Category Archives: Guest Articles

Michele Sayre: The Written Road – An Origin Story

The Written Road – An Origin Story

I started toying with the idea of doing a how-to writing book around the same time as “Breaking Radio Silence” and “Stand or Fall” with some personal experiences mixed in. But then I had a thought one day:

My relationship with writing is complicated.

And as I asked myself why that was, I fell down another rabbit hole like with the other two books and had to take a whirl around the demented Wonderland of my past to answer that question. One answer that jumped out at me and knocked me back hard was this:

Did my father try to use writing to deal with his untreated mental illness?

All my life my father told me he had been diagnosed as manic-depressive, now referred to as bi-polar depression but had refused treatment. I can’t independently verify that diagnosis (as my father is dead and he had no proof to show me when he was alive). But after reading about bi-polar depression… let’s just say he would have checked pretty much all of the boxes for symptoms and behavior.

I was about eight years old when my dad blew an ulcer and in recuperation started writing. He wrote at first on yellow legal pads then hammered away on a typewriter in the bedroom next to mine late into the night. He was obsessive and a major pain the ass about his writing at times especially to my mother (who he raged at in incredibly-horrible ways). And when I began writing when I was about ten years old, I put myself in a precarious position of not wanting to be an asshole about my writing like he was but wanting to pursue it with the same passion like he had.

I’m sure people who knew my father, and even others who didn’t, won’t be comfortable with me referring to him in the ways that I will. But my father, and my mother (both of my parents are dead, by the way), would be the first ones to tell you they weren’t perfect. One thing I’ve read about bi-polar illness is the extreme mood swings people with that illness have and my father had those in full-blown stereo. But my writing journey is about me but he will be along for the ride just like my mother is along for the ride with my ‘Breaking Radio Silence’ project.

I was around twelve years old when I decided I wanted to be a full-time working writer. In junior-high I wanted to be a songwriter/lyricist but I couldn’t find an Elton John to my wannabe Bernie Taupin. Then I wanted to be a journalist, then a screenwriter, a filmmaker-director, then a novelist. When I graduated high school I just wanted to write and my dad went to bat for me with my mom (though my mom only agreed to let me live at home and write if I did chores and errands, which I did without a second’s hesitation). Then my dad had his first heart attack when I was nineteen and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was twenty-one. But all throughout my twenties when I was living at home and taking care of them (and later working part-time then full-time), they supported my writing. They paid my writers’ group dues, conference fees, and made sure I had time to write. This wasn’t a popular decision of theirs with other people in my life at that time but my parents asked me not to say anything and I stayed silent to keep the peace. But the damage was done (and a lot of it you can also read about in my book ‘Breaking Radio Silence’).

In the years since my parents died, I didn’t fully pursue my writing and creative endeavors due to the extreme bullshit of my twenties that twisted me into a huge knot of fear. Luckily I’ve worked through that shit and un-knotted that fear and am now pursuing my writing with a passion and determination like never before.

Most of all, I have never taken writing for granted and it’s never felt like a grind to me. And I will never let anyone try to make it a grind for me, or shit all over me for writing. Despite all the bullshit I’ve been through and the time away from it, writing has always been there for me. And yes, it’s been a form of therapy for me, too. My father kept journals that he destroyed shortly before he died so I have a feeling that writing was his therapy, too. Mine is just more public than his, and I’m also not prone to huge mood swings and raging paranoia like him (just anxiety I’ve learned to gain a significant measure of control over).

So I would say ‘The Written Road’ is a memoir of my own writing journey, a conversation with my late father, and any writing how-to I can work in.

About the Author: Michele Sayre

Michele is a writer from Texas who has been writing since she was twelve years old. She writes fiction, non-fiction, poetry with the goal of self-publishing her own works someday. She’s also a single mom to a dog and a cat, and is saving up to buy a van to travel and write in someday.

Please visit Michele on her website: https://michelesayre.com/

MANEUVERING THROUGH TODAY’S MARKETING ENVIRONMENT

by Guest Authors of the Writer’s Journey Blog

Of all the issues today’s writer faces, marketing is the trickiest and probably for most, reviled. No one likes it and yet it is essential. That beautiful work of inspiring prose will not reach an adoring public or put a cent in your coffers resting there in your Documents folder, read by your mother and a few Facebook or Twitter friends.

I don’t know the Secret. I am constantly searching and trying new options. I have had some limited successes but to tell you the truth… The differences and similarities in what writers are using these days included in this article, caught me by surprise. There are great ideas in here. I will be trying several of them in the future. We should get together and talk about this more often!

One of my responses showed his frustration when he said, “I’ve spent lots of time and money on marketing my debut books—and then realized that no amount of advertising can save them because they are not marketable. So, the lesson I have learned is that first, you need to research the market and then write a book that fits the market and meets the readers’ expectations.

Also, splurge on the cover, as it is the first thing a reader will see. You can have the world’s best story, but if the cover sucks and if the story doesn’t hit the right tropes, the book won’t sell. Ever.” P.C. Darkcliff, Author of the Deathless Chronicles.

Next, storyteller and songwriter, Mike Turner has this to say. “I’m convinced that “marketing” is the true “dark art” of the writing world! I rely heavily on social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter – I try to take advantage of every opportunity, in posts and comments, to mention my book and how to obtain it. I’ve also begun approaching local independent bookstores about carrying my book on a consignment basis – be aware that many bookstores are resistant, if not hostile, to books published/marketed on Amazon, whom they see as their direct competitor (I don’t understand that mindset – if they don’t carry my book, they don’t get to make any money from its sale, and they need to deal with the reality of Amazon in the marketplace). I also actively pursue opportunities to do video/print interviews, guest blogs (like The Writers’ Journey Blog), podcasts, library reading/signing events, and the like, always looking to reach new audiences as potential readers, fans, and purchasers.”

I found Celestial Echo Press (Gemini Wordsmiths) to have an interesting and informative opinion on getting out there with your work. I had not thought of conferences in the context of marketing. (Not now, but maybe post Covid I will definitely consider this option)

“Each day thousands of books hit the market. If you are one of the lucky authors to complete and publish, now you’re ready to sell. Your novel has to stand out from the crowd. You have to market to achieve that stardom. And successful marketing comes in many forms.”

We at Celestial Echo Press employ several strategies. Aside from social media and tapping reviewers, one marketing tool we use is making appearances at conventions such as Philcon, the longest-running sci-fi convention in the country.

