A to Z Challenge 2013

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Contest Results

The contest for Davin Malasarn's book The Wild Grass is now concluded.  Before I announce the winners, I just want to thank everyone for stopping by.  And more importantly, I want to give a HUGE thanks to Davin for allowing all of us a glimpse into your world.  The two individuals who have won a copy of your book get a nice bonus!

So without further ado, the winners are......(imagine a drum roll).......

Congratulations big time to both of you.  Drop an email address to Davin or I so he can get your prize to you.  It's an awesome collection of stories that I'm positive you will enjoy.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Riding Is Like Writing...And Visa Versa

Yesterday I joined a memorial ride for the flight crews whose lives were taken on 9/11.  It was a 100 mile ride with no stops.  I rode through rain, over slick roads, surrounded by 150-200 bikers who have ridden all their lives.  In the end, we returned to the Colorado National Speedway where the day had begun, only to ride right on the track, do a few laps, and be part of the memorial ceremony.  The experience was a unique first for me, and though I was sore at the end of the day (and still am a little), I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

There were a few firsts that happened for me yesterday though.  For one, riding with so many experienced bikers was challenging since I often rode side by side with them rather than in a staggered formation like I'm used to.  We also hit a decent amount of rain and wet pavement, which is something I usually avoid.  I got to experience my first time taking mountain curves on wet roads.  This is also the first time I've taken my youngest son (who did awesome) with me for such a long ride.

As we were riding home (after a small break to let my sore butt recover), it occurred to me that the entire day was a close mirror image of what being a writer is.  I am surrounded by truly experienced writers, people whose talent astounds me and drives me to be that good.  We all are working towards that 100 mile goal, writing along slick roads and curves we can't always see beyond.  There are moments of stress, there are energetic moments when we get to look around at what we're doing, and we know the journey is worth all the trouble when we get to the end.  And we will do it again and again, no matter how difficult things get.  We even bring our family members along for the ride as they support what we're doing.

I know it will be a little bit before I climb on the bike to take that kind of ride again (after all, I'm getting too old to do this kind of thing every day LOL), but I do know I will choose to do something like it sometime in the future.  I also know I will continue to work at my writing, climbing aboard for the ride as often as I can.  And with both endeavors, there's a goal to be reached that I will achieve.

What about the rest of you?  Have you made this kind of comparison to the writing you work at so diligently (or visa versa)?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Interview With Davin Malasarn...and a Contest!

Today I'm honored to present an in-depth interview with Davin Malasarn.  For those unfamiliar with Davin, he's one of the talented trio working diligently at The Literary Lab.  Davin recently self-published his book The Wild Grass and after reading it myself, I just had to learn more about this awesome writer.  I've always been a fan of Davin, but reading through his collection of short stories has significantly elevated my opinion of the man.  Thankfully, I got the opportunity to know him a little better and I'd like to share the conversation with all of you.

Eric: First off, I want to welcome you to Working My Muse.  It's a true honor and pleasure.  But tell me Davin, how did you get started in this writing game?

Davin:  When I was a younger student my teachers convinced me that I was a bad writer. I was downgraded to some sub-standard English track in Junior High. One of my teachers at the time, Mr. P, was a man who had a reputation for being "strange" and wasn't very liked by a lot of students. One day in class he made us discuss a poem. All I remember about it was that it involved a father and son and some emotional tension. My interpretation of it differed from everyone else in the class, and so I decided once again that I just didn't understand English. But this teacher came up to me and said I actually understood the poem better than anyone. And he knew that because he had written the poem himself. I think that was the first time I learned to trust myself when it came to English. That teacher committed suicide the following summer. Only years later did I come to understand that he seemed "strange" probably because he was gay.  The poem about the father and son took on a different meaning for me then, and I really saw much more value in writing as a result of it. Although I hadn't actually written anything creative yet, I understood how important it was for people to communicate from the heart. That need to communicate got me started. I see writing as part of a bigger dialog.

Eric:  Wow, what an interesting way to find your way into the writing world.  Having studied a few other languages (and having gone to the relevant countries), I sympathize with the difficulties you had with English.  The Wild Grass is an intriguing jaunt through your cultural background.  And while I enjoyed every story, there were aspects of some I had difficulty relating to.  Did you have any concerns in this regard as you were writing them?

Davin:  As a teenager--and if I'm honest I still do it now--I would always answer "America" when people asked where I was from. Some of those people thought I answered that way to show that I somehow escaped my parents' impoverished life in Thailand. But the truth was that I knew so little about my culture that I felt like I was offending Thailand when I said I was from there. 

