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‘Let’s have some new clichés.’ – Samuel Goldwyn

Have you noticed how quickly some words become clichés on social networks and light-weight news sites? Some are wonderful when they first appear. But they quickly spread like wildfire through memes and hashtags and fads. Soon enough, they become about as meaningless as the traditional “I’m fine” reply we give to those who say “How are you?” the first time they see us during the day.

Suddenly, those once wonderful words become little more than background noise and we no longer hear them.

Sometimes writers think up powerful phrases while writing a novel. Later they use them again, thinking they’re still fresh and new. Then, if they’re a good editor–or have hired a good editor–they’re shocked to learn that (without knowing it) they’ve used their unique phrase a hundred times in the novel. Readers notice this and become irritated; even if the readers don’t notice it, the phases have become meaningless clichés within the scope of the book.

Current words and phrases that are being turned into clichés are “Me, too,” “Be kind,” “Live a life of gratitude.” Some, like “Me, too” become part of a movement and help identify it and serve as signals to others that a person is writing or talking about an issue they find important to them.

Notions about living a life in thankfulness, gratefulness, and kindness have variously had transcendent spiritual and temporal connotations. The trouble is, everyone and their brother (talk about a cliché) is using them on Twitter, in Facebook memes, and elsewhere (armed with appropriate hashtag) so often that they’re becoming meaningless, not to mention sounding preachy.

When I see a celestial-looking photograph with the words, “If nothing else, be kind” a hundred times a week on Facebook, I’m frankly pretty damned tired of it. The idea has become so overused that its a horrid, preachy cliché even though it’s no less true today than it was the first time somebody said it.

I keep hoping for more online originality to keep things from getting trite and tiresome. I think the clichéd memes and tweets are doing more harm than good because nobody really sees them any more, and if they do see them, they’re no longer emotionally impacted by the sentiment.

Using the “same old, same old” (talk about another cliché) on Facebook and Twitter is easy. While it saves time, it’s also a waste of time. In fact, saying nothing would bring about a better result.

Malcolm

Briefly noted: ‘Anticancer Living’

During my final visit with the oncologist, he prescribed this book along with an on-line group called Cancer Navigators. Both present a wealth of information for people who have survived cancer as well as people who are ageing into the period of their life when cancer becomes more likely. Most of us ignore the statistics about the percentages of men and women who will get cancer in their lifetimes until a family member, a close friend of colleague gets it–or until we get it.

There are changes each of us can make in our lives from diet to exercise to weight to attitude that will promote the kind of wellness in our lives that will make cancer less likely. This book goes a long way in outlining how we achieve our best possible chances of never getting cancer or of surviving it with a viable and meaningful lifestyle if we do get it.

From the Publisher:

“The scientific data on the link between lifestyle, environmental factors, and cancer risk has been accumulating at an accelerated rate over the past decade: Every week we learn something more that we can do as individuals to decrease the risk of can­cer and improve the likelihood of long-term survival. Many of us—patients and doctors included—do not realize that changes in our daily choices and habits can improve quality of life, increase the chances of survival, and aid in the healing process for those with a diagnosis. These ideas were pioneered in David Servan-Schreiber’s Anticancer: A New Way of Life, and became the basis for a research study developed by Lorenzo Cohen and Servan-Schreiber at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“Introducing the concept of the “Mix of Six,” Cohen and Alison Jefferies make an informed case that building social and emotional support; manag­ing stress; improving sleep, exercise, and diet; and minimizing exposure to environmental toxins work together to promote an optimal environment for health and well-being. While each plays an inde­pendent role, the synergy created by all six factors can radically transform health; delay or prevent many cancers; support conventional treatments; and significantly improve quality of life—as many testi­monies and stories of those in the anticancer com­munity eloquently show.

“Anticancer Living provides an accessible, pre­scriptive guide to wellness based on the latest scien­tific findings and clinical trials, and it showcases the community of doctors, researchers, caregivers, and patients who have been inspired to create change.”

Highly Recommended

I won’t know until sometime in January whether the radiation and hormone therapy zapped by prostate cancer. If so, I’m a survivor twice over since surgery took care of my kidney cancer several years ago. According to current thinking, all men get prostate cancer if they live long enough, so I doubt that had if started reading this book after the kidney cancer surgery, I could have avoided the prostate cancer. But who knows?

Suffice it to say, avoiding cancer is better than getting it, and yet so many people–including me–are averse to doing the obvious kinds of things that lead to a healthy body, brain, and mind. I don’t know if that’s laziness or the false idea that cancer is random no matter how healthy one is. I think we’re overly influenced when healthy people get cancer and when people who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day never get it.