In fact, that is where we hawked our latest publication, TIME Blinked, a time-travel baseball novel written by George W. Young. We held a book launch and signing because attendees at the con were the target audience for this genre of novel…. Ann Stolinsky & Ruth Littner Celestial Echo Press

Steve Carr of Sweetycat Press who supports the #WritingCommunity on a consistent basis says, “Marketing is the least fun I have as the publisher of Sweetycat Press. I primarily publish anthologies, so marketing works best when both I and the authors work in tandem to promote an anthology. I encourage the authors to announce to their networks (friends, family, local writing groups, Facebook groups, and other social media sites they belong to) that the anthology is available for purchase, almost always on Amazon.com. Since any extra money earned above that which pays for the publication costs, advertising, and website fees, is used 100% on publishing the next anthology, the more anthologies that everyone sells, the better. It’s a team effort.

The problem with marketing anthologies is that there is no way to know who has purchased an anthology unless an individual tells you they have purchased it. I’m very careful not to spend more money on advertising (on Facebook or other sites) than I think I can earn back through sales. It’s all about watching the bottom line. Financially, I underwrite everything I publish, so watching the bottom line is really important. But, even so, a lot of my marketing strategy is based on gut feeling and a sense of what sells and what doesn’t. Some more experienced publishers have it down to a science. I’m still in the learning how to use a Bunsen burner phase.

For anthologies, and probably all books, the first key essential in marketing is choosing the right cover. I’ve been extremely lucky with having great covers designed by Priti J, David Harms, and one upcoming anthology cover by Norbert Somosi. I get almost immediate feedback about covers once they are revealed. No cover is going to please and delight everyone, but if a cover gets a lot of negative reaction, then I know I need to make changes to it, but as I said, I’ve been lucky with who designs my covers, so that hasn’t been a big problem.

The other thing about marketing is that it’s a lot like getting a short story published (something I do know a lot about). Just like an editor who reads submissions for stories and is looking for well-written content, if the contents of an anthology are good, then readers will be pleased, and word-of-mouth will generate more sales. For some reason, there is a general reluctance by people who buy books on Amazon to write reviews. Other than asking everyone to do that, which usually doesn’t solve the problem, you have to publish a book or books that get people talking. Hands down, having one individual influence another individual to buy the book is the best marketing tool out there.”

The more I read my fellow writer’s thoughts on marketing, the more I realized everyone seems to be walking the same high wire without a proverbial net and at multiple heights. Here are some of their thoughts!

Marketing Strategies by P.A. O’Neil. “I’m not exactly what you call “tech savvy,” so the majority of my marketing has been by word-of-mouth or Facebook posts. I have used their advertisement feature, it is very low costing, but other than getting my name out there, I don’t know how they relate to sales of my book. I have tried going the News Release method but that has never panned out. The most promising thing I have ever done is create Facebook Page just for my book, Witness Testimony, and Other Tales. On the page, I thank people who have sent me a photo of them with the book, as well as share background information about how the stories were inspired. There are almost 300 members who, in turn, will share those posts on their page. That, along with the over 15,000 followers of my P.A. O’Neil, Storyteller, has created a worldwide marketing campaign.”

Deborah Ratliff. “With my first mystery novel scheduled for release this spring, I am constantly searching for helpful marketing tips, and one thing stood out to me. As part of a large writing group, I noticed authors tend to market heavily to other authors. While those who write do read, we often forget to look for reading groups, book groups, especially those dedicated to our genre. The ‘writing experts’ tell us to write to the audience we want, but do we market to that same audience? Our best readers may not be in the marketing areas that we choose, and it is vital to the success of any novel to find a way to reach them.”

Christy Miller. “I reach out to my target audience. Groups on Facebook are a fabulous wealth of help and advice. If I’m going to write an Arabian horse book set in the middle east. I reach out to breeders in that area and get them involved, including their animals as characters, and even they can be an inspiration for my stories. The people I contact are going to buy the books, tell their friends and create a fan base and niche market. It is much more special to people if they are included in the process.”

Dawn Debraal. “Marketing is a tough nut to crack. I don’t have the first idea of what to do, so I will be interested in what the other authors say. I have friends give books away in exchange for a critique. I’ve been bombarded with ads on Facebook, which makes me think this is not the ideal marketing tool. Don’t tick the people off that you want to sell a book to. I purchase other authors’ books and read them, critique them, and then when my book comes out demand, they do the same! Luckily, I only have one co-authored book which comfortably lives in obscurity because I don’t know how to lift it up.”

This Is A Marketing Plan? by Jack Mulcahy. “My marketing efforts consist of establishing a presence, mostly by using Facebook. I have a fairly large number of friends, and I also belong to nearly twenty writers’ groups. As for group participation, I mostly post links to markets and share articles from various other writers’ blogs. I’ve created two blogs, but only one is still active. I don’t have any readers, have no idea how to attract readers, and don’t know what to blog about. Several other writers, more successful than I, have told me just to keep writing and submitting, and not to worry about a blog.”

Ann Christine Tabaka – poet & author. “My marketing strategies are pretty much that I do not have any. Oh, I tried purchasing ad space on various Literary Websites, and in Literary Publications, but … I never noticed any sales following those ads. I spent money and got nothing in return. Mostly I use my Social Media Sites to advertise my books. I enjoy making fun memes/ads and posting them on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and Twitter. I cannot say how much success those ads have brought me, but I do sell a book or two most months. I am sure it is mostly my friends who are supporting me. I doubt that I ‘grab’ any new customers since I am not a well-known writer/poet.Where I live, there are no venues nearby where I could do readings, etc. Our small local libraries do not host readings or signings for local artists. I have had two book signings at our one small local bookstore. Again, only my friends who came purchased books (and very few of them did). I am uncomfortable reading my work, and mess up terribly when I try to.

I am always asking [on social media] for people that have my books to leave a review on Amazon, but it does not seem to do much good. I get very few reviews, and when I do, I still do not see any increase in sales. For me, it comes down to this … I am not well known, and do not have a lot of experience in hawking my books. I have come to look at my publishing as a hobby. I spend money and do not make money back. But if I played golf as a hobby, I would be paying greens fees and membership dues, replacing equipment, etc. So, in the end, it is what it is.”

Amrita Valan. “When my debut collection of poems Arrivederci was published in May 2021, I tried to promote the poems by raising overall awareness of them on social media. Any open mic that I participated in I read out poems from the collection. I also posted excerpts of a few poems I liked best on my wall, page, and groups. And when my book went online, I plugged it as much as I could in 20 odd groups and inboxed a few who were interested in further details. I keep channels of communication open and humbly request reviews from editors and publishers as this all goes into creating awareness. I realize I should also request reviews from friends who bought my book. And perhaps get them to share my book on their walls. I am daily learning how having good friends over social media groups helps, as they promote your book for you as well. This is something that I am eager to work towards. Other than that, accepting any opportunities to be interviewed so I can talk about my book or post the links also is another option to market my books.”

Jim Bates. “Unfortunately, I would give myself a D – when it comes to marketing. I read with interest what others are doing to promote their books, like a friend of mine, Paula Readman. She’s in touch with Amazon and frequently runs ‘specials’ on her eBooks. She does videos and puts them on Facebook. She stops in local bookstores (she lives in England) to offer them her books. She brings books to events she attends on the off chance she will talk to someone interested in purchasing a book. She promotes her books through her local paper and radio station. I envy her creativity.

My first book was published last year. The publisher Gill James promotes my book and all the other books she publishes through her newsletter and other postings. She’s very active in that regard and I truly appreciate her for doing that. For me, what I’ve done is pretty pathetic. I’ve listed my books on my blog. I’ve started to link to Facebook whenever a book of mine (five, now) gets a review. Just to get the word out. I’ll also continue to do something I started last year, which is to once a month promote one of my books on my Facebook page. Again, to get the word out.

In the future, I’d love to attend a book convention, but Covid stops me from feeling comfortable being in large public gatherings. I’d love to do a book reading/signing but have yet to find a venue here in the states to do that.

So, I will keep muddling along. One of these days, I plan to quit spending so much time writing and really delve into the market side of this endeavor. Until then, I’m afraid I’ll still be an incredibly poor participant in this essential part of our business.”

Justin Wiggins. “The way I go about marketing, whether it is promoting my books, my friend’s music, books, businesses, publishing companies, or podcasts, is through Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and by word-of-mouth when at work, out at coffee shops, bookshops, restaurants, pubs, writer retreats, or at a literary gathering with friends.

By doing this, I have found great joy in cultivating an artistic community globally, cultivating my craft as a writer, promoting what my friends do, expressing great gratitude and joy to my community, and to all the people who have taken the time to read something honest and hopeful I wrote for people of all worldviews.”

There you have it! I hope you got some good ideas and enjoyed the post. If nothing else it lets us all know that we are not alone in our pursuits. Thanks for reading.

The original article can be found on the Writers Journey Blog.

Marketing

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Please check out Elaine Marie Carnegie-Padgett‘s website where her blog is located. The Writers Journey Blog highlights the journeys of many authors as they ply their craft.

Elaine Marie Carnegie-Padgett

Cheryl Ann Guido: When Is a Murder Mystery Not a Mystery or, “Just One More Thing.”

Image: ©NBC Universal (Image not used for commercial purposes.)

Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? You know the kind, where we see the clues lead us to the culprit through the eyes of the detective or the hero of the story. In just about every tale of murder, the sequence of events is, the body is discovered, the detective is called, and we watch through the detective’s (protagonist’s) eyes as he or she follows the clues to catch the murderer.

If we are crime writers, we all attempt to put our own personal spin on this sequence of events. Some of us are more successful than others but that doesn’t mean that our readers don’t have fun along the way.

But I want to talk about a different approach. Being a crime buff all my life I have read about and watched many murder mysteries on tv and in the movies and enjoyed the investigative prowess of many detectives. The authors of those tales pull me in and keep my eyes riveted to the page or screen right up till the end. But one of my favorite characters of all time is the guy in the picture, Lieutenant Detective Columbo of the LA Police.

What is unique about this series is that in the beginning of each episode we actually view the murder being committed. We know right from the start who the murderer is and how he or she committed the crime. In this series, we do not follow the clues through the detective’s eyes. We follow them through the eyes of the murderer as he or she observes Columbo following clues in order to solve the crime. We are never told Columbo’s first name although in current times an astute viewer screenshotted a scene where he flashed his badge revealing that his first name is Frank. But remember, those techniques were not available when his character was created, so we go through every story knowing only his last name and he is so endearing that we don’t even mind.

Columbo is an everyday Joe, someone often not recognized as a Lieutenant because of his rumpled raincoat and old, falling apart Peugeot. He constantly smokes cheap cigars and clumsily knocks over items often causing the suspects minor annoyances all the while praising and buttering up the killer. Yes, it’s a set-up. As he hones in on the perpetrator, his pestiness increases, always employing his signature “just one more thing” as he turns around from heading out the door, invoking the suspect’s impatience and anger until the climax where he confronts the murderer, usually with some small detail they overlooked and reveals how he or she committed the crime. He never carries a gun and takes a lot of chances but somehow he is never hurt.

Yes, a lot in this series is outdated since it was written many years ago and many of Columbo’s techniques would never hold up in a court of law today however, his charisma, likeability, pestiness, and relentless determination to bring the murderer to justice is something we just cannot look away from even today and even though the sequence of events follows the same basic pattern in every screenplay.

All in all, knowing who the murder is from the beginning and seeing the crime solved through the criminal’s eyes is quite a unique approach to writing and it’s absolutely brilliant. The point of all this as it pertains to writing? Don’t be afraid to be different. You don’t need to follow accepted patterns in your genre. Think outside the box. Build your character’s personality and showcase his or her skills. This should be applied to stories in all genres, not simply murder mysteries. That way your story will stand out in a sea of many others swimming around in the same pond.

Happy writing!

About the Author

Cheryl Ann Guido is a retired mother, grandmother, and animal lover. To date, she has published two books, The End in the Rainbow and The Golden Huntress Murder Unscripted. An article she wrote about a cat she rescued was also published in CATS Magazine. Several of her poems appeared in anthologies published by the National Library of Poetry. She has written several children’s short stories along with numerous serialized fanfiction stories as well as standalone and rhyming narrative poems that are posted on various websites. She also served as the writer/producer/director of an in-house movie for one of her previous employers. Cheryl’s love for the written word began at a very young age and she continues to be an individual who is not afraid to let her imagination fly free.

Enjoy and visit Cheryl on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/cherylannguidoauthor

Ray Taylor: How to Write a Drabble 

Image are free use and do not require attribution. Image by www_slon_pics from Pixabay 

How to Write a Drabble 

Ray Taylor 

Urban myth has it that Ernest Hemmingway wrote a complete story in six words for a bet: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” Maybe he did, maybe not, but certainly, those six words tell a powerful and tragic story, albeit with no structure.

Drabbles allow you, not just six words, but a full 100 words to write a powerful and captivating start, an engaging middle, and a big pay-off at the end. Writing a drabble is a great way to hone your skills as an author. It helps you to choose words that convey meaning with economy, accuracy, and authenticity. It also helps practice the art of creating a story, characters, dialogue, and dramatic action out of nothing. Not least, it helps you with that all-important, uncompromising, ruthless edit. 

If you need any help getting started, here are some suggestions. 

We all find it hard, sometimes, to come up with a story idea. So why not start with some research? A quick Google search will bring up alternative definitions of the word and other references can produce great story ideas. Another source of ideas for me is music. For the prompt word “storm” I thought of a line from a Leonard Cohen song that talks about a woman’s hair on Cohen’s pillow-like “a sleepy golden storm.” 

