Authors, are you sitting on a fortune without realising it?

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A short while ago I wrote a post about the different ways and reasons authors might sign their books. Why you should take signing and inscribing your books very seriously…

This post follows on from that one, but not along the route you might think.

Once again, this is an in-depth and informative article, from which I think you will take far more than just the main points I make.

At least, I hope so.


The idea for this post came about while I was chatting away with a friend, discussing how easy it is to recycle print books nowadays, especially since the introduction of environmentally friendly inks, papers, films, card and such.

However, as with most conversations, our chat wandered across many subjects, soon I found myself explaining how I sold several uncorrected proof copies of my books, ones which included errors, misprints, formatting issues and so forth to either fans or collectors.

My friend, who happens to be an avid collector of rare books, said this is not such an unusual occurrence, many book collections would not be complete without an uncorrected proof copy or two.

He said, some of these proofs are produced without cover illustrations, so the books are, in his words ‘raw’, just containing the writer’s words and little else. The resulting post is formed both from the information my friend shared and from research I undertook following our meeting.


I do understand why people collect first editions.

I the early days of printing presses the plates were made of lead, the sharpness of the edges on these plates would, after a number of impressions, wear. Thus, the earlier impressions would be far sharper and clearer than those printed later.

This was most important where the printed work contained illustrations or maps, which were generally finely penned pen & ink drawings or engravings, so clarity of reproduction was all-important.

In modern times, first with off-set printing and now with digital technology, this is no longer a factor and collecting ‘first’ or ‘early’ editions is now more of an act of faith than a practical necessity.

If one was to take the ‘early’ edition to its most, but logical, extreme, then it is the authors manuscript would be the rarest and most valuable version of ‘the book’… which it is.

Most collectors, including institutions, cannot collect authors manuscripts as widely, or as thoroughly, as they may wish.

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There is, however, a preliminary state of a book, prior to the first published edition and therefore closer to the authors manuscript so it still holds a high rarity value yet is more readily available.

These fall into two categories.

The first is the authors proof copy(s). Dependent on how many ‘proof’ editions are required.

The second is the ARC’s or ‘galley’ proofs, which often need final-final proofreading before publication and printing start in earnest.

These copies of your own books can also hold a higher intrinsic value than those of your production run, including POD’s.

The reason is twofold; the first is they are early examples, so they are rare, most being produced in low quantities of a dozen or so.

Secondly, most books will undergo their final revisions, by the author and editors, after the printing of the proof copies; meaning these books often show a state of the authors work otherwise unpublished. This is enormously interesting and informative for scholars and students of literature and language studies.

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The history of producing proof copies for distribution dates to the partly printed ‘salesmen’s dummies’ of the 19th century.

But ‘proofs,’ as part of the publication process, has a shorter history.

Advance copies of books for in-house use by the publisher are customary,  either as long galley proofs or in other formats. Printed and bound advance copies for distribution were rare in the 1930s and 40s, only becoming regular practice in the 1950s and 60s.

This was mostly due to Crane Duplicating Service, a Cape Cod printer, who promoted the idea to the publishing industry. Those who had a ‘Crane’ could print inexpensive prepublication editions which they could send out for early reviews, thus tempting the major wholesalers and retail buyers to place larger orders. Another development to assist with this was also devised by Crane, this was the placing of promotional ‘blurb’ on the rear covers or dust jackets of these promotional books.

This practice gained such wide acceptance proofs became known as ‘cranes’ by the print industry for many years, a practice which has only recently fallen from fashion.

You can see the natural, almost organic progress of how this influenced the concept and design of the modern book, which still sports the back cover and dust jacket ‘blurb’ first fashioned by those early publishing houses.

The number of proof copies is a secret kept by each publisher, but some figures have escaped, such as the 57 copies of Robert Stone’s first novel, The Hall of Mirrors, or the 39 proofs of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.

One of Phillip K Dick’s novels contained ‘potentially libellous’ text. It is said that 19 proof copies of this book still exist… somewhere.

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Not satisfied with these simple proof copies, many publishers (since the 1930s) issue elaborately produced prepublication volumes in hope of generating further interest in forthcoming releases.

Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, was issued in such a prepublication form, as were Dashiell Hammett, and James M, Cain and, in 1961, an ‘advance reading copy special edition’ of a forthcoming first novel called Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, was created.

Since then, ARC’s have become commonplace, they are now par-for-the-course for most releases, such is the case for ‘The World According to Garp‘, John Irving’s breakthrough novel, which used 1500 advance copies printed for promotional purposes. Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park had two printings of ARC’s totalling 2500 copies; it was his first bestseller. Since which he has become one of the most popular and successful thriller writers of all time.

Examples of textual changes in proofs abound.  Most are never discovered until someone does a line by line comparison with the final book.

Tim O’Brien revised his National Book award-winning novel, ‘Going After Cacciato‘, after the proof was printed, and O’Brien’s own copy has whole paragraphs marked out and rewritten. His second novel, Northern Lights, has a two-page section in the proof that does not appear in the finished book.

Peter Matthiessen’s National Book Award-winning ‘The Snow Leopard‘ has major changes made after the proof was printed, after he sent it to a friend, and Buddhist scholar, for comments on his references to Buddhism.

Kent Anderson’s powerful Vietnam war novel ‘Sympathy for the Devil‘ has the most stunning passages excised after the proof was printed, perhaps because they were deemed by editors to be too harsh for publication.

Oh, and no one would have known just how bad Ernest Hemingway’s Spanish was in the late 1930s if the proofs of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls‘ was not found.

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So, even if you change, finalise, re-edit sections or whole parts of your book after feedback from your ARC’s, this may not be a bad thing.

There is a case made because proofs are printed first and are distributed outside of the publishing house, they comprise the ‘true first edition’ of a book, as such distribution constitutes the ‘publishing’ of said work. i.e., making a book available to the public, however limited the availability may be.

Combining their historical scarcity, and likely future scarcity, with the textual variations which are often found and which, by definition, represent a state of the text closer to the author’s original manuscript, the value in collecting proof copies is self-evident.

Which brings me, albeit by such a circuitous route, to where this post links back to my previous one about book signings.

http://www.peecho.com/checkout/14716200169619823/234509/doveshardv3I have sold all the copies of my own proof books and intend to do so in the future as I release new works.

I combined the rarity of such with the opportunity to sign and/or inscribe each copy as described in the previous post on this blog.

Of course, the cost of these rare editions is a little higher than the general releases and, as I have the physical copies, shipping charges are also paid by the buyer.

Some may think this would dissuade the regular purchaser, but I have found otherwise and, on two occasions, had people bidding against each other.

I no longer allow people to get embroiled in this way and set what I consider to be a fair and reasonable price for each book.

Taking this one step further, I would also welcome the sale of my original manuscript, should I have handwritten, typewritten or even made handwritten alterations on hard copy, which I have, sadly, not.

Personally, I do not work that way. I do know some authors who prefer to do so and maybe this is an option they may like to consider?


To cap this post off, here are some points you may like to consider in your future marketing plans. Please note, these are ideas for Paperbacks and Hardcover books, they are not ideal or workable for eBooks.

The following notes are based on the premise from which I started this post… “are you sitting on a fortune without knowing it?”

1, Create a ‘first edition’ short run of your next book.

You could do this as a time-limited promotion or for a set number of books. Of course, you may find some little niggly alterations you need to make, which would only better the rarity of this first edition run.

2, Use any ARC copies (which could simply be a small number of the above or a set number of pre-proofread editions) to your benefit.

