Is That All There Is?

I’ve had a sleepless night, wondering whether it matters whether I blog or not.  I’ve sixty-two followers for this blog and I wonder how many actually read it. I know my eldest daughter was the first to follow my blog, out support for me, but has never read it. My wife has read only one post and now follows it, but she literally has too full of a life to read any more.

Is that all there is, sixty-one one-time readers and  one supporter who has never read it because she doesn’t find anything I have to say worthwhile? Pretty sad and dismal, isn’t it?

It seems to be my lot in life, not to be recognized as having anything of value for humanity other than as a worker of mundane tasks. I mean, I’m thanked for mowing lawns and pruning trees and shrubs (sometimes). I’m thanked for running errands. Sometimes I’m thanked for random acts of kindness

And truth to be told, I do all that mowing and pruning and gardening, all those errands and random acts of kindness out of love and kindness, not for praise or gratitude. But the gratitude is nice. It’s an act of kindness offered back, a gift well  accepted and received.

But I am an intelligent human being and I have a lot more to offer than just physical labor. I’ve spent thirty years of my life writing for newspapers and writing books, with little recognition and even lesser pay. I’ve been ignored and bypassed and even forgotten. And rejected.

My first job, after three years of college, was as a sports photographer for a newspaper. I was given a lab assistant, even though I wanted to do my own lab work and was quite capable at it, and sent out to cover sports. This was in the days long before digital photography, when you shot film. What I didn’t know was that my lab assistant wanted my job so badly that she threw away my  exposed film, processed unexposed film, which came out clear, without images, and gave it to my editors.

After two weeks, I figured out what was going on and took my most recent film to an independent lab, which I paid to process it. But the damage had been done. My editors thought I was a fraud and fired me. My lab assistant got my job. She gave me the finger and went on to a brilliant career. My former editors didn’t even pay me. But they did black-ball me, making it impossible for me to get any work with any print media.

The worst part is, after being black-balled, my editors never told me. I spent years trying to get work with the news media, not knowing why I was rejected. I don’t hold any resentments against those editors or my former assistant. I don’t believe in holding grudges. At least, not for long. I am human, after all.

But I am disappointed that my assistant lived by the rule of “Win by any means, even if it destroys someone else. Your life is the only one that matters.” I’ve come across too many who think that way in my life.

Sometime later, I came across an editor who didn’t care about my past. He needed news stories and I was willing to provide them for him and so he hired me. This came after I returned to college to learn how to be a better writer and reporter.

However, even then people didn’t see me. In general, they ignored me. Others were credited for things that I did.

I live in a small town in Northern California. With few exceptions, people see me as the son of my parents, the nephew of my uncle, the cousin of my cousins, the brother of my brother. And few people have read anything that I’ve written, especially in my own family.

My mother bought my first novel and wanted me to write a second. And while I was working on the new one, she passed on. One of my brother-in-laws bought my novel and loved it so much he couldn’t stop talking about it with me, But he never talked with anyone else about it. And he’s since forgotten about my writing.

None of of my siblings have read anything of mine. I think they don’t want to have to tell how terrible a writer I am. So they don’t want to take the chance that I might actually be good at it.

Likewise, only one of my friends ever bought anything of mine. He praised my creativity, but he’s not really interested in fiction. However, he did read it.

I love my friends and my friends love me. But I think all the others, especially those who read the kind of fiction I write, don’t want to have to tell me I stink.

None of my nieces and nephews, most of whom are adults, have read anything of mine, even though when I tell them about my stories they seem interested and comment that they want to buy my stories.

A fellow writer has bought one of my novels out of support but has told me that it’s too long for him. He only reads works of 30,000 words or shorter. And those are the lengths of his novels.

It’s ironic that one of my nieces published an article in the same newsletter that I published one in and yet no one in my family, not even my mother, who was still alive back then, even noticed that I was also published in that same volume. How is that even possible?

Even my children, all adults, don’t read my work. My eldest daughter has told me that I don’t have anything worthwhile to say so why should she waste her time reading my writing? However, my wife reads my stories, even the occasional ones that do stink.

And maybe I am a hack. Maybe I don’t have anything worthwhile to say. Maybe no one will read this post. It won’t surprise me.

So, why do I keep writing? For the same reason my dad kept farming for 97 years. Yes, 97 years! Ninety-seven and one half, to be exact.

Hope. That’s why I write.

It’s said that “Hope springs eternal.” I don’t know about that. But I do know that without hope, you die. If not literally, at least inside.

See you out there.

If you see me.

 

The Value of Writing

Sometimes, I don’t know if it’s worth writing a blog.  People don’t read as much today as they did just a few years back. What with all the wild things going on around the world, with social turmoil, violence, hatred, fear, greed, and politics, more politics than you can throw a stick, or sweep away from you with a broom or a tennis racquet, there’s just too much going on for someone to care about someone else’s blog

If I was writing about politics, about health care or the sitting president, or the former president, or about Russia or Syria, Asia, or Africa, or Civil Rights, then I’d probably have a million readers. And just as likely I might have half a million readers who hated me, a few thousand who liked me and the rest who couldn’t make up their minds.

But I’m not interested in writing about that. I admit that I follow much of that melodrama, but I’m not interested in contributing my voice to much of it.

Recently, I heard a black man speak who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, who stood up for civil rights and was frequently beaten down for it, who’s heart still beat in fear whenever he’s driving down the road and he hears a police siren racing up behind him. It was his message that impressed me the most. He said the Civil Rights movement back in 1950s through the 1970s was about Inclusiveness, about being respected as a human being, about fair treatment, equality, about living in peace and harmony with Whites, Asians, Hispanics, Arabs, and Native Americans, and that the current Civil Rights movement should be called the Uncivil Rights movement, or the Hatred Movement. He felt that Dr. King’s movement had been stolen from Dr. King, because now everyone wants to play the victim card. They want to be treated as victims and they want separate spaces, whole buildings where only one race lives in it, whole colleges, whole cities, maybe even whole states. And he’s disappointed and ashamed with all these young people fighting against the very thing that Dr. King and those would up with him fought for.

See, I can write about politics. But I don’t want to. I’d rather  write about writing.

Everyone writes something every day. People write notes. People write Emails or Tweet, or write code. They write Fan Fiction. They write computer games. They write gift cards. And many, many, MANY people write poems, essays, and fiction. And they all want to be published, either online or by mainstream book publishers. And they want to be published now.

What do they desire from publishing? Fame. And money. Lots and lots of money. They want wealth and fame. And did I mention riches? They want to be wealthy.

Everyone wants to write a best seller and they want to flaunt it in  people’s faces. “I sold a million copies of my book, while you sold only one or two. I’m a success and your a failure. I’m valuable and you’re NOT!”

Most writers aren’t interested in the craft of writing. They’re not interested in the art of writing. They’re not concerned about being artists. They just want the fame and money.

Writers suffer from every kind of fear, depression, regret, and self-doubt that everyone else does. And many of them feel the only way to overcome it is through wealth and fame. They want to make certain the world remembers them long after they’re gone.

But what does wealth and fame do for anyone? How many billionaires and executives and rock stars and comics are really happy? What good is fame to Bill Cosby? Or money? He’s more infamous now than famous. And his victims want to punish him by taking his wealth away, even if it hurts his family. What do they care about others? They want justice. But it’s not justice, it’s revenge.

An old man, a parent and grandparent, who lost his entire family when the Oklahoma City bomber blew up the federal building, even killing his grandson who was in day care, forgave the killer. He said what good would hatred and revenge do him? It wouldn’t bring back his son or his darling grandson, who was the light of his life. Why hate someone when life was so short and so important? Would hating bring him relief from his suffering? Would hate heal him or make him happy again? No.

His story was told. And as a writer, I have lots of stories to tell. Some I can never share or tell, not even in fiction. Some things are just too hard to revisit. Some things are too personal.

Stories are important. Books are important. Novels and poems and non-fiction are important. Back during World War 2, millions of books were sent to soldiers, sailors, and airman, both in stateside camps and overseas. At first, they were gathered from publishing houses, from libraries, from private collections. But after a short while, the military began printing (with writers’ and publisher’s permission) fiction and non-fiction stories for the fighting man and fighting woman to read. Female pilots flew air craft from the U.S. to Russia; nurses served in every combat theater overseas, including the Philipines.

The purpose of all this was two-fold. One, to counter the message that Fascism presented the world, of race hatred and hatred of culture. And, two, because reading stories and non-fiction books helped our men and women to process reality. Those who chose books to read found that they could better  process the killing and death and destruction they witnessed every day. They could remember home and happiness, a better time. They read about valuing people, about valuing love and compassion and kindness, about good versus evil.

I don’t know if video games are as valuable with processing reality today. I doubt movies are, for they’re a shared experience, a temporary experience of just finite period of time. Reading a good story is a one-on-one experience, one that takes time, one that fills your thoughts and your spirit and soul. It is a deeply personal relationship between the reader and the writer.

Good stories bless their readers.

That’s why reading and writing are so important. It’s not about the money or the fame, its about the writer sharing his ideals and his experiences with the reader, in a manner in which the reader can relate to. Sometimes, what a writer shares comes from other peoples experiences and not just his or her own experience. That, too, is valuable.

Too many writers today don’t care about the value of their work, other than its monetary value.

Let’s look at an example of valuable writing, the original Star Trek series (I could have picked a thousand different examples, including Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, but most people know about Star Trek.)

What did we love about Star Trek? The characters and their friendships. They were more than friends, more than colleagues, they were family. But we also loved their challenges and their experiences. So many stories were filled with values and goodness, with racial equality, with an end to hatred, even with humor. Who can forget “The Trouble with Tribbles”? Or “Space Seed”, when the Enterprise crew awakes Khan and his cohorts, ready, willing, and able to conquer the universe?

Gene Roddenberry didn’t create that show  just to make money (which it didn’t do when it was originally on television) but to tell the stories he wanted to tell. To help people see a golden future where everyone on Earth could be friends.

So, to all those writers out there who decry about not being read, who don’t give a damn about art or good story telling, but only want wealth and fame and define success by those categories, I say that, yes, wealth would be nice, but even if you only have a few readers, if they’re entertained by your work, if they’re moved by it and it helps them get through the day, if they can relate with the characters and what they’re experiencing, then you are a success. Then you’re a good writer.

Don’t just measure your success by how much money you make or how many readers you have. Judge it by how good you feel when someone, anyone, likes what you’ve written.

And never give up home.

See You Out There.

 

 

Reality Check

I’ve thought about various titles for this post. One was Truth or Dare. Another was Truth or Consequences, but its the same thing as Truth or Dare. Sometimes, coming up with a good title is harder than finding something interesting to write about. And sometimes, good titles are easier than finding good subjects.

By the number of my posts that no one reads, not even followers, one can see how tough this gig is.

Just a decade or more back, blogging was the gateway to success in writing. But there are too many bloggers now and not enough interest in reading blogs.

The same thing applied to Facebook and Twitter and all the other social media. All were considered gateways to success for writers, musicians, film makers, restaurants,  et cetera. But there’s  just too much information out there.

Experts claim information increases twenty times every year. It used to be impressive when it doubled every year, and then when it quadrupled every year. What will it be like when it increases a hundred times every year? And then five hundred times? And then, a thousand times? Where will it end?

For instance, just last year, biologists discovered more than sixteen thousand new animal and plant species, including a new spider species called The Sorting Hat Spider (named, obviously, after the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter series) and a species of caterpillar that swims. Just a few years back, scientists bemoaned the lack new species to discover. Finding four or five new species a year was big back then. Consider what a quantum leap sixteen thousand species are!

Likewise, what about E-books? Ten years ago, there were just a few E-books out there. Now, every year there’s literally hundreds of thousands of E-books published. And it’s estimated that by the year 2020, there’ll be millions of E-books published ever year. Where will it all end? With some solar flare that destroys the Internet and The Cloud?

Maybe.

Everyone wants to be famous. Everyone wants to make money as a writer. Essentially, we live in an age where EVERYONE wants to be a rock star. This includes not just musicians, or film makers, or writers, or politicians and bankers, but even teachers and professors and criminals.

The problem is, everyone wants to be an instant success. Look how even street gangs and murderers post their crimes on YouTube. It’s their gateway to fame. But writing, like investing your money, is a long-term affair.

No one wants to read the hyperbole associated with advertising. For instance, “This will be the last book you’ll ever read!” Did a serial killer write that comment? Sure sounds like it.

Or, “You’ll never read a book as great as this.” Bullshit. There are lots of great books out there. Finding them, amid all the crap, is the challenge.