Have a happy Thanksgiving and, for goodness sakes, take care of yourselves.

Malcolm

 

 

Being “underrated” might be the good luck the writer is hoping for

“The realisation usually comes slowly. First, there is the conspicuous absence of reviews, publicity spots and invitations to literary festivals. Then there is the all-too-swift removal of your title from the glamorous New Release section of the bookstore, and its relegation to the densely packed Australian fiction shelves in the bowels of the shop. Lastly and most humiliatingly, you see that the single copy of your book has been turned perpendicular to the wall, now only visible by its spine. At this point, you know your novel has lived its short, inglorious life and there will be only a few more spluttering sales before it passes into the annals of the entirely ignored.” – Ilka Tampke in Writing is tough. My book went so unnoticed I won an award for it

Tampke says she was embarrassed about the award. Her family thought it was a joke. She didn’t even want to tweet about it because that would imply her publisher hadn’t done a good job when she thought they had.

I have mixed feelings about this award and also about lists that come out about this time every year about the most underrated books of the year. Excuse my cynicism, but most small-press books never become well known enough to be considered underrated. An entire segment of the bookselling industry is so far off the RADAR of the all-knowing and all-powerful movers and shakers that we’re totally ignored when sighs and whispers for underrated books are handed out.

At least, when a book is called “underrated,” much less getting an award for it, it is getting some publicity. Finally, somebody has noticed it. I understand the author’s embarrassment because I feel it with every book I write. It’s not my fault, nor my publisher’s fault because it’s an industry-wide problem: completely apathy from mainstream reviewers and publications about small-press (sometimes called boutique-press) books. The result is a real or imagined collusion between those who write about books and the big presses that control the industry.

If your book is labelled as “underrated,” you might have a chance because calling it underrated causes people to hear about it. Not that anyone really wants their long-time writing effort to end up in that category.

While Tampke is quick to point out that a writer’s primary motivation is not recognition, she adds that “The gift of the Most Underrated Book Award is that it gives my idea a second life. It says that the conversation begun by my book is worth continuing. It is a quietly handsome, yet sensitive man, walking over and finally asking my bespectacled girl to dance.”

I also don’t think writers write because we’re seeking gushing reviews and hefty monetary prizes. However, writing is a business and so a certain amount of recognition is required for that business to be profitable. That doesn’t happen when reviewers and off-book-page article writers ignore small-press books. There’s just no level playing field here.

I am happy to be with a wonderful small press, Thomas-Jacob Publishing, a Florida based publisher that releases books on the premise that “Readers want quality books that stimulate thoughtful discussion and debate.” My colleagues and I write books about issues that matter, so we’re always pleased when they find an audience. All we need now is for a major publication like The Guardian to come along and say, “Wow, look at these underrated books.”

Malcolm

 

 

Your work, your distinctive voice

If there’s one thing that’s become more critical in traditional publishing, it’s a distinctive voice. A successful manuscript is one that you can spot from thousands after just the first line—you’d never confuse J. D. Salinger’s voice with Virginia Woolf’s (think Catcher in the Rye vs. A Room of One’s Own). Developing style in your writing captures the reader’s attention from the onset and builds a world that is fresh and unique. Plot is crucial, but only writers with both in their arsenals can achieve a manuscript that lives up to the reader’s expectations.

—Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management

You are your fiction.

This doesn’t mean fictionalizing events in your life into short stories and novels. It means writing the way only you can write to tell stories only you can tell.

I’m often critical of MFA programs because they seem to teach people how to write stuff that matches the most popular stuff being written at the time. This may lead to short-term success, but no real satisfaction. If you’re young, most of the stuff that’s popular now will be old hat by the time you reach the peak years of your writing powers. So, if the fads perpetuated by some writing programs excite you, you’ll end up out of date and out of fashion before your time.

Like most potentially great writing, there’s a risk to using your own voice. People may not like it. They may want you to write in everyone else’s voice. I’d rather fail than sound like everyone else; but then, I’ve always been a rebel.

No doubt, there’s probably a greater chance of success writing in a safe, rather generic voice rather than a unique voice that scares some prospective publishers and readers. If you’re happy with this, that’s okay, and it could make for a successful writing career. Otherwise, you have a long row to hoe as soon as you try something new, something uniquely you.

