Existential-itis Versus Transcendental Repair

In Eva Figgis’s brief but quotable book entitled Light, she describes a morning as she envisions it as it unfolds for the Impressionist painter, Claude Monet:monet.png

“The sky was dark when he opened his eyes and saw it through the uncurtained window. He was upright within seconds, out of bed, and had opened his window to study the signs…

His appetite for the day thoroughly aroused, his elated mood turned to energy, and he was in his dressing room into the cold bath which sent his senses tingling humming an unknown tune under his breath…”

Yeah. I have never known an artist who liked mornings that much.

As we know, artists – yes, even the actors- are human beings.

Because there are all kinds of human beings who deal with mornings in all kinds of ways, I can’t presume to know what makes other artists reluctant to leave their beds behind them each morning.

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What I do know is that the most consistent thing that makes me personally reluctant to propel myself upward and face the day is the emotional paralysis caused by anxiety and depression.

Again, I can’t claim to know what causes anxiety and depression for other artists / authors, and your experience might vastly differ from mine.

But for me, it starts with a feeling that there are amazing things to do, see, and write about in this ol’ world, the time I have to do those things is running out, and if I don’t do everything in my power to lead a worthwhile life every second of every day, before long I will have wasted my life.

Sound irrational?

You bet it does.

Anxiety IS irrational. Sorry.

However, I am not the first or last writer wrestle with this particular locus of anxiety.

In 18th century Europe, there lived a generation of poets, painters, and musicians who felt dehumanized by dismal factories and industrial progress. These poets, painters, and musicians, dubbed “romantics,” looked to nature for an antidote to re-humanization and believed that death was preferable to a beauty-less existence.

A little later in the early 19th century, Americans adapted this love of nature for a similar philosophical movement called…

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If ever you attended public high school in the USA, some well-meaning teacher may have introduced you to the works of Transcendental writers the likes of Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, or Louisa May Alcott.

Those who considered themselves transcendent believed, among other things, that life is wonderful, everything matters, and self-reliance is the only way to gain spiritual insight.

On paper, the path of Transcendence is an enviable way of life, but the idea that everything matters all the time can put a lotta pressure on a dumb high school kid, and later on a lotta of pressure on a grown-ass man or woman who was gullible enough to take their teachers seriously that one time.

It is perhaps worth noting that the transcendentalists were not universally well received. One particularly harsh critic, a bitter Bostonian who went by the unlikely name of Edgar Allan Poe, satirized his transcendental peers in a story called “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” where in he referred to them as “Frogpondians” and their beliefs a “disease.”

But seriously Ed, how do you really feel?

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Also, if you look up a comprehensive list of Transcendentalists, you’ll find a whole lot of writers who go by all 3 names. That is because most of the transcendentalists were rich people to whom “self-reliance” likely meant something different than would it to a struggling writer like Edgar Allan Poe.

And for all Henry David Thoreau’s lofty boasts of self-reliance in his days on Walden Pond, he never grew so self-reliant as to do his own laundry. He took it home to Mother.

That part never came up in class. Teachers who wanted us to take American Lit seriously must have left that out for some reason.

Nevertheless, at their best, the transcendentalist writings on mortality awareness encourage folks live life as fully as possible.

At their worst, they precipitate in the reader a downward spiral of indecision, despair, and a much harder time getting out of bed in the morning.

Even decisions about simple things like “Do I want chicken or steak for supper,” become an anxious ordeal, if you believe everything matters. It feels as though your next judgment call could be the one that makes your life go to hell, particularly if you’re a ruminator who has made a few dumb decisions in your time and live in fear of  making another.

So how do you get past the fear that the Trancendentalists were right; that everything is important, and screwing some of those things up is an inevitable part of your day?

Incredibly, the answer comes from a bunch of fatalists who founded a completely different school of thought known as “Existentialism.”

Ever hear someone throw around phrases, “existential crisis” or “the existential blues”?

The concept behind these phrases may have been best summed up by a certain comic from Cleveland, Ohio with the deceptively simple words,

“Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.”

Well loved in his day, that Cleveland comic. I wonder what ever happened to that guy.

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Anyway, in contrast to the Transcendentalists who believed everything matters, the Existentialists the likes of (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus Friedrich Nietzsche believed that freedom of thought and deed comes from the acceptance that nothing matters…

which you’d think would make an anxious depressive less inclined to get out of bed, not moreso. Stick around. I swear I’m going somewhere with this.

