Independent Writing from an Independent Mind

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Ray Bradbury: Good exercise from a master?

Earlier this year we lost Ray Bradbury. It just so happened thought that this past weekend I came across a talk that he gave at Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium by the Sea. He spoke for about ninety minutes. The time got away from me but I was quite intrigued. For one, it would seem that he was actually spending his whole time speaking extemporaneously, with no prepared speech. That did seem easy for him to do, if that was indeed what he was doing. He told stories of his long career. His stories were quite frank and quite honest and above all, they were damned interesting.

Ray Bradbury, over the course of his talk, gave the following recommendations for writers:

1) Before you sleep, read one essay, one short story and a poem;
2) Write one short story per week; and
3) Write essays often.

According to Ray this should help you to hone your overall writing skills and prepare those who are looking to be novelists at a later stage. He was pretty clear that he felt novelists should start out as short story writers. Maybe those of us who are serious should consider this advice.

If you’d like to watch Ray Bradbury’s talk yourself. Enjoy!:

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Is blogging a lesser form or writing?

Yesterday I had a bit of a chat with a friend of mine who I would consider quite intelligent. He has lots of neat ideas and constantly shares them with me and other people. I asked him whether he ever blogged and recommended that he do it if he didn’t. His response was interesting. Depressing and a bit harsh but still interesting. He said “I never can think of blogging. It is akin to vomiting on the web. The problem is there are too many voicing their opinions and most often they stink, or are amateurish.”

I won’t identify this friend because I don’t think he would want that. If you look at his statement about blogging then you might be able to understand why he would be against being identified. Reading between the lines it is very easy to assume that it is a privacy matter and he prefers to maintain privacy.

But that is not all there is to his short, but very harsh, critique of blogging. Taking out his first two statements, (“I never can think of blogging. It is akin to vomiting on the web.”), let’s look closely at the second two points:

1) “The problem is there are too many voicing their opinions…”: I find this assertion interesting to say the least. How can one understand, quantify or rate how many opinions are too many to be voiced? My personal belief, which just may be very American, is that anyone who has an opinion has a right to voice it. Society is much the better for voiced opinions. And with blogging you can shut out these opinions, if you prefer not to hear them, by simply choosing not to read the blog postings! Don’t want an opinion from a blog? Cool! Don’t read it.

2) “…and most often they stink, or are amateurish.: I don’t agree. Though many blogs do stink I would not say that “most often” blogs stink. And most bloggers are amateurs when it comes to the world of writing. But that having been said, every blog is different and exists for different purposes. Some are for businesses. Some for information dissemination. Others are simply journals of the authors’ daily lives. Blogs don’t need to be elegant. They just need to be able to communicate. Some blogs might need polish, but it doesn’t take Einstein to know that 99.9999999999% of the bloggers don’t have Pulitzer prizes. No one should expect blogs to be more than what they are.

I am a little disheartened at my friend’s opinion of blogs. I find them to be great pipelines of ideas. I am more than a little disheartened in the standard he believes he has set here. The truth of the matter is that blogs do matter. They are a very grand avenue in the sharing of ideas. And though I think my friend’s idea about blogging stinks, I would love for him to start blogging about his other ideas. I think a whole world would open up to him.

About Gary Dale Cearley:

Gary Dale Cearley is an American author, columnist, polyglot and businessman who has lived in Asia for two decades. He is a graduate of the Defense Language Institute, the University of the State of New York (Excelsior College) and the University of Oklahoma. He works in the field of international business-to-business networking and his passions are all things language, history and libertarian politics. Gary Dale is also an avid reader and book reviewer. You can reach Gary Dale directly by clicking here.
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Do you feel the need to read anymore?

I have always loved to read. As a child I read books, magazines, encyclopaedias and even catalogues. And as I grow older I find that I still love to read as much as ever – if not more. But I have been noticing a disturbing trend. My attention span is waning.

This is an especially disturbing trend to me because I find that it is disrupting on of the most positive activities in my life. The hours and hours that I spent in rapt pleasure leisurely reading my way to slumber has given way to hours and hours in front of a computer screen only to go to bed unable to sleep and leave bed in the morning with a headache (which I refer to as “cyberburnout”). I never felt time was wasted with a book but I often feel guiltily uneasy about my time on the internet.

I have a theory that this is down to the amount of time I spent at the computer. There are so many interesting and compelling pages on the internet that I find myself skimming from page to page to page. I get lost surfing.

In the past when reading books my mind would wander as well but the meandering was stimulated by the information laid out or the story being told in the book. My imagination would get a work out. Now though when I read books I am feeling a disturbing trend. My mind wanders to other things often related to the book only as a starting point.

My feeling is that web surfing is having a negative impact on my attention span.

Or could this be from something else?

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Do you have withdrawals after finishing a book?

Today I got a bit of food for thought from some other writers that has had me wondering all morning.  Earlier I was reading a thread on Fluther from authors / writers who were answering the posed question:

Do you have withdrawals after finishing a book?

Why do so many authors get withdrawal symptoms after finishing their book projects?

Why do so many authors get withdrawal symptoms after finishing their book projects?

I have to tell you I was a bit amazed at the responses.  Nearly thirty different authors answered this question and virtually all of them reported some degree of withdrawals.  Although one of them remarked that it depended upon which book, none of the participating authors answered in the negative.  Even some of the authors claimed major withdrawals after finishing writing their book! This to me is quite intriguing due to the fact that I had a totally different feeling altogether, albeit a mixed emotion.  (Or maybe it was two feelings that intertwined?)

Let’s put it this way…

On the one hand I felt a great sense of accomplishment, completion and pride.  On the other hand I felt a bit incomplete because there was always something more that could be added to the book or changed in the book.  (Maybe this second feeling was similar to what these other authors were feeling?)

To me when someone says they are having withdrawals I have an imagine in my mind of a melancholy feeling of unfulfillment – sort of like being denied something that was within my reach before.  Again, I cannot report this on any of my writing projects.  I like to think of writers giving something to the world like a carpenter or master builder does.  So where does this “unfulfillment” that other writers appear to have come from?  Is it self doubt?  Can we equate the creative process to the high of taking drugs or drinking alcohol?  And why if so many other authors seem to get it am I seemingly immune to this?

When I think about the process logically one could equate it to the post partum depression that women have after giving birth, but again, not all women report this state.  So I guess my blog post today is more of a question that fascinates me.  Do you authors out there who have successfully completed a book get withdrawals?  What do you experience?  How long does the withdrawal stick around?  If you experience other emotive states than withdrawal what do you experience?

Writing the Humorous Novel: Q & A with Maclean J Storer

Warning!: This introduction will sound like I am plugging the next author and his book.  Well, in a way I am.  I believe in singing praises when they are due.  But the real purpose of this interview is to give insight into what is behind writing a good humorous novel.  So let’s get started…

Forward O Peasant by Maclean J Storer

Forward O Peasant by Maclean J Storer

I know of very few people who have completed one work and can be called a master at anything.  J.D. Salinger, possibly?  Nonetheless, Maclean J Storer’s debut Forward O Peasant will definitely be a cult classic and underground favorite for years to come.  The book has been getting great reviews in the expatriate community.  But better than that, Forward O Peasant has been receiving tons of word or mouth notice from expatriates residing in Asia, but especially in Southeast Asia, many of whom have been smuggling the book into Vietnam for friends or buying pirated copies in the backpacker areas of Saigon and Bangkok.  I was one of the first to have read this book (or at least I would like to think so) and have been singing its praises to all who want to listen.  That having been said, I know of one German in Cambodia who e-mailed over three hundred of his acquaintances telling them to get hold of Forward O Peasant and read it cover to cover.  As I have personally known the author since 1994 and since I have also tried my hand at writing humor (though in a much different format) I thought it might be good to ask him about what goes into writing humorous fiction.

And here is our conversation:

Gary Dale Cearley: How do you know when what you have written is funny? Where does the feeling come from?

Maclean J Storer: I always had the feeling that to write something funny, I would have to surprise myself. So when I read back over a scene or a chapter and it appeared as though it had been written by a better writer than me, I felt I had probably got it right. I also make a practice of reading my work out loud to myself, and when you do that, there’s no escaping it when you’ve written something dull.

Gary Dale CearleyWhere does your inspiration for writing in this particular genre come from?

Maclean J Storer: This particular book was based on personal experience. All the actions in the book either happened in real life, almost happened, or I was told that they had happened, or I felt that they should have happened. My task as the author was to try to make the four types of action indistinguishable from one another.

Gary Dale CearleyWho is your favorite humorous writer out there today and why?

Maclean J Storer: I like absurdist humor, and I think most of the best practitioners of that art have pretty much hung up their pens — Alan Coren, David Nobbs, Clive James, and the cartoonists Bill Tidy and Glen Baxter. Garrison Keillor is a special favourite of mine, and a fascination — I’ve never read another humorist who can be so funny yet so gentle.

Gary Dale Cearley: Your first book was loosely based on your experiences in living in Vietnam where you lived for several years and I understand you are working on a sequel. After this sequel do you intend to continue writing humor about Vietnam or will you move on to other worlds?

Maclean J Storer: I think two books about Vietnam will probably be enough. There are so many other targets for satire in the modern age, I think it’s time I turned my attention to the wider world.

Gary Dale CearleyWhat have been your harshest criticisms about the book?

Maclean J Storer: I have been accused of political incorrectness and bias, which I take as compliments for a satirist.

Gary Dale CearleyAnd on the other hand, what has been your most positive feedback?

Maclean J Storer: Many people have said that they found the book extremely funny, which is the main thing, and several others said they found it true to life, to the extent that they knew people who were exactly like the characters I had created.

Gary Dale CearleyFrom publishing Forward O Peasant, which was your first novel, what advice can you give to other first timers out there who are looking publish their own first book, which might be a novel or otherwise?

Maclean J Storer: Make your book the best it can possibly be. And that includes mundane things such as thorough proofreading and editing, which in turn means having a third party look at your work, ideally a professional manuscript assessor. It costs a bit, but at least you will get some honest feedback and advice. When you venture forth into the world of agents and publishers, you should use every trick you know, exploit every personal contact, and twist every arm you can. And keep a handkerchief handy for crying into when things don’t work out, as will frequently happen.

Gary Dale Cearley:  What has writing this book taught you about yourself?

Maclean J Storer: That I can successfully complete a substantial and difficult task no matter how many obstacles my self-doubt puts in my way. As some self-development speaker said, “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.”

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?

Why I as an Author do Book Reviews

As many authors and readers already well know I have been a book reviewer for BookPleasures.com for a few years now and I also write reviews for many international publications.  Though my reviews have had thousands of readers around the world I still have had one or two people, including fellow authors, refer to my book reviewing as a “hobby” of mine.  But in fact I don’t and have never before considered my reviewing books as a pastime.  The reviews I produce are as much for my growth as a writer and author as they are to help the potential reader made an informed decision about a book.

Why do I say that?

Simply put I use the review process as my own exercise for improvement in the craft of authoring books.  And I recommend to any author who could commit the time and effort to get into reviewing as well.  Here’s a list of the four main reasons I am so into reviewing other authors’ books:

1) I grow technically as a writer – When I review another author’s work I am constantly learning from their style, the structure of their product as well as their editing and content.  I compare this to works that I have produced in the past and also see which ideas that might work on projects that I will undertake or are currently working on.

2) I grow as an author in the broader sense – There is so much to learn about the themes presented and how authors get their message across.  This is very important because you not only have to find a voice when you write but you must also have something to say in the first place, otherwise you are you are simply rehash and not interesting.  Then what’s the point of writing at all?  This is all about learning how other authors find their own message and deliver it in a way that is unique to their style and personality.

