October 27th, 2010 — Award winning fiction, Blogroll, economic recovery, Great Recession, life lessons, nuclear Armageddon, nuclear war, Sandy Nathan, SANDY NATHAN'S BLOGS, Spiritual Fiction, SPURS MAGAZINE, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, THE WRITERS' CORNER, Visionary Fiction, what really matters in life, writer's tips from an award winning author, writing tips
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy cover
My new fantasy, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, takes place on the eve of nuclear Armageddon near the end of the 22nd century. The setting is a dark world, in which a ruined United States barely survives on a ruined planet, which is soon to become really ruined. Early readers have commented on how believable my imaginary world is. For instance, award-wining author Todd A. Fonseca said, “It is a world not that many heartbeats away from our own, making the premise chilling.”
I did not intend to write a political book. At the end of The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, I write about the book’s inception. My brother died unexpectedly and tragically three years ago. Two months after he died, I had a transcendent dream in which the character of the Angel emerged. In the days following my dream, the plot and characters of The Angel came to me. The book’s themes have particular and personal meaning to my brother and me. Essentially, my grief wrote The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy,
But what about the world of The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy? It seems about as political as you can get. Yes, it is. The book hinges on a fictitious second Russian Revolution which occurs in 2097. The former president of Russia proclaims himself Tsar, establishes a totalitarian monarchy, and almost takes over the world. Russia becomes the planet’s major power, with the United States sinking to a third rate entity. (Please note that I picked Russia out of a hat. Could be any big power.) Is this possible? Beats me, I write fiction.
However, historical precedent does exist. The stock market crash of 1929 destroyed the financial markets of that era, ushering in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Desperate economic conditions in Germany supported the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. An aggressive totalitarian state arose from an economic disaster and created world war.
In The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, the second Russian revolution of 2097 occurs because the world economy never pulls out of the slump created by the financial meltdown of 2008. The Great Recession we’re floundering through becomes the Really Big Depression. The world economy spirals downward, creating the same desperate conditions that allowed Hitler to rise to power, resulting in my book’s Second Russian Revolution. The worldwide police state in The Angel is fueled by inept political and economic leadership, intellectual laziness and lack of integrity in the people and politicians, fault finding, blaming others, and a massive preference for force over reason.
The whole planet wimps out and lets the bad guys have control.
Some people may find this similar to our current situation. It could be. When I was writing The Angel, not all of me was consumed by grief for my brother. A bunch of things that have been happening to our world and society were rattling around in my subconscious. We’re in a really bad situation economically. The Great Recession that we’re in is the worst economic meltdown since the Depression of the 1930s. We’ve had the mega collapse of our banking and financial systems. Our housing industry is shot. Foreclosures are through the roof (though put “on hold” at this writing). The economy has not responded to monetary policy––i.e., the interest rate cruises around zero and businesses aren’t investing. Corporations are cash rich, but not spending. Fiscal policy (the correct response when monetary policy fails, and which is also currently known as the stimulus program) hasn’t produced the increased economic growth we’ve wanted. Jobs have not increased to the level needed to reduce unemployment. Our citizens face downsizing, layoffs, outsourcing and who knows what else. We make bankruptcy for individuals harder and more punitive, while corporations are bailed out.
What bothers me most about our current economic and political situation? If you watch the news or any political debate, you’ll see a blame game. “He did it.” “No, she did it.” We live as though our current crisis doesn’t have serious, long term consequences for the well-being of everyone in this country and the world. What is the solution?
WE NEED TO ACT LIKE GROWN UPS.
That’s my prescription for the economic/social/personal/moral issues before us. We need to get that we have problems and must work TOGETHER to solve them. We need to realize deeply and fully that COMPLICATED PROBLEMS DO NOT HAVE SIMPLE SOLUTIONS. We should run like crazy from any politician purporting to solve our nation’s problems with solutions that sound like they came off BUMPER STICKERS. We also need to really take in the fact that PROBLEMS THAT HAVE DEVELOPED OVER DECADES AND MANY PRESIDENCIES CANNOT BE SOLVED IN TWO YEARS. We need to grow up, stop whining, and get to work.
As I reflected on these issues, I realized that large groups of people may be incapable of setting their differences aside and recognizing that really smart, educated, good hearted people may have points of view that are different than their own. Masses of people may not be able to solve problems in an effective and nonjudgmental way. Whining and finger pointing, creating “us” vs. “them,” indulging in hatred and hierarchical thinking may be endemic to humanity. I’m talking about both major political parties, “both sides of the aisle.”
Individuals may become enlightened, cooperative, loving, and effective people, but maybe people in large groups just aren’t capable of it.
Where might this lead? Quite possibly to the world of The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, The story’s final solution may be what we’re cruising toward as fast as we can. Check it out.
Is The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy political? No more than life.
It’s actually a story of personal reconciliation at earth’s end. And it’s a love story.
Sandy Nathan MA
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former Economic Analyst, Santa Clara County CA
July 3rd, 2009 — good manners, Sandy Nathan, self help, Uncategorized, values
I'M ON THE WARPATH!
I’m on a bazillion e-mail lists––I swear, they must reproduce in the night. Every day, I get ecstatic emails about some new system or formula that will FIX ME. Or MAKE ME HAPPIER, MORE FULFILLED. A MAGIC BULLET THAT WILL BRING ME THE SECRET OF MY DREAMS, the dreams I haven’t DARED TO DREAM BEFORE.
All I have to do is listen to a free teleseminar, where I will be seduced into signing up and plunk down big bucks.
Thing is, I ain’t broke. I’m happy, fine, doing well, I don’t need anybody’s friggin’ system to fix me––and I resent these self-appointed gurus assuming they have the right to make the offer. (I have a real guru, and she doesn’t sound like that at all.)
There’s more. I have an MA in Marriage, Family, & Child Counseling from Santa Clara University. I worked had getting that degree and did very well. I began my meditation practice in 1975 and have worked hard in the inner and outer worlds to make my spiritual self the one that runs things. I’ve had three or four professional careers that taught me to exercise my brain and will, and personal skills. The challenges I’ve dealt with myself––cancer and my leg falling apart, for a couple––and in my family have strengthened and tempered my soul.
I know both from a professional, theoretical standpoint and from the work I’ve done on my self that the so called miracle transformation in 30 days or less doesn’t exist.
I know for a fact how hard it is to change, barring acts of God and grace, and how stupid these Get Enlightened Fast schemes are.
There’s no easy way, folks. No fast track to a magic life. You slog through in the trenches, day by day. That’s where the breakthroughs occur, as St. Teresa of Avila pointed out. Daily life is the ground of spiritual transformation.
Read St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Rumi, Mirabai. No easy, sign up now and be free trip will take you where you want to go.
Here’s my promise: I WILL NEVER ATTEMPT TO FIX YOU. You’re fine right where you are, just as you are. And so am I. I’m going to get off all those stupid mailing lists starting now.
This is the first Sandy Nathan discussion post from my Amazon Author Page.
You can read the original on Amazon through either of the links above.
COMING SOON: LOWERED EXPECTATIONS!
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July 3rd, 2009 — Blogroll, heartwarming, life lessons, LITTLE INDIA: A Jewel Southern California, Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money, RANCHO VILASA, religious nonfiction, SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA HISTORY, Sandy Nathan, Spiritual Fiction, spiritual nonfiction, THE WRITERS' CORNER, Uncategorized, values, Visionary Fiction, visionary nonfiction, what really matters in life, writer's tips from an award winning author
One of the really great things about being on a spiritual path is that you get to eat crow really often. A few days ago, I wrote and published a scathing article talking about monster houses and other things, my dad, Andy Oddstad among them. (My dad built houses, but not monster houses.)
How scathing? I spoke of the “McMansions littering our hillsides” and hoped that the home in which I grew up “doesn’t get transformed into an ostentatious edifice fit for pseudo-royalty.” I closed with an indictment of modern capitalism: “Today, companies are about marketing position and branding, about the “USPs”–unique selling propositions––magic words to charm the consumer into buying an illusion that she can’t afford and doesn’t need.”
Those words scathe effectively.
A TRUE MONSTER HOUSE: The Palace of Versailles was home to Actual Royalty. I’m illustrating this post with photos the prototypical Monster House, elegant in every way, full of pretension––I mean, if you think you’re God, you could live in this house with a straight face––and the best of everything. It differs from modern monster houses in that its real, way upscale, and conforms to the principles of design, listed down below.
Only a few hours after posting my position statement on large houses and the contemporary practice of flashing every dime you’ve got, I went to a social function at a home that can be described as plu-perfect, and huge. A monster house, by size, anyways. Oops.
I wandered around the edifice, marveling at the workmanship, the 3 ” thick marble counters, wood floors, plaster finishes, gorgeous fenestration (windows), views of the Pacific Ocean from every window. Sweeping panoramas of the City of Santa Barbara, offshore islands, gardens. Everything.
This was the most beautiful home I’d ever seen, and a monster house. I’d never want to own it: I couldn’t afford the gardener, much less the utility bills. But, wow. And what a spiritual feeling about the place.
Plus the owners were really nice, humble, kind people.
Never underestimate the value of nice landscaping in increasing property values. Look what it did for Versailles!
My cheeks burned and I felt that inevitable, “I blew it,” walking around that beautiful place. So what’s wrong with this picture? First off, my original mind set was that big equals evil. Big is just big. And wealth is OK. Better than OK. Where’s the wisdom in this experience?
I immediately thought of the four goals of life. You know them:
- Dharma: righteousness
- Artha: wealth
- Kama: pleasure
- Moksha: liberation
These are straight from the Guru Gita, an ancient Vedic text. Other philosophic systems will have different goals, but I like the simplicity of the four above.
Dharma refers to living a spotless life by whatever moral system you espouse.
Artha––well, we all know what wealth means. Pile it on. My mom had a great poster in her house: A southern mansion with the line, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” That’s easy.
Kama––kama as in kama sutra. Pleasure. Better far better life goal than pain. Pain comes on its own.
And Moksha––liberation. Means liberation from the wheel of life, attainable by union with God.
The King’s Bedroom at Versailles: With the right karma, you could sleep here. Of course, it didn’t do much for Louis XVI.
The magnificent edifice I wandered into after my rant about monster houses was the fruit of a life well lived. The individuals owning the house had all four goals, in spades. The wealth one, artha, very obviously. And humility.
Versailles, Beautiful, Ornate, Over the Top. Sparked a revolution.
The difference between a monster house and a very large and beautiful house rests in the five principles of design:
- And one other, which I forget. Let’s call it taste, or beauty.
- Oh––rhythm. Remembered it.
I’ll discuss those principles in a later post. Here’s a link to an article about the importance of beauty in book cover design. Says it very well: Lewis Agrell’s Article About Book Covers.
- Here I am, ready for Versailles.
Sandy Nathan is the winner of seventeen national awards, in categories from memoir, to visionary fiction, to children’s nonfiction. And more.
Her books are: (Click link for more information)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money
Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could
Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice
Two sequels to The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy are in production with a late (very late) 2011 publication date, or early 2012. If you liked The Angel you’ll love Lady Grace and Sam & Emily.
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June 7th, 2009 — Award winning fiction, Blogroll, cure writer's block, learn to write, life lessons, Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money, Sandy Nathan, SANDY NATHAN RIDES, SANDY NATHAN'S BLOGS, SANDY NATHAN'S DOGS, Spiritual Fiction, SPURS MAGAZINE, The GATHERING: A Native American Spiritual Retreat, THE WRITERS' CORNER, unlock writer's block, values, what really matters in life, WRITE FOR PUBLICATION, writer's block, writer's tips from an award winning author, writing tips
This Lightning-blasted Tree Reminds Me of God's Power.
“In God we trust” appears on our currency. These words are controversial. They prompt some people to fight for their removal, while others insist that they belong on our money and everywhere else.
I ask: Do we trust God? If so, which one? I’ll explain.
I recently had a flamboyant lesson in paying attention. Paying attention to what I thought and believed–and what I worshiped. And also in paying attention to where I put my feet.
By May 2009, I was a mess. In 2008, I wrote manuscripts for three sci-fi books, got the first book of the Bloodsong Series, Numenon, into print and launched, and charged ahead with marketing activities.
In my spare time, I had major surgery on my ankle. My surgeon fused the foot bone to the leg bone, the only thing possible to fix the arthritis in the joint. (Yes, it hurt. Recovery has been slow.)
I added on-line book marketing to the mix in 2009-and began obsessing about my Amazon sales figures, posting on writers’ and marketers’ blogs, writing four of blogs of my own, and bringing out Kindle editions of my books. And Twittering! It worked: People learned my name. Kindle sales soared.
But I had to keep at it, working hard every day. If I relaxed, I’d fall behind the hordes of authors more dedicated to tweaking the system than me.
* * *
I was ready for a meltdown and knew it. I’m a long time observer of my inner state, or spirit. The first definition of spirit on my computer is “a vital force that characterizes a living being as being alive.” Being alive interests me.
Riding or walking through our Santa Ynez hills is a balm to my soul.
Things weren’t all bad. When my fused ankle healed enough for me to walk, I had resumed (slowly and carefully) a ritual of many years. A circular path meanders around our ranch. I’ve walked that path every day, contemplating the world and the state of my soul. This walk is a form of prayer.
When I’m in good shape inside, I look at the golden hills around me, feel the breezes, and hear the birds’ cheerful calls. My heart opens and a blast of light and love bursts forth. I become a clear lens, open to the will of the unfathomable power that created and sustains the universe.
In this state, I can write words worth reading.
As May 2009 approached, my walks reflected my soul’s condition. Exhausted and trying to keep going, I tottered along, piling through every mental “to do” list I’d ever made.
Far from being a clear explosion of energy, my heart’s well was like some of the koi ponds I’ve seen: a scummy, turgid hole that no self-respecting fish would enter voluntarily. I swam in a nasty soup created by my thoughts and obsessive actions.
One day, I heard an an inner voice as I walked. It said, “I believe in a shiftless god.”
I stopped on the path and laughed. What a great book title! But that was it: I was worshiping a supreme power that was unreliable, uncaring, and prone to quit when needed It most.
This shiftless god required ceaseless appeasing. I had to slave for every crumb of success, every review, radio appearance, and book sale. Nothing came from the bounty of an all-knowing being that loved me and wished me well.
I was worshiping a “god” reflecting my own state of mind.
* * *
I felt lousy, but knew what to do. I needed to make my way back to the real God, the benevolent Creator of heaven and earth, the fountain of love and mercy that I’ve experienced so often in my life. I also had to put the right Sandy in control of my life. The deepest Sandy, my own true Self.
I knew exactly how to accomplish the transformation: Go to New Mexico. The area around the City of Santa Fe is like spiritual catnip to me. A couple of weeks there, meditating and doing spiritual practice, and I’d be ready to hit Amazon and Twitterland like a linebacker. I’d be able to break the writer’s block that had me completely foiled in my attempts to work on Numenon’s sequel.
NOT. What we think is going to happen and what happens can be very different.
My husband and I headed off to our place near Santa Fe in early May. Unfortunately, I came down with the flu a few days before we left. The symptoms were so bad that I looked up Swine Flu on the Net. My flu lacked the high fever, but had all the other attributes of that nasty porcine virus.
The kidney infection that I got on top of the flu turned my body into a torture chamber.
No one gets a kidney infection and the flu. No one goes on vacation in the condition I was in.
* * *
The flu ran its course and the tons of antibiotics my doctor prescribed did the trick. Days after arriving in New Mexico, I was able to wobble around on my I-thought-healed, fused ankle. I felt better; the Santa Fe magic was working. A smile lit my face.
Until I stepped in the hole.
Actually, it wasn’t a hole; it was a rut. Not a big rut, such as a large truck might make. More of a slight incline from the tire of a small car. A patch of not too level dirt that I stepped on with my bad leg without noticing it.
All I felt was a little crunch on the outside of the fused ankle, not even a sound or a pain. Just a little sensation of doom. Having a bad back, I know all about such sensations. If I had felt that little twinge in my back, I knew I’d be flat on my back in agony for three weeks.
As it was, a purple, cucumber-shaped swelling lodged under the anklebone on each side of my foot. The swelling ran up my leg. When it got to my (previously totally replaced) knee, that joint ballooned, quickly resembling a cantaloupe. Hard, firm, and definitely not ripe, my knee bulged into a form I’d never seen.
All I wanted was my surgeon in Los Angeles, but I knew that I’d never make it through the airports to get to him. I hurt so much that I wasn’t capable of calling his office to ask for advice. I did what I knew he would say, “Rest, ice, keep your ankle above your heart.”
After a week I’d improved enough to call the doctor’s office. “Did you get it X rayed? The bruising sounds like you chipped a bone,” his nurse said.
* * *
I’m spilling all this not as a ploy for sympathy, but to tell you about my life. Physical illness and injury have been a large part of the challenges I’ve faced in this incarnation. Maybe I’m trying to get it all done so I don’t have to go through this stuff again in a future go-round. (This explanation serves if you believe in reincarnation. I’m not sure that I do.)
For whatever reason, I’ve had lots of really rotten physical stuff happen to me. It’s the learning I must process in this life. Your task is undoubtedly different, but I’m sharing “our vacation in Santa Fe” to illustrate the fact that dinner at your mother-in-law’s, or whatever bedevils you, may not be so bad.
The thing about the ankle cucumbers and cantaloupe knee is that they stopped me dead. I’m a work-o-holic. If possible, I would work 24 hours a day. But there I was, flat on my back, unable to move. In too much discomfort to do anything. That included obsessing about Amazon sales.
My experience is that God will do anything necessary to get you to listen. This case pulled out the stops: He/She/It had me powerless.
The meditation retreat portion of our vacation began in earnest.
And it worked.
Hitting bottom is the essence of spiritual healing as I have experienced it. As a burned out young mother and graduate student, a burned out doctoral student, a burned out author, and finally a burned out lady with vegetables for leg joints–all the times in my life I’ve wiped myself out–I found getting to a dead stop is the key to turning around.
This is not fun. One of the things that I realized as I lay with my leg propped up on pillows is that my days of riding horses are probably over. If I could hurt myself as badly as I did stepping on a tiny ridge of dirt, what would happen if my mare got silly going through a gate and whacked my foot into a fence post? What if she fell and landed on my injured leg? Doesn’t require much imagination to figure out the consequences.
I also realized that I probably can’t go to the Gathering, the Native American spiritual retreat that inspired my first book, Stepping off the Edge. The retreat is in Tennessee and I can’t see myself able to negotiate the plane changes of the cross-country flight, picking up a rental car, and finding my way out into the Cherokee National Forest to the retreat grounds. This almost killed me. I spent some time boo-hooing.
Sharing one’s insights with another person is key in healing. I told my husband what I’d realized and he was relieved. I’m a hard dog to make heel, and he was afraid of what might happen to me if I continued my bull-headed ways.
I’m not going to write a book on spiritual practice and how to heal your soul. I already have: Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice. I recommend this book to you. It’s got every trick I’ve learned earning my two Master’s degrees, my 34 year meditation practice, and lots of personal growth. This book shows you what happens in spiritual healing and how to do it.
After you bottom out, the real God can finally get through. Healing is a matter of listening to what’s presented to you. It may seem trivial as it happens.
For instance, I belong to a book club. The meeting was set for two days after we got back from Santa Fe. By purest happenstance, the book for that month was Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza. I downloaded it onto by beloved Kindle and began to read. It’s the story of the author’s experience hiding in a 3 foot by 5 foot bathroom with seven other women. They were there for 3 months as rampaging Hutus stalked them just outside.
I feared that the book would be a nightmare of proselytizing and genocide. Forget my fear: This book is a miracle, the finest example of contemporary Christian mysticism I have read. Ilibagiza is Catholic and her faith shines in this book, as well at the living presence of Jesus Christ. She outlines miraculous experiences occurring time after time after time, as she prayed to God for physical as well as spiritual protection. She came out of her ordeal whole and inspired, stepping into a life she loves.
Flat on my back, with no resistance to anything, I cried through the whole thing. Left to Tell’s words kindled the flame of my own spiritual roots. By the time I finished, my soul was blazing. I was in touch with the real God, my Christian roots, and the power of prayer and meditation. My transforming journey began with reading Left to Tell.
Healing is about collapse of what doesn’t work, surrender to a greater reality (God, a Higher Power, Whatever), acceptance of one’s errors and a turning to a new way. That’s pretty well known and straightforward.
What’s not so well know is that healing and spiritual practice is a blast. The hallmark of spirit is bliss. Don’t buy anybody’s words if you can’t feel the bliss behind them.
Also–did you know that the Asian concept of chakras, those invisible energy centers aligned up your spine that spin when you’re inspired, is absolutely true? So is kundalini–the uncoiling spiritual energy that starts at the base of the spine and moves upward, striking the charkas as it goes.
Providing the original and ultimate meaning of “ring my chimes.”
Yep, once I got past the hard stuff like swollen ankles and exhaustion, the good times rolled. Spiritual energy started to flow and my charkas shone and spun in vivid colors. A spiritual seeker can lights, hear bells, and have visions, getting ripped out of his or her mind. This one sure did.
The trip ended up a glorious success. I’m home, feeling no pressure to do anything but write this blog piece. This is first on the agenda, then we’ll see what’s next.
I feel like a giant and very trustworthy hand has reached into my life and changed my direction. I don’t feel any compulsion or worry. I’m not concerned about my book sales. Certainly not Twitter or go on-line.
This will come in time, I’m sure, but I won’t act until told to by the real God, the one you can trust.
Sandy Nathan: "It's about the good times! May they all be good times!"
All the best,
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June 2nd, 2009 — Award winning fiction, Sandy Nathan, SANDY NATHAN'S BLOGS, Spiritual Fiction, THE WRITERS' CORNER, Uncategorized, Visionary Fiction, visionary nonfiction, writing tips
Independent Publisher Book Awards
JUST ANNOUNCED: NUMENON by Sandy Nathan won the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards’ Silver Medal in Visionary Fiction. The “IPPY” Award is one of the oldest and largest book contests for independent presses, with more than 4,000 books competing this year.
A press release from Independent Publishers provides more information about the contest in their news release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 21, 2009 — New York, NY — Organizers of the 13th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards, conducted to honor the year’s best independently published books, have announced the results for the 2009 competition.
This year’s awards attracted 4,090 entries from throughout the U.S. and Canada, plus most English-speaking countries worldwide. Medal-winning books came from 44 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, eight Canadian provinces, and six countries overseas. Launched in 1996 as the first unaffiliated awards program open exclusively to independent, university, and self-published titles, the 2009 IPPY Awards will be presented to winners at a gala celebration during BookExpo America in New York on Friday, May 29th. Winners receive gold, silver and bronze medals and can place foil seals of the medal image on their book covers.
“Today’s readers are seeking diverse perspectives on hot-button issues,” said awards director Jim Barnes. “This year’s list represents a mix of established independents and bold new voices, and their messages echo the call for change and a straightforward approach to dealing with the world’s social, political and economic problems.”
The IPPY Awards are presented by IndependentPublisher.com, the online “voice of independent publishing” operated by publishing services firm Jenkins Group of Traverse City, Michigan. The annual IPPY Awards celebration on Friday night during BookExpo America is a highlight of the weekend and publishing media are welcome to attend.
For more details about the Awards, to attend the event, or to interview recipients, please contact:
Jim Barnes, Managing Editor & Awards Director
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Independent Publisher Online/Jenkins Group
Ph: 1.231.933.4954 x1011
January 29th, 2007 — SPURS MAGAZINE, THE WRITERS' CORNER, Uncategorized, values, what really matters in life, WRITE FOR PUBLICATION, writer's tips from an award winning author, writing tips
Trying to do some search engine optimization, I discovered that this article about writing skills and literary prowess was one of the most popular on my blog. It’s also ancient, probably morphing onto the net from my handwritten pages from the 1980s. I hadn’t even published any books when I wrote this. And the article’s programming is so old it’s messed up. I’m announcing this right now: If all of this comes out as one big paragraph, I tried to fix it. Many times. I’m done with trying to fix. Let the blog begin!
I’d read my way through all the books in the house. In withdrawal, I found myself in Rite Aide, the literary capital of the universe. Helpless to stop myself, I gravitated to the book display.
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I found myself facing a wall of book covers bearing major muscle displays. Pects. Abs. Other muscle groups that I’d never seen. Men with long wavy hair, women who had lost most of their clothes.
I’ve never read a mass-market book. Unbelievable, but true. Even as a kid I never read such down-scale writing, though I do admit reading the Tarzan books when I was ten. They might qualify at mass market.
But I was hungry for a read . . .
Rationalizing my behavior as research, I told myself I was just checking cover design. I was examining rear covers to see how the Big Publishers’ Copy Guys wrote copy for fiction. (Yes, my first novel was nearing production. I wanted to make sure that it was tricked out properly.)
I bought two books. I’m three-fourths of the way through one. The other sits on my dining table. If I get through the first one without puking, I’ll read the next one.
I soothed my conscience by labeling what I was doing research. I analyzed the socioeconomic group/personal needs of the books’ intended audiences by examining the content of their covers. The culture represented by the books on Rite Aide’s shelves was attracted to large pectoral muscles and flowers. Also the words “Menopause relief.”
I’d say their readers leaned toward women of a certain age––which could be almost any age.
I bought two books based on cover attractiveness and the best looking set of pects . . . No. That’s not true. My upcoming novel was dark and scary. I wanted a particular look. I selected volumes that might be models for what I wanted. One book I purchased was Gothic, or goth, as it is known in urban centers among teenagers. The other book had zowie, powie colors that my eye couldn’t release.
The books had interesting rear cover copy in different styles. (Copy is the writing on the book’s front & rear cover that sells the book. It includes stuff about the author and book and can appear anywhere: on the author’s web site, on postcards, in the front or back of the book. Tattooed on the author’s forehead . . . Writing copy is an art, and expensive.)
The goth book turned out to be a vampire thriller.
What a hoot. I’ve never read a vampire book, even the original Dracula or the contemporary Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am not interested in vampires, they remind me of those other blood sucking monsters, government entities that collect taxes. The subject is too scary. But this book had a certain, very badly written, charm. The author created a compelling alternative world, like many good authors do. But it was written so poorly . . .
As a writer, I’ve done my time. I spent nine years in one writing group, a couple more in another. I’ve worked with several editors (they are not all sadistic monsters). Been to really big writer/author workshops. I’ve learned punctuation, and I even know how to diagram sentences. (I understand that they stopped teaching kids how to do that in school. That is really stupid. Diagramming sentences was one of the most useful things I learned in school, next to typing. Calculus never helped me at all.)
I’ve paid my dues: I’ve gotten vicious, humiliating rejection letters all the way down the scale to chummy and respectful rejection letters. I’ve had people try to scam me for big bucks, and scam me for big bucks.
I read this goth, vampire story and thought, “How the $@##! can she get away with it?” The bad English. The clichés. The convoluted sentences. How? How? She’s being published by a major, major publisher. I thought they wanted quality. Everything I’d learned in my writing groups flashed before my eyes.
So here’s this book, written by a New York Times Bestselling author and published by a major house, that defies all the rules.
How did that happen? I couldn’t stand reading it. “The swirling opacity of the mist that enveloped him as he tore his cloak from his beating breast” (and pects) got to be too much. I pulled out a pen and edited the book as I read. Much better.
The most important maxim in the Chicago Manual of Style: “Remove unnecessary words.”
Pen in hand, I read/edited the book and had fun. It did display a quirky charm and wild, relentless imagination.
The text mentioned a web site. I explored it.
Holy macaroni! The thing was amazing. Every character had his or her (mostly his) own page. It was a huge site with a supermarket-sized collection of stuff to buy. Everything from mugs to T shirts to actual [Delete that actual, Sandy! Redundant. No––I included it for teaching purposes.]
You could get lost in the site’s chat room, guestbook, post your pictures, blog, forum, new books about to be created, and old books still available. For starters: Each page had more headers and stuff to explore.
I mean . . . [Writing tip: If you mean something, you don’t have to say that you mean it. Just say it.]
Okay, finding that site and that author hurt.
She’d written not just a lousy vampire series; she’d written many other romance series, too. Her books, pectorals, bad English and all, will have sold probably fifteen million copies by the time you read this. She receives truckloads of mail every day, has adoring fans panting for her words, image and news. She has a staff to help her. I expect she’s made some money with her writing.
And, she dresses up with goth clothing for her wildly popular book signings.
Okay. My books have not sold fifteen million copies, but they are written in proper English, except when I ignore convention, as writers are allowed to do these days.
What’s the problem?
I’ve got a great life, a dream life, but I didn’t get it by writing.
I want my writing to give me a bigger dream life. I want the perks of a successful author. I want the fan mail. Adoration. Staff. Money. I want all of that. Why? Because it looks like fun. Also, I’d like to be God.
I’ve been to the major uplifting, transformational seminars. I’ve meditated for thirty years. Why haven’t I sold fifteen million books? I’ve gone to school . . .
Where’s the justice?
Right there: I GOT IT! I HAD A HUGE TRANSFORMATIONAL EXPERIENCE THAT CHANGED ME FOREVER.
I read that the author in question had spent eight years trying to get a publisher to look at her work. Eight years. All you out there ready to quit––EIGHT YEARS. That’s even more suffering than Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, the Chicken Soup guys. They were rejected by hundreds of publishers before one bit. And they didn’t even have a vampire story. (Chicken Soup for the Vampire’s Soul? Chicken Soup for the Undead?)
The author of the book I’m talking about chose a topic with that interested LOTS of people. She hit that market right on. Her team skillfully marketed her work and she worked like crazy. I’ve written drafts for eight or nine novels. This gal has published twenty, thirty, who knows. She works, that one . . .
LITERATI, LISTEN UP:
We intellectuals get so impressed with ourselves. Our verbal riffs, our penetrating insights, our camaraderie and intellectual sparring. Our sense of superiority not only to non-writing humanity, but our own kind. It’s a minefield, being smart. And writing.
Here’s a story that pertains to this: Years ago, I worked for a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. At the BIZ School, they teach using the case study method, which means that rather than reading boring textbooks about decision sciences and accounting, students read case studies of REAL problems encountered by businesses.
One of the case studies at the Stanford GSB was about Mary Kay Cosmetics. You’ve heard of Mary Kay? One of the most successful women in business, ever. If a woman can make that much money, I’m positively inclined toward her from the get-go.
The women who wrote the case study weren’t. They filmed the process of writing that study. I’ve seen the film. It involved a major socio-economic clash. Mary Kay got where she was by creating exceptional products and knowing her market, and her sales force. She lived and looked the life that many of her followers wanted. Eye shadow, fake lashes, pink suits and all.
The team of female Harvard PhDs sent to investigate her company did not look like Mary Kay or her clients.
To say that they looked like linebackers was unfair. Usually, linebackers do more with their hair. The gals leaned in that direction, some might say. They went out to interview Mary Kay and check out her company like a team of vampires sans all the sexy bits. Mary greeted them politely in her flouncy pink International Headquarters. She blinked as she noticed “the Doctors” lack of make-up and their clothes.
That’s all I’ll say, except that they did not get her at all. I did.
Hey, baby, you’re the most successful woman in business ever? I want to learn about what you did. I want what you got. (Though if I ever was a Mary Kay representative and earned a car, I would not want a pink Cadillac. I’d like a pink Rolls Royce.)
We intellectuals do the same thing in the literary world: Dis the folk who are making it. Do the snotty-nose thing to them who got what we want. (And really want it, don’t we? Book signings where somebody shows up? Fans who are willing to look past our failings? And those of our books? Readers who like us so much that they copy our hairstyles?)
Or are we too snobby to even want that, preferring to live alone in our glorious superiority?
The year that Stephen King won a lifetime award from the National Book Award people, he chided them for their lack of recognition of popular writers. “You’re denigrating your own culture,” he said (or something like that).
The winner of the National Book Award that year had sold something like 2,500 copies of her magnificent work before she won the award. And how many millions has Stephen sold?
I’d still like that goth author to clean up her prose. But it may be the jiggles and wiggles and odd turns of phrase that her readers’ like. Maybe she knows her market better than me.
My husband suggested that I send my edited copy of her book to her. How rude. I wouldn’t do that. She might wave her royalty checks at me. Or her millions of fans might attack me . . . once it got dark and they could come out.
This research project has been a turning point for me. My writing will change as a result.
Ponder what’s here. How does it apply to you and your writing? Or your book promotion?
Let me know, huh? I’d like a thoughtful response from someone.
And to all those spammers who have been sending their nonsensical and revolting messages: Knock it off!
Or I’ll not just delete them––I’ll use my Supernatural Powers. Out will come my fangs . . . I’ll send my minions to smite you and carry you to the Dark World.
I will, really.
Sandy Nathan, winner of 13 national writing awards. And yes, I did really look like this once. 😉
This link will take you to my web site.
I’ve got a blog for writers That’s full of stuff like this article: Your Shelf Life