Saturday, May 28, 2011

Big Surprise

A short-short ...

I stood waiting for the hotel elevator, staring out into the beautiful Dallas morning sky through the tall glass window - one of those deals where it's wall to wall, ceiling to floor, the kind that make you feel dizzy if you stand too close.

The bell rang, and I skipped into the elevator car, nodding sheepishly toward the two men who were busily punching the buttons for the heretofore unseen person for whom the car had stopped.  They both stood there, beautifully, in their British Airways flight attendant uniforms, both well-poised, in bodies slender enough to be twenty but probably well-preserved through starvation and bowflex to be in their early thirties.  Of course, they were paying this early middle-something businessman no mind as the car started to descend.

"So," the brunette one said, continuing a conversation I hadn't been privy to earlier, "after he practically nagged me to death, I decided to go out with him ..."
"Really! The first one, or the one from ..." the blonde started to say.
"Yes, him."
"Brilliant!" Blondie nodded.  "How did it go?"
"Well, after dancing and all that, we went back to his place and ...," he said, coughing as he looked back at me.  I pretended to ignore them in kind.
"Took a drink from the fountain?" Blondie snarked. "Drove down Curvy Lane?"
The brunette let out a high-pitched single-syllabled "Ha!" while the blonde just gave a low giggle.
"How was it?"
"Well, when he pulled out his ... uhm ... triple XXL things, I knew right away I was going to be in for a big surprise."
"Oh, my!  Do tell!"
"The big guns; practically inflatables."
 "Seriously?  The kind you can put an ..." Blondie turned his head just enough to see if I was listening, and satisfied that I was terminally deaf continued.  "... arm into?"
The brunette nodded.
"Go on!"
"Well, he wanted me to kiss him, you know, while he ... uhm ..."
"Revved the engines?  Lit the furnace?"
They both laughed at themselves, satisfied that Old Man was oblivious.
"Yes, and then he unbuttoned his ... uhm ... trousers ... and ..."
"I'm dying here!  I'm sure it was enorm ..." Blondie shreiked.
"He asked me to pass him one of those ... things ..."
"Go on ..."
"I asked him, 'What exactly should I do with it?"
Blondie seemed confused.
"Shall I wrap it around a few times?"
Blondie's shoulders went up, hand flying up to mouth.
"Roll up the slack? Tie it off at the end?  Hem around the edges?" the brunette continued.
Blondie was cackling as I tried my best to not move a single facial muscle.  My insides were threatening to betray me.
"I guess you were a bit disappointed," Blondie stated as the car stopped, doors opening.
"A wee bit, yes."

Copyright © 2011.  Anthony Ashley.  All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Step by Step

A month or so ago, I thought this story I'm working on, which I'll call "Untitled" for now was almost done ... I wrote it out into a novella, hoping it might turn into a 2-3 episode serial, but once I was through with what I was tentatively calling the "second draft," I had to put it away for a while for a number of reasons.

First, my RL job required a lot of attention for a few weeks, and last week, my parents came for a visit.  Shortly before they arrived, though, I started working on it again - realizing my worst fear, that the story was going to have to be completely re-written, and that while I had enough material for a two-part serial, I most certainly didn't have enough story to drag it into three - so, I made a decision to just complete the story as a single novel.

Threshing out the story - which for me is coming up with the story itself and cobbling together the first draft - is the easy part.  Turning that quilt of ideas and timelines into an interesting, readable form is something else entirely, and regardless of what anyone says, it is work.  A story isn't just a series of events that happens to archetypes (or worse, stereotypes - which is a weakness of some writers), it's turning those "types" into real people, and realizing that this dialogue or this series of actions isn't believable once this or that character becomes an actual person in your mind.  Old scenes fade away, new scenes spring up, and after a while, the story you were putting together before only slightly resembles what is turning into the final product ... and when that happens, you know you just might be actually "writing."

