Halloween to you and yours!
I'm wondering if writers should have a similar instinct.
A writer friend of mine posed an interesting question the other day: Do you ever hold back really good lines, metaphors, etc. from your blog posts or social correspondence so you can use them in your stories?
My initial reaction was, "Of course not, I write in the moment! If the words make the long commute from my brain to fingertips, I'm shooting them off like celebratory creative fireworks! My readers deserve only my best, after all." Actually, I wish that had been my response ...
I really said something like, "I don't think I'd remember it later, so I just use whatever comes to me and hope I think of something equally good the next time."
Like most writers, I always (ALWAYS) secretly fear there won't be a next time.
If you've dabbled at the word game long enough you realize that creative juice can have an incredibly short shelf-life. What flows tasty and free tonight can go sour by morning, often with very little provocation or warning. That isn't to say I believe in writer's block. No, I don't think there's some kind of mental barrier that springs up like a wart in our minds, preventing us from writing until it somehow dissolves.
I do think we sometimes don't feel like pushing our brains into that fringe creative area, or maybe even forget how to do it for a time. That's probably what separates hobby writers from daily writers. The hobby writer wanders off until their brain gets hungry enough to come back around; the daily writer puts out some bait and lures the sucker into a trap--forcing it to work. Figuring out what bait to use is often the trick.
Understanding that inspiration can be fickle, is there some merit to holding onto the really good stuff? Saving your best for your most important moments, as it were. It certainly seems so.
There are probably only so many great similes and metaphors to be had, and it's just a matter of time until someone else comes up with it. Unfortunately, constantly tucking the good stuff away might lead to some really bland blogs. I've been considering some options and they are:
- Keep a journal or blank Word document handy to scribble down the good stuff when it comes. Lots of writers journal, but most use them for story ideas, not great sentences or thoughts. If you're ever stuck in your writing, break it out and get inspired by your own genius. (You can do this with the good stuff you actually use as well.)
- Many cell phones have voice recording options, so you can use that as an auditory record. If you don't have a recorder, just call your own voice mail box and leave yourself a message. (WARNING: This may make you appear VERY crazy and/or unstable to friends and loved ones.)
- When inspiration hits, we're often so caught up in moving to the next bit that we don't fully utilize or explore what's there. Consider jotting down that great phrase, etc. and then forcing yourself to write two or three more along the same lines. Use one and keep the others for future use. It'll add some time to whatever you're working on, but it might pay off later.
- When I'm writing blog posts I often write two or three paragraphs that don't get used simply because the idea for the post changes as I go. Instead of tossing them out I plan on saving them (if they're good) for fodder for future posts and the like.
Do you save your best? If so, how do you do it? (Journal, etc.) Is it something you'd consider doing?
E.J. (ME) – The important stuff first. Tell us about your book/collection, A to Z Stories of Life and Death.
Damyanti (D) -- The book is a collection of twenty-six stories, based on the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. They seek to question our moral compass: How do you judge a teacher toying with the sexuality of her teenaged student? A boy who decides to murder his mother? What thoughts rage inside a pedophile serial killer before he shoots himself? The stories challenge the concepts of beauty, truth, and morality, by revealing the face of the other side.
I began writing some of the pieces in the collection in April during the A to Z challenge organized by Arlee Bird. (Note - If you don't know about the A-Z, you should check out Arlee's blog, HERE. Seriously one of the most challenging and rewarding blogfests going.) During this challenge, participants had to post on their blogs for 26 days in April, every day excluding the 4 Sundays. Some of the readers liked my pieces of fiction enough to ask me to put them together in a book, so the idea took root there.
ME – The stories seem to be highly philosophical and emotional in nature, asking readers to take a reflective look at their own humanity and how life plays out around them. That’s an extremely complex task for short stories to accomplish. How did you make it work?
D – I write about what interests me--people, and what makes them tick. I question the reasons why someone did what they did, and I analyze everything way more than is healthy. My head is full of ‘weird’ people, of what ifs, and whys and wherefores. This is what came out in the collection. Some people have found it too hard-hitting, or the topics too uncomfortable: matricide and pedophilia are not exactly soothing reads, despite a completely literary style and clean language.
I did not write on those themes in order to sensationalize, however, just went where the writing prompts took me. I don't have a ‘moral’ approach to fiction--won’t judge, just hold up things as they are and let the readers come to their own conclusions. Just because something is ugly or inhuman is no reason why it should not be examined. Rather the opposite.
In most of the stories I examine what we usually turn our faces from: death, murder, child abuse, loss of a child, ageing, poverty—but I’ve tried to ask the whys and also sought a glimmer of compassion, understanding, forgiveness, hope, even love.
ME – Taking a step back, can you tell us a little about your writing journey?
D – I started writing 3 years ago. I had some non-fiction experience at the time, but none whatsoever in fiction. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and the idea of writing appealed to me. But it also terrified me, and I let decades pass by before I gave myself the permission to write.
I’ve been traditionally published in quite a few anthologies in Malaysia and Singapore, and Peeping Toe was my first published short story, two years ago. I got accepted for yet another anthology this week, a collection of short stories from Asia and Africa. I’m yet to finish a novel, but that should change soon.
ME – Tell us about your writing process in general.
D – I write everyday. Whether it is a page or a few pages, I feel quite upset if I don’t write something, a story, a free-write, a bit in my journal, a letter (I correspond via snail-mail with other authors).
I usually go with images, and take down stories as they occur in my head. I’ve been a pantser so far, and it has worked for short stories.I use exercises from books like Fast Fiction: Creating Fiction in Five Minutes by Roberta Allen. I take a prompt, a word, a picture, a sentence, anything at all, and start writing, pretty much without thinking.
Another book that influenced me, and from where I borrowed the word dream-storming, is From Where you Dream by Robert Olen Butler. After reading through this book (several times), I got into the habit of entering a sort of trance, of letting the character take over, of entering a setting and becoming part of it. My stories (even the longer short stories) never start from an idea, but instead from an image which tugs at me and compels me to write.
ME - Many of my followers also participated in the A-Z daily blog challenge as well as many, many other blogfests. As such, we know how much time and effort can go into blogging. The idea of turning that work into a published story will, I’m sure, be intriguing to many of the readers. What led you to the idea, and how did you go about making it happen?
D – My short stories started at Daily (w)rite, where apart from some journalling and rambling about writing, I began to put up some of the 5-minute or ten minute exercises I'd written. I got a few good responses from my readers, and kept at it, mostly because I enjoyed it.
Then came A to Z Challenge. Being naive, I thought of writing one flash piece each day. On some days, the pieces came easy, on others I barely made the midnight deadline. Near the end of the challenge, some of the readers asked me to compile the 26 pieces of flash fiction into an e-book, and the idea of A to Z stories of Life and Death was born. I threw out and re-wrote a few of the original pieces, spit and polished them as best as I could. Not many stories in the collection are longer than 200 words, and the entire book adds up to barely 12000 words. My hope is that I’ve made each one of them count.
ME - I saw from your author profile that you’ve been traditionally published and that A to Z is your first work to be published independently. What was the motivation for that shift, and it is it something you plan to continue to explore in the future?
D – I would not call it a shift, because I’m still submitting stories for traditional publication, (E.J. - EXCELLENT point! It doesn't have to be all or the other, folks.) and hope to publish my current work (a WIP collection of longer short stories, and a novel) traditionally.
As I keep repeating to myself: the most important thing is to keep writing, improve my craft, and keep submitting for publication. A writer writes, and then hopes for publication: each rejection is a spur to write more and write better. After all, an established writer is no different from an unpublished one (at least in one aspect): both aspire to write better and reach a bigger audience every day. (E.J. - This might be the most important paragraph ever printed on this blog!)
That said, I think I’ll epub some work as well, mostly because it is fun, and a good way to interact with writer-friends and readers. This e-book was an experiment of sorts: I wanted to learn what this new business of e-books was all about, because as writers I think we should not ignore the flux in the industry. I continue to learn more about ebooks, marketing, and publishing each day, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.
ME – Random question time: What’s the last good book you read?
D – “The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore”…I think it is one of the most moving, philosophical and thought-provoking books ever to be written with an animal narrator.
