It's hard being a fan. I'm not talking casual. I mean someone who spends every waking minute thinking about something, getting into debates on forums about it on the bus, toggling between news sites on the subject on your lunch break, and coming home to get back to the real deal soon as chores are done. Obsessiveness is exhausting. You expend so much energy on something that you often forget what made you fall in love in the first place. You spend so much time maintaining the commitment that you lose the romance. Every now and then, though, something comes along that makes it all worth it.
I'm an art jock. I love getting into arguments about movies. I spend hours over-analyzing every scene of my favorite shows. I probably listen to three to five hours of music a day. If my favorite player makes a misstep, I take it as a betrayal. If my favorite band releases a shit song, that hurts. I love you; I put my faith in you. How could you do me like that? Well, this past month, I saw something so great that it brought literal tears to my eyes. It was something so beautifully-orchestrated that I was just in awe of what I was witnessing. I was so grateful to be alive to experience this cinematic experience. The particular scene in question was an emotional scene, for sure, but what made me wet was how incredible the writing was. My eyes were saying, “Thank you.” It felt like a baptism. Every disappointing season of television, every stupid book better left on the shelf, every lazy chorus was washed away. The only thing that mattered in this moment was this moment and how cathartic it was.
Sometimes, as a writer, you get a little too comfortable. You think you've got a grip on this storytelling thing. These overpaid celebrity scribes don't have a thing on you. You can predict the end of every Marvel movie one phase before it happens. You might not be a genius but you feel on par with the rest of 'em. Then, you get knocked on your butt. What a fool you were. KO'd without a fighting chance. That's what I live for. I don't do drugs but I imagine that's what they feel like. It's inspiration, a poster on your wall to admire before you lift. If someone could create something so magnificent, then what the fuck have you been doing? You've gotta step it up, now. The goal is to make your audience feel the goosebumps your inspirations have given you. No matter how good you get; you can always do better.
There's no greater point to this article. I just wanted to marvel about how lucky I am to have had that reminder about why I love writing in the first place. For every bad date you have with some weak-ass novella, every time your debate about which Mad Max is the best (Road Warrior, duh) gets a little too heated, every twenty dollar bill you wish you'd have just thrown in the trash rather than donating your attention to some Hollywood turd, keep in mind that true love is out there.
We're at a crossroads at Long Shot Books. That much is obvious. In many ways it's very exciting. In others, it's scary as heck. There have been some plans in the making for a long while and other changes that were thrust upon us. Such is life, especially as a small business owner (if I dare even call myself that).
To start, let's back this up. When we began Long Shot Books, we did so at a point in my life where I was pretty secure in all regards. I would have never asked Maureen to be a part of something if I wasn't confident I had the attention and energy to dedicate to it. Then, without getting into too many details, my life fell apart. A large amount of money was stolen from me, causing me to realize that a large portion of my life had been blacked-out due to repressed memories from my childhood. I was planning on getting married. (According to the narrative I had constructed in my head at that time, I'd probably be a father, now.) There were also a lot of life or death scares with someone I know that is at an age where mortality shouldn't even be questioned. I was being gas-lit so hard that I was convinced that conversations I heard were basically in my head or contorted so badly by paranoia that they might as well have been. (It took hard evidence for me to convince myself I wasn't crazy and that I was just being lied to.) I was sleeping one to two hours a day because I was having nightmares so violent I couldn't sleep (violent things being inflicted upon me, not the other way around). Instead of saving up for a wedding ring, I was saving up for a trip to the psych ward. The only things keeping me going were my family, my obligation to finish Conditional Love, and making LSB a reality. There were days I could hardly eat a sandwich because my appetite was nonexistent. I was crying nearly every waking hour. Full-on sobbing at work, opening the fridge and collapsing to the ground. If I didn't have a head-ache from crying so much, it was from slamming my head against the concrete wall in the basement, or from falling down on the kitchen floor because I was self-medicating with alcohol. I went from about two years' sober to getting black-out drunk about five nights a week.
The only time I don't remember drinking was at work. Soon as I got home, I was opening a can of whatever. I was waking up with all kinds of bruises. I was hardly even human at this point. Really, I was just an animal in suffering. There was one time where the stress became so much that I just collapsed on the ground and couldn't stand up and was disoriented for an hour or so. I only vaguely remember a lot of this stuff. During this time, there were a lot of people helping and supporting me. My parents, my roommate, and most importantly (for this article), Maureen. She let me stay at her house when it was no longer a good idea for me to be at my own. She came and picked me up when I had my syncopal incident described above. She helped me escape from all that by taking a vacation as her roommate, free of charge. We'd plan things for the company and make the most of our circumstances. Even though we had already registered the title, I think that's when Long Shot Books became a reality for us.
At this time, I signed up for dating apps. It is oddly embarrassing, even though I'm pretty sure it's common these days for single people my age. I liked OKCupid because I liked getting really wasted and filling out the questions. This was probably two or three months before the first LSB interview or the first article, iirc. Apparently, some of my answers got me into hot water recently. I only know some of the things in question because nobody had come to me and quite frankly, I don't fully remember that phase of my life. It's like an impressionist painting when I look back on it rather than realist or something that sounds as clever as I'm wanting it to. I was more political back then, (shortly after my mental breakdown, I stepped back from politics completely-I still follow things and try to stay informed but I see myself as a student of the world rather than a teacher at this point) and also enjoyed playing the role of devil's advocate. (As explained in the video, I presented my thoughts at the time, still think they're at least somewhat reasonable, and would gladly hear those points rebutted. Neither of those things are issues I'm voting on or making any decisions about beyond timewaster online quizes. Like I said, I don't really speak on politics at all anymore but I'm glad to listen.) I believe the things were taken out of context and I explained that in my Youtube video on the subject. I also don't expect anyone to have that amount of context when browsing OKCupid quiz answers, either, so I get that.
I don't like excusing any controversial thing I say or do with mental illness or intoxication. (On a side note: I do find it ironic that mental illness is great to post “relatable” memes about when it comes to lying in bed, eating pizza or something but when the harsh reality of it shows its ugly head, all of a sudden, it's out the window.) I mean, I easily could but I do want to remain accountable for my actions. I've addressed this before as well. My issue was that rather than coming to me and saying “Hey, man. That's fucked up that you said that,” or, “I thought you were better than this,” or even, “I don't understand how you could even think something like this, can we talk about it?” they screenshotted it and sent it to other people, hoping to boycott not only my but Maureen's company. (I don't blame anyone for taking issue with what I said or any other thing I say or do. I get that and can respect it. I take issue with someone taking this as an opportunity to act maliciously and approach a difference in [what was at least for me] rhetorical political opinion with malice rather than any attempt for understanding or compassion.) She gets cryptic messages saying, “Only a few people know but if this gets out, it's going to be a very bad look for your company” and shit like that. When she says to talk to me about it, they refuse, until, of course, I go public with the information with my video (which I recorded this time, only half-drunk [but also half-sober!] and half-asleep).
The reason I bring this up, because I said my video was the end of this, and as of right now, it basically is, is because I believe every misfortune is an opportunity for growth. I do feel wronged. I feel that my privacy was invaded, my mental health exploited, and I feel hurt that people would rather lash out at me (or worse, my friend) than have an adult conversation about political opinions I drunkenly espouted, possibly even chuckling at the fact that I said something brash and nasty. I also feel more motivation than ever to be a good person and to do more good with our company. I always say that the life I was given ended in 2018 and by 2019, the life I made for myself had begun. I think that I was reborn in many ways and am a much better person. I hope to say the same thing in 2020, looking back on all this and a compilation of other embarrassments from now until then. I'm sure that those upset with me feel as though they're raging against some injustice the same way that I do. Although I disapprove of their means of doing so, I can appreciate that at least some of these people believe they are participating in morality. I forgive them for that and hope for the same from them someday. I know some people upset with me are great writers and I wish them the best in that. The foundation of Long Shot Books has always been one of new beginnings, forgiveness, and most importantly, not judging one another. We're passionate about opening double-blind contests. We don't care who you are or what you've done. All we want is what you're doing right now, in this moment. I can't speak for the person I was in 2018 but I can say that right now, in this moment, I am confident Maureen and I are doing our absolute best and hope that everyone else in the game can say the same. If this latest controversy hasn't driven you off, I'm sure some later one I inspire will. I have a habit of that. I can also assure you that any mistakes I might make are honest in nature and I'm genuinely trying with each step in the wrong direction to make the right move. If you don't believe me, well, I don't blame you. I have trust issues, myself. I have trust issues with myself, sometimes. I'll just have to prove the both of us wrong with my actions.
We want to create an open community for everyone. Poets, fiction writers, nonfiction, journalists. We don't even want to consider gender, orientation, religion, politics, or economic stature. Those things mean nothing to us. We're much more concerned with how you treat other people than your background or what you call yourself. The only thing we expect is to see that you're doing your best and helping others do their best. We're all on our own hero's journey but we can choose to be an obstacle on others' paths or to help them. We don't want cliques. We don't want beef or petty feuds. Truly, in the most elementary school guidance counselor way, we just want everyone to get along and help each other reach their best potential. The only thing we don't tolerate is bullying or discrimination or anything icky like that.
We're even thinking about branching out even further, beyond the written word. I used to be a filmmaker. (Maureen helped work on the second feature film I worked on and has written scripts of her own.) We want to work with bands and visual artists of all kinds. We'd love to do a show that has stand-up comedy, readings, music, and an art gallery. We want people to make connections with each other that they never might have otherwise. The absolute coolest thing would be hearing a filmmaker say, “Hey, this writer I met through you guys wrote my latest script and I hired the band who played at the same show (s)he read at to do the score. That stand-up comedian we saw at your show is going to be the lead.” We're striving for an open-border community for artists, a group of people saying, “I don't know where you come from or who you've been in the past, but right now, we're here, so let's help each other make this most of this moment.” Of course, our primary focus will be on the written word, but we may not continue limiting ourselves to only that.
I'm a demanding artist. I ask a lot of my readers. Irl, I'm a demanding person to be around. I really challenge people, probably not always in the healthiest way. Long Shot has always been my retribution. It's my way of being a decent literary citizen. It's my way of giving back to the indie community. I can't speak on specifics right now, but I think there are many exciting plans for our future and I'm both as excited and grateful to be apart of this company as I've ever been. I wouldn't have started it with anyone other than Maureen Crowley and I couldn't be happier with the little we've accomplished so far. She's perfect but I make a hundred thousand stupid mistakes every single day and I understand if those scare you off. With that said, I'm looking forward to our future and I'me hoping to see you in it.
...wasn't actually about writing. We'll get to that in a bit, though. I throw a lotta flack at teachers. They deserve it. I feel that teachers are the same as journalists or medical staff. Their job is important, which is why I get so irate when they fuck it up. Some schmuck like me shouldn't care more about their position than the person paying their mortgage with it. I was pretty lucky in high school, though. I'm going to say that the ratio of great to suck teachers were 9:1 in their favor, which probably inversely-proportional with the quality of my experience with college professors. (I still had some good ones but for every class that had a positive affect on my life, there were four that were in one ear, out the other at best. Most were soapboxes for the professors' bleeding egos.) This article is about one of the exceptions. Before I graduated high school, my favorite teacher and coach said that no matter what I do, I had to take this professor's Shakespeare class. (I went to the same college he did.) This was something I learned from his Shakespeare class, that didn't just change the way I read but also the way I wrote and go about every social interaction I have.
The assignment was to read a passage of one of The Bard's plays and describe what the characters are doing. Now, what that means is not just repeating the words they are saying but treating their words like actions and explaining the intentions behind these words. For an example off the top of my head, if a wife said to her husband that Janice's husband just bought her a nice car, she might be implying that it was time they look into a new vehicle. If someone is at a party and says, “It's getting late,” they aren't just making a remark about the time; they're also implying that they are ready to leave. If you're a writer, obviously you read. I'm not going to belittle you by recommending reading a book. Duh. A good way to practice this that doesn't involve reading, in my opinion, is by watching movies and analyzing each decision that the director makes as well as the characters on-screen. Why did (s)he cut here? Why are they playing this song at this moment? What are they conveying to the audience in what we are being shown on-screen? What made this so revolutionary for me was that it laid every interaction out like a game of chess. You're no longer wholly-preoccupied by the surface value; you begin looking past words to see intent.
In reading, this gives you a deeper understanding of the characters. You can also evaluate the structure by asking yourself what the author is doing rather than just what the characters are saying. In real life, it can make you more privy to what others are up to. It can be a fast-track to sociopathy but it can also be a safeguard against someone trying to manipulate you. Most importantly, for this article, at least, it allows you to coordinate character interactions and provide readers a richer experience. Consider things like body language, blocking of which characters are where, the dialogue itself. I've begun seeing my own writing like stage notes to a play readers perform in their minds. This technique has allowed me to essentially function as an actor playing every character while also assuming the role of director. So, next time you're writing or editing, ask yourself, “What is this character doing? How am I as the author expressing this?” It's simple but you only need one tree trunk to bear a dozen fruits. (Honestly, that's the best closer I've got. I can hardly keep my eyes open.)
I hear this snarkument all the time. “Who cares? It's made for children.” What's funny is that I never hear this said to anyone whose enthusiastic about the latest product shoved into movie theaters or book shelves. I've never seen someone say, “So, you liked Moana? You know that's for kids, right?” It's always a manner of shutting down voices of dissent, because we all know, it's against internet conduct to not wholeheartedly approve of a Disney movie. (In the UK, you can actually be imprisoned for it.) Yet, every pseudo-intellectual Youtube film critic was out opening week to bitch and moan about The Emoji Movie. Hmm...was that one not made for children? Surely, there are no double-standards afoot.
So, here's the most obvious response to this shit, and the most logical one. I care about children's entertainment because I care about the culture children are raised in. This should go without saying but due to people being incapable of holding actual discussion, the obvious can no longer be overstated enough these days. Nobody's going to disagree with you raising your kid on a healthy diet rather than McDonald's and Pepsi every day. Why are the books they read any different? I'm open to the occasional candy bar. I remember being a kid and liking stupid shit. I have The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog on DVD as a memento of those times. I'll come back to this later. The important thing about this point is that I don't want children being raised with crummy morals or on content less than they deserve. I recognize that you can't force a child to enjoy what they should but that doesn't mean I can't get pissed at untalented authors and filmmakers for sucking at their job. Look at Cartoon Network back in the days of Dexter's Laboratory and Johnny Bravo. Are you really going to tell me that they're the equivalent of Uncle Grandpa? Your children are being raised by pop culture. Wouldn't you want a thorough background check on their babysitter? Why should their TV shows be any different?
Next up is the lesser point of this article, but it's one I bring up all the time. Any time that anybody says I'm overthinking something, I look up the budget of whatever that product was. (This typically applies to movies.) Upon a quick Google, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was made on a gross budget of 200 million dollars. Now, if I was to moan about how lazy and poorly-constructed it was, I would probably be met with a response of it being for children or that I'm overthinking it. If you had that much money and were about to invest it in something, would you even consider it possible to overthink that much money? From my impoverished opinion, fathoming the use of that much money feels like imagining what it's like to terraform a planet without a blueprint. Obviously, this can apply to book budgets or anything else. We just usually don't discuss budgets about those things as often. Anyhow, this point is only tangentially-related.
Back on that real, I remember reading a lot of things as a kid I would scoff at now. I clocked way too many Stephen King books (probably twenty or thirty in whole) and way too many Neil Gaiman books (maybe six). I enjoyed a lot of those books (King's) but I wouldn't waste my time on a page of it today. Mostly because I'm just not personally interested in that kind of literature anymore but also because my taste has evolved while I've been growing as a person. The thing is, I see a lot of readers in stunted-adolescent stages of readership. Not everybody has to reach for Gravity's Rainbow. That's a niche market, even for readers. I get that. On the other hand, if the steepest you've climbed up the literary canon is George R. R. Martin, that worries me. Some people aren't into fiction, or even into literature, that's cool, too, but if you're a book nerd and end the line there, you gotta start lifting heavier, (wo)man. Recreationally, there's nothing wrong with enjoying whatever you want. (Again with overstating the obvious. I love Captain Underpants more than I enjoy The King in Yellow. Some years, I'll watch a dozen Spielberg movies before I get around to one Bergman.
The thing is, look at this crowd of imbeciles who define their world-view by Harry Potter. That's gotta be classified as a mental illness somewhere. I enjoy those movies as passive entertainment but I also despise them for their shallow world view of good vs evil and how if you're not a Hermoine, then you're a Voldemort (with the rare Snape that has an iota of nuance). I don't want my (nonexistent, unlikely to ever exist at present) children to see the world that way. Life is complex. People are multifaceted. Good people do bad and “bad” people are capable of good. The world is larger than Hogwarts, even if those stories are pleasant. Sometimes I wonder (and this is pure speculation without making any true assertion) if past generations were more intelligent having been raised on Lord of the Rings rather than The Hunger Games. Just a thought that keeps me busy sometimes.
Ultimately, what this shallow, stupid argument boils down to, though, even above children, is one thing. It's somebody who is ashamed of their interests finding their taste put into question. They don't have the brain-power to defend it or accept that maybe others see the latest CGI product differently than they do, so they dismiss it with an “Oh, it's for children, anyways.” Well, no. You own hardback and paperback copies of the books, have the Funko vinyls of half the characters, and watch the adaptation every week as soon as you get home from work. You're too weak to be confident in your interests and that's cowardly. If you ever throw an examination of pop culture out because it's for kids, then maybe you should grow the fuck up.
We need to treat the literary marketplace like a gym. Our own insecurities, time restraints, and creative responsibility are the weights we're lifting. The promotional hustle is your cardio. They aren't setbacks; they're just an occasion to rise to. Each time we sit down to churn out another chapter is a rep. Hopefully we're increasing the weight we're lifting with every project. No one wants to plateau. If a particular set is painful, it's just building muscle. Hype yourself up. Make a playlist for yourself or find an album that gets your in the right meditative state to start grinding. You've gotta make sure to eat lots and to eat healthy. Stephen King called himself the Big Mac of literature. It can be fun to eat like a teenager every now and again but you don't need that shit. Go get something high in protein. Catch up with the Greeks. You need role models, posters on the wall with literary bodies you'd like to someday amount to the equivalent of. It's motivation. Nobody has ever lifted two hundred pounds before they could lift eighty.
Your peers in the gym aren't the enemy. Don't forget that they're training with you, not against you. The only one you're competing with is the (wo)man in the mirror. Everyone is on their own hero's journey. You can choose to be someone who holds some branches so they can pass through easier or you can obstruct their path. The thing is, your actions only reflect your own character. I think of criticism as spotting another artist. I'm not pressing the weights down against them. I'm trying to help them perfect their form. You should always use criticism kind-heartedly. If you find yourself not having the artist's best intentions in mind, just stay out of their way. I don't like Tim Burton's movies, so I don't fuck with 'em. I don't like what he does, so there's no need for me to criticize it. Don't forget that these people are your brothers and sisters. You might butt heads, but at the end of the day, you're on the same team.
Another thing is, you can't compare yourself to other people. You might not be lifting as much as the girl next to you but she might be five years further down her path than yours. The guy next to you might do twice as much cardio but can't lift the same that you can. It doesn't matter. You're not racing each other and ultimately, you want to spread your tips of the trade so that you can all make for better art. I'm assuming that most writers also enjoy reading a good book. If you see someone in need, take a second to help them out. Spot them, hook them up with a trainer (You know, an editor or some shit.), the cost of one book could cover the admission fee for another day at the gym for some authors. It's a community built around self-improvement. Help each other help yourselves.
I'm about to drop a bombshell. Writing isn't exactly a lucrative business. Maybe if you're Tom Clancy, but there's only enough room for so many New York Times Best Selling Authors on the bookshelves at Wal-Mart. I only know a handful of writers who live off of what they do and a majority of them collaborate with small publishers to help them promote. A lot of us do it as a side-hustle on top of parenting or making fake Facebook accounts to see what Stacey's been doing since she blocked me.
So, here's the good news. This isn't always a bad thing. Plenty of history's best writers didn't live off of their writing. Below is the first Google result. You're welcome. One of the most interesting things I've ever heard was from my high school German teacher when asked about teaching wages. She said that the plus side is that you won't have people crowding the market to get easy money. That's how I feel about writing. Sure, it'd be cool if you can make money off you're writing (and many can), but there is something pure about keeping finances out of it, doing it for the love of the craft.
So, here's the bad news. This also means that many authors will never reach their full potential. Think about our minds being like a phone batter that depletes with usage, and the more apps running, the faster it drains. If you're writing at the end of your day after an eight-plus hour shift, household duties, and going through pictures of Stacey's ex-boyfriends to find which stock photo male model looks the most like her type, it can be hard to focus. Stephen King said some bologna about not being a true writer unless your read four hours a day and write four hours a day. I'm lucky if I make room to read and write that much a week out of the year. I fear that a lot of magnum opuses collect dust in the heads of their originators and the world might be a lamer place for that.
Anyhow, here's how you can help. Just be there. If someone you're interested in puts a book out, pay for it. Read it, talk to them about it, write a review. It may not seem like much (and I'd beg to disagree, because reading one book can be a heck of a lot sometimes), but it makes a huge difference. Every single purchase counts. Every review helps. If you share a blog post or give just a star rating on Goodreads, it goes a long way. We're starving out in the desert here and we'd kill for just one drop of water. Now, I will say that if an author ever charges $20+ for a chapbook, then they're likely a bullshit artist. I do not see how the means of production justify the cost and have seen many examples of this. (If you have any information on what goes into a twenty page book that isn't printed on gold, please let me know. I've been confounded on that for years.) The thing is, most people I've met aren't that way. They're out printing their own chapbooks, organizing their own events, helping promote and support other authors. I think for the most part, you can tell if someone is being genuine. Most people can be read like a book. I should end this, there.
Anyhow, that's that. This shit is basic, but essential.
We're in kind of a tough position, here. Typically, what you see is an author trying to prove his or her worth to a potential publisher or agent. They submit the query, cover letter, and manuscript. Sure, that makes sense, but that's for real publishing houses, the kind with reputations and lotsa money. The thing is, we don't know what kind of publishing house we are, yet. We're still figuring things out. We have money but how much is enough to successfully throw at a book release/marketing campaign? I've released nearly a dozen duds at this point of my own but that's more something to brush under the rug than use as legitimate experience in the field. So, we have no reputation, no true experience, and no real budget. What do we have to offer authors? Well, that's what this post is. Think of it as a cover letter to authors.
