Real ink on paper? Where’s it going?

In my life, I wonder if ink on paper is slipping away from me, just a little bit. There’s something reassuring about a newspaper: you know what it is, it’s size and shape and depth are self-evident.

Yet, I now receive much more info each day on my Pre than I could ever read (or need to, for that matter). Online news text has replaced the newspaper for me. I have never subscribed to one of the local dailies, and rarely pick one up. I think that eventually, I’m going to do most of my reading on my handheld.

Podcasts (mostly the CBC) and MP3 music files have started to replace my radio. It seems like more motorists listen to the radio than others, these days. (I’m just guessing…)

The “convergence” that people have referred to in mass media is the tri-fold convergence of broadcast, print and computer technologies. At leat, that’s what I learmed back in Media Class, back in 1988. Like Vannevar Bush’s idea of a “Universal Machine”, computers and digital tech have co-opted, transformed and consumed the roles of older analog media. Digital is a medium for media, or a medium about other media. A meta-media?

Now, is the “convergence” truly occurring between my mind and the Internet? It seems like that digital immediacy that I’ve become used to in the past 5 years is the kinds of convenience that’s most likely to change my perception of the world around me.

http://www.cs.sfu.ca/CC/365/mark/material/notes/Chap1/VBushArticle/vbush-all.html

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A Metaphor for the Creative Writing Process…? (Part 2)

So, finally, here’s an answer to one of the questions I posed earlier:

“Am I really writing more for myself, or more for my (hypothetical) reader?”

The answer to this is both.

I certainly write for myself, as a creative outlet (“I gotta be me”), a personal challenge (“Can it be done?”, or more to the point, “Is it any good?”), etc. That is my selfish personal development stuff, exorcising itself.

For my reader (you know who you are, and I look forward to finding a few more like you), I hope there are engaging-enough characters presented, in an interesting and sympathetic world that makes you want to return. I want the people, places, circumstances and imagery to resonate with you.

Actually, I want to visit these people and worlds again myself too.

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Process: Wiggle out of that corner, writer boy

Joseph Campbell wrote about “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”. I just had an image of my next novel having a few of its own faces too – maybe not a thousand, but perhaps half a dozen or so.

Okay – dynamics, not faces. (So much for that lousy metaphor. Maybe I just wanted to invoke Campbell.)

Okay… not six. three. I’ve got three dynamics to my storytelling.
Here they are:

1. Framework: The Laws of my Universe

My story has a skeleton, a framework, a basic structure upon which everything else is mounted. For me, this structure helps to define the “physics” of the world in which one or more events take place. My particular framework has a few premises, such as “you can’t fly or change the laws of physics”, “people are born, live, and die”, and many other premises that make the world of the story resemble my own reality to a large degree.

Psychologically, in some cases, dreams or imagination can be just as real or have as much impact on my characters as their waking experiences.

Real-life experience, or research that results in plausible actions and events – cause and effect – is what drives the creation of the framework, and helps to determine it’s structure.
Thank God for Google. I do not know how people researched things before it.

2. Believability: Dancing on the Edge

Once I’ve have established a plausible-sounding story framework, I feel that any fantastic-sounding elements which I introduce don’t need to be overly fantastic in order to surprise, or hopefully entertain, my reader. I think that this juxtaposition of expectations is similar to how the same middle-tone colour can appear to be darker or lighter in tone, when placed next to black of white. In other words, context is key. But how much unreality is tolerable? How much camp and wit is acceptable? How many cliffhangers can the reader stand? That kind of exciting stuff rarely happens to me. How much unbelievability is believable?

3. Dialogue and Characterization: “What are you lookin’ at, Bub?”

How should people talk and behave and react to the things that happen to them? Admittedly, this is largely subjective territory, although in some ways, this aspect, which encompasses things like culture, age, society, “life” experience, and strong plot-lines, is connected to and driven by (or perhaps just interacts with?) the “Framework” aspect and the essential laws of my world.

Sometimes, this aspect of writing becomes easy and almost automatic, and for me, occasionally emerges almost spontaneously, almost from within itself. Some dialogue or setup scenes emerge in a blur, like raw material forced through a die into an extrusion that seems to have just the exact profile that’s needed at the moment – a “Fuzzy Pumper Writing Factory”. This experience is a major high in the process for me, emotionally.

At other times, writing is like digging a well with your fingernails – a real tough claw through very hard and stubborn territory. That’s where I end up questioning myself as a writer, questioning my raw material – my past (that well that appears too dry to give me anything useful at the moment), and questioning my endurance as a writer. At these times, writing feels like a real elusive bitch-goddess… That’s when I find myself going back to do more research, or seeking inspiration from other writers or from stories in other media, or just dropping the project for a little while.

But man, when I can get it so I can see that character’s face, smell their hair, their cigarette smoke, and can see right through their skull into their minds, it feels like I know exactly what to say for them. When that happens, the well runneth over, and the paragraphs seem to grow and grow.

That’s when it’s fun to write.

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Writing the novel was fun! Marketing it… not so much.

…but that’s life, right?

In my naivete, back in the heady days April 2009, I imagined that the act of publishing my novel “Owe Nothing” would automatically bring some level of attention, and – more importantly to me – some new readers.

Money is great, but to me, it’s a by-product of the other success: popularity.

Back in 2008, as I slowly reached the final editing stage and started thinking about the publishing process, I wondered how and if my little book would make some kind of splash in “the market”. I barely understood what “the market” is, much less had a plan for penetrating it successfully.

(Hm. Let me rewrite that last bit…)

…much less had a plan for joining it successfully.

(That’s better.)

A few things I’ve learned or opinions I’ve formed since April 17, 2009, when my book first went live on the Internet:

  • I probably expect too much from the webbed world, for my sporadic e-marketing efforts. As with my personal web projects, I am throwing a pebble into the sea, not a boulder. The initial splash and it’s ripples won’t be noticed amidst all the other motion of the ocean.
  • In many ways, it is the author or their personality or reputation that are being marketed, more than the work itself. Am I prepared to market myself in this way? I’ve certainly had a life worth telling. Is that the hook that will get people’s attention?
  • I only need between 100 to 1000 fans. There are, I don’t know, millions of authors out there, vying for attention! Good god – how would I ever be heard in a room that size? I am trying to find smaller groups, more targeted to me and my stories. “Sniper marketing”, instead of a weapon of mass promotion. (Gee, I hate that metaphor.)
  • Physically, books have a long lifespan. In popular terms, less so, unless you can stir up their relevance in some way. A book can be a flash in the media, and then linger in old age in discount bins and archives for many years. Maybe all I can hope for is that copies of my book will outlive me…
  • I want feedback, commentary and reviews. Me and my jangly nerves survived the critiques back in art school. I’m ready. This is all part of the growth and refinement process. But, I must go outand make an effort to solicit the feedback I need. It won’t come to me, and many ways, won’t come for free.
  • At the end of the day, the story’s the thing. I’m not in this to be a marketer or a salesman for my own wares. I’m in this to try and affect people and connect to them by telling my own story, thinly veiled behind some entertaining avatars.
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Process: Casting a play with composite characters…

My first novel, Owe Nothing, was finally published on April 17, 2009. This is, of course, the achievement of a personal goal that took me years to accomplish (I write slowly). It’s also an accomplishment in how it has allowed me to continue writing about my family history, using surrogate characters instead of directly writing about the real people.

Owe Nothing takes scraps and bits of my own personality and embeds them into the main character, a twenty-ish young man named Jack Owen, and to a lesser degree, his father Jim. Jim embodies little pieces of my Dad (also Jim) and of my brother David. Aspects of my sister Kim live on in the characters of Jack’s older sister Kelly, and in Regina Coffey, whose struggles with her abusive partner Ted form a central theme in the book. Old men look back with regret on the mistakes and losses from their past, women struggle in abusive relationships, and young people try to learn about who they are and where they are going in their lives.

The list goes on and on and on through the dozen or more characters that appear throughout the novel. Structurally, it represents the method and challenge that I put to myself when originally embarking on this long writing project: How can I use the memories, emotional energy, joy, anguish, smells, temperatures and opinions from my scattered memories, and form them into a cohesive and compelling story.

Almost like a form of psychological recycling; taking images and impressions from my past, reforming and refocusing them, and spinning them out there in a new form. My hope is that it will result in a story that others will recognize and enjoy – something that resonates outside of its pages.

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Is Fiction a “Do Over” of Real Life?

Since 2002, I’ve been writing fiction (well, trying to write fiction), and over the past six and a half years, I’ve cobbled together a fairly extensive cast of fictional characters, all inhabiting a world that has numerous similarities to my own – but better.

Surprise, surprise.

In my first book, titled Owe Nothing, my main protagonist (there are a few of ’em) is named Jack Owen. Jack is a slang or familiar form of John, or so I have been told throughout my life. (Given that I was apparently named for my grandmother’s brother, John Edward, who was my Uncle “Jack”, I take it as gospel.) So, Jack is a twenty-ish version of me. Kind of. Or, the me I almost with I could have been when we briefly lived in motels.

Jack’s Dad is named Jim, after my Dad. He’s about 55-ish, and his main issue is that generally, he questions how he got to this stage in his life with apparently so little to show for it, and with such a weak and tenuous relationship with his son (so he thinks). I’m 43 – not so far behind Jim’s age that I couldn’t imagine his predicament. Both my Jim and his son Jack are in a kind of life path rut, but while Jack is near the beginning of his journey, his Dad is closer to the other end.

Jack has an older sister named Kelly. I drew a lot of inspiration for Kelly from my sister Kim: her love of animals, her tenacity, and her ability to defend others to her own deteriment. A seconmd character also represents qualities of my sister: Regina Coffey, who suffers through an abusive relationship, and struggles to assert herself while raising her two sons with very little income. Regina is a survivor, but not a prosperer in life.

The world of “Owe Nothing” is a 2001-2002 version of East Vancouver, with a few curious throwbacks or hold-overs from the ’70s left intact. The main incongruity is that the two large, neighbouring motels in which much of the story takes place exist at all. The Mountain View Motel (where Jack’s family lives) and the Peacock Court Motel (where Regina Coffey and her sons live) were real places, both bulldozed sometime in the mid-1980s, I believe. The motel culture of Kingsway in East Vancouver was dying even when I lived in it briefly, as a kid in the mid-1970s. It was grimy and harsh in places, but also lively and friendly – like a motor-hotel version of a low rent, big city tenement project.

More to come…

Join my Owe Nothing page on FaceBook:
http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?v=info&edit_info=all#/pages/Owe-Nothing-a-novel-by-E-John-Love/81433960464?ref=ts


A Few Related Links:
http://ejohnlove.blogspot.com/2008/10/about-plucking-old-strings.html
http://ejohnlove.blogspot.com/2008/06/how-to-become-writer-part-2.html
http://ejohnlove.blogspot.com/2008/03/how-to-become-writer-by-john.html

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A Metaphor for the Creative Writing Process…? (Part 1)

Hi,

My first novel, titled Owe Nothing, was published in April 2009. At the time of this writing, that’s just a couple of months ago, which makes me, in many ways, a new novelist. However, that first project took years to complete: from midnight scribblings on the edge of my bed, to numerous Grande-Americano-fuelled sessions on my laptop in Starbucks, to the seemingly-endless rounds of edits with my publisher. All the same, that’s probably just the first of many rites of passage – all part of the game…

As a relatively new novelist, I admit to being perhaps just a bit over-analytical or self-involved where my writing is concerned.

I’ve probably collected many more questions than answers.
So, here they are:

Am I really writing more for myself, or more for my (hypothetical) reader?

What is the quantitative evidence of “success”? (e.g. Sales?)

What is the qualitative proof of “success”? (Against what measure do you gauge good quality?)

How discerning and specific do I think my audience is? Is a book lover kind of like an art lover?

Are these questions ridiculous?

In subsequent posts here, I’ll try to address each of those questions in turn – especially that last one… 🙂

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