I'm nearing the end of what I had written before, which will only be one-half to two-thirds of what will be the complete novel, and now that I'm nearly done reforming the old, I am sort of anxious of the blank slate that awaits in the next week or two.  I know where the story is going, and I know how it ends - but, my characters have changed, and they've become alive in my head and in my heart.  So ... who knows what really might happen ... it's something I'm just learning myself!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Homo Scriptor

There's a myth about writers - that they are made and not born.  I most certainly beg to differ. While there are writers published and unpublished (or unnoticed), we seem to be our own species of animal.  I had never been able to put my finger on it until today, when I read an homage to a mother, a struggling, unnoticed, and barely published writer.
We were not wealthy, but at my house, we had two newspapers every day and more books and magazines than anyone could read. My mother and my grandmother, who also lived with us, read Dickens to me. After supper, my mother read aloud a chapter of the King James Bible.
 Reminds me of my childhood.  I was raised in a rather bizarre religious faith where TVs were forbidden, movies were considered sinful, and the radio was only okay if it was tuned to news or a gospel station.  No, I wasn't raised in 1948 - the eighties were my teen years, so imagine missing out on Star Wars, Back to the Future, Michael Jackson, etc., until you were over eighteen.  Somehow, books were okay.  Books were my haven - I learned so much from them, about spirituality, about my sexuality, about everything I would need to know about the big giant world outside the blinders of my parent's faith. 

But, most of all, books were where I found refuge.  They taught me how to imagine - how to build a world in my head where I made the rules, and I did - spinning stories that will never be told about how I might grow up and conquer life.
She wrote a novel in 1957 but never published anything else, though she wrote all her life. It was in my mother’s presence I learned a central truth about writers — they live inside their own heads.

I can remember planting chrysanthemums beside her one September day, noticing she was quietly mumbling to herself as she worked.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. She smiled and looked as though I’d caught her making faces in the mirror.

“Oh, nothing,” she said. But I knew better. She was lost in thought, making up dialogue in an imaginary world, spinning a tale no one but she would ever see or appreciate.
 At some point, I pulled the stories out of my head - I needed them to be more tangible.  From cardboard cutouts, to a whole cast of characters made out of modelling clay, I created worlds, neighborhoods, family dramas that spanned generations.  As I matured, I began devouring books - some given to us by friends, some purchased at garage sales and church bazaars, and I let these stories take me places my own imagination had dared not take me.
One of the young lawyers who worked in her office told me about my mother years after her death.

“I remember Miss Frances used to bring her lunch to work every day, and when it wasn’t too hot, she’d retreat to her car for an hour at lunch — all by herself. She’d eat her lunch, speak to no one and get lost in her book. It was her world, and no one could share it.”

That’s how I think of her today — quiet, self-contained, brave. She was less grounded in the world around her than in the dreamland she invented. It must have been a marvelous place. 
 This was sort of a validation for me.  I do live inside of my head, just like Miss Frances.  Whether I'm trying to smooth out a plot in a story, or trying to figure out the drama that is my life ... for others, being around others and fleshing it out is best, but for me, the only way I can sort it all out is in my own little universe where everything is okay, where everything makes perfect sense.

This story (that I heavily borrowed from) was a way for one son to remember his mother on Mother's Day.  For me, it is a reminder that there is a certain material that we're made of, that makes us different from everyone who lives "outside."  We're not just introverts: we are creators, inventors, storytellers.  What goes on inside of our minds is far more interesting than what we see in the offices, the malls, the churches, or even our backyards.  Occasionally, we write about it.  Sometimes, others see that beauty and publish it, distribute it, read it, option it.  But, for all the stories that are "marketable," thousands more stay inside - amusing only those who've built that world, that reality, and perhaps a few in our inner circles we trust with our secrets.

Thank you Mr. Tillotson, for sharing your story.  Thank you, Miss Frances, for reminding us that writers aren't created the moment they appear on the NYTimes best-seller list ... they live among all of us ... just waiting to share!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

New Week

This past week kind of threw me off - some pressures at work combined with some ambivalence after my last proofing.  Part of being a writer is also being a reader, and I've really searched hard for some good things to read - and after some duds I purchased over the last few weeks for my Kindle, I've refused to buy anything I haven't previewed.

Found one gem last night ... The Cranberry Hush by Ben Monopoli.  Compared to a lot of crap I've been perusing on Amazon's genre lists ("bestselling" even), this was a delightful treat ... I wrote a review of it on GoodReads.

It wasn't just a delightful way to end my weekend, but it kind of lifted the funk I was in all week - and hopefully, will redirect my future edits of my own novella (more lit, less lick).  It is slightly distressing in that making those comparisons, I found my last draft a bit more like the garbage I keep passing over in ebook stores, and knowing that I will never want my name associated with refuse - even if it sells.  I was hoping to be a little closer to the finish line, but if it needs a rewrite, it will be rewritten.