Though I've made more of an effort to familiarize myself with my Thai roots, I still feel far away from it. That puts me in an odd place when I write about Thai culture, or any culture, for that matter. Sometimes I bring my lack of understanding to my stories because that sense of confusion is part of the story's experience for me. Sometimes I present different cultures in a more matter-of-fact way, or in a ridiculous way in the case of "Red Man, Blue Man", because I'm curious to see if the heart of the story can still come through, even if specific details about time and place are unfamiliar. So, the cultural aspect is something I'm concerned about, but I'm still experimenting with it to see what works and what doesn't.

Eric:  I really have to respect your honesty and the fact that you didn't feel it would be right to attribute who you are to being raised in Thailand.  That is a mark of distinction.  Speaking of experimenting though, this is your first journey into self publishing, right?  Any horror stories, laughs or tips you can share with us?

Davin:  I kind of feel like I'm fumbling the entire self-publishing thing. I'm not very good at it. (Hey, buy my book!) My goal when I published was to let people know that the book existed. I figured once that happened people could decide on their own whether they want to buy the book or not. I didn't ask for reviews. I didn't organize a blog tour. I was insecure and shy. 

I realize now that people need much more information as they decide on what books they want to read. There are so many options out there! I wish I had more visibility so that I could let people know what was inside the book. That visibility is hard to come by. At this point, I'm just grateful that the people who have read it are sending me really personal and touching emails about it. I'm grateful when people give my books to other people or let other people borrow them. Going in, I didn't expect to sell many copies, so I'm also grateful that at least some people are giving it a chance.

The one thing I think I did right, though, was that I set an actual goal of how many books I wanted to sell. I was aiming for 100 books sold, and I'm content that I reached that goal. I calmed down a lot after that. Now, I just really value every additional sale. If or when I do this again, I do plan to put more energy up front into the promotion. I haven't yet figured out how I can do that well and in a way that's not annoying, but I'm working on it.

Eric:  Self-publication is a bit scary for me to be honest.  You really are opening yourself up to celebration and/or criticism, especially given the expectation pushed on us to publish traditionally only.  You've done a great job however, achieving the goal you set.  And I can vouch that the book is exactly what one should expect from a published work, no matter how it gets there.  Now that you've gone the route of self publication though, do you think you'll continue in this vein or do you see yourself embracing both traditional and self publishing?

Davin:  You know, given everything I just said, I have to say the idea of self-publishing my future books is still really tempting. I love the idea of being in control of the entire process, from the cover design, to the layout, to the editorial decisions. I'm interested in trying some different approaches as far as how I will make my books available. I have some crime-based novellas, for example, that are pretty dark and quite a departure from what I usually write. I thought I'd just give them to whoever asked me for them rather than putting them up for sale in any official way. (Although I haven't committed to that yet.) Self-publishing gives me that freedom to be creative in how the books are released. But there are two big obstacles that I am still dealing with. The first is that I haven't figured out how to self-promote my work very well yet. I think I'll be frustrated if none of my books sell. Second, I'm not completely happy with the print quality of self-published books. The cutting and gluing aren't always as clean. I'd really love to be able to self-publish a book that is of higher quality physically. I also want the ability to do things like matte covers or box sets. I don't mind paying for those things, but I sense that visibility will be an even bigger issue if I leave the main self-publishing companies. Traditional publishing is still a great way to do things, so I'm not closed to it at all. I just haven't been in the mood to submit anything to agents or small presses lately.

Eric:  Well, I can definitely see the appeal to controlling all those aspects of your book.  It's a daring move in some respects, but if you're successful (as you seem to be so far), it's worth it.  Now that I've read a taste of your works though, I'm dying to read more.  Care to provide any hints of what you're working on now?

Davin:  As far as writing goes, I'm working on a novel about a group of people who are selected to live forever. It has a sci-fi aspect to it that lets me use a bit of my scientific background (yes, the 11 years of extra schooling are finally paying off!). It's narrated by a very direct woman named Jacqueline, and it includes a lot of scenes with a fictional Dalai Lama. What I'm liking most about the book is that I'm getting to discuss a lot of issues that the world is currently dealing with: religion, terrorism, the internet, scientific advancement, conservation. At the same time I'm able to mix these issues up with more day-to-day issues like not getting enough sleep and being around the same people for years and years and years--the slice-of-life material that I love to read myself. It's a mish mash, and I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Eric:  It sounds like an interesting story.  Including the Dalai Lama really puts a neat cultural spin on things.  The inclusion of those worldly issues will make for some interesting reading too.  I'm always interested in seeing how different writers approach those topics because the perspectives can be so unique.  Well, I'd like to thank you for stopping by.  It has been fun dancing through your world for a bit.

Davin is a writer from Los Angeles, CA. In 2008, he was a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. He has been a finalist for Glimmer Train's Very Short Fiction Contest, first runner-up in Opium Magazine's 500-word Memoir Contest, and two of his stories were nominated for Pushcart Prizes. He is also a staff editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.

As for all my readers, you're in luck today.  Davin has graciously agreed to gift two lucky individuals with a copy of his book The Wild Grass.  Since I've never been one to shy away from holding a contest, I jumped at the chance.  And as always, this one is easy to enter.  Just drop a comment below and you'll be entered.  The contest will run until midnight on August 30th.  The following day I will announce two randomly drawn winners and we'll get your respective details over to Davin.  Good luck to everyone.  You don't want to miss out on a copy of this book.  It is a true pleasure to read.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Taking On Too Much

If anyone caught how many times I had to re-edit and re-post the last entry, you'll know what I mean when I say I'm taking on too much these days.  It's just a symptom of the problem, which is that I'm overburdened.  On my plate currently is two jobs (IT Support and article writing/editing), a Masters degree program, trying to become a proficient writer, and of course being a decent husband and father.  My wife has been ill for some time now, so takes a toll as well.  Oh, and putting up regular blog posts fits in there somewhere.

What I've finally admitted to myself is that I'm just taking on too much.  I had to sit down and think about my priorities because I recognize when I'm stressing out and that time is now.  Everything I'm involved in (the major things anyway) are all important.  They are all things I want to accomplish or be really good at.  But I'm a realist in some ways.  I can't do it all (at least right now).

I've decided to put my degree on hold and take a term break.  For me, the Masters degree is a means to an end;  I plan on using it to move on vocationally.  I do value what I'm learning and I'm proud of myself for working towards it, but when I think about what matters the most to me, the degree is at the bottom of the pile.  First and foremost, my family matters more than anything else.  I pride myself on the fact that I'm a damn good father and husband.  If I can say nothing else on my deathbed, I hope I'll always be able to say that.

Next in line is how well I do my job(s).  I'm good at what I do and since my paycheck has a lot to do with how we live, I have to keep being good at what I do.  I also take pride in doing a good job, and lately I haven't been too proud of the job I've been doing (particularly with regards to my editing job).  After my job, there's my writing in general.  I really haven't had the time (or appropriate mental stance) to write creatively for a long time now.  And it bothers me every day because I really do want to become a decent writer.

There are other less important things going on, but they all add up over time.  In the end, I've realized that something's gotta give and I've decided it's the degree program (for now).  I'm not quitting for good.  I'm just taking a breather so I can concentrate on what matters the most.  Keep your fingers crossed for me ;)

Blog Chain - The Mountain's Shaking

The fact that today's blog chain entry is a day late is just one more sign that I'm taking on too much these days and need a break.  I'll have more on that in another post momentarily, but right now it's time to get back on the blog chain.  That's right, we're back and we have a number of new members.  If you're a longtime reader of our chain, you'll find something new in the contributions of Matt, Tere, Jon, Katrina, PK, and Amparo.  I love it when we get new members (though of course I miss the people who have left) because I get to learn more about writing from their different perspectives.  And it's amazing how many different perspectives we can have on a given subject.

Anyway, I'm rambling so let's get to it.  Today's question is brought to you by the letter S, or more specifically that awesome writer Sandra who asks:

Have the recent changes in the publishing industry affected your writing plans/career? If so, how?

Part of me always cringes when fellow writers talk about the publishing industry, but maybe not because of the reason you might think.  Since I'm still in what I consider the infancy of my writing career (i.e. I'm still learning how to write decently enough), the publishing industry is like Mount Everest.  It's an awesome spectacle, a challenge that beckons at the same time it daunts, and the summit is the goal of publication.  But it's over in China.   In other words, for me publication is this far off idea that is really too massive for me to grasp yet.  I know some day I'd like to say I have seen Everest up close and conquered it, but right now I'm really just looking at pictures of it while I try to walk up to the top of my block.

Having said that, it doesn't mean I don't watch and think about the industry and the changes I see.  I do recognize the potential for books to become less available in print than in electronic form.  It makes sense from a financial perspective since it's generally cheaper to mass produce at that point (Hey music industry I'm looking at you.  It don't cost you $20 to burn a CD anymore, ya crooks).  And of late, I have seen the usefulness of an e-reader, particularly as I read my school assignments via one.  Not having to purchase and wait for a physical textbook isn't such a bad thing.  For one, I don't have it sitting on a shelf collecting dust after I pass the class.

Taking a step away from the reader's perspective (and putting on my writer's hat), I consider any changes the publishing industry make that helps get my book into the hands of readers a (potentially) good thing.  Yes, it is an incredibly sad thing whenever a book store has to close (not to mention a whole chain).  It is a huge loss in a lot of ways.  But the world does continue to change and unfortunately we all have to either change with it or step off the ride.

I do not believe printed books will ever go away completely.  I compare it to vinyl records (those black round things with the hole in the middle that magically plays music.  Now get off my lawn, ya punks!)  There are and always will be people that enjoy the experience of holding and reading a physical book.  One can become even more immersed in the experience than when playing those old vinyl discs because of the multiple senses a book engages (touch, sight, smell, etc).  For this reason, I don't think book stores will ever completely disappear either, any more than record stores have.

With regards to what this means to my writing career, I don't think there is any real effect right now.  I still plan on becoming a fully-fledged author someday.  The method or mode for how I get there is irrelevant, and if it means I have to adjust my thinking at some point to encompass all paths, I'm okay with that.  I guess the bottom line is that I'm not entrenched into thinking there is only one way to reach Everest's summit.   And that's okay.  Because right now, it's still just some huge awesome mountain in China.

Michelle H. was before me on the chain, so she may have more to add.  And following me, the ever-talented Michelle M. should have something interesting to say on the subject.  

How about the rest of you?  What do you think about the changes on the publishing horizon?  And how do you plan to deal with it?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

WriteOnCon - Holy Cow

If you've been living under a rock (or maybe just not reading any blogs lately), you may not know that WriteOnCon has been going on.  It's basically a writers convention on the 'Net.  And it's FREE!  Oh, and I hope they don't mind me putting their logo up on this post.  I had nothing to do with making it, but it's pretty cool.

I've been following along where I can and reading what I can, but it just astounds me how much there is going on in this awesome virtual convention.  From one perspective, it's really cool.  From another though, it's a bit daunting.  There are so many events going on, so many webcasts, and so many well-written articles to read that I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the information.  If this is what a "real" convention is like, I can see it being just as awesome and daunting.

The cool part is they seem to be covering topics across the board, and no matter whether you are a seasoned author or putting pen to paper for the first time, there's information for everyone.  If you haven't popped in and checked things out, I highly encourage it.

If you have been participating or reading along like I have, share your favorite part with us.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wading Through Dorian Gray

As you can see from the image, I'm currently making my way through Oscar Wilde's book The Picture Of Dorian Gray.  Interestingly enough, I'm reading it on my tablet in electronic form despite my previous inclinations to avoid e-readers.  It's not quite the same as holding the physical book for me, but it's good enough.  And downloading the book for free (legally even) isn't too bad either.

As far as the story goes, I'm enjoying it.  It's an intriguing tale and I'm thus far compelled to continue reading.  The biggest issue I have is how difficult I find the language, or better yet how cumbersome it is.  At times, I almost feel like I'm wading through sweet smelling molasses, and though I enjoy the taste, I just wish I could stagger to shore for a bit of rest.

Don't get me wrong.  I see some really interesting techniques that Mr. Wilde has used to convey different scenes or characters.  I am truly enjoying the fact that I recognize these things and that I see how I might borrow it at one point or another.  But the other thing I see is that the pace is incredibly slow as the characters  elaborate (either out loud or in their own head) at any given point.  It's almost to the point I'm more inclined to skim through rather than enjoy every word, though I'm fighting that impulse as much as possible.

Part of my problem might be that I really haven't read very many of the "classics".   I don't have an educational background in literature (other than stuff they thrust at us in high school), so perhaps I am just lacking a true appreciation for it.  I don't know.  What I do know is that I am struggling to read this one in particular, and I hope somewhere along the way I can either decide to succumb or put it down for good.

Anyone else out there struggle with classic literature like this?  Any advice you can give?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tidal Wave Of Inspiration

Although this isn't the official video for the song, I like it.  The song is Tidal Wave by Owl City, and it's just one of those songs that hits a nerve with me (in a good way).  The last verse particularly echoes a lot of what I think goes through our minds as we writers struggle against doubt and fear.

