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Briefly Noted: ‘Writing Contests with Hope’

C. Hope Clark has been advising authors through her weekly newsletter “Funds for Writers” for twenty years. I’m a long-time subscriber and look forward to Fridays and the arrival of the newsletter in my in-basket because it contains nuts and bolts tips, writing ideas and inspiration presented with a positive can-do attitude, and lists of upcoming writing opportunities.

Clark, who is also a novelist (The Carolina Slade Mysteries and The Edisto Island Mysteries) brings the best contest-related ideas from her newsletter to Writing Contests with Hope that was released in paperback and e-book in February. “This book has been a long time coming, “said Clark. “It speaks of the myths of contests, and shows how amazing contests can be for your career.”

From the Publisher

Everyone loves winning, but nobody enjoys losing. Writers are no exception. Contests in the writing profession offer opportunity in many forms, but so many writers fear entering. Whether they fear scans, rejection, or being judged, they hold back. On the other hand, others throw caution to the wind and enter every contest in sight, likewise winning nothing. Contests are a serious venture. They can catapult a career if entered thoughtfully with serious intent. Yes, intent. Contests aren’t a whimsical endeavor. With planning, practice, and research, writers can enter contests and genuinely improve their odds of success. 

A lot of writers I know don’t enter contests. That makes sense in they’re busy finishing their latest novel or meeting a deadline for a magazine article. Otherwise, I don’t understand why they don’t do it. Hope understands: in the book, she discusses some of the usual reasons writers don’t enter any of the dozens of competitions available each year. If you have concerns about contests, take a look at the What’s Inside feature on the book’s Amazon listing. The point of view there may change your mind. If it does, this book will increase your odds of success.

–Malcolm

There is nothing that’s not God

“In philosophy, panpsychism is the view that consciousness, mind, or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things. Panpsychists see themselves as minds in a world of mind.” – Wikipedia

Yes, I believe everything has consciousness from the tree behind my house, to the hummingbird sitting in the tree, to the rocks lying at the base of the tree. Nothing else makes sense to me. Long before I heard the Huna phrase “there is nothing that is not God,” I saw the view outside my window as “God’s thoughts.”

Rather than focus here on a philosophical discussion for which nobody that I know of can prove one way or the other, I’ll just say that my view of the world has played hell (figuratively speaking) with the placement of my books and stories into one genre or another.

So, I tend to say that I write magical realism because that covers just about everything I want to do without having to argue about whether or not a thinking rock is a fantasy or realism. I consider thinking rocks to be real, but the publisher usually doesn’t. But magical realism, well, that’s another kettle of fish, isn’t it? I believe the landscape is, in fact, magical. So, if I place my books in the magical realism genre, I can say what realism won’t allow me to say.

Someday down the road, all of us will probably have to re-define what’s real and what isn’t real. As of now, in spite of what Quantum physics is telling us, we’re still trapped in a nuts and bolts version of reality insofar as publishers, governments, and news organizations are concerned. Basically, saying that I write magical realism has kept me out of the asylum because people who think trees are conscious are usually placed on the shortlist for shock treatments and straight jackets.

Since I think we create our own reality, it’s natural for my characters to have the same belief. My beliefs about this are quite literal. Most people see the matter as figurative, having more to do with attitudes about what’s happening rather than causing what’s happening. Here’s the good news. If I say all this in a story, I’m not picked up by the Feds and put in a home. Call it my artistic license.

I say what I’m writing is true. Publishers and most of my readers think it’s fantasy or magic. I’m okay with that because I know that once a reader reads it, s/he can’t unread it (so to speak). There will always be that nagging idea in readers’ minds that just maybe the stuff is real. Yes, it is. But there’s no rush to believe it. One day you will.

Malcolm

 

 

I’m not sure of anything anymore

We learned today that blowing out the candles on a birthday cake sends some 1,400 bacteria into the icing. My thoughts are, why didn’t we know that 50 years ago, and aw shucks, there goes another tradition.

Years ago, when I was a kid, I thought my grandfather knew everything. Now that I’m his age, “old white guys” are being blamed for most of the world’s ills.

Heck, I’m sitting here in my house writing novels and short stories and generally minding my own business when I learn that (a) I’m complicit in everything bad that happened in the world back to the days of Moses, and (b) That if I don’t admit to that and offer up a variety of atonement and reparations, I’m pretty much chopped liver.

I never liked liver, so that’s a fate worse than–well, I’m not really sure.