The existential dread or crisis experienced by persons in distress likely comes from a feeling of loneliness and futility in a seemingly hostile universe.

But according the Existentialists, the fact that the universe is big and hostile means a couple things:

1)  No matter how big our decisions feel to us, the universe is so much bigger, we could not mess it all up, even if we tried.

2)  If everything is equally meaningless, that means everything is equally meaningful, and any given item has meaning only when we give it meaning.

So, the perfect prom dress, the illusive fame / fortune, the unspoken “I love yous,” and the smoldering embers of a well-kept grudge?

They only matter if we say they matter.

Again, anxiety is irrational, so I don’t know if the idea we might be free to decide what matters will be helpful to… anyone who’s not me.

This is kinda something new I’m trying to better prompt myself out of semi-perpetual anxious / depressive spirals.

If any of this was helpful or provocative of thoughts and feelings (including the nasty ones), you are 12 kinds of welcome to talk to me about it in the comments.

If you’d like experience the audio / visual version of this article with some extra pictures and a screwy narrator, check out the link below.

The Case for Genre Fiction

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Few concepts  in the book world inspire bursts of sarcastic laughter and outright scorn like those brought to mind by the phrase, “genre fiction.”

I knew nothing of this scorn when I started out in the publishing racket and wrote 2 books-worth of genre fiction before I even knew what it was.

Not wishing to look like a confused tourist among my fellow writers, I snooped around on the internet and tried to figure out what it was.

It turns out that “genre fiction” pertains to fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.”

Well, that clears it up. I guess (?)

Chances are if your book is blighted by the name, “genre fiction,” it means your book has marketing potential among the masses as opposed to “literary fiction,” which the same internet defines as “novels regarded as having more literary merit than most commercial or ‘genre fiction’.”

Wait, what?

You’re telling me genre fiction is anything not good enough to be literary fiction, and literary fiction is anything too good to be genre fiction?

Thanks, Internet.

You are, as ever, a font of endless wisdom.

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The point is, a writer who creates a successful piece of genre fiction is likely to be taken less seriously than the one who creates a commercially unsuccessful piece of literary fiction or even contemporary fiction.

Some well-known books that are widely accepted as examples of literary fiction include The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Animal Farm, The Handmaid’s Tale, Of Mice and Men, Slaughterhouse 5, and Lolita.

In contrast, some well-known genre fiction titles of lesser acclaim include The Hobbit, The Time Machine, Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Dracula, The Horse and his Boy, and Dune.

And the moral of the story boys and girls?

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And critics like it that way (?)

I think some of them must like it that way, or there wouldn’t be such a pervasive misconception in certain sectors of the book community that

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Now, I freely concede I am bias as a writer of genre fiction, and I’m glad literary fiction such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Flowers for Algernon are on the planet, but anyone in the book biz who tells you a novel lacks merit because it achieved commercial success is being a little disingenuous.

Every work of fiction the publisher signs is sent to print with the hope it will make money.

Granted, if they had their choice, most publishers would pick a prestige magnet like The Hate U Give over a tawdry cash grab like Fifty Shades of Gray, but at the end of the day, money achieves a resounding victory over art 10 times out of 9.

Long-time readers will often get to a point when they realize life is too short for bad books.

When that happens, they DNF more frequently and leave the Lolitas, and the Great Gatsbys to the masochists who read insufferable books of critical acclaim purely for the bragging rights of having read them.


Now, in all fairness to snobby book critics and their darlings, sometimes the book snobs have a point. Many titles beloved of the masses are truly bad… and I can’t believe my life and times are those in which Twilight is the new Gone with the Wind.

Meanwhile, in a similar vein of dismissive attitudes toward genre fiction, there are some intellectual purists who dismiss fictional narratives of any kind in saying, “But why fiction? If you’re a good writer who something important to say, shouldn’t you be able to say it plainly in essays, documentaries, or any number of excellent non-fiction outlets?”

*sigh* YesBut…

There’s a reason Aesop’s fictional fables are still taught in schools while the instructional proverbs of King Solomon are not.

The fables of Aesop give context to the signature lessons he wished to impart. King Solomon’s dreary list of 9 or so hundred random sayings that are lofty and artistic but they kinda blur together and are not readily accessibly to the reader.

