Question: What does music do for your writing?
Well, music is emotion, so music fuels me.
Question: Have you ever written anything you’re ashamed of?
Question: How often?
Question: You’re on a road trip with Matthew McConaughey in his brand new Lincoln--
Oh hellz no.
Question: Who’s the most famous person to have held any of your books in their hands, and which book?
Pam Grier. Book is Neon Lights, an urban comedy. I won’t say she read it but I gave her a copy during dinner. True story.
No, really. Absolute church truth. You can read about it here:
Question: Tell us about your most recent novel, The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan.
It’s a sweeping, fun, adventure book that hugs Buckaroo Banzai and says thanks. I miss fun in my diet, don’t you? Enough with irony deficiencies! It’s about two brothers who are adventurers, who are black, don’t die, and aren’t magical (not in that way), fighting an eternal war against the False Prophet Buford. It rocks, son, and that’s a plug.
Drop the T, son.
Question: Do you enjoy writing? Like cheesecake, sex, and good sci fi?
Question: And you have a goal of world literary domination and supple book groupies?
That’s called ‘incentive,’ son.
Question: If Rosario Dawson never reads Jetstreams?
Question: Biggest writing goal?
That there’s fun in our lives, the reader’s and mine. Even with serious stuff. Or the not so serious.
Question: Tell us about your alter ego, Thor MF Jones, erotic writer and part-time plumber.
Y’all ain’t ready.
Question: Favorite books you’ve read in the last 2 years?
Archangel by Marguerite Reed. Science fiction for grown, feeling folks. There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton. Fun, macabre, imaginative and sharp.
Question: Favorite song of the last 2 years?
Prince, Way Back Home.
Question: Spock or--
Question: Buddha or Jesus?
Bare knuckle fight? Buddha could take him.
Question: What is best in life?
To get out of your own way. To chill, to write, to have people dig the words and buy the books. The paintings. The records. The woodwork. The sculpture. The life. The life is best in life. Can you dig it?
Question: I can dig it.
Oi, there’s a post. That’s summing we haven’t seen before, innit? Originality, ‘e says. Do. Tell.
That smarmy bastard right there? Ignore ‘im. ‘Ere’s the thing aboot originality: the verra definition of it is, “Are you anybody else?” Of all the someones out there, you a copy, a simulacrum, a 2-bit clone of base intentions?
Did not think so.
Next question. Are you righteous in your filtering abilities? What I mean is, you’re working on a project, yes, and it’s about dragons and we both know you’ve read a million books about dragons, so are ye only telling a dragon story? Or have you read a million books about ecology, quantum entanglement, and solar energy as well? Can we see a bit of that in your story then? Beauty.
What’s this aboot not wanting to break rules? D’ye know the rules? Are ye comfortable with the weight and shape of ‘em in yer hands? All right then. Move ‘em about, bend ‘em up. The more pliable the better. Rules are just meant to guide intentions. Ye can achieve the desired effect a hundred different ways if you know to build upon what’s on your page. According to my personal tastes and peccadillos, I, for myself, would love to see a New York rom com start off with an invasion of sentient foot fungi only 2 truly in love asexual biochemists could cure, all the way to the happy ending and character growth at the end. There are only 2 rules you need to write down: Don’t be mean, and don’t be boring. It’s not easy not being mean, I know. I’ve done it meself. God bless editors who lay the red like a Throne’s wedding. Be prepared to alter your point of view in your own work, and you’ll be all right.
Oi, but don’t strain trying to be clever, mixing and matching and gliding willy nilly. That can be just as fooking boring. It’s like the guy performing oral sex for a 30 minute open mouth gymnastics set when 5 minutes (10) of varied interest in your lover’s nibbly bits would do. A kiss here, a lick there, a pause to reflect on genitalia’s awesome impact on human civilization, then back to business. Conduct your skills and wit accordingly, else your asexual rom com lack any human connection.
Here’s where you put our knickers back in place and post-coit for a bit. The idea was nice and your technique was great. Thumbs up on the orgasm, mate. Top notch caring, that. And I’m not criticizing here, no no…but can we make it better? The idea? Maybe a smidge to the left or to the right, yeah? I dunno, maybe they don’t need to fall in love? I mean, personal growth happens a million different ways right? Takes time to find those ways, true, but I’m not going anywhere if you’re not. We’ll wait. Maybe go see what the blokes over here are writing, doesn’t mean we love you any less.
OMG. Guess what? There’s a lady one move over writing about the exact same thing as you. Kinda. Sorta. Not sentien foot fungus per se—but demons who saw The Vagina Monlogues and thought that’d be hilar in real life. Possessed vaginas and the Catholic nuns who realize how much more they need each other than a church to set things right. Exorsisters. Seriously, that’s what she’s calling it. But totally different from yours. Enough so anyway. Write your book, odds being small that it’ll get published anyway. Volume, son, volume. Write all the things.
What’s that guff about sales? You want to write something that’ll get pubbed? Yer lookin’ for mass market sales and accolades? Bless your heart. Let’s edge away from that, lad, that’s a slippery slope until your footings a bit more sure. Are you starting to think maaaaaybe if ye write it Just Like That where “that” is the Himalayas of Writers where their frozen, lifeless bodies lay in clear view up summit way, let’s step back just a bit and remember that if originality is a question on your mind you’ve already spotted out a different path up the olde mountain. Fewer frozen bodies, more hot cocoa and tub parties. Your originality comes from what you want to do, and then how you do it flows from that, and then it all comes together into a book you’re going to have to rewrite 4 times anyway.
Y’know what? Perhaps we—yes, let’s reframe. Let’s think of this with some funk rock lyrics. Prince, from “Hello”.
But maybe at last it's the end
Because I am not like others
I'm unique in the respect I'm not U
Harkens back to the clone bit, dunnit? I can’t write the book you write; you can’t write the book I write. We can get close but it’ll never be a cigar. Not if we’re, y’know, being us and not some imagined faceless them. It’s a good feeling, being comfortable enough to walk along with y’self as company. Very enjoyable when ye’re willing to see where you can go and all the ways you can get there. We’re even at the end of this little half-cocked blog, and ye’ll note I did not say “It’s all been done.”
Sometimes we do a thing and we think doing the thing gives us license to ill. I'm talking about professional jealousy (when, to be harsh, at best it's amateur). Destructive pangs of godlike woe hit and we start conjuring; somebody does the thing like we do the thing but they're obvs more successful at it seeing as they're getting awards, contracts, mega deals, groupies, fistfuls of money, dinner on a glittering patio full of popes and angels... and we are not. We ascribe luck to them or some other force outside our purview to account for their good fortune but usually, if it's truly luck, we know it's luck. Nobody is jealous of luck. Luck is completely random. No, what we are jealous of is the perception of unfair advantage. If we're both talented but my talents aren't being recognized then, flipso ipso, everything suuuucks and one's ass is available for dis-pleasurable kissing.
Except, Charlie Brown, that's not how this works. That's not how any of this works.
Join me in this most sincere pumpkin patch.
I have been fortunate enough to smile with several amazing writers, mostly online, some well-known, some on the road to becoming so, some not known at all. As I write this 3 of them are in the running for cool and prestigious awards. I'm rooting for them so tough my name is Yggdrasil D. Groot and living right smack in a patch of damn good dirt. Not only are they good people, their work is top notch.
But when has the work ever stopped at the writing in writing? With the number of writers out there we're practically living that infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters thing these days. Do you know how hard it is to get words noticed in the age of too many choices? It's hard like a mofo.
But Kelly Robson, a writer whose works you need with the quickness, tweeted something a while back that's stayed with me: "If I never get any accolades, it will be because my work didn't measure up, not because I was too shy to put myself forward." Read that again, because too often we don't permit ourselves that level of honesty. Ms. Robson's statement is the opposite of self-aggrandizement. It is acknowledgment of the Work. Infinite monkeys, yo. And each of us is a Rhesus Peesus: a wee voice in the screeching din. A lot of writers hate self-promotion, which is actually a bit odd. Very few disciplines believe that simply creating the work and lightly wafting it through the air suffices. You never see a Hollywood director saying, "Hey, I kinda made a movie that I think might be good and maybe you wanna see it?" Most craftspersons/artisans (except those doing craft beer, which we all know is just stale Michelob they rebottled) complete a work, see that it is good, put on their Superman cape and underwear over their outfits, and smile their most genuine smile on metaphorical street corners everywhere. This is part of the Work. Submit, promote, believe. How the hell do you think we got "Purple Rain"? Wasn't by Prince wasting time being jealous. It was by him being a funky monkey.
The Work involves promotion, dogged submission, respect for both the yes and the no, exploration, and a contradictory yet necessary Zen-like acknowledgement that not every monkey's screech can or will be distinguished above the noise. Being jealous of someone else's success generally means you have not entirely done what you need do to cultivate your own. Search your feelings. If your friends are succeeding, how can you fit anything but joy inside that meat bag folks call "you"? If your enemies are succeeding you first need to live your life so that, y'know, you don't have enemies, and secondly: this isn't a race. Every accolade that doesn't have your name on it does not mean there's one less accolade for you.
That's not how it works. Nary a bit of none of it.