If you’re an old white guy, do you feel this way: that you’re irrelevant and/or a criminal? Or, that you’re the neighborhood joke but the last one to find anything funny about it?

Used to be, when an old guy of any race, religion, or culture spoke, people listened. Okay, there was a hiatus in that during the 1960s when we were taught not to trust anyone over 30. But generally speaking, age was presumed to be a time of wisdom. Now it’s considered a time of archaic beliefs that are holding back the world from progress.

Old white guys held out a little longer before the world accused them of being generally incompetent. But now they’ve joined the crone, the woman once considered wise, who is now put in a home somewhere because she’s no longer hot to trot and/or a viable member of the PTA. If it weren’t for global warming and a scarcity of ice floes, I think most of us over 70 would be rounded up and sent out to sea. Basically, we don’t know anything anyone wants to know any more and we’re in the way of progress. The old white guys with a billion dollars in their checking accounts are hurting all of us because their money still talks while our social security checks are hardly even a whisper in the wind when it comes to influence.

I’m okay with all this. I don’t want the responsibility of saving the country from itself. Like the sophomores in college years ago who thought they knew everything (but didn’t), a new breed of lawmakers is running amok with this proposal and that, and my view (which is irrelevant) is that those lawmakers are trying to outdo each other with crazy ideas. As an old white guy, I don’t hear anyone speaking to the moderates, just to the extreme left of the Democrats and the extreme right of the Republicans.

Hell, even Bernie was called an old white guy and he’s more “out there” than most of us. So, what chance do we have to say anything worth saying? Slim to none, as my grandfather said.

And that’s just as well because as I read the daily news, most of it doesn’t make any sense, and I have to wonder where that lack of sense is “just me” or the people running the country. Years ago, I knew the answer. Today, I’m not sure.

Malcolm

 

Are emerging writers desperate or acting desperate?

Every week on Facebook and in my e-mail in-basket, I see the following:

  • Podcasts and videos that promise to show me how my next book can be a bestseller.
  • Free PDF downloads that promise to show me how to get better coverage on Amazon and in Google searches by changing the keywords I use in my promotion copy–and even in my book title.
  • Publicists who want me to gamble, say, $5,000 to hire them to get more reviews, articles, TV appearances, and other promotional exposure for my novels.

No, you can’t create a bestseller by paying a publicist a few hundred dollars.

Some of these people mean well. Perhaps most of them mean well.

But I’m tired of all the offers because: (a) There are so many of them, (b) A large number see books as a value-added extra for people whose real business is doing something else, (c) They’re focused on non-fiction, (d) Use videos that are not closed-captioned, meaning that they are of little value to those of us who are hard of hearing, (e) Use podcasts that, while very popular, present information in a linear fashion that means–even if I could hear–I’d have to wade through the whole thing to get information I could see on a webpage in a fraction of the time.

There’s an old joke that people selling shovels made more money than those heading out as part of the gold rush. This seems similar to those promoting writers’ tools. People wanted to strike it rich in the goldfields. Apparently, writers want to strike it rich–or, at least all these sellers of so-called helpful information think we want to strike it rich.

Many of us on Facebook joke about the fact that whenever we go out on a website to buy gifts or check on prices for something we need, our Facebook screen is filled with advertisements for that very thing the following day. Maybe that’s why writers see all these promotions. The promoters find out we’re writers, so they display “how to write” advertisements in our e-mail in-baskets and Facebook timelines.

Frankly, I think a lot of these promotions are looking for writers with a short attention span, the writer who don’t want to “pay their dues” working their way up, and so we’re offered promises of instant riches. The whole thing would be amusing if it weren’t for the possibility that a lot of writers are paying money for “all this help” that probably won’t get them anywhere.

I wonder, how naïve can a person be who has just graduated from high school, self-publishes a book, and thinks that with a small investment of, say, $5,000 s/he will suddenly be in the stratosphere of writers by listening to a podcast? Yes, it could happen. But for most people, it won’t. The lottery probably has better odds of success.

My publisher and I joke about when Oprah will select one of my books for her book club and when Viola Davis wil read Conjure Woman’s Cat and want to play the role of Eulalie. Sure, these are nice dreams, but I can’t base my writing career on waiting for them to happen. Or, on thinking I can pay somebody to make them happen.

Writers everywhere are asking what it takes to get more reader reviews on Amazon, reviews in prestigious review sites like Publishers Weekly and Booklist, how does one build a platform that major publishers and major critics and the book-buying public notice, what does it take for a word-of-mouth campaign to bring in sales, and similar questions. When all of this is discussed online, it brings you a host of ads and purported deals that claim to help you get those things.

In most cases, they won’t. And, I think that the majority of people who spend money on such services are spending more than their books are likely to earn.

Yes, I think you can build a platform. I think you can do yourself a lot of good submitting short stories and essays to carefully chosen contests and magazines, I think you can make comments on the Facebook status updates of other writers as well as their blogs, I think you can develop a niche for your own blog and website that sooner or later captures the attention of readers, editors, and agents. But, there’s nothing certain about this process. Keep your day job and keep at it, and look at all those people selling shovels with a sceptical eye.

Malcolm

 

Etc – a mix of stuff

  • Enjoyed reading The Witches of New York by Ami McKay. One nice take-away quote from that novel is this infuriating information: “There was a definite double standard when it came to ‘occult practices’ in the Puritan communities of the day. If a woman practiced folk healing or Bible dipping or oomancy (a form of divination that employs pouring egg whites in water) then she was a witch. If a clergyman studied alchemy, then he was a learned scholar. As Stacy Schiff wrote: ‘Plenty of clergymen dabbled in alchemy. While inveighing against the occult popular magic was one thing, elite magic was another.'”
  • After my post asking where the hell my muse is, I got a telegram from her: “Calum, chan eil thu ag èisteachd!” For those of you who don’t speak Scots Gàidhlig, she said that I haven’t been listening. Okay, she’s right. I have had a story idea in mind, but I thought it was too close to my Florida Folk Magic Series which I had intended to wrap up with the recently released Lena.  Basically, a character whom readers meet in Lena goes on a rampage against the KKK. More later when I figure how just what that means.
  • One of the two roads into town.

    Today’s Facebook status update: It’s still raining. In fact, we’ve had monsoons all winter. By the time things dry out enough for me to cut the grass, I’ll have to borrow my neighbor’s tractor and bushhog because it (the grass) will be too high for my riding mower. (Okay, what’s the deal with the new type face for this paragraph?)

  • Thank you to all the fine folks who received my publisher’s (Thomas-Jacob) newsletter and downloaded copies of Conjure Woman’s Cat. The first book in the trilogy seems to be everyone’s favorite. (I’m rather partial to it myself.)
  • There’s an ongoing Amazon giveaway here for my collection of short stories Widely Scattered Ghosts. Many of these stories are set in Florida, though they’re also from Montana, Missouri, and Illinois. You don’t have to do anything for a chance at a free copy other than follow me on Amazon.
  • Curiosity question: why is Grammarly trying to change all the spellings in this post to British spellings?
  • If you have a Facebook account, I invite you to LIKE my author’s page called Star Gazer. It’s mostly filled with links to reviews, authors, and book news.

Malcolm

KDP Print vs. IngramSpark 

“Last month, I wrote a refresher post comparing Smashwords and Draft2Digital. This month, I think it’s probably time for a refresher post comparing KDP Print and IngramSpark. First up, KDP Print Own…”

Source: KDP Print (formerly CreateSpace) vs. IngramSpark | Celebrating Independent Authors

This handy overview lists the pros and cons of both routes of taking your book into print. Self-published and small-press authors have many decisions to make about production, publicity, and promotion, so finding this kind of information cuts through the chaos.

The author has also written an article comparing Smashwords and Draft2Digital here.

–Malcolm

Siobhan, cá bhfuil tú?

I’m searching for my muse. She’s a Scot, so I’m saying in Gaelic, “where are you?” If you’re not Scottish, I should tell you that that name “Siobhan” is pronounced “Shihvon,” not “See ohb han.”

Having gotten that out of the way, if you see a potentially drunk muse wandering through your neighborhood, tell her to come home and help me get started with a new story. Ever since sending the last short story out to a magazine, I haven’t come up with anything.

One reason I need a new story is because I need money. Siobhan taught me to drink the most expensive brands of single malt Scotch out there, but when I’m broke, all I can afford is swill. That’s like being stuck with Bourbon which I don’t like at all unless it’s hidden in a mixed drink.

Frankly, if a writer doesn’t have a badass muse, he’s pretty much out of business, a hopeless drunk who wakes up in bordellos and/or jail cells and wonders how he got there. Writing is more dangerous than most people think. Not writing is either more dangerous. Trust me on this because without Siobhan’s help, I have no way to explain it.

Siobhan lives in Hawai’i and sends me story ideas via telepathy because (obviously) I don’t have enough dough to travel to Oahu. Plus, if I told my wife I was traveling to Oahu to meet a woman, her reaction probably wouldn’t me all that great. “Wouldn’t a sat phone be cheaper than a plane ticket?” she would ask. “But it’s for literature,” I would protest.