Also, like the skilled photographer who uses different lenses to get the effect he desires, a lens of fiction, non-fiction, or genre fiction can color one story any number of ways in order to make it appealing to a variety of audiences.

Say you’re a kid in school and your teacher wants to impress on you the importance of the civil rights movement.

There is no single right way to do this because each student is different.

Megan might respond to a biography on Martin Luther King whereas Lucus might jive better with a dramatic reading of To Kill A Mockingbird or Huckleberry Finn.

The civil rights paradigm that hit me hardest in my formative years was Marvel Comics’ X-Men because it was an ongoing, action-packed saga about oppression and bigotry complete with a house divided and feuding factions among the oppressed.

I’m kinda dense sometimes, so it didn’t click with me how closely the fight for human equality in 60s era America mirrored the X-Men’s  fight for mutant equality in the 80s and 90s until I saw this shot of Professor X and Magneto side by side in X3.

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It was at that point, the sleepy little man who sits at the controls of my hippocampus woke up enough to flip the appropriate switch, and I heard my brain go,

“Hey, this isn’t just a couple old white dudes in colorful costumes. It’s Dr. King and Malcom X.”

For those of who want to fight me on this and say, “It’s not a civil rights metaphor, Stupid. It’s a coming out metaphor,” to you I say, “Para no dos?”

Well-done genre fiction has endless avenues of interpretation. Civil rights and coming out narratives are only 2 of them.

While we’re more ore less on the subject, one virtue that is somewhat unique to genre fiction is how easily it lends itself to adaptation and coding. Before freedom of speech / the written word was a thing (like for most of human existence), writers of what we would now consider “genre fiction” could criticize their government without facing prison time or a traitor’s death on the gallows.

For a couple quick examples, let’s take a look at the work of Jonathon Swift Virginia Woolf.

Fun Fact: Did you know Virginia Woolfe’s full married name was “Adeline Virginia Stephen-Woolf”?

Kinda gets your motor runnin,’ no?

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Anyway, either Swift or Woolf could have easily been killed or imprisoned, if Swift had plainly said “The monarchy is a bunch of oversexed lunatics,” or Woolfe had plainly said “I’m not unambiguously heterosexual.”

Instead, they filtered their worldviews through the fish-eye lens of satire, setting Orlando in the distant, enchanted past and giving Gulliver foreign lands like “Lilliput,” and “Bromdingnag” to criticize instead of  “England.” The parallels to real life absurdities from the world they knew were apparent enough that readers could “Tee-hee” with the author but different enough the ruling class wouldn’t assume they got dissed and start killin’ fools.

So I guess to sum up,

1) Genre fiction has a long, proud history.

2) Critical acclaim isn’t everything. If it was, we wouldn’t know who Jules Vern is, but we wouldn’t know who Stephanie Meyer is, either. So if you prefer a world with no sparkly, emo vampires that also has no submarines and helicopters…too bad. This is the one we got. Sorry.

3)  If feminist fore-runner, Virginia Stephan-Woolf never in her life liked to dream – yes, yes– right between the saw machine… I believe life as we know it would be still more unfair than it is.

Thanks for stopping by the website.

If you’d like to check out a video  with information in it that is astoundingly like the that contained in this article (with more pictures and my wacky voice attached to it) check out the YouTube version in the link below:


