Monday, May 31, 2010

Some more top websites for writers

In case you missed it, Writer's Digest listed the top 101 websites for writers. This is a great issue.
A link to the article is here:
Writer's Digest Top 101 Websites for Writers

A few of them that I enjoy that I have used before are--
Shaw Guides
Dictionary dot com
Coffee Time Romance [I've guest blogged there]
JA Konrath's blog

Of course, there are many, many more that I want to check out that are on the list...

Still plugging away...
I registered on the Kindle forums and Kindle Boards there, so say hi if you're around.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kindle Adventure - Part 2

The Kindle venture is going slowly---I've mastered a total of three [whoo hoo!] sales, so no hopes of quitting my day job yet :)
However, if being absolutely honest, I've done very little, if anything, on promoting it. The short story will be a part of a larger collection, so I'm wondering if I should just stick my toe in the water now and pull out the stopper when I get the whole collection up...I'll keep everyone posted though...

BTW- does anyone ever get writing ADHD? I'm kind of convinced it is something that can be damaging to your writing---seems like I keep wanting to start new projects and I have to force myself to finish what I'm on...

Monday, May 24, 2010

The LOST finale from a novelist's perspective: glass half-empty or half-full?

As you know, I've dedicated this blog to nothing but the fine art of writing, and have been determined not to get off topic too much with pop culture stuff...

...yeah, like that was going to last.

With all kinds of stuff in the blogosphere about the ending and did it deliver, etc. I couldn't resist weighing in on this...esp since I was, and have been a proud card-carrying LOST geek for quite sometime now. So I've really been interested in how these writer dudes were going to paint themselves out of this corner.

For the record, while this will be one more blog entry on the LOST -issue, notice that I'm trying to take it from a writer's perspective. I have my master's in English, so I'm not just some random dude munching on Cheetos like the Comic Book Guy in the Simpsons [Worst. Episode. Ever.]

And in the interest of full disclosure, I must say I'm in the Sawyer camp--though Desmond is my all time favorite, brotha.

So SPOILER ALERT ALL OVER THE PLACE...[but unless you've really been on an island in the middle of nowhere, you should know how it ends by now.]

Overall, the ending wasn't what I expected, but when was LOST ever?

At first, I was not so convinced they were in purgatory, mainly because according to multiple fan sites, the LOST gurus had denied that theory. So unless it's just a sucker-punch... let's just assume that they were in purgatory since that seems to be the general consensus, at least until the LOST gurus break their silence. If that were the case, I'd like to have known they were in purgatory in about season three---I think that would have made it interesting to frame the characters' motivation in terms of eternal consequences, though it would have moved the needle from sci-fi/mystery to religion.

Randomly, for the record, I think we try to take too much of the mystery out of religion. We try to explain everything away. Everything has to have an explanation.

Well, it doesn't.

As a writer, the whole "they were dead all along" kind of reeks of the easy way out, just a few steps away from the "it was only a dream" scenario...but for some reason, I didn't find it as irksome with LOST. I credit this in part to good acting, characterization, and the fact that, let's face it, the island has had themes of love/hate, heaven/hell, death/life, salvation/damnation for the whole six years, so it's not like we can't say it never occurred to us. It did. In season one [but was denied by the LOST powers that be]

I can NOT say --despite my earlier comment--that I felt cheated. [I could watch Desmond take out the garbage for an hour and not feel like I had wasted time. ] The reason was because this was essentially a character study. It wasn't so much what the island was, but who the people were and how they were all searching for some type of redemption or second chance. When Jack's eyes closed in the last scene, that was the perfect bookend. The first scene in season one was an opposite mirrored reflection of season six. That was cool. Why was it cool? Because I think it communicated to the viewer what the writers have been trying to say: we've been here before. We'll go there again. The cycle of life and death and forgiveness and grace.

I found myself getting a bit choked up [which was strange for me, as I was somewhat disappointed in the purgatory situation]. But I think it was because this was so character-driven [and great acting, too, btw] that I didn't mind.

It's like a magic show. We all know he doesn't REALLY saw the lady in half. But we liked to believe it. That's why we go along with it.

The flash sideways was great --esp. with the reunion scenes, which the actors managed to do without becoming cheesy [a hard thing to do].

Of course it left some unanswered questions, but I have to agree with Newsweek in the "Some Questions I Hope Lost Doesn't Answer" story [see] in that, this show was trying to essentially cover everything: the secret of existence, why are we here, what is my purpose in life...
...and they can't give us answers to that because, outside the realm of faith, that doesn't exist.

So WHY do I think-- as a writer-- the LOST glass is half-full?

