Lessons learned as a Marine remain usable as I advance in years. One of those lessons involves embracing anxiety and attacking things that frighten. Working on a synopsis for my latest book has been intimidating. Moving forward – despite feelings of apprehension – has been a rewarding exercise. Coining lyrics sung by the great Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.”
I’m preparing a synopsis as part of my manuscript submission package for my publisher. As simple as it sounds, preparing a book synopsis is as perilous as walking a high wire without a net. What makes it all the more perilous is that this is my first interaction with this publisher. It raises certain questions: Does he prefer brevity over detail? Does he anticipate a single page synopsis or a three pager? Does he like plot curve more than character curve or is he an equal opportunity critic? There are so many facets to the complex world of book synopses, sallying forth is an unsettling prospect. Maybe some prayer and fasting is in order.
These days, my life as a creative writer is a “learn-as-you-earn” experience. Some part of every day is spent reading books like, Strunk & White’s, “The Elements of Style.” Susan Thurman’s, “The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need.” And, “Webster’s New World English Grammar Handbook” There are many other books o’ learnin’ on my educational / reference book shelf, but I don’t want to bore you with an endless list.
Below my educational / reference book shelf is my literary book shelf. Now there’s a heavily-laden plank of wood! I consider every one of those literary works an important facet of my education. So, even at the age of 68, I’m still pumpin’ those cerebral neurons over the mental exercise yard. I guess you could say that I subscribe to the concept of “learnin’ is earnin’.”
My good friend, Courtney Alameda, buckled up and piloted through the task of earning a degree in the field of English Literature at BYU. My path of agony is less formal, but – I believe – just as arduous. It involves study of endless books written by folks having more expertise in the art of creative writing than I. Either way, I believe, the only pathway to success as an author / writer is by way of perpetual learning; whether home taught or at BYU. Having said that, can you guess what my next education pursuit will entail? Yep. BYU or bust. But I have to do the work at home and not on campus. We old folks require more naps between bouts of learning.
I’m discovering that publishing houses can be sticklers for their own brand of requirements for manuscript submissions. One hardline publisher states the following: “…we take guidelines seriously. Every submission that fails to adhere to our guidelines will be followed up with a ‘we threw yours in the trash’ email, to inform you that you have failed our test. We also desire to amplify our concern for your apparent inability to follow the most fundamental of instructions.”
Wow: talk about fanatical dogma. It’s like suffering through high school English Grammar all over again. I mean, for crying out loud, even prison guards affect discipline with more compassion.
Getting published is tough. Knowing the rules and guidelines for a particular publisher is essential. I believe that’s why so many writers are doing the indie thing these days. Rules and guidelines remain, but at least you’re somewhat assured that your book will soon be available on Amazon without undue hindrance. That’s how I got Boyhood Adventures published. I used my own rules and guidelines – up to a point. But – in the end – I did get snagged by a few Xlibris rules and guidelines I had overlooked. Oh well, live ‘n’ learn, I guess.
For me, I’m done with indie publishing. The problem for me is my lack of skill when it comes to marketing. By the time you pay an indie publisher a marketing service charge, you’ve pretty much assured yourself that you will be paying for the privilege of being a published writer. At least, a traditional publication house has a vested interest in getting my work out there. I’m not greedy. They make money, and I make money, and I don’t have to concern myself with the complexities of marketing. Working with indie publishers, they make money, and they make money. When I published with Xlibris, I lost over $1,000.00. So, lesson learned. Traditional publishing or nothing. At least, that way, marketing is in the hands of folks who know how best to get my work out there and selling. I can’t seem to get people to show interest in my blog, much less my books. So, I’m very much reliant on folks with marketing skills that far exceed my own.
I’ve come to realize that there is a hard and fast distinction between the two worlds of Rules, and Guidelines. An error here can prove discomfiting. Failing to understand the difference between A-B-C Publishing House rules, as opposed to their guidelines, can be surprisingly perilous. It’s even more difficult to discern the difference when a rule is so buried within stated guidelines, that the rule itself is almost imperceptible.
