Monthly Archives: July 2013
As I mentioned in my previous post on marketing, being able to speak on your work is essential. And while a book signing is certainly an opportunity to talk about the book, there is another aspect of speaking that is important to touch upon- being able to talk about writing itself. Just as you would expect an actor or musician to talk about the art of their craft in detail, you should be able to talk about writing in the same way. So today, I would like to discuss a few points I would suggest writers to go over in their speech.
What to talk about.
#1 Your process
When you write, you will have to find a process that is unique to you and you alone. As such, your audience would be interested to hear exactly what it is you do. If your style is to write listening to music, or to work at a certain time, or just to write for a few hours, explain why this works for you. What makes it effective, what makes it the best way for you to get your work flowing? Remember, other authors are looking for their own methods, and this is a great way to help them.
Getting started is hard, and sometimes people may feel their ideas simply aren’t good enough. As someone with a finished piece of work, you should give these people the path and ability to get to their finished story. When I speak, I always tell how my book started from watching an anti-drug special that first made me interested in a group of heroes. And each time. I explain how that basic concept stayed with me for many years, being changed and developed, until it became a book. And I always finish by saying how the best stories can come from anywhere, and that with enough confidence, a writer can take anything and shape it into something.
#3 What You Love About Writing
This should be obvious, but every writer should be able to talk about why they love to write. It’s simply too basic not to talk about.
#4 Your Failures
For all the work you’ve accomplished, you will have certainly stumbled along the way. This is also important to share. Writing is a difficult career, and there’s never a promise of success. The act itself is long and difficult and you may find yourself making bad decisions constantly. But that is a part of the process, and as a finished writer, you need to make aspiring writers aware of that. Talk about ideas that didn’t work, rejections you faced, harsh criticism. It will help your audience understand the how hard writing is for everyone, and how people can rise above it, as you hopefully have.
#5 Your future
Writing is hard, and it take a lot of work, planning, and luck to make a career out of it. Some people will ask how you plan to survive with it. If you aren’t planning to write full time, explain to your audience how they can use writing in building a life. You may not be able to give them a path to fame and success, but you can tell them how to be writers and have a profitable, happy life. And with an uncertain career like writing, that may be the most valuable thing to talk about.
One thing I’ve always been careful in my blogs on writing or my influences is to be mindful of the tastes of my readers. While I may talk about my influences from comics or music or film, I have to remember how to approach it from the perspective of all types of writers. For example, I pointed out the sense of identity in using music for characters, and how writers can use the basic premise of revenge and obsession in Darkman and The Crow. And while I try to make my blog as universal and helpful as possible, there are still certain areas that I can offer more expertise in then others. As such, I’d like to start offering some influences for writers of specific genres. And to begin with, I’d like to start with the first genre I truly became immersed in- horror. While I have already discussed writers like Stephen King, looking over an author’s entire work is an exhausting task for any aspiring writer. So I’ve spent today’s blog composing a list of my five favorite horror novels, and what makes them essential readings for those that wish to chill the spines of their own readers.
5. Something Wicked This Way Comes– Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is a writer that has dipped into various types of literature through his short stories, but in this, one of his few official novels, he gave a chilling tale of horror and temptation. Drawing inspiration from the carnival and performers that caused Bradbury to start writing, the story flips the idea over, creating an evil fall carnival run by Mr. Dark, the head of a vampire-like group (the ‘autumn people’) that feed on pain and suffering. What truly makes the story effective is how it is built on temptation- the carnival folk work by twisting around the secret natures and desires of the townspeople, which is hinted at being how they populate their ranks. This is most effective in the case of two main characters- Jim Nightshade, a young boy bereft of a father that longs to be an adult, and Charles Halloway, the library janitor who is feels unable to be a good father due to his age. Bradbury plays with these desires, as well as the very nature of light and dark, building the scene in his usual unique style. That, combined with the classic tale of temptation and desire, makes Something Wicked an excellent study in both the atmosphere and the method of a great horror novel.
4. Herbert West, ReAnimator– H.P. Lovecraft
One of the earliest American horror writers, H.P. Lovecraft delved into tales of otherworldly beings and worlds that existed both before and beyond humanity. While he is most remembered for his tales of the Elder Gods, this may be the story that perhaps best captures both humanity’s desires and their obsession. The story is the decades long tale of Herbert West, a doctor obsessed with creating a cure for death. He manages to do so, but the formula is consistently unstable, requiring various horrifying experiments that may be regarded as among the first zombie stories. At its core, however, the story is both an exploration of man’s fear of death and his arrogance towards the greater order. The reader is compelled to both fear West’s recklessness and yet hope his success, until his experiments have grown so wild and dangerous that death is preferable to their continuation. It both attracts and repulses the reader, and leaves them with a frightening moral reminder- the truest example of a classic horror tale.