When was the last time a network TV show made you think? I mean REALLY think.

And a flash forward? Bleepin' brilliant.

These challenged the viewers to actually do a bit of detective work on their own. [like one of my other favorites, "Boomtown," that was cancelled, in my opinion for trying to make viewers think].

Let's face it, for many networks, they want to go the easy way, the safe way, the canned laughs, the "plot-out-of-a-box" dramas---and while I am a Law and Order addict, do we really need another cop/ lawyer/ medical drama?

It was something different that actually made allusions to literature, philosophy, the Bible, science and of course, Star Wars.

When was the last time a network TV show mixed such genres - successfully-- combining both philosophy and religion, science vs. [and including] faith, paying for past sins. It made folks think that even if you aren't in purgatory [which, for the record, being Protestant I do not believe in so I am not the best to ask about it] you have to deal with your past. You cannot run from who you are. Responsibility always finds us, no matter how far we run...
...and self-sacrifice is the ultimate act of love.

Now, compare that to some other final episodes when we wanted to know if Ross would end up with Rachel or if the show really was about nothing.

Simply put, the glass is half full because we drank half of it already.

See you in another life, brotha!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Starting My Kindle Adventure-- Kindle Chronicles - part one

Well, I made the leap.
I decided to go ahead and publish my first short story with Amazon Kindle--inspired in major part by JA Konrath's blog ["A Newbie's Guide to Publishing"---I highly recommend it]

I am just starting and am being realistic about expectations here.
The short story I published is the entire text of "This is Not Barcelona" [an excerpt of the story is available by clicking on the link to the right...though don't read my bio information at the bottom of the page because it has a major SPOILER ALERT in it.

This short story is a part of a collection that will be released this summer called "Welcome to Shangri-La, North Carolina."

Of course, I will be posting shameless self-promotion on this blog.

I will also make this a chronicle of my Kindle journey, so you can see how one writer starts out from absolute zero and tries to building a following. I promise this: to be bluntly honest. I think we all must have realistic expectations -- JA Konrath has definitely been an incredible success, but success like his does not happen overnight. As he says, the keys are two words: QUALITY and QUANTITY.

The first challenge I've had has been formatting. There's some quirky things with Kindle. Also, my wonderful writing group buddy B alerted me to a few typos, so I went back and corrected them. However, B found that she couldn't get the "corrected" version of the story -- i.e. Kindle wouldn't let her buy it twice...but we'll see how that goes....

The short story sells for 99 cents and the collection will probably sell for $1.99
Here is the link:
This Is Not Barcelona

Yes, you CAN get a copy of this story even if you do not have KINDLE---all you have to do is download the FREE Kindle ap [either for PC or for MAC] and go from there.

Time will tell...I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Writing Tips I Swear By

Steps to getting published---
It sounds so simple, but yet, so deceptive....the FIRST step to getting your book published [and the most important] is.....

I have to be honest--- I have had maybe 20 to 30 people ask me for advice on getting their novel published, and out of those, only 3 have actually finished their novel.

True, finishing a novel (or any type of writing of any length) is a daunting process. However, I have found that it is significantly cheaper than therapy :) The point is, you cannot simply get something published unless it is finished. And not only finished, but finished and in pretty good shape.

So remember these three things to finishing your novel:
1) It's a marathon, not a sprint.
2) You will have to rewrite.
3) Just finish it.

REMEMBER-- Sprinters need not apply.

If you find that overwhelming, just realize that all books are composed of chapters, all chapters are more or less, several different "scenes" or short stories compiled into one. Break it down. If the entire project is overwhelming, just try to do a few short scenes.

Writing a novel utilizes the same philosophy that it does in eating an elephant. How do you do it? One bite at a time. (DISCLAIMER: before anyone calls PETA on me, this is just an expression. I'm not REALLY advocating eating elephants.)

When you're working on a novel, realize that this is a marathon. Not a sprint. Nothing worthwhile in life is easy. If you want to get instant gratification from finishing a project, then write short stories, flash fiction, poetry...not a novel.

Other writing tips that I swear by

1) Read
Look at the books you enjoy reading and ask yourself why you enjoy reading them? Is it the characters? The setting? Also, examine HOW the author managed to create these characters and the story--is he/she more descriptive or more action oriented?

2) Write, write, write, write
Write a lot. Even if you don't feel your first efforts are very good. Then rewrite. Then write some more.

3) Send it off
If the Great American Novel is sitting in your desk drawer, it's never going to get published.

4) Don't take rejection personally
I think ALL writers have had several rejections before they got published. Don't let it discourage you.

5) Remember: it's not a sprint. It's a marathon.

6) [to be credited to one of my old journalism professors who will remain nameless] JUST TELL THE DAMN STORY

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why I love the love affair with the UK

I guess my love affair first began around fourth grade. I grew up in a small town in the rural Carolina mountains, long before cable or DVD players. The only real dose of culture I could get at that time [my hometown has since become a cultural Mecca] was through the local PBS station.

Dad always had to watch the news at 6--so if I wanted to watch something else, I had to watch it on the small, 12-inch black and white television in their bedroom. So one day, something unexpected came on PBS--a time traveler with a long scarf. It was my first introduction to Dr. Who. Since then I've been fascinated by the accent, the literature, the castles, and well, pretty much everything [except the black pudding---Mother. Of. God.].

I said to mom, "I was watching TV, and people were saying things like [and here I mustered my best Brit accent] walk and chance and telly."

"They're English, dear," Mom said.

"But we speak English." [yes, all my Brit friends can add a little snicker, snicker, there.]

"No dear, they ARE English. They're from England."

That's all it took. I was a devoted Dr. Who fan, and if you are a regular Dr. Who fan, you realize that it is almost impossible to separate the show from various elements of British culture. I'd like to think that I would have found the wonder of Shakespeare and Keats and Dickens on my own, without Dr. Who, but maybe the good Time Lord knew I needed a nudge.

So in a nutshell, why do I love the Brits?

Because any culture in any country in the world can produce A Shakespeare, A Dickens, A John Lennon, A Keats, but England has produced them all. I'm not belitting other cultures--in fact, one of my favorite books is by Indian author Anita Desai, but I'm just saying there has to be something about this soggy, foggy, damp, island that is connected, and yet not. These authors have a tendency to transcend time---the thematic elements of basic human nature can be transformed and reworked throughout the centuries [see my Hamlet entry for more on this.]

Well, and the accent---Scottish, Irish, English, what-have-you, I love it all. In fact, a Brit could come right up to me, cuss me out, and I would merely say, "That was beautiful. Can you say that again?"

I'm gearing up for a trip to London soon. It's been on my "Bucket List" for a long time.

Life is too short.

Current Project

Going back to my short story collection - Six Degrees of Shangri-La. It will be on Kindle by the end of July. I'll post a free read of the first chapter here.

I'm looking at my yearly goals at the left of this page and thinking hmmm....but I'm reminded of a concept that Julia Cameron points out in "Riding the Dragon"--- it is ironic that when we take ourselves less seriously, we can produce our best, most serious work. [my paraphrase.]

Friday, May 7, 2010

Girl in Translation--Jean Kwok Reading - initial impressions

When my friend L invited me to drive to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh to hear Jean Kwok reading from her debut novel, "Girl in Translation," I didn't know what to expect. I confess, I do not keep up with new writers like I should, and I find most of the time, my year of writing dangerously has more to do with just keeping my head above water and trying to keep my sanity "normal"---or what I have come to know as normal anyway.

Let me just say, I can see why the reviews were so stellar.
Kwok has such an intense command of the language--the detail, the emotion, the description--and yet somehow manages to do this without making the writing sound 'thick' or overtly 'heavy' [for what I mean by 'thick' writing, look at Thomas Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again."].
The few excerpts she read showed a depth of emotion without being sentimental, a story that moves without sacrificing setting and detail, and vivid description that does not weigh down the pace of the story.
In short, pretty near darn perfect.

Background: "Girl in Translation" is about a young girl from China who comes to live in the US and it follows her transition as she adjusts to the language and the culture. She goes to school during the day and works in a sweat shop at night. Though not overtly autobiographical, Kwok did say that there were areas of her own life that were closely mirrored in the book.

Her use of first person is effective--if the narrator cannot understand what is said, neither can the reader. She provides a voice that is fresh, genuine, and somewhat lost in the world around her.

And for the record, Ms. Kwok was extremely generous. You never know what you're going to get with writers---the 14 city book tours, though an incredible blessing---can be exhausting, and discussing one's work can easily slide into egotism or esoteric ism [is that a word? Did I use it correctly?]

Kwok was generous, entertaining, kind, enthusiastic, and her genuine joyfulness came through quite clearly. Also, she is so darn intelligent, it's almost scary.

If you've not been to the Quail Ridge Bookstore in Raleigh, you're missing out. Thanks to my friend L who invited me and took me to Tripps for dinner.

And my creative contributions for the evening?
I did enter a short short story contest. They had a contest at the bookstore, where you had to submit a one page story about a high school reunion--fact or fiction. I turned mine in. I feel pretty good about it. It was fun to write, and I've learned if I have fun with it, my reader will as well...I'd print it here, but I may send it to some contests, so I'm not sure if blogs technically count as publication [most contests limit themselves to unpublished short stories].

Oh, I did write a haiku about my dessert at Tripps. It was a chocolate something that was better than Robert Redford.
I forget the details, but it is something like:

Chocolate, joyful
Cascading down my hot spoon
Back off! Get your own.

In short, two things to check out: Jean Kwok's "Girl in Translation" and Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC---if you're in town.

I'm going to a Renaissance Faire tomorrow. What a great way to kick off my next post---why I love the Brits....

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Publishing America case and interesting self-publishing article

Laura McFarland, one of my peeps, wrote this interesting article on self-publishing for the Rocky Mount Telegram. One of the things that the article emphasizes that I think is important is the situation with digital presses, and how the publishing game is rapidly changing. JA Konrath touches on this so well in his blog [I think I have a link to it on my blog, which you can find by utilizing the Google search feature at right].

Link to her article-

In addition, many do not realize the work that goes into marketing a book, though the internet has certainly made that easier. For the record, I was NOT self-published. During the 70s- 90s, it carried a certain stigma to it that I think is fading somewhat. Its not that there aren’t good self-published books out there, but just that the bad self-published books are SO bad. I remember when I was a reporter, we were told specifically NOT to do reviews of self-published books for this very reason. I even confess, we would occasionally get a self published book with such pathetic writing that we would laugh at it before tossing it into the trash [I know, that’s bad. I have ‘paid it forward’ by mentoring younger writers so that I can avoid the wrath of karma].

For an interesting article on the a Publish America ‘case,’ see Preditors and Editors at this link:

I have to be careful about what I say on this subject, because I think there is a lawsuit involved, and as I have very little money---nuff said. So I’m just going to forward this link and as a legal disclaimer encourage you to get both sides f the story.

That being said, Eragon was self-published. Mark Twain self-published [but I think that’s more like comparing apples and oranges because things were so different then], so the flip side of that coin is that when it works, it REALLY works. I would caution that money should ultimately flow toward the writer, and I am initially skeptical of any group that charges a reading fee.
I’m going to start a writing tip and writing exercise of the week. Hopefully, I’ll be able to compile all my blog information and tips into a book at the end of the year that will guide you through writing your novel in one year….

Writing tip of the week: WRITE!!!!! I can’t emphasize that enough. Write, even if it’s crap. Eventually, you will unearth something good—but you can’t do that unless you get started.

Writing exercise of the week: The character of your favorite TV show goes to his/ her 30 year high school reunion. Who is the first person he / she speaks to and why?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Putting Literature on the Streets--Broadside

I came across this in the latest issue of Poet's and Writer's magazine:

According to the article "Open-Air Publishing" by Alex Dimitrov, there is a renewed interest in bringing poetry into everyday lives. Broadside publishing--which was used as far back as the Civil War to post important information --is taking rise as writers are publishing poems and short prose and posting them in public areas or community bulletin boards. The purpose? Put literature in the hands of everyday people.

The article is worth a read and you can find it by going to this link:

My favorite was this paragraph:

" the United States, Broadsided has appeared in urban centers including New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as small towns such as Healy, Alaska, whose population is fewer than a thousand. "Each month I post the new Broadsided on a community bulletin board in the post office lobby, and it's up there amongst all the other signs from rural life," says Healy vector Christine Byl. "I see people stopping to read it and know it might very well be the only poem they see all month. I love that."

Wow. How cool is that?
Once again, I think this is a perfect example of showing folks that literature is 'accessible.'

I keep telling folks that Shakespeare was not some stuffed shirt---his comedies were more like the Elizabethan equivalent of Saturday Night Live.

You can get involved by submitting poems and prose via e-mail at OR by becoming vectors in their own communities.
More information is on

I think I'll do that. I think it's a challenge that all writers should embrace. The cost of donating one poem into the world is so small. Maya Angelou once said that creativity wasn't like a well--the more you draw from creativity, the more you have...

Great article Alex!

Next project?

I have no idea what I'm going to work on for my next project. I'm planning on giving myself a break from the rabid writing I did trying to get the earlier manuscript ready, and pick it back up by August.

To ensure some type of accountability, I felt it would be good to place my "writing dangerously" goals on the side of this blog. Just my way of keeping track of stuff.

In the meantime, I'll finish up the short story collection and upload it to Kindle...AND I'll post a FREE read of one of the short stories here and on my website.

I AM REDESIGNING MY WEBSITE. Hopefully, that will be up by August, too. I'll send some screenshots of it as I complete it. []

Next week: "Why I love the Brits."