Independent Writing from an Independent Mind

Open discussion about writing and reading

Category Archives: author

Wandering according to plan

I sometimes wonder which is better: Writing with a plan and purpose or writing aimlessly, only clarifying one’s thoughts as one goes along.

To be quite honest I do both. Sometimes alternately and sometimes at the same time.

I find that I naturally make my points much stronger when I make an outline of what I’m going to write and stick with it. When I write aimlessly I find that the product is richer and more interesting

Should I ultimately chose one style over the other?

Should I work at marrying the two styles?

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to answer those questions.

Keepin’ to it

Every small progress is just that: progress

I have recently been reading Upton Sunclair’s The Jungle. I have been reading it on my Kindle app on my iPhone over lunch. Of course I am not able to do this every day because there are times that I have lunch with other people or I stay in the office to have lunch, but I have set a daily reminder at noon to read this book.

So what’s so special about this? Maybe nothing to you but to me it was a small private goal. I remember reading about this book when I was in high school and wondering why a book about working at a meat packing plant would be considered a classic in American literature but in all the reading over the past few decades I have always avoided sitting down with this book. There were always excuses or reasons to put other books ahead of it. I decided finally to put this book to rest, once and for all. So I’m doing it bit by bit and in a schedule.

I’m about to apply the same method to finishing two book projects that have been up in the air with me for some time.

It all reminds me of the old African proverb…

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

When ya ain’t writin’ nothin’…

I have been very derelict in my writing for quite some time now. I have to wonder what is going on with me. So many projects in the air…

Why I recently left the Bangkok Writers Guild

It was with great sadness but also a bit of relief that last week I resigned from the Bangkok Writers Guild. I left because the group had recently seemed to have taken a sharp turn from being an opportunity for writers of various backgrounds to meet, socialize and help one another along. To me it seemed to have turned into something else. A writers’ seminar.

It was never my intention for the group to become a “writers’ seminar”, nor was it the intention of any of the other long time members of the group. It was only meant to be a time for writers to meet and share the joys and frustrations of writing as well as to help writers on an informal basis when people needed advice and expertise about getting writing work, editing, publishing, self-publishing, make friends with other writers, etc. I never, ever envisioned that this group would become some kind of workshop, doling out assignments to the members.

I was amazed at how fast this transformation took place. I missed one meeting last October when I was on a business trip to the Middle East and Europe. After I returned I attended the November meeting to see that this format was faît accompli, seemingly being “run” by a new member of the group I’d never even seen before.

 Anyway, I’m not in for it and I never was. If I wanted “assignments” I’d enrol in a course. When I need someone’s editorial advice, as I often do, then I seek it out. I have my own stable of contacts who help me as I help them when they ask.

 Had I known that the group would so quickly have morphed into this shape I would have never taken over the organization of it.

Part of the reason that I am of two minds about leaving the group is because writing is a big part of my life. I am a monthly columnist in a major business magazine. I publish two professional newsletters. Over the past years I have written features for magazines in Europe, Asia and North America. I maintain ten (yes, ten) blogs, both professionally and personally. And I have published two non-fiction books. On top of all of this I travel a substantial amount of time. The very last thing I want or need is for a new comers in the writers’ group to be giving me a reading and critique assignments. The whole point of the group has been missed. And to be quite honest I have too much on my slate to get into any kind of political struggle over the nature of the group. I chose to expend my energy on more positive activities.

My good friend, C.Y. Gopinath, who is an excellent writer, has taken over the helm of the group in the meantime. He volunteered himself right away. To me that is a very good thing because it was Gopi who founded the group in the first place.

It is sad that people would want to turn an opportunity for writers to network into a seminar – whether they want to run it or whether they want to be part of the critiquing. I don’t say this because a seminar is a bad thing. I say it because I recommend that anyone who would like to make such a group into a classroom for getting free critiquing will most likely not go anywhere with the craft anyway. I recommend them to actually start their own seminar or enroll in a school for that. I was involved because I believed that we writers all had something to offer one another and could work on building a support network. I guess with writers it wasn’t meant to be. And I also feel that this is why so many of them, including many of the better writers, remain unread!

In the meantime, I received one very nasty mail from a member who chose to use illogic and foul language because I resigned. The guy is a real winner in life for sure. He would epitomize what we call back home a “nine month abortion”. Over the few years I was involved in the group we had many people come and go. In fact, Gopi himself was originally running the group and resigned. Nobody used foul language or chased up after him. D.F. Thompson was the second person to run the group before I took over and he also resigned. I am sure no one came at him with foul language either. And I have a right to resign if I feel that the group has moved in different directions or if I do not have enough time to carry out my responsibilities. So this complaint will remain to me like water off a duck’s back.

I do have a message for any of the writers who feel like I do concerning the direction of the Bangkok Writers Guild: Any of you who would like to meet socially in the format that I originally proposed let me know. I am still keen for this. But a seminar format with reading assignments? Not interested in the very least.

So I made the list!

I just saw that I am on a list of books that someone read this year. That someone was actually someone I know: Mihnea Voicu Simandan

Even though I know Mihnea it still was a bit of a charge to unexpectedly see my book on his list – and to see that he rated it four stars out of five. The book that Mihnea read was my first publication, Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness: The Truth about the Vatican and the Birth of Islam. These unexpected plugs can definitely give you a charge. At least you know you are getting read and that people are mentioning you. Sometimes we all need a charge like this. Word of mouth publicity I have found to be the very best form of publicity simply because it is the most sincere. Mihnea himself is a writer so I also sincerely hope that mentioning him here will also help him to get a little more light shined on his work.

Another thing I liked about Mihnea’s list is that other authors who I know personally also made the list. Maclean J Storer’s Forward O Peasant was there as well as A.D. Thompson’s Diner Dharma, for which I even wrote a blurb that appears on the book. (If you are keeping score, Mihnea seemed to like my book better than Diner Dharma and not as much as Forward O Peasant. Where would we be without keeping score?)

Anyway, this kind of gives me a charge to go out and write some more this weekend.

WHITEWASH: A Southern Journey Through, Music, Mayhem & Murder by Frank Beacham

On the one hand I thoroughly enjoyed this book but on the other hand I kept feeling a bit of forced guilt on the behalf of the author. Frank Beacham was anything but a Southern apologist, which he shouldn’t be anyway, I felt the story was written to attach himself and distance himself at the same time.

That being said Frank Beacham has done a wonderful job at telling the stories. There were three stories covered in the book: The origin of the shag – the official dance of South Carolina, the Orangeburg police massacre of non-violent students at South Carolina State University in the late 1960’s and the tale of a bloody crackdown in Beacham’s hometown during the Great Depression which has repurcussions to this day. (The author discovered via friends that the aggression was started by none other than his own grandfather!)

The stories are interesting and compelling. I’m glad I read it.


WHITEWASH: A Southern Journey Through Music, Mayhem & Murder by Frank Beacham

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Self Publishing a Masterpiece?

Mark Twain self published Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain self published Huckleberry Finn

So you haven’t gotten offered a publishing contract after the umpteenth try.  Maybe you haven’t even been able to score a good literary agent.  All that effort wasted and still you just know that you have something valuable to say.  You know in your heart that the world needs to know you, the world simply must know your work, and now you are nearly convinced that the only way that you can see this getting your masterpiece out is by you self publishing your work.

I got ya…  But you are at a severe disadvantage, you know?

First of all you won’t have the resources of a major publishing house to properly design your book cover and edit your material. You won’t have major distributors out there selling your books in book stores around the globe. You won’t have public relations companies, book marketing firms and ad agencies at your beck and call.  But I didn’t have to tell you that, did I?

So without all of these resources and help from where will this masterpiece spring on to the waiting public? The same places all masterpieces spring from. From your own brilliance and perseverance.

If you are looking for some special key I just want to let you know now that this post is not going to offer you any magic formula.  I want it to be a bit more of a pep talk.  I have been reviewing books for BookPleasures for some time now and have read a good many books by first time authors and otherwise unknown authors.  Personally some of the best books that I have read in the past few years have been self published or authors who have published with small publishing houses for whatever reason. So you can believe me when I tell you that when I have read a good book I do my best to make sure that the world knows this is a good book. That is why I have committed myself to reviewing these books.  I promote the authors in every way that I can.

Ernest Hemingway originally self published under the pen name "Peter Jackson"

Ernest Hemingway originally self published under the pen name "Peter Jackson"

You see 99.9999% of all famous authors, whether fiction or non-fiction started very, very small.  They were unknowns who got their fame through their persistent work. Their bodies of work had meaning and they endured. And nowadays we have advantages that the authors who published before didn’t have.  For instance we more tools and resources at our fingertips than ever before.  These resources allow anyone working alone can promote themselves to a broader audience.   We have social media, videos, websites, blogs.  It isn’t just the press releases, reviews and book signings anymore.  We have much more control over our own destinies than any other time in history.  The fact that you are reading this blog written by me is proof of that.

I am certain that some of the people who I have reviewed already will be discovered by more and more people because they use their creativity to find their audience.   A good example of one I expect to reach this summit is my friend (who I have posted about before) who goes by the nom de plume “Maclean J Storer“.   Word gets out.  In the old days we called this “word of mouth” but nowadays we bottle it and relable it as “viral marketing”.  A great example of the word getting out is that I have a German friend who read Maclean J Storer’s Forward O Peasant and he sent an e-mail to 300 of his friends and family telling them to find this book and read it.   And twice within the past month I have been asked by people where they can buy this same novel.  My friend is gaining a following slowly but surely.   And so will you if your work is good and you stick to it.  Almost every writer who gained a large following started small with immediate friends and family – but success in writing is almost never bagging the big one.  It is more like farming.

Just remember what Vince Lombardi used to say: “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” It is not only true for sport but for everything in life. Write.  Publish.  Then get out there and promote yourself but most of all, stay at it!

What not to do when critiquing a writer’s work in progress…

Be truthful and be fair when criticising a work in progress...

Be truthful and be fair when criticising a work in progress...