Just because you can put two words together to make a sentence, (See Dick. See Jane. See Spot. See Crap.) doesn’t make you a great writer, or even a good writer. Turning out four or eight or twelve books a year, or even forty or fifty, doesn’t make you a good writer, or even prolific, it means you’ve got literary diarrhea. And maybe even physical diarrhea.

And we all know what kind of excrement diarrhea is, don’t we? The nastiest kind.

New writers talk all the time about throwing out all the rules of writing. Well, the rules are there to protect and guide you. To keep you from making mistakes and guide you towards success. Throwing the rules away in writing is as bad an idea as throwing away the rules and regulations for building houses.

A builder wouldn’t just throw down some plywood for a floor, nail some 2X4s to the floor, run 2X4s across the top for a ceiling, toss some dry wall on the walls inside and plywood on the outside and across the top as a roof, and then cut holes in for windows and doors and call it a house and sell it. The first big wind or first bad rain storm would flatten that house and everyone in it. If people died, the builder would go to prison!

Designing blue prints (so called because they were put on blue paper, or sometimes on regular paper with blue chalk), framing your house, planning where windows and doors and electrical outlets go, connecting the walls and ceilings with braces and trusts, all these things are part of the regulations required for building houses.

Likewise, grammar and editing and punctuation and rewriting are absolutely necessary for a good read and respect from your readers.

What about advertising, you ask? All the advertising in the world isn’t as good as a solid base of readers, a solid audience. It takes time to develop that and while advertising can help, you have to write good books. You have to edit and rewrite. You have to offer your audience a good product.

And sometimes, you have to fail. From failure, you learn how to become successful. You learn how to write better stories, how to avoid overly emotional scenes, how to create good, solid characters, characters your audience can relate to and want to read about. And it takes time.

Not just to create good stories, not just write them dow, but for your loyal audience to build up.

Let’s look at author Tom Clancy. He wrote “The Hunt for Red October” in the 1980s. His first publisher, who printed out a few thousand hard back copies, lost money on it. But when he sold his paper back rights to a difference company, and after several years of the hard back books literally floating around, and after word of mouth, the best advertiser of all, readers (lots and lots of readers) began to take notice of him. The rest is history.

Writing requires patience. And courage. The courage to hang yourself over that fence or off that ledge for people to see you there. With every story you’re putting out there, you’re taking a chance. Not just with trolls, but with sincere readers as well.

It takes time to write a good book. It also takes time to build up an audience. And it takes patience, dedication, and courage for writing. Just as it does for dancing or singing or acting or playing music.

Success goes to those who are patient, dedicated, and courageous.

See you out there.

Enlightenment

For a week now, I’ve tried to write a new post. It’s not that I’m suffering from writer’s block or anything like that. It’s just that whatever I write, I realize it’s garbage and I don’t want to have my name associated with it. And that bring’s up an important point.

Too often, writers let their pride or their determination to get something out there get the better of them. The throw out garbage thinking their public (audience) will accept anything and everything they write. Such writers think poorly of their audience.

We’ve all see terrible movies or TV shows where we wish we could take a foam rubber bat to the writer of that movie or show. And that also applies to novels and short stories.

I once encountered a serious detective novel where the killer turned out to be from another planet. Sort of like in Predator. But the authorities, when they discovered the alien killer, were not shocked or scared at all. Certainly the mercenaries in Predator  (and later, the cops in Predator 2) were terrified and awed by the aliens. But the good guys in this really bad detective novel just took it in stride. What a waste of money. My money!

Suspension of disbelief is what every writer depends upon for fiction. While the reader or viewer is willing to put a halt on their doubt and cynicism and just accept a story, far-fetched or not, a writer can get away with almost anything. But throw in something that makes no sense at all, like an alien killer in something that’s not supposed to be science fiction, and especially when you’re not writing a parody or a comedy, and the reader says something like “yuck,” shit,” or “WTF!” (though I prefer, “What the hell!”, you can get better pitch and volume screaming “… hell!” than you can with the more guttural “,,, fuck!”), then you’ve lost your audience.

So, while this is a rather bland and boring post, it’s a lot better than a large bucket full of excrement. Besides, it’s too hot today (108 degrees fahrenheit) to get too excited about anything.

I’m just going to go back to binge-watching “The 100” or else “Longmire”.

Maybe I’ll find something better to say next time.

See you out there.