So, what I’ve learned to do, the hard way, is to take things one step at a time. I work along the path slowly, deliberately, and cautiously. I study submission rules and guidelines like I’m preparing for a college exam. Only then, being satisfied that I have complied with every facet of the agent / publisher’s requirements, I take a deep breath, and ship the manuscript. At least, following that painstaking protocol, if my manuscript is refused, it will be based on the merit of my work and not a misstep in the mine field of rules and guidelines.
I’m loving the craziness comprising my world of creative writing these days. Despite being known as “Mister one-thing-at-a-time,” I can’t seem to avoid the temptation to go helter-skelter in my writing regimen.
Yesterday I devoted five hours to working on Haunted Haunts. I had a great time adding humor, reinforcing plot, and refining character development. As I entered the late afternoon hours, I ventured into research for The Troubleshooter. This was a good news / bad news experience. There are significant challenges inherent to writing believable fiction about the LAPD in 1949. LAPD history is wonderful but surprisingly limited; not classified, just limited. Using Los Angeles as a location is not without snares and pitfalls. Plot and dialog are effected by seemingly insignificant things like streets and highways that have changed significantly since 1941. Using post-war Venezuela as a location poses its own set of challenges. Moving the story forward will be like maneuvering across a mine field. As far as Los Angeles geography is concerned, Harvard street may well exist today, but did it exist in 1949? Describing activity on a street that didn’t exist at the time represented can result in a high casualty rate among would-be fans of my work. And I haven’t even begun the task of researching venues in war-time Germany. What have I gotten myself in to? And why am I classifying this as FUN? The world of creative writing can truly be a mad, mad, world, but it is most certainly a fun ride.
Character voice is critical to projects like Boyhood Adventures. But sustaining voices of young boys living in Texarkana, Arkansas in 1953, has drawbacks. After hours, days and weeks of writing dialog, I find my mind thinking in character voice and even speaking in character voice. It drives my wife crazy. But – to me – it’s all part of the process of creative writing. Here’s an example of character voice in my book, Haunted Haunts:
“Last summer, we was up at Nashville,” said Lee, “at Max Market. There’s this big place to park, all covered with gravel. Daddy and I was fillin’ boxes with stuff to take inside, and here come this Holsum truck, highballin’ right on up to where we was workin’. That ol’ boy hit his brakes an’ went slidin’ up by where we was. A bunch o’ gravel went all over the place an’ some of it hit Daddy’s pants an’ shoes. Burt got out of his truck lookin’ real mad, but Daddy faced him, lookin’ all calm like. Burt slammed his door and came right on up to Daddy. Then Daddy said somethin’ like, Howdy, cowboy?
“Cowboy?” said Frank.
“Yeah,” said Lee. “Daddy always called bad truck drivers cowboys, ‘specially if he seen ‘em drive real crazy like Burt done. Anyways, Burt started yelling, ‘bout how his bread got all smashed and shoved ‘round. Daddy never said nothin’. He just took off his glasses and set ‘em on the step of his cab. I was standin’ by the back of Daddy’s bread truck, so I could see his face real good. I never seed Daddy look mad or nothin’. He just stood there with his left foot a little ahead o’ t’other. I seed him make a fist with his right hand but he had it hid from Burt, behind his leg. He never said nothin’ but I could tell he was fixin’ to get ready to throw down on that ol’ boy. It was kinda like when two cats square off on each other. When, like, ya can tell one o’ them cats is fixin’ to scrap an’ that other cat just wants to get the heck on outta there. I guess Burt saw Dad was set to fight ‘cause all of a sudden like, his voice got real quiet. I couldn’t hear what he said after that. Then Burt got back in his truck and just drove off, real slow like.”
“Dang!” said Dennis. “Was he short, like Jimmy?”
“No sir!” said Lee. “Burt’s a big ol’ boy, from Amarillo, Texas. An’ that’s another reason Daddy don’t like him so much. He always says Texans is full of hot air an’ … well … I can’t say the rest o’ what Daddy says ’bout them fellers.”
Dennis was impressed. “So, Jimmy stood up to that big ol’ Texan?”
“Yessiree Bob,” said Lee. “I asked Daddy why he never said nothin’ an’ he tol’ me somethin’ like, Some fellers talk a hell of a fight. Chickens cackle ‘n’ cluck, but a rooster throws down. I ain’t no chicken.”
I have several volunteers proofreading the revised edition of Boyhood Adventures. It is a book of fiction based on true-life experiences. Recently, one of those volunteers asked me about a particular event described in the book. The person asked, “Did that part really happen?”
I have learned to be prudent when responding to this particular question. It appears that readers – even proofreaders – can be somewhat passionate in their feelings about events being represented in a book composed of aggrandized memories. Beyond logic, certain facets of the story become important to them. They want a certain part to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Learning that their favorite element of the story is fictional can be deflating, disappointing, or even discouraging. So, in light of this recurring observation, I have adopted certain specific, strategic response options:
Option One: “I’ll let you be the judge of that.”
Or I might respond with: “What do you think?”
I might also say, “Well, it’s in the book for a reason.”
My strategic response may be deemed deceptive or unethical by writers who don’t concern themselves with varied emotional responses to a work of fiction. But persons familiar with the science of Personality Analysis will understand what it means to have a Personalysis rating that is 90% yellow. A creative writer with a “yellow” Personalysis rating is a people pleaser. He wants you to have a warm and fuzzy feeling as you read his work. Above all, he wants his reader to feel satisfied with the story being read. He wants the reader to feel as one who has just eaten the best and most memorable meal of a lifetime.
So, when readers ask if a certain specific thing happened the way I described it in my book, I will most likely be heard to say, “Absolutely.”
Sooner or later, every parent finds him/herself manning their child’s confessional. Actually, it’s more of a moment wherein a child feels so self-assured in their pseudo-adulthood that it seems more like a boastful proclamation.
last night, my twenty-two year old son told how he and a few friends had violated the sanctity of an abandoned and (reputedly) haunted house, remotely located in a secluded spot near Byron. This, of course happened years ago when – had I known – I would have grounded him for the rest of his life.
His story included his proud report that a property watchman / caretaker had been guarding the house, and armed with a shotgun loaded with rock salt. This, he said, explained the blood his mother had washed out of his shirt, and the peppered wounds on his neck and back. Hmmm, sounds frighteningly similar to a story in my book, Boyhood Adventures. It makes me wonder what other experiences he’s had that I’m not privy to as yet.
Forgive me for saying so but being an empty-nester has its perks.
Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing includes rule number six:
“Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”
If ever there was a rule aimed at Aaron L. Carter, this would be the one! Ignoring this rule has been the bane of my life. Even after I “moved on,” and began working on Wings of Valor, I found myself returning for one “final review” of Haunted Haunts. The result has been frustrating. I’m never happy. I’ve been stuck for more than a week, droning over sentence structure, character voice, etc., etc., etc. And the worst part is, some of the changes I make are less satisfying than the original content.
But I’m an intelligent man; right? I’m in control of my mortal machine; right? I’m sixty-eight years old for cryin’ out loud. One would think that – by now – I might have developed a modicum of self-restraint; right? The insanity must end!
So, I’m going to bite the bullet. I’m going to put myself out of my misery. I’m going to follow the advice of Mr. Gaiman, come hell or high water. I’m going to leave it in the hands of my proof-reader / editor and trust in God.
I posted this on FB so I apologize for the duplication with my FB friends. I credit this post to a great and wise man, Joseph B. Wirthlin, who said:
“Genius is only the power of making continuous efforts. The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it; so fine that we are often on the line and do not know it. How many a man has thrown up his hands at a time when a little more effort, a little more patience would have achieved success? A …little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed a hopeless failure may turn into a glorious success. … There is no defeat except within, no really insurmountable barrier save one’s own inherent weakness of purpose”
Creative writing can be daunting at times. You look at a blank word document page and try to create something worthwhile to put there. Or, I look at something I have already written and … it stinks. It ain’t always as easy as some might believe to get meaningful words on a blank page. But quitting is never an option. Perseverance is a key to opening the door of success in any endeavor; especially for creative writers.