Enough about me ... grab a copy of Monopoli's book.  It will encourage anyone who's been recently jaded by the 99 cent - 2.99 book selections!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cover Story

In between proofing my novella, I've been playing at creating my own cover.  Not that I know what I'm doing!

I can afford to pay someone to come  up with the perfect gravitational-beam cover for my story; if I had no talent at all in graphic design, I would gladly farm out the job (and I still haven't completely ruled that out).  I'm not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I've always been good with a nice pair of scissors, pictures to sample from, and something to glue it all together on.  When I was a young boy, I was always wanting to play with dolls and so forth (much to the consternation of my father), and since I knew I would never get a doll house (and was never brave enough to ask), I would often raid my mother's closet for old Sear's and Roebuck catalogs and magazines and cut out rooms, furniture, accessories, etc. and make my own "houses" on posterboard!

Much older now (please don't do the math!), I spent about three years of my "I'll never be a published writer!" down-time phase goofing around on Second Life - a popular "virtual world" experience that peaked in '07, and kind of lost its steam afterwards.  My primary goal was to replicate the success some people were having in "virtual businesses" - and I started a series of them myself (all of which flopped) helping ugly avatars everywhere become fashionably conscious.  While doing all of that, I made quite a few friends (some I still keep in contact with), but in doing the marketing for those businesses, helping those friends with theirs, and keeping up a blog at the time (which had over 100k hits before we all bailed) about those ventures, I developed some decent photoshop skills - not anything I could make a living with, but enough to be able to know the elements of design needed to excite potential customers about business.

Having been away from that experience for more than a year, I hadn't really played around with my cutting-and-pasting skills for a while.  Over the last week, I've been sampling graphics from stock photo sights trying to get inspired over what I want the cover to emote.  I still haven't decided whether I'm going to go for it or hire a professional, but if I do ... it won't be until after I've exhausted my own creative demon!

Would love to hear other self-pubbed authors describe their "cover stories!"

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Writing is fun ...

... it's the everything else that's really tedious.  Just finishing up the third proofing of my novella with a pair of pruning sheers (it seems), and that is such a chore.

I'm thinking of all of the excuses I've made for not even attempting to publish before.  True, the New York machine was the most intimidating fear, but there were really good reasons why I never sent a query letter ... I wasn't good enough yet.  Whether I am now or not is certainly subjective from my point of view, but the joy of writing - the thing that had me writing at an early age was never the prospect of publishing for others, but the creation of the story itself.  This was what I loved - creating that imaginary universe, and having characters I also created move about and live within the confines of that world.

My stories have mostly always been to amuse myself - whether it be the week-long erotic daydream sagas I would invent to put myself to sleep at night, or the steamy short stories I would write to flesh out a particular fantasy I was having at that given point of my life.  Publishing eventually became a second goal, but after three or four stories turned into full novel-sized manuscripts, the energy to process those pieces dissipated after the second draft ... it was creating those worlds and characters that made it wondrous for me, not the work to make those stories better and marketable.

With the changing markets, I am encouraged to put my stories to the market test once again.  I know I no longer have to appeal to a few discerning eyes in Manhattan - for me, success will be selling enough to recoup the expenses it takes to put out at least one story.  To have that many people read anything I write will be a joy in and of itself, and if it's more than that - it will simply be all the more delightful.

But, that isn't why I write.  First, I write for myself - for that pure pleasure of creating a life story of someone completely imagined, but real and palpable enough to imprint itself onto the canvas of very real hearts and minds.  These characters already do that for me ... and so much more.  To the extent others may have the same reaction ... it will just be icing on the already delicious cake!

Now ... back to work!

Time's 100

So, Rome is burning - figuratively - in the publishing world, and so to prove how hip they are to the situation, TIME magazine included a fist-full of authors (kudos to all of them!) in their latest TIME 100 "most influential" list, all who have done really well via traditional publishing venues.  As someone who is on my way to becoming a self-published author, however, I couldn't help but shake my head at the notable absences from those who've been enormously successful in this more democratic form of publishing.

No one is challenging the literary merits of Franzen, Egan, Martin, etc. - they've all earned their marks - but, publishing is in the midst of a major paradigm shift, so where are the mentions of Joe Konrath (self-publishing's John-the-Baptist), John Locke or Amanda Hocking (it's best-selling authors so far)?

The silence is numbing.