Should Readers BRAG?

BRAG is an acronym for “BOOK READERS APPRECIATION GROUP,” arguably the most persnickety of the Indie novel review organizations. Why should readers visit http://www.bragmedallion.com? Because readers need a filter, a reliable method to find the great Indie novels among the half million expected this year.

Forbes online published an article by contributor David Vinjamuri entitled “Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning In Indie Books – And That’s A Good Thing.” At first glance, one might think this article argued against the need for a reliable Indie novel review authority. Except, of course, for that pesky verb, “drowning,” which is perhaps the perfect description of the average reader’s experience as they search for that next great read. And limiting the search to the local bookstore’s selections from the traditional publishers is no sure bet either. Citing as an example the tortured journey of John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize winning “A Confederacy of Dunces,” Mr. Vinjamuri suggests that ignoring Indie novels in favor of those provided by traditional publishers is akin to eliminating from consideration the next great American novel.

However, Mr. Vinjamuri also points out that while traditional publishers provide no guarantee of a great novel, they do ensure a minimum standard of excellence in the writing craft, something sorely needed in the Indie novel universe. An oft-cited statistic is that over fifty percent of all Indie novels are trash. Why? Because more than half of all Indie novelists have little or no professional training, do not engage the services of a cover artist, nor do they bother hiring an editor.

And thanks to the advent of the eBook, anyone can publish anything, and call it a novel. And they do. Often. The eBook publishers have only one real criterion for publication, namely, proper format. Grab your old college notes from Abnormal Psych, slap a photo of Sigmund on the front and title it “Chronicles of a Psychic Psychotic.” After proper formatting, your drool deluged doodles can be up for sale within hours. And poof. You’re a novelist.

Readers need filters to separate the great Indie novels from the not so great, distinguish the delightfully distinct from the drivel. The BRAG Medallion is one such filter. Their selection process is rigorous. First, the novel must present the same professional appearance as any novel in a bookstore. Essentially, it must look and read like a good novel. More than half the novels nominated for the BRAG Medallion are quickly eliminated due to typos, poor grammar, and bad art. After passing that initial examination, the real work begins. The novel is read cover-to-cover, checking for plot, theme, metaphor, character development, pacing, and good old entertainment value. If it survives all that, it still must pass a final test. Would the examiners recommend the novel to their best friends?

So next time you’re thinking of a reading a new novel, why not check out http://www.bragmedallion.com? The BRAG Medallion guarantees a professional look and read. Ensures true excellence in the writing craft. From there, it’s all about personal taste. But somewhere, I’d bet that an Indie novelist has already written a Pulitzer quality novel. Perhaps it bears a BRAG Medallion on its cover.

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I have submitted my novel for the BRAG Medallion. I thought it best to tout the organization’s virtues before I know the outcome. Wish me luck!

Stream of consciousness quote:

“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”—R. Buckminster Fuller

BOOK REPORT?

Should I, or shouldn’t I?

Now that I’ve begun in earnest to complete the first draft of FACE OF OUR MOTHER, I’m debating the wisdom of updating my readers on the progress. Now, this may seem a small thing, yet not as minuscule as you might imagine.

Some readers crave advance knowledge. Others, like me, don’t want to know what’s ahead. Much of my day is scripted. The morning begins with a list, one third must do, one third should do, and one third could do. And after the thirds are reduced by one or two, or on a disturbingly efficient day, all three, I put away my script. Now, life can begin. Perhaps a nice meal. Some quiet talk. An evening stroll. If I’m lucky, I happen upon deer or elk or a majestic mother moose. And I watch in awe. I’m immersed in that moment of discovery. I’m not manufacturing my life. I’m living in my life. Perfection.

For me, reading a novel is that chance encounter, that loping deer. Sometimes I don’t know the genre. I might not read the title. Not even glance at the cover. Just open, find prologue or first chapter, and read. Of course, rather than mama moose, I often discover her two fuzzy little calves, all gangly and stumbling, yet so very beautiful. Their utter imperfection is the perfection. If I set expectations for a novel, I sometimes miss the obvious. I’m blind to the perfect imperfection of unscripted awe.

Yet, I fully appreciate that for many readers, the craving of advance knowledge is more about foreplay than foreshadow, more sensual than cerebral. They don’t desire revelations of what’s to come. They want the scripted tease, the tantalizing titillations of the liaisons ahead.