We all know the story…

A friend who is also a writer has just given you some of his work to look over for contents and it is awful.  You can blow him off.  You can tear him down.  Or you can find some way to give him constructive criticism.  I struggle with this one all of the time but I have learned that there are a few things never to do…

1)      Do not recreate the work. Though you can give your opinion about the style of the work, in the end the final outcome should be left to the writer.   Even if you feel the work is totally awful you shouldn’t rewrite it for the author.  Give him some pointers but for Heaven’s sake, let him do the rewriting.

2)      Don’t blow the requestor off and don’t procrastinate in getting something back. Make sure that they know you are busy even if it takes some time to get back to them.  By doing so you will make them feel that you are disingenuous.

3)      Be fair and civil. You can be direct and to the point but at the same time the writing is not your own.  It belongs to the creator until it is in its final form.  Do not use spirit crushing words when pointing out the flaws in his work.  It will be a degrading experience for the both of you.

4)      Simplify. I have found that if there are fifty various mistakes in a work that a friend has asked me to look over then I will try to make my comments on three or four broad general areas and let them work out the kinks.  This can be eye opening for the other writer and generally pays lots of dividends for the both of you because it is a learning experience for one and a good counseling experience for the other.  Win win.

I can sometimes be quite harsh when looking over someone else’s work and I have had to strive for balance and understanding when asked to give opinions.  Often this is because I really want them to produce something of quality.  But at the end of the day it is much better to only show them the signs and let them finish the work when it is done.  You are taking on the dual roles of coach and cheerleader, not judge and jury.  And remember to walk that fine line: There is nothing gained by crushing somebody but at the same time if you don’t help them become better writers both sides lose!

Why it is good for authors to meet up…

I have been involved with an authors’ meet up for some time now.  It is a very off and on thing and as all groups go it has some falling outs with the members, mainly over structure of the group and what we are to do.  Personally, it is very hard for writers to put much structure into any such group unless they are all of the same genre, mindset and caliber.  Our group, the Bangkok Writers Guild, is a very informal group made up of mainly expatriates.  Some of us are very satisfied where we are in our status whereas others want to hit it big – have a blockbuster to make their name, so to speak.  Personally, I don’t feel the need to do this because the books that I have written are unique in their own right.  You won’t find many books debunking the Vatican Islam Conspiracy, nor will you find many books on bawdy Southern humor either.

That being said, if you plan to join such a group as ours I think you will find a great camaraderie with your fellow authors.  There is much to be learned from them and there is much to teach them as well.  For instance, unless you are in a major city full of authors and author wannabes, like New York City, per se, then your group will most likely be a rag tag group like ours.  But this is great!  We have writers in our group who are non-published, self-published, vanity published and traditionally published.  The whole gamut is run in our own membership.  So if one of us wants help with marketing, typesetting, illustrations, cover design, getting an agent, editing, finding a POD publisher, getting blurbs and book reviews – you name it – it is all right here in our group.  For an author there is no better master mind group than a group of other authors.  I have personally found a wealth of experience in our own people.

If you are not in a group already and you are serious about learning the business of being an author, whether you plan to self publish or land a contract with a publishing house, I recommend finding a group to build a nest in.  Participate in the discussions.  Learn what you can and impart your own knowledge as well.  And if there isn’t a group around you then try to put your best foot forward and start one yourself.  Use the leverage of others’ knowledge and experience to make you better at the business of writing.  Open your mind to it and you will see there’s lots of help out there for you.

I would love to hear from other writers’ experiences in writers’ groups. Do you have any experiences you would like to share?

How many authors do you know who are characters in another author’s book?

I don’t know how many of you out there have not only written your own books but have been in a book by other authors as well.  Well, I have actually have been in other books by other authors, both fiction and non-fiction.  But in one of the new works that I have been churning away on I relate the humorous story of how an altercation that I had in Vietnam in 1994 turned into a scene in a Chrisopher G. Moore novel, Comfort Zone, which was released in 1995.  This story I am actually incorporating into an autobiographical humorous book.

How do you find yourself in another person’s book?  Actually, I guess simply by knowing the right people (authors) and I guess being in the right place at the right time.  Read between those lines:

Have an interesting story to tell.

I happen to know a few authors and have known them for a while.  This comes from the work that I have done, the travel that I have done, my interests and the places that I have lived.

I don’t know why this would be an aim of anyone in particular unless, of course, you get some kind of ego boost out of it.  I was just thinking about it today due to the fact that when I was writing the story about going with my friend, Stéphane Bulckaen, by cyclo to eat snails (or not to eat snails in my case) then having an altercation with the cyclo drivers.  It just so happened that after this event happened I went into the Q Bar in Saigon where the novelest Christopher G. Moore was having a drink.  Since I had met him before I relayed the story then some few years later a friend who read Moore’s book recognized me and this particular incident in his book.

I was not identified personally anywhere in the book and that is fine with me.  I think it is neat to be recognized in another author’s book by someone living in another country.  Now, let’s see if who can be the next reader to find me in another book!  Maybe you can get on Twitter and let me know!