3. The Shining– Stephen King
While most of us think of Jack Nicholson with an axe when this title is uttered, the tale itself is far more terrifying. King created the ultimate and most violent example of cabin fever ever, with a family taking care of a haunted hotel during the winter in an isolated part of Colorado. But perhaps the most terrifying part of the tale is watching the family torn apart both figuratively and literally. The father is a recovering alcoholic with a violent temper that is slowly pulling both his personal and professional life together. However, the ghosts circumvent the love he feels for his family by playing off his insecurities and weakness for drink. As such, the tale is a family falling apart, a man’s descent into madness, and the ghostly machinations of the dead. Any one of these things alone would be a great story, but all three are woven together in a tale that both frightens and saddens at the same time.
2. The Tell-Tale Heart– Edgar Allan Poe
Widely known as the first American poet to live solely on his work, Poe wove classic tales of the macabre, as well as dark poetry and detective stories. This particular tale however, is frightening because of it’s universal themes, namely obsession, murder, and guilt. The central character is mad enough to kill a man because of his eye, and arrogant enough to bury him under the floorboards. However, the extreme guilt, brought to life by the auditory hallucination of a beating heart, is enough to destroy his fragile mind and force him to admit his guilt. It is a simple concept, but one every person can understand and has lived through- trying to conceal a wrong-doing, only to have it eat away at you. And the depth in which Poe submerges the tale makes it all the more frightening.
1. Pet Sematary– Stephen King
While I was reluctant to put two Stephen King pieces in this list, this book has managed to frighten me every time I’ve read it, which no other horror novel has accomplished. The tale clearly takes influence from Herbert West in the idea of repeated, imperfect resurrection, but as with The Shining, King adds a personal touch. His story centers around a family, namely a doctor (devoted to saving lives), and a wife that fears death. While the first resurrection is basically harmless and somewhat motivated by love, it still fills us with dread. And the second, which is a true horror but based in a father’s love, we are again filled with both horror and sadness. After all, what parent wouldn’t risk everything to save their child? What makes the story even more frightening is that King based the child’s death on a near fatal accident involving his own children. It is that personal touch that grounds the Lovecraftian elements of the supernatural burial ground, and makes us both fear and pity these characters, especially the doctor’s last words of “Something got into him. But she’s only been dead a little while.” Those are the words I usually muse on, as I close the book a night and look up at the shadowy ceiling.
Big announcement everyone. After months of work, I’m pleased to announce I have completed the first draft of The Lightrider Journals sequel- Equites. I’ve still got plenty of editing to do, but as of right now, we can start looking forward to the next adventure of Joe, Nightstalker, and all the rest. And if you want a hint as to the plot, look up the title (hint, it’s Latin). And since you’ve all hopefully had a chance to read the first book by now, I’m interested in your feedback as I start editing. So please, drop a comment about what you liked, what you didn’t, what I can do to imprve things for this new tale. Remember, I’m nothing with you guys and what you have to say, so feel free to write whatever you have to say!
By this point in your marketing process, you should hopefully have a great, eye-catching cover and someone in place to help guide you through getting your name out there. Now, you need to focus on setting up events where you can see people and get your name out there. One of the most basic events a writer can set up, is the one we will be discussing today- the book signing.
If anyone has ever waited in line to get an autograph, you have experienced the basic concept of a book signing. It is a great way to meet readers, talk about your book, sell some copies, and get a nice ego boost as well. However, these events take time to set up, and even more time for new authors since unlike the people you have waited in line for, you are probably not famous yet. The first part of getting a signing is to first find places that you can host a signing in. As I mentioned before, you do not want to spread yourself in areas that are far away, so you should first examine your local area for spots you can use. These can be anywhere from libraries to bookstores to even schools. And again, if you use places that you have some history in, you have a better chance of being able to set one up.
Now even with a local setting, you will still need to sell the signing itself (which may also involve spending money for an event). After all, these places are going to be giving you their time and space, and don’t want to give them for nothing. Therefore, be able to promote the signing to the owner. Have a strategy for how you will help to raise awareness for the event, and what exactly makes your book a standout. And while you don’t want to do this in great detail, it is not bad to invite a few people to the event. It will guarantee the event will have an audience, which will help to assure your promoter their will be a draw. So try to use methods like newspapers, online media, and as much word of mouth as you can.
Once you have an event set up, then you need to start making preparations. Obviously, you need to make sure you have copies of the book to sell at the event, as well as some signs and decorations for the inside. You should make sure you have a general number of how many people will be at the event, and plan accordingly; being short on books will greatly hurt your image to fans and to promoters. And obviously, you need to have some way to keep money from the book sales safe. Your first step can be to get another person to handle the cash, so you can focus on the event. It might also help to get some additional devices, like a portable credit-card reader, to accent your intake.