So, my current plan is to honor both types of readers, the sensual-scripted and the cerebral-unscripted, and hopefully all readers in between. Every time I blog about FACE OF OUR MOTHER, I’ll title the blog “BOOK REPORT?” And in every “REPORT” I’ll do my very best to smile with my eyes, speak with my hands, and then vanish, leaving behind only desire. I’ll show hints of plot without revelation, character growth without the impetus for that growth, tense situations absent their cause.

So, here’s your chance for input. Who’s for the occasional sneak peek? Who’s against? Please feel free to comment on my plan to honor all readers.

Stream of consciousness quote:

“I do not know which to prefer, the beauty of inflections, or the beauty of innuendos, the blackbird whistling, or just after.”—Wallace Stevens

Is “I” more isolated than “me?”

Dismay was her initial reaction when I volunteered that I’d just received a CD as a Father’s Day gift. Young, smart, and tech savvy, she seemed nonplussed that I not only wanted a piece of circular plastic, but that I desired every song. My further explanations had her shaking her head side-to-side, and eventually cocked toward one shoulder like Nipper, the iconic RCA dog in the painting His Master’s Voice—utterly attentive, yet completely confused.

Most everyone my age understands the appeal of an entire album. Tommy by the rock band The Who is perhaps the most obvious example. Its collection of songs tells a complete saga. Yet all albums tell a tale, or serve as tattletale. Even the most casual observer can glance at the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and know that those young men were experimenting way beyond the local pub’s pale ale. From Mozart to Elvis to Mary Beth Maziarz (a rocky mountain singer of notable renown), an artist’s total body of work tells the story of their life. Each song is merely a chapter, representing a first kiss, a drunken cheat, a child grown, a forever love.

To select a single track is to only learn of that “first kiss,” and never know “forever love.” Most of what the artist offered us is lost. Would Michelangelo’s Pieta convey the same emotional response if we covered the Christ figure with a painter’s tarp? By studying only the Mona Lisa’s nose, can we ever see her wry smile?

In the past, one big song has often launched the album. However, in this age of ever-smaller bits and even tinier bites, will this axiom hold? Will albums fade away, taking with them their broader view of life?

Although my discussion with the tech savvy young woman initially spurred these thoughts, I cannot say that this phenomenon is isolated to music. Nor is it generational. Some of the oldest people I know watch only CNN, never Fox News. Others worship Bill O’Reilly, but god forbid Rachel Maddow. Today’s digital age allows each of us to easily turn away from our personal version of the “drunken cheat.”

Yesterday, we shared the same few TV channels, radio stations, and newspapers. Every night we saw, heard, and read the same tale of redemption. The next day we argued the story of that person who grew from “drunken cheat” to “forever love.” But today, we choose from thousands of sources. Argue from thousands of narratives. Our most popular magazines once had names like Time and Life. But soon came People…then Us…and now Me. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be able to buy a copy of I, a tabloid entirely devoted to what I know, what I feel, and most importantly, its articles will only discuss what I think about what I know and feel.

Stream of Consciousness Quote:

“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates life.”—Oscar Wilde

Is the moon full?

Not quite. Still waxing.

The calendar predicts another week of celestial twisting, turning, and spinning before the universe once again reveals to us our glorious moon’s full face. I know that my Author Welcome declares that I’ll post every full moon, but I also pledged to try to break one of the blogging expert’s rules every time I posted. An impromptu blog fulfills that pledge quite nicely, I think.

And I wanted to thank all those who responded to my question, “To sequel, or not to sequel?” The feedback is overwhelmingly in favor of sequels. Early and often, you said. And some of you were honest enough to add the caveat, ‘as long as my subsequent novels meet or exceed the quality of FACE OF OUR FATHER.’ I’ll do my very best.

So you’ve given me my marching orders. And I’ve begun the march. I will carry out my mission. The character arcs are set. The plot outlined. Many scenes are already drafted. And…drum roll please…the sequel’s opening line is written. That’s no small task for an author.

Barring my demise, I promise that FACE OF OUR MOTHER will publish no later then the end of 2016.

Stream of Consciousness Quote:

“Publishing is, by its nature, about deadlines, and deadlines are toxic.”–Jan Karon

 

To sequel or not to sequel?

With apologies to Shakespeare, that is the question.

During a recent evening walk, I ran into a neighbor who was eager to tell me how much his mother loved Face Of Our Father. She had one big complaint—that she had to wait for the sequel. While his mother’s comment is a joking compliment, it also raises a not so funny author concern.