ME - We’ll finish up with the most important stuff. Give us three reasons why A to Z Stories should be our next download, and tell us where we can get them.
D – As a writer, I can give a million reasons, of course. All writers are painfully, desperately in love with their babies. But as a reader I think there exist only two reasons to download a book: the sample, and the reviews. Check those out, and if you like them, buy the book at Kindle Smashwords Nook or Diesel.
Thank you, EJ, for taking the time to host me, and for the well-considered questions. I've done my best to answer them, and I hope I've done them justice. Thanks also to the readers who have heard me through with my long rambling! I'm around to chat with you all, and answer any questions.
ME - You've been a beautiful interview, D! I think I can safely speak for everyone who reads this and say it has been a true pleasure getting to know you and your writing. You're an inspiration for sure. Best of luck to you on your future endeavors.
Writer Bio: Damyanti lives more in her head than in this world, adores her husband, and loves her pet fish and plants. She is an established writer for magazines and journals. Her short fiction has been published in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Muse India and in print anthologies by Marshall Cavendish, Monsoon Books, and MPH publications. Her book, A to Z Stories of Life and Death, is available for downloadeverywhere ebooks are sold.
Allow me to welcome author Kimberly Mullican to the Open
Vein. Her book, TAKING CONTROL is available now in
multiple formats. Read below for more details!
EJ (me) – First, the dirty. Tell us about your book,
Kimberly Mullican (KM) – First of all EJ – thank you so
much for having me. I appreciate you taking time out of
your busy schedule to play Pimp for a Day!
This is the part I hate. If you can tweet in 140 characters,
why is it so hard to shorten the description of the book?
My blurb for my book:
Kat Trueblood, genetically engineered medium and former
CIA Agent, thought she had escaped the danger and drama
of her previous life. She has a stable job as a paralegal, is
dating her first girlfriend, and has plenty of time to spend
with her best friend and guardian – a ghost named Grant.
In denial about missing the action of her former life, Kat’s
thrust head first back into it when the Russian mafia – the
same guys who raped and tortured her for two weeks during
active duty – targets her and her family. The CIA forces her
to choose between working with the FBI to catch a serial killer
who is slaughtering area drag queens or leaving her family at
Distracted by discovering Grant is in love with her and her
girlfriend ending up on the suspect list, Kate finds herself as
the hunted instead of the hunter. Captured by the killer, she
must face her inner demons in order to survive and end the
serial killer’s mayhem.
ME – The book description for Taking Control is unbelievably
compelling, hinting at the story being a spy action thriller
with a paranormal twist. Was it a premeditated decision to
write a story using both elements, or did it evolve organically
from one into both?
KM – You’re not going to believe how this all came together.
I had a terribly overwritten vampire book (Don't we all? :) …
and it’s good, just horribly overwritten. After every single
agent said, “no thanks” or nothing at all I started looking at
what they WERE looking for. Strong female MC – check;
gay/lesbian overtones – check; paranormal – check;
Romance – well there is a little romance and sex, best of
both worlds. (Don’t gasp – we all love sex, it’s okay.) The
whole story started to form as I was reading what agents
were looking for. The funny part is – I decided to go the Indie
route instead. Who cares what the agents want really? I’m
not looking for an agent. Not now anyway.
ME – Most of my blog followers being authors, aspiring or
practicing, we’re always interested in the nuts and bolts of
craft here at the OV: Tell us a little about your journey to
KM – Well, I did way better with English and Literature in
high school and college than Chemistry and Math. It’s just
the way my brain is built. (I like and understand the way your
brain is built!) I have written several short stories, really
sucky poetry and a few good stand-up routines for a couple
of starting artists.
I always loved a good book. I was a huge John Grisham fan
until his work seemed redundant to me. Then I discovered
Baldacci. I’ve been reading a lot of paranormal stuff and I
love vampires. Shoot me. I’m not enticed by the sparkly kind
though. I’m getting off topic. Blame it on my background in
sales. I talk too much.
After the divorce from my first husband, I suffered from
insomnia. I got sick of tossing and turning and decided to
write the stories that were in my head. Though Goddess
Janet Reid would flog me for admitting it – I published my
first novel via vanity press. Yes – I learned my lesson. I have
an unedited book out there with my face plastered on the
back. Thank God it isn’t on bookshelves and my name has
Since 2006, I’ve been reading on the industry, following
authors and studying while writing. I joined a few crit groups
and finally, started TAKING CONTROL. I knew I wanted to
self-pub and that all responsibility was going to fall on my
shoulders. I have had 10 separate pairs of eyes on this book
through all stages. Editing is so important, and very difficult.
Each critter found something different or suggested
something different. Again, in the end, it’s all on the author.
ME – What’s your writing process like?
KM – Oh hell, I’ve tried to be a plotter. I find it stifling.
I’m a type B though and the fewer the rules the better.
Each WIP gets however much time it needs. If it’s shit,
I scrap, rewrite, rework and give to betas. Depending on the
scene I’m writing I switch up my environment. Dark scenes I
write at night, usually with a cocktail (careful using this
process, you need to reread it in the a.m.) Light stuff I write
during the day with a boat load of coffee in my system.
I do have one WIP that I never connected with and it never
made it to the Betas. It upset me so much I even erased the
digital file. It just stunk. It’s okay to write garbage. Someone
important once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” The
important thing is to keep writing.
ME – In the current climate, it’s almost impossible to talk
about writing and not talk about THE business. You
published Taking Control independently. What went into
that decision, and what can you tell us about the process?
KM – I touched on that a little above. I read Konrath’s blog.
(NOTE: J.A. Konrath is an author who staunchly advocates
DIY publishing, and gives lots of tips on how to do it
successfully. You can read his blog, here.)I’ve also read
some of his books. I think the man is onto something. While
he may upset some people, I can see how passionate he is
and I don’t think he’s wrong, I just think the industry is
changing and why not have control of your own work
product? After all, I have a piece of garbage out there that
I don’t get control over until 2014. If I had self-pubbed, I
could correct my error and move on.
ME – Any tips for those of us considering the Indie route?
KM – Edit, Edit, Edit. (Amen, sister!) Get as many readers as
possible and as much feedback as possible. If you can afford
an editor (and I couldn’t) get one. Buy Kristen Lamb’s book
on marketing. I think of her as my guru, whether she likes
that or not, I’m not certain. But I talk about her so much,
Klout says I’m an influencer on Lambs… Your cover art can
make or break you, so choose wisely.
Read as much as possible. Read books, blogs, industry
news, author web pages anything you can get your hands on.
Stay on top of the industry. Please, look before you leap.
Educate yourself on what you’re getting yourself into. This
industry isn’t for the faint of heart.
Do your research. I wrote about drag queens in my book. I
spent a lot of time with a drag queen and he was very helpful
making sure I didn’t misrepresent that sector of the population
. I certainly didn’t want scores of drag queens out for my
head! That would just be weird.
ME – Change is constant in the publishing industry nowadays.
Put on your prognostication hat: What does publishing look
like 5 years from now and, perhaps more importantly, where
do you think authors fit in?
KM – I really do see the big 6 suffering in the long run. It’s
slow, and today’s world is fast paced. We get everything
on-demand nowadays and they just haven’t gotten on board.
We are going to have to sift through some self-published crap
to find the gems. Who knows, someone might not like my
work, and that’s ok. After all, you can be the tastiest green
apple in the world, but not everyone likes green apples. So
far I have received positive feedback and one 5 star rating on
Amazon! The reader even wrote a review that nearly made
me pee! (No one said I'd need diapers to be a writer ...
must. read. more.)
ME – Enough shoptalk! Tell us where we can find Taking
You can find it here: Barnes & Noble & Amazon
Paperback will be available shortly through CreateSpace.
If you want to be slightly disturbed and/or enticed,
TAKING CONTROL is for you.
Thanks again for having me! It’s been a pleasure.
ME - Pleasure is all mine. Best of luck to you in the future!
It’s no great revelation that the ways in which we consume media and entertainment have changed over the last two decades. In the music industry, the concept of an entire album listening experience died several years ago at the hands of individual song downloads. This has led to a prevalence of artist creating albums full of HIT singles in place of albums comprised of songs that form a cohesive whole. The days of high concept story albums—think Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, where the individual songs don’t necessarily stand on their own, but when listened to as whole become something essential and even beautiful—are mostly over. Sure, intrepid musicians will on occasion create ‘story’ albums, but the experience is lost on the average listener who shops from the iTunes top 10 singles list.
Similarly, Hollywood is a machine driven by consumer demand, and that demand is for bite-sized entertainment. Modern blockbuster movies are long commercials aimed at no one and everyone. They are designed to engage a broad audience from moment to moment, as opposed to engaging an individual from beginning, middle, to end. The handful of films that dare to start a story in the beginning and take a full 2 hours to finish are labeled as high concept and, if they’re fortunate enough to snag a big name in the lead role, might win a few awards.
Please don’t misinterpret this as a shot at consumerism or some heraldry for ‘the good old days’. While I enjoyed the good old days as much as anyone, I also like the freedom of being able to watch and listen to what I want, when I want. The ability to do that is directly tied to the trends in media consumption I mentioned above. Furthermore, I like a good popcorn flick and lord knows I’ve got my share of top 10 singles on the old iGadget.
My point is that just like how we learn to enjoy different foods from childhood to adulthood as our flavor palette broadens, I think we (as consumers) have learned to ingest our media in different ways as technology has changed. We all have to accept that when change comes for a visit—no matter how welcome it might be—it’s always going to bring along a few ugly cousins. In the end, there really isn’t much else to do but give them a comfy sofa to sleep on and hope they don’t steal the good silverware on the way out.
I’m thinking about all of this lately, because I see changes happening in how we consume written media, and I’m left to wonder if it’s going to similarly alter our taste for it. Amazon’s recent announcement of a sub-$100Kindle and a sub-$200 tablet reader have sent trimmers through the reading world. With the tablet, Amazon has clearly put readers in their sites, similarly to how Apple put listeners in their sites with the advent of iTunes/iPods. You see this tablet is going to be all things Amazon in terms of their video content offerings, music and eBooks. A veritable buffet of entertainment options.
At first blush, it might not seem like such a big thing. After all, we have computers, iPads and other doodads that marry all forms of entertainment onto one device. However, Amazon is certainly one of (if not THE) the top book retailers in the world (both paper and electronic) and up to this point no one has really attempted to give books equal space at the table with video and music downloads. Couple this with the rumor that Amazon is contemplating a book rental service akin to Netflix where Kindle owners pay a flat monthly fee and are able to download as many books as they care to read, and you’ve got the makings of full out assault on the book business.
In the effort of full disclosure, I’m mostly concerned with all of this from the standpoint of an author looking to build a seaworthy business model (ship) prepared to navigate the unpredictable waters of modern-day publishing. Many have theorized that the future of publishing is going to gothe way of short stories or serialized content as more and more folks turn to the instant gratification/entertainment offered by all of these ‘connected’ gadgets. That certainly makes sense, especially in light of a giant retailer pushing written content right alongside its other electronic cousins (music and movies). Plus let’s face it; the attention span of the average person just isn’t what it used to be. Consequently, the idea of giving readers shorter reading experiences that can be digested quickly makes some sense.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to do a couple of more blogs on the topic, specifically thinking about what a ‘Netflix’ model might mean for authors, and what impact it might have on storytelling. I’m going to try to answer questions I’m having, like: Is there a place for long-form fiction in the future? I hope you’ll come back and add your thoughts. This is exploratory in nature, and I certainly don’t claim to have the answers. As always, I’m just one guy thinking aloud.
More near in this blog’s future, in an attempt to get into the mind of modern day authors, I’m going to begin running interviews with various independently published authors. Folks who are daring to carve their own path to publication, paths that many of us may be following in the years to come. I think you’ll really enjoy hearing from these authors, both as readers and writers. They’re all super-smart, engaging and (most importantly) dedicated to the craft. The first interview will be this Wednesday with author, Kimberly Mullican, so please stop by and say hi. Also, if you’ve published a story and would like to do an interview or a guest-post here on the Open Vein, please drop me a line in the comments, via e-mail or on Twitter and we’ll try to make it happen. I’d love to hear from all of you.