Announcing: Flowers of Dionysus Paperback!

So, way back when I was a brand new self-publisher, my labor of love and first (made public) novel, Flowers of Dionysus was made available for purchase in most ebook stores. As I was new to the process, I didn’t take the novel to paperback, beyond an experimental copy I creating for myself.

Several books and two novels later, both of which are available in paperback, I am happy to announce that I will be correcting this void in my list of works. I Have begun the process of bringing back my debut novel, this time in paperback form for the general public.

The e-version, at least on Kindle, will likely remain unaffected by this choice, for those who never got around to buying a copy of same.  But as for the paperback, I’ll be shopping around for new cover art, adding some front/back matter, and just in general providing an affordable, enjoyable paperback reading experience available to readers of my other novels.

It takes a while sometimes, for a wheel to spin full circle. Now that it almost has, I hope those of you who prefer paper copies of my work will consider going back to the beginning, as it were, and purchasing a copy of Flowers of Dionysus for yourself, when the time comes.

I have no launch day yet, but I want it to be no later than the fall. (Now that it looks like my current work in progress will require a lot more work for a lot more progress than initially expected.)

I’m looking forward to making what is old new again.

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Writing Fiction in the Age of Trump

I have been a part-time journalist in the past, and I still write human interest and arts-related content for a local magazine.

Yet I have never done much of what one might call “hard journalism.” That is to say factual, researched, or service to the public good and record. I’m capable, but I think in most cases, that sort of writing is best left to those who love doing it.

We need that kind of writing now more than ever.

What of my writing, though? These posts, my observational essays? My fiction?

With the darkening cloud of authoritarianism from Trump, and the bigotry, hatred, and destruction of democratic norms that comes along with that, I’ve been forced to wonder at times if I’m making a true contribution to the light.

The common answer to such inquiries goes something like this:

Fiction, and other forms of thought provoking, subjective writing provides many people with solace, escape, hope, and empathy. Composing stories that encourage people when little else is encouraging is a valuable contribution to society. That’s true of all of the arts.”

Yes. Okay. I have no argument against that in concept. I certainly would not want stories and art to go away. (Though there are those who try like hell to rid us of them.)

I face several difficulties, however, when I attempt to assimilate this line of thinking into my own life.

-I’m uncertain if there is a point beyond which this ceases to apply to this degree.

-I fear that delving into the production of fiction insulates at times, even if it is unintentional. We need engagement, not more barriers to reality.

-Is writing a good mystery, or an exciting suspense yarn, or immersive fantasy on the same level of justification these days as thick-themed, rebellious, deep-prose literature? The latter has served a social purpose for ages. The former examples?

-Most personally, I myself reach, and hence effect virtually nobody. That is to say even if one were to conclude that writing fiction, all fiction is a service to society in these days of creeping fascism and ultra-nationalism, one would have to assume that said fiction is being read widely in said society, wouldn’t one? My fiction is not widely read thus far. In fact, depending on your metric, my fiction is infrequently read.

It’s true. I’m trying not to sound like this is all about me. Yet for the time being, the truth cannot be denied; whether because of marketing, or content, or dumb luck, I’ve not found a consistent audience for my work beyond a handful of people who know me.

It’s one thing to spend the time, energy, thought and life force on a novel that at least a small audience will most likely enjoy. One can say to oneself as a writer, “I’m at least reaching those people. I made a difference in their day, distracting them from their fears, reminding them of better things. Yet for myself at this time, can I justify all of the time and effort I require to produce a novel that doesn’t get read beyond a few people, when that same time and effort should be spent instead battling and exposing the forces in the United States that are anathema to human rights, dignity and freedom? Shouldn’t be all hands on deck?

That brings me to a concern from the other side of this ever spinning coin; expressing views on political issues is often frowned upon for new, or even established writers. You don’t want to alienate potential readers after all.

But again, I don’t have a following of readers right now, despite best efforts. Who exactly would I be alienating? Furthermore, How out of touch would I appear if I failed to use what little platform I have to speak out against this country’s emerging parallels with late 1920’s Germany? Stepping away from it all and letting “others” sort it out is one of the main reasons we ended up with early 1940’s Germany in the first place.

