The Craft: Are You Experienced?

Today, I’m writing the first in a series of themed postings for my blog. I’m calling the series, “The Craft.” This series will continue intermittently, will be posted when I feel like it and will include musings on the craft of fiction writing. I hope you find them useful.

The first subject I want to take up is experience. After writing a novel and a short story and seeing them to completion (a total of 62,100 words), I like to think of myself of as an experienced writer. But the truth is I have a long, long way to go. At least, if an introduction to Chekhov’s short stories is any guide.

In the 588 pieces of fiction Chekhov wrote between 1880 and  1902, he ranged more widely than any Russian writer before him.

I’ve been a fan of Chekhov ever since I read his Lady with the Lap Dog in Russian inside a slim, green collected-works volume my landlord had in his Moscow flat. (I ended up ‘liberating’ the last volume with ‘Lady’ in it from the flat and I don’t think the landlord ever missed it.)

Despite the fact that his stories are often plot-less or plot-light (like life itself), I think they are rightly regarded as a pinnacle of realist fiction. Just pick up one of his stories and you’re sucked into his world, the world of 19th-century provincial Russia. It has the details of gesture, clothes, speech all correlated to the right person according to their age, gender, profession and class. It has a narrator that is so hidden he might as well not exist. It’s  up to the reader to make all the judgments and interpretations. He uses metaphors, simile and flowery language minimally, but when he does, it strikes home, leaving a lasting image in your mind’s eye. Often, he uses weather to set or suggest a mood: a blizzard, a rain storm, or oppressive heat catching travellers on the road and throwing them together out of necessity.

Most importantly, there’s that famous tone. That subtle light touch, imbuing everything, the characters, the animals, the landscape with a despondent, hopeless ennui. Some have called it elegiac. But there is a Russian word, that some say is untranslatable, that captures it perfectly: тоска.

File:Anton P Chekhov.jpg

But don’t think for a minute that all this came to him cheaply or easily, without a price. It reflects a lifetime of close observation, note taking and hard work. As a country doctor he wandered the provinces gathering characters, anecdotes and situations that would later populate his stories. And topped he it off with years of writing stories on deadline to a strict word count for obscure magazines as the introduction to the stories says:

The St. Petersburg journal ‘Fragments‘ [‘Осколки’] immediately became the most popular publication when it was founded in 1881. Like other such journals, it was full of cartoons, corny jokes, amusing little stories, and vignettes of contemporary life…This was the arena in which Chekhov learnt his craft as a writer.

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It’s so easy to remember the great Chekhov stories: The Lady with the Lap Dog, Gooseberries, The Steppe, The Student (Chekhov’s personal favorite). But it’s those other 584 stories that made him great. The years he spent honing his craft writing for Fragments and other pulp humor magazines, before switching to light vignettes with a humorous touch, to his final mature, dramatic stories and plays that have entered the canons of Western and Russian literature.

That’s something I’m reminding myself as I slog through the process of writing short stories and getting them rejected by magazines (4 rejections so far for my best sci fi story yet). And as I’m writing novels for Kindle and Nook were the audience is numbered in the hundreds, not thousands. But I figure with my 2 pieces as compared to Chekhov’s 588, I still have a long, long way to go.

As ACDC said, “It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock and roll.” It’s an illusion to think writers (or musicians) have ever had it any differently.


[This is a ‘business’ postscript: Technorati Code is 4JDCSY3YUS5P. Now, Technorati can find and index this blog.]

My Novel on Nook, Finally

My novel, The Library of Lost Books, is finally and permanently on Barnes & Noble’s Nook store.

LOLB_on_Nook_2013

Now, for a bit of an explanation on why it took so long. I put Library on Nook earlier (October 2012) and after 3 sales in about a month, I decided to take it right off again.

Why?

Simply put, I got a better offer elsewhere. Amazon offers free promotions for your ebook through its KDP program. But the catch is that it has to be exclusive to the Amazon Kindle store. So, it was bye-bye Nook.

It was the right decision, because with a few new giveaways on Amazon Kindle, my sales popped back up again. Not as much as my initial launch, but it was way more than 3 sales per month, I can tell you that.

Which brings to a final plea to Barnes & Noble. It would be great if someone at B&N decided to offer real promotional tools. All that B&N has is a “Tools & Tips” section under “Marketing Support” on its Nook self-publishing page. It has some nice suggestions and all, but no real programs like Amazon does.

Like letting your author giveaway the book so that readers can check it out and tell their friends. Or like letting the book be borrowed at $2 a pop as part of that program. Or like extending distribution of your ebooks from the USA to: Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan and Brazil. Or like sending a regular email to your authors letting them know about the latest tricks and news in self-publishing. Amazon does all four of those things. Barnes & Noble doesn’t do any of them.

If they want to compete, they might want to reconsider. Or hire me as consultant to tell them those exact same things for a huge sum. I’m fine with that, too.

Anyway, it really is a pity because Barnes & Noble has a great device, a great selection and  real brick-and-mortar stores. So, I’m kind of partial to them. It’s too bad they’ve squandered such a great opportunity to be a leader in e-publishing.

Alright, enough of that. I’m starting to sound like an Amazon commercial. The book is up on Nook now and that’s where it’s going to stay. Please read it and leave a review if you have a minute. I can’t tell you how much credibility it lends to a book to have reviews, any reviews (almost), up there.

Until next time. Keep reading, keep writing.

,Darius

No Rules, No Principles, No Limits

So…Where to start…

Surfing around Twitter the other day I dug up a Russian writer I’ve been thinking about now and then, Victor Pelevin (I liked his Babylon aka Generation P). So I became a follower and then I saw this recent Tweet of his.

Allow me to translate to the best of my ability (I have spoken some Russian in my day).

I don’t have any such thing as tastes. In literature, music and film, I like what doesn’t follow any principles or rules.

I saw that and I thought, “Yeah. Ain’t that right.” You see, I’m trying  to submit my works and I’m already so damn tired of genres and genre marketing. And I know, I get it, I understand publishers are trying to make it easy for readers to find books they like and make profits, etc. etc.

But man,  I never read stuff because it’s one genre or another. Growing up I read science fiction, fantasy, “literary fiction,” and satire. And I never thought, not for one second, about what genre it was. I just cared if it was good. That’s all that mattered. The Lord of  the Rings, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Brothers Karamazov, Candide. I read whatever, I didn’t give a damn what genre people stuck it in.

And if you’re thinking now that as a writer I’ve changed one bit, you’re crazy. I don’t go in thinking, like a marketer, “Gee, what genre will this fit in?” I go in thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if somebody wrote a story about X?” And then I write it. Nail it down on the page until the last line. Which brings me to the next point, a kind of confession.

I decided a few months ago, NOT to follow this advice and write something in a marketable genre. I admit it, I wrote a fantasy short story with an erotic twist. Yeah, it came to that…And you know what? It came out all wrong. Stilted, clichéd, boring. I tried to sell it to a few mags and after awhile I gave up because it wasn’t that great a story. And I knew it.

So, lesson learned. No more writing what vague markets or a mythical readership demands. I’ll stick with writing what I want. Those books I wish somebody else had written, but the idea just never came to them. The exact sort of books I would most like to read.

After all, I do this for me. Is that narcissistic? Selfish? Fine by me.

PS…I’m starting off each writing day listening to the intro to this song. It’s my caffeine, gets the juices flowing every time. First 10 seconds are the best.

Sweet Black Angel, Rolling Stones

PPS…Pelevin has many followers on Twitter, but he “follows” no one.

My Book Is Free Today – Last Chance

In a weird coincidence, my novel, The Library of Lost Books, is free today, Feb. 14 or Valentine’s day. Not that the book has anything to do with Valentine’s or romance, it’s just a weird coincidence.

It will probably be the last time the book is given away. I plan to put the book on Nook (and keep it there this time). So, there will be no more Amazon KDP giveaways.

So get it for free while you can!