“Hah!”

So there it is.

If you see Siobhan on the beach at Kailua, tell her to give me a call. My fans are calling me every day screaming for new stories and they’re turning to James Patterson and Tom Clancy (even though he’s dead) in desperation.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Tempting you with words and tambourines

Like Gordon Lightfoot’s “Minstrel of the Dawn” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” storytellers are always tempting you to follow them, as though through faerie rings, to the farthest reaches of tall tales, music, and imagination. We can’t promise you’ll return the way you were when you left the everyday land of logic, but you’ll find yourselves reborn in just the way the god of your heart intended.

For temptations from my website, I invite you to click on this picture:

 

–Malcolm

Is the blog on your website empty or out of date?

If the answer is “yes,” then why is “blog” a menu selection? I see out of date blogs a lot on writers’ sites, social service organization sites, and environmental group sites every week. Sure, they’re a lot of work even if they’re only updated once a month. Perhaps they were started when writers were less famous and had more time or when volunteer groups happened to have somebody on hand to write a blog who has since left the organization.

When I visit a social service or environmental group and see that the latest post is two or three years old, my first thought is, “Have you people done nothing since that post worth talking about?”

I realize that social service and environmental groups have to be more careful than other bloggers because they don’t have to luxury of posting rants or even reasonable debates because such things are construed as the voice of the organization rather than how the blogger happened to be feeling one day. So, most likely, blog posts have to be approved by upper management–or by the publicity department–and that can be time-consuming. However, I think an out-of-date blog creates about as much damage as any inadvertent post that headquarters may not like.

Much better to remove the “blog” menu selection than to leave it there and have people think you’re lazy and/or have nothing to say.

Writers get busy, especially those who are on the faculty of a college, on the board of one or more writers’ groups, or are charged with organizing writing workshops and conventions. The amusing thing is, many writers proclaim on their web sites that they write daily. That said, how long could it possibly take to add a hundred words to a blog? When a writer’s blog is empty, I feel cheated, especially if they haven’t come out with a new book in a while or been interviewed in a writer’s magazine. “What are you thinking about these days?” I want to ask. An out of date blog makes me think the answer to that question is “nothing.”

It may seem like a little thing, but that empty or abandoned blog on the writer’s or organization’s website is causing a lot more damage than most people realize.

–Malcolm

 

 

Adventuresome writing – following the poem or story

“My main rule for writing is to follow the poem. You always start with the poem you want to write, but that’s not always the poem. The poem is usually smarter than you and it wants to go someplace that most likely will surprise you. If you give in and give up to the idea of following rather than forcing, the threads are easier to pull, and the poem allows you inside of it. It’s one of my favorite things about writing; I never know what’s going to happen.” – Ada Limón

When you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen when you begin a new poem, short story, or novel, anything can happen. Once you try to force it, rather than follow it, you limit the possibilities of the work.

Not a fun way to drive, but this kind of tangle has wondrous writing possibilities.

Following the work doesn’t mean opening it up to chaos or something so experimental, few people will read it–unless that’s what you like to do. When you follow, you are turning your imagination and curiosity up on high and just writing. You are just letting the characters say and do what seems the most natural thing for them to say and do.

You can polish things a bit as you go or you can wait until the work is done. I tend to polish as I go whenever a character says or does something other than what they intended; or when I have stepped in out of nowhere and forced something to happen.

Like Limón, I like not knowing what’s going to happen. I like being surprised when I begin to see where the plot is heading. I usually have an idea when I begin whether I’m writing realism or magical realism, but things can change. I also tend to have a sense whether the story lends itself to a rather unemotional, straightforward approach or an exuberant and lyrical style. Yes, that might change, too, but it seldom does.

When authors try this approach for the first time, they’re not only surprised about the wild and wonderful things that happen, but that at the end of the first draft, the story or poem is more cohesive than they thought it would be.

I also hear authors saying that even if they really prefer outlines and storyboards, writing several stories this way helps free up their writing. Its scope increases as the writer takes more risks. Relax, I want to say. These risks aren’t life-threatening. The worst that can happen is having a story turn into a writing exercise. If you end up with something you don’t like, toss it in a drawer and start something new.

When writing is an adventure, you will never get bored or stuck. Writing is always hard work, but following the story also provides you with a sense of play.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism stories and novels, including the new collection of short stories, “Widely Scattered Ghosts.”