I clicked on this article linked at the iUniverse site. Donna Wahlert, 67, published her collection, The First Pressing: Poetry of the Everyday, through iUniverse and her poetry was published in Oprah Magazine. All I have to say is KUDOS!!! Wow! Giving the rest of us self-published/POD authors something to dream about…
Archive for January, 2007
He calls my name. I still remember my name.
But my thoughts are receding and I’m becoming unclear of much of the detail of my life, like a crystal ball filling with soot. They’re all leaving me. The distant past was first to go—my childhood, what my school looked like, what I looked like, my family, my friends—all being absorbed into this death that swallows me. There are flashes of things before they disappear, though. Hand-me-down clothes two sizes too big, falling off of my skinny arms and legs. My hair growing long and awkward in places, due to home haircuts. Then flash again. Gone.
Flash. And then there’s college, now, at the forefront. Where I met my wife, Ella. I had friends whose names are now lost to me, but she is there. Special. Different. Beautiful. One of the rich riding through college on parents’ money, but she’s not like the other women, or even like me. Ella’s not looking for a husband or searching for what to do with the rest of her life; she’s there for a career. Her hair shines like cut diamonds, silvery white, long and even. Her body—the image of perfection, her breasts supple, her hips ample, her clothing always in style, her face symmetrical, save for the grin that loops to the side. She never had to show off. Attention was her birthright. And she saw something in me, she saw more than the letter jacket and goof. I never believed in love at first sight.
Dinner for two. Campus restaurant. Wind blowing her hair and forming a halo. She ruminates aloud about the benefits of the marketing world, the creativity and fluidity and organization combined. She is a critical thinker, a creative thinker, and marketing excites her. I am entranced. It is our first date; I listen, mostly, less interested in my tales of college high jinks…
My childhood, again. I can see myself as a kid drowning in clothes meant for someone twice my size. There is a backyard. More dirt than grass. Clothes and bed sheets hang from a line. Paint peels on a house, my childhood home. But my childhood self is oblivious. I run, kicking up plums of dirt. An abrupt halt. I am whispering. Then, clear as a zephyr, I hear someone whisper back:
“We’re brothers, right, Randy?”
Flash. Now the newer memories come. Fresh, undiluted, painful. She was having an affair. For how long, I didn’t know but I always suspected that it would happen eventually. My letter jacket had faded long ago and I along with it. She went to work, I stayed home. It was no big deal, we thought. I did odd freelancing jobs here and there. We felt it would work out great if we ever had children. And now…
The covering of death crawls up through my past, one or many memories at a time, snaking its way through my essence; still there are some things that it hasn’t gotten to yet—the circumstances that brought me here. I remember them clearly and they still pulsate with fresh rage. I remember that my wife was having an affair. I remember thinking that. I remember knowing that as well as the sight of the sun rising above the lake in our backyard and the impenetrable mesh of foliage strewn with long-dead branches still clutching to a few of the pine trees. Her infidelity had been obvious to me despite the subtle interjections from her co-workers, from her “friends,” her confidants, her flunkies. They didn’t know of my suspicions, but they frequently commented to me that my wife was a good woman, a loyal woman, the kind of woman anyone could depend on—like an old farmer’s truck or the evening news. Maybe they had suspicions of their own.
But why trust them, any of them, with their fancy jobs and their ornamental lives, their plastic ways? What did they know about anything outside of their blanched existences? Nothing. But I knew about them, I always knew. The stares, the whispers, how they hated me so, how strange they thought I was, sequestered away from the rest of the world, some worthless antique sitting on a dusty shelf of a life. Randy, the man with nothing. A poor boy with no ambitions, they said. Marry someone of your stature, they told her. How could someone, a man, shield himself from the outside world, they asked. How indeed.
Not long ago I discovered her secret. The rain came down unusually hot—the sun shone but there was precipitation and the drops were as tiny beads of liquid marble pelting the skin, and all I could think of was how much I complained when winter assaulted the ground with hail and snow. It was a damp heat, a time when the only thing any person wanted to do was sequester themselves within the confining comfort of cool, dry walls.
My therapist, whom I had bi-weekly meetings with via telephone, encouraged me to get out at least once a month so I would stop being afraid of the outside. The usual requests, always followed by the predictable assessment that injury occurred in the home as easily as outside the walls. And how many times—he said—have you as a child injured yourself while playing inside? He would assure me that my newfound security was only a figment of my imagination. As he said these things, reiterated his platitudes, I would recollect any incident that was on the news—how, for instance, a woman got shot accidentally as she was leaving work, or how a young child got abducted outside in broad daylight. These things were not figments of my imagination—they stood as testimonies to the sanity of my decision and yet I was the only one that could see that…
Imagine, if you will, an open-air market in the 1600s, where exotic spices fill your sense of smell. Hustling, shoving people crowd through the streets in search of their daily bread, fresh vegetables, and fish just caught from the sea. Vendors’ yells fill your ears, each trying to draw your attention toward their wares.
Now, change that picture to a modern day book fair, in a large auditorium or park. People file by the booths, looking at the confusing assortment of literature available. Instead of food, the vendors now hawk their brand of book.
“Mysteries. I’ve got your mysteries right here!”
“Fresh from the printer, romance novels. Just released!”
As an author, you’ve spent time and money to get to the fair. Your display has been carefully laid out. Your game face is on as you do your best to get people to stop and look at your work. In the best case scenario, customers whip out their wallet and buy a copy – autographed, of course!
What makes people stop at your booth? Why yours and not the one next to you? Getting them to slow down is a fourth of the battle. To stop — half. I’ve seen a few gimmicks and ploys in my life as a writer/vendor.
Of course, dressing the table with eye-catching promotional material and colorful table cloths is a basic tool. But, there are more ways to the inventive soul.
One couple dressed in Renaissance costume, complete with velvet cap, red brocade clothes, and leggings, to advertise their historical novels. One would walk through the crowd, their attire drawing attention. When stopped and questioned, they would send the inquirer to their partner, manning the booth.
Another couple brought their banjo and microphones and began singing old ‘hill country’ music. They had an audience, but the other vendors hated them.
I have seen candy scattered across table tops, luring people in with the ‘gingerbread house’ appeal. Peppermints, chocolate, fudge were the prizes. The price? Having to look at the author and perhaps engage in conversation.
One mother/daughter team set up a large TV with a video that told the biography her husband had written. The method was quite effective, as many people stopped to listen and watch. For me as the neighbor, the first three times through were interesting. After that, I could quote the #$%@ thing myself. And I had to listen to it for two days straight!
Quite by accident, I stumbled upon a method of advertising that worked quite well. During a lull in traffic, I opened my laptop and began reading to my booth partner a short story I had just finished. Inside of three sentences, the man in the booth next to ours scooted his chair closer and closer so that he could listen. After a few minutes more, a small group had gathered in front of my table for ‘story time’.
When done with the story, many people commented on how good the story was, and eagerly looked at my novels. Just to make sure it hadn’t been a fluke, I tried it a few hours later, with the same results. It then dawned on me that reading my short stories out loud was the equivalent of a chocolatier giving samples out in the candy store. If the sample tasted this good, then a purchase was more easily assured.
If you attend book fairs as a vendor, look around at the traffic. See which booths have the most people stopping by. It’s a competitive market and, to an untested author, getting anyone to buy your work is quite a feat. But, it can happen. You can do it!
* * *
There are several tips for setting up your table and for making sales.
Book fairs can be a lot of fun. Meeting other vendors and listening to their ‘war stories’ makes a slow fair interesting. But, talking to people about your book and getting them interested enough to buy one is the ultimate! As they pull out their wallet, don’t forget to ask…
“Do you want this autographed?”
Two weekends ago I attended a fantastic aviation event. Granted, “fantastic” is a subjective term. But for a guy who has both flown and rebuilt airplanes for a living, I looked forward to this particular event for quite some time.
For one thing, the event was held in Sebring, Florida – an absolutely lovely little town that overdevelpment hasn’t ruined yet. I was also quite enthused because I was attending with media credentials in hand, as I have since this particular event’s inception. The publication I was freelancing for is a favorite of mine. The publisher is a top-notch guy and my editor is a real professional. I’ve never had a bad experience with them. Considering I can say that even after submitting a story with a small but slightly embarassing factual error several years ago, you know I really mean it when I rave about these guys.
Back at my home office after a day in the sun, my face tilted skyward with the arrival of each new airborne engine sound, I got down to the business of writing my story. My deadline was lax, perhaps because I have a history of getting my work in ASAP. So the words were flowing without any anxiety about when I had to hit the “Send” button with a finished piece. I was well into it when I realized I’d never actually asked anyone what my word limit might be.
In reality I didn’t have much of a problem. Having written for this same publication for several years I had a pretty good feel for what they were looking for. As a matter of fact, I’d covered this same event for them for at least three years running. So my confidence level was high. But that stray throught brought back a flood of memories of my time editing a few small aviation magazines over the past decade. I’ve had stories submitted that ran for so many pages I couldn’t possibly finish reading them, let alone edit them down to a usable length. I’ve also opened envelopes to find nothing but a handful of Polaroids with notes scribbled on the back. Either extreme is worthless to a busy editor. And neither gets the writer any closer to their first published article, or a paycheck.
It’s a fact of writing – size matters. Whether you submit to the local paper, where they measure length in column inches, or the magazine market where they count words individually – writers have to know where to wrap it up.
And on that note, I’ll do exactly that. Goodnight.
Author – Burritos and Gasoline
Just an update on my life right now: I’m researching Wittgenstein in hopes of finishing up Witch Hunt soon, which is a powerful novel critical of some of today’s “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law (not quid pro quo law, which I support). I’m thinking that once I finish my research, it should only take about a month to finish the book, because most of it is already written. I plan to shop it around to agents once it’s done. I think that, since Witch Hunt will be the only novel, that I’m aware of, that goes so in-depth with this issue, there will be some demand for it. I hope so.
Once I finish Witch Hunt, I will study for and retake the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) for a possible return to graduate school. I’m going to talk about that more below. First, let me take an aside (since I can’t figure out how to cut and paste paragraphs on this blog like I usually do…sigh…)
I just recently watched the movie Pleasantville, and wow! There are so many ways to interpret that movie. Obviously you have a political interpretation (with phrases like “family values” and “kinder, gentler”). And you have a feminist interpretation, with the mother finding herself and freeing herself from the “baking cookies” role. And there’s a queer theory and philosophical interpretation of allowing diversity and freeing oneself (like Plato’s allegory of the cave). Of course, you have a religious interpretation, with the apple evocative of the Garden of Eden and Don Knotts as a kind of God figure. And hey, there are artistic and “sexual harassment” law ways to interpret it too, with the conflict of rules for security versus freedom of one’s sexual expression. With my work on Witch Hunt, I obviously like that latter interpretation. 🙂 You could even interpret it from the standpoint of Pauline and Lutheran theology, with grace emphasized over law (and obedience to rules). And there’s an emphasis on books in the movie, so there’s an element of education that reminds one of Dead Poets’ Society. It’s just a powerful movie packed with lots of stuff. Oh, and the “black and white” people picking on the “people of color” brings in an element of racism thematically into the movie. Solid stuff! Also, the “world beyond Pleasantville” versus Pleasantville implies a world beyond this one, evocative of Jesus, Plato, and even the gnosticism of the movie The Matrix. And how one’s perception can free one can bring in a Buddhist or even Hindu interpretation. Yes, I very much like the movie Pleasantville. I think if I taught a full semester class of philosophy, that might be a good movie to show. It also relates to Kierkegaard’s discussion of the Garden of Eden and human freedom/free choice in The Concept of Anxiety. The fact that it brings up so many ideas makes me think Pleasantville is a very rich movie.