Get noticed. Those truly working to get noticed don't have time for jealousy, those not truly interested in getting noticed can't even spell jealousy; they are esprits du luce and are to be cherished. There's time for frustration, self-doubt, ennui, and the wringing jeebies of mortality, but not for being jealous of good things surrounding good people. The mere act of creating something has never been a guarantee of anything. Just ask a few deities; they'll tell ya.
This doesn't discount the obvious, insidious hideous gatekeepy reasons your work may not be as acclaimed as others'. And we're damn well not interested in the tiring notion of exceptionalism. My advice? Get angry at the systems and burn them down till the cows come home, but keep the green-eyed monster out of all planning sessions. Jealousy is self-anger. Howlingly useless. Don't be the Howler Monkey of Art. Be the Rhesus. The Rhesus Peaceus, swinging from project to project with excitement and intensity. Jealousy, professional or amateur, kills your motivation. And a monkey without motivation has zero swing.
Yes, I'm going to end with this:
Whatever you do in life, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. Because if somebody else is doing well, particularly a friend, particularly a good person, then the goodness of the world magnifies by that much, and you, my dear love, have license not to ill but to heal in such grace.
Marketing. Let’s talk about it. Hey now, no crying, don’t cry. Listen, I know. I know. You don’t want to be a product. I don’t want that either. I get that. I do. I know all about mirroring and repetition and attention-targeting. We’re not here for that. We’re not here to make you a product.
We’re here to make you “you.”
Because no matter where you go…
I want to change the word “marketing” out and make it “confidence.” I like to use the analogy of the furniture maker. You’ve made a beautiful table. Put a lot of time, effort, and craft into it. People need tables. They would love your table. Let me ask you this: Is your table in your basement, and is only known to be so by your cousins and immediate friends, all whom already have tables? If so, bad. Did you make color photos of your table and put one on every windshield of all the cars at Target? Bad. Don’t do that. Don’t make the environment hate you. Did you put an ad in the local classifieds and maybe a few community centers about table for sale? OK. Yes. You marketed. You said “I have a product, this is it” and then you backed away.
That’s marketing/advertising 101.
Unfortunately marketing/advertising 2.0 says YOU WON’T BELIEVE HOW GREAT THIS TABLE IS! 5 EASY STEPS TO GETTING THIS TABLE! LIKE SITTING? THEN YOU NEED THIS TABLE! And on…and on…
Marketing has become an assailant forcing things into your pockets whether you want them there or not.
That’s not what you want to do. Certainly not.
It’s harder for folks in the “arts”, especially writers. We’re indoctrinated to be invisible unless we reach Gore Vidal status in both personality and White privilege, which we won’t pretend isn’t a huge part of marketing. Writers are told to slide their manuscripts under the door then sit quietly for a few months until a decision is made. Writers are told that pride goeth before a bad blog; that it’s unseemly to openly like their own work; that hubris spelled backwards is sirbuh, which is an unpleasant-sounding word, which is what hubris is: unpleasant. We, as the meatbags behind the pens, aren’t supposed to draw attention to ourselves. On one hand that’s perfectly fine; I don’t need you to know who I am. Agreed.
But I need you to know what I do.
I make tables.
Except they’re books.
They might be weird books. Maybe disturbing books. Funny books too. Maybe a bit of all. Shabby chic. Not to get in your face about them, but I’d love for you to read them. And I’d love to give them away but, y’know, capitalism, ugh. So, like, I know we just met and this is crazy but…purchase me maybe? Boom, done, end of marketing session. And that happens different ways depending on your publishing avenue. If you’re a one-person show, you’re hitting blogs and book clubs and online communities now and again. You mention stuff on social when needed (new publication, new review, cool mention, that kind of thing). If you’ve got a marketing team behind you you do the same things, just not as much. All else that goes into that pot of artist/art is just you being you. You being enthusiastic about your craft, about the works of others, about cool stuff in general. Because as a writer you’re a cool, varied soul. You like things that most folks hardly ever notice. Websites about medieval hairdos. The fascinations of regional dialects. Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s genius run on X-Men. Kinky humpback whale pairings. All of that goes into your books. So by a long stretch of extension, you are your books.
Soooo… no matter where you go, there you are. You’re not forcing things people don’t want, you’re just you enjoying things. People respond to that, people dig that. Doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gonna buy, but it does make your life a lot less stressful.
You’re not a product. You’re just you.
And that’s what marketing should be, Charlie Brown. You’re good at making tables. Let folks know you make pretty damn good tables. And then go off laughing with them, or enjoying pizza, or catch a really bad action movie with them. Y’know, live your life. Can’t stress enough: folks will either buy or they won’t, but there’s always, always, time for chilling out with pizza and movies in a dive bar…which could be the staging point for a great adventure to write about.
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY