Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lightning in a Bottle

“That’s why they call it a Best-seller…not Best-written.”

I heard these words today from a marketing guru-not another author, but no truer words have ever been spoken. For a writer hitting the top of the NYT Best Seller List is the pinnacle, the end all, be all, the sign that you have made it. You are someone. Complete validation that you are the best at your craft…

So much rides on this that virtually every writer at some point or other has thrown everything they can think of at the goal. They research the market, chase trends, learn all the so called “rules” of the craft, go to college, go to more college, network, meet people, throw money at publicists and web masters, join groups, schmooze agents, send editors love notes and lie awake at night tossing and turning and hoping that their story-this story-is that ever elusive lightning in a bottle story that will surge them to the top.

Unfortunately, all that effort is futile. You can’t deliberately recreate what happened with “The DiVinci Code” or “The Bridges of Madison County.” To use a cliché, all the stars were aligned. Even if your publisher thinks you’ve got it- even if they produce 150,000 books, if those books are all sitting in a warehouse next to a river and a muskrat eats through a levy your story just lost its place.

Writing is art and art is culture. Culture is as predictable as the weather- bring an umbrella just in case.

“But,” you say, “all I want is a career as a writer.” All a publisher wants is a branded product that will jump off store shelves and bring in revenue. Getting there in today’s market can be as tricky as capturing lightning in a bottle, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell your story. All it really means is that stories can’t be judged based on whether or not they are a best seller. As a writer you can’t let numbers validate your craft, your story- because they will never be good enough. So, take joy in the writing and in the revising and in the small notes readers send you. Let go of the rest. Let yourself off the hook. Remember the term is “best-seller” not “best-written.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The King's English-or The Prodical Tongue

Ah, language... I have lived in many parts of the United States and several English speaking countries and I have always been fascinated by the variations in the so called "English" language. For example, I was speaking to a gentleman on the phone this week who told me to "axe" the receptionist for directions. My son swears he will live to be "a hunred." Then he asks "wo'if"-pronounced woof-it rains? Should he bring a jacket? A recent visit to Maine taught us about Americans who do not pronounce their "r"s. For instance they ate "lobsta" at a "dinea" in "Ba Haba."

English professors and teachers pull out their hair and mutter at the loss of the King's English, but Americans have always melted our language into regional tongues. Then we add Spanglish to the list, Englasian and Eubonics. Now we must worry about cyber speak for instance; LOL, OMG, TTYL, BFF and CU.

What about rules? What about grammar? What about pure language and educated writing? While it's true that polished language shows education, intelligence and forethought, it is also true that no one writes or speaks the way they did in 1776...when American language really did stem from the King's English. Language is a living entity, growing in new directions and dying in old directions... (Remember when everyone said, "swell" or "tubular?") I would argue that language is ever evolving and holding it back is counter to it's growth. Like a kaleidoscope, language is colored by the time and space it inhabits. As a writer, I love to listen to the way people talk and sneak some of the accents and color into dialog to show character and setting.

Always a purist in a professional setting, I think there is a time and place for every type of language. It's deciding the right time and place that really shows your intelligence. And don't 'cha think that's just awesome?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Great Men of Today

It's Father's day and I've been watching all the memorials for Tim Russert the journalist and "Meet the Press" Moderator who died on Friday. He was so much a part of my television viewing, so much a part of my politics and my news that it is strange to find him gone. I never met him, or his family and yet he shared his stories and asked the tough questions and changed my tiny world.

It made me think about how they say all the good men die too soon. Then I thought about all the good men-quiet men, unknown to you and me-who died on Friday with Tim. I think he would want us to think about them and their families as well.

Which lead me to think about all the good men in the world today. You don't hear about them because living a good life is not headline making news. Being a good father, being a member of the community, being an example for youth, a good boss, a tireless worker, a person with an open wallet and just as open a mind and heart- is not news...unless they die.

Let's not wait until they are dead. Let's take this Father's day to celebrate, think about, appreciate all the good men God has put on this earth. Let's thank them for their help, their wisdom and their comfort. How do we find these good men? Look around. Right now they are in line filling sand bags against the flooding. They are out fighting wild fires. They are at home grilling and playing with their children. They are sitting in church, volunteering with rummage sales, coaching sports, mentoring street kids. They are in your house. They are on your street. They are men who do their best every day. Go out and hug them, shake their hand and let them know that you see them...celebrate them now. The world wouldn't be the same without them.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


I'm reading How-To books-you know- How to get a job over 40...How to be gutsy and get what you want from life...How to get people talking about your work.

The crazy part is that I've read all this stuff before. As they say-there is nothing new under the sun... But I think we all need to be reminded sometimes. There is so much information in our lives that it's easy to get lost. Sometimes a good How-To book will pull us back on track.

The biggest thing I'm taking away this time is to write a mission statement. A mission statement is not a dream statement. It's not how we want the world to be, but instead what we can accomplish to get us closer to where we want to be. For example- it is unrealistic for a writer's mission statement to be: "It is my mission to become a number one NYT bestselling author." There are too many uncontrollable variables...right down to a fire in the ware house that stores your books the day before they're shipped. Instead, a good mission statement is: "My mission is to complete two quality manuscripts a calendar year and to market them in the best possible way." or "My mission is to continue to produce quality work in an interesting way." Although the last one is a bit vague.

Why a mission statement? When you get swamped by other people's ideas or requests you turn to your mission statement and ask yourself- does this idea or request further my mission? If so- go for it. If not-smile and let it go. Letting things go is one of the toughest and yet most powerful things we can do in our lives.

What's your mission statement?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

His and Her Movie reviews

I love (not) how they label movies boy movies or chick flicks. As if all women like is crying and romance and all men like is to blow up things. (I know you're thinking-but that's true...) It's cliche. Let's give each individual the chance to make up their minds on their own. Otherwise you're saying that a woman who enjoyed Indiana Jones is not a real girl and a man who enjoyed Sex in the City can't be a real man.

Ummm, yeah, they can. I went to see both movies. I enjoyed Indiana Jones for it's every man hero fun and it's campy look at the 1950's. A woman can like tongue in cheek and improbable nuclear explosions. I also went to see Sex in the City and I'm here to tell you I really believe men will enjoy it- there are numerous scenes with naked women and men in various sexual acts-

That said both movies had things I enjoyed and things that could have been left out. For me Indiana Jones lost me in the opening scenes when a Russian convoy appeared in the middle of Nevada in the 1950's and took over a government installation. (If you read my daily blog on my web site you know how much this upset a veteran like me.-improbably, unlikely, unpatriotic hogwash.) As for Sex in the City-I think the same story could have had the same impact without all the porn. It was unnecessary-embarrassing since I went with my daughter- and as far removed from real life as the clothes, shoes and wealth of the characters.

Yes, I understand the reasons behind the Russians in the US. I also understand the reasons behind the sex scenes-doesn't mean I have to like it.

My opinion- rent both- or see both with a member of the opposite sex and discuss the cliche of guy flicks and chick flicks. There are more to come in both categories. I look forward to further discussion.