When I say “you are your fiction,” I mean that the way you think and feel and naturally write is your real fiction as opposed to a sanitized version of the style you want to use. Your voice grows out of the way you see the world and the way that world interfaces with the stories you want to tell. Personally, I think it’s a shame to corrupt that perspective with a writing approach that sounds like the top twenty-five authors of the moment.

I see the location of a story as inseparable from the story and believe that the magic surrounding the story is real. I’ve never been able to camouflage that–not that I want to. So, I write the way I write because writing any other way wouldn’t be me.

We all have a choice, I think when we decide whether to be ourselves when we tell our stories or to be a carbon copy of the last book we read.

Malcolm

 

 

OMG, the in-laws are coming for Thanksgiving

Here’s what that means:

  1. The guest bedroom/sewing room looks more like an attic where people have stored crap for years.
  2. The guest bathroom still has the bar of soap they used the last time they were here–need I say anything more?
  3. Food, don’t ask. The in-laws eat the kind of food that you see on the Food Network program “Chopped.” That not only means it’s weird but that it isn’t stocked in normal grocery stores.

Okay, I’ve rented a backhoe and have been using it to clean out all the stuff that needs to be cleaned out. I found Jimmy Hoffa in the bathtub and put him out to pasture with the cows. I’ve called the Food Network and asked them to ship in mass quantities of goat testicles, squid ink, and haggis so we’ll have enough food on hand for the week.

The sheets and towels for the front bedroom and bathroom are going through the washer. The cat’s claws have been clipped. Most of the hairballs have been located and thrown into the backyard. We plan to vacuum the living room at the last minute so it can’t get screwed up again before they arrive on Tuesday.

My wife and sister-in-law will do a special shopping on Wednesday to make sure all the food materials are under control to the extent that that’s possible. No doubt, the cats will be on their worst behavior while that’s happening because they simply don’t care what they do and when they do it.

So, how about you? Are you ready for whoever’s coming to dinner?

–Malcolm

 

I’m tempting you with excerpts

A note from your sponsor (AKA, me).

Short Story Excerpts

“Shock Treatment” in “Stories that Need to Be Told”

“They drove him westward away from Tallahassee’s safe hills, westward through the panhandle counties where King Cotton once reigned, westward through pine flatwoods where wiregrass and fire sustained the world, through Quincy where Coca Cola money brought prosperity one hundred years ago, through Chattahoochee where a psychiatric hospital of some controversy and the Apalachicola River provided conflicting approaches of respite to the world’s cares, through Marianna where both Florida’s Caverns and the now-shuttered reform school were out of sight and out of mind, and thence straight on to the uninspiring Georgian plantation house where Mistress Harkness died of melancholia waiting for her husband to return from the Civil War.”

“The Lady of the Blue Hour” in “Widely Scattered Ghosts”

“On the band bus ride home, the stunning, first chair flute player Melinda Wallace sat beside him. She had no clue how he felt about her, not that he’d said anything. The empty aisle seat next to a clarinet was, he guessed, preferable to sitting in the back with the band’s borderline criminal element of raucous drums and tarnished brass. Melinda smelled like wildflowers and her unruly light brown hair smelled like the wind. When the band played ‘The Stars and Stripes’ Forever’ in concert and Melinda stood up into the light for her piccolo solo—the sweetest banshee cries the world has ever known—her blue eyes were frozen into ice for thirty-two measures of leaps and trills, while her hair could not be restrained.”

Novel Excerpts

Special Investigative Reporter

Jock poured a fist full of Scotch into an empty coffee mug. That’s when Chief Kruller opened the front door and stepped into the living room without knocking. Fortunately, he wasn’t leading a SWAT team or holding a warrant. He did have a 9 x 12’ mailing envelope in his hand and a smile on his face that was wide enough to display most of his cavities.

“Sorry to bust in on you like this, Jock, but your doorbell isn’t working,” said Kruller, slipping into the best chair in the room. He favored himself with a deep pull on the Scotch bottle.

“The bell usually works when somebody on the porch pushes the button.”

“Good point,” said the chief. “Here, take a look at this morning’s crime scene photograph.”

“Oh, this makes my day,” said Jock. He set down the mug of Scotch to keep from spilling it all over the boss man who, in more detail than anyone really wanted, was handcuffed spread eagle to Bambi’s bed wearing a pink thong. Jock did a quick re-write of his thoughts to clarify that one Marcus Cash was wearing the thong and that, other than the fact Bambi was standing in the foreground wearing a Cat Woman outfit, he had no proof it was actually her bed.

“She lost the key,” said Kruller. “Marcus probably swallowed the damn thing.”

Lena

“Momentarily, but no longer, the swamp was quiet before the voices of the birds returned and spoke of secret things in the cone-laden Bald Cypress and plum laden Ogeechee Tupelo branches beneath clouds carrying late afternoon storms. Spanish moss on the larger limbs fluttered like waking storm flags. Sheltered from the wind, scattered white and maroon dropwort flowers—Willie called it “cowbane”—rocked gently in their cradles of low scrubs and grasses.

“I knew from my dream travels that two swamps existed together, one that stopped short of the Apalachicola River and one that lived and breathed westward past night and death until it touched the boundary of the afterlife that Eulalie called “the Pearly Gates.” I didn’t think my conjured woman had crossed the great river.

“The gasoline-tainted water holding the trucks was foul, and that meant searching it quickly in spite the murky sediments Hoskins stirred up in his frantic thrashing about. I did not find Eulalie there. I followed the current into large mats of duckweed where progress was slower. By the time the rains came and chased me back to the road, I had found no conjure woman or gator bait traces there.

“When the swamp grew dark, a limpkin screamed near the river like a child dying again and again. Tree frogs sang, basses, altos, trebles, and tenors. Eulalie once said nighttime frogs praised the good Lord with voices as pure as sacred harp singers standing in a hollow square. In the center of that square of voices and old trees, I could not sleep, but not for the singing. The events of the day weighed heavily on my heart. Without sleep, I was blind to what a dreamtime journey could show—whether my conjure woman had lived or died.”

Thank you for reading,

Malcolm

 

Fun whodunnits from Coulter and Ellison

If you like police/FBI procedurals that aren’t jammed with weapons/ship/helicopter specifications of the kind you’ll find in the Tom Clancy (and similar) books, may I suggest Catherine Coulter? Her on-going “FBI Thriller” series began in 1996 with The Cove and continues through 23 books to Labyrinth which came out in July.  The also co-writes “A Brit in the FBI Thriller” series with author J. T. Ellison.

I think I’ve read all of the FBI thrillers from the beginning and find them consistent. While some of them include some pretty nasty crimes, they are not gory. They focus on a married couple, Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock who are equally skilled and usually work together on cases. Sherlock is a crack shot and Savich is a computer geek with a search engine called MAX that he uses to help track down the bad guys. He’s also very intuitive, and that adds a nice wrinkle to the stories.

The Brit series features Scotland Yard agent Nicholas Drummond who first appeared in 2013 in The Final Cut.  The most recent book in the series is The Last Second.  As part of a special team, Drummond often finds himself back across the pond helping out in cases originating in the U. K.

I like the original FBI series the best because I’ve been reading it for quite a while and have watched the characters grow and mature and take on new kinds of assignments. A new reader, however, will find the two series similar in style. With few exceptions, the books can be read in any order.

From the Publisher’s Description for Labyrinth

“If there’s one thing that readers can count on in a Coulter novel it is that she always delivers amazingly eerie and complex thrillers” (RT Book Reviews), and Labyrinth is no different. With white-knuckled pacing and shocking twists and turns, this is another electrifying novel that will sink its teeth in you.

From the Publisher’s Description for The Last Second

From New York Times bestselling authors Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison comes a riveting thriller pitting special agents Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine against a private French space agency that has the power to end the world as we know it.

I’ve enjoyed the original series for years and have found the Brit series equally engaging. Perhaps it’s also your cup of tea.

Malcolm

Only the fates know which posts will attract the most readers

So far this year, my posts have had 15,506 views, the most popular post being an old one Barebones Structure of a Fairy Tale with 2,086 views and my navy slang post Heave out and Trice Up with 923 views. It’s also an old post.

For a while, my post about the White House Boys, the survivors from Florida’s nasty Dozier School and its transgressions received many views. Those began to fade as the story about the search for graves on school property fell out of the daily news. I thought some of those readers might find yesterday’s post about the school and Colson Whitehead’s bestselling novel The Nickel BoysColson Whitehead’s ‘The Nickel Boys’ Takes Kirkus Prize for Fiction) that was based on the school. So far, only three views. That surprises me.

After all these years posting on this blog, which began on Blogger and was moved to WordPress in 2008, you’d think I’d know what I was doing. But I don’t. The posts I think nobody will notice get lots of views and the posts I think everyone will notice are slim to none in the popularity category. In “real life,” I don’t believe in fate, much less in the fates of Greek mythology (Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, et. al.). Yet, sometimes I wonder.

Are three ladies truly spinning thread that represents our lives, measuring it, and then snipping it off? Gosh, I hope not. Yet, “fate” is a popular notion even in our age of science and technology about things that happen for no discernible reason. Others are more comfortable saying “God moves in mysterious ways.” (I don’t mean to imply that God reads my blog. <g>)

Why anything happens when it happens is usually tangled up in so many variables that understanding all but the most simplistic parts of it are beyond human ken. We might say that a person was injured in a car accident because somebody ran a stop sign. The police report usually covers that part. What they don’t cover is why the two cars involved happened to arrive at that intersection at the same moment. There are lots of theories about what “Why” but most of them don’t sync up with our consensual logic about the world so all we can do is ponder them.

Many newsletters these days have within them the code (often within a pixel) which the sender can use to see who reads them. If you don’t read them for a while, sooner or later you’ll get a message that asks if you will want the newsletter. Usually, I do. But I have to logical reasons for why I read it some days and skip it on other days. Sure, there are obvious reasons: I was sick, I was out of town, &c. But then there are the times when my brain is shorted out already and I don’t have the patience for reading something I normally like.

I don’t think that’s fate, but I can’t prove it. I’m happy that so many of you keep coming back to this rather eccentric blog and are reading so many posts. So thank you for being fated to read what you read <g>.

Malcolm

Excerpt from Widely Scattered Ghosts: “On the band bus ride home, the stunning, first chair flute player Melinda Wallace sat beside him. She had no clue how he felt about her, not that he’d said anything. The empty aisle seat next to a clarinet was, he guessed, preferable to sitting in the back with the band’s borderline criminal element of raucous drums and tarnished brass. Melinda smelled like wildflowers and her unruly light brown hair smelled like the wind. When the band played ‘The Stars and Stripes’ Forever’ in concert and Melinda stood up into the light for her piccolo solo—the sweetest banshee cries the world has ever known—her blue eyes were frozen into ice for thirty-two measures of leaps and trills, while her hair could not be restrained.” – The Lady of the Blue Hour in “Widely Scattered Ghosts”

 

 

Colson Whitehead’s ‘The Nickel Boys’ Takes Kirkus Prize for Fiction

Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys evokes race in America not as a concept but as a condition of being. In this modern historical novel, Whitehead exposes the Nickel Academy and the fate of its boys. With profound compassion and the elegance of a skilled craftsman, he reveals the tragedy of our not-too-distant past, which is also the tragedy of our present. Like all classics, the book works on many different levels: a significant social drama, it is direct, accessible and unrelenting both as allegory and as cautionary tale. This is our history. It is our story. – Kirkus Reviews.

Click on graphic for info about Nonfiction and Yong Readers prizes.

 

The Nickel Boys is a powerful and well-written novel, all the more chilling for those of us who grew up in the Florida Panhandle and heard horror stories about the Dozier School on which this story was based. (You can learn more about the Dozier School’s survivors on the White House Boys website.)

Looks like a safe campus, doesn’t it? – Wikipedia graphic

When I reviewed the book, I gave it three stars because I thought Whitehead used a point of view trick to make for a more powerful ending. I thought the trick could have been easily avoided by a simple edit without detracting from the ending of the novel. Since nobody else has mentioned this trick, it’s possible that I misread the section, though I looked at it several times and still thought I was seeing a flaw.

Florida failed its population as well as those sentenced to the Dozier School, some for very minor “infractions.” There were rumors about the school for years, covered over by a code of silence by those involved and others who knew the truth.

This novel helps call attention to the kinds of abuses that were born during the Jim Crow era–I suspect we haven’t found them all.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Should I Buy My ISBNs?

“But wait a minute,” you say. “I saw a site on the internet selling really cheap ISBNs. Why can’t I buy one of those?

”You can, but I wouldn’t. While Bowker does have a very select few legitimate ‘Channel Partners’ with whom they work, such as Amazon, those fly-by-night companies you see all over the internet selling cheap ISBNs are almost certainly not affiliated with Bowker, and thus are not authorized to sell you an ISBN. So why do they do it?

Source: Where Should I Buy My ISBNs? | Celebrating Independent Authors

Look before you leap; there are a lot of scammers out there targeting aspiring writers who are trying to cut costs. Yet, those authors might actually be cutting their throats.

I’m happy to have a publisher who writes for Indies Unlimited. She does a lot of research and that saves us money. ISBNs don’t grow on trees. So, if somebody is selling them cheaply, there’s a reason and it probably ain’t good. If you’re into self-publishing or are running a small press for your books, this is a must-read article.

–Malcolm