Friday, September 24, 2010

Looking for the "Right" Path

Ever since I decided I want to be a published author, I kept focused on the traditional path: find an agent, find a publisher, and get the book out on book store shelves. That was some years ago, before self-publishing, POD, and epublishing existed. It’s a different world out there, but I’ve still held firm to the traditional path. I’ve heard the pros and cons of the various publishing forms from self-publishing to small presses to traditional publishing and I’ve told people that as long as they do their research to find the best publishing course for them, that was fine; I was sticking with the traditional path.

Then I found this blogpost and I started wondering about the variety of publishing paths and the benefits of epublishing. Granted, Mr. Konrath has a large following from his previously traditionally published books, so that would account for some ebook sales, but still…

Now I’m going to turn this over to y’all. Where do you stand on publishing? Do you think epublishing on your own (publishing through Amazon) is the way to go? I’m not talking five or ten years down the road, but today. Is Mr. Konrath the exception or the new standard? He mentions other authors who’ve been successful who aren’t as well known as he is, so that sort of takes the “well, he’s famous” argument out of the equation, right? I understand why published authors would want to epublish their back stock and out of print books, but new books? All thoughts, opinions and comments are welcome.

Gary . . .

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's all talk talk

The other day I read an author's blog where they stated their opinion about an unfolding news event. They were pretty clear where they stood on the issue and that brought up an interesting question. It was obvious to me that this writer felt so moved to write what she did, that it didn't matter the consequences of her actions. Would people feel any different toward her and her writing? Would they pass it off as just a rant or would they think twice the next time they went to pick up one of her books?

As writers (and the arts community in general), we're looked to as advocates of culture and spokes-folks for our society. After 9/11, the most outspoken voice was Bruce Springsteen and his disc, The Rising. When events unfold in our world, writers, authors, artists and musicians help us understand what's happening.

But where do we draw the line? How do we, as writers, express ourselves without offending people and thus losing readers? If I come out on one side of a political or religious discussion, some folks will agree with me and some won't, but is it so important for me to state my opinion that I'm willing to lose readers? I could very well ostracize myself from my fellow writers as well. Should we shy away from those topics that can turn incendiary in an instant? Or do we face the taboos and drag them out into the light, shining our own truths on them? As writers, our readers sustain us (in a financial sense) and keep us writing. Should we think of the consequences of our words before we post them for all the world to see?

My first publisher told me to start a blog and get on MySpace (remember that?) and get a website up, but don't write about any issues that could cost me readers. But some of these issues are quite complex and deserve to be discussed. Unfortunately, as I've seen with a recent news event, when people get passionate, they can get loud and when they come from the heart, they don't always think before hitting Publish or Send.

This is a problem with our electronic society. In our social isolationism, it's okay to say whatever you want because it's online and somehow, the consequences don't matter. But before I digress too far...

Conversely, in my next book, I can discuss any social issue and use my characters to come down on whatever side I choose. I can work out my own issues through my characters and call it fiction and it's all right. Of course by the time the book gets published, the issue could be history.

So where's the balance? If I tell you my political leanings, would that change whether you read my books? If I spoke out about religious issues, would you consider it inappropriate or justified because I have a right to speak? Can you separate the writer and his books from the writer and his opinions?

How do you handle discussing fiery topics on your blog or Facebook or wherever?

Gary . . .

Monday, August 16, 2010

Every day I write the book

Okay. Maybe not every day, but a quite a few of them. Sometimes, all strung in a row.

Process. How I do what I do. All writers have them. It's the way they go about constructing stories, but also, how they conduct their writing life. I've shared mine a bit, and thought to share it here for the rest of everybody who chances by.

I write novels and an occasional short story. I have great respect for those writers who can shape an idea from beginning to end in a few pages. I have, what some might consider, literary sprawl. My stories are rarely short and I'm fine with that. So this'll be about the novel process.

Way back in '95 and '96, I wrote two novels: What's Real and Insert Title Here. Both were fiction and both started with a vague idea and a number of scenes. What's Real was a tale about a group of friends in their late 20's (no, don't think The Big Chill, thank you), who've been friends for years. When their "leader" dies, they realize he's been protecting them from the real world. Each falls apart in their own way. After the funeral, secrets come out that tear them apart and they know their lives will never be the same. Each character had their own chapter, written in first person. The second half of the book (post-funeral) was in third person omniscient.