The first thing is that we're in this for the authors. (I'm not claiming other publishing houses aren't; from everything I've seen, it's quite the opposite.) We want to be there with you every step of the way. We want to help you format the book and design the cover in a way that you find best showcases your work. We want to help you organize a marketing plan and see it through. We want to give you as much creative freedom as we possibly can (think more James Joyce, less Sean Penn). We want all those ideas you think are too unmarketable, too ugly, or just too fuckin' weird. How I see it is that I've just finished the most creatively-demanding and riskiest book of my “career” as a writer. I've finished it and have no estimated profits. So far as I know, it might sell two copies. The thing is, I'm happier than I've ever been after releasing a book (and we're going to market LSB releases much more extensively, so that's not a sly way of me saying we don't plan on actually selling your books). That's what we're looking to provide authors with. Our goal for Long Shot Books is to be the support system for authors, to be in their corner at all times, and to take full advantage of being too small to fail.
Another thing is that we're not perfect and we recognize that. Speaking for myself, I can often be brash, arrogant, quick-tempered, and straight-up idiotic. We are not professionals. We're looking to gain experience while learning the most we can from the least amount of mistakes possible. We're negotiable. This isn't a boss:employee relationship. We want to handle all the lame shit that you don't. When I was formatting my last book, Young Adulterer, prepping it for KDP was more frustrating for me than writing the book itself. I thought to myself, Christ, this is the shit I'm gonna be doing all the time for other authors? Yeah, that boring stuff. We'd love to hear cover ideas, but we also know how lame Cover Creator can be on Amazon sometimes. If you know a cool press that you'd like to put the book out through, we're also down for that. If you have a percentage you'd like for royalties, we'd be glad to hear it and work a deal out. We're not looking to tell anybody how it is. We want to ask, “How can we make this an ideal partnership for everybody involved?”
Our role is that of a collaborator. We don't want to ever put our feet down or force anybody into uncomfortable situations creatively or financially. We're a support network, not a source of pressure. We want to support authors in every way we can, as artists and as human beings. We've both struggled to work on our own projects; we know how difficult it can be. We understand how lonely writing a book can feel and how futile it seems once that book is finally out there to get a single person to give it a chance. We don't just want to be your manager, we wanna be your bros.
So, that's what I've come up with so far. I know it's not much but I hope it helps you know how much we care about literature and just as importantly, how much we care about authors. If you decide to take a better book deal with more a more established team, we get that. If you want to take a risk on us, then we'll go the distance for you.
Many readers are stupid. A disproportionate number of non-readers are even stupider. (Point in case: Goodreads.) I've already done my take on how to handle criticism, so I've been hesitating to write yet another article on why you should stick to your own balls (or ovaries) in the face of internet confrontation. This whole phenomenon just confounds me, and I'm way behind on making these darn blog posts, anyways, so I might as well double down on it. Anyhow, if you don't know, and you already do, publishers have been pulling books from their line-ups due to pre-release criticism of the materials yet unseen. It seems to be caused by professional reviews that paint the word as all our favorite -isms. And why question that? Surely, a critic would never have a bias, especially not one so esteemed as a critic of YA fiction. Think Plato's cave but rather than seeing shadows on the wall, they're having the shadows described to them by others. (Did they go over that in the theory? Secondhand information and ears and hearing noises? Probably. I don't remember.)
See, here's my main frustration. I don't believe these are samaritans trying to call out manifestos of bigotry. If I actually gave a fuck, I'd love to read the (un?)shelved manuscripts to see how they add up to the allegations. Something tells me that Mein Kampf, they are not. (Although, wouldn't I look like a fool if they were?) Likening this to #metoo would be a false equivalence. You see, when you accuse someone of something, you don't purposefully attempt to hide the evidence, especially not if you're confident in your statements. What these people are doing is saying, “Don't look! It's so evil, so racist, so hateful that you might not even notice if you read it for yourself! Don't come up with your own opinion. Let me protect you.” I don't find these to be good or even very confident people. If nobody reads the book they're calling out, then how can anyone disprove their claims? Ironically, many of these dimwits also tend to be the type who boast about reading “banned books” one month every calendar year. It appears to be a cabal of progressive puritans who enjoy the power of "canceling" those who accomplish what they are incapable of. You can bend over backwards to suck their collective dick but that doesn't mean they won't kick you in the face when your time comes. Whether or not you've truly done anything wrong, you're done away with. Apologies will only confirm their suspicions.
So, authors, what the fuck? On one hand, I understand. You're afraid; they've got you up against the wall. You put years into this book, have all your hopes and dreams stitched into the pages, other unnecessary metaphors. You don't want to come off unprofessional or get caught with your foot in the mouth. Here's the bad news: You're already fucked. Once they've sunk their fangs into you, you've got moments to act. I truly believe that most, if not all these authors mean well. I would be astonished if a single one of them tried sneaking some covert racism into their young adult book on the sly. If your book isn't what they claim it is, then why shy away from proving them wrong? You know what you've written, probably better than anyone (barring maybe your editor). Talk some sense into the situation. Are you digging your own grave? Maybe, but it's better than to submit to the entertainment police. People are divided on outspoken artists; nobody respects a push-over.
Publishers, you're probably not actually reading this article, so this paragraph is essentially useless. Imaginary publishers that I pretend read my posts, you're shooting yourselves in the foot. On one hand, there is a potential loss. On the other hand, you're missing out on an opportunity. I understand playing it safe is the game but outspoken Twitter profiles don't speak for the majority of readers. In many cases, controversy stirs interest in the general populace, especially when the claims turn out to be false. Look at the fan outrage towards Suicide Squad. That shit still made money. How many Transformers movies has Michael Bay cashed in on, now? (Particularly decent example, being that they are often accused of being racist, sexist, smartophobic.) I'm not here to argue the quality of these movies. My point is that despite negative reception, they still made bank. This boils down to the free market. Let consumers decide what you publish, not tweets. If an author's making money, why cut them off? I get that many of the authors I'm referring to aren't established writers, but why not give them one chance? I'm more sympathetic in this case, because I totally get how each book release is a major gamble and a financial liability. I'd still love to see a publisher give the literati the finger, though, and stand up with for the authors they were willing to sign on.
Ultimately, my point is why let others cancel your dreams? If a single bad review is going to light their torches, then fuck 'em. Who wants a fanbase like that in the first place? I think everyone whose written has been misunderstood on some level. I can say that a lot of my older writing and even my current writing could be misconstrued in such a fashion, in part due to my inefficiency as a storyteller. Thing is, if you're well-intentioned, the least you can do is have some faith in yourselves. I know this is easier said than done but you need to take this misfortune as an opportunity. The spotlight's on you and you need to take your fifteen seconds of infamy to prove yourself innocent before they move on to the next target.
It is very late and I’m sitting on the bed typing away on my Mac because I can’t sleep. I’m sitting cross-legged with the duvet wrapped around my shoulders, like some kind of narcoleptic Batman. I am also wearing a pair of Christmas pyjamas with a giant T-Rex dinosaur wrapped in Christmas tree lights on the front of the T-Shirt.
Why, I hear you ask? He’s a Tree Rex!
Okay, that’s enough setting the scene for now!
Basically, I came to bed early tonight with the idea of catching up on some much-needed sleep. The problem is that, as soon as I turned off the light at 8:42 pm, my mind revved up, buried it’s foot on the throttle and yelled, ‘What do you think you’re doing? We’re just warming up!’ I normally get all stroppy and flounce around in bed, getting more and more wound up at the fact I can’t get over to sleep but, this time, I didn’t. I was cool, calm and collected.
I simply got my laptop and started to write.
This, my dear reader, is the result of my over-heated, over-caffeinated brain and I just thought I would pose the question – does anyone else feel they have their most productive times either at night or really early in the morning?
When I sit at night, hearing nothing but a mixture of my heart beat, my nasally breathing, the click of the keyboard and the snoring of my four-year-old son in the next room I like to think I allow my mind to open up.
At times like this, I feel I am able to listen to the shy, quietest, inner-most voices of characters buried deep within my conscious or unconscious mind. Sometimes these characters are the best craic (fun in Irish slang) and I giggle like a schoolgirl as they give me what I feel at the time is pure literary gold! Other times, I feel like turning to them and giving them both barrel of verbal abuse, yelling, ‘And you woke me up for this?!’
The problem is that I, someone who is a Twilight Writers (#TwiWriter), has no idea what could come out of our sometimes tired, overworked minds. It can be amazing, but it can also be pure trash that should be filed under ‘Bin’.
When writing this, I looked up the internet to see if many other writers, who were actually famous, wrote at night. It seems that I, and any other #TwiWriters out there could be in some good, and pretty lofty, company:
* Robert Frost;
* Sylvia Plath;
* Tennessee Williams;
* TS Elliot;
* James Joyce;
* Franz Kafka;
* And endless others, friends!
The list of Twilight Writers appears to be endless and I, now learning that I am not a unique little snowflake, feel glad to know that what I am doing is seen to be something of an accepted practice in the world of writing. Times may have changed. The topics we write about also may have evolved, from the nineteenth through into the twenty-first century, but are we that different?
Some writers in Victorian England may have been huddling next to a dull light while scrawling onto paper by hand, while we, in the technological age, can call on a plethora of aids to help us regurgitate our ideas from our minds onto the ‘page’ and into the world via email. These tools may differ but we, as writers who sit up to all hours of the night listening for howls of those characters inside our minds, are the same. We call upon the inspiration that naturally comes about when we are sleepy, asleep or simply tired after a hard day’s work and putting the kids to bed!
I know I am a TwiWriter, I know I will be exhausted in the morning, I know I may need to take a little nap tomorrow, but I know I will have something concrete to show for my efforts. If, like me, you roll over to get your phone, open the ‘Notes’ app and start typing ideas before we forget them, accept that this is part of your process! Remember that we are not alone and, somewhere out there in the darkness, another TwiWriter will be dancing their fingers across a keyboard just like you.
Author of Inside Iris
Available on from Amazon on Kindle and Paperback
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Scott Gilmore, author of Inside Iris, is a pretty cool guy who wrote this equally cool article. Check it out:
As a child, when I sat behind a desk with an opened textbook in front of me, I often felt daunted and even sometimes frightened of the educators who taught me the ABC’s, 123’s and everything in between. These gargoyles would often have low expectations of us and, being from a working class, inner city area, can be forgiven for shouting and being stressed considering my class were what you could call ‘lively’ to say the least.
I remember these teachers as being glum, run down women who could find the thirty ankle-biters they were in charge of from the hours of nine am to three pm, and I can understand why they may have acted and behaved the way they did with my particular class.
Now that I am in my mid-thirties, have grown to be over six-feet tall, have a beard and am a teacher myself, I often look back at those days and wonder how that little boy would feel sitting in my classroom in 2018. Being a Primary 6 (or Year 5 in England) teacher, I was faced with my usual AQE Transfer Test chaos from April through to June. This is an extremely stressful testing procedure in Northern Ireland to determine whether a child at the age of ten or eleven is ‘smart enough’ to get into a particular grade of school.
Every year, the children in the class can find the time challenging and I regularly have a plethora of emotions from the dizzying highs to the gut-wrenching lows but, no matter what, I would always maintain an air of positivity and encourage the children as much as possible. Last academic year, I had one girl in particular who had a real issue with confidence, was getting upset and was considering not doing the AQE. I sat with this girl and discussed her worries at length, calming her down and ensuring she was able to go out to lunch with even the slightest silver lining on that particular cloud.
That evening, as I was making my way home from work, I stopped to buy my usual marking pens and, with the conversation I had with that girl was fresh in my mind, I bought a notepad and wrote a note for that girl. I told her how much I believed in her as a student, but also as a writer who had written many imaginative and creative stories that year.
The next day, I gave the girl the notepad and her face proceeded to redden with embarrassment. I then held out my hand to make her a deal – that I would give her a chapter of my still unfinished novel every week and she was to use that notepad as an escape from the stresses of AQE. The girl, who was always very quiet, simply said ‘deal’ and shook my hand before putting the notepad in her bag.
As the weeks went on, the few chapters I had written of my book soon dwindled and I had to write more to live up to my end of the bargain. Before I knew it, I was writing every night and, by the first week in July, I had written almost sixty-thousand words and finished my book, which was later to be published as my debut novel, Inside Iris.
I am in no doubt that this agreement, this handshake and this child gave me the impetus to finish my first book, publish it and achieve a dream I had since I was a child. She, along with other past pupils I have taught, have inspired me in different ways, encouraging me to look at myself as a professional and as a person – to change, develop and evolve.
I firmly believe that, as educators, as parents and as adults in general, we have a duty to encourage and develop the children in our care beyond the academic targets and statistics that are laid before them. We need to encourage the children in our care to challenge themselves, develop their minds creatively and to not be afraid of making mistakes.
I, and many other teachers, take pride in the fact that children in our classrooms know we will be there to catch them when they do make mistakes, when they do fail and when that ‘risk’ didn’t pay off as they had expected it to. Each and every year, I would watch two TED Talks. One by Sir Ken Robinson and the other is by Rita Pierson. There, she would talk about how every child needs a champion – someone who will believe in and encourage them no matter what, no matter how hard things got or how insurmountable a task or challenge may be.
With more experience and guidance from an inspirational principal, I learned the importance of connecting with the pupils in my class right from the most exceptionally gifted and talented to the most challenging and troubled. This connection and relationship, forged between a teacher a child, can empower them to do more than they thought they were ever capable of. It can push them from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
As a child in my class, sitting at a desk behind an open textbook, I want you to feel that I know you. I want you to feel that I understand, and I believe in you. I want you to know that, in a world of uncertainty, Brexit and pressures exerted on you from social media, that you have something that is certain in me. You will have someone who will always be there for you, who will have your back when times are tough and who will never ever give up on holding a mirror up to show you the person you can be.
Rita Pierson sums it up best when she asks how powerful our world would be if we have kids who are not afraid to take risks, not afraid to think and who have a champion – an adult who will not give up on them and who insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Young people need champions and, as adults, we owe it to them to be their guides, their guardians and that person who will encourage them to be more than ordinary – to be the exception.
Author of Inside Iris
Available from Amazon on Kindle and Paperback
Like this article? Read more here.