If you follow my blog, you know that for the last 18 months or so, I’ve felt a bit of a drag on my writing energies anyway. Add to that immigrant children being abused, the hard journalists I mentioned being labeled as “enemies of the people,” and an ever cozier relationship with the Putin tyranny on the part of our government, and how is one ever to get through a particularly rough rewrite of a fantasy featuring crystals and the afterlife? “Keep Calm and Carry On” was a noble sentiment, but it was born out of a nation’s preparation for being literally blown up.

I’ll carry on writing for now, but not out of nobility. It’s because I don’t know exactly what else I’m supposed to do when I’m not keeping track of the American decline. Still the question of how justified I am in doing so is more up in the air than I would like it to be.

 

Write Your Other Decision.

You make hundreds if not thousands of choices every day. We all do. Naturally, this means that they are hundreds of things each day you choose not to do. You didn’t get the Caesar salad for lunch at the cafeteria. (Because you went with soup today.) You’re opted for more sleep this morning, so you didn’t take the earliest commuter train to work. You’re “to-read” pile at this moment is a stack of books that you most recent chose not to read next.

And so on.

Up until the present moment, you know how the decisions you made panned out today. Yet what about all the options you didn’t take?

This is the genre of alternate-history in a nutshell. But you can use it on a micro-level, without writing about an entire new history of the planet. (Unless of course you want to.)

If, however, you’re only looking for a writing exercise to keep sharp, one that comes with a virtually infinite number of prompts, try this: At the end of your day, (or at some other quiet time of same) pick one simple decision you had to make, and write a paragraph or two that describes you making the other choice. Make the narrative cover a few hours of your day.

Of course you may say that you didn’t make any huge decisions today. This isn’t about huge; it’s about cause an effect. It’s about sequence. Stories are essentially an organized sampling of decisions made, and the consequences that result from those decisions, as well as personal responses and reactions to them. When you consider how your choice, your day might have turned out, you’re not only “writing what you know,” (who knows your day  better than you do?) but you are practicing the art of observing and determining how one events leads to another, to another.

Choices. Consequences. More choices. Results. Reactions. You  may not have an award-winning piece of literature in you every single day. Nobody does. Yet you always have what your day could have been as a catalyst for craft.

Fixer-Upper

People love to buy crumbling structures that were once houses, and then invest in bringing them up to code and making them houses again. Some people do it so they can live in them. Others do it so they can “flip” the house, and sell it quickly for a nice profit.

“Fixer-upper,” they call them. That’s a tidy term for what in many cases has the subtext of, “This place is a dump, but not quite ready for a wrecking ball. If you’re rich enough you can buy and fix it.”

I’m not rich. I’m a writer, after all. Yet I know fixer-uppers. I’m working on one now, and I don’t mean a house. I mean the first draft of my next novel. (Coming out sometime this year.)

“All first drafts are poor, Ty.” – The collective wisdom of the writing world.

Very true, reply I to said world of writing. But in this case, this draft is beyond mere rough and into lava-oozing-across-the-street terrain. Holes and broken pipes I didn’t even realize were such problems when I went through with a red pen the first time.

I’m talking entire scenes deleted, or even more tedious, scenes put in a different order. Characters that, though not huge, had to be excised almost entirely in order for the narrative to flow in at an acceptable pace. Pages of rough draft that wherein following corrections I myself wrote down in red ink will not suffice; they require a rewrite of the scene from almost scratch.

Yes, indeed, this one is a fixer-upper.

Perhaps all of your drafts are fixer-uppers. Every writer is different. And though I would never lie and claim my first drafts are flawless, I’ve never found the need to do this much rebuilding between the initial “red-inking” and the actual typing of the second draft. I won’t, as a result, be able to release this next novel as early in the year as I usually do.

Yet, much like the “fixer-upper” houses, the story is not ready for the wrecking ball. The arc is there, the world is established, and I know who the characters are. Though slower than I like, the work continues, because the house is still salvageable.

If you find your first few drafts are fixer-uppers, in need of more than just some sharpening and polishing, relax. You’ve still got a lot of lumber and tools to work with to bring about a finished product that far surpasses what you’re looking at now. You can’t improve an empty lot into a house, after all.