Insert Title Here was about a guy (Rick) and his ex-girlfriend (Katarina) (both had been in a band together), stalked by a crazy fan. Katarina disappears, and her current lover, Meggan, seeks Rick out to help her find Kat. Sound familiar? It's what eventually, with a few twists and turns, turned in Forever Will You Suffer.

Both books had vague outlines, but nothing concrete. Another fiction novel (Having Love, Making Sex) had been outlined to the point where I had no interest in writing it. Maybe someday... With the other two books, I took notes as I wrote and went back and tweaked what needed tweaking to keep it all working.

I had sent queries out to agents and editors, and an editor from Berkeley (her husband worked with my wife) was interested in Insert Title Here, but she had no idea how to market the thing because it encompassed too many genres (mystery, horror, romance, mainstream, etc.). I offered to take out the UFO abduction scene if it would help (yes, there was one), but she'd already left Berkeley (feel free to insert joke about my book driving her out of the industry).

Then came 2002 and my first National Novel Writing Month challenge. 50,000 words in 30 days. No prize, just a certificate and the overwhelming joy of having a 50,000 word piece of literary chaos. From 2002 through 2008 (I started in 2009, but didn't finish (first year I didn't)), this was how I wrote novels. No plot, no characters, just a seed of an idea and a vague road map. It was like taking dictation from the characters and writing it down in story form. Some times the story meandered, but for the most part, it followed a plotline that created itself as it unfolded. It basically followed Anne Lamott's theory: Write the shitty first draft to get the whole thing down, then go back later to edit. When you have 30 days to write 50,000 words, there's not a lot of editing as you go time.

In 2008, I came up with the idea of homeless people living in a fictional town. I had finished a college course on literature (I'm in the midst of finishing the college degree I had no interest in back in the 80's) and was inspired by a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story about an angel. I started plotting the story out, but never once called it an outline. This'll happen, then this, then this, and maybe that. I revamped the "outline" when ever I came up with a better idea, like when you're driving somewhere and you know the basic route and you make a few detours because they seem much more interesting than the highway.

Scenes come to me like I'm watching a movie. I'm there, in the story with the characters. How do I feel going through the poorly lit basement that's cold and damp? What's that odd noise sound like? All these details get transferred through the main characters and their history, psychosis, their baggage, their feelings, and their thoughts, until (hopefully), the experience the reader has is as close to being with those characters as possible.

Editing is fun! Editing makes the book better, stronger, faster, and it smooths out the kinks, and the little details that can get scrambled in a 300 page manuscript (did he have brown eyes or blue? It was mid September when he walked out of his house, but two weeks before Halloween when he got to work five pages later).

I do not edit until the first draft is done. I would never get the book done if I kept going back and editing while I wrote. I have several run-throughs that look like this:
1. On the computer to clean up any glaring issues.
2. Printed out to make sure every sentence flows and there aren't any creaky sentences.
3. Smooth out any new bits just added.
Step 3 can be repeated several times over the course of the whole book or just sections that I really want to rework. To me, there's a difference between revision (small changes) and rewriting (large changes). I rpefer to revise, but if I have to rewrite, then I do.

During all this, I may bring the book to my critique group and/or my wife (first reader) for them to go through. I'd rather polish a section up before the critique group gets it. There's no point in them reading a first draft of something I know I have to change.

I write as often as life allows me. Writing everyday is a good way to work the imagination, but sometimes I can't. Yes, I get cranky when I don't write, so to keep the peace, it's better I do write every day.

So there you have it. My novel process. Grab a few maps, some friends and start walking. Who knows where we'll end up. But that's the fun of it: the exploration of a story, the discovery of where the road leads and where it ends.

Happy Writin's!
Gary . . .

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I'm moving through some changes...

I thought I'd take a moment to tell you how my Five-Month Reinvention Program is going. For those who don't know what this is, I decided back on August 1st that I wanted to change myself to be happier and healthier. In order to do this, I identified five areas of my life that needed changing and they are:
Physical: Lose at least 10 pounds
Mental: Quiet the monkey mind and the negative thoughts that have ruled my life
Emotional: By silencing the Ego and it's negativity, I strive to be a happier person
Spiritual: I want a closer connection to the Divinity that some choose to call God
Environmental: I will stop taking on the emotional energy of the people around me. It's very easy for me to sync my emotional state with the people around me, so if they're down or negative, I become that way.