I have promised to publish the sequel, Face Of Our Mother, in 2016. In order to accomplish this feat by the end of next year, I had planned on not finishing the entire story, thereby generating yet another sequel.

Yes, I am a writer, but first and foremost, I’m an avid reader. A real tramp that enjoys reading authors ranging from Cervantes to Hemingway to Collins, and every genre, from every time in between. And I well know the feeling of waiting for the next book in the series. I’m currently hoping that George R.R. Martin will knock off wherever he’s at in book six and let me feed my addiction. Literally, the man could charge me fifty dollars for his next paperback, and I’d gladly pay, just so I can find out what happens to the long ago, innocent little Arya. So my concern for the “sequel issue” prompts me to ask my blog readers for a favor.

Namely, I’d like your thoughts. Although all of my blogs are always open to comment, so far, you are disinclined to offer them. I know you stop by to read. Perhaps you’re unaware, but us bloggers can see those stats. You’re sometimes called lurkers. Which is fine. I lurk too. Most everywhere I visit a blog, I’m content to simply read. But I need your help. Please offer your thoughts on the following question.

Should I sequel early and often, or should I write and write and write until I’ve finished the entire story?

The first choice means a novel every eighteen months to two years. The second probably means four years from right now.

I am not trying to shirk my promise to deliver Face Of Our Mother by next year. I’m simply a reader who understands waiting…and waiting…and waiting. Can you hear me, George Martin? And I don’t want you as impatient with Pitir as I am with Martin.

Stream of Consciousness Quote:

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”—Ernest Hemingway

Are deer storytellers?

Do deer tell stories? Does the mother doe imagine fictional bucks in make-believe lands, and send them on bedtime adventures to quiet the minds of her restless fawns?

Put this writer in a room with his readers, and given enough time, those are the sorts of seemingly bizarre questions that eventually arise. And thank God! Or thank providence, or mere happenstance, or whatever causal effect, or lack thereof, best allows you to share my joy at the asking. Because, now we’re questioning everything. And for however long that questioning lasts, we’re awake, paying attention, vibrant with unbridled thought. We are alive.

When the title of Phillip K. Dick’s celebrated novel famously asked, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” my young brain flared brilliant, shooting off in a dozen delicious directions, me not knowing which thread to pursue, afraid that I might forget one while following the full length of another. Yet, I had never felt so alive. Eventually, I followed them all, as far as I could, and wound up back at the center of my explosion, exactly where I believe the writer intended, asking myself, “What does it mean to be human?”

When the question “Are deer storytellers?” is asked, my heart skips a beat. For isn’t storytelling something that we consider uniquely human? But what about the bee that returns to the hive, and through dance shows the distance and direction to nectar? Although non-fiction, is that not a story? When the lion roars its challenge, does it not send playing across your mind a vision of raking claws and powerful jaws clamped across your throat? If not fiction, what is your vivid imagining of a terror that has not yet come to pass?

Storytelling is art. And art is song and sculpture, wild dance and epic tale, color and sound, taste and touch, the haunting scents that makes us long for the lost. Everything is art…to someone. If I am born blind, does that render Rembrandt a purveyor of protective coatings? Isn’t what we call art a function of our own limitations to see, to perceive? And often, a blindfold we place on ourselves?

So yes, deer are storytellers. When the mother doe drops her head, nipping the grass left, then right, then back two steps to nip again, she tells a story that only other deer can read, a story of peace, a tale of endless fields of soft clover and bubbling brooks, a land where all mountain lions are vegans. At least, I like to hope so. I don’t want us humans to be unique. Alone.

Steam of Consciousness Quotes:

“‘Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.’”—Kay, MEN IN BLACK screenplay, by Ed Solomon

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”—Albert Einstein

Heartetic?

Heartetic? A real word? A quick Internet search says “Nope.” But I like it. Because, although my made-up word is too cute by half…well, okay, by seven-eighths or more…it still gets to the heart of the matter. The heart of all that really matters. At least, for many of us aspiring artists.

FACE OF OUR FATHER is a heretical work of fiction. Not nearly to the degree of Shelly’s FRANKENSTEIN or Poe’s THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE. Those great works founded whole new genres of literature. But I must confess that I’ve written That which shall not be written!” I have sinned. Probably venial rather than mortal, I’m thinking. Shelly and Poe are mortal sinners. Big capital “S.” Yet still, I am a sinner. Small “s.”

Deep characterization in a thriller is heresy. “Thou shalt not allow the reader to pause to pee” is the first mitzvah carved into the stone tablet of the thriller commandments. The thriller reader wants action, action, action. And when in doubt, give them more action. The trouble is that I’m a thriller reader. Always have been. I enjoyed Vince Flynn’s first novel immensely, his second a bit less, his third I never finished. Dan Brown’s ANGELS & DEMONS thoroughly entertained me, THE DA VINCI CODE less so, THE LOST SYMBOL I didn’t bother with. This is not to criticize either author. Both are tremendously talented. And both are smart enough to follow the script of action, action, action.

Me? I’m not so smart. I wanted to write something I’d love to read, something with deep characterization, something that not only entertained me with high action, but also stimulated thoughts that lingered in my mind long after I was done. I wanted to write a novel that caused me to lay the book on my chest and wonder if Stu really knows why he does what he does, and then wonder if I really know why I do what I do. Am I active, or just reactive?

But the thriller gods shout from on high “Never let the reader pee!” What can I say? I’m a heretic. An author who has the audacity to say, “Excuse me, but readers need to pee. In fact, I want them to pee. Waste products in the blood, bladder damage and all that. Besides, they can still think about my novel while they’re peeing, can’t they?” I know that mine is a tiny rebellion. Like I mentioned, sinner with a small “s.” Heretic with a small “h.” But I’m very passionate about my small sins. And to my delight, I’ve found that some readers love to sin with me. Shhh…don’t tell the thriller gods, but some book club members have actually confessed to enjoying Angie’s memories of her grandfather as much as they did Stu’s heroics. Naughty, naughty readers!

As you might imagine, the most frequent line of inquiry from book club members starts with the simple word “how.” How long have you wanted to write a novel? How much research did you do? How long did it take to complete the novel? And my frequently longwinded answers to all those simple questions ultimately lead to what is arguably the most complex question. How did you ever find the willpower to finish? Yet, it has the simplest answer. A one-word answer. Heart. When I found a subject that I was passionate enough about, I followed my heart, and everything else just happened.

The thriller gods can shout all they want about genre rules. They can label me sinner. I don’t hear them. I’m writing amidst the throes of passion, going wherever the pursuit of art takes me. I’m an aspiring artist. A heartetic.

Stream of Consciousness Quote:

“Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it ‘the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.’ The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of ‘Artist.’” –Edgar Allen Poe

Who am I?

“Who am I? Who are we? Why? What next?”

These are Zamyatin’s questions. Throughout the Russian writer’s great body of work, he repeatedly asked those four questions. By asking, he steps back…way back, away from God and country, away from all the binding strictures of religions, and institutions, and popular culture. He finds the core, the seeds from which all else grows.

It is a valuable exercise for a writer. Slipping into the minds of each of my characters, I begin by asking those four questions. At the start of FACE OF OUR FATHER, Stu and Angie have very different answers to the question, “Who are we?” And their answers supply the core difference from which their discord erupts.

But it is a more valuable exercise for me personally. And perhaps, for you.

For instance, what are my answers right now? Who am I? A writer. Who are we? There is no “we.” Why? I’m trying to write honestly. And, for me, writing honestly means stepping away from everyone and everything that’s gone before, to find the honest core. What next? FACE OF OUR MOTHER.

I can use Zamyatin’s questions to examine any part of my life. Slipping into my mind at age thirty, who was I? An American fighter pilot. Who were we? NATO Cold War warriors. Why? To stand against the corruption of art, the destruction of human hope. What next? Victory or death. By the time I was forty, the Soviet Union had crumbled. Who was I? A husband and father. Who were we? A family. Why? Love. What next? Secure my children’s future.

Maybe by asking ourselves Zamyatin’s questions, by examining the phases of our lives, we can find our core, find ourselves, and find our “What’s next?”

Zamyatin died in self-imposed exile, in Paris in 1937. In the introduction to Zamyatin’s novel WE, Mirra Ginsburg writes of his final years. “To the end he regarded himself as a Soviet writer, waiting merely, as he had written in his letter to Stalin, until ‘it becomes possible in our country to serve great ideas without cringing before little men….’”

With Russian President Putin assuming personal control of the investigation into the killing of his greatest critic, Boris Nemtsov, I wonder what Zamyatin would write today? Let me see if I can do some small justice to the inimitable satire of this great Russian writer.

It is a glorious day! The Exalted President Putin has extended his gentle hand to reign in the chaos, to quell our minds, to calm our souls. The Exalted One will secure justice,   ensure peace, and yes, guard us closely even unto our final night. Long live the Exalted One!

Perhaps it is a good time for Russians to listen to the voice of their ancestor, and ask themselves, “Who am I? Who are we? Why? What next?”

Stream of Consciousness Quote:

“The world is kept alive only by heretics: the heretic Christ, the heretic Copernicus, the heretic Tolstoy.” -Yevgeny Zamyatin

Why is everyone so sure?

In college, I asked my wife, “Why is everyone so sure of everything, while I’m sure of nothing?”

Like most universities during the late 1970s, the campus I attended was charged, the atmosphere turbulent. The Cold War raged. The Ayatollah Khomeini touted the evils of America. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan. As an Air Force ROTC cadet, a walk across campus in my uniform took me past the hate-filled stares of protesting middle-eastern students, the respectful nods of elderly professors, and the confused looks of aging hippies who seemed frozen between spitting on me or simply asking how could I? They all seemed so sure of everything.

I didn’t agree with any of them. Yet, I didn’t precisely disagree either. However, their zeal sowed doubt. Lots of doubt. What was I doing with my life? Where was I headed? Was I willing to die? Worse yet, willing to kill? I kept mostly quiet, all my questions, big and small, and the doubts grew.

Then, I found Zamyatin, an author with many questions. In his novel WE, he wrote of a future city state where art was just another tool of government, all painting, poetry, and literature restricted to glorifying the “One State.” All citizens lived in glass apartments, all daily activities prescribed minute by minute. Zamyatin was a Russian. The year was 1921. And six decades later, WE was the perfect cure for my doubts. I wanted to stand against the corruption of art, the destruction of human hope.

So what does all this have to do with my writing? Everything. For the start of any good story begins with a good question. What if a doctor sewed together body parts and sent a bolt of lightning through the patchwork corpse? What if an obsessed sea captain chased a great white whale across the ocean? What if a white lawyer defended an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman in 1930s southern Alabama?

And perhaps, “Why is everyone so sure of everything, while I’m sure of nothing?” Although I didn’t know it at the time, that’s a great beginning question for a writer.

Stream of Consciousness Quote:

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” –Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Author Welcome

Featured

george-petersWelcome. I’m truly grateful you’re here. I know that I’m not supposed to write such a thing. I’m supposed to write with all the trappings of authority, one part nonjudgmental psychologist, one part all-knowing expert, one part proselytizing zealot. Tell you the what, and the what for. Give you all the answers, and make you feel like I’m the only one with those answers. Keep you coming back. At least that seems to be the best collective advice of the expert bloggers. The trouble is that I’m not an expert. I’m just a man with too many questions, a man who always wanted to write a novel. So I did.

In FACE OF OUR FATHER, I’ve included a big dose of my “too many questions.” And I’ve provided few, if any, answers. Why? Because, I don’t have the answers. I was hoping some of you might. That’s one of the many reasons I’m grateful you’ve come. But the biggest reason is that out of the too few minutes of your life, you want to share some of them with me. That is humbling. Thank you. In return, I can only promise you that my blog will remain as honest as I can write. Reflect the questions I want to ask. Questions I hope you’ll share. Questions that I hope you’ll question, challenging me, making me wiser and more honest as we share.

I’ll approach things with a respectful irreverence. Addressing every prince and pontiff by their proper titles, but never hesitating to ask why they are standing between my universe and me.

As for the blogging experts, I’ll retain a reverent disrespect for their blogging rules and try to violate at least one every time I blog. Let me start off by breaking a primary rule. I’m supposed to blog frequently. At least once a week, the experts say, or you won’t remember to come back. The implication being that you have the attention span of a hyperactive beagle, and that I have to artfully forge a collar of words and chain you to my blog. So, I won’t do that.

I’ll blog on or about every full moon. Why? Maybe because the moon is a powerful symbol. Maybe because beneath the full moon we wonder, we love, we languish. Maybe because the moon’s glow is soft and spiritual. But, mostly because blogging by moonlight is whimsical, the moon’s cycle marked not by another of man’s ticking taskmasters, but by the whims of the universe. And because, if I promised to blog any more often, I’d risk my day job, delay the completion of FACE OF OUR MOTHER, and eventually break that promise. And I’m too grateful to do that. See ya on the next full moon.

Stream of Consciousness Quotes:

“‘There is no final one; revolutions are infinite. The final one is for children: children are frightened by infinity, and it’s important that children sleep peacefully at night…’” -I-330, WE, by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi