Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Chicken or the Egg? A Writer’s Dilemma.

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What comes first: the title or the story? Until recently I figured this to be a silly question. You know, a rhetorical thing meant to mock the foolish. Of course the story comes first, Goofus! Nobody writes a story based on a title.

Or do they?

I discovered recently that there are authors who do indeed come up with a title first, adding the story afterward. I happened to be snooping around in a writers’ chat room the other day; you know, one of those internet sites where people group together to discuss whatever may be the topic. Anyway, the question was asked: When do you come up with the title, before or after the story is written?

Okay, so call me old fashioned. I’ve always written the story before deciding on a title. It just makes sense to me. I write a story, get the rewrites out of the way, develop a feel for the content, and decide on what to call the work. I’ve never considered starting with a title and crafting a tale according to it. That very idea seems so foreign to my way of thinking.

But here’s the kicker: nearly half of those commenting on that thread claim to start with a title first. How does this work? I mean, do these authors sit around dreaming up titles to turn into stories? I can see this as a practical means in the case of a low-budget film.

“Hey Bob,” Danny said, speaking over the drone of silliness filling the room. “I have a great idea for a movie called Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” The title is self-explanatory. There’s little need to plot out something so ridiculous. Just write the script and surely somebody in Hollywood will green light the project.

Books and short stories are different, though. Novels take time in plotting, outlining, and writing. Certainly the title wouldn’t reveal itself until everything is in place, right?

The title for my debut novel Jazz Baby didn’t come about until the week I sent the manuscript to the publisher. Even then it came down to a pair of titles—the loser being the moniker In the Time of Jazz.

The way I see it, until the story is written, nobody, not even the author, fully realizes the personality of the work. Once the story is finished, the plot and all those characters—the story’s personality—shines through, giving the author a clear understanding of what the story is truly about. This is why so many people get nicknames in life. Personality traits that weren’t recognizable at birth take time to show up.

But the thing is, starting with the title apparently works for some authors. So who am I to disparage another writer’s means to an end? Just write. That’s what we authors do, isn’t it? It’s the end result that counts.

And just for the record, the title of my work-in-progress, The Secret Collector, came about at the fifth chapter. Certainly not the beginning, sure, but not the end either.

Just write. A productive writer is a happy writer.

Keith Richards and the Kiddies

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So Keith Richards is writing books for the kiddies now, huh? Well, he’s certainly not writing for your kids or mine. No. Keith is writing for his own daughter. But he’s not penning a book to read to his child. Mr. Richards is helping his daughter write a book. That’s right, a rock-n-roll guitarist is now a children’s author.

Or is he?

Some might say Mr. Richards is merely lending his globally famous name to a project undertaken by his own child. This would allow the young lady to bypass all of the struggles many of us in the real world face daily while trying to promote our hard work to the public. Enter Keith Richards; his daughter’s work is now immediately known across the globe—even before it hits the bookshelves.

The ink of the indie author is his/her blood, sweat, and tears. We’re all still paying our dues in this effort to reach readers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan. Keith is an amazing guitarist and a brilliant songwriter. His memoir “Life” is one of my all-time favorite reads—because of the content, not his writing skills. (Even this book he’s “writing” with his illustrator daughter is being co-written by two other authors.)

Imagine if, when the Rolling Stones were a band of young upstarts, while playing clubs across the U.K., honing their chops and building a following, another band came along and took a recording contract that could have gone to the Stones. Now imagine this other band had never played a club gig but rather secured their record deal simply because one member’s father was a famous record producer or movie star. Struggling musicians everywhere would have certainly taken offense with these usurpers.

Perhaps Keith’s daughter is a gem of a writer just waiting to be discovered. Then again, maybe she’s truly awful! Either way, let her work stand or fall on its own merits. To attach a world famous name to this project takes away all of the struggle. Struggle builds character.

I’m reminded of an actor named Nicholas Coppola, nephew of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola. Young Nicholas had a bit part in the 1982 film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Much of his performance ended up on the cutting room floor—this despite his family connection. The thing is, everybody in Hollywood knows the Coppola name. That’s all anybody ever wanted to talk about when the struggling actor showed up for auditions. So Nicholas, wanting to forge his own career, changed his name…to Nicholas Cage.

When a person rides the name and fame of another person, the work is usually diminished in the eyes of many. Do your daughter a favor, Keith, let her sink or swim on her own. If she’s a woman of character and talent, she’ll thank you for trusting in her abilities.

Proud To Be Indie

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What would make a writer forego the traditional road to publication? Why would an author entrust his/her hard-fought creation to the Great Unknown that is the indie publishing industry? The answer, if we’re honest with ourselves, is because indie is the only ones who will have most of us at this point.

The above statement is in no way a reflection on the quality of the works being created by indie authors across the globe. I’ve read many self-published writers that seriously rival traditionally published authors.

The problem is with the middlemen. I’m talking about the agents and publishers who anoint themselves the all-knowing gods of the written word. Agents turn down most manuscripts that cross their desks. They cite this reason or that, making claims that nobody is interested in your sort of story. Maybe if your switch the characters, make them vampires or warlocks, just maybe there might be interest.

An agent is a catch basin for the big publishing houses. The agent will stop any and all garbage from slipping through the cracks. So the agent is the one who holds all the power within the publishing machinery. An author can create a true masterpiece that will never find its audience simply because some agent in a stuffy office has deemed the work unworthy of being sent to a publisher.

Publishers are worse than agents; they won’t even accept your manuscript without agent representation. Why? Well, because these publishers know exactly what readers everywhere want to read (or so they believe). Besides that, they don’t want to be bogged down by piles of pages from hopeful authors looking to be the next big thing, the latest shining discovery of the literary establishment.

But in the words of Bob Dylan: Oh, the times, they are a-changin’. Writers are no longer beholden to the whims of a fickle publishing industry. The need to court the trend setters and decision makers no longer applies to us writers. There are numerous outlets available, each allowing us a reach into the worldwide marketplace. Sure, it may lack the prestige of signing a contract or being able to tell anybody who’ll listen that you’ve got an agent. But keep this in mind: You own your work. You reap the lion’s share of the royalties—which is fantastic if you’re fortunate enough to sell a few thousand copies. Most importantly, you are a published author with a product that’s available to the world, right alongside Stephen King and James Patterson.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a catch basin in the indie world, which means garbage seeps through, tainting the market with its toxic odor. A reader must wade through piles of poorly written tripe in order to discover the gems that most assuredly lie just beneath the surface.

So here’s the question each writer must answer for him- or herself: Are you writing for prestige or are you writing to be read? If the prestige of an agent and a major publisher drives you, then, by all means, hold out for that prize. It might take a while, sure, but there’s also the possibility it may never happen. However, if being read by those who appreciate a good story is your true motivation, then self-publishing in the indie world just might be right for you.