 

 

Metaphors and the Spectrum

No two people on the Autism Spectrum experience it in the same way. There are however common tendencies that are nonetheless present in many such people.

One of those common (not universal) traits is difficulty with metaphoric language. The use and interpretation of metaphors can lead to confusion for many on the Spectrum, even those like myself that are in the so-called “high functioning” camp.

For example, in conversation one might say that today they are “blue.” Some on the Spectrum would have difficulty with this, seeing as how the person speaking is obviously not the color blue. Even once it is explained to that person that blue is a metaphor, and that it stands in for feeling sad, the problem isn’t solved. Plenty of people on the Spectrum would then ask why the other person didn’t just say they were “sad.” Sad after all is literally the truth. “Blue” is simply not true, metaphor or not. What’s the point of saying one is blue then?

This isn’t the case for me, as I not only understand the definition of a metaphor, but understand their application. I have no way of knowing if this is due to my being a writer, and making use of words for so long, or if it just happens not to be a situation with my particular ASD. I can only say that that this specific difficulty isn’t present in my mind.

Or perhaps it is.

I picked up a used book last week. I’ve not had a chance to sit down and read it proper yet, but I was skimming through it a few days ago. Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers by David Madden is exactly what it sounds like. While I skimmed it, my eye fell on a question the book asked at one point.

It asked the author to consider if they were using simile when metaphor would be better, or metaphor when simile would be better. The question was still on my mind during my next revision session on my upcoming novel. That’s it when it occurred to me; I use simile much more than I do metaphor when I write. Rough guess, 5 to 1 ratio, or higher. Enough to be noticeable.

Not only that, I recalled at that point how often I have, in previous manuscripts removed similes, because I deemed I’d used too many. Only part of the time did I replace them with a metaphor.

Quick high school grammar review. A simile is a symbolic comparison that uses “like” or “as.” “Tight as a drum,” is one cliched example.

“My heart froze like a hot dog dipped in liquid nitrogen,” is another, (albeit asinine ) simile.

A metaphor is a symbolic comparison directly applied but not literally true. “There was a storm brewing in Sarah’s eyes.” (That should vary enough to avoid a lawsuit I hope.) No literal storm, but the point is made.

Back to the realization about myself. When I write symbolically, especially a first draft, I default to simile. Why? As I realized, I do in fact experience a slight resistance, barely perceptible, to metaphor. I use metaphor when I speak as often as anyone else, and I can follow metaphor when reading. Yet it finally occurred to me that in the sometimes mile-a-minute nature of writing a first draft (or second), a metaphor registers in  my mind as de facto “bad writing,” even if it is not.

A sub-conscious calculus is made. Some part of me says, “there’s no storm in a person’s eye. Fix that.” The most direct way to save the symbolism, the visual, is to then say, “Her eyes light up like a storm.”

The presence of “like” stamps the ticket for the sentence to get past my subconscious. Anything can be “like” anything else. That’s writing. “You may pass.”

No doubt my work has ended up with fewer metaphors than otherwise it might have. Some might have even been good writing.

Could this small resistance to putting metaphor down in writing be a watered-down version of metaphor difficulties experienced by plenty of people on the Autism Spectrum? My version perhaps confined that particular trait to one tiny office in the corner of my mind, but an office with some power under the right conditions.

I can’t prove this, of course. Makes sense, though.

Whatever the exact reason, I’m determined to use metaphor more often. It can be overdone of course, but to me, pound for pound metaphor is the stronger symbolism. It’s more direct and in the reader’s face. “Like” or “as” put a barrier up between the reader and the text. In most cases a simile has an authorial subtext of, “but not really,” embedded in it. A metaphor provides nowhere to  hide, and hence carries a more forceful punch.

Metaphor requires more trust for your reader as well, don’t you think? As long as the concept of, “it’s only like a wrecking ball, but not literally so” seeps in, we don’t give the reader full control. We hold their hand a little longer. (I think I’m in the clear with that example too.)

It also requires me to trust myself more. I need to believe in my ability to compose a useful, interesting, effective metaphor in order to do so. No crutch.

So I’m making a conscious decision to make greater use of metaphor. The change won’t come overnight; it’s like a marathon. But I’ll get there eventually.