Words and Meanings

We all know how  many of words can change. For instance, the word “gay”. Until the latter part of the 20th Century, it meant joyful, giddy, extremely happy. Now, perhaps rightly so, it refers to happy homosexual men.

Likewise, look at the word “cool”. Musicians were using that as early as the first decade of the 20th Century. It meant something like “fantastic” or “wonderful” or “outstanding” or all of these meanings plus “unique.” However, look at is replacements. First it was “sick” and now it’s “dope”. In my opinion, neither of those are as cool as COOL. Maybe someday we’ll use “green”, first introduced to us by Ruby Rod in “The Fifth Element”. Now that was a cool movie.

Another change in meaning is “Divine Service”. Nineteenth Century religions writer Mary Baker Eddy once wrote “It is sad that the phrase ‘Divine Service’ has come so generally to mean public worship instead of daily deeds.” She referred to good deeds, of course. She was aware of how religions were co-opted by selfish thought instead of focusing on how they could do good through acts of kindness, love, forgiveness, generosity, and inclusiveness.

Words have meanings. I have mentioned that before. A science fiction story written in either the 1930s or 1940s envisioned people living in the 21st Century in “condoms” rather than “condos.” How unfortunate for that writer.

Similarly, in a science fiction novel I wrote, “Sky Knights”, about fighter pilots hundreds of years from now, my pilots used the word “vape” in reference to vaporizing the enemy plasma weapons. Often they’d say “vape you” rather than “fuck you”. Now vaping has a whole different meaning.

Shit.

So, if you’re thinking of creating new words, like Shakespeare did, or giving new meanings to current words, watch out. Somebody else might come along and co-opt your words into entirely different meanings. At best, people will just laugh at you and at worst, hate you.

Almost everyone knows the cliche, “Like a bump on a log,” referring to inflexible thought or unwillingness to change. I once tried to come up with a new phrase while talking to some people. I said, “You’re like little sticky brown balls of mud on the bottom of a river, unable or unwilling to move with the current.”

What was the reaction of my audience? White people and black people alike began screaming at me, calling me a racist. Apparently, all they heard was the phrase “brown balls”. It got them moving, united even. But they were moving after me. Some of them even wanted to sue me. And one woman got me kicked out of the Society I was in. And all because I dared to be different. I shouldn’t have used the word “brown”. But as a writer, I wanted to be descriptive for clarity’s sake.

The lesson I learned from this? You never know how people are going to react, so be careful what you write or say.

See you out there.

 

Sometimes You Just Gotta Get Up and Write

A couple of nights back, as I was going to bed, I began getting ideas for the novel I’ve been writing. Usually, when this happens I just quickly write them down and then go to sleep. But this time, lines of dialogue were coming to me. So I got up and went out to where my laptop sleeps when I’m sleeping. I woke it up and began writing.

My fingers literally flew over the keys. Even so, it took me two hours to write the scenes and dialogue. It was two hours well spent. The down side was, I lost two hours of sleep.

The next day, by afternoon, I was too sleepy to do anything, I had yard work to do and more writing and research to accomplish. Instead, I climbed into my recliner, planning on a power nap. But I couldn’t seem to wake up. Every fifteen or twenty minutes, I awakened wanting to rise and get to my writing. Yet I couldn’t get up. So my afternoon went. Four hours of sleep with a few minutes here and there of trying to get up but feeling too lethargic to do so.

I needed sleep. It’s too bad there’s not twenty-six hours in the day. Oh, well, it’s all good.

See you out there.

Long Posts are not Always Good Posts

If you been following my blog, you’ll know I kind of a preachy person. It’s what I am, I guess. But it’s only because I love writing so much and want people to do their best, and more, when they’re writing.

So, in this short and I hope, less preachy post, I want to address the qualities of a good writer.

Essentially, it just comes down to adjectives. People will say a good imagination is an important quality, and I agree with that. But dedication is also important. If you’re not dedicated to your writing, who will be? Likewise, dedication keeps you going, even when you wonder if your writing’s any good or people judge you and condemn you as being a hack or a terrible writer.

Along with dedication comes hopefulness. Not just hopefulness for riches or validation, but hopefulness that readers will enjoy your writing.

And lastly, commitment. Commitment is similar to dedication, but commitment also applies to learning everything you can about writing. Learning helps you to grow and growth is what good writing is all about.

So, that’s it for now.

See you out there.