That’s where I was for part of Saturday morning. To be honest, I didn’t stay long, as I felt there were some organizational problems with the first time event that hopefully will be solved next year. But this isn’t a review of the festival as a whole.
The one panel discussion I went to, (attempting to stay warm while sitting in the outside tent on the overcast morning) was about self-publishing. As many of you know, I haven’t decided yet on how to publish my novel, either the old way of to do it myself. But I am gathering information as I go, and the panel on the subject seemed an ideal place to spend some time while I was at the festival.
I didn’t gain much more in the way of information than I already had from other sources over time. I did however put several faces to the concept of successful self publishing. I have a few friends who have just started that journey, (more on them in the coming weeks), but until Saturday I hadn’t been personally exposed to self-published success stories, and it was encouraging to finally do so. (Though one did a lot of work with small presses without an agent as well.)
How did they define success? That would have been an interesting question to ask them, and I intended to. But one blowhard in the audience ended up asking 85% of the questions, and I just wasn’t in the mood to shout over other people to be heard. (Am I ever?) But it was clear that each of them, despite being mid-list local authors for the time being were satisfied with their experiences in self-publishing. Difficult though it may be. All of them had stories of agents who signed them and never returned calls again, or of not understanding how and why the agent model continues to thrive. All of them legitimized the self-publishing model even further.
Not that agents have to be bad people. But it was satisfying to hear established even if local authors express the same sort of questions I’ve been grappling with as I study the agent route.
Beyond the specifics, I think it was good for me to go to this book festival held nearby, even if it was quite underwhelming and needed better planning. I have to keep my eyes open for “writerly” gatherings in which to take part. That all started with the writers salon I joined over a year ago. I know I am not made to meet people and engage them at festivals and conventions, (don’t start on me…), but by getting to them when I can, I at least develop a mental presence that aligns me with the writer’s life more. At least as much as I can be so, without cold-introducing myself to people just for the sake of doing so.
One other note on my weekend; I sent the first section of Flowers for Dionysus off to the novel splinter group of the salon I mentioned. I’ve been reviewing the novel of the sub-group’s founder for the last month or so, and when we came to the end of that, he asked if i wanted to submit mine next. So I did. For most of the last month it’s only been three people involved, and it looks like it will be the same for my novel. (It gathered zero attention from the other writers I contacted about the group…which I guess might be a bad sign, as far as my pitch goes.)
So I look forward to Thursday when we meet to begin the discussion on my work. Look forward to, and also remain a bit nervous about. I’m sure that will pass in the following week though. This is like opening night or the first date. But I’m pretty satisfied it’s good writing, and I know the two people reading it for the group know what they are talking about, even if I don’t end up agreeing with all of their thoughts. (Who does?)
I’ll keep you updated on that.
Though the timing and structure have not yet been determined, I have decided that I will be submitting the current draft of Flowers for Dionysus to the small novel critique group of which I am a part.
“Submitting” is probably overstating it. It’s a group of three other writers, whom I trust, all of whom I met during meetings of the Frederick Writers Salon. They asked if I wanted to go next, and I said that I would.
Now several people have read previous drafts of the novel in their own time, and several more will be reading the current fifth draft. Those readers are just as valuable to me, but they will be reading mostly at their own pace. (Provided they can be done by the time I start the next draft.) The review group I mentioned will meet regularly, having read a specific section of the novel during the interim. So it will be more structured and specific.
Usually one person reads it, and the email their thoughts, and answer a few questions I have. This will be a discussion of the novel, in person, at a table. Am I nervous? I wouldn’t use that word. These people have critiqued my shorts stories several times before, so I am used to how to operate. Yes, there is more invested in this novel than in the short stories, but I’m aware that as always I can receive and process the advice I find useful, and then quietly set aside anything that I feel won’t be of use. Just as the author who’s novel we are currently reviewing will do with advice I offer.
Perhaps advice isn’t even the correct term. I can’t speak to any other group dynamic of course, but with this one, it tends to be responses more than advice, unless specific advice is asked for. Sometimes we say, “I’d understand this better if it were earlier in the chapter,” or something like that. But rarely does anybody say, “You should change the order of this chapter.”
Response. Impressions. Effect on someone. That’s what a lot of this is about, but from the perspective of people who spend time crafting their own stories. Writers are of course not better people than those who do not write. They will simply offer a perspective that those who do not write probably cannot offer. I blog about it here because it will be the first time that the novel has received the treatment from these people.
I imagine it will be somewhat like a runner going for a run. They want to and don’t want to. Long term, they want to get out there and run. Short term, they are tired today, or are still stiff from the last run. Yet once they get out there, all things being equal, and things are moving, they end up glad they got on with it. I feel my experience in the group with the novel is similar.
I’ll keep you updated.
For this post, I’m not providing answers, or even opinions. I’m reversing polarity on this blog post, and instead asking questions, any and all of which you are free to provide answers to if you have any.
-Why are so many people and organizations unwilling to be small?
-Is there an intrinsic value to indiscriminate change?
-Is “that’s the world we live in” ever an intelligent answer?
-Is it healthy or even moral to be selling ourselves in every field of our lives, all of the time?
-Should people with their own rigid expectations ever complain about being discriminated against?
-Where does the unhealthy obsession with income potential as a dating criteria come from?
-Why can’t the woman in a relationship make more or all of the money?
-Why can’t she be taller, for that matter? Or older?
-If two people are of legal age, why should an age difference matter? What exactly is so creepy about a large age difference between two romantic partners?
-Why is it creepy behavior when you have no interest in the guy, but flirtation when you find him attractive? Is this a double-standard?
-Is there truly a standard for quality art or writing, or do we just like what we like?
-Why do so many religious people see academic intelligence as a threat, or even something to be mocked?
-When people that “love” you can stop talking to you without explanation, does that say something about them, or you?
-Is there an actual, intellectual defense of the death penalty in a civilized society? One that doesn’t involve the concept of “eye for an eye”?
-How many people truly feel better about themselves when they change their entire life to lose weight, as opposed to thinking they feel better about themselves, because culture says they should be skinny?
-Have you in any way conformed so much that you don’t even realize you’ve conformed at all?
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know I have been working on a novel called Flowers for Dionysus. (At least that’s what I’m calling it so far.) Last month I finished the fifth draft of it, and test readers are selected. I’ve begun researching agents and self-publishing options for it. I don’t think there will be many more drafts left of that one.
In short, it’s in good shape.
Then there is my second novel, which I’ve been referring to here as Novel 2.
This novel is based on a seed of an idea I had years ago for a short story that never came about. About a year ago or so I made the decision that my second novel would be based on said concept, and I began outlining the plot. (I’m more of a planner than pantser.)
Then November of 2012 came, and I decided to get as far into the novel as I could by way of National Novel Writing Month. (Nanowrimo.) I wasn’t sure it was a good idea, and I talked about that here on the blog as well. But I went for it.
I followed the portions of the outline I had already written before November, and when I surpassed the material in that, I went the rest of the way on instinct, Nanowrimo style. By the end of November, I reached what I estimated was the halfway point of the book.
I set Novel 2 aside after Nanowrimo, and worked on the next draft of Flowers for Dionysus for a bit. When I neared the end of that, I started to outline in my second novel again. I finished that up last month as well, and last week I started writing the rest of the first draft.
But all was not well.
There were plot problems from the first half of the rough draft and questions I had yet to answer as the author. I thought I’d just be broad in my outline, and let the solutions appear organically as I wrote. This is much more pantsing than I like to do, and while it may have yielded results eventually, I came to a conclusion last night: this isn’t working.
I don’t mean the inevitable sloppiness of a rough draft, either. I mean that after some analysis, some thought, and a touch of gnashing of teeth I came to realize that the problems of Novel 2 are just too large and too multitudinous to correct through writing the rough draft and correcting in subsequent drafts. This isn’t merely spotty execution early in the process. There are some flaws in the structure itself, and possibly the concept. Strictly speaking I could and should complete the rough draft and then address these things, but I think even for a rough draft, the foundation is resting on too much sand.
In short, I can’t keep building this one as is.
I wrote down all of the themes being addressed in the story, as well as all of the plot points, and there are far too many of both. So many that even if I found a way to tie them all together in one plot, it would feel forced, or convoluted. I hate reading that sort of thing, and so I can’t in good conscience write that sort of thing.
I’ve been writing this novel as a character-driven thriller almost from Day One. Yet there was always this tiny intuition within me that said despite the setting and the presence of some action, the novel wanted to be something other than a thriller. I convinced myself that perhaps it just meant it would be an unusually intelligent or even poetic thriller. But after thinking about it last night, it’s become clear to me that I can’t do justice to the themes I want to address in this novel by writing a thriller, despite there being some suspense in a few scenes.
It’s frustrating and deflating, coming to this realization. But there is good news. At least I think it’s good news: I’m holding onto the theme, the concept, and if all goes well, large portions of what I have of the rough draft. I’ve not looked into it yet, but I think I can make an effective re-calibration of what I have and transform the plot into something more fitting for the message. I don’t think I have to scrap everything I’ve created yet. The theme deserves another shot.
This will, however, mean I will probably have to break one of my cardinal rules and go back over what I have of the unfinished rough draft and alter it. I normally like to finish the rough draft and let it sit a while. Only then do I go back and start revisions. Yet given the major renovation that appears necessary, I don’t think I have any other choice but to go back and at least make some broad changes to what I have so far. What I have from Nanowrimo.
This happens, I know. It’s expected, common, and not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of this novel so far. Nor am I afraid of hard work, as all writing is hard. But this will be extra labor, because I have to extricate all of the twists, turns, daggers, clues, mysteries, investigations and actions scenes that make up the bulk of the novel now, and reinvent it as something else that remains recognizable to the theme I’m going for. It will be a bit of a pain in the ass.
But at least I’ve not quit on this novel. Not yet. They say it’s the not quitting, (as opposed to the constant starting) that makes a writer a writer. We’re about to see just how much of a writer I really am. Stay tuned.
I’ve been involved in community theatre for years. Once I began to establish myself somewhat in the local theatre circuit, I adopted a practice of supporting those people I knew who were also in theatre. Whenever a friend or someone I had gotten along with well in a previous show was to appear in a production, I’d make an effort to come see them in same. Even if the show itself didn’t appeal to me. First, it’s the decent thing to do. And secondly, I was building a network or artistic, creative types that hopefully would lead to bigger and better things.
During those years I too was also in many shows, to which I would invite all of those people I would come to see. After several years I noticed something; none of them ever came to see me in my shows.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s because it’s a stunning yet true statistic. Unless I was in a show with one of these people I was supporting, or they were there to come see someone else that was in the show with me, almost none of them would attend shows I was in. Oh they really “meant” to, or “would have loved it”, but they didn’t do it.
The result? After a few years, I stopped going to shows to support people. It wasn’t worth my time or money to keep seeing shows, (some of which were honestly not good) only to support “friends” and “colleagues”, when that investment was never returned.
Strict adherents to the “networking magic” school of success would say that I made it all about me, and that is why it failed. That networking is about what I can provide to other people and “yammer yammer yammer yammer”…we’ve heard it all before ad nauseum.
The truth is, I wasn’t in it simply to collect future favors. I was doing it because at the time it seemed like the nice thing to do. Yet it wasn’t always easy to set aside ticket money, or drive 45 minutes to do it. A bit of reciprocity is not too much to ask, I don’t care how “selfless” you claim to be when you do something.
So I began to simply give the best I could give when I was in a show with people. I thought a few years of that would entitle me to some degree of respect and consideration. Last year, the failure of both my own theatre company, and to gain any interest in a play I directing was further proof that support for my creative endeavors is damn near impossible t0 come by.
I am a little bitter about the lack of support I have gotten from the vast majority of people I’ve worked with over the years. The same can be said for the fact I’ve kept a blog of some sort for close to eight years now, that only a few people I know have ever read or commented on. It literally doesn’t require anyone to leave their home, and the patronage is close to zero. I have gotten more response from strangers than the people I know since starting this site.
This is also troublesome. But there is something about the situation that makes it more than just sad, and projects it into the realm of the offensive at times. That extra factor is that many of those same people who didn’t come to see my shows, didn’t try out for my production, or don’t read my blog have projects in their own right that they have the audacity to promote.
Now, perhaps I’m just an unpopular, deeply hated individual. Believe me I’ve considered the possibility more than once. But I’ve not been so hated that others haven’t asked me to come to their show, buy a ticket for whatever, give something a look, and so on. They’ve created something after all, and an audience is an audience.
At least, when they need the audience. Truth be told they usually end up with a bigger audience than I ever got, and that’s probably enough for them. But it doesn’t take away the point I’m trying to make.
Being creative is not easy when it matters to you. When your play, your novel, your website or gallery exhibit actually means something to you, and you really want to move people, it’s not easy. Sometimes people get lucky, and have their first sloppy draft published, or get the lead in a play their first time out, but over the long haul, creating something artistic means effort.
In an increasingly fast paced Crowdsourcing world where iphones and text messages are king and everyone can publish a book or edit a movie, it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out as an artist, particularly a new one. Even in smaller communities, there is so much competing for our attention it’s not easy to stand out and have people take notice of what we’ve created, without some built-in audience or connection to the community. The internet, once a place that made such connections easier is now an even bigger flood of pointless garbage than the real world tends to be. Creatives can get lost there even faster.
My overarching argument is this; support creatives. Especially your friends or people you’ve met personally. It may eventually lead to diminishing returns, and if it does, cut your ties, and move on to something more promising. You don’t have to keep beating your head into a wall. I didn’t. I stopped going to plays that didn’t appeal to me just to support the friends that were in them. But you can keep giving new things a chance. Or a hand.
There will always be someone else with a project to investigate and support. Someone will always need any help they can get in spreading the word about their creations. So help out some of those people each day. Give a project or even a person that is unfamiliar a temporary benefit of the doubt, and attend their show or promote their blog. You can always step away if you don’t like it or if you don’t feel appreciated.
The very act of creating in this world is a brave one. Far too brave an act than to be shoved out of our minds by busy schedules and the next Facebook status update. We owe it to creativity itself to try a little harder as people to look into, talk about, and promote creative endeavors that we come across. Not every one of them, but not just those of our best friends either. Those of us who spend our lives being creative have a special obligation to at least try for our fellow creatives.
A handful of my friends have done so for me. I try to do so for others. Will you?