Also, as a teacher, I liked how “Bud,” or “David” (the main character) met people where they are. He taught them in a way that brought out the best in them, rather than teaching them much of a set dogma. In that sense, he reminds me of Socrates and Jesus.
Okay, back to my life for a minute (again, apologies that I can’t figure out how to copy, cut, and paste stuff to move it around):
Lately, I’ve been researching Wittgenstein (because I think his thoughts on how language works can impact the “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” ideology which Witch Hunt deals with). And I have also been reading and taking notes on Kierkegaard.
One of my struggles is deciding whether I want to go back to graduate school. I just don’t think I can make a living writing, so maybe I need to qualify myself again to teach on the side, since I walked away from my Ph.D. program before completing the dissertation for personal and ethical reasons. If I do return to grad school, I may get an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and possibly a Ph.D., which is why I want to have Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard down pat (I would want to do a dissertation related to them–Kierkegaard is my favorite philosopher).
Just a couple of thoughts on some evil things that happened in my life which drove me from my Ph.D program and academia to begin with, and how they actually turned out for the good by helping me become a writer: I don’t know if evil is a systematic, planned force or not. I can’t figure evil out. It seems destructive, yet when you resist it, it’s transformative. Otherwise, would God really be all-powerful? I certainly don’t know the answers to such questions, but I love thinking about them–that’s the philosopher in me. All I ultimately want to do is please God/the Goddess/the Power of Love and Compassion. That’s who I identify with. That’s where I belong.
As for works I’m thinking about after Witch Hunt, I want to write a novel based on a character trapped in a mental institution (I think I’ll call it Ward). I also plan to write a science fiction conspiracy piece critical of certain Orwellian and profitable aspects of our government’s “War on Terror” (I’ll call it World Wanderer). And I want to work on a supernatural thriller which I’ll call Frozen Ghost. Along the way, I’ll probably also work on my sequel to The Deviants called Deviants Too. Also, I’ll continue to work on Barrier, a dystopic novel similar to 1984 which also deals with some of the sexual issues of Witch Hunt; I’ve written much of it already, but put it on the backburner since it’s so thematically similar to Witch Hunt. So anyway, those are my plans right now, along with continuing to study for graduate school should the need arise.
In her new movie “Hounddog,” Dakota Fanning plays a 12-year-old girl who is raped. And this is causing a big hoopla, because some people believe it is “simulated sex.”
For one thing, there is a big difference between sex and rape. Rape and child molestation are not consensual acts. For another, “Hounddog” is a movie, a piece of fiction that depicts something that happens all over the world and is often shoved under the rug by those that feel it is not “polite conversation.” Take, for instance, the child abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. Children were encouraged to keep quiet about the fact that trusted officials sexually abused them; the officials, instead of being punished, were allowed to keep their posts.
This outrage over “Hounddog” is misplaced. Instead of attacking and trying to censor fiction, the focus should be on the very real problem of child abuse in America and around the world.
Instead of examining the deeper meaning behind a work of fiction, and discussing the topics explored, there are those that proclaim themselves leaders and insist that their followers have knee-jerk reactions, take things out of context, and attack.
And who are these so-called “leaders” anyway? How do they truly represent the people that they presume to lead? Recently, evangelical leader Rev. Ted Haggard engaged in sex and drug use with a gay escort. Does that represent the lifestyle of a majority of evangelical Christians? I’m guessing no.
Now, before most have even had a chance to see the movie and understand what it is about, “leaders” within the church and elsewhere are calling for a boycott. Granted, it’s doubtful that this movie is suitable for children, but it explores real issues that adults should be aware of when it comes to the safety of their children. In the movie, Dakota Fanning’s character is molested by a trusted relative, her father. There are people that may believe such a thing is unlikely or rare, that people that are trusted members of the community and of the family are the last to want to cause harm to children. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
But this is not the first time that there has been an attempt to censor a work of fiction and it will not be the last. All over the country there are those that call for boycotts against books and movies, often for no real reason. This is a shame in a society that is supposed to be the forerunner for free speech and democracy.