The most important thing you need however, is a speech. As much as you will be sitting and signing, you aren’t going to grab loyal fans by just sitting there. After all, when you go to a signing, you want to speak to the person, even if only for a few seconds, and try to ask them something. And you should be able to talk about your work and grab their attention. So before the signing, write out a speech where you discuss the book. You can talk about your influences, the process of writing and publishing, read passages from the book, anything to explain how you came to this point. And if there is time, have a q & a section for the event. Readers like nothing more than asking about a novel, and this gives you a chance to connect with them, as well as learn the vital skill of thinking on your feet.
A signing can be a great deal of work, and even scary to a first timer. But they are essiential to all writers’ promotion, and should not be half-assed in anyway. Using local places is a great way to get started, and it will help you to later set up events in places where you are less known. But most importantly, they can be a great deal of fun for the authors. I can personally attest to the joy of being asked great questions about a book I had poured so much work into, and hearing people give such positive feedback. So when the time comes, look around you for places, use your connections, plan things out as much as possible, and be ready to conquer your stage fright.
Two weeks ago, I started a column on the relationship between heroes and villains. Then, I discussed two characters that managed to be total opposites, yet have just enough in common to make their battles carry some sadness. Today, I’ll be speaking about characters that are opposite in nature, but also with a unique difference in their very symbolism- Batman and the Joker.
Two of the most well-known comic characters in history, Batman and the Joker have had a relationship that has stretched back over fifty years. Batman is, of course, the Dark Knight of Gotham City, sworn to protect the innocent after the childhood tragedy of losing his parents to crime. The Joker is the ultimate Gotham criminal, an insane murderer who happily causes chaos with lethal pranks, or with just a knife and some spray paint. Unlike Batman, the Clown Prince’s origin is a mystery, as he is too insane to give a clear account. The most common belief is that he fell into a vat of chemicals that bleached his skin and hair, giving him his clownish appearance. Both hero and villain have emerged at the top of their games, as one of the most respected and most feared figures, respectively, in the DC Universe.
The Traits of Good and Evil
As with most heroes and villains, the very natures of Batman and the Joker are at odds. Batman is arguably the ultimate anti-hero, using fear and intimidation to run the criminals of Gotham ragged. Batman is so driven in his mission to create peace and order that he can barely tolerate failure, and will go into a situation with five backup plans, with five more backups for each of those. By contrast, the Joker is driven simply by madness, and is therefore unpredictable. The Joker will often change his plans to suit his mood, or kill an associate for no real reason other than a joke. He is totally driven by dark humor and murder, and sees his work more as an art form then a mission. As such, he is the perfect foe for the logical, dark-edged Batman, who must ironically think like his insane counterpart in order to defeat him.
However one of the most unique things about the relationship between Batman and the Joker is the unique reversal of symbolism. The Batman is man dressed in black, who uses fear and intimidation, insists on doing things his way, and often keeps secrets from those around him. Yet he is the hero, while the Joker, who dresses like a clown and is obsessed with humor and jokes, is the villain. It is a unique dichotomy, that allows the readers to move beyond the traditional appearance of good and evil and get a serious role reversal with each battle (though there are certainly many that are afraid of clowns). But even with these opposing factor and even opposing roles, there is still rather unique factor that connects both Batman and the Joker- the masks they wear.
Comic experts will often make the argument that Batman ceased being Bruce Wayne when his parents were murdered, and that the Batman persona is his true nature. As such, he is being himself as Batman, while Bruce Wayne is the mask he wears to operate publically. While the Joker would likely never use a civilian identity, he has also totally become his alter-ego, with nary a second thought to his previous life. As such, these two are both men who define themselves by their masks and therefore each other. Batman’s darkness and heroic nature are at their most apparent when contrasted to the Joker’s humorous appearance and obsession with humor and death and vice versa. In fact, the Joker has often said that Batman is the driving force in his life, and in many portrayals, either becomes sane or shuts down completely, when Batman leaves the picture. And since Batman cannot bring himself to retire and lose himself, the Joker continues to exist and cause mayhem, which causes the need for Batman.
The Joker and Batman are two of the most epic foes in history, and bring a unique opposing nature and even an inversion to their rivalry. And at the same time, they are intrinsically linked; one simply does not exist or function as well, without the other. Writers can use their relationship to not only set two opposing forces against each, but to make them unique, and give their relationship something beyond the simple nature of black vs. white. And at the same time, these characters still manage to define each other by contrast, and as such, their battles become essential, necessary devices for them to truly define themselves and who they are, now and forever.