Sexism and the Publishing Industry

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Since the days of King Alfred way back in the year 927, England and therefore America later on, was a patriarchy.
To the publishing industry, this meant the next thousand years-worth of books were written by pale males for pale males. The few exceptions were almost exclusively wealthy pale females like Mary Shelly or pale females who took male monikers, like George Elliott.
To the casual observer, today’s publishing industry at a passing glance appears to be dominated by women.
As an author, I’ve taken to opening my query letters with “Dear Madam or Sir,” the likelihood my letter will reach a female editor, reviewer, or agent is so high.
And yet, it seems I still sell books in an age in which white-haired men of a certain age can visit my booth at book festivals and without so much as a “Hello,” kick off a bewildering conversation by asking,
“Why do women in writing these days insist on being called ‘author’ not ‘authoress’?”
True story.
I couldn’t have been more astonished or outraged if the man had called me names and slapped my face.
What do you say to that as a mature, confident woman who had hoped we as a society were past all this?
I didn’t know at the time, but on my third or so draft of re-writing this scene in my head the way it should have gone, I should have said,
“Well, Sir, we don’t call ourselves ‘authoress’ for the same reason you don’t call your MD a ‘doctoress’ or your legal representative a ‘lawyeress.’ The title should denote enough respect to make gender irrelevant.”
This incendiary event led me for the first time to wonder, “Just how common is sexism in the publishing industry,” especially since I had hitherto assumed it was biased in favor of women, not against it.
So asked the internet about it.
Julie Crisp, editor at Tor UK seems to be one of the few industry pros who say “It is not at all common,” and the sole reason Tor publishes so many more men than women is that there’s a greater volume of men who submit Sci-fi and fantasy over women.
In stark contrast, the ladies at Tramp Press of Ireland report an infuriating number of industry peers who dismiss their work outright in telling them, “I don’t read women’s fiction,” as though it were beneath them to do so.
And let’s not forget the attitudes like those famously summed up by writer and activist Norman Mailer:
“I can only say that the sniffs I get from the ink of the women are always fey, old-hat, Quaintsy Goysy, tiny, too dykily psychotic, crippled, creepish, fashionable, frigid, outer-Baroque, maquillé in mannequin’s whimsy, or else bright and stillborn.”
Readers under 40 years of age may never have heard of Mr. Mailer.
The over 40 crowd might remember him as a controversial writer-man who advocated for the release of cold-blooded killers in exchange for exclusive expose material and stabbed his wife with a pen knife.
What a guy.
Maybe that’s what’s what separates the authors from the authoresses?
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In the spirit of adding journalistic significance to my otherwise typical rage-rant, I asked my buddy, Amanda Lamkin (founder of Line By Lion Publications) for her take on the sexism in the industry.
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She said in her experience, she has noticed a difference between masculine and feminine writing styles, but not necessarily an inequity:
“Women tend to be more descriptive. Men tend to be matter-of-fact in their writing styles which can be good. But especially for first time male authors, the manuscript often reads like a list of events with lots of telling and little showing. ‘My dad and I did this when I was growing up. Then we did this, and soon, we did that’.”
She went on to report that as a female publisher, she finds she has less credibility than men whose publishing houses faithfully use copyrighted fonts without permission or even the ones who have gone bankrupt. Men and women come up to her on the regular after she’s told them she’s the publisher and ask to speak with her husband assuming he is in charge by virtue of his… art endowment.
As far as diva-style attitudes among her authors are concerned, Lamkin says, ‘The phrase ‘I work with you, not for you,’ has crossed my lips a couple times, and it’s always been with men.”
So the sexism, though less obvious than it was in the days of the suffragettes, is still a thing, and that sucks.
However, my hope for the publishing world lies not in the fact that diverse authors are more welcome than they ever have been or in women finding success filling roles that have historically seen as a man’s domain or that it took me three years in the book biz to catch my first whiff of bullshit as it pertains to gender inequality inside and outside of the industry.
It comes from the fact that when I left high school, I did not know who J.K. Rowling was, but I knew who Harry Potter was. In those days, there were only 4 books in the series, and I did not know or care that someone wrote them, while someone else delegated the editing, printing, and cover art to a bunch of other someones.
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For all I knew, the books were made by elves. All that mattered to me as a consumer of these books was the quality of the writing.
That said, the reason we know her as is J. K. Rowling is because when she was a broke and shopping her book to a thus far Potter-less literary world, she feared publishers would evaluate her work less favorably if they knew from the start she was a woman.
Was she right?
And if she had presumed the best of people, submitted her work as a woman, and the folks at Bloomsbury had been a tad more bias, even by accident, against female writers, would we be trying to escape reality in a book world where-in Harry Potter never existed?
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I don’t know the answer to those questions.
I do know (well, I think at least) that having a  whole genre dubbed “Women’s Fiction” feels like both a helpful and unhelpful step in the battle for equality.
On the one hand, it calls attention to the concept that women write stuff.
On the other hand it sets their work apart, leading critics of the genre to think, “Okay, ladies. If you can’t be exceptional among your male peers, isn’t introducing a separate judging system in the form of ‘Women’s Fiction’ kinda like conceding you are, as they say, ‘Not bad for a girl’?”
Also, as Lamkin pointed out in the course my talking with her, “We have to accept work based on literary merit and not to fill arbitrary quotas. If we start checking off boxes (like gay guy, trans person, or pacific islander) we lower our standards and cheapen our product.”