After yesterday's soapbox post, I thought it appropriate to put up something that hopefully will raise everyone's inspiration level and help you knock that doubt to the floor.  Owl City is a band that I listen to often when I'm writing, because it's very soothing to the soul.  That allows me to concentrate on the words rather than listen to that inner voice telling me what I can't do.

If you haven't heard of the band before, I'd advise you to check them out.  While some of their lyrics are a little...odd...the music is very melodic and can be helpful when you need that type of atmosphere.  The other song you absolutely have to listen to is Saltwater Cave.  Owl City is awesome in it, but the performance of Breanne Duren on the song is what makes it so spectacular.  She has such a distinct quality to her voice, incomparable to anyone else.

I wish everyone a nice weekend, but before you go, what do you listen to while you're writing?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Race-Neutral Stories? No Thank You!

After commenting on two separate blogs, I realize that this issue is something that really bothers me.  What I'm referring to is when the race of a given character is altered in order to (I assume this is the purpose) show that all races are present at all echelons in society, no matter what time era is being depicted.

Two recent examples of this are the upcoming comic book movies The Avengers and Man Of Steel.  In both cases, white men in positions of power have been replaced by African American actors.  And I guess before I go any further, it needs to be stated that yes I am a white male and this is not a racist agenda for me.  It's more about accuracy and honesty, as well as maintaining the original story.  I'm a fan of leaving things alone, because a successful story is good for a reason and should be undisturbed.

In the case of The Avengers, I guess I'm just against it on principle.  I can see the argument that because the story is taking place in modern times, it's an acceptable change.  I don't know what was wrong with casting someone who fit the original character, but I guess I can deal with it.  With the Man Of Steel however, it's more of an problem with historical accuracy.  Given the time period the story of Superman was originally written about, it becomes more and more unlikely that an African American male would be the head of the largest newspaper in a city modeled after New York City.  I'm not saying it couldn't possibly happen during that time period, but it was less likely.

I'm going to tread through some dangerous water here (as if I haven't already), so I understand if you want to stop reading at this point.  Let's say for argument sake that the Chief is an African American.  Wouldn't this necessarily alter the dynamic between all the main characters around him?  While we might like to pretend we are completely blind to race and skin color, the truth is that the differences in race can often bring with it differences in how we interact with each other.  And an African American who has made it to the top of a major newspaper will undoubtedly have a distinctly different perspective on life than a white male taking that same journey.  That difference in background and experiences should also affect how they interact with everyone else, hence changing a crucial character in this story.

If you're going to do that, as far as I'm concerned you might as well create a new character with a new name and either alter the timeline of the story or alter the universe you're creating it in.  It's no longer the same story and it really shouldn't be.  If Perry White were a minor character that nobody interacted with, I could maybe understand.  But he is too central a character and has too great an effect on those around him.

I've used comic books as examples, but I've seen it happen in all sorts of things.  And while humanity has experienced countless moments of racial exclusion, trying to cover it up or ignore it only serves to bury the truth and doesn't teach us why that practice is wrong.  Changing the stories makes it easier for people to pretend that there wasn't a time when certain races were persecuted or excluded in the United States.  Before long, we're forgetting to teach our children that slavery did exist and that Whites Only was once culturally acceptable in certain parts of our country.

I've soap-boxed long enough.  I do apologize if anyone has been offended by this topic, but it's just something I had to talk about.  If you have an opinion (either for or against), I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Know Why I'm A Pantster

A fellow blogger had something to say that really resonated with me (thanks Windy).  She was talking about how plotting and planning isn't as fun for us pantsters because it's only through our slightly disorganized process that we get to discover the story.  I have to agree with this sentiment.

My favorite moments are when my characters surprise me, doing something even I didn't anticipate.  Though I'm the one writing the story, the tale is actually unfolding on its own, using my mind and fingers as a portal to the page.

Thinking about this concept more, I realize that I get bored easily if a storyline is too obvious.  If I can tell where you're going with things, there is no surprise and I'm more apt to skim than really read.  In fact, the most memorable stories are those that completely surprised me throughout (Deathday Letter, I'm looking at you).

This is why I'm a pantster.  I let fate have it's way and laugh crazily throughout the ride.  And though it means more work during the editing process, I wouldn't have it any other way.

If you're a pantster, why do you choose this path?  If you're not, why not?