For the drabble “Coffee” I wanted to write about Arab merchants. I spent a few minutes looking at Google and Wikipedia for more detail about the historical origins of coffee drinking, which also helped me choose names. One of them, Sheikh Omar, had been exiled from Mocha and lived in a cave for a while, which led me to the location and dramatic encounter of the story. 

Having thought up some ideas for your drabble, how to start? Try writing a brief story just as it comes to mind without worrying about the word count. You might end up with 200 or 400 words, but don’t worry. The job of cutting it down to 100 is easier than you might think.

If you are having trouble getting started, I would suggest forgetting the narrative for a minute and think about what you want to say. To me, a drabble is all about the punchline. Why not try writing the end first and see what you come up with? 

I wanted my “Coffee” drabble to end with the guest spitting out the hot drink he’d been given to try, because I can’t imagine anyone enjoying their first taste of coffee. That was the whole point of the story, but it had to be written in a way that had impact. I chose a closing scene in which the MC “sniffed the strange, dark liquid…” which he then “spat into the fire, which hissed in protest.”

When I wrote “Coffee” I was intending to make the ending a surprise, but my preferred ending is the unexpected twist, which is where the ending is the opposite of what the story leads you to expect. Other types of ending are: the happy ending, sad, ironic, funny ending, or whatever you like. So long as it has impact, which usually means the reader doesn’t guess the ending. There has to be an element of mystery. It can also help with impact if you tie the ending closely to the beginning, with a set-up and pay off. 

Beginning: “David loved ribbons…” Ending: “Today, he wrapped a blue and gold satin ribbon around his and his bride’s wrist, as he said ‘I do.’” 

The opening three words begs questions like: what did David love about ribbons? When I was a boy, interest from a boy in colored ribbons could lead to him being bullied. Was he? How did he respond? These questions create hooks for the reader. Your narrative will reel them in. Your ending will be their reward.

The process of joining the beginning to the end is, of course, to write the middle. You may find the job of keeping the middle brief and to the point is much easier if you already have the boundaries created by the start and the finish. All you need to do then, is take two or three steps from one to the other. Those steps must reveal stages in the story and develop the dramatic action. Tell your story with dialogue if you can. Stories are so much more engaging when told by their characters. Don’t worry about the word count too much at this stage. Cutting the story back to 100 words is surely half the fun.

Start your edit by cutting out anything that does not add to the story. Rewrite some of the lengthy descriptions and dialogue into shorter, sharper prose. Most descriptions will have more impact if you select fewer, choicer words to convey meaning. Try substituting different words and see which ones work the best. If you can’t think of great substitutes, go to any dictionary or thesaurus, online or in print. 

For instance, you might have written the following scene for my story “Coffee” like this: “Just then, a man called Sheikh Omar appeared from the cave he had been hiding in since he was exiled from his home-town of Mocha. Omar was a bit of a shady character.” From this, cut the reference to Mocha, as it adds nothing to the story. “The outcast Skeikh Omar,” tells you his name and suggests the questionable reputation in just four words. “Concealed in a cave,” tells you where he was and what he was doing. Your scene “the outcast Sheikh Omar, concealed in a cave,” has been trimmed down from 34 words to just eight. 

That’s really all there is to it. Writing a drabble is a great way to have fun and practice tools and techniques for writing anything from a short story, or flash fiction, to a full-length novel. 

Why not check out this week’s prompt word and give it a go?

* * * * * 

Ray Taylor LL.M. is an author and part-time UK government security policy official. Please visit Ray on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Raymond.G.Taylor.author

D. A. Ratliff: Mr. Price’s Dinner Table

Mr. Price’s Dinner Table

D. A. Ratliff

Image from https://www.visitaikensc.com/

As those of you who have followed me know, I am a Southerner and quite proud of my roots. Growing up in South Carolina, I was fortunate to have parents who saw no color differences in their fellow man. People from all levels of society and cultures were visitors to our home.

My memories of my childhood remain clear today. The mimosa tree that I played under in our yard. Houses where all openings were trimmed in blue to ward off evil spirits. The dime bags of boiled peanuts sold on the street. The ‘air-conditioned tree’ at the Herlong Orchard peach stand where the temperature was twenty degrees cooler in the shade and the water stored in a metal canteen was ice cold. While there was a horrible undercurrent of fear and anger in this place I love so much, there was also a goodness of soul. Family, friends, food, and good times existed as well.

My father worked at the Savannah River Plant in Aiken, South Carolina, a manufacturer of hydrogen bombs. With workers from all over the world employed there, I met people from everywhere as a child. One of my father’s best friends was a bear of a man, a Navaho by the name of Jess Brown. His wife Athea, a small, plump woman who might have been a better cook than my grandmothers, was like an aunt to me. I am about one-sixteenth Cherokee and Jess, and Athea gave me a sense of what being Native American meant. Good, kind, hard-working, gentle people.

Yet, one friend of my parents impacted my life more than I realized. Mr. Price. Honestly, I am not certain what his first name was. My parents never called him anything but Mr. Price. He was older, a slight man but regal in bearing, with snow-white hair and a deep Southern accent that held a lilt of his mother’s heritage. She was a Cajun from southwest Louisiana. His reminisces about his mother’s upbringing fueled my love of the Cajun culture.

In those days in the South, people referred to Mr. Price,  an unmarried man of means and patron of the arts, as a ‘bachelor.’ Anyone who has read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt will recognize who Mr. Price was. Polite society did not mention the word homosexual as that wouldn’t be gracious and respectful.

We often had Sunday dinner at Mr. Price’s home, a large two-story house near downtown Aiken. I remember the opulent crimson flocked wallpaper in the parlor, the deep green walls in the dining room. If the weather cooperated, we would often eat on the back terrace surrounded by a lush garden.

But dinner? Not what you might expect for a South Carolina gentleman. While on occasion we might have shrimp and grits or barbequed chicken, we often feasted on shrimp etouffee or jambalaya, dishes Mr. Price’s mother made when he was small. I had my first taste of chicory coffee at his dinner table when I was ten.

I sat mesmerized as he told us of his mother’s home in Lake Charles and his grandparents’ home in the country nearby. He would spin tales of fun in the bayou that hooked me for life. While I loved South Carolina, my heart drifted toward Cajun Louisiana. His memories stirred emotions in me that I have kept to this day.

When I began to write fiction again a few years ago, I knew I would set my stories in the South. While I have never sugarcoated the area’s problems, which are no different from any other part of the United States, there is an ambiance and tone about the South, the southern coast especially, that is alluring. Yet, when I began to write, it was in Louisiana, New Orleans, to be specific, where I set my first novel.

Having visited New Orleans a few times as an adult, I discovered that my writing muse was evidently a resident of the French Quarter. New Orleans, the bayou, the jazz, the beignets, the sultry weather, all characters in themselves and ones I find creeping into my writing.