So how am I doing, 15 days into the program? Forgetting about the weight loss for a moment, I'm doing really well. The most important thing I'm doing for now is just being aware of the thoughts that come up and where they're coming from. When I find myself getting angry, I ask where the anger is coming from, what event/memory it's attached to. The truth is, 99% of the time, it's attached to Ego and has no basis in my reality. When I find myself getting negative about writing or something else that's important to me, I ask where this comes from and almost always, it's the false beliefs I have held as truth.

Following the feelings back to the original thought helps me to see where an emotion comes from and that in truth, I can realign my thinking or let go of those old thoughts that don't serve me any longer. I can let go of drama I've clung to and stop passing judgment on myself.

I can only live in the now; there is no past, but a collection of memories with emotions attached. It is interesting that the emotions are attached to the thoughts/memories of the event and not the event itself. In other words, the event itself is no longer what I remember, but the thoughts that were created from that event.

I have started listening to Buddhist teachings and have found peace in what I learn. I'm taking small steps in this journey, but that serves me the best. Practicing compassion, tolerance, patience, love, and peace toward myself and those around me, understanding that they are living their stories as well, and (most, not all) are trying to wake up, has really helped me find peace in my day. I have my moments, but they are just moments and they pass.

Right now, I am content and this moment is all I can ask for.

Gary . . .

If I had the world to give...

So here's an interesting question that I saw on someone's Facebook "wall". Ready? Would you give up the greatest wish of your heart for the greater good of all?

Before I answer this or ask you for your thoughts, feelings, responses, I have another question (or two): What is the greater good of all? Would it mean that all suffering in the world could end? What of Thich Nhat Hahn's notion that without suffering we could not grow as individuals? How about ending world hunger? That one sounds pretty good, right? What if the greatest wish of my heart was ending world hunger? I think we're looking for a personal wish and not a philanthropic one. But then again...

Is there always a downside to wishing for the greater good? Would ending world hunger lead to overpopulation? Surely, an end to sickness would. And, to ponder further, who's to say that if I gave my heart's greatest wish to end world hunger or that there would be no more war that somewhere down the line, something far worse would exist. Us human beings are pretty crafty when it comes to killing each other. And let's not forget nature and the earth as an entity. Would my wish be trumped by natural disasters?

If I wished for no more war, what would happen if a natural disaster happened to a particular country and the only way for those citizens to survive was to take from their neighboring country? Would war naturally occur or am I just being a pessimist here?

If the "greater good of all" was that the human race became more tolerant, peaceful, loving, compassionate, and patient with themselves and their fellow humans (without a hitch or some catch like it will happen, but only for a month), I would give up my heart's greatest wish.

How about you? Would you give up your heart's greatest wish for the greater good?

Gary . . .

Friday, August 13, 2010

Guest Blogger: Aurora D'Angelis

Gary told me to just write, so here goes nothing. My name is Aurora D'Angelis. Yes, that Aurora D'Angelis, the 1990-something porn star and before that drug addict/rock groupie. That should lend some real credibility to my story. Okay, so that was my past.

I need help and I'm hoping someone out there will read this and be able to help.

About four years ago, my sister, Lisa, was traveling with some death metal band and they came to Eastham, planning to stay overnight and then head up into New York State. Lisa disappeared. She left a note saying she was going to Eastham Institute to meet with Priscilla Walker. I've since learned that Priscilla, a heroin-addicted prostitute was incarcerated at the institute and was murdered by Henry Ketteridge (you may know he's a serial killer who had a "castle" here in Eastham back in the late 1800's, where he tortured and murdered upwards of 30 people), who posed as a doctor. He raped and hung her.

How Lisa knew of Priscilla, I have no idea, but Lisa hasn't been seen since. I went to Eastham in hopes of finding out anything about my sister and Priscilla, but no one knew a thing, or if they did, they weren't talking. I do know the institute burned down in the 1930's so it's impossible that Lisa was going to visit Priscilla.

My husband, David, a journalist, went there to do a story on the institute (and look for Lisa) and how it's allegedly haunted. I had planned to go with him, but my job kept me from it (not the movies, but an actual real job in an office). When I called him, he didn't answer. I called the motel and was told he wasn't there and no one knew where he'd gone. His car was still there, but he was gone.

Again, I went to Eastham (I often wonder if the town wanted me and the only way to get me was through those I love) to find out whatever I could, and just like with Lisa, no one knew anything. Although, a couple of people told me of a local legend of people who live under Eastham Lake, called Lake Walkers, and maybe David got too close and they took him.

I moved there a couple of years ago and have been searching for any information on Lisa or David. If anyone knows anything about Priscilla Walker (family or friends), the Institute, or the Lake Walker legend, please contact me through this blog. Please ask your friends to read this; maybe they know something. I know it's a long shot, but Eastham's not that far from New York, and I'm hoping someone who reads this might be able to help.

Thank you. And thank you Gary, for letting me post this.

Aurora D'Angelis

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer in the City

Last Thursday night was an awesome evening. It was a convergence of wonderful events I hadn't planned to have in one night, but you know how life works.

I heard about the Summer of Riesling from somewhere online and wanted to take part in the Riesling Crawl, an event that spanned a month and 12 bars offering various Rieslings. I couldn't make all the bars, as I wasn't planning any trips to Brooklyn (sorry, Brooklynites). However, that still left a bunch of bars in the City, but I wasn't planning any trips there either.

Then I read about a Buddhist event happening at the Symphony Space. It was a welcoming of Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche, the 17-year-old reincarnation of the great Tibetan spiritual teacher Kyabye Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and the Pema Tse Nyingtik Longevity Empowerment Ceremony. Got all that?

I remembered that Linda A. had just attended a Buddhist event so I asked her if she'd like to come along. She said sure, as long as I didn't mind her intruding on my crawl. How silly! The more the merrier! Slowly, the plan formed until it went something like this: Bar uptown, Buddhist event, Bar uptown, home.

I took the train from Port Authority to 79th St., where I spent an hour sitting in Central Park enjoying the beautiful weather. I love the subway; it is so cool and easy (once you get it) and I love Central Park, as well.

At the Tangled Vine, Linda and I had a 1992 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spatlese. Oh. My. God. Okay, so it was $22 a glass (available from for $37.99 a bottle (I may have to order one)), but it was amazingly refreshing and absolutely delicious.

Then it was off to the Longevity Empowerment Ceremony. I had no idea what to expect and there were moments when I felt completely out of place. Many (it seemed like all) of the people there were familiar with the Tibetan prayers and joined in, while I sat there taking it all in. After it was over, Linda brought up a very good point: I may not have known what was going on, but I was in that energy, absorbing the good vibes.

A side note here. Since the ceremony, my neck hasn't bothered me in the mornings and Friday I was buzzing from those good vibes.

Then Linda and I trained it down to Bar Boulud where we had another fantastic Riesling (this one more mineral than fruit flavored) and to-die-for desserts. Poached Blueberry Tart with a Watermelon Glaze and Watermelon Sherbert. It was fascinating how the sweet dessert changed the taste of the wine.

We agreed that next year we'd get a big crowd together and hit a few more bars. Any takers?

So a HUGE thank you to Linda A. for accompanying me and making Thursday evening a lot of fun.

Some times you don't know what you're experiencing or what you're getting from the experience until the next day and you feel it inside you and it makes you feel alive.

Gary . . .

Monday, August 9, 2010

In My Little Town...

Eastham, New Jersey is a (ficticious) small town located just north of Sussex. If you take Route 23 North all the way up past Sussex, you'll come to Castle Road on your right. Make the turn and take that to Main Street and make that right. If you go too far, you'll come to Sheckman's Road on your left where you can turn around. One thing you will notice is that it feels as if Eastham, and the roads to get there, were carved out of the forest that grows dense and right to the road. Truth is, it was.

Here's what I've learned about Eastham. back in the 1860's, William Harvey Eastham, and his wife, Sylvia, opened Eastham Institute (a polite word for sanitarium) as a retreat for those who had suffered nervous breakdowns. As more and people came, they started construction on brick buildings until by the turn of the century, when construction was complete, over five hundred mentally disturbed patients called the sanitarium home. Around the same time, they built an orphanage on what is now Sheckman's Hill.

As philanthropic as the Easthams were, they could not watch everything that went on and it was discovered much later, that some of the doctors, nurses, and caretakers (even a few of the religious people on staff) had agendas of their own, like experimenting on patients, including children, to make them perfect in the eyes of God. Some, but not all, were caught and sent to jail. The rest continued their experiments in secret until both the orphanage and the sanitarium burned down under extremely mysterious conditions.

During one of the worst lightning storms to ever hit the area, survivors claimed they heard voices telling them to leave the building. As they fled, multiple lightning strikes hit the institute and the orphanage, starting numerous fires that raged out of control before the Sussex Fire Department and those from surrounding areas could put it out.

When it was all over and there was nothing left but rubble, some asked why the innocent died and some said there were no innocents, only the wicked and those being made to be wicked. Once the debris and bodies were cleared, the local politicians and developers were only too happy to build a small, self-contained community there and an office building and warehouse up where the orphanage had been. The businesses in Sussex prospered, as did the new businesses in Eastham. BioTribe Corp. moved in to the office building, but left several years ago, under mysterious circumstances. The warehouse and office were turned into a homeless shelter, where close to fifty people live. Volunteers from the area come up to what's now called Sheckman's Hollow to feed the homeless and to make sure they're as healthy as homeless people can be.

What few people know, and others only whisper about. is that the area had become tainted by the madness that had seeped from the sanitarium and the orphanage into the ground, and though it never affected anything in nature (no one knows why), the people were much more susceptible.

There's a lot of weirdness in Eastham now, including sightings of lights in the woods, ghosts and shadow people, humanoid creatures that live under Eastham Lake, unidentifiable monsters, and more unexplained phenomena. A certain local magazine has been there a number of times to interview people, but the local police won't let them talk to anyone.

What goes on behind the closed doors in Eastham is up for conjecture, as no one's talking. But there are many dark secrets in this town.

I'll be writing more on Eastham and the residents soon.

Gary . . .

Welcome to the Grand Illusion...

I read an article in Buddhadarma magazine that puts forth the idea that emotions are illusions and not real. I don't know about you, but they sure feel real. Let's look at this a bit differently, like this:

Emotions are the byproducts of thoughts filtered through our beliefs about how life should be.

*I will grant that there are some experiences we go through, that are so intense that the idea that what we feel is illusory is near impossible to believe.

Here's a familiar example (if you're a writer): You send short stories and/or poems out. You get rejections. You start to amass a small envelope, then binder, then, stack, and wonder if maybe you're not that good, and you feel down to the point where you ask yourself if you should just stop writing altogether. But wait a minute. That sustained feeling of frustration and sadness (maybe a bit of depression?) that's settling over you like a wet blanket (is that cliche?) doesn't just sprout up out of nowhere. It comes from a thought: maybe I'm not good enough. But even that thought comes from a belief we have about what being a writer means.

Take a moment, and, if you're so inclined, try this little experiment: Take a sheet of paper. Number down the left side 1 to 10 (or more if you're adventurous). At the top of the page write this sentence: A writer is... Now, without giving it too much thought, write down the first ten things that come to mind.

There are no right or wrong answers, but when you're done, you'll get some idea of what you think about being a writer. My list told me that I needed to rethink my idea of what a writer is if I had any desire to be a successful, full-time one.

Don Miguel Ruiz says we have a Book of Law that we live by. It is everything we've been taught about life, and was given to us by our parents and teachers. Some things they told us we decided wasn't true, but most of what we were taught, we believed as truth. Would we believe our parents lied to us when we were children? But if enough people told you you couldn't make a living as a writer before you even started, how could you believe otherwise?

We've internalized these beliefs until they're second nature and we react out of them because we don't know any other way. This has lead me to a lot of self-reflection and a growing awareness of how my thoughts have brought me to this place in my life. By being cognizant of my thoughts, I can stop any of the negative ones that instantaneously become negative emotions. It's a process. But I've seen how, by changing my thoughts, I can change the way I react to what life offers me. Not easy, boys and girls, but the other option, to be oblivious to the thoughts that shape my life in a negative way, is just not appealing any more.

So how about y'all? Ever find negative meotions attached to beliefs creeping into your writing life?

Happy Writin's!
Gary . . .

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Welcome to the latest blog on life, liberty and writing. I make no promises about what gets said here by me or the potential long list of guests I may have strolling through. But what I do know is that if you're writing through Hell, keep writing. You'll come out on the other side.

This is gonna be a place on writing, music, life, and whatever else I deem relevant, so expect the unexpected.

Writing through Hell is any kind of writing that's difficult (pulling out deep emotional stuff, writing heavy scenes, etc.) or writing when life gets hard. That's the tough one. When shit's hitting the fan, how do you keep writing? Don't be shy about talking back. I'd rather this be an interactive venue than me rambling endlessly. You all have your ways and means of coping and it's possible that what you share is the very thing someone else needs to hear.

Here's my opening question: What does writing through hell mean to you and how do you keep at it?

G . . .