Valid point, that.

No publisher should feel obligated to publish someone because she’s a woman or he’s a gay druidic shaman. The publisher should feel obligated to publish a book when its writing is exceptional.

Or, you know, if it’ll make crap-tons of money.

So, I guess the moral of the story is keep writing quality work whatever your sex or orientation. When possible treat sexist assholes to a heaping handful of whatever salt and sulfur helped you get this far in life.
And no matter what pompous pale men of a certain age may tell you, “Author” is a gender-neutral title.
So there!
Thank you for stopping by the website. If you’d like to check out a YouTube video remarkably like this article with more pictures and my wacky voice in the background, check out the linked below:
…with the thumbnail that looks remarkably like this:
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Have a great week and write on!
(also, leave a comment if you wanna dispute “write on” as an appropriate catch phrase. Please and thank you 😉 )

Substance Abuse and The Arts

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Contrary to the opinions of certain, not-me cynics out there, artists (yes, even the actors) are human beings. As such, some of them gravitate toward drugs and alcohol for reasons of their own: mood regulation, the killing of pain, plain-and-simple habit.

Substance abuse is so common in the artistic community it is the second leg of the misbehavior triangle of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll

However, I am by no means a tea-totaller, and this video is in no way meant to be a temperance lecture.

What I would like to talk about is a specific kind of artsy type who believes he is a better artist when he partakes in his drug of choice. I use the pronoun “he” because in my experience, this artsy person is usually a man, but if your societal cross-section is different from mine, feel free to tell me about your experience in the comments.


While I am not an expert on addiction psychology, my own experience with alcohol has been a colorful one. I would therefore like to tell you a little about my own story as it relates to substance abuse and the arts. From there, you are welcome judge my hypothesis sound or unsound and conduct your own experiments.

Back when I was a wee baby author, I spent a couple summers learning how to better sell novels at convention-style venues. I did this by working a booth at various outdoor events where I sold both books and trappings related a drink called absinthe.

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Yes, some of those venues were Renaissance Faires. And yes, that’s me in the costume.

Tightly-laced frillies helps us sell things. Who knew?

Anyway, for those of you who have never seen Moulin Rouge or Francis Ford Copella’s Dracula (the one in which Gary Oldman’s hair kind of looks like a butt), Absinthe is a green, alcoholic drink that is historically distilled with wormwood: an herb from the Artemisia family that is synonymous with taboos, bitterness, and a heavy influence on the art of 18 and 1900s Europe.

The credit / blame for the origin of absinthe actually goes to the Swiss as some point in the 1700s. But they knew better than to drink the stuff for fun.

Later on in the1800s, the French got hold of it and started drinking it for recreational purposes (a story, by the way that mirrors pretty completely the way Germans and Americans are inclined to consume Jagermeister).

Later still, in the early 1900s, someone had the good sense to outlaw the stuff, and for closer to a century than a decade, Absinthe was banned, leading laymen who had never tried it to believe the lawmakers were trying to cover up a good thing.

They were not.

In 2006, someone in America remembered “Gee, absinthe is expensive stuff. We could totally make money on it!”

So the absinthe ban in the United States was repealed which led to distilleries specializing in its manufacture and ultimately… to my questionable summer employment adventures.

So Absinthe doesn’t actually taste very good. If you’ve never had it and don’t want to pay $17/glass at your local absinthe house, picture a good, stiff cocktail made with Sambuca and Everclear.

Sound tasty?


You can have all my absinthe if I can have all your Turkish Delight.

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Because of Absinthe’s off-putting flavor, part of my sales pitch involved pointing out how it was the favored drink of painters like Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso as well as musicians like Erik Satie and authors like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway.

Like tarragon, mugwort, and other, less terrible-tasting herbs in the Artemisia family, wormwood is a mild neuro-stimulant. So in addition to getting drunk on absinthe, some consumers report feeling more creative, seeing brighter colors, tasting tastier tastes, and various sensory side-effects that could sound intriguing to the artist in search of inspiration.

When my summertime sales gig turned into a web maintenance gig on the off-season, I gagged down the company absinthe and made art while under the influence in hopes of getting some jazzy pictures with which to decorate the website.

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And I did.

I learned some hitherto unlearned and unpleasant lessons about alcohol consumption and the art I was inclined to generate under its influence:

1. Alcohol is not liquid talent. It can break down your inhibitions as an artist and help you get started if you’re feeling anxious about the task at hand, but if you’re a crap artist when you’re sober, you’ll be a crap artist when you’re drunk.

2. The sensory affect is kind of a thing (?) It never turned Metalacolypse into Fantasia, but I did spend a little to much time on a particular absinthe trip staring at the TV screen going, “You know, Murderface’s Eyes are truly green. I can’t believe I never noticed how green Murderface’s eyes are.” That said, I wasn’t an especially seasoned drinker when I made those observations. Having now gotten a little more experience with other kinds of alcohol under my belt, I have a hard time isolating in my memory what was “Artemisia-infused Euphoria” and what was… just my getting drunk.

3. Adding alcohol to my art made me less inclined to do art if I wasn’t drinking. This led both to less alcohol and less art for me, but if I had been doing art for a living, I could have easily fallen into a toxic daily ritual.

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So, to sum up, alcohol as a tool for the generation of better poetry, paintings, or symphonic works is less effectual than talent and practice.

While addiction is a painful, potentially deadly thing with which to wrestle… absinthe would not be my drink of choice. If you’re inclined to self-medicate, here are oodles of substances out there to abuse that are tastier and less pricy.

And sometimes you have to dress like saucy wench to sell your boss’s shady merch.

It’s a living.


Thank you for stopping by the website. If you’d like to take a look at a video remarkably like this article with some extra pictures and my goofy voice in the background, check out the video version of this post at https://youtu.be/I22DdKwf4Ws

Strong Beginnings: How much should you stress out about your novel’s first line?

If your novel is newly started, well-underway, or nearly finished, you may be looking ahead to the day you aim to sell your book.
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While an excellent novel is always the goal, burgeoning authors may feel constrained by the pressure to craft the perfect first chapter, the perfect first page, the perfect first paragraph, or the perfect first word.
Strong beginnings seem especially freak-out for those who seek a traditional publisher for their books because those who pitch an agent or a publisher will get only 1-3 chapters in which to make an impression.
This is not an exaggeration. My buddy, the indie publisher, says she knows within the first 5 pages whether or not she wants to sign the author.
So between the first chapter, page, paragraph or line, which of these monumental firsts should we stress ourselves out about perfecting above all the others?
Um, none of ’em?
I mean, you need good to impress an agent, but how well your book sells will likely have more to do with the quality of the cover and the back-of-the-book blurb than a kick-ass opening line.
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That said, what we a readers hope to find in a book is the same thing an agent is hoping to find in a book:  that love-at-first-sight feeling instilled in us by a well-crafted story that connected with us in some way and will be a book worth re-kindling a romance with 10 years down the road.
Experts dispute how long it takes for a reader to fall in love with a novel, but in my own experience, the novels that most likely make me love them will do so with paragraph one or even line one.
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Pride and Prejudice
Like the back cover, believers in the first line of a book see it as a microcosm of everything that comes after it:
A herald for the coming of a book that will engage the reader, pose questions to which the reader will seek an answer, and keep that reader turning the pages.
*Bonus points if your opening line is less than a dozen words like “Call me Ishmael” or “All children, except one, grow up.”
Kick-ass opening lines are not a universal concern among writers. In fact, there are some writers who vary wildly on the quality of their opening lines book to book.
For evidence of this, check out Charles Dickens’s opening to A Tale of Two Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
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Readers’ millage may very depending on their love of Dickens. Personally, I hate this opening so much.
Granted, Dickens was on a deadline, and his melodramas were published as a series, so there was no option to go back and fix things later on.
But this parade of comma-splice and contradiction is 60 words long and tells the reader little about the plot to come except that it’s writer has a good vocabulary and was likely getting paid by the word.
Now, compare the start of A Tale of Two Cities to that of A Christmas Carol and its tiny 7-word opening:
“Marley was dead to begin with.”
This streamlined first impression is all Dickens needs to plant the seeds of intrigue in the reader mind.
Who is Marley?
a christmas carol
How did he die?
“What might his death mean for the living among characters I haven’t met yet? And why don’t more Christmas stories kick off murder-mystery style with a dead guy at the start it all?
That said, there are some masterworks out there that kinda hook you with the first line, but they don’t actually reel you in until the second. For the most famous example of this that I know, take a look at the first and second lines of Huckleberry Finn:
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”
-In line one, a first person narrator with a colorful dialect reminds us he’s that kid from that Mark Twain book.
By line two, this narrator challenges Twain’s authority and let’s us know this is going to be a different book.
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So to sum up my cynical opinions on the subject…
What gets a book and a reader together is not what keeps them together.
Yet, like a tawdry romance that blossoms into a life-long love affair, the sexy cover is
what catches our eye.
What’s on the inside is what makes us take it to bed with us more than once.
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Passion vs. Compensation: Should artists be expected to work for free? (hint: the answer rhymes with “go”)

