that blasts through the daily regimen like a cold shower. It wakes you up, stirs you up, sets your heads and fingers on fire.

That’s when the new pressure kicks in. Now you’ve got to fulfill that promise. Now you’ve got to make it sing. Sure. Bang—you’re alive.

 

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April 2014

April turned out a pip of a month. It began with a reprint in a regional mag out California way, picked up from there with a second anthology, and of course wrapped up with the next three yarns of “The Hard-Boiled Detective.” I’ve even impressed myself a touch. Sure.

There’s a load of “mystery” writers out there who’ve appeared in the e-pages of Kings River Life Magazine. They opted to reprint one of my series favorites, “The Hard-Boiled Detective Statement No. 18: Pandereos Ajax.” Yeah, I’m big on long titles, or long on big titles. Take your pick. The point is, I’m humbled and proud to join the ranks of so many established authors. I’ve got the same cap, just with a new feather in it. You can catch that story here: http://kingsriverlife.com/04/12/the-hard-boiled-detective/

 

Earlier this year, the third adventure from my series got selected for the “Shamus Sampler 2” anthology coming up from author/editor Jochem Vandersteen. I’m not sure how I snuck my way amongst some of these lauded folks, but I ain’t kicking. That’s for sure.

Then I get the notice that a drag noir anthology—you read that right—plans to run another of my “Hard-Boiled” turns. It’s like catching one of those FM promotions where they go commercial-free for a limited time. So you keep listening, and you keep waiting, and they play another cut. And another cut. You expect some dippy announcer to break in with the latest and greatest in mouth-anti-freeze-gum, but instead they play another cut. The hits keep right on coming and you get downright giddy. If you’re so inclined, dig the announcement at this link: http://www.foxspirit.co.uk/drag-noir-creamy-contents-filling/

Then  you come down to earth when you realize the beat goes on. The work goes on. And that means another trio of tales due by the first of the month. But even that spikes the blood pressure when I realize I’ve knocked out 48 stories in the last 16 months. That’s more than enough content to fill up three books. Nearly four books.

Naturally enough, I’ve got a book in the works. I expect to publish the first collection of “The Hard-Boiled Detective” short stories by this fall. Maybe I can sell a copy or two. Or nine, even. But first, I’ve got to get through May…

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Writing Indefinitely

Truman Capote, 1959

Truman Capote, 1959

Ever come across it? A passage in a story that makes some vague remark? It could be a description of a character or a scene. It could be the take on a given situation. It ain’t necessarily the bunk, but it’s the kind of thing that can sometimes drive me nuts.

You’ve read it before: “She was a good looker. Not too pretty, not too plain. Maybe 25. No more than 30. ”

That roundabout description’s okay with me. Sometimes. That’s the subjective eye coming into play. That’s expressed by a character or a narrator from their limited point of view. Fair enough. But when something indefinite is laid down by a character who otherwise knows their beans, or especially when it’s put across by an objective narrator in the third person, hazy text won’t fly.

Have you come across it? You’ve got a neutral narrator who knows every last thing about the story he or she is relating. Every plot point is ticked off thoroughly. Time, relationships, locations—all as set and obvious as a three-way intersection. And then the author gets all murky on a room or a character. Why the sudden ignorance?

The best authors fall into this trap. Even the ones I humbly aspire to. I won’t name names, I’ll just let them roll about in their graves. But a sudden lapse on the part of the author weakens the whole shebang. The telltale words leap out and muddy the proceedings: almost, kind of, sort of, nearly, close, maybe. And there’s plenty of etcetera from there.

The writer’s telling us maybe? Hell, if they don’t know, who does? And that leaves us with a namby-pamby sense of the action and people. The point’s not about getting cutthroat over minutiae. You want your prose to ring, to sing, to maintain its power and strength.

So watch your sense of things. It’s like maintaing present tense versus past tense. If you’re telling your readers everything for sure, keep it up. If you’re sure about one thing, be sure about another. Get me? Sure.

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Vacuum—the Final Frontier

I love nature as much as the next sap, but I gotta a say I love a vacuum more. I can’t picture a more perfect workplace than an empty, quiet room. And the odds of attaining that? Fat chance.

Kids, phones, family, neighbors. Seems there’s always more interruptions than you can shake a keyboard at. I don’t abhor me any vacuum. I relish a vacuum. The vacuum ideal. A vacuum is my fantasy, my pin-up girl, my unrealized idyll. I dream of vacuums.

Working in a vacuum emulates the blank page, the empty screen, the bare canvas. In a sense, you create out of nothing. You start with zip, and then there are words, sentences, thoughts, meanings.

The struggle is to juggle the wailings of the broad downstairs disciplining her three-year-old. Keeping the aural tones of the microwave from getting in your head. Maintaining the mood, rhythm and momentum while trying to break a ten for the daughter-in-law. Sure.

Feeding the mood can be as dicey as protecting a souffle. Don’t get me wrong. I ain’t no dilettante or prima donna. I don’t believe in waiting for the mood to strike or for inspiration to strike. “Writers write,” as the saying goes, and you’ve got to do it no matter the day, the time, the obstacles you’re presented with or those you create for yourself. But it can prove a touch disconcerting to attack a hard-boiled narrative with strains of rap music filling the air.

I suppose murder’s an option. That can tidy things up in a jiffy. A jail cell sounds like a swell vacuum.

 

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Wake Up Call

We’re all on the Titanic. You know it, I know it. We’re all taking that final ride. Some trips are longer, some shorter. First class, third class—take the analogy as far as you like. But somewhere out there is a lousy chunk of ice with your name on it. Sure.

It’s easy to wait until you run head on into that iceberg. It’s the easiest thing to let life’s dirty, little curves just happen to you. You wait for it, then you respond. That’s how the average schnook plays it. Leave yourself to the whims of fate or chance or to whatever roll of the dice happens to come up. But you’re not average, are you?

Happenstance. That’s a disgusting way to operate. You can’t avoid it altogether. You break a glass, you break a tooth, you break an alternator. If you’re given lemons, pucker up. Sure. Deal with it and move on.  But if you’ve got something inside you, something important to do, you better get to it. Don’t wait for life to prove to you what you already know: the clock is ticking.

In the original 1937 “A Star is Born,” Esther Blodgett’s grandmother puts forth one honey of a statement. She instructs the wannabe starlet to dismiss anyone who threatens to break her heart: “…go right out there and break it yourself.”

What are you waiting for? A better time? A new computer? A change in the season? A little inspiration or a good night’s sleep? A better tomorrow? There’s no better time than this very moment. Tomorrows are just as elusive as infomercial promises.

Start now, do it now, complete it now, and start the next work. Make time for that novel, that poem, that short story you’re busting to put down on paper. Push it, force it, demand it of yourself. Don’t wait for a wake up call.

 

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The Big, Grand, Hard-boiled, Hard-nosed, Hard-edged Experiment Part X: The Never-ending Sequel

When did it start, this never-ending, multi-part experiment? Take another drag and think. Blank.

Maybe it always was. Like some nihilist chicken-and-egg theory. The Russian, nesting doll version of Pandora’s box. Or maybe a box of Crackerjack. Take another shot and think. Blank.

Will it ever end? How can you tell it’s done? There ain’t no fork test or thermometer for that. This survival of the mis-fittest. Maybe it always will be. Until you drop for good. Sure.

Could those questions be right? Those crazy stars and their crazy alignment. They sure like to keep you guessing. So stop guessing. Sure. However it happened, it happened, and that’s all there is to it. I never would’ve planned it that way–don’t take this for any kind of apology. Just take it as you will, an epilogue to a preface, an ending to another beginning.

The last series of events went something like this. Penned a short yarn, then another, and another. All hard-boiled, all steeped in a period and style better remembered by my dad. Some kind of series I had developed. Sure. So what do you make of that? What do you do with that? Toss it on the web, serve it up for subscription like some sacrificial lamb of a detective. Screw tradition and what’s been done and what can’t be done and just go ahead. So I’m an unknown. Who ain’t? So who’ll listen and who cares? Go ahead anyway. Full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes, smoke ’em if you got ’em.

And in the meantime, why don’t you reach the breaking point at your nine-to-five? Why don’t you just walk out, flat–no plan, no safety net, no security blanket. Sure. Just a deck of smokes in my shirt and a P.I. in my hip pocket.

So now what? When did it start, this never-ending, multi-part experiment? Take another drag and think. Blank.

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