Tony’s Rambles: Double Edges

There was a man who lived alone on my street – let’s call him Paul. Paul died recently…he was a nice guy, quiet, looked after his mother when she was terminally ill and looked after another old lady who lived across the road (We live on a street where most of our neighbours are retired and elderly. It’s one of the reasons I love it – no parties until 3am where we live).

Anyway, another neighbour told me that Paul was slowly drinking himself to death; and, as I said, he recently succeeded.

Being a writer is mostly a great time. You get to make up worlds and people who don’t exist and play with them, run them through the mill and see what they’re made of. But it’s a double-edged sword, like with our quiet neighbour Paul.

I can see him, sitting alone in his kitchen every night, staring at a bottle and the silent, silent walls and rooms around him. I can see him reaching for that bottle to try to drown out that silence, then having to do it more often. The absolute loneliness of his life, the spaces he couldn’t fill.

I could be wrong about Paul, of course; he could – and most likely did – have his own reasons for drinking until it killed him. But still the writer in me sees him sitting there, alone, every night and sees the empty tragedy of his life.

Here’s another example: My wife and I had a good friend who died in a light aircraft crash quite a few years ago. (Those things crash all the time, have you noticed?). As a writer, it’s all too easy to imagine her gripping the hand of the person beside her as the pilot loses control and the plane starts to shudder. And to see the rushing trees coming towards her through her eyes, see those last thoughts flash through her head.

And as easy as it to imagine how beautiful a starlight beach is at midnight, the sand rubbing your toes, the infinity of stars above you, that smell of open water and the mist from the surf prickling your skin, so it’s as easy to imagine how it feels to be trapped in a plane that’s being flown towards an already burning building, the Manhattan skyline unrolling beneath you at three hundred miles per hour.

I don’t get to pick and choose what Muse throws at me, and when she does, I feel the responsibility to share that empathy to lonely people like Paul…to tell the stories the way my imagination and experience of life sees them, both the happy stories and the sad: The beautiful beach and the burning building. Both edges of the sword, and both of them cut as deeply when I write.

I’m not complaining about that responsibility at all; in fact I enjoy it. I’ll always try and do the best job I can with the stories I write, because that’s the way I was raised – if a job’s worth doing, then do it well – and I take my writing very seriously, even when it’s just fun and games.

It wouldn’t be right otherwise.

Tony’s Writing Tips: Remember every scar

 

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” – Stephen King.

 

I was e-mailing an Antipodean writing friend the other day. I’d sent her the first page of my WIP and explaining a little where it came from, when that quote from Stephen King popped into my head.

A little backstory: The first page of my WIP has a character shoot someone. It’s a kicker of an opening, but what I was telling my friend was where it came from. I’ve never shot anyone in my life (You’ll be delighted to know), never even held a gun, loaded or otherwise. Air pistol and air rifle – shot at a few empty cans – but never a gun.

The shooting isn’t the important part, and not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about the person who did the shooting, which will – trust me on this – get me back to the quote at the top.

I have a not-seen-in-years cousin in the police. More years ago than I can date, he told me (or my dad while I was listening) that he’d had someone point a gun at him. At the time, he was as professional and calm as his training taught him. But he said after the incident, he was still shaking hours later.

So my character shoots someone, calmly and professionally, as they were taught. Then they realise what they’ve just done and the effects hit them.

Which brings me to my point (told ya!) and the quote above: Writers never forget anything.

We can, indeed, point to every scar and tell you its story. In detail.

Everything we’ve ever seen will probably end up in one of our stories somewhere; from the shop assistant who compulsively stretches her sweater cuff over her wrist (Eight Mile Island) from someone who loves rainstorms (Over the Mountain). Everything gets stored and sifted in a writers head and pulled out when we need it.

I’m very lucky in the regard that I have a pretty good memory. I do remember the most obscure occurrences years later – even if I can’t accurately date them. It’s not so useful for real life – I can’t remember how to fold bath towels for instance, which drives my wife mad every week.

But if you don’t recall things as well, then write it down. Or sketch it. Or scribble yourself a note when you come across something. Do whatever works so you remember it.

You never know when it’s going to be useful.

 

Tony’s Tech: A Front end for KindleGen

For those of you going, huh? at that title, you can skip this post. The Kindle authors out there can dig in and enjoy…

Last year, I had to demonstrate to a small group of people the way to create a .mobi file. I’d been using Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/) for a while, but it seems like Amazon are tightening up on creating files without using KindleGen (Certainly the last time I used Calibre, the Amazon uploader kicked it back out).

The only choice was using the lousy Amazon command line KindleGen program (Seriously, what is this, 1998?). But trying to explain command lines and file paths in DOS to a group of people who had barely used a computer was really out of the question.

So I Googled and searched around for a while…and I wrote my own front end for KindleGen in .hta and VisualBasic.

Untitled

 

It’s pretty self-explanatory. Tell it where the KindleGen application is, tell it where the document is you want converting to .mobi. It takes that input, makes a compound statement and spits out the .mobi at the end in the same location as the document in the second box.

No fuss, no bother.

I really have to wonder if someone with as little coding experience as me can make something simpler than fighting your way through DOS pathways – in less than a week – why couldn’t Amazon?

Feel free to modify it as you like, but let me know if you make it all singing and dancing – I’d love to see it (Especially if someone figures out a way of adding a cover).

Download it here.

Writing Tips: Tony Talbot: The Brand

When I started self-publishing back in 2008, I came across an interesting concept: The writer as a brand item and marketed as such.

It seemed a little odd to me at the time, but I see the logic of it now: Your readers see very few images of you, or even better, just one. Think of McDonalds and you think of Golden Arches and wheat field yellow and red, for instance.

Quite a few years ago, Stephen King decided he wanted to sell books under a different name, for a variety of reasons. So he quietly sold books under the name Richard Bachman with minimal publicity. One book sold about ten thousand copies or so…but when he re-published the book as Stephen King, it sold an order of magnitude more. That’s the power of a writer as a brand, as a consumer item.

So all writers do it, even the big six. They all have a Facebook page, a Twitter hashtag, a YouTube channel and countless other ways of getting their name out there. We’re all waving our arms and shouting as loud as we can, after all. And it helps that everywhere you go, it’s always the same thing you’re looking for.

I’ve seen this again and again from writers…they’re asked to be A Brand. To promote their books themselves as part of that brand, go on lecture tours, do readings from bits of their books, and so on. To give people a face to attach to the name.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, a few weeks ago I changed my author picture from this 2012 pic (A very hot day in Washington State):

61EZUOfoH1L._UY200_

 

…to this 2015 one (Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire)…

 

TT-2015

 

Doesn’t seem like much of a deal, does it?

But think about it again…this author picture is the virtual image I send out to the world and the one that sits on my little business cards I give out to people. What do I want it to say about me? What brand image do I want to have?

It’s a serious business when this picture is how most of my readers see me most of the time. After all, ninety-nine percent of what I am as a writer is virtual; I’m mostly just binary.

So I asked for comments on Facebook before I went with it, and someone suggested I lighten the pic, so I did that. I cropped it a little as well and I cut off my feet (Hurt like hell). The same person also commented the stones and the countryside make me look like a writer of fantasy…see what I mean about branding? I decided I could live with that though.

There are also technical considerations. How does this picture look when it’s shrunk to a thumbnail or on one of my little business cards, for instance? How does it look on a mobile device?

And there are also the number of places this picture has to be updated: Goodreads, Booklikes, Twitter, WordPress.org and WordPress.com. Facebook, Amazon US, Amazon UK. My Gravatar avatar. Two places on my website. Physically, I’m going to have to change my business cards as well.

It might look like a small matter – changing one picture to another – but even for a small writer like me, that’s a dozen or so places. If I get it wrong or change my mind, I’ll have to do all those pictures again. There are places I can’t change – reviewers who have my old picture on their site, for instance – but you do what you can with what you’ve got.

Why does it matter? Being Tony Talbot, The Brand means everywhere you find me, I look the same.

Just like McDonalds: You’ll always know what to look for.

 

(Reblogged from Musings – The Blog of Tony Talbot)

Take Part! Our New Monthly Write-In Feature…

Sunday Write Up HeaderAre you up for a bit of a challenge? A little fun and sharing some creativity? Great! Then come and join us in our new monthly ‘write-in’ feature that will launch this coming Sunday and happen on the last Sunday of the month after that.

The idea is simple. Each Sunday morning, we’ll post some word prompts and maybe a couple of pictures to get you started. All you have to do is write a piece – a couple of paragraphs, a poem, short story (less than 2,500 words), whatever takes your fancy really – using all of the words given. Pop your piece on your own blog (head it up with the banner above and link back to the post on here) and then come back here and share a link to your post in the comments of the ‘Sunday Write-Up’ post for that month. Then people can visit other blogs to check out the writing and let you know what they think 🙂 Think of it as a ‘virtual writing group’ that get’s together once a month. Challenge yourself to do something a little different – step outside your normal style or genre – and join us this weekend for our first feature.

Mel x

Cover Reveal – Cirque de la Nuit

My latest work update posted yesterday on my author blog, with cover reveal and blurb – take a look and let me know what you think of my latest WiP 🙂

Mel Cusick-Jones

Latest update from my current project Cirque de la Nuit – here’s the book cover and blurb. Let me know what you think – everything is a work in progress at this stage! 🙂

Cirque de la Nuit cover

When Beth Woodall wins a night at the circus, she’s looking forward to an evening of entertainment and excitement – she never expected she would become the main attraction…

Nothing is as it seems at the Cirque de la Nuit, a mystifying extravaganza staged by vampires, werewolves and a whole host of other worldly creatures. Backstage are secrets no one could guess, especially not Beth, the sceptic. But, once she sees behind the costumes and bright lights, even she has to wonder if there is something more dangerous lurking behind the scenes. Perhaps, even that the colourful characters are more fact than fiction…

“Ladies and gentlemen, beasts and night creatures – please take your seats, for…

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Tony’s Writing Tips: The only rule of writing I know

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham

 

Maybe not, but there’s one rule I have discovered…almost by accident really. It’s going to seem strange to people just starting to publish that they shouldn’t do it, but here it is:

Don’t respond to a review.

That’s it; Good or bad, do not respond to a review of your story. Ever.

Of course, the nice thing about rules is that they’re made to be broken, and I’ve broken this one a few times…but here’s the modifier: The reviews I’ve replied to are only to people I know. Don’t do it somewhere like Amazon, as tempting as that ‘Reply to this comment’ button is.

There are times and places to thank your readers for leaving reviews, and you have to pick them using some judgement.

So why not respond?

It’s a good question. You spent weeks or months (or years!) writing your beautiful story and someone doesn’t get the fuss you kept making about Sam’s dress being green. They missed the symbolism of it all, The Big Image You Had in Your Head.

Two sentences, you can clear it all up for them, right? That Reply button is looking so tempting…

But don’t.

It’s frustrating, I know. I’ve had someone leave a one star review saying a short story “Wasn’t true and was too short.” I could have pointed out that the story is A) Clearly listed as fiction, and B) Clearly listed as a short. But I didn’t, although I still have to restrain myself every time I go and check my reviews.

Console yourself with the knowledge that you did the best you could. Try harder next time, and accept that most people aren’t going to be on the same mental wavelength as you (Another reason editors and beta-readers are so useful, by the way).

It’s going to sound odd, but the minute someone reads your story, it isn’t yours anymore.

People take reading very seriously…and what they take away from the story might not be what you wanted them to take away. Get to live with that, because it’s true. I didn’t take anything away from The Road, for instance, but a damn dull time. I’m sure Cormac McCarthy had something else in mind when he wrote it.

If someone didn’t like your story, do not tell them what they missed. Do not tell them you’re the best writer since Shakespeare or Dickens. Brood over a bad review if you have to. Rend your garments and thrash about on the floor for a while.

Just don’t do it in public or to the people who left you a review.

Replies to reviewers scare them away.

I discovered this one on an Amazon board where the question What do you think of authors replying to a review? was asked.

I was quite shocked by the drift of the comments. One person said they felt as though the author was breathing over their shoulder as they read; another said they had trouble saying how much a story sucked for fear of hurting the author’s feelings, knowing they were checking in.

But they said such nice things!

This one is harder to deal with, I think, than a bad review. Someone gives you five stars and said your story made them cry. I can tell you, that feels damn good. Even better if it’s your intent. ;-).

But take the good with the bad. Go out and celebrate for a while. Come back to the good reviews when you feel like what you’re writing is Bantha Poodoo and take heart from them. But don’t reply, even to the good reviews.

Reviews – good and bad – aren’t there for you as a writer to gloat or weep over (although, of course, we do). It’s the obvious point, but it wants restating anyway: A review is for readers. Remember that and stand back.

 

(Reblogged from Musings – The Blog of Tony Talbot)