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Here in the western hemisphere, at least in my little corner of it, people are allowed to write, paint, and make music, but they are not supposed to be successful at it.

The expectation is that art is something we do for free, in our spare time, as a means of offsetting the quiet discontentment of our “real jobs” as waiters or dog catchers or whatever.

Elsewhere in the world, this is not the case.

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For instance, in the Eastern Hemisphere, specifically in counties like China or Japan, art is not automatically presumed to be a hobby adjacent to you “real job.”
Should you demonstrate aptitude for the guitar at a young age, the expectation is that commit yourself to excellence in music, and “guitarist” becomes your job title for a long time.

Seriously, it’s kind of a mutual culture shock when hippies or church groups travel to Asia Major with instruments in hand and try to start an informal jam session.

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The downside of that set-up is that humans are more inclined to lose passion for the things they’re required to do than the things they do for love.

The upside is that the artists who have their financial needs met will have the time and resources to do more art that is higher quality than those who must hold down a day job to support a rock-and-roll, oil pastel, or novel habit.

So why are we  in the United States inclined to question the integrity of artist and not the dogcatcher when they expect a wage for their work?

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Granted, once in a long while, we encounter an artist who has no integrity and overcharges for rubbish, but that’s not typical, so let’s look at some other variables.

Let’s assume for a moment that one or more of the wealthy people on this planet of ours is dishonest. Part of how they likely accumulated their wealth was by inflating the the value of their time and depreciating the work of others.

If Rich Dude du Jour can convince his secretary, painter, and janitor that their services are an unnecessary luxury, he can pay them a fraction of their worth and still get his phones answered, toilets cleaned, and walls decorated.

Then, there are the fine artists, some of whom believe all art should happen exclusively for art’s sake and see the artist who gets an art-related pay check as a sell-out.

This belief is unfair and untrue.

We don’t call Rembrandt or Michelangelo sellouts because they took commissions and worked for “The Man” for most of their careers. We visit their works in museums and stare in awe at the skill possessed by a couple of old masters.

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Anyway, according to my old psych professor, artists, much like teachers, will never get paid what they’re worth…

A, because people in charge perpetuate the myth that “If we pay teachers what they’re worth, pretty soon, they’ll all be doing it for the money.”
B, the underpaid masochists who take such jobs tend to feel there’s a certain amount prestige in doing thankless work for little pay. The misplaced fear if these masochists is that if there were appropriate compensation in their chosen field, there would be less prestige to go around for the few, the proud, the poverty-stricken.

No joke, y’all, when your long-suffering high school teacher has to take a part-time job at McDonald’s to make ends meet, the prestige loses some o’ that thar mys-tique.

My heartfelt belief that all professionals can do what you love and command a salary was instilled in me not by gurus of the fine arts but of long-time pros in the medical sciences who had this to say about their vocations:

“I love my job. I would do my job for free. What they pay me for is the paperwork.”

And no matter how dreamlike they seem from the outside, all jobs have paperwork.

Therefore, if you write novellas or paint portraits for fun, and you legitimately don’t care about the money, that’s awesome. Keep it up.

But if ever someone has made to feel like your art is frivolous nonsense and should be free to anyone who asks for it, that person is stupid. It cost you time and effort to make something that no one else could make exactly like you can, so rest assured, your asking to be compensated is by no means out of line.


Q and A with Professional Editor Claire Baldwin

My first dalliance in publishing was a self-pub offering during a foolish time in my life when I under appreciated the difference a professional editor could make in the assembly of my manuscript.

