Beautiful Ruins

beautiful-ruins-audiobook-of-the-month

Stephen King wrote that you need to read a lot to get the right tools to write. He’s a hundred percent right. I’ve been working on my third novel for 8-9 months now and my productivity and focus is weak. I worry that I won’t finish it. Since I changed position at work, it’s been difficult to find pockets of time to really dive down into the story. Five minutes here and there won’t cut it.

It’s been the same with my reading. I’ve had trouble focusing on one book and keep skipping between a few different ones. These are the (main) two I’m reading at the moment with descriptions in italics (from Amazon):

A Thousand Pardons

Once a privileged and loving couple, the Armsteads have now reached a breaking point. Ben, a partner in a prestigious law firm, has become unpredictable at work and withdrawn at home—a change that weighs heavily on his wife, Helen, and their preteen daughter, Sara. Then, in one afternoon, Ben’s recklessness takes an alarming turn, and everything the Armsteads have built together unravels, swiftly and spectacularly.
 
Thrust back into the working world, Helen finds a job in public relations and relocates with Sara from their home in upstate New York to an apartment in Manhattan. There, Helen discovers she has a rare gift, indispensable in the world of image control: She can convince arrogant men to admit their mistakes, spinning crises into second chances. Yet redemption is more easily granted in her professional life than in her personal one.
 
As she is confronted with the biggest case of her career, the fallout from her marriage, and Sara’s increasingly distant behavior, Helen must face the limits of accountability and her own capacity for forgiveness.

Beautiful Ruins

The acclaimed, award-winning author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his  funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet: the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 . . . and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later. 

I haven’t finished either one of them yet (my Kindle tells me I’m around halfway through), but they’re both good in their own way. I think Beautiful Ruins is definitely a more accomplished/complicated story with lots of layers and very interesting characters. It skips constantly between time and perspective, but despite the intricate storytelling it isn’t hard to follow. It’s definitely one of those books that intimidates you as a fellow writer. There’s a thin line between intimidating and inspiring obviously, a lot of it has to do with your own confidence and mindset, which for a writer goes up and down like an elevator in a Keanu Reeves movie.

But right now it’s kind of intimidating.

There’s a sentence I read today in Beautiful Ruins that is really good and you all know I’m a sucker for a clever line:

“This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought; you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life.”

Beautiful Ruins sure has some beautiful writing in it – recommended! And I will finish it! Promise.

The same hopefully goes for Six Strings, the story about young guitarist with a amnesia that I’m working on. It’s slow progress, but I’ll do my best to get at least 500 words done a day. Won’t be easy, but who said writing is?

 

Writing is a magical gift

My-Magic-Pen

I wrote a guest blog on Curriculum Creativity, a site devoted to the noble goal of improving outcomes and experiences for children. It’s about creative writing and the beauty of storytelling. Below you’ll find the full post.

Writing is magical and we all love magic, don’t we? The famous author Stephen King said that writing to him is a kind of telepathy, because using only a piece of paper, written ages ago, you communicate with another person, sending them images, emotions, whatever you want to transmit. If you want to call it magic or telepathy is up to you, but it’s definitely something special. I like to call it a gift.

Writing is a gift we should share, but how can the written word compete with videos, movies, iPads and the abundance of everyday escape available through the Internet? Why would a generation spoiled for choice choose a book instead of a movie or writing instead of playing computer games?

Besides encouraging visits to libraries and book discussions that doesn’t deal with the usual “old and musty tomes”, but something fresh and interesting the students can relate to; I think the easiest commodity to sell and encourage right now among most school subjects is creative writing, the beauty of crafting stories and how they enrich our lives.

After all, isn’t writing a cool thing to do? And why would being an author be less sexy and marketable than for example a rock star, a rapper or an actor, who people look up to so much these days – you still use your emotions and thoughts to communicate with your audience. Although it’s in some ways more indirect, the plus-side for the writer is that the written word is timeless and can be accessed at anytime from anywhere by anyone. If that isn’t magic I don’t know what is.

So how do you sell the magic of writing and storytelling? Well, I think you need to use the tools available to us today, the ones enabling us to be seen and published without a huge publishing house or a newspaper behind us. I’m talking about social media, blogs, and independent publishing, opening up the world for aspiring writers. Because the truth about writing is that besides being remarkable self-therapy, we write because we want to be seen, heard and read and to get your story shared and appreciated, you need to make sure it’s good and for that you need the tools of writing: the grammar, the structure and the voice.

When the tools are in place, the rest is “just” hard work. You don’t need to worry about a stream of rejection letters anymore, because the dream of seeing your name on a book cover is already very achievable thanks to independent publishing and free author platforms like Smashwords, iBooks, Nook, and Amazon Kindle Publishing.

I had been writing magazine articles, journalistic news pieces, advertising copy and radio and TV scripts for some time before I published my novel The Wake-Up Call through Amazon Kindle Publishing and its print division Createspace in September 2011. I tried the traditional publishing route first, but after a couple of encouraging but at the same time deflating rejection letters I decided to try independent publishing. I had no expectations going in but was very positively surprised on how easy the process was.

It wasn’t a success over night but a few months later sales started kicking in and I started getting customer reviews, buzz on different websites and blogs and today The Wake-Up Call has been downloaded as an e-book by almost 40 000 readers – an amazing development that inspires me and makes me put in the extra hours.

Being able to reach out with your writing without having to go through the tough process of a stern publishing house and people meddling with the storyline or the characters, is surely very inspiring and I think the encouragement of people reading, analyzing and offering feedback to what you write is the secret to really developing an interest in creative writing and the wonders it brings. Writing is a lonely task and being able to share experiences, get coaching from a teacher and other aspiring writers is invaluable in developing your voice and your craft. And most of all it’s fun!

When I think back to the good old school years, the most interesting class I ever took was creative writing. It was even exciting to get the editors’ red pen! I guess it was like that because you felt you were building and learning something important, something you could actually use. And looking back it’s the skill I’ve learned in school that I’m most happy about, the skill which has given me the most and which keep on giving every time I sit down by my computer.

Writing is a gift. And it’s definitely worth sharing.

Stephen King: 11/22/63

I read loads and loads of King books when I was a young kid and I can actually credit him for helping me develop my interest in writing (how I ended up writing about human relationships and not thrillers/horror/paranormal is another story), so it was nice to reconnect with him for his latest work (since he’s so prolific, by the time you read this, it might not be his latest work).

The novel with the cryptic title 11/22/63 is about a man that gets the possibility to travel back in time and stop the assassination of JFK. I’m not going to say more than that, because I’m only 30% into the book at the moment, but so far it’s been a thrilling ride. King really has a masterful storyteller’s voice and really makes you want to dip back into his world, again and again and again.

Recommended!

Buy it on Amazon

 

 

Write What You Know?

what_you_know

One of my favorite books on writing (aptly named “On Writing“) is written by Stephen King and in that book he regurgitates and then chews on one of the most common rules for writing; write what you know.

First time I read it it made a helluva lot of sense. I mean, it does sound damn difficult to write about space when you have spent all of your life with your feet planted firmly on the ground. Yet, if you can’t write about what you like, doesn’t it take away the fun of it? The reason you write is because it’s fun, right? Then it doesn’t make sense to write about accounting or plumbing (because honestly that doesn’t sound very exciting for a plot).

So the learning from this is that you should write what you LIKE. Whatever it is. Maybe you want to write about Martian plumbers? Knock yourself out. Or maybe you write a story about an accountant and his battle with Microsoft Excel? And maybe that story will be fantastic. Because it’s all about how you tell it.

Let’s say you want to write about an obese man in his upper twenties who’s decided to do what it takes to reach his dream of becoming an astronaut. Chances are you don’t know jack about being an astronaut, you might not be in your twenties anymore, and you’ve always been quite skinny. Then you need to do research, you need to listen, you need to soak up information to be able to make the story as TRUE as possible.

Don’t be lazy with research. Today you don’t have to bog your head down in library books for hours on end. Today you have your friend Google and his father the Internet. You might not be able to feel the sea breeze in the Caribbean by image browsing, but you can get a LOT of information online. Use it to your advantage. You’re going to learn a lot of stuff you don’t need, but they say we’re only using about 10 percent of our brains so my guess is you have space.

For me it works best to mix write what you know with write what you like. I have to feel an interest in the story, the characters, the topic and I have to feel the confidence that I can tell the story in the right way and make justice to it. Otherwise both I and the reader lose.

When I wrote The Wake-Up Call I placed it in a setting I was very familiar with (the advertising world) and placed it in a city I love (New York), but I also went out of my comfort zone when writing about Mexico. I wrote about something I care about (the pace of the world, how to deal with a breakdown, how to face life when it finally catches up with you) and from the viewpoint of a character I’m interested in (the narrator, Jack Reynolds). I didn’t plot it, because I don’t like plotted novels so much, and because there’s a joy in being able to unearth the fossil (another one of King’s phrases) and discover the story as I wrote it. This leads to more editing and plenty more rewrites than a plotted novel, but is a lot more fun and leads to a more creative and original end result (I hope).

The Wake-Up Call is my first published novel, although I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. It was quite an effort to pull off, because I couldn’t stop rewriting it, but after the tenth or so rewrite I decided this was it. It was time to hit the publish button.

This was in the beginning of September this year. Since then I sold a decent number of books and gotten a good review or three, but I’ve realized that to sell even more I should probably have chosen a stronger niche or genre. It seems like you really need to do your marketing research properly, even as an indie author/enthusiast.

What do I mean by that? Well, you could argue that there’s no point in writing books that nobody wants to read. Or maybe there is? Maybe you just have to get that story out of you, because YOU believe in it and YOU feel the need to tell it?

To be honest with you, I don’t know. Everybody wants to sell or at least for people to read what they’ve written and there’s few things as sad as unappreciated writers who spent years on a book that very few ever read. An extreme example would be John Kennedy Toole and his Pulitzer prize winning book A Confederacy of Dunces. Toole got the prize posthumously because he committed suicide after the book he’d worked on and believed in so strongly failed to get published.

But today in the era of self-publishing and DYI-marketing getting published is not the problem, it’s getting people to like what you write and to SELL (we don’t like that word do we? – me I think there’s a reason it rhymes with HELL).

The general feeling I have about most self-published authors is that they write either science-fiction, thrillers, crime, or romance and that these genres are very popular. Because even if you write for a small niche, the competition will be less tough and the readership more devoted to the topic and by default more interested in what you have to say.

This is what I’ve slowly come to realize. It might be that I’m off, but it’s a strong feeling.

I decided to write a book I would like to read myself (which I think goes for most writers, otherwise it would be weird) and since I’m not so much into science-fiction, romance, thrillers, and crime – I guess I’ll have to call it contemporary, commercial or general fiction (the categories among e-book sellers like Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo vary greatly).

And now here comes the crunch. Who does this appeal to? Everyone who’s into fiction? No. The problem is that the definition is so broad and the competition so fierce that it’s very hard to reach your ideal reader. Who would like The Wake-Up Call? I hope a lot of people. But how do I reach out to them and compete with established publishers and authors?

People would say social media (twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Google Plus, etc), but the problem there is to reach the right person and to win their attention with your story.

I’ve come to learn it’s not easy. But you can’t give up either. You wrote the damn thing and you want people to read it.

Just take John Locke for example. He claims he spent $25 000 on marketing and didn’t get very much out of it. Then he started blogging and twittering and not long thereafter he was in the Kindle Million Club.

So social media might work for you after all.

I’m trying a little bit of everything myself. We’ll see how it goes and I promise to keep you posted on this very blog (and on twitter or Goodreads of course!)

If you want to help me out why not check out my book THE WAKE-UP CALL on Amazon, Nook, iTunes, Smashwords

I know this was long and if you managed to get this far I just want to say…Thanks for listening.

On Writing: A Great Book On Writing

Is On Writing by super famous thriller writer Stephen King. King is often taken very lightly in “serious” literary circles, but although his subject is most often horror and thrillers, a genre disliked by literary award committees, there’s no doubt that he’s a great writer who knows how as well as anyone how to tell a story. It’s just that his stories are a bit on the gory side sometimes.

I actually think King’s writing are at his best in his short stories like The Shawshank Redemption, with no supernatural themes in it.

On Writing is recently released in its 10th Anniversary edition called On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft and it’s a fantastic memoir of a great writer and at the same time a manual on how to become a good writer. I really recommend it.

You can buy it here in Kindle format, Hardcover, Paperback or Audio CD. Every purchase through this link will give this blog a few cents in support. Thanks.

My favorite book on writing…

Is On Writing by super famous thriller writer Stephen King. King is often taken very lightly in “serious” literary circles, but although his subject is most often horror and thrillers, a genre disliked by literary award committees, there’s no doubt that he’s a great writer who knows how as well as anyone how to tell a story. It’s just that his stories are a bit on the gory side sometimes.

I actually think King’s writing are at his best in his short stories like The Shawshank Redemption, with no supernatural themes in it.

On Writing is recently released in its 10th Anniversary edition called On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft and it’s a fantastic memoir of a great writer and at the same time a manual on how to become a good writer. I really recommend it.

You can buy it here in Kindle format, Hardcover, Paperback or Audio CD. Every purchase through this link will give this blog a few cents in support. Thanks.