On a recent Sunday, I watched one of Anthony Bourdain’s final “Parts Unknown” episodes. We lost a unique individual with Bourdain’s death. A notable essayist on life and culture and how food is intrinsic to our existence, not only for sustenance but for the soul. This show centered on Cajun Mardi Gras as celebrated in Southwest Louisiana.

We know of Mardi Gras as a glitzy party of drunken revelry, resplendent with cheap shiny beads, elaborate and gaudy costumes, and over-the-top parades, as well as – well –  fun. Bourdain showed us a Mardi Gras celebrated away from the French Quarter that few outsiders know occurs. Equally as gaudy and drunken but steeped in tradition and meaning.

Despite the commercial decadence of the more popular party in the French Quarter or the more traditional decadence of Cajun Mardi Gras, the spirit of the Cajun people, their passion for life, food, and even voodoo fuel the imagination and the soul.

I wrote a short story for a romance anthology. As I developed the story, I struggled with the setting until my muse dragged me into a jazz bar in the Quarter and reminded me that I was a mystery writer and knew where my story belonged. My story is now a romance between a TV reporter and a detective brought together by a murder. The location, you ask. The French Quarter.

There is something about the tenor and vibe of that city that touches me—a mysterious city in a mysterious state unlike any other part of our country. A place steeped in tradition and, like its chronicler, Anthony Bourdain, unique.

As I get closer to publishing my first novel, Crescent City Lies, a mystery set in New Orleans, I realize that the Cajun culture remains embedded within me, sparked so many years ago at Mr. Price’s dinner table.

Please visit Deborah on her new blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com/

If you are traveling South, please stop by Aiken, South Carolina—a beautiful town with the best bar-b-que you will find anywhere! https://www.visitaikensc.com/

Stephen Oliver: The Long and the Short of it

Images are free use and do not require attribution. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

The Long and the Short of it

Stephen Oliver

I complained to my mother the other day because I had just received another raft of rejections and was being ignored by a whole load of other agents and publishers. I’m “only” selling short stories, despite having sent out queries for my dark urban fantasy anthology 81 times this year and my Young Adult space opera novel 100 times.

Not to mention the 135 submissions for 70 different short stories, for which I have recently received my ninth acceptance this year.

Now, my mother is my greatest fan at the moment, despite telling me that my stories are “weird” and asking whether people are interested in reading such strange tales.

Anyway, while I was getting ready for bed that evening, I realised that I’ve been looking at things the wrong way around.

Many of my writing idols (Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Harlan Ellison, HP Lovecraft, to name but a few) started as short story writers. They only later became recognised for the quality of their stories. Some went on to become novelists, while others preferred to stay with shorter stories.

The thing is, they had to establish themselves with a body of work in the pulps before they achieved recognition. Nowadays, there are far more science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines than when they started. The possibilities of online magazines, eBooks, POD paperbacks, and hardbacks are fantastic, even if you aren’t self-publishing. Small, indie publishers are on the lookout for writing to fill their books. And the readership is hungry for it.

Moreover, some of their earliest novels weren’t novels at all.

I’m thinking of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, in particular. It tells a series of separate, interconnected tales about the rise of the robots and Dr. Susan Calvin, the robopsychologist who aided in that rise. This would be classified as an episodic novel nowadays, much as George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire tells the stories of Westeros and the struggles for the Iron Throne.

I mention this because my YA space opera novel Shuttlers is very much in the same vein. Not to mention that the first dark urban fantasy anthology functions as well as an episodic novel as it does as an anthology. Even the three later volumes show a progression of the recurring characters and themes.

As for weird, here are a couple of examples of the themes of some of my recently accepted stories:

• A descendant of Viktor Frankenstein uses his ancestor’s secrets to exact his revenge.

• The victims of a serial killer get their revenge on the night before his execution.

• A young female ghoul goes out to a Christmas fair and meets that special someone.

• A hero’s job is to defend his city against unnatural and supernatural foes, but he can’t remember that.

As you can see, bizarre stories indeed. It seems, however, that readers want weird stories. The weirder, the better.

So, I’m going to keep on plugging away until someone recognises my merits and I get those contracts for my longer works.

Please visit Stephen’s website for more great articles: http://stephenoliver-author.com/

About Stephen Oliver

I’m a ‘Pantser’ (aka ‘Discovery Writer’), meaning that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’.

In other words, I have no idea what I’m writing until I’ve written it. Give me a picture or a writing prompt (a sentence, a phrase… heck, even a word will do) and let me loose. I can come up with something in twenty minutes, 400-500 words to create a new story. I don’t stop there, of course. Those few words can turn into four or five thousand, or more. The next day or week, the Muse will strike again, and I’ll finish it off, creating something weird, wonderful or just plain odd.

Once I’m done, then comes the hard part: turning it into something good. I’ve had to learn that what I wrote initially is only the beginning. Read, revise, edit, wash, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat… There are some stories I’ve gone over dozens of times, and I’ll still find something to improve, on occasion.

So it is that I’ve self-published a self-help book, written dozens of short stories, completed a novel, and am still working on two more. My genres cover science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, humour (very dark), noir, detective fiction, fairytales and fairy stories. Often more than one in a single tale… Oh, and there’s a second self-help book in the works, too.

I came to writing fairly late in life, but that ain’t going to stop me now. As Harlan Ellison once said, “A writer is some poor schmuck who can’t help putting words on paper.” That’s me, because I’ve already written over a million words since I began. I’ll be done when they peel my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard.

Mind you, given the kinds of stories I write, that will probably be because one of the monsters I created finally finished me off!

Stephen Oliver: Anthologies & Genres

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

Anthologies & Genres

Stephen Oliver

I’ve decided to talk about two different subjects this time, although they are connected.

Anthologies

Here’s a strange situation.

I’ve written, revised, and edited an episodic novel and three anthologies of dark urban fantasy, science fiction, and horror, with more than one genre and sub-genres often blended into a single story. I have another five collections I’m still working on.

The thing is, publishers and agents, keep telling me that anthologies and story collections are on the way out; no one is interested in either publishing them or reading them, they say. In fact, I ended up writing a space opera novel in an attempt to break into the publishing market. I’m still trying to find an agent or a publisher for that, too.

And yet, I have had eight short stories accepted for seven different anthologies (plus one for a podcast) in the past nine months. Six of them have been accepted in the past four months.

As I see it, there are several advantages of anthologies:

  1. They allow multiple writers to present their work to the public. Getting your name out there can be very difficult for people starting in their writing careers. Anthologies from publishers can be a great way of getting yourself noticed. Writing and publishing credits are extremely useful for showing agents and publishers that you are serious and that you can write.
  2. Even if the anthology has a single author, each story can be an experiment in changing style, viewpoint, structure, etc., allowing the writer to entertain in various ways. From drabbles (100-word stories) to novellas, each story is complete, even though they can also be part of an overarching tale. Think of A Game of Thrones, the first volume of the all-embracing storyline of A Song of Ice and Fire.
  3. They can be specific, where the subject matter of all the stories has a common thread: Cthulhu, Mermaids, Lesbian Ninja Cats, whatever. This “limitation” can be a source of great creativity, I’ve found.
  4. For the writer, it means that you can narrate a story without having to expend huge amounts of thought, time, and effort on plot and character development. You can concentrate on a single event or series of connected events, telling a simpler story. The characters might never appear again, or they could make cameo appearances in other stories, or even be the Main Characters in most or all of the stories.
  5. For the reader, a shorter read can be a great experience. When you’re commuting (remember doing that?), a quick 10-15-minute read is exactly what you want. You don’t have to remember where you are in a novel, and you needn’t go back to the previous paragraph or page to get back into the flow of the story. And you have the satisfaction of reaching the end of the story and experiencing its resolution.

So please don’t tell me that anthologies are on the decline.

Genres

The second theme is what I consider to be the limitations of genres.

Many agents and publishers insist that stories stick within the framework of a specific genre and even a specific sub-genre. And this is where I have a problem.

I write self-help, science fiction, space opera, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, magical realism, horror, fairy tales, fairy stories, slipstream, interstitial, noir, detective fiction, action, thriller, humour, YA, and children’s stories. I sometimes blend more than one into a single story.

For instance, I have a story with a police detective (detective fiction) who is both a psychic and magician (paranormal/urban fantasy) and a cyborg (science fiction). In which genre should it be pigeonholed? Especially since the preceding story is a noir/magical realism blend and the following one an urban fantasy/action blend.

And all of them are part of an urban fantasy/horror/science fiction episodic novel (again, think A Song of Ice and Fire), which also has flashes of horror, humour, and straight fantasy.

How am I supposed to define the novel-length book? Urban fantasy? Science fiction? Speculative fiction? Something else?

A humorous children’s science fiction story? Done it. Lovecraftian humour? Written that, too. A twisted fairytale with a Carollian quirkiness? Yep! These are all from anthologies based in the same narrative universe as the novel.

And, as all of us know, life isn’t neatly sliced into categories. It’s messy and overlaps, blending and merging, splitting apart and diversifying. There are no blacks or whites, merely uncounted shades of colour and grey.

And then there are the crossovers and mixes; Twilight has vampires and shifters (werewolves), for example, which I’ve been told repeatedly are two genres to be kept distinct from one another. People love stories that blend and blur, no matter what the agents and publishers try to sell us.

And that is how I write.

To get around this, I focused on a single sub-genre and wrote the YA space opera science fiction novel I mentioned earlier. Even there, the genre-loving agents and publishers bite me in the backside. One said that my language was too adult for the proposed audience, while another told me that it was too young and infantile a few days later. Go figure.

And remember, these genre divisions are artificial, devised to allow agents and publishers to pigeonhole things so that they can determine whether they will make any money from them.

Sorry if I sound as if I’m ranting, but I’ve just received my 189th rejection since the beginning of this year, from a total of 287 submissions sent during the same period. That’s a rejection rate of 65.9%. It’s only that low because 92 submissions are too recent to have been rejected.

Mind you, as I said at the beginning, I’ve also had two short stories published last year, and another six have been accepted in the past four months. I’m getting noticed, just not as quickly or extensively as I would like.

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image by Mateusz Omelan from Pixabay

Please visit Stephen’s website for more great articles: http://stephenoliver-author.com/

About Stephen Oliver

I’m a ‘Pantser’ (aka ‘Discovery Writer’), meaning that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’.

In other words, I have no idea what I’m writing until I’ve written it. Give me a picture or a writing prompt (a sentence, a phrase… heck, even a word will do) and let me loose. I can come up with something in twenty minutes, 400-500 words to create a new story. I don’t stop there, of course. Those few words can turn into four or five thousand, or more. The next day or week, the Muse will strike again, and I’ll finish it off, creating something weird, wonderful or just plain odd.

Once I’m done, then comes the hard part: turning it into something good. I’ve had to learn that what I wrote initially is only the beginning. Read, revise, edit, wash, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat… There are some stories I’ve gone over dozens of times, and I’ll still find something to improve, on occasion.

So it is that I’ve self-published a self-help book, written dozens of short stories, completed a novel, and am still working on two more. My genres cover science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, humour (very dark), noir, detective fiction, fairytales and fairy stories. Often more than one in a single tale… Oh, and there’s a second self-help book in the works, too.

I came to writing fairly late in life, but that ain’t going to stop me now. As Harlan Ellison once said, “A writer is some poor schmuck who can’t help putting words on paper.” That’s me, because I’ve already written over a million words since I began. I’ll be done when they peel my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard.

Mind you, given the kinds of stories I write, that will probably be because one of the monsters I created finally finished me off…!

D. A. Ratliff: Listen to Me! No! Listen to Me!

Listen to Me! No! Listen to Me!

The Talking Heads of Writing

D. A. Ratliff

I am one of those nerdy types constantly looking for new information. When I decided to start writing fiction again after many years of writing business and marketing-related materials, I scoured the Internet for every morsel of writing advice I could find. The amount of material I found was overwhelming, but I dove in without taking a breath. I wanted to learn.

What I found fulfilled my needs, but I also found that, apparently, everyone who has ever written considers themselves an expert. The myriad of articles, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos are mind-bogglingly confusing, with almost all of these ‘experts’ saying the identical thing. The difference is how they offer their “expertise.”

My background is in science, so I took a rudimentary approach. I had taken creative writing in high school and college, but I decided to start with general information. I researched topics such as writing fiction for beginners, components of a good fiction novel, and how to write mysteries or science fiction. After looking at overviews of the craft, I pared my searches down to the basics.

Among my first questions were these:

  • How to write an opening sentence
  • How to write a hook
  • How to write an opening paragraph, a first chapter

Well, you get the idea—totally back to basics.

I wasn’t a novice, but years of writing nonfiction suck the soul out of writing fiction. I needed to relearn how to put the reader into the story for more than information. I needed them to feel the emotion of what they were reading. I searched for information on developing characters, plots, world-building, voice, structure, and grammar, among other topics.

Whether a beginning writer or one who believes in continuing education, the resources available to us are amazing. We can have information from the Internet in seconds that could take hours to find the conventional way open to us—libraries.

Libraries had librarians. Those individuals who spoke softly and always found the answers you sought. If you needed information on any subject, there would be stacks of books or periodicals in front of you, ready for exploration within a blink of an eye.

Today, while my love of libraries will never wane, my librarians are more often Internet search engines. The process is not as personal, but the information is instantaneous. It is also confusing.

There are basic steps to writing. While all of us like to be creative individuals, the art of storytelling is an ancient one and varies little from the beginning of the spoken and written word. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That pattern does not change. Our creativity is in how we construct our story.

With the Internet’s assistance, we can learn the basics and the nuances of storytelling by asking questions. For example, I typed in this search request. How to write an opening line for a novel.

The result? “About 373,000,000 results (0.67 seconds)” was the response from the search engine for all results.

For videos? The results were—“About 3,720,000 results (0.46 seconds).” That is a lot of videos for a very narrow topic.

I admit to a love-hate relationship with writers and videos. There is one author who I came across a few years ago whose advice I found to be excellent and delivered in a fun and irreverent manner. I followed this author and her advice for a long time, until recently. Her videos have become solely marketing tools for her books and merchandise. There is nothing wrong with promotion, and she has built her following and has every right to market her work to them or anyone.

However, when I am going to her for advice on a topic, having her book discussed before she addresses the subject is annoying, and she lost me as a follower. Not like there aren’t more writing advisors out there. Unfortunately, there are.

For example, one author is bright and cheery but distracted during her rushed delivery. Her camera fell during a taping and, instead of starting over, she frantically grabbed the camera, placed it where she had it, and kept talking. It was annoying and distracting, and she should have stopped and started over, but she did not. Another time, she yelled at her dog for barking. If you want me to respect you as an expert, conduct yourself like one. Her advice was nothing we haven’t heard before, so delivery and connection to the audience are imperative.

There is another famous video writing guru who has produced many YouTube videos. This is more of a personal quirk of mine, but please don’t talk down to the listener and don’t declare how proficient you are on a topic, prove it. In one video, she discussed outdated genres and tropes and noted that some genres are dead in traditional publishing but do well in self-publishing. As her focus and her professed expertise concern traditional publishing, her bias is there as well. If a genre is not selling one place but selling in another, it is not dead but subject to other markets and readers. As a writer, never forget, your success in traditional publishing is at the whim of agents, publishing house editors, and marketing staff. Your novel may be exceptional, but if it does not fit their cubbyholes, the odds of receiving a publishing contract are slim. When reaching out to find qualified advice, read the author’s bio and listen to their intent, as not all advice applies to your situation.

I am not saying that any of the abovementioned writers’ videos don’t have good advice. Advice is subjective and how we learn varies from one person to another. However, I want to offer a word of caution as many authors imparting their ‘knowledge’ do not provide sound advice.

To appear unique, people want to take the basics of writing and spin the ideas into a new way of thinking or processing the information. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when two plus two equals four, there is little room for stating that fact any other way. Overembellishing a process often leads to confusion, especially for a novice writer.

There are hundreds of processes offered as the way to write the best novel ever. The list is endless. There are numerous character development or world-building forms, specialty writing programs, name or plot generators, and different ways to plot—all ways to accomplish the same goal we all have, to write a novel.

When researching the writing process, you should read all the information you can but be wary of who you are listening to when you take lessons away from your reading. The first Internet search results will be the most popular ones, and often you will see the same writing websites or blogs listed. Popularity does not always mean quality, but if writers use the same sites for advice, there is a reason. You should read all the articles, watch all the videos, take a writing class, and read books with one thought in mind. Take the information that you gather and apply it to your writing process to fit your style. You should be unique, not the person providing writing tips.

The US Navy came up with an acronym, KISS, which stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. It applies to writers. Learn all that you can about your craft but remember the basics of writing. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end, and only you can write your story.

Listen to yourself.

Please visit D. A. Ratliff on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com

Please note: Images are free use and require no attribution. Images used by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

D. A. Ratliff: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

D. A. Ratliff

Photo from Pinterest. Image source unknown, credit to the orginal creator.

Location is vital in all facets of our lives. Comfort, convenience, commute, and community are essential considerations when selecting where we wish to reside. When writing, it makes sense to consider the impact of where we have our characters live.

Location can be more than the physical terrain in which we set a story, although some places can take a back seat to the plot. However, the setting is another tool in the author’s arsenal to add depth to the story. The choice of locale sets the period of the story, when and where it takes place. It affects how the characters behave, speak, and reflect on the society where they live. More importantly, when needed, the setting can become another character creating a mood and emotional tone.

A few inquiring minds have asked me what is so appealing to me about New Orleans and why I set so many of my stories either there or in Louisiana, where my upcoming novel, Crescent City Lies, is set. After all, I’m from South Carolina, a beautiful state with its own vibrant culture and uniqueness. It also has faults, as do all places, and those faults in a community can also add depth to your story.

When deciding on a setting for a story, the flavor of Louisiana draws me into its spell. Nothing like the sultry summer heat in the south, when life slows down, and the humidity rises. The spicy aromas and comforting palate of Cajun food and the smooth sounds of New Orleans jazz are alluring and set a mood that seems to touch my writer’s passion. Wicked antagonists, flawed heroes, and enticing strong women seem to belong in the bayou or the French Quarter.

In reality, I love the beach. Ribbons of sand lapped by waves, air tangy with salt, majestic pelicans soaring against a cornflower blue sky. My heart lies on the shore, rejuvenated by the sun’s heat. My soul rests in the bayou.

Image by D. A Ratliff

I am fortunate to live in an area that some people call paradise—if you consider heat, humidity, sun, and ocean paradise. I do! As the photo above shows, expansive sky, lush vegetation, a body of water, and a bench to enjoy the quiet beauty sets a mood just outside my door. Not to mention, there are ducks, sea birds, and two resident alligators to add to the ambiance.

I suppose we choose where we want our stories to unfold for a myriad of reasons. Genre certainly plays a role and can dictate the amount of world-building necessary to create the foundation you need. A cozy mystery often occurs in a small town, a detective murder mystery in a city setting, but let your creativity decide what works for your story. How descriptive you should be depends on how important the location is to your storyline. For instance, a city with the ambiance of a New Orleans, New York City, San Francisco, or San Antonio becomes a character within the story, adding depth and mood by using the uniqueness of the environment to enhance the plot. The same for small towns that can provide coziness and character to the story.

My thoughts always seem to be on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the Battery in Charleston, or an Atlantic beach in Florida, all locations which spur my muse. Let those places you love inspire your muse and your stories.

Image by Oliver Weidmann from Pixabay

Please visit D. A. Ratliff on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

Stephen Oliver: Sharing Knowledge

Sharing Knowledge

Stephen Oliver

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Despite the horrors of Covid-19 and lockdowns, I hope this year brings you joy, experience, and new knowledge.

Apropos knowledge, I remember coming across a “law” of life some time ago, similar to Murphy’s Law:

Roger Lincoln’s 2 Rules for Success:

1. Never tell everything you know.

It’s a good joke, but nowadays, hoarding knowledge is greedy, arrogant, and, ultimately, insane.

It’s greedy because knowledge doesn’t belong to anybody. Oh, I know that there is proprietary information, like the exact form and contents of a company’s databases or their communications protocols. Even their contracts and internal documentation belong in this category. This is all well and good and is useful for holding your own in the competitive world of business.

However, there is a second area of knowledge that cannot be contractually limited: know-how. Knowing how to design and construct databases, how to communicate between subsystems, and so on cannot be limited to a particular company. God knows that enough employers and clients of mine have tried. I even had one client who tried this after becoming involved in his project, designing an interface between mobile phones and other equipment (this was in the early 80s when such interfaces didn’t exist). He tried to force a contract on me where I could never design any kind of communications or control program again, nor could I build any embedded projects using the same microprocessor or communications protocols. I laughed in his face and told him that no court would uphold his claim, and it would only cost him a lot of money to try. The very attempt to limit knowledge transfer and use in this way smacks of scarcity thinking.

Hoarding knowledge is also arrogant; you’re acting as if you were the only one who has any right to have and to use the knowledge. This is a symptom of weakness because you think you will be seen as feebler if you let others have access to knowledge. Allowing others to use knowledge is a sign of strength in my eyes because the more knowledge there is out there, the more knowledge will be created as people make new connections between otherwise disparate topics. This leads to the beginning of extelligence, where the relationships between different pieces of information become divorced from the need of a human mind to make said connections. Google and other search engines may very well be the beginnings of extelligence.

Finally, hoarding knowledge is insane. No matter how you try to hide knowledge, Nature is a blabbermouth. Somebody else will discover what you are hiding. Alfred Russel Wallace paralleled Darwin’s work; he deferred publication to Darwin because Darwin’s work was further developed than his own. Even works by a single person, such as Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity, would eventually have been developed by someone else. However, it might not have occurred until years later. When the time has come for information and knowledge to become known, they will, no matter what anyone does to prevent it.

This relates to the Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon. On an island off Japan, scientists studied the behaviour of troupes of monkeys. They were given food regularly, but it simply lay on the ground and became dirty. One old female monkey discovered that washing the fruit in seawater not only removed the dirt from the surface, but the salt in the water added something extra to the flavour. With difficulty, she taught another monkey the same trick. They then taught other monkeys, which in turn taught others until, suddenly, after around one hundred monkeys, every monkey could do it, even without being explicitly shown how. Even more interestingly, monkeys in other troupes and on other islands suddenly learned the trick. It was as if a threshold had been penetrated, and the knowledge became common to all the monkeys.

This confutes social Darwinism and the “survival of the fittest” thinking so prevalent today. The common position is that everyone and everything is, and has to be, in conflict and competition. Phenomena like this are proof that Nature is ultimately cooperative.

Cooperation in the spreading, use, and learning of knowledge is the way to go. People keep talking about this being the Information Age; let’s work together to make this the Knowledge Age, where people work together to increase the level of knowledge in the world. This all links back to the book The Go-Giver I mentioned in a post in my other blog, in which the characters talk about adding value to whatever you give others. If enough people are prepared to add valuable knowledge to others, there will be a breakthrough, a threshold will be breached, and that knowledge will belong to everybody. This is a personal dream of mine, and I have it for the most selfish of reasons: I want to be part of that breakthrough and have access to all that knowledge.

We do need to keep the difference between information and knowledge in mind. Information is simply data with a meaning; knowledge is knowing how to use that information, as well as the information itself.

So let’s all go out and spread knowledge as far as we can, because only in that way will we be given new knowledge in return.

~~~

Fiction

Of course, I have been writing from the point of view of a non-fiction author since I also published a self-help book. These days, I’ve switched to fiction, but the truths are still the same if you replace the word ‘knowledge’ with ‘story.’

I’ve heard from other writers, time and again, that they think their stories “aren’t as good as others.”

Who’s to say if it is or isn’t. Many declare that Fifty Shades of Gray is great, while others decry the many flaws they see in the book. The same is true of the Twilight series of books; I’ve read more than one review that moans about one-dimensional characters and the sizes of plot holes. Nevertheless, these stories are popular.

Why? That is a question only the readers can answer. However, publishers have made fortunes from books like these.

But, getting back to the theme of ‘knowledge,’ or in this case ‘stories,’ the more available, the better the readers’ entertainment. It may be that someone needs to read your particular stories, written in your specific manner, for them to get the most out of those tales.

So, stop comparing yourself to others. It would be best if you only were comparing yourself to your past self, i.e., striving every day to become better than you have ever been before. Believe in yourself, and you will reach your goal of being published. As I’ve mentioned before, I have recently had two short stories published in anthologies. Plus, I have had requests for information and even complete manuscripts from agents and publishers in the past few weeks. I’m still waiting to hear back from them, but I am hopeful.

“Don’t talk yourself out of an idea just because it’s been done before. Put your own spin on it. Bring in your own personal experiences. You will have your own stories to tell, which will make it unique.”
–Dr. Joe Vitale

So, what I’m really getting at is, if you’re serious about being a published author, you have to write the way you write, then put yourself, your stories, and your knowledge out there.

As I said in a Facebook post recently, “You gotta keep submitting. Otherwise, nobody out there knows that you exist.”

Please visit Stephen’s website for more great articles: http://stephenoliver-author.com/

About Stephen Oliver

I’m a ‘Pantser’ (aka ‘Discovery Writer’), meaning that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’.

In other words, I have no idea what I’m writing until I’ve written it. Give me a picture or a writing prompt (a sentence, a phrase… heck, even a word will do) and let me loose. I can come up with something in twenty minutes, 400-500 words to create a new story. I don’t stop there, of course. Those few words can turn into four or five thousand, or more. The next day or week, the Muse will strike again, and I’ll finish it off, creating something weird, wonderful or just plain odd.

Once I’m done, then comes the hard part: turning it into something good. I’ve had to learn that what I wrote initially is only the beginning. Read, revise, edit, wash, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat… There are some stories I’ve gone over dozens of times, and I’ll still find something to improve, on occasion.

So it is that I’ve self-published a self-help book, written dozens of short stories, completed a novel, and am still working on two more. My genres cover science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, humour (very dark), noir, detective fiction, fairytales and fairy stories. Often more than one in a single tale… Oh, and there’s a second self-help book in the works, too.

I came to writing fairly late in life, but that ain’t going to stop me now. As Harlan Ellison once said, “A writer is some poor schmuck who can’t help putting words on paper.” That’s me, because I’ve already written over a million words since I began. I’ll be done when they peel my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard.

Mind you, given the kinds of stories I write, that will probably be because one of the monsters I created finally finished me off…!