Yeah. That was dumb.

So when it came time to getting feedback from a pro on my latest project, I was super nervous.

It was going to be her job to point out my sagging middles and cavernous plot holes.

And I knew quite well that before she was done, I was going to be one of many authors who can relate to a meme remarkably like this:

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The professional editor I chose was a lady from the UK named Claire Baldwin, and she ended up being a joy to work with.

She caught mistakes that went unheeded by multiple beta readers as well as the customary grammar correction gadgets.

She also helped me break through my word count barriers. Before Claire, my book was a paltry 28,000 words, and I believed in my heart and soul I could add no more. I now have 33,000 and I’m only half way through my largest round of re-writes.

Claire was also kind enough to answer some interview-style questions for a nosy author with a blog (below).

So for readers and writers who are curious about the editorial side of publishing, here’s a wee glimpse of what it all looks like from an editor’s point of view:

Q: Does your job as an editor make you happy, or does it make you look forward to retirement?

A: It makes me very happy. Like most editors, I’ve been a bookworm since childhood, and I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to turn that into a career. Of course, there are ups and downs, as with any job, but on the whole, I’m not sure when I’ll ever retire.

Q: After working with books for profit, do you still read for fun?

A: Yes, definitely, and I would say it’s impossible to do the job if you don’t always enjoy reading for pleasure. Every book an editor reads contributes to their knowledge of the market, even if they’re not strictly ‘for work’, so the lines are blurred about what constitutes reading for fun anyway. Time pressure from the sheer volume of manuscripts can get overwhelming, though, and when the submissions pile up, the bedside reading pile also starts to teeter at dangerous heights.

Q: Have you edited any books so good, you get distracted from the edits and found yourself reading it to learn what happens?

A: On my first read of a novel, I always immerse myself in the story to find out what happens, and writing a few notes and thoughts along the way doesn’t distract me from that. It’s on the second read that I go through a manuscript in more detail, dissecting and checking over things more slowly and carefully, making notes and editorial suggestions.

Q: How does working with British authors differ from working with American authors?

A: In terms of the editorial process, there isn’t a noticeable difference between British and American authors (apart from a character walking along the ‘sidewalk’ rather than the ‘pavement’ etc). Individual authors all have different quirks and approaches, and often different needs from an editor, and that varies regardless of where they’re from.

Q: Is there any genre you despise so completely you would neither edit nor read it?

A: No, good writing and story-telling will always draw me in (and sometimes the weirder the better – I was enjoying reading some spoetry the other day). And the delineation of what lies in which sub-genre can often be quite arbitrary. But for editing, my experience and focus have always been on fiction, particularly historicals and fantasy, so that is what I’m best placed to work on.

Note from Nosy Author: I was not hip enough to know what “spoetry” is before I Ms. Baldwin mentioned it, so I looked it up. The internet says spoetry is “poetic verse composed primarily from the subject lines or content of spam e-mail messages.”  Isn’t learning fun? I think it’s fun!

Q: Do editors tend to be writers as well, or can the skills of writing and editing be exclusive from one another?

A: Yes, there is lots of obvious crossover, and many editors are writers as well. In the UK at the moment there seem to be a particular raft of editors turning their hand successfully to novel writing. But being a brilliant editor doesn’t necessarily mean someone will be a good writer, and vice versa. There are different skills necessary which make each exclusive from the other too.

Q: Are there editors with so distinct a style, you can tell when he or she has worked on a manuscript, or is the idea to be the unheeded force that makes a novel extra lovely, like great bass lines in a rock song or subtle makeup on a beautiful woman?

A: The idea is definitely to be the unheeded force, the great bass lines in a rock song J. A good editor should never impose any personal style on an author and their manuscript, but work with that author to bring out their voice and the full potential of their book.

On the commissioning side, though, editors are recognized by the types of books they acquire for a publisher, with their taste and style coming through in the list they build up. There also used to be a trend (not as common now) of imprints being named after the editor who ran them, whose stamp of approval was enough to convince the trade that a book that editor had selected was one worth really getting behind.

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Many thanks to Claire Baldwin for making this post possible (and more interesting. I’ve interviewed myself before. Reviews were less than favorable). If you’re inclined to seek out her expertise in handling your next novel, you can send her a proposal / request for a quote on https://reedsy.com/#/freelancers