3)  I grow intellectually and personally – I learn the lessons of the books I am reviewing and internalize these lessons.  I look for the parallels in my life and seek the wisdom in the writing.  I want to know exactly the point, the raison d’être, the author had in writing the book and how the book can make its own change in the world.  I always try to pinpoint the connections I have found with my own life or the lessons I have learned and make these examples available to the book’s potential reader as well.  And these lessons aren’t only found in non-fiction books either.  Even fictional books that many would consider that are just for entertainment purposes have these lessons.

4) I promote the art of writing – There are so many books published out there annually, I have heard between 200,000 to 250,000 new titles every year, that it is incredibly difficult for the worthy books to be sorted and found in this huge pile.  This means that it is very hard for authors, especially new authors, to find their audience and be heard.  I consider it my duty as a reviewer to try to help the curious reader to know what they should expect from the books that I review and I try to make sure that deserving authors will find more of a readership through my efforts.

Though books are readily available in today’s world, many readers everywhere take that availability for granted.  But to someone who has written a book, we “know it don’t come easy,” to paraphrase Ringo Starr.  Authors spend a good part of their lives in researching their books, making business plans, outlining the scripts, doing the actual writing, editing, publishing, etc., and quite honestly much of the time it is a thankless job.  A well written, solid review is my way of saying thank you to all the other authors out there who have written the books that have made me what I am today.  This is why I would like other authors to consider writing reviews every now and then.

Where can authors post their reviews?  Of course, many places, but just a few:  Their local newspaper, a literary magazine, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Gather.com, their own blog, an online book club (Shelfari, GoodReads, WeRead, LibraryThing, etc.) or on some other form of social media such as Facebook, Gather.com, etc.

Honestly, if you are a writer doing a few reviews here and there is an excellent way to pay it forward.  Get the conversation started… Remember, what goes around comes around!

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!

Not all my Readers are Crazies!

thou-shalt-not-bear-false-witness1I was pleased today to see a well thought out reader’s review on my book Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. Up until this point I get lots of e-mails about my book but have had not so many reviews. That isn’t so curious for me due to the fact that it is easier for someone to go to the Gary Dale Cearley website and send me a message through the contact form than it is to put your thoughts on the book at one of the book sites like Amazon, Shelfari, GoodReads or AuthorsDen.

Anyway, I quite often get “hate mail” from “Christians” who support Jack Chick, Alberto Rivera and their Vatican Islam conspiracy. This amazes me to be quite honest…

I would never have suspected that people who are presented with the truth about a subject would shunt the truth rather than reading it for themselves and trying to understand where it is coming from. Take for instance this guy Thomas Richards, the one who branded me a “Jesuit coadjutor” and a “Vatican shill”. Now for his own part, Mr. Richards is apparently a follower of that nut job Tony Alamo. This Richards guy keeps trying to pretend that he has read the book but at the same time he knows nothing of it at all, other than I had an interview with a professor at the University of Bethlehem, a man who is a Muslim but works at a Catholic University.

Nonetheless, I hear from these guys every now and then who are telling me that I am going to Hell and that my soul cannot be saved at this point. Oddly enough they are coming from everywhere. I have had folks write in from the United States (several regions), the United Kingdom, India, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Belgium, Germany, etc., none of who seemed to have even cracked the book’s cover.

Many of my friends told me that I would have all this ire from the Islamic community but I sensed early on this would not be the case. Muslims would have no problem with what I wrote in the book. It is aimed like a dagger at Jack Chick’s sadistic world of hateful biblical tracts.

I have news for all of my hate mailers…

The controversy isn’t inside the covers of my book. The true controversy is what my book refutes. If you’d read it you would know that.

Now I have a request for them…

Don’t send me an e-mail or contact me in any other way to tell me that God is displeased with me and that I am going to Hell until AFTER you have read Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness! You only make yourself look a fool, like Richard Thomas did.