Writer’s Block

Okay, so, I have NOT been writing. I did Nanowrimo this November, for the first time, and afterwards I slunk back into editing what I’d already written, but not adding to it significantly. I made the New Year’s resolution to finish both of my primary unfinished novels. I have lots of unfinished novels, but there are two that are more finishable and important to me than the others. One thing I’ve always done, is read and write book reviews of what I’ve read. I have even dumped that. Woe is me. You don’t need to feel sorry for me, I feel sorry enough for myself. It’s more than enough, way too much. Seasonal affective disorder? Laziness? Flu season/Blue season? I’ve been watching a lot of TV, reading, and due to a case of bronchitis, coupled with a vitamin B12 deficiency (I’m getting weekly shots of the stuff now. I’ve only had one so far.) I haven’t taken any of my beloved walks. I still can’t tolerate the cold air in my “Bronchs”. Damn. Excuses, excuses. I’m done, and I started today with this book review. I finished the book at least a week ago. I looooved it! There are not enough O’s in the world to express how beyond love I feel about this book: Euphoria by Lily King. It is my new Bible (People have compared it to The Poisonwood Bible, which I also loved, but not quite as much.) So here it is, my first writing in dayzzzzzz. Damn:

I usually finish a book, and write the review the next day, at the very latest. This time, I’ve been ruminating about and contemplating what to write, not agonizing, but definitely obsessing a little, for over a week. I felt compelled to take this much time, because I loved this story and these characters beyond the sane and reasonable love I often feel for literature. Lily King is obviously a brilliant and inspired writer, and I felt the same way when I was reading Euphoria (inspired, not brilliant (I wish!)). It’s the fascinating and dramatic tale of a love triangle, set in 1930’s New Guinea. The three characters involved are anthropologists, two men and a woman. While they’re experiencing their own desire-fueled, jealous, emotional turbulence, they’re exploring, and documenting the culture and customs of the Tam tribe, including the gender-bending roles and rituals between the men and women of the tribe. Nell Stone, the woman in the love triangle, is married to Schuyler Fenwick (Fen), and they’ve left the Mumbanyo tribe (“fierce warriors”) because Nell couldn’t relate to, or tolerate the tribe’s violent and aggressive nature. Fen, however, resents her because they left. He also resents her accomplishment. She has written a best seller, and is currently a famous anthropologist. She has kept her maiden name. He seems to feel like he’s merely regarded as Nell Stone’s husband. She wants to stay married to him. She wants very much to have a child. There have been some tragic and dark incidents involving babies, Nell’s own, and the babies of the Mumbanyo tribe. These vaguely mentioned incidents torture and haunt Nell.

Let’s get the one complaint out of the way (not enough to subtract a star, or even a fraction of a star – actually, I wish I could give this book more than five stars). Sometimes the author hints darkly at an event instead of clearly explaining. She infers. Now, some literary-type readers prefer the subtlety of inferences. I admire those who understand them. I do not consider these readers to be posers. I, too,  love the ambiguities and possibilities of an unanswered (or unanswerable) question. But, in this instance, and some others, I wish I knew more about what happened before the story opens,  Fen’s and Nell’s almost two-year marriage, and especially Fen’s dark past. He grew up in a huge family, living in isolation in the Australian outback. I’m pretty sure about the type of behaviors that this one, dark hint refers to, but not entirely sure. The resulting twist in Fen’s character, however, is more important than the particular, salacious details of his nefarious family history, and his acceptance and expectation of evil and violence in every civilization steers his actions as an adult anthropologist living with the tribes along the banks of the Sepik River (“flamboyantly serpentine, the Amazon of the South Pacific” – see? Isn’t this author brilliant?).

Of the three main characters, Fen is the only one who doesn’t have a narrative voice. The reader only knows him through the first person narration of Andrew Bankson, and the third person limited narration of his wife, Nell Stone (loosely based on the real-life anthropologist Margaret Mead), along with her journal entries. We only get to hear Fen’s voice through dialogue and observe his actions through Nell’s and Andrew’s lenses. He’s the least sympathetic character throughout. Although I did not love him as a person, I loved the creation of him, the complexity of his sometimes-evil nature. He was interesting. He absorbed my attention. And, I understood him, although I could never empathize with him. I’ve met him many times, here in my world. He reminds me of so many men I’ve known well. He’s Australian, but in many ways, like an American man.

So, let’s get on with my love letter to Lily King. I plunged under, into the world she created with her words, and did not care to come up for air, ever. I once had a writing teacher who told us to create a list when we got “stuck”. Here’s the best list I’ve ever read (describing Andrew Bankson’s past): “The house I grew up in there, Hemsley House, had been in the possession of Bankson scientists for three generations, its every desktop, drawer, and wardrobe stuffed with scientist’s remnants: spyglasses, test tubes, finger scales, pocket magnifiers, loupes, compasses, and a brass telescope; boxes of glass slides, and ento pins, geodes, fossils, bones, teeth, petrified wood, framed beetles and butterflies, and thousands of loose insect carcasses that turned to powder upon contact.” A positively Dickensian list, but better, less preposterously wordy and more utilitarian than anything Dickens wrote. I wanted to walk through Hemsley House, and touch those things. In a way, I felt like I had.

I could go on and on. I underlined passages and made notations in the margins. I lived inside these pages. There are so many layers, and so many insights and ideas to explore and rethink. I keep going back. After all, anthropology is the study of humans and their lives, their relationships to each other and to their environment, their art, their chronicles. It’s everything. I keep going back to a diagram (a “grid”) that Fen, Andrew and Nell create together, categorizing personalities into the four main directions on a compass. You don’t have to be just North, South, East, or West, though, you can be a Northwest personality, or a Southeast personality. This novel is so complex and so deep. It asks so many beautifully unanswerable questions. Above all, this story leaves the reader with a way to look at, appreciate and observe cultures that are highly civilized, but considered to be primitive and inferior to traditional Western culture. These characters view anthropology through a wide, panoramic lens, a zoom lens, a microscopic lens, and just about any other lens you can think of, including no lens, just immersion. It’s also about how our ideas, like our children, take on a life of their own once they’re launched out into the world. You can take aim, but you have no control after they’re flying free.

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Hidden in the Dark

Amazon chose my third novel, Hidden in the Dark, for publication. Thanks to everyone who nominated it during my 30 day Kindlescout “Campaign”. It will be available in ebook form soon. I still own the print rights and a print edition will be ready eventually, so stay tuned.

Kindlescout has been a fascinating experience. I’ve been a teacher and am now an author, never a business owner. I’ve never studied the academic subjects of business, advertising or marketing and this is interesting, and, I believe, unique.

Here’s how the whole thing worked: I submitted my never before published manuscript and filled out a form with a blurb, a tagline, an uploaded book cover image and a ton of other stuff. I also got to choose up to three genres. My book would appear, on the Kindlescout website in each designated genre area, so it would’ve been best to choose three genres. I chose one, “Mystery & Suspense”. My lack of business savvy raised its ugly head and blew me a big, fat, insulting raspberry. I signed a contract to participate in the ongoing “contest” and a contract that applied if my book was chosen for publication. Then, when my submission was accepted, the book went live on the site and my “campaign” began. There are upwards of 200 books on the site everyday. It was up to me to collect “nominations” by getting the info out there on social media sites and via mass emails. Everyday I had access to statistics regarding how my campaign was progressing. There’s a “Hot & Trending” category that the authors strive to get into. These books are the top twenty books in a twenty four hour period, the ones with the most nominations. Every participating author’s goal is to stay “Hot & Trending” for as many 24 hour periods as possible during the thirty day campaign. After the 30 days were over, the Amazon editing staff read the book. They choose which books will be published based on basically, who the hell knows what. There’s a lot of speculation on how the editors choose.

Here’s a list of possibilities:

  1. Number of days on “Hot & Trending”. I spent 302 out of a possible 720 hours in “Hot & Trending”. Not a great statistic. I accumulated 1.7 thousand views altogether. Another not great statistic. I know from my own experience and communicating with a bunch of other Kindlescout participants on an awesome message board called “Kboards” that you can drive yourself crazy checking your stats constantly and worrying about whether or not they’re good enough to get your book chosen for publication.

2. Number of over all “Views” – This could depend, in part, on where your book appears and how often it appears on the site. I guess, ideally, you want it to appear in “Hot & Trending”, of course, plus “Recently Added” – on the first day of your campaign, and then “Ending Soon” during the last three days of your campaign, and then it appears in however many genres you chose. (Reminder: I chose one, which wasn’t wise.)

3. Having a professional looking cover. Some of the authors pay cover artists to make them a cover. Some of the authors are pretty accomplished book cover designers and make their own. I’m not an accomplished book cover designer, but made my own anyway.

4. Having a great tagline. Mine was “Psychotic Killer VS 21st Century Nancy Drew”.

5. Having a great blurb. I suck at writing blurbs but tried my best.

6. After the campaign is over, the Amazon editors actually read your book and factor in whether or not they like it. Some things they might consider: Is it marketable? Will it sell? Is it a good book? Are you a good writer?

Once my campaign was over, I waited exactly one week before I got the good news. I lived about seven years of emotional agony in those seven days, but survived. The authors on Kboards were super supportive and shared eloquent expressions of their own emotional agony also. We gave each other virtual hugs and it helped.

The authors who are chosen get an advance, 50% royalties and Amazon promotes the book. The author also retains the print rights. Amazon owns the ebook, audio book and foreign language rights.

Writing is such a solitary pursuit. Sometimes I feel like I’m working away in a vacuum and no one will ever read what I’ve written. I’ll never connect with anyone. Yet I still write, everyday. Being chosen by the Amazon editors guarantees some connections. My characters will be real to someone besides me. What an honor. What a gift. Let’s see how far this takes us.

Helpful Links:

https://kindlescout.amazon.com

http://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=213112.new;topicseen#new

HIDDEN IN THE DARK

I need tons of nominations to impress the “Big Guys” at Amazon.
It’s free! And I promise you won’t get any annoying emails from them, either. Anyone who has an Amazon.com account can do it.
https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3HAS5FYM9TKAW
So please share this. And, please nominate HIDDEN IN THE DARK.
This is the first book in a new series and I’ve entered it in an Amazon “contest” type thing called Kindlescout. I’ll find out in about a month if I’ve been chosen.
My friend Shaun Melendy took the cover photo deep in the Hockomock Swamp at the darkest hour of the night!
I’ve been working on this book for years and finally got up the nerve to send it out there. It’s about a serial killer who’s terrorizing the fictional town of “Eastfield”. I know, totally lame disguise for this place I love so much.
Thanks!
Alyson

Knock on the Window of Opportunity. Break the glass if you feel like it.

Writing fiction is simply a matter of looking through windows. The writer stares out the window to observe setting, time, place, minutes, decades, centuries, seconds, streets, houses, ponds and gardens. Then peeps into windows whose owners forgot to pull the shades, so she can spy on the most private moments of their lives. A voyeur who sneaks peeks into her own mind and finds things she didn’t know were there, monsters and angels, children and octogenarians, large, sloppy dogs and small, timid ambitions, love and new life, illness and death, enthusiasm and ennui, violence and kindness sometimes delivered with one fell stroke from the same well-muscled arm. As in a dream, each character represents the writer (who suffers from multiple personality disorder and delights in it). (And who loves parentheses almost as much as she loves her hound dog with the droopy ears) She experiences the dilemmas of many genders and flies frequent miles, high miles and thousands of them, flapping someone else’s wings, except each set of sun stroked wax appendages truly belong to her. Their owners just have different names and ephemeral bodies. She loves and hates, lives and dies; all from the comfort of her tastefully cluttered home office and the rabbit holes, anthills and eagles’ aeries within her limitless brain. Welcome to her dark and twisted psyche, one of the strangest places on any planet. Enter if you dare. Venom and sticky, liquid honey spit and pour out of her inevitable pen, frigid and balmy, ecstatic and angry flood-waves of both, carrying off the lives of others, without conscience. If she doesn’t shake things up, nothing will come of it. If no one rocks the stormy seas with evil acts then how will she bathe the reader’s ship in the soothing joy of calm water without boring them to death or worse, fail to entice them into turning the page? (Coleridge used the still water to create a tsunami of suspense. Ah, genius.) There’s no intrigue and elegance in the status quo if disaster hasn’t preceded it and threatened to follow it as well. How to dive through the portholes with racing heart, leave the deck games and bingo nights behind and swim past the sharp coral reefs and abandoned treasures, wiggling someone else’s fins? Then resurface without getting the bends. Wait! No! The bends might make things even more fun. The anticipation of a sudden and painful death. The threat of agony for a character she lovingly created with her own morbid dreams!

I suppose I should start a new paragraph if I’m going to enjoy the view from my window in first person, then second, then back to first. No more third. You’re looking out a faraway window now. Past tense window or porthole, or narrow stone aperture in the thick castle wall. Gaze out and peek in. You must look both ways if you want to be a writer. We’re all merely peeping Toms, psychopaths with good grammar.IMG_0328

Fear and Confusion: My Two Best Friends

IMG_2050The title of filmmaker Werner Herzog’s book A Guide For the Perplexed could also be the title of my autobiography, except I’m not brilliant and often quoted by the literati. I do, however, reside in the state of Confusion (CI because CO was taken by the state of Colorado) where all of the citizens feel perplexed all of the time. E.B. White called it “chronic perplexity”. I love it here. We have both mountains of discombobulation and oceans of befuddlement. The view’s always spectacular although often foggy. And when you come out of a store, into the parking lot and you can’t find your car, no one else can either. Everyone’s holding out their key fobs, pointing them in random directions and clicking. We’re all smiling at each other’s forgetfulness. We’re not mad, only a little bit frustrated but we’ll get over it.

During life’s dynamic journey, you’ll be holding hands with a big, frightening giant called The Unknown. Make him your best friend. It’s all about failure and resilience. As you’re creating and experimenting, anxiety is your fiercest enemy, your most formidable barrier, your highest wall to climb over, the treacherous rapids, the deepest, darkest, coldest part of the ocean. Don’t let your worries win because then you’ve lost. Fall in love with fear.

Herzog calls his life and career “a never-ending educational experience, a way of discovering in which direction you need to take your own work and ideas”. Vygotsky called it “the zone of proximal development”. If your true state of mind is befuddlement, confusion and flabbergasted-ness, and you’re excited to be there, in that state, then you’ve achieved the status of STUDENT. (I like all caps almost as much as e. e. cummings liked all lower case.) (I also like parentheses.) The learner, the studier, the STUDENT is a seeker who pursues not only knowledge but also truth. They are definitely related, if not the same. This seeker, this student-person, constantly strives to become a better thinker, an improved citizen of our planet.

If you’re not confused, then you’re not learning anything new. You’re stagnating, merely showing off what you already know. Being the smartest person in the room is not only boring; it’s impossible. Each human in that room possesses insights you’ve never thought of before. Your job is to find those insights. Root them out. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Don’t respond with a statement or a judgment. Respond with another question; a related question, one that proves you’ve been listening. Vygotsky believed that true learning was “socially co-constructed between people as they interact”. Listen to the person next to you, observe, remember what you see and hear, process it and make it your own.

Although it’s not a substitute for real-time real-life experience and face-to-face interaction, the internet is here to stay. Celebrate it and use it. Don’t let it use you. Google has taught us that we don’t know everything (And wouldn’t life be boring if we did? It wouldn’t be life at all; it would be death.), but all knowledge, all secrets, all esoteric facts and theories are accessible to us with the click of a mouse. Exciting but also frightening. If you’re not scared, you’re not living. You’re not learning anything. Your journey isn’t even a journey at all; it’s a nice comfortable rest someplace boring. Get up and get going. Free fall into a state of confusion. Climb your way out. And then dive into a mystified state of befogged-ness. You won’t be too scared if you’ve fallen in love with fear.

Blog Post #4 … It’s Killing Me

Usually the realization that it’s Saturday morning fills me with joy. I roll over and go back to sleep for another half hour. I make a pot of coffee and an extra piece of toast. I play Words With Friends in one of the ongoing games I struggle through with a friend who always beats me. But it’s a huge thrill when I actually win one against her because it’s only about five percent of the time. The rarity of my victories makes them all the sweeter. Also on Saturdays, I write. If my husband tries to talk to me I put in my earbuds and I visit another world. A world I love where everything’s less stressful because it’s not real. I made it up.

Except now this world is real to me. And, more important, the people are real to me, too. They’re no longer characters. They’re walking, talking, kissing, running, breathing, fighting, struggling human beings. And the best ones deserve to win their battles. I finished the first two books in the series. The first one comes out this August. I sent the second one in to my publisher a couple of weeks ago. I’m working on the third. Hence, the stress. It’s killing me.

I don’t have writer’s block. I know where the book is going. I’m about 3,000 words in and feeling pumped to write the next 70,000. The research will be fascinating: Native North American legends, spirits and lore; falconry and fencing. An epic battle of Good versus Evil, as every third book in a series should be. The characters from books one and two are all in their places, like chess pieces arranged on the board. The new characters are about to enter the story. A mixed bag of quirky and romantic, fascinating and unpredictable people. There’s only one giant, elephant-in-the-room type quandary.

This is the third book, and, even if I never become a Suzanne Collins or a Veronica Roth, someone has to die. Someone important. Someone I love. I’m not anywhere near writing the pages where this character breathes his (or her) last. But the stress, the anxiety, is killing me. I haven’t even decided who, yet. But I promise it will never be the dog. I’m thinking of putting all of their names in a hat and just picking one. Then whacking him, as the mob says. Or her. I might have to sacrifice more than one person. HELP!

I saw an online joke where a bunch of famous authors are playing cards and the loser has to kill off a character, chosen by the winner. But I’m not a famous author and I don’t play cards with any famous authors. Probably because I don’t know any. Oh, wait… T. Jefferson Parker once commented on something I posted on his Facebook page. I don’t think that counts as a friendship, though, and I don’t think there are any card games in our future. I don’t even play cards, not since Crazy Eights, with my kids when they were little. I do like cards, however, and if card games didn’t involve staying up way too late, I probably would play. But I’m digressing, because I don’t even like writing about the possibility of killing someone I love, never mind actually wielding the knife, or the gun, or concocting the freakish accident.

So instead of deciding who to kill off, right now, I’m going to do something I’m really good at…procrastinate. I’ll do some research, write a few thousand more words and worry about death another day. Ugh. Damn. This could ruin my whole summer.

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