Don’t just send them to ‘reviewers’ or ‘friends’ seeking Amazon/Goodreads reviews. Such reviews now lack credibility as their authenticity is under challenge, which is why Amazon deletes so many ‘reviews’.

Instead, give them to your local radio and TV stations; in the UK seek out the local BBC stations as well as the independent ones. Do the same with your local newspapers. Give one to the manager of your local Waterstones bookshop, (these managers have a say in selecting the books their stores stock.)

The main reasons I suggest ‘local media’ is they are constantly hungry for ‘local’ news, so an author from the area who has or shall soon, be releasing a book is exactly the type of story they need. You may well get an interview or be asked to appear as a guest.

Try and milk the airtime. Do a pre-book release show with the ARC & get invited back, in say, two weeks, once your book has been released and is ‘live’ online. (Get two bites of the cherry & create a relationship with the host(s))

I have appeared on two of the three local radio stations in my hometown. Including several guest appearances on the primetime breakfast show.

Note: Do think outside the box, which is especially relevant for certain genres and non-fiction. I have some of my own books in maritime museums, seafarers, and naval heritage centre gift shops and online websites.

You can try your local tourist information centres if your book is about, or set in, the locality. Check out your local museums, galleries and tourist hot spots. Your book may just be welcome on their shelves.

3, If you want to try to attack the regional market, which will encompass your ‘State’ in the USA, then why not produce your own ‘special prepublication edition’ to send to the key organisations? (This would work for National campaigns too, but they are far more difficult to organise and manage.)

As with #2 above, only offer to sign or inscribe these ARC’s for the host when you are interviewed or appear on their show, or when your recorded slot has been aired. Try not to do it pre-show or during recording sessions.

After which, it is always worth turning up ‘out-of-the-blue’ on another day to sign the book when the show is on-air. (It is to the hosts benefit… they will almost certainly ‘fit-you-in’. Trust me, I have done this.)

Even if you do not get lucky with more airtime immediately, you can arrange a time to go back for the signing, even offer to give a signed book or two to the listeners, suggest holding a little quiz or competition. Anything that engages the station’s listeners will make them jump all over you for the privilege.

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4, Manuscripts.

A, If you handwrite and are willing to sell your manuscript, either your first draft of your final draft, then please offer it for sale at a price that reflects your love for your story, (i.e. not cheaply). You could fashion a loose cover or folder to keep the whole thing neat, or at least together for presentation purposes. If this has your signature or additional notes written on it, it will add to the overall provenance.

B, If you use a computer to write, as I do, why not consider printing out your draft, at least the ‘final/final first draft’ and making your own handwritten editorial notes on the physical copy, along with and as, you edit the on-screen copy.

This could then be treated as the manuscript above.

Please, however, only have one copy of your first draft and one of your final draft, (although other working copies are acceptable, such as the ARC draft, bot ONLY as long as each is a sole copy and unique), any other/repeat copies will only devalue your manuscripts and will be considered fraudulent, which is not, I am sure, a label you want to associate with your good name.

The more handwritten crossings out, margin notes, additions and so forth the better. These are the things collectors, libraries, scholastic establishments and museums adore. Such items tend to lend people a sense of ‘knowing’ the author as they work, an insight into their mindset if you will.

Well, that’s it from me for this post.

I do hope you can use some of these ideas or, indeed, find fresh ones which suit your own unique situation.

Finally, I can’t help think of eBooks as being ephemeral, subject to being lost in a power outage or, as Amazon.com did with a number of George Orwell books, when it found it sold them without having rights to them, simply erased them from the face of the earth. Something which is far harder to achieve with printed books…. note Fanrenhight 451.


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Why you should take signing and inscribing your books very seriously…

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But first, here are a few bits of book lore authors may not know.

By tradition and convention, authors should always sign their books on the title page, the page which has the author’s name printed on it, generally under the printed title of the book or nearer the foot of the same page.

If the author wishes to add an inscription, a message along with their signature, it should also go on the title page if it is very short, about a word or four in length. Longer inscriptions should be written on the half-title page, the page preceding the title page, or on the front endpaper, sometimes referred to as the flyleaf, if of a serious length.

An old tradition has the author put a line through their own printed name when they sign their name on the title page.

There are, by historical anecdote, two views of why this practice is undertaken.

The first, is a book only needs a single validation attributing its author, the authors own handwritten signature makes the printed attribution unnecessary, hence it is crossed out.

The second accepted reason goes back to the earliest days of printing when it was the practice for authors to sign each copy of the printed material by hand as proof of their authorship, a kind of early copyrights protection if you will.

My own view is, the tradition of crossing out one’s name arises from a combination of both, developing over the years as the printing revolution gained credence.

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I do like the thought, even nowadays, these hundreds of years later, there is some conservative part of us writers who continue this practise as a nod to our literary forebears. That we authors like to keep a connection with our history and heritage.

Another tradition for book signing is when someone asks you to sign or personalise their copy. (This is inclusive of book signings, or under any other circumstance.) Say the person is ‘George’, then the author should write the words ‘For George’. ONLY if the author is giving the book as a gift should they write the words ‘To George’. (Note Stephen King’s inscription in the above photograph).

Of course, these are only conventions, accepted literary etiquette and in no way are enforced rules or regulations. Authors can sign any way they wish.

I do hope, however, you are one who embraces historical values, discernment and class.

Here is what some established authors say on the matter;

malcolm_gladwell_signed_title_page-e1381421633946Tom C. Hunley says. “I asked Rodney Jones, American poet and retired professor of English at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, why he crossed his name out in a book he signed for me. He told me it makes it more valuable for collectors. Also, if it has a date and location, it makes it even more valuable. So, I’ve been crossing out my name and writing in a date and location at every book signing since.”

(Tom is the director of Steel Toe Books and a prolific writer and Professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, KY.)

Nicholas Belardes, a Chicano writer of speculative, literary, YA and MG fiction said, “Sometimes I cross my name out and sign. I do it out of respect for myself, for the idea of accomplishment, for the idea that writers are real people, that we can touch our manuscripts in ways that transcend the printed objects they’ve become. Our works become even more personal this way because our signatures are more physically attributed to us in the world than even fingerprints.”

“I do it. My understanding is it dates to the historical tradition of small press runs, where the author would hand-sign each copy as an authentication of the text.Sandra Beasley, American poet and non-fiction writer from Virginia.

Note: Sometimes authors sign additional copies, ones intended for future sale by the store or organisation where the signing is taking place. This is encouraging for people to purchase the book from and even attract custom to, that retailer.

However, there is also an ulterior motive; once a book has been signed, it is no longer classed as a ‘new’ book according to many publishers’ rules. Therefore, it cannot be returned to the publisher for a refund by the retail vendor. (Neat trick or not. I guess it depends on your viewpoint?)

Okay, now we have those tidbits of information, let’s get on with the reason why you might take signing your book as a very serious matter…

 When you buy a signed book, you are purchasing a signature, but when you buy an inscribed book you are getting a story.

One of the questions I’ve been asked often is “Which is better, having a book signed by the author or having them inscribed it?”

Without any hesitation, my answer is the more writing by the author in a book, the better. I even encourage collectors to have their own copies personally inscribed by the author whenever they can.

For a long time, generations, literally, there was a clearly established hierarchy of values pertaining to books signed by their authors.

I shall clarify…

The best copy is the dedication copy, most usually there is only one of these. The one gifted to the person for whom the dedication was written.

Next best are the association copies, books inscribed by the author to someone notable or important in the author’s life, a relative, a friend, a mentor or possibly another writer.

After that were ‘presentation copies,’ which means the books inscribed by the author to someone who was not (as) important to the author, or whose importance was unknown.

And finally, at the bottom of the hierarchy, are books that are just signed, with no further inscription, no other writing, etc.

The logic of such a hierarchy is more or less self-evident.

The dedication copy is usually unique or, at most, limited to a couple of copies, inscribed by the author to the person he or she thought important enough to dedicate the book to, in print.

Association copies involved significant figures in the author’s life (or in the general cultural life of which the author was a part) also have a self-evident value, although not one as unique or specific as the dedication copy.

Presentation copies are more ambiguous, the mere fact a presentation copy could sometimes, with a little bit of research, luck, or specialised knowledge ‘become’ an association copy argued for their importance, and the closeness of the two in the hierarchy.

Signed books are last, and there is the suggestion of a ‘taint’ to them, as though the only justification for a book having an autograph is celebrity worship which is inappropriate to the book (literary) world.

Because this preference is clear and longstanding in the book collecting world, dealers prefer to have presentation copies over plain signed copies, collectors prefer them and there is a premium placed on their price in the collector’s marketplace.

Now, a true story of how this hierarchy was thrown into turmoil…

An enterprising bookselling from the New York area, recognising this preference, decided to exploit it, relentlessly.

Somewhere in New York, even before the days of routine author tours on the publication of a new book, there were author readings every day. The same with lectures, talks, and seminars, most open to the public.

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Frequently one could visit several in a single day.

The bookseller in reference was a family business. They attended many readings and talks, en masse; often five or more family members at each, all carrying a bag full of the author’s first editions. Each asking the author to inscribe the books to them personally.

Then, when they issued catalogues, nearly every book was listed as a ‘signed presentation copy, inscribed by the author’, a most desirable designation, especially for modern first editions, many of which are not inherently rare unless there is something special about a particular copy.

This exploitation continued for several years. As it did the family grew bolder, branching out its operation to reach more authors, those beyond the boundaries of New York.

Stories began to circulate among writers as they began to receive identically worded, ingratiating letters from a correspondent claiming to be the author’s greatest fan and sending a box of books to be inscribed personally before being returned.

Some writers began noticing the ‘fan’ would then write a follow-up letter some months later, sending another batch of books to be inscribed,  often including copies of titles the author remembered signing previously.

Authors began to dislike it, feel manipulated, deceived and exploited. Several undertook to go along to bookshops and signing all their books in each store.

Booksellers eventually recognised the fraud of these ‘signed presentation’ copies. Whereas a plain signed book carried no such taint.

Collectors began to absorb the preference for plain signed books the booksellers now favoured, although they did not realise it was only the books inscribed to this family’s members which were ‘tainted.’

The public’s perception (wrongly) grew that all inscribed books were now less desirable than those which were simply just signed by the author.

The whole episode created a self-fulfilling prophecy: if collectors’ value inscribed books less than books which just have the authors signature, for whatever reason, it becomes far more difficult to sell inscribed books than those which are signed…. The perception of which is, it ‘proves’ inscribed books are less valuable…. and so, the merry goes around.

Such a view not only defies long-established historical precedent it also diminishes and demeans collecting.

Not only can a presentation copy, to an unknown third party ‘turn into’ an association copy (after a little research), but a collector’s own copy can become an association copy if the collector stays with it long enough and seriously enough for the collection to become recognisably important.

Hemingway’s first bibliographer was Louis Cohen, a fan and book collector.

A Hemingway book inscribed to Cohen would, at the time, be a simple presentation copy to a person of no particular consequence.

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Today, it would be viewed as a highly desirable association copy.

 

Similarly, if Carl Peterson managed to get Faulkner to inscribe a book to him, it would now be viewed as a major association copy.

The time-honoured practise of identifying books from an important collection, ‘the Doheny copy‘ or ‘the Bradley Martin copy,‘ for example, underscores collectors themselves can become significant figures.

Perhaps, most telling in terms of underlying values is the cases of long-dead authors like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Joyce, it is true a presentation copy has a higher value in the marketplace than one which is just signed.

They are more interesting, they can provoke interesting questions leading to discovery, which is one of the pleasures of collecting and ‘the more writing by the author in the book, the better’ is still generally the accepted truth in this market.

Now, this is where it matters to you most…

Since we do not know, cannot predict or even guess who will be part of the next generation of Faulkners, Hemingway’s, James Joyce’s or even Stephen Kings, is there any reason different criteria should apply to the inscriptions of we contemporary authors than to those we now deem as ‘classic’?

I don’t think so.

Therefore, I suggest you take your book signings very seriously indeed, because one of those people may well be you, or me, or… maybe it will be the author who just inscribed your copy of their new book.

Keep Happy, Paul.


If you want to know more about creating books, your covers, being indie, the publishing or printing world, editing, Copyright, ISBN’s, or what each part of a book is called and what it does, then you are in the right place.

I have two books especially written to give authors and writers a ton of useful information. These are NOT ‘how-to’ books or ‘step-by-step’ guides but a distillation of my time and experience as an indie.

These books chapters are rammed full of helpful and useful information about everything concerned with indie authoring your books. These books will save you time, effort and money along with saving you making a ton of mistakes and suffering the anguish which goes along with it… because I have already been there, done that & got the Tee-shirt on your behalf.

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Lots of Author Stuff You Need to Know <<< >>> The Frugal Author

A bit about indies & readers…

I was having a conversation with a fellow indie author, Kazz Mossman, a founding member of Electric Eclectic books, sometime last week.EEgrunge

During our natter, Kazz raised a point I have never considered, or at least I have not pondered consciously before now.

The point she raised is the fact many people, especially those who are not associated with writing or authorship, have little, if any, understanding of what an ‘indie author’ is.

As I cogitated this, I found myself needing to consider my own position as it was many years ago… no, not that long ago, cheeky. But since the advent of, what was originally referred to as ‘desktop publishing’ became available to anyone who owned a ‘home-computer’…. you thought you had forgotten those terms, didn’t you?

At that time, except for scribbling out a few lines of poetry, a couple of song lyrics and jotting some rough, (very rough), handwritten notes of story ideas on scraps of paper, I could not be termed as a writer, even in the furthest stretch of anyone’s imagination.

I was, however, an avid reader. I found I could devour books in a matter of hours or days.

During my childhood I rapidly progressed from ‘Janet & John’ books to ‘Walkabout’ & Lord of the Flies, venturing on to Dennis Wheatley, Bernard Cornwall and James Clavell. Surprisingly enough, these books were interspaced with works from Thomas Hardy, W. Somerset Maugham and H. H. Monroe.

By the age of thirteen, I was absorbed by Wilbur Smith and the lives of the Courtney and Ballantyne families. I also found books by Deirdre Cash, who wrote under the pseudonym Criena Rohan and whose book, Down by the Dockside still resonates with me to this day.41ESMEKARML._SL500_AA300_

Other authors I enjoyed were Joseph Heller, John Irving and David MacCuish’s ‘Do not go Gentle’, the story of a second world war American Marine’s life, both before and after conflict. I would recommend to any book lover to read both ‘Down by the Dockside’ & ‘Do not go Gentle’… but I digress from this premise of this post.

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The point I am making is, I liked to read good stories, ones which took me away from reality and into the world of fantasy and fiction. I liked to escape the humdrum and, for those few moments, allow myself to be transported to somewhere else, to be someone else, in another world, another time… I did not care which author wrote what story, as long as it totally absorbed my mind.

In that respect, nothing has changed for me. I still want precisely the same from any work of fiction I read. If I cannot lose myself in a book, then that book is not for me.

I think this is the same for many avid readers.

Yes, we all find our ‘favourite’ authors; the one’s whose writing style and narration ‘clicks’ with our own personality. These are the ones we watch for, patiently waiting for their next release. But once, even they were unknown to us. There was the ‘first time’ we opened one of their books, read the first chapter or two before we fell in love.

Did we, at that time consider if it was written by a ‘mainstream’ or ‘indie’ author?… did we heck, we simply chose the book because the cover attracted us enough to pick it up, the blurb explained it was the type of story we fancied reading at the time, and when we flicked through the pages, reading an odd line or two we liked the flow.

So, we took the chance and brought the book, hoping it was going to be money well spent.

This is what and how most people tend to select their next reading material. It is not a science, but one of personality, temperament, disposition and, often, mood.

With the above in mind, I ask; do you think it matters to prospective book buyers if they know the author was mainstream published or an independent author?

Do you think it may influence their decision on which books they purchase?

But mostly, do you think the general public know the difference between an indie and a contracted author?

Should we then, as indie authors, indie publishers and self-published writers enlighten, dare I even use the word ‘educate’, the world of bibliophiles and bookworms on this subject?

Do you, as an indie know the difference between these three terms and the basis of each… where/which and how would you classify yourself?

While I await your answers, I shall endeavour, in my usual haphazard and rambling way, to write a post explaining and clarifying the distinctions of being an indie author, a self-publisher and an indie-published writer.

You may find all is not quite what you expect and, possibly, taken for granted… until now.


If you are looking for your next great read why not visit my website where you will find a book to suit whatever mood you may be in right now.

Bronze Rabbit

I have a children’s book, another about musical legends, non-fiction works regarding the Royal Navy, short story collections on Crime, Life and being human, another for when you are feeling down, books of poetry and a full-length novel which will make you both laugh and cry.

Along with these are my Electric Eclectic books, mostly shorter works, so a good introduction to my style of writing and narrative form. They cover psychological drama, high-speed urban adventure, ghost-in-the-machine, crime, and pulp fiction/comic book style capers… and more.

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You can find my Electric Eclectic books on my website, the Electric Eclectic website, (along with books by other Electric Eclectic authors), or by visiting Amazon’s @open24 store, the choice is yours.

Wherever you choose to go and whichever books you buy, enjoy them.

Happy Days, Paul

Finding the Holy Grail of writing

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Many, if not all authors know writing is never straight forward; I am not talking about the technical aspects or grammar, but about finding the time to write when your mind is focused, when it is in the ‘zone’ for ‘that part’ of your story.

The Holy Grail of writing is when your thought processes are at a peak and you have the time, the undisturbed, uninterrupted time, to transcribe your contemplations cohesively into your manuscript.

Finding this Holy Grail has been an elusive search for me over the last year or so, regarding the novel I am currently working on.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not speaking of writer’s block, that is something I do not suffer. It is also nothing to do with finding the time; I have written and published three books in the past year and I am working on three more as I write this.

I am speaking purely of the mental alignment of skills, mindset and time when in search of perfection. (Although we shall never attain such it is always good to have it as a goal.)

I should have published my story, FLOYD several months ago but I am still working on it in short dribs and drabs. I never seem to have the right mental disposition and the amount of time I need together; hence the book is half drafted and half a jumble of odd notes, part paragraphs/chapters and such.

By the way, I am not downhearted and this is not me moaning, although it may sound that way! It is just me clearing my head by sharing my frustration with you.

It is, however, a frustration I bought upon myself by having several projects on the go at once… and then tasking myself with more. Which makes it even more frustrating.

I doubt if I shall find much time to continue writing FLOYD before December… oh wait, then there is Christmas and family, followed by New Year and Friends… so, maybe I can continue in earnest come mid-January, or maybe February or…

In the meantime, I would love to know your views on this (first draft) excerpt from FLOYD. It is (at the moment) the start of the opening chapter, or at least somewhere very early in the story, as it sets the scene, a sort of preamble to introduce Floyd himself and the background of his, let’s say, delusions and future actions.

Oh, FLOYD is a revenge story, in the blood-bath slasher genre. It is not for the queasy… although this section does not contain any of the gore… that comes a little later, but it comes in big bucketfuls. 😊

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FLOYDan excerpt.

Floyd jumped out of bed with a start, uncontrollably staggering two steps backwards. In that half-awaking instant, Floyd saw his wife, Molly, lying with her hands above her head, wrists bound and fastened. Pools of blood soaking into pristine white bedsheets. The fear in her eyes sent shivers running down his spine and a cold sweat to form over his skin.

This dream happened every night for the past four weeks. But tonight, was the first time he saw anything in full colour. The other times it was blurry monochrome, or just a voice, a sweet, lilting voice whispering to him. Tonight, was different, it did not simply wake him but startled him into jumping from the bed. He could feel his heart pounding.

At first, Floyd thought the voice echoing in his head was nothing more than a remanence of a dream as he woke. He let it go. Tried to forget it. But the whispering came back night after night. First a giggle, then a sigh, which faintly smelt of spearmint, before turning into those softly spoken words. A voice so close he could feel lips brushing his ears as she spoke.

“Kill the bitch.”

“That’s the way.”

“Did you see the surprise on her face?”

Tonight, Floyd did not hear her voice; but he knew she was there, watching him. Smiling.

He blinked twice, shaking his head to clear the image from his mind.

Molly pushed the quilt away from her face exposing a tousled mess of blond hair. She half-opened one eye and, disgruntled, wearily mumbled, “What are you doing? It’s the middle of the night.”

Floyd slid back under the cover and snuggled close to Molly. It was a dream. It was just a dream he told himself as he shut his eyes. Her body was warm and comforting, but it could not dispel the dark foreboding lingering within his mind.

She groaned, slurred something unintelligible, turned, moving away from him. Floyd lay quietly on his back, willing sleep. Each time he began to drift off he was jerked awake by the vision of blood and the scent of spearmint. Sleep was fugitive.

At three-fifteen he carefully slid from under the covers, trying not to disturb Molly and crept downstairs. By six-thirty Floyd had drunk two pots of tea and re-read yesterday’s newspaper, twice.

When Molly eventually arose, he was grilling bacon for breakfast.

“I couldn’t sleep, so…” Floyd gesticulated towards the grill with the tongs in his hand.

Molly tore off some kitchen roll. “Put mine in here. I must dash, busy, busy day ahead. I’m not sure when I’ll be home.”

Floyd gave her a quick peck on the cheek as she headed for the door. With a half-hearted wave, she left, hooking the door closed with her foot. He watched from the window as she drove her Range Rover off the drive and along the street until she was out of sight. He felt a certain disappointment wash over him. He was hoping to talk to Molly at breakfast this morning about his recent feelings, his nagging doubts which were growing daily.

Floyd looked at the clock, six fifty-five. The house seemed exceedingly quiet; which, on consideration, was rather strange, because from three-fifteen this morning he sat alone, the only sound the rustling pages of the newspaper. The house was no quieter now than then but somehow the silence was louder.

Being alone in the house was something Floyd was becoming accustomed to. Since Molly moved companies she had become…become…now, what was the word…fixated? obsessed? with her job. When he commented on the amount of time she was spending working, Molly said it was a thing called ‘commitment’.

Whatever it was Floyd felt it was pushing them apart, an inexorable drifting kind of parting. One which was almost imperceptible day by day. But when he looked back over the months, the changes were there, noticeable, obvious, definite.

Molly generally ignored him now; she was always on the phone or laptop when she was not working late, or early, or both, or at the gym or the hair salon, or having her nails painted or legs waxed.

The main thing which irked Floyd most was none of this, not one little iota was for his benefit. It was all for her work. All those new suits, the blouses, the stockings and shoes.

Once, not so long ago, when Molly slid into a pair of stockings it was to tease him, to excite him. It was a signal sex was unquestionably on the agenda. Not any longer. It seems stockings were de rigueur in Molly’s new corporate world.

Several weeks back Floyd began wondering if she was having an affair. Maybe a seedy sexual liaison with someone from her company. He followed her one morning; sat the whole day outside her office building.

Nothing.

When she left the office in the evening, he followed her. She did not do anything other than visit the hair salon.

Which was a problem for Floyd.

Not that he wished for his wife to be having an affair, but because it left him with a dilemma. What changed between them? Why was Molly so distant? What, if anything had he done…or not done? These were unanswered questions; questions he wanted to broach this morning over those freshly grilled bacon sandwiches.

Floyd glanced at the clock again. Five minutes past seven. His first appointment was at nine-thirty, so he needed to leave the house around eight o’clock. As he threw his bathrobe onto the bed Floyd flashbacked to his dream: Molly spread-eagled, bound on the bed. Eyes staring in terror. He looked down at her.

He shivered. It was all too real, unlike any dream he experienced before.


While you wait for me to finish writing FLOYD I have many more books I am certain you will enjoy. Have a browse around my WEBSITE  or check out my Electric Eclectic novelettes HERE.

Pub2

Where to Start?

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I shall start this post with a quote attributed to that most literary of bears, Winnie the Pooh.

“The beginning is a very good place to start.”

I cannot agree more.

BUT…

Knowing where the beginning is, is not always as clear cut as many may think.

You see, your story, any story, must start somewhere, but that start is often not at the beginning.

Take yourself. Take a tale you told about yourself the last day you did something… silly/forgetful/made a mistake… whatever it may be.

Now, consider how you began to tell your tale the first time you related it.

I bet it was not at the beginning, at least not the real, the true beginning of the string of events which led you to such an occurrence.

First, you would, by our very nature of communicating, have plugged it with a strong opening statement, or a soft lead-in, dependant on whom you were telling the tale, be it your Boss, you Mother, BFF or Lover.

You may have said something along the line of…

“You know, Sally and I often go to the bar on Staithes Avenue? Well, we went this lunchtime and, you’ll never guess what happened….”

OR

“I’ve driven down that road for the over ten years and I have never before…”

MAYBE it was, “Oh, my goodness, you just have to listen to this…”

None of those are really the beginning of anything but are leads to an section which is part way through your story, one which, during its telling, you will flit back and forth in time, building your tale of joy or woe into as a believable an anecdote as you can manage/feel right in doing, according to the circumstance.

Therefore, the same story told in the office to your boss will differ slightly to the version you tell your colleagues, or your family, once you are in the comfort of your own home.

girls-talking-restaurant-windowIt will definitely not be as richly dressed as your recount of the occasion in the bar later that evening, or as detailed with the emotions you felt during its unfolding when you share it with your lover while lying in bed.

The same is true of our fictional novels and stories; because the way we perceive them as we write is only a version of the whole. What we feel today will alter by tomorrow. By the time we re-write ‘that’ section of the first chapter, our entire viewpoint has altered.

Therefore, what we once perceived as the beginning was, in fact, only a starting point for us to begin writing. The true beginning is still to reveal itself to us.

The matter is, we should never believe our own opinion during one sitting, but allow ourselves the opportunity to alter and change the picture we carry within our mind. Each time we reconsider our work we must see it in differing light, simply because we are not writing to entertain ourselves, but others.Bloods-Veil-page-one.png

Consequently, by revisiting our works and by teaching ourselves not to become immovably fixated on any factor of it, such as the juncture where we originally started to tell our tale, we can then see our story from the viewpoint of others, those who will read our story.

Once again, Winnie the Pooh says it well…

“When you are a Bear of Very Little brain, and you Think Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”

We want other people looking at our work, it is, after all, the whole point of writing; yet we want them to understand, to feel and to ‘live’ our story, empathise with our characters and lose themselves from the real world into our fantastical fictional world, we want and need them to believe.

To do so, we must see our books through their eyes, not our own. If that means starting the story from another place, be it a location, another moment in time, a different character’s perspective, then we must change the start of our story to this new beginning.

It may still not be the real beginning, you may alter it again before publication, write a prologue, an introduction, a prequel, or another book which leads on, even in an abstract fashion, to this one.

The point is, there is no true ‘right’ place to start your story, even the true beginning of your own life was far, far before any human existed, so where would you begin to start that story?

Now, while I much admire the genius of Winnie the Pooh and agree, “the beginning is a very good place to start,” I often wonder where the start actually is.


Looking for more literary insights, articles and short stories? Then look no further. The Electric Press magazine is available to read right HERE, for free.

Electric PressMay2019pub (2019_01_08 20_58_35 UTC)

Inspiration does not have to be Pretty.

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A good writer has no need to look for inspiration and ideas, they will come flooding unto them.

The fact is, each moment of every day we are surrounded by a million and one stimuli which only need us to recognise their being. We must feel, hear, sense what is around us, what is happening in front of our eyes.

We must allow our perception to absorb, to let our mind create fiction and fantasy from implied interpretation. We must permit our creative seed to run wild.

nathanblog4-700x375I have written on this subject before, albeit from another perspective, in a post called The Curse of the Muse

 

This post is a little different.

A short while ago, possibly a good few months past, I read a post on a social media site from one of my connections. I think ‘friends’ is the general term used.

I was touched by the raw honesty of the post; so much I saved their words so I might use them as a basis for my own writing, either in situation or character creation.

I feel a little guilty for ‘stealing’ these heartfelt outpourings, yet, I am acceptive to the reasoning of creativity and the understanding of where, how and by what means we writers find our inspiration.

You see, most of my works, regardless of genre or setting, focus on our humanity, on social and personal interactions and on life itself.

The following is an edited version of the social media post mentioned. I am sure you will understand the reason it resounded with me, especially if you are a reader of my books and other works.

***

This is it… 

“This isn’t poetry.

It’s not placed on a pretty post.

There are no pictures to pull you in.

This is just me needing to vent and I suppose those who want to know will read it through; there are a few thousand of you, maybe more and I’m just this sickly, tiny, thing who is easy to overlook.

My life isn’t an open a book, but should the play ever be released it will read like a tragedy of comedic design, one that tears the heart and rips the mind.

Irony, you’ll find, is the underlying theme.

I was everything I was told I would be; yet with time viewed through a rear-view mirror, I am nothing which holds value beyond the front door and those therein are on their way out.

I’d leave too, but domestic skills, they don’t count and writing words has yet to pay the bills; besides, without a degree to back up the lines, there are those who say I’ve spent the last three years wasting my time.

It’s pride, I know, but I’m pushing four decades old and I’m not sure I’m equipped to go back to the shit I did before I became a mom and wife.

I mean no offence, but I’m better than a burger to flip, or the next bag of groceries to sack, my mind knows too much to do that any longer.

I could go back to school, try and educate, but what do I do with the stack of debt that’s all late?

I have no resume. That’s the cost, the loss, of being nothing more than a stay at home mom.

What now?

Who am I without the domestic, the wife, the parental role to play, day to day?

So much needs to change and I’m scared to death I’ve waited too late.

Surely this cannot be my fate?

Even this, the sound of my self-pity makes me sick; but this decline of mine, it didn’t happen overnight.

It wasn’t quick.

My worth was stolen by minuscule measures, so slender the slices, I failed to feel the knife and yet looking at my life there’s nothing left but a bloodied mess.

I should find my way out of this.

I’m not as weak as I seem, but at this moment, I am on my knees.

This is not who I am, but damn, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be.

I’m a little lost and there’s no one looking for me.”

***

I titled this blog post, ‘Inspiration does not have to be Pretty’.

It does not.

Neither do the resultant writings. But I genuinely believe our words should be honest, open and emotional. After all, these are the driving factors of life, our lives. It is what we all have in common, it is what we all respond to… even in fictional stories.

Thank you for reading another of my Ramblings.


Please subscribe/follow this blog if you have not already done so. The button is on the top right of this page. I appreciate your support, Thank You.

Visit my website (HERE) to see my books, works in progress and other projects currently underway.

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Selfie!

Why author’s should listen to the radio more often.

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Okay, so this is another long (and boring) title for a post.

But you know what? I have found oblique or inferred titles do not get the views, irrespective of how well thought out those titles may be, and regardless of the quality of the post’s content.

Possibly, this is because many readers just ‘don’t get’ them? Or it maybe it is because people think the writer is being ‘a bit too clever’?

So, here I am with a plain statement for a blog post title. At least this way you get the gist of what the article is about… or do you?

Read on to find out…

I am a regular listener of the radio. I don’t just mean music radio, the odd quiz show or sport. I am referring to ‘talk’ radio, interviews, articles and in-depth discussions.

Serious radio, if you like to call it that.

I got hooked on listening to this sort or broadcast some years back when I did a lot of driving. Sometimes music becomes monotonous; there are times when even your favourite and most loved tracks won’t cut the mustard.

Then you have the ‘Radio Presenters’, we used to call them DJ’s back in the day.

But that was when DJ’s were star celebrities, when everyone and, I mean everyone, knew their names because they were bloody good at entertaining and engaging all who were tuned in.

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Unlike the inane, immature, crass drivel which spouts from the mouths of the current drove of unprofessional, clearly uneducated people who host many a radio shows, both on national and local stations.

Okay, rant over. Back to the article…

When you have many miles to drive, listening to intelligent and informative conversation, presentation and debated opinions is often welcome company.

I have found many a premise for a new story, or a character base, or a situation to set my tales within, by listening to such programmes. Some of those inspirations are still with me, unused. Some are notes, other simply bullet points, an aide memoir waiting to be built upon at some future date.

Others have found homes, they are now part of my story worlds awaiting the next reader to uncover their being.

Yes, one’s muse may be triggered by many things. All writers, I am sure, gain inspiration from a million stimuli each and every day; films, TV, magazines, social media, overheard conversation, observed actions… the list is limitless.

BUT…

For me listening to the radio has become a prime source for stimulating my creative juices.

I think this is because when one listens exclusively, that is without accompanying visual input, the mind can focus more accurately, its subconscious, or semi-conscious, concentration allowed to fix, to centre on the words alone without distraction.

Yes, when driving the main emphasis and attention is clearly applied to controlling the car and reacting to all which is around you. However, your cognitive ability allows another part of your mind to absorb and assimilate the information you hear, clearly and precisely, without conflicting with the prime task in hand, that is your driving.

When I hear something of interest, I take a mental note of the time, channel and programme name, so when I am home, I can go to the broadcaster’s website and re-run the article I heard earlier. It is then I make my written notes and detailed memos.

Allow me to give a couple of examples by way of explanation.

 

The following is from an earlier post, (January 2015), called ‘Subject Matter’. https://wp.me/p5nj7r-2H

A few days ago, while driving home I tuned into a programme which was delving into the issue of female autism. This report was enlightening enough regarding the subject itself. I found it full of stimulating information which I could, and still can, use in my future writings.

However, one statement touched my heart to such a degree I knew I had found a wonderful gem of inspiration.

One of the experts discussing this condition told of his interview with a young sufferer who, upon being diagnosed, said to her doctor, with much relief;

“For all my life it felt as if I had a black spot inside of me. I thought it would never go away”.

That one simple sentence was, for me, like finding a pot of gold at the bottom of the rainbow. Those of you who are artistically minded will, for certain, understand the enormity of such a stimulus.

Another example, which I have already taken advantage of, by writing a poem called ‘My heart’, was during a play where one of the lines was about skeletons ‘kissing with their skulls’.

I wrote the following poem shortly after arriving home that evening.

Here is that poem.

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My Heart

My heart is a grave for lovers

Where skeletons embrace ever crumbling lust,

And skulls kiss in breathless anguish.

 

Scarlet blood long soaked into the ashes,

Forgotten passions abandon, the cast-off flesh,

Sensuous agonies of the soul

Haunt faded moments embezzled by time.

 

Rise up from the earth,

Stand upon your tombstone,

Seek your absent self, your withered spirit

Wandering aimlessly in immortal eternity.

 

But look not within my heart,

For it is but a grave for lovers.


This poem and many others can be found in my book Shadows of Emotion.

Shadows of Emotion (kindle)

         Shadows of Emotion  (Paperback)         

OR simply paste, ISBN-13: 978-1500510312 into your Amazon search bar.

 

 

 

 

Moment of the Muse

How often do you struggle for something to ‘write about’? or face the so-called writer’s block because you cannot find a topic for your next piece?

I know many writers frequently struggle with finding subject matter. It is something I hear often via author groups and writing associations.

I am a prolific writer, yet have never suffered from either of the above.

Most often, I can be found tapping away on my keyboard as I continue my ‘works in progress’.

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I usually have a few of these on the go at once; non-fiction, a novel, some short stories, a compilation, it is pretty much par for the course.

I have files called ‘stuff & stories to read’; ‘story Ideas & notes’; ‘more writing notes’; ‘other stuff’, and so forth. Each file has sub-files, documents, snipped pages, images, sticky notes and a plethora of summaries, transcripts, annotations, memoranda, footnotes and odd bits I am unsure what to call.

The overriding connection is, they are all my Aide-mémoires to moments.

Some of these notes were transferred from my notebooks. I tend to carry at least one notebook with me at any time, generally, a small flip-type book. If I am leaving the house for any length of time. On long journeys and holidays, I take several, so I always have one to hand.

The jottings in these books can be about a place, a view, something said to me, part of an overheard conversation, or an observation. I even have notes about signposts I find amusing or incoherent.

Other items have been stored from browsing the net, finding ‘stuff’ while researching something entirely different. Some are from messages, spam, sales emails and so forth.

Occasionally reading another’s story sets my mind racing along parallel paths, so I need to scribble down my thoughts of the moment. The result of the stories which develop from these are a far cry to the original stimulus, but sometimes one needs the initial jolt to send the imaginings down a certain pathway. image_block_full_iStock_68956147_XLARGE

These files also include part stories of various lengths. They are from a single sentence or paragraph through to several thousands of words… unfinished works if you wish.

Some are my deletions and edits of other work. The bits I cut out. The parts which did not make the final manuscript or published book. Waste not, want not. They can all be used again in one form or another.

But, the point of this post, each and every one of the notes in those files have come from a ‘moment’, a single moment I have experienced during my life.

After all, life is simply a matter of moments, one after another, after another, like the single frames of a cinematic film they whirr past us in a seemingly continues unbroken stream.

I believe great writing is having the ability to capture any one, or more, of those given moments and revealing its secrets, sharing them with all who will read your words.

Even the longest of novels is created by producing a string of ‘scenes’. Each scene depicting a moment.

Personally, I have a fondness for creating shorter stories, anywhere from about 250 words to, say, twenty or thirty thousand. My favourite though is around 2,500 to 6,000.

This proposes the challenge of making a captivating tale, one with a ‘proper’ beginning, middle and end, with so few words.

I feel the main test of writing such a short story is to examine the writer’s skill, in not only having a complete story but one which burns its presence, its being, into the mind of those reading it. A great story should ask questions, probe the beliefs, principles and convictions of the reader.

Which leads me back to the start of this post where I asked,

“How often do you struggle for something to ‘write about’? or face the so-called writer’s block because you cannot settle on a topic for your next story?”

My belief is you may be overthinking the issue.

Do not try and think of an entire story, of a whole scenario, before you put pen to paper. Just take one moment, one seemingly insignificant moment of your life and write about that.

Think about today. What has happened to you, with you, so far today?

It does not have to be anything exciting.

Not all stories need to have a romantic outcome or bloodshed, murder and mayhem splattered across their pages. The characters do not have to be heroes or superhuman, to have suffered or survived.

Ordinary people, people like you and I have stories to tell too. Try telling one or two of those. Stories and tales regular, normal people can relate to and understand.Article_wakeup_tired

What did you think of the moment you awoke today… write about that?

Expand on that.

Why were you thinking it, what does it relate to, who was involved, what will be the outcome, can you change it? Do you want to change it? Can you stop it changing? and so forth.

Become your character. Believe you are they. Wholly, totally convince your muse you are.

Open your heart, let your soul pour forth. Be honest with yourself. Don’t force it.

Your story will come and it just may be the best thing you have ever written.

Grab the moment, grab the moment of the muse.

 

I’ll leave you with an instant.

A while ago, I read a social status in which a young lady was distressed regarding her writing.

It seems her family, particularly her father, not taking her wish to write seriously, held little interest in what she was writing about, suggesting it would be better if she wrote about him.

Of course, this is not what this young lady wanted to write about. She did not want to write about her father. She wanted to write about something she knew, something she understood.

But everything she had written so far was slighted by her own father. Not very supportive, encouraging or helpful.

This made it extremely problematic for her to choose a topic or subject which would not amplify the situation further.

I shall not repeat the derogatory remarks made or the well-meaning, but pathetic and ultimately unhelpful, words of comfort offered on social. But all the responses took this young ladies post on its surface merits.

The deeper conflict was her relationship with her family, particularly her father and the anxiety it created within her.

This stress was heightened by her desire to write something meaningful while not adding to the household turmoil. Yes, she could have written in secret, but it was obvious she wanted, even desperately needed the encouragement and backing of her family.

All this young girl was looking for was some reassurance. She needed positive reinforcement from her family.

I suggested she write exactly what she posted about. The conflict with her father, why she wished to write and why she wanted to write the things she did. How hurtful her fathers’ remarks were and how the lack of support was so dispiriting.

I proposed she then gave her family the manuscript to read and await a response.

She now has a new laptop her father bought for her writing and a small desk in the corner of the room where she can work uninterrupted.

This is a true story.

As I said above, my advice is;

Open your heart, let your soul pour forth. Be honest with yourself. Don’t force it.

Your story will come and it just may be the best thing you have ever written.

Grab the moment, grab the moment of the muse.


If you want to see my books, find out what I am working on or contact me, then visit my website, HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Associating the Oblique and Ambiguous.

 

Firstly, a note:jot_a_note

It is a while since I have written a post focusing on the process of creative writing.

The reason being, I have said much about other ‘stuff’ associated with authoring and publishing. Stuff I felt important enough to warrant writing about.

However, doing so led me away from the core value of this blog, which is to give, in my usual rambling and rather haphazard way, tips, advice and suggestions on improving one’s writing skills and understanding of authorship.

Those of you who follow me will know I do not write in a scholarly constructive fashion, because I do not consider myself a teacher or an authority of literary genius.

I prefer to allow indefinite abstract descriptions to suggest and evoke one’s own perceptions and introspection to convey the messages in each of these Ramblings.

In my heart of hearts, I believe the soul of the writer, the artist that lays within, is the greatest asset of all. No one can learn to write unwillingly; the writer must have love and passion above teaching and education.

A writer must want to write, above all else.

So, with those matters cleared away, I guess it is time to reveal what this article is about.


‘Association’

As a mass noun, the definition of this word, according to the Oxford English dictionary is, ‘The action of making a mental connection’.

Regarding fiction writing, I would take this two steps further and say it is, ‘The action of making a mental, sensory and emotional connection within one’s imagination’.

However, to create such a powerful, multi-sensory consanguinity within a reader’s mind, requires the writer’s understanding and needs them to be adept at wordsmithing.

To me, the word ‘wordsmith’ is a wondrous, self-describing noun.

Imagine standing before a blazing forge, gauntlet covered hands, leather apron, large metal tongs holding a glowing red-hot bar of iron. The other hand wielding a heavy hammer.

Smell the fire, the heat, hearing the Smithy as he pounds the almost molten metal into the shape of his choosing. Not an easy task, one which takes many re-heatings and coolings of the metal. One which takes countless strikes with the hammer against the solid block of the anvil before anything recognisable is formed from the raw metal.download

This is what I envisage when thinking of the word ‘wordsmith’.

My ‘association’ is with the hours of sweat and toil it takes to form a loose jumble of letters and scattered words into a coherent and meaningful sentence. To mould and form each word so it fits seamlessly with the next, so they all flow in a smooth, well-paced fashion to complete the paragraph.

The result of a Blacksmiths work is more than just flattened and twisted metal, it is a product purposely shaped into a functional object, decorated to enhance its appearance, creating an article of both beauty and reason.

Such should be our undertaking as writers. Our words should not only serve the functionality of revelation but create a pathway of beauty and intrigue for our readers to follow. Our tales should hold within their very form the pure essence of captivation, of fantastical fiction.

To do this we must weave that very essence, the distillate tincture of association within our words.

“That’s fine for you to say,” I hear you mutter.“But how do we do that?”

My answer is to consider the word this post is about, consider ‘association’. The association of words.

Now, many of you will be thinking ‘thesaurus’ because that is what a thesaurus is all about, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no.

You see, when I talk of word association I am not merely speaking of functional words you may find within dictionaries and thesaurus. Neither am I considering which words may be grammatically correct. I am talking about creativity, of creative writing. Of breaking the rules when it lends to better or even great storytelling.

Those among you who write poetry may, or at least should, have a greater understanding of the flexibility of words, how they can be moulded to convey more than their basic meanings. Particularly when two or more are used in conjunction, oblique, ambiguous or both.

Wordsmithing in fiction writing utilises what is learnt through the poetic principle, includes and encompasses it within the whole wordsmithing process.

As a way of explanation, I’ll take an excerpt from one of my short stories, ‘The Bridge‘, taken from volume three of my short stories collection, ‘Tales of Crime & Violence’

Out of context, I think this is a rather unremarkable excerpt. Even so, once studied while holding the concept of association in mind, its secrets are revealed.

The Humber Bridge is monumental. It is suspended by a mass of giant pythons, twisted metal cables one hundred feet above the sludge brown of the river. From tower to tower it is one mile and the road continues to reach out from there, grabbing the riverbanks with blackened tarmac and concrete fingers.

Yet, for all the earth destroying steel and concrete construction, the bridge has an illusion of beauty that is enhanced by nature itself. Somehow the two blend, even complement each other, an amalgamation of converse contraries.

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The Humber Bridge

Firstly, the suggested size of the bridge is stated, in an emotional way, by using the word monumental.

It is then revealed to the reader this is a suspension bridge.

Using the term ‘mass of giant pythons’ is suggestive of and leads into the next sentence ‘twisted metal cables…’

Here are the first wordsmithing associations.

Most people know what a suspension bridge looks like. The story could be told by simply stating this bridge is a vast suspension bridge.

The following words about metal cables could have been just that ‘metal cables’. But the addition of ‘twisted’ is used specifically because of its association with the commonly held image of snakes.

We have now created an image in the reader’s mind of ‘giant twisted pythons holding up a bridge’. Which is a far better read than say, “a large bridge held up by steel suspension cables”.

To continue, the height of the roadway on the bridge is given, one hundred feet, so is the fact the bridge is above a river.

So, once more, the story could read “… a large bridge held up by steel suspension cables one hundred feet above a river…’ Which factually would be correct, although it does not make a very captivating or entertaining read.

Moving on, the incorporation of the words ‘sludge brown’ is purposeful. Not only to transfer the perceived visual perception of a dark river but to almost subliminally link back to the snake imagery by suggesting colour association while taking into consideration most people visualise a river as ‘winding’ or ‘twisting’. Another correlation.

While this imagery of bridges and pythons is building in the forefront of the reader’s comprehension, there is also the fact the author is creating an atmosphere of dark foreboding; or at least the idea of something ominous germinating.

Sludge brown, twisting, python, mass, all have links with the nefarious.

The next ‘s sentences structure reinforces this unease.

The factual description of the bridge is given, but this is enhanced by a form of predicate which strengthens the sinister. “… the road continues to reach out from there, grabbing the riverbanks with blackened tarmac and concrete fingers.”

Reaching out, grabbing, blackened, fingers; all strong adjectives which focus on creating a sensory awareness of the underlying drama.

While a person may not be fully aware why, or what effect these words are having as they read, you can bet your bottom dollar their subconscious will. Personal and social belief, acquired by myth, legend and the silver screens of Hollywood has conditioned us to be susceptible to even the slightest of suggestive input.

It is also a long-proven fact when one reads, they absorb far more, far quicker than by any other method of communication.

The above example is a rather direct and implicit one. But there are stronger yet more oblique instances.

Like these, from my poem ‘Doorway’

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This side or that.

In or out.

With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck? Fertilised or barren.

Life or death.

Simple. A wooden frame. Harsh nails, forged from iron, blood and sweat in the furnace of forgotten hopes. Spikes driven deep, driven through, splintering the flesh of being, binding into cold stone of indifference. Hanging forever, bearing the pain for an eternity.

But not so simple. A sign, a warning, a barrier. Invisible in its presence of possibilities lost, scorned, unfound, unbelieved. Open but empty, a nothingness that stops you dead in your tracks.

Division.

This side or that.

In or out.

With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck? Fertilised or barren.

Life or death.

Lost or gained or never had. Can you lose what was not? Can dreams die or do they fade away; decompose as out our living bodies rot with age upon our bones.

What is there, beyond the gaping opening of the way?

Future, or past repeated. Mirrored fears steeped in time, awaiting our return from where we have never been. A destination desired by myth, by greed of those who will not step this way, cowering in the shadows of mediocrity, of sallow existence, of being too far from any door to be truly known, except by repeated words, all meanings lost in the whisper of time, misinterpretations and vague comprehension.

What ifs lay as a carpet of likelihoods, a vastness of possibilities, probabilities, stretching away to the rims of risk and horizons of chance; choices to be made, taken, grasped or passed up.

Prospects scorned or lies waiting to trip the unwary traveller, to crush your skull, your hopes, your faiths until they crumble into a dust of inferiority until your knees bleed on the cold stone floor of humbleness and subservience.

Know your place.

With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck. Fertilised or barren.

Life or death.

How long the openness. How soon the slam of too late shall shut out the light from the other side, of this side or that, or the other, and so vice-versa. Versa-vice.

Sounds vanished, diminished. New hope runs down our legs, incontinent imaginings puddling beneath our feet, wasted.

There is no return. Time flows by, constant. There is only now, just then, what was. Already you are too late, it has gone. Stealing away those possibility’s which once were yours and now belong to another. Maybe not yet born. A foetus of stardust, a twinkle of forlorn wishes.

Maybe they will be the ones who shall hesitate at the gates of option and chance. Maybe they will settle for comfort and the familiar and choose not to stumble blindly into the realm of the unknown?

Or maybe they shall pass this way, step through the door and into the future of destiny without looking backwards?

This side or that.

In or out.

With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck? Fertilised or barren.

Life or death.

You choose.

..

Without getting too bogged down in technicalities, (not my thing), I will just highlight a few instances from the above, and then leave you to read and re-read the above poem and find the associated words which link together to create the stories own vibrancy.

First, ‘cowering in the shadows of mediocrity’.

One may expect to read ‘Cowering in the shadows,’ I am far from the first to write those words in that order. But then consider the use of ‘mediocrity’, it is not generally expected in this framework.

What are the shadows in your story associated with? Think of an indirect but implicit word and use that or another to suggest the ‘feeling’ you wish to create. Pair words which are oblique or ambiguous to create new meaning, to create the atmosphere you intend.

Forget about those ‘rules’. Ignore the grammar check in word or Grammarly or whatever. There is no substitution for the mind.

Secondly, take ‘your knees bleed on the cold stone floor of humbleness and subservience’.

This conveys a strong message from the initial simplicity of what may be expected until the string ‘humbleness and subservience’ appear in conjunction with the rest of the sentence. Those reading are expecting something far simpler, say ‘the castle, or maybe ‘the house’. But inserting ‘humbleness and subservience’, leads the mind to immediately think of servants kneeling on the cold stone floor.

Linked with the previous segment of the paragraph that mentions prospect, lies and faith the ambiguity is one of suggested religion and loss of belief or at least a trial of personal conviction.

Often when using oblique association, or creating one in such a way, it strengthens the powerfulness of the imagery formed.

imagesIf this includes creating your own metaphors or making new words do so. Shakespeare did not suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by only using the accepted words of his time.

Using this ‘sideways’ form of association, not only in poetic context but in storytelling, can produce a weighty and influential transcript that will hook the reader both openly and subliminally.

Good storytelling is not just about style and content; it is not all about narration, it is not simply getting all your words in order, it is all of this melded cohesively and working in harmony throughout the entire structure of your manuscript.

It is about modelling the words you use, moulding and melding them to conceive something new, something uniquely yours, it is about practised and proficient wordsmithing.

When editing, read, re-write and work each individual sentence. Hone it, sharpen it, until it has its own perfect edge and then move onto the next.

Never skip a word, examine each one; examine its place in the sentence and change it, one word by one word, sentence by sentence, polishing and shaping and forming each little detail until every sentence is a magical story in itself.

Do the same time again and again, until every detail shines clearly.

Only then will your tale truly deserve to be called your ‘finished’ work.

Anything less is less.


The first excerpt in this post was taken from ‘Tales of Crime & Violence, a three-book collection.

You can get yours by following the links below.

UK http://amzn.to/2zZFWFN

USA